US lawmakers raise questions about ‘misleading’ Amazon’s Choice recommendations

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Amazon’s Seattle HQ. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Shopping on can be overwhelming. A search for an everyday item frequently yields tens of thousands of results. Inundated customers often gravitate toward items stamped with an “Amazon’s Choice” badge to cut through the noise; in fact, products that carry that recommendation see a threefold increase in sales, according to research firm OC&C Strategy Consultants.

But lawmakers and journalists are sounding alarm bells about Amazon’s Choice out of concern that the accolade may be “misleading” customers. Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal — Democrats from New Jersey and Connecticut, respectively — sent a letter to Amazon on Monday asking for more information about Amazon’s Choice.

“The badge may be misleading consumers into thinking the products that receive this distinction are the best available products,” the letter says. “In fact, several ‘Amazon’s Choice’ products are reported to be defective or poorly manufactured.”

The letter was prompted by reporting from BuzzFeed News in which customers say they chose defective or low-quality items because they were branded “Amazon’s Choice.” The recommendation is automatically awarded to listings using an algorithm that looks at factors like customer reviews, price, and whether the item is ready to ship, BuzzFeed reports.

Blumenthal and Menedez asked Amazon to explain how the recommendation badge is awarded, whether employees review the products that earn the badge, and how the company deals with fraudulent reviews.

Related: Amazon starts revealing secret formula behind influential ‘Amazon’s Choice’ selections

Fake reviews have dogged Amazon for years, though the company has aggressively sought to curb them in the marketplace. We reached out to Amazon to comment on the letter. The company provided the following statement and additional details on its work to crack down on fraudulent reviews.

“Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”

How Amazon’s Choice is awarded has always been something of a mystery but the company began disclosing some criteria last year. On product pages for some “Amazon’s Choice” selections, the company lists three specific reasons for conferring the status. The criteria vary by product, but based on GeekWire’s observations, the formula gives weight to average customer ratings of at least 4 stars, low return rates compared to similar products, popularity in Amazon search results, and eligibility for Amazon Prime delivery.

Menendez is becoming a frequent adversary of Amazon’s. Last week, he and other Senators sent a separate letter asking Amazon and eBay to answer questions about gun accessories for sale in their marketplaces.

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