eBay reviews ‘dupe shoppers into shoddy purchases’

eBay shoppers are being tricked into buying substandard and counterfeit goods because the site’s review system is flawed, according to consumer group Which?.

Unscrupulous sellers are abusing the system by sharing hundreds or even thousands of reviews across different products, with potentially dangerous, second-hand items using the same reviews as new products.

The problem lies in eBay processes which allow sellers to include product identifiers which aren’t unique to the seller but pull information from a central database, including reviews. The aim is to make the listing process simpler, but the consequence is that rogue sellers can benefit from positive reviews for a genuine item.

“eBay claims that this system allows buyers to see feedback from other buyers, no matter who they’ve purchased a product from,” says Which? in its report.

“We’ve found that it doesn’t always work the way it should though, uncovering sellers sharing reviews across completely different products – abusing a system designed to protect buyers,” it adds.

During its investigation, Which? found hundreds of listings for counterfeit or recalled Apple and Samsung chargers and USB cables displaying glowing product reviews. The team also examined listings for headphones, smoke alarms and travel adapters.

Test purchases revealed for example that Apple USB cables – which had more than 6,800 reviews – resulted in a broad range of goods received, including some that were obviously fake or fell short of acceptable quality standards.

Prior research by the consumer group found that 90 per cent of consumers reported that good customer reviews are important when buying an item from an online marketplace.

“For the 20 products we ordered, eBay showed that more than 33,300 had been sold,” says Which?, suggesting thousands of people may have been duped by gaming of the system.

It also notes that eBay doesn’t discourage sellers from leaving reviews on their own products, in contrast to Amazon which says that is forbidden.

“We shared our findings with eBay, as well as our concerns that its review system was being abused by unscrupulous sellers,” according to Which?.

“An eBay spokesperson told us that it would investigate the listings shared, and remove any that breach its policies.”

However, nearly two weeks later it discovered that all of the listings – including those for recalled products – were still live, and it took additional follow-up with the e-commerce giant before they were eventually removed.

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