Episode 162 of the Serious Sellers Podcast hosts a data scientist who started a company that uses software to monitor Amazon reviews for authenticity.
Amazon sellers know that reviews are crucial to success on Amazon. Today on the Serious Sellers Podcast, Helium 10’s Director of Training and Chief Brand Evangelist, Bradley Sutton welcomes Saoud Khalifah from Fakespot. Saoud founded Fakespot and uses artificial intelligence (AI) and complex algorithms to scour Amazon’s marketplace for less-than-authentic reviews.
Saoud admits that there needs to be room for some “seeding” of reviews to aid sellers in gaining traction and help Amazon’s own organic ranking system to take notice of a new product. Instead, what his software is doing is making sure that unscrupulous sellers don’t keep their fingers on the scale for too long.
Now, his software is pivoting to include the authenticity of the product itself that occupies Amazon’s Buy Box. That’s information you definitely want to know.
In episode 162 of the Serious Sellers Podcast, Bradley and Saoud discuss:
- 03:00 – Starting at an Early Age with Computers and Entrepreneurship
- 04:45 – “I Wasn’t a Prodigy; I was Just Curious”
- 07:00 – Computer Evolution is Now Focused on Software
- 09:00 – Starting to Question Amazon’s Reviews
- 12:00 – How Did Fakespot Get Started?
- 14:30 – Rewarding a Natural Progression of Reviews
- 16:30 – A “New” Type of Amazon Seller Starts Gaming the System
- 21:00 – Using Fakespot to Analyze Project X
- 24:00 – “These Aren’t Audiophiles OR Expert Reviews”
- 27:00 – We Built a Tool for Consumers, then Added Features for Sellers
- 31:45 – Be a Consumer-Centric Seller
- 32:40 – Batteries Either Work or They Don’t – Why are there 50K Reviews?
- 36:00 – The Fakespot Chrome Extension and Grading Third Party Sellers
- 40:00 – Saoud’s 30 Second Tip
- 41:00 – How to Connect with Saoud and Fakespot
Enjoy this episode? Be sure to check out our previous episodes for even more content to propel you to Amazon FBA Seller success! And don’t forget to “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you listen to our podcast.
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- Freedom Ticket: Taught by Amazon thought leader Kevin King, get A-Z Amazon strategies and techniques for establishing and solidifying your business.
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Bradley Sutton: On today’s episode, we have a data scientist who developed an algorithm to monitor the authenticity of Amazon customer reviews, and he made the Forbes magazine Top 30, under 30 list. How cool is that? Pretty cool I think.
Bradley Sutton: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of this Serious Sellers Podcast by Helium 10. I am your host Bradley Sutton, and this is the show that’s a completely BS free unscripted and unrehearsed organic conversation about serious strategies for serious sellers of any level in the eCommerce world. I’ve got a guest today, Saoud. How’s it going, man?
Saoud Khalifah: I’m doing well. How are you?
Bradley Sutton: I’m doing just ducky. I say that every now and then I think that’s my dad’s phrase, but people get a kick out of it. Anyways, I’m doing delightful. That was my other thing I say. But anyways, I want to just start off really quick. If somebody Googles your name, you’re like on some Forbes list of 30 under 30. Like it’s 30, under 30 what? What was that?
Saoud Khalifah: It was a two categories, but it wasn’t the e-commerce and retail category though. I was selected for the 30, under 30 list.
Bradley Sutton: Like the most influential people or something like that. Is there an actual title for it?
Saoud Khalifah: Yes. For the year.
Bradley Sutton: Okay, Cool. We’re in the midst of somebody semi-famous over here. I like it, but it’s rightfully so. And it’s not from your music career, which we’ll get into it in a little bit, but before we get into what you actually do, what I like doing when I start these episodes is I like getting everybody’s kind of backstory because we’re all– whether we’re Amazon sellers or we’re somehow related to eCommerce. There’s no two of us who started off the same. Sometimes people who are trying to think about e-commerce like, “Ah, you know what? These people were groomed for e-commerce” or they’ve got this natural thing. But what I try and show is that every single one of our guests has a completely different background and I’m sure a background that maybe some people here might relate to you and they’re like, “Wait a minute. Wow. They have this different background, but we all kind of end up in the same e-commerce ecosystem.” Let’s take it back. Where did you grow up? I know you’re in Jersey now. Is that where you grew up?
Saoud Khalifah: No, actually I grew up in Kuwait. My dad is from Kuwait and my mom is from Poland. I split my time up in both countries growing up.
Bradley Sutton: Hold on. How did they meet? How does somebody from Kuwait meet somebody from Poland?
Saoud Khalifah: My dad was an exchange university student and he met my mom in a university in Poland. And that’s how they met basically.
Bradley Sutton: That is pretty cool. Okay. Then they moved to Kuwait?
Saoud Khalifah: Yes. Then they moved to Kuwait. I went to a boarding school in Kuwait and me and my brother we just spent our first 18 years there and then we moved to the United States to study in college.
Bradley Sutton: And when you were growing up in Kuwait, what was your career ambitions? Like, “Hey, when I grow up, I want like to be an astronaut or what were you thinking?
Saoud Khalifah: I actually got sucked into the computer world at the age of 12. I started programming at that age. I wanted to make games for me and my brother. It was a Dragon Ball Z game that was the first program I wrote. And then I got into entrepreneurship. I actually built a couple of programs. I sold them online. People from the United States were sending me money all the way in Kuwait. And I was selling those programs all across the world and that’s how I made actually my first pocket money. And then I got into Vulnerability Research, which is finding vulnerabilities and very popular software packages, such as Microsoft office, Adobe PDF reader. Things that are things that are used for by everyone on the internet and in their office and I found a couple of bugs and I got bounties for finding those bugs. That’s how I spent most of my time..
Bradley Sutton: This was when you were already in the States or when you were still in Kuwait?
Saoud Khalifah: This was in Kuwait when I was around 16, 17.
Bradley Sutton: You were 16 years old and finding bugs in Microsoft software.
Saoud Khalifah: Yes. Yeah. It was– I was really, I don’t know, I got really sucked into it and I loved reverse engineering and breaking up these programs. Like it just, it just showed me so much and I learned a lot from it. I learned the foundations of programming. I learned the foundations of computer architecture.
Bradley Sutton: Now I’m assuming you are somewhat of a prodigy or is this just typical for a Kuwaiti high school student to be into this type of things.
Saoud Khalifah: I mean, I would not call myself a prodigy. I just was really interested and very curious as a young child. And I would a lot of kudos to my parents, especially my mom, because she would buy me these college books whenever I asked for them for computer programming and stuff like that. And I just kept reading them and it was it was just part of my upbringing. I was really interested in very curious.
Bradley Sutton: This is pretty cool. Then you moved here to go to university or college as we call it out here. And what was your Major?
Saoud Khalifah: I wanted to move to the US. I had a couple of options, Kuwait used to be a British colony so they have a very close ties to the UK. And a lot of people from Kuwait go to London, Nottingham. My brother went to England for his master’s degree, for example, and we were in a British school. We had really close ties, but since also into computers, I want it to be at the land of the internet, this was where it was invented in the US and I actually started with my major computer engineering in Oregon state university for two years and then I moved and transferred to Monmouth university in New Jersey. And went full throttle software engineering rather than electrical computer engineering. You’re a Beaver for a couple years. Yes. I was a Beaver and my brother was a Duck. Believe it or not.
Bradley Sutton: Oh, what? Oregon university.
Saoud Khalifah: Yes, he was University of Oregon in Eugene, you know, Nike where they’re headquartered. And a lot of people used to joke about me and him, because we were like, well, basically whenever they play each other, it’s like a big ruckus over there.
Bradley Sutton: Oh yeah, for sure. That’s crazy. Okay. Now, did you end up getting to finish your degree?
Saoud Khalifah: Yes. I wanted to– computer engineering while it’s a really cool major, it’s a bit outdated in the modern world. A lot of the hardware engineering is now turning into software. There aren’t as many electrical engineers available on the market as there are software engineers. There’s a lot of demand for software right now. Hardware has been typically in this eternal loop of innovation, and the innovation has kind of halted. It’s– Moore’s law has stopped and I was really more interested in programming. I wanted to make the move to software engineering. That’s why I moved to New Jersey. Where I actually went to a college that had only one engineering degree and it was software engineering, but that engineering program was powered by all the ex-AT&T, Bell labs staff. These were like pioneers in AI, pioneers in natural language processing. These people were in the 80’s Bell labs, like hardcore research labs in New Jersey and in Fort Monmouth here, which is a really known Fort where a lot of the military contracts were being done. It was just crazy to see that and I was really inspired by the stuff at Monmouth university.
Bradley Sutton: Cool. I remember I lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years and actually there was a small college there. St. Francis where one of my high school buddies was playing basketball at, and it was the same league as Monmouth. And I remember they would come there. I forgot what the league was, but it would be Monmouth would come in and play them. That’s the other, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what that school is. I mean, everybody knows Oregon state, but okay. Upon graduation, what was like one of your like coolest jobs before what you’re doing now?
Saoud Khalifah: So interestingly enough, I actually started Fakespot and not in its current form, but in its first baby form in my bedroom as I was finishing up my master’s degree. I graduated with my undergrad in 2013, and then I chose to do the master’s degree in software engineering. And while I was just one month before graduating, I started the website fakespot.com. And it’s an interesting story how that started, because I ordered a couple of products from Amazon and this was around December 2014, and one of them was a supplement and this supplement looked like– it had hundreds of five star reviews on Amazon. And I would never question the trustworthiness of reviews on Amazon before this event. And then I got this product in person and it looked like someone created it in a garage.
Saoud Khalifah: The packaging was falling apart. It looked like someone printed it off it’s home printer. And then I looked into the pill content, and it looked like someone put in wood dust from a carpentry shop. To me it made no sense, absolutely. Like why does this have hundreds of five star reviews? It made no sense. I went back, looked at all the reviews and I was like, “This is some really suspicious stuff happening here”. A lot of these reviews look supremely fake. This company looks like a fly by night seller that just appeared one day and started selling this product and I basically got duped so I created the program. You know, I would always create programs in my life growing up for whatever I want it to automate. And this was like one of these things where I just want it to automate reading reviews and actually telling me if they were fake reviews or not, so I created this AI program back then in my bedroom as I was graduating from college.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. I mean, that’s typical of what normal people do when they’re about to graduate college, just like, a typical high school student helps debug Microsoft. Just typical stuff we’re hearing today. All right. That’s cool! During this time, is this when you were doing music as well?
Saoud Khalifah: Yes, I was doing music all throughout my college years playing guitar, doing vocals and stuff like that and producing music. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of parallels between music production on a digital format, like on a DAW on your computer with programming. It’s very similar patterns appear here and there, and it’s really analogous. It’s really interesting to see that.
Bradley Sutton: Cool. Yeah, you should check out. We had my friend Slushii on our podcast and the interesting note for me was how much the music industry and his journey actually parallel an entrepreneurial journey as well. Somebody would think like, “Why is Slushii on an Amazon podcast?” But it was almost identical, the kind of journey that he went to, that a typical person who’s getting like into Amazon goes to. But anyways, let’s go back speaking of Amazon, this, a lot of or most of our listeners are Amazon sellers or other eCommerce sellers and reviews is probably the number one like sticky point. Like we all know that, Hey, when you launch a product, if nobody knows your brand, I mean, you could have a brand name and nobody cares about the reviews. It’s like, “Hey, this is a Nike thing. I don’t care if they have three out of five stars or they have zero reviews. I know this is a Nike thing. I trust it”. But for most third party sellers, the reviews are one of the most important things to get that social proof and to have people trust them. It’s a very hot topic and let’s talk a little bit about that. You basically during your last year of college, and then throughout the last few years you’ve been developing, I guess kind of like, what is it, is it an AI that can kind of see how many reviews might be not genuine? Or what’s the story behind that?
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah, the story is basically I got duped while buying on Amazon and I didn’t want anyone else to get duped in my family or my friends. And that’s how Fakespot came to be. I bought the domain name, created the program, and it happens to be that a lot of people got duped the same way, and they wanted a program that would automate this for them. And that’s basically how it grew from the early days. And I had a full time job while the website was growing in my first couple of years until I actually decided to quit my job and work on this full-time. And you know, one of my passions is artificial intelligence and natural language processing so to work on this kind of project, it’s really exciting and a very intriguing topic to find fraud on a social level. Not on a, like let’s say payment transaction or something like that that has been tried before so many times this is something like completely novel. And it was just really exciting. I would spend every time coming back from work and I worked on Wall Street, come back at 8:00 PM, I would work till 2:00 AM, just on Fakespot whenever I returned home. I was really, basically in love with the project.
Bradley Sutton: Cool. What was the criteria? I mean, obviously, AI eventually is going to learn things, but there’s got to be a starting point. What were some of those starting points? Like what, what would you program in to kind of detect if a review is fake or not?
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. There are so many attributes that you can look for when you’re reading in reviews, especially with a computer program. And when we’re analyzing reviews on Fakespot.com, we’re looking at all the reviews that the user supplied the product that they supplied. We’re looking at the brand, we’re looking at product information that we’ve had from our previous analysis on the reviewers. And we also have information about the reviewers themselves. We will know if a certain reviewer have been part of promotional campaigns, promotional, where they get product for free and then they write a review in exchange for writing a five star review. And we can talk about this a little bit later, but there’s nothing wrong with seeding your product with the reviews, because we understand that, that is the way you need to compete in the eCommerce market right now.
Saoud Khalifah: Right? A lot of, like you mentioned previously, a lot of brands when they launch on Amazon, they don’t really have a reputation set yet, but those reviews basically make or break your product. And fake spot will always promote those brands that have a natural progression of reviews. Natural consumer satisfaction and Amazon does that also very similarly with their algorithms when they pick their Amazon choice product or top rank product and certain keywords and stuff like that. We do promote the natural sense of when reviews should appear in products and we look at so many different attributes to make that designation.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Interesting. Now, what are some of the things that, maybe a seller should be aware of? You know, like we always tell all Amazon sellers, “Hey, don’t do what other people do. Don’t be getting friends and family to leave your reviews”. Anybody with a brain can figure out that, especially Amazon’s algorithm that that’s fake, you can get, you can get suspended on there, but what are some other things that sellers should not do or they should be, be careful about even maybe where they’re getting real reviews, but just because they’re so cheap or the way they got it is so shady, it almost might seem like it’s a fake review.
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. I think what would be useful is to, since we’ve been doing this on Fakespot, I’ve been on the project for our own close to six years now, and it will be useful to actually go in history, go back in time of how reviews have evolved on Amazon. And I think this will benefit a lot of the listeners here. When the website was launched in 2014, 2015 reviews were increasing in a really, really fast manner on Amazon. They were basically drop shipping their products into Amazon. And Amazon basically took care of that whole process and they onboarded them on their platform but what Amazon didn’t see happening or foresee happening is the amount of fake reviews coming with all those sellers. And we have a lot of sellers that contacted us in those times, and I’m talking about US-based sellers that were in certain categories, niche categories that they completely dominated for the last 10 years or so. And then they had these new sellers that basically just clone their product and in a couple, like, let’s say a couple of months, they had higher review counts than them. After spending 15 years on Amazon, these people just came in and in three months they had higher review counts and higher consumer sentiment attached to their product. And that’s when basically those were the first signs of a crack in the review system that it’s not working as it should be, right. It’s not promoting the natural progression of what a normal seller would receive with reviews.
Saoud Khalifah: These people are basically gaming the system unethically, I would say, and affecting the other brands that were in those categories. And there are many stories about this, and we’ve had many sellers thank us for basically catching these fraudsters implanting fake reviews in their listing because they just want it to go above them and ranking, right. Amazon’s algorithms, those reviews. And then in 2016, I don’t know if you remember this Bradley, but there was this huge surge in reviews where people would write, I received this product in exchange for review as a disclaimer. Yeah and then Amazon one year later, Banned that and said “Any review that mentions that we’re going to ban that.” The problem with that is, we still have those reviews, but they’re just not saying that, disclaimer, we still have those reviewers that are receiving products and Fakespot detects that through patterns that we’ve trained our machine learning models to look for, we can detect that and we can show that to our consumers, but now it has become more stealthy. These people are still doing fake reviews, still receiving incentivized reviews, but in a more stealthy manner and people don’t even know about that. Amazon, you could say that they’ve actually packaged the problem, swept it onto the carpet, but those kinds of reviews are still happening. And we’ve been tracking fake reviews percentages on Amazon’s platform, you know, for the last couple of years. And there’s always, always a huge rise in fake reviews before the biggest shopping season events. And I’m talking about Black Friday, Christmas, Valentine’s day, even Mother’s Day Father’s Day, you will see a huge uptick in fake reviews a couple of weeks before that event because people want to look as good as they can for those keywords. The current state of Amazon is there’s a huge surge on fake reviews happening and shopping season events, and they’re happening all over the place. Basically. It’s a Wild West as of an e-commerce platform.
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. Okay. Now I just want to dive into the algorithm actually a little bit, because I don’t know if you know this, but we did this a free series on YouTube. The beginning of the year called Project X, where we basically took two products from zero to hero as we call it. You know, we show people how to find the product, how to launch it on Amazon and how to get it up there. And I’ve actually, been checking out, like the fake spot on them. And it’s curious to be like, we actually got bad grades as if like on one of them, I’ll give you the link here in the chat. I just sent you the two links. One of them had a B, and now it has a D and one of them has had an F for a while and we didn’t do anything shady with the reviews. However, what I’m thinking is, I wonder if like, this show was seen by hundreds of thousands of people on YouTube, and there were like fans who bought the product and, and even like said in the reviews like, “Oh Hey, I saw Project X. You know, this is great”. I’m just wondering if A that maybe has to do with a bad grade, because like I said, we didn’t do anything shady with these reviews. And then here’s one thing I want to call out for the egg tray one, you have this section and Fakespot that says like, most positive review or most authentic or least authentic. And let me just read you this review that was voted least authentic. And I’m not sure if you’re even looking at the same thing as me, but maybe you can tell me why this might be not authentic.
Bradley Sutton: It says, “I needed a better way to store eggs in my fridge. I measured the shelf and then found that this geese chicken coop egg tray item”, that right there is kind of strange to me. Like, I don’t know why they’re mentioning the, maybe that’s part of it and like why they’re mentioning the whole entire title of the product, “this geese chicken coop egg tray was just about the perfect fit because you made this out of wood. I was able to shave off a few millimeters and make this the absolute perfect item for my shelf. We were already using that shell for a carton of 12 eggs with wasted space. And now we can take full advantage of the shelf to store 18 eggs. I’m happy about this item because it was a perfect fit for my fridge, but it’s a great item in general”. To me, it is kind of weird. Like, we didn’t, we don’t pay anybody for reviews or we didn’t, we didn’t have to, this was very organic thing, but is that it, because it just seems like they’re using vocabulary. That’s not normal language or what happened there.
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. It’s really difficult to pinpoint right now, what exactly triggered that red flag for our engines, because I’ll need my team to dig into it. We, at any point in time, we have, we’re analyzing hundreds of products at any second on Fakespot.com for our users. There’s a lot of data to be dug through, but if it, if it gave it an F grade, then it has found patterns of some kind of unreliability attached to the reviews where if a neutral consumer was reading these reviews, they wouldn’t be able to get as much insight as if they were from an authentic review set. Without me taking a deeper look at this, it’s hard for me to tell you exactly what’s going on, but I can tell you also, on first glance on the egg tray product that you sent to me, there’s also a lot of promotional reviews appearing here and there, those programs will trigger certain alerts, but they will not penalize it all the way to an F grade.
Saoud Khalifah: That means there had to be a combination of a couple of things that triggered that F grade, the early reviewer rewards program. There’s nothing wrong with it. If you’re receiving your product and your reviews, obviously Amazon encourages people to do this. And obviously for monetary reasons, also they encouraged to do that. They also have the vine review program, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, but we have noticed in these programs that the reviewers that partake or are members of these programs, they’re basically abusing their privileges, right? They they’re just getting products for free. They’re just writing up reviews like hundreds a day, they’re writing 10 reviews a day and you know, you can’t do that. And I’ll give you my own personal experience on this, unrelated to Fakespot, but unrelated to what we’re talking about today, I want it to buy a Bluetooth headphone that would work in the gym, when gyms were open, and this headphone had to be a waterproof, sweat proof.
Saoud Khalifah: Right and I was looking on a very reputable brand from Manhattan. And I was like, okay, cool. They just launched a new product and they they’re attesting that it’s going to be sweat proof. I looked at the reviews and this product didn’t even launch yet on their site, but it had 30 reviews. Right? And all the reviews were from promotional seeded reviews, where they gave the product out as a sample. And these people were writing reviews and they were all part of the vine review program or early review rewards program. Right? And one of them in particular, I singled out specifically because the person, so this was like a higher end manufacturer. And I know that you’re into music. I am into music. And we would appreciate that if this brand isn’t related to audiophile level audio on their headphones, you would expect that also from their product. That’s what I was expecting. Those kinds of reviews and all the reviews that were from a promotional nature. These guys were not audio files, A and B, they didn’t know what they were talking about. They said, I listened to my podcast through this headphone, and I can tell you for a fact, a genuine review that has a genuine brand follower that just bought this product would never say I listened with these headphones just to listen to a podcast. You can do that with any headphone in the world, right? You wouldn’t write a review about that, but that shows the problem with the promotional programs that Amazon has set up and other websites have set up. These peoples are not experts in their own category. They’re going to write a really general review. They’re going to say, okay, it works. The audio works like any headphone would work.
Saoud Khalifah: Maybe had some battery issues here and there, and maybe had some Bluetooth hiccups, but that’s not what a neutral consumer would want to read it. You know, like if I’m– if I know this brand is related with high audio quality, and maybe it’s related to even, like audio engineers and things like that, if an audio engineer read the review saying my podcasts sounded fine through these headphones, they would laugh at that. They were like, they will be like, why are they even commenting about this? Like, this has nothing to do with the brand or nothing to do with the product. And my point is that the promotional reviewers, some of these people do this for a living, right? They get products, then they resell it on eBay and that’s basically their careers they’re professional zeros. And we find that those kinds of reviews are not of high value to the normal consumer, because it’s just– it doesn’t give as much detail that a genuine reviewer would leave for this kind of product.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Makes sense. Now, obviously I would say the main audience of you and the people who would be using this is like you a few years ago, where were you? You were just like dismayed that you bought this product that had all these reviews and you were, you felt cheated almost. It’s the end user, the people that just try and trust the products, but what about on the seller side? Like how could, our Amazon seller, you know, we’ve got thousands of thousands of listeners who all sell Amazon, how could they use your tool to maybe help them? I mean, is it competitive research? Is it looking to them to their own products? Or how could they use fake spot?
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah, I think it’s all of the above. Remember, Fakespot was not designed for sellers. It was designed for consumers mutual consumers that are shopping online that do not want to be duped by unreliable reviews. And that’s why we call these reviews unreliable or reliable at Fakespot. And if you’re a consumer using our tool, we, you will be able to say that, in a couple seconds you will be able to know if you can look at these reviews and actually take the information that they write and take it under consideration when you’re buying the product. For sellers, we’ve had a couple of features, over the years that a lot of sellers actually liked a lot of the genuine sellers that have been not buying fake reviews, not implanting fake reviews on their listings. They love us, right. They always send to send us really grateful messages. We’ve been featured on the media a couple of times on CNBC and the, like where we actually, American based sellers use our tool and they showcased where these sellers from abroad came in and just, had hundreds of five star reviews that were completely fake, right? And Amazon wasn’t doing anything about it until this seller went to the media and said, “Hey guys, there’s something completely off here. I’m actually losing money today. And I can’t do anything about this. I’m reporting this to Amazon. I can’t do anything about it”. Sellers are using us in that way too, with the media attention. And also, I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of sellers on Amazon will actually reference our grade in their description, they will, they’ll say this is Fakespot A graded, or this is Fakespot verified. And actually a lot of websites do this currently where they leverage our grading system to promote their product and we see even reviewers mentioned that they’re like, I appreciate the fact that this company mentioned their A grade, their Fakespot A grade, because I use Fakespot personally and I just liked the fact that this company is looking at that fact.
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. Okay. Let’s talk more about, you know, maybe you’re a suggestions for Amazon sellers because, you know, it’s kind of a balancing act, like you said, sometimes using the early reviewer program or vine is one of the only ways that people can get new reviews when they start. And it’s very critical, but at the same time, where’s that line where it’s like, wait a minute, it’s bringing down the review. Like it looks like it has on our Project X product amongst other reasons, but like, what do you suggest? I mean, I still suggest that they should do it because I think the majority of buyers, might be just interested in that number in the beginning, but what are some tips as far as that goes?
Saoud Khalifah: There’s nothing wrong with following up with your clients and telling them, whoever bought your product and saying, if you really enjoyed our product, we would really appreciate if you could write a review for us, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with following up and asking that. And there’s a lot of brands that do this. We’re talking about the biggest brands from the biggest to the smallest. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I would say when you have a product that, you have, let’s say a couple of hundred reviews and over 90% of them are from promotional programs. I think that’s not a really good look, that means that does not indicate that there’s a lot of people actually buying this product and it’s indicated– that artificial it’s already an artificial rating, right? You’ve pushed it to become an artificial rating because you have hundreds of promotional reviews while the minority are from genuine consumers and also we see people aware, you know, the genuine reviews are, let’s say pretty negative one star, one star, one star, and then sellers will use the promotional programs to pump up the rating, right? While there’s some kind of flow in the product, I would say, invest more in fixing that flaw before pushing it with fake reviews and things like that. I think that’s emphasize the consumer, be a consumer centric seller just like Amazon is. However, one thing I want to point out is with the promotional programs, especially Vine, if you search Amazons in house brands, in house branded products on their platform, a lot of their product reviews are actually sourced from the vine review program and the early reviewer program and other programs that they don’t even talk about that excused opinion of what the product quality is in reality, and actually a lot of these people. Like if Amazon gives out a product through the vine review program as a professional reviewer, and I’m going to ask you this Bradley, are you going to be more inclined to write a one star, a five star review, if it’s Amazon sending their own product to you like an Amazon basics product.
Bradley Sutton: I mean, I think the average person would be more inclined to, give a good review if they’re getting like some kind of kickbacks from Amazon or they know they’re part of this program. I would just assume that that’s the case more, more likely to give four or five star reviews.
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. I mean there’s definitely a bias involved here. You’re getting an instruction from the company that hosts the product to write a review. And most of the time people will be writing positive reviews because they don’t want to get kicked out of the Vine review program. Right. That’s part of that’s part of their life and they want to continue writing reviews. And that’s– I’m just pointing this out. I think that’s a huge flaw in the system and right now there’s no governance around this concept. And the problem is, and this is why a lot of sellers are partaking in this because they have to, to compete, right. And fake spot completely understands that. That’s why we don’t if we were to take on their account, the promotional reviews and the whole game that’s happening, we would be giving F grades left and right. But we don’t do that because we understand that sellers need to seed reviews. They need to push that rating up at the beginning when they launched the product. And there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s just the name of the game right now, and to compete with other sellers, you have to do that. If you’re competing against Amazon’s products, good luck to you. There’s no way you can win, because if you, if you just search and Amazon basics product such as their batteries that they’re selling on Amazon, they have close to 50 to 80,000 reviews right? Now, Bradley tell me how many people on the street, if you go tell them, Hey, can you write a review for a battery? How many of them will say, okay, I’ll do it.
Bradley Sutton: I don’t know anybody who would.
Saoud Khalifah: In the first place, why would you want to write a review about a battery pack? Like, there’s nothing to say it either worked or didn’t work, right? But if you go to the level of 50,000, 80,000 people, then there’s something off here, right. And that’s what I’m trying to say. That’s a part of this whole eCommerce system where it’s painting this perfect picture world, but there’s a lot of cracks behind this world. And that’s what, Fakespot, what we’re trying to do and what we’re going to be trying to doing. In the next couple of months with our BDC offering for our users, and hopefully this will benefit also the sellers that are genuine in the game actually beat a lot of these, goliaths that are in their categories, in these platforms to actually emphasize trust and transparency, because we’ve noticed that over the last couple of years, trust and transparency has been going downhill. It’s actually through the drain right now and whether we’re talking about reviews, or comments, or upvotes downvotes, those things are gained right now on Amazon people competi…
Bradley Sutton: I was going to ask you about that. Like, if that’s part of your algorithm to analyze those up and down votes.
Saoud Khalifah: They are completely part of our algorithm because we’ve noticed a huge surge in competitors actually implanting like upvoting the most harmful review, even though it’s like one review out of a thousand and it looks really bad to the person reading it. It is not a good game, right? It’s happening everywhere right now. And whether we’re talking about Amazon, these same problems affect Walmart, the same problem affects the Sephora, which are other websites we’re supporting on Fakespot.com. And that’s something that as a mission as this company, as we, as we’re growing over the last couple years, that’s something that we want to build upon. We want to bring back the trust and transparency that has been lacking in the internet because a lot of these companies have exploited gray areas, right? And that’s part of their monumental growth and monumental surge going forward as, as companies and as profit-making. But a lot of the trust and transparency has been in the backseat and a lot of people have lost trust and transparency on these platforms and we want to resolve that problem with fake spot and with our offerings.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Cool. Where do you see yourselves, like next year? Like what would be different about Fakespot? Like I mean, are you working with any retailers, be it Amazon or anybody else to possibly in the future them use you as, as part of a basis for, for removing reviews or things like that. Because I know that is obviously on the mind. I mean, it doesn’t take Fakespot to know a seller that just opened up yesterday and all of a sudden has thousand reviews, Hey, this is something gaming the system, but there’s like no real way to like, kind of prove that to like, Hey Amazon, can you take action? Like they don’t always do that. I mean, are you guys talking to Walmart or Amazon or anybody to possibly use you guys systematically at all?
Saoud Khalifah: Well, that’s always a possibility in the future. I’m more interested in our normal users that are shopping online, that we’re protecting them and that we’re ensuring that we’re providing them the most trustworthy reviews, the most reliable reviews as they’re shopping online. And that’s the whole purpose of what Fakespot.com is right now. And I don’t know if you know this, but if you install our Chrome extension, we have a new feature called Fakespot guard. And have you, have you tried that out by the way?
Bradley Sutton: No. What does that do?
Saoud Khalifah: We actually, we’re moving away just from grading reviews. We’re actually grading now the third party sellers that are in the buy box. And what happens here is we’ve found that there’s a lot of third party sellers and this probably won’t affect a lot of your listeners because they don’t have these problems, but these are more fly by night sellers that are selling counterfeits that are selling fake products that are selling defective products, and we will be able to detect those kinds of issues with Fakespot guard. We’re now ensuring protection for the consumer, not just from the reviews perspective and the reliability of the reviews. We’re also from the third party seller perspective.
Bradley Sutton: And that’s live right now. I mean that’s available?
Saoud Khalifah: Yes, that’s available right now on the chrome extension.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Yeah, with both of these things, I mean, I can think of some use and like I said, none of this is obviously perfect. You know, you guys aren’t psychic over there, just like, Hey, sometimes there might be some strange things that come up like on Project X where there’s no fake reviews, but it seems that way just because of what we did and made it like a case study. And we got some fans posting on there, but for the most part, it seems pretty good. But how I would use it is, if I’m doing product research as an Amazon seller, like maybe I found some opportunity. I’m like, Ooh, this looks like there’s some low competition here. I’m going to get in on this niche. But then I start running, first of all, the review Fake spot and then I noticed there’s just– it just seems like across the board, there’s a whole bunch of manipulation in my mind that might almost make me stay away. I could go about it two ways. I can look at it two ways on one side, I can be like, “Hey, these are maybe some black hat sellers and if they’re willing to manipulate reviews are these the kinds of guys who are going to start screwing me up and like attack my listing or hijack me or up vote bad reviews for me”, or on the flip side, if I’m thinking like, “Hey, if everybody can see through all this nonsense, you know that these people have fake reviews and they see me, wasn’t genuine. Maybe that’s a good thing”. There’s two ways there. And on the other side, looking at, you know, if you’re talking about the– analyzing the sellers, that would be another thing. Like if I’m looking at a niche and I do see maybe a whole bunch of sellers are pretty shady, I could maybe reason that, “Hey, this might be a little bit more risky to jump into because shady sellers are the ones who do the hijacking and who do kind of black-hat tactics cause they got to page one and maybe I want to avoid that”.
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. I mean, I would say even if you’re analyzing the sellers and you see a lot of fraudulent sellers on a listing, that could also be an opportunity for you. If you’re completely legit and you want to enter this kind of market and you see that all these sellers have issues, then you can enter that as a trustworthy seller and be promoted because what Amazon’s algorithms are doing right now, if there’s three fraudulent sellers selling third-party, they have to pick one of them. It doesn’t matter who it is, but they have to pick one of them they got that. But if there was a fourth one that has better a consumer feedback that has a better history as a seller, then the buy box will naturally promote that seller. And that’s something that definitely, the sellers can use from this angle. And when you’re, I mean, you’ve got really interesting scenarios there about the Blackhat sellers in certain categories. And I’m talking about like the, let’s say the tiny electronic categories that are, these unlicensed products that you can buy from Alibaba, then plaster a logo on them, then start selling them on Amazon. Those products will have a lot of competition going on. Not only a lot of competitions, they’ll have a lot of fake reviews left and right. And it’s just like a wild West.
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. You’ve been giving us a lot of tips and strategies throughout this episode, but we have a part of the show. We call it the TST or the TST 30-second tip. What can you close this out? Like something you haven’t mentioned today, it could be about reviews. It could be about finding bugs in Microsoft, whatever. It’s something that can take only 30 seconds for you to say, but, but maybe highly actionable for our listeners
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. I actually will give a tip using Fakespot.com. We actually provide historical analysis data at the bottom of the reports. If you scroll down, we’ll show you review count over time and it will show you price changes over time. If you’re doing research on a competitor or something like that, you can see actually, if Amazon has removed and deleted reviews off a listing. If there’s a big decrease that goes all the way down in the graph, then you know something changed there. You can also find out if a seller or a brand has actually hijacked reviews and exchanged and swapped the ASINs and put it as a variation through looking at those graphs.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Cool. Thank you. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. I think you’ve given our listeners a lot to think about, about how they look at different niches when they’re doing product research and, and how they examine their own listing. If somebody wants to try out your free Chrome extension or, or maybe to find you on the interwebs to get some more information how can they do that?
Saoud Khalifah: Yeah. People can actually go om Fakespot.com and we’re all the way at the bottom where you can contact us at any point in time. My team will pick up the email and we’ll be able to chat anytime.
Bradley Sutton: Sounds good. Well, we’ll see you on the show maybe next year, and let’s see if you’ve maybe after cracking Microsoft, maybe you’ve cracked Apple now or something like that.
Saoud Khalifah: All right. Thank you very much for your time Bradley.