GLENWILLOW, Ohio (WJW)– A local business is suing overseas companies it claims are generating fake product reviews and manipulating algorithms to deceive shoppers on Amazon.
Solon-based NOCO, which was founded in 1914, said a growing number of customers are buying its products, including jump starters and battery chargers, on Amazon.
“It's a significant portion of our sales, and it continues to grow,” said NOCO chief visionary officer Jon Nook.
However, Nook said the company noticed its product reviews and ratings on the site were not adding up, and appeared to be targeted by overseas competitors.
“It affects our revenue, it affects our profitability, it impacts our brand reputation,” Nook said.
On Thursday, NOCO’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District against nearly a dozen foreign entities – mostly based in China – it claims are gaming Amazon’s system.
The lawsuit claims foreign companies pay for fake reviews that hurt competitors. It states overseas click farms – in which people are hired to click links – boost those reviews to the top, resulting in more views. The suit also maintains the companies manipulate algorithms so that inferior products receive an "Amazon's Choice" badge, which can increase sales.
NOCO’s products have not received the badge. Nook also pointed out that one-star reviews of its products were highly visible to other Amazon users because of hundreds of clicks that the review was helpful.
“We actually did our own research. We got proposals from these underground consulting companies overseas, and you can get a fake review as low as $2,” Nook said. “To think that all your hard work, all your product development, all your technology can be done away with a $2 review, it's definitely frustrating.”
Kohrman Jackson & Krantz Managing Partner Jon Pinney, an attorney who is representing NOCO, said consumers are often being misled.
“A high percentage of the reviews on products you're looking at are probably fake,” Pinney said.
Experts advise shoppers to beware of overly positive or negative reviews that don't provide much detail. Web sites like Fakespot and ReviewMeta.com offer plug-ins that analyze reviews to help shoppers spot fakes.
“The global marketplace that Amazon has created is really driven by algorithms and to the extent that those algorithms are manipulated, it can really impact a company's ability to operate on Amazon,” Pinney said.
Pinney said the lawsuit aims to force overseas companies to play by the rules or stop operating on Amazon.
NOCO is also calling on Amazon and Congress to do more to level the playing field for businesses and shoppers.
“We want to expose these bad actors for what they've done and restore the marketplace to a fair playground,” Nook said.
Amazon is not named in the lawsuit and did not respond to multiple messages from Fox 8 News seeking comment about what steps, if any, the company is taking to protect consumers.
Pinney recommended businesses proactively monitor their Amazon pages and called on businesses who have been similarly harmed to reach out.