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This week saw Amazon come under fire after it was accused of manipulating product reviews through its Vine programme.

Vine allows highly ranked reviewers to post opinions on new and pre-release items on the site. Participants can receive specific products for free.

This week Bloomberg reported that Amazon appeared to be trading free merchandise for reviews of its own products. Since the service is not available to other merchants, this would appear to be disadvantaging possible competitors.

The marketplace denied that it acted improperly, saying that it did not dictate which products Vine reviewers review within the programme and that they were free to select any eligible product. Amazon also said it was working to open the programme to other sellers, saying that it was only closed due to a “technical limitation.”

Whatever the ins and outs of this dispute, it does illuminate the fundamental problems online sellers face in benefitting from reviews while ensuring that they are credible to consumers.

Recent research by Feefo found that 94 percent of consumers use online reviews when looking for a product or service, but 89 percent said they were concerned about fake reviews, up from 75 percent the previous year.

James Dunworth, director at ECigaretteDirect, sums up the problem: “Any site that is running an internal review system is open to the accusation that it manipulates its reviews.”

Dunworth says that his company decided to use an external reviewing system in response to this problem.

“An external review system does not allow you to remove or edit reviews and increases consumer trust in the reviews,” he said.