Current Issues, Jorge, News, Pest Control

amazon fraudulent reviews
Firms offering review services can be found easily on Taobao.

Since its inception in 1994, Amazon has revolutionised ecommerce, offering consumers amazing deals on practically everything with an unparalleled service. From selling books out of Seattle, Amazon has relentlessly expanded, entering new markets at a rapid rate, its rise seemingly unstoppable. For many, Amazon has become the one-stop-shop for online purchases, constituting the first port-of-call for those researching what product to buy.

But, buyer beware, not everything is as it seems. Vendors have manipulated product listings with fake-reviews, leading unsuspecting consumers buying second rate products at the expense of reputable brands. And it has got worse with both ReviewMeta and Fakespot (third-parties dedicated to exposing fake reviews) software picking up more and more fake reviews.

How do vendors manipulate reviews?

Initially, Amazon allowed “review clubs” whereby professional reviewers would receive a free or heavily discounted item in return for a review. Reviewers simply had to list they had received the item from the vendor in return for a review.

But, what did this incentivise? Fake reviews.

Vendors had no reason to offer products to reviewers who would leave a bad rating, so they simply selected those who would leave positive reviews. Likewise reviewers realised vendors would only select reviewers who left positive reviews, so they left positive reviews in order to receive more and more free products. Those who left critical reviews weren’t chosen for the review clubs or were quickly shut out.

This was exposed in a video by ReviewMeta in 2016, which quickly rose to the front page of Reddit. Amazon subsequently banned the practice, pushing it underground. Now consumers have no way of determining an incentivised review.

Review clubs still exist, but a more insidious form of manipulating reviews has emerged. Suppliers, primarily from China, use fake-review firms to manipulate review scores, who have developed sophisticated methods to evade Amazon’s algorithms.

These firms can’t simply create dozens of accounts and leave dozens of reviews. These would be quickly removed. Rather they have to trick Amazon into believing a product was bought and sent.

To do this, the review firm uses UK proxies to purchase goods to locations in the UK. The product is not sent, but the vendor marks it as shipped with a fake tracking number and the review firm refunded via paypal. The review firm then leaves a review, which is marked with Amazon’s “verified purchase” label. The only cost involved is Amazon’s fee, which is charged to the supplier. We believe Amazon, seeing a high volume of reviews, will then request a DHL waybill as proof of shipping, which the supplier fakes.

Now, the supplier’s product has dozens, if now hundreds of positive reviews, they can enhance their listing through Amazon’s Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA) service. FBA allows firms to send their products to Amazon’s warehouse, who will then ship the product for them. This is especially important for Chinese suppliers, who can now avoid costly shipping from China, or establishing a warehouse in the UK. Further, it provides the Amazon Prime label, which may trick some into believing it was an Amazon approved product.

By using FBA and fake reviews, products become eligible for the Amazon Choice label that does indicate the product is approved by Amazon. Products are assigned the label if they are highly-rated, well-priced products with Prime shopping!

Fake review firms benefit the supplier’s product in another way – by pushing it up the listing for certain keywords. Like Google, Amazon will promote products they believe are relevant to a keyword and that users are likely to buy. (This earns them more money – earnt through the seller’s fee.) They base this off a user’s search history.

Hence to manipulate a listing, the fake review firm searches for a keyword a supplier wishes their product to rank and then purchases it. This convinces Amazon’s algorithm that the product is relevant to that keyword. Usually, it takes months before a product appears high in a listing, but through this method a product can quickly appear on the first page.

The supplier can boost their listing in other ways – through Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). AMS allows vendors to bid on keywords, allowing them to occupy the sponsored slots at the top of a listing. Hence, a fake reviewed product can be listed twice, in the natural and sponsored listings.

Lastly, suppliers can boost their listing through placing their products in obscure categories, where it is easy for it to become a bestseller. This provides the bestseller tag, even for unrelated keywords.

This Vivreal rat repeller is the Bestseller in indoor insect control for flies. You can see this information by going to the additional information section of a product page. The screengrab below is a search for “rat repeller”.

It should be noted, Amazon still does promote reviews through its Amazon Vine programme, which has a number of safeguards to ensure reviews are balanced and informative with no contact between supplier and reviewer.

Why does Primrose care?

Primrose suffers as it has to compete with dozens of artificially boosted fake reviewed products. These products can have hundreds of fake 5 star reviews, giving the impression of an excellent product. The listings are often updated with jargon (2018 Model, New Model) designed to give the impression of product innovation, when in fact they use the same technology as older models but with cosmetic changes. Hence, the consumer also suffers when they receive a fraudulent model.

We regularly report fake reviewed products to Amazon with limited success. Amazon will investigate a listing, but will not report their findings for privacy reasons. Disappointingly, Amazon will not take a listing down even after it has removed reviews. As such, it is our opinion that many of the listings you’ll see on the first page for certain product categories will be fraudulent.

How do I spot a fake reviews?

A telltale sign of fake reviews is loads of reviews in a short period. Estimate the demand for a product. Do you think that many people have purchased it in a period? You can look at the date first available under additional information or the date a review was left. Consider that at a max 5% of purchases will leave a review. Hence times the reviews by 20 to arrive at the number of units sold. Alternatively, times the number of reviews in a week by 20 to arrive at the number of units sold in a week.

For example, Primrose rat repeller was first listed in Nov 2008 and has garnered 1,725 reviews. That’s around 170 a year.

The Vivreal Home rat repeller was listed in May 2017 and has garnered 317 reviews. That’s over 300 a year.

Another Vivreal Home product, this time the multipack of the rat repeller was listed in Oct 2017 and has garnered 186 reviews. That’s again over 300 a year.

Another telltale sign is a rating well above what you would expect for a specific product category. The adage bears true, if you think it too good to be true, it probably is. As we admit to on our website, we believe ultrasonic repellers to be the best solution to a rat infestation, but that does not mean it will work in every case. Hence, one can expect a fair share of disappointed consumers for this product category.

Another tool is to compare UK suppliers with Chinese suppliers and new entries with established brands. If you can’t believe a cheap Chinese import is better than an established brand’s product, it probably isn’t.

You can also use ReviewMeta and Fakespot’s software to analyse a page for fake reviews.

Below you can see the results for Vivreal Home and Primrose’s own rat repeller.

What has Amazon done to correct the problem?

Amazon has sued both suppliers and reviewers, who have conspired to defraud its users. The company states it has “manual and automated systems to identify those who create the demand for fraudulent reviews” and is working to improve them. It also states fake “reviews make up a tiny percentage of all reviews on Amazon, but even one is unacceptable, and we will not stop until all are identified and removed.”

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

George, New Products, News, Press Releases, Water Features

We’re thrilled to announce the publication of our first book, The Primrose Water Feature Book: Inspiring Stories to Transform Your Garden. It’s the end of a long and rewarding journey, so we’re delighted to finally be able to share it with you.

The book contains a number of case studies to see how some of our customers have used water features to turn their garden into something wonderful. There’s a whole range of styles, from minimalist modern centrepieces, to relaxing bubble tubes in an allotment. Alongside interviews and gorgeous photography, we have articles to help guide you through the process of choosing a water feature, installing it, lighting it and more.

Primrose Water Feature Book

If you’d like to see the final result, the book is available to buy in paperback or view online for free!

Recently I was lucky enough to chat with the author, Kim Stoddart, about what she does and the process of writing the book. Over to Kim:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m a gardening journalist for a range of national publications (including the Guardian) and run courses from my smallholding and training gardens in beautiful West Wales. I have a passion for wildlife friendly gardening and believe that everyone would benefit from the many therapeutic benefits of spending time in a green outdoor space. As such I believe water has an incredibly important role to play in the garden, providing relaxation and much more besides.

2. What appealed to you about taking on this project?

As a gardening writer I’ve been aware of Primrose for a number of years now and really like the company. They have a good reputation and an extremely wide selection of water features, so I was delighted to help bring the subject alive for them.

3. What was the process of researching and writing the book like?

Being a gardening enthusiastic (aka geek), the opportunity to immerse myself in a particular subject is always appealing. Researching the book involved looking up everything to do with the subject past and present as well as working closely with the excellent team of experts at Primrose who know everything there is to know about water features.

4. What surprised you most from talking to our customers?

I think just how much their water features have enhanced their lives as well as their gardens is probably what came across most strikingly. Once you have a water feature you’re absolutely smitten with it.

customers in garden

5. What was your favourite featured garden?

That’s very difficult to say as I think they all had virtue and areas of interest. What I liked most was hearing from each Primrose customer about what their garden and water feature within meant to them. In all cases it was an extension of their own personal tastes and lifestyle and therefore fascinating to capture the many ways a green space can be enjoyed.

6. What would be your dream water feature?

The truth of the matter is that since writing this book, I’m now on a mission to include as many water features as possible within my training gardens. It’s an addictive but hugely beneficial hobby.

7. Has the project changed the way you look at gardens?

Well ask me anything about water features and I can talk for hours! Otherwise, I’d say I notice the beauty of natural water sources much more now and am inspired to recreate as many different features as I can at home. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a gently bubbling feature, it’s good for the soul.

8. What’s next for you?

Aside from the usual gardening writing in magazines and newspapers, I’m working on expanding my training courses through my social enterprise www.greenrocketcourses.com which help fund therapeutic opportunities for people on the autistic spectrum. My courses for the general public provide lots of time saving advice, tips and inspiration for people interested in growing their own food in particular. I also cover climate change gardening a great deal. There are also a few book projects on the horizon.

Kim Stoddart

Don’t forget, you can now buy the book or read it for free online. Let us know what you think or if you have plans for water features in your garden.

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Gardening, Guest Posts, Water Features

Many people who own a bit of land would love to build a pond on it. What could be more soothing than the sight of a body of water stocked with koi or other animal life or the sound of a pond with a little waterfall or fountain? What’s more beautiful than a pond ringed with or floating beautiful flowers? Then, when the person builds a pond the water is turbid, the fish die, the plants die. Essentially, they end up with a hole full of mud. What went wrong?

pond building mistakes

Poor Location

There are places on every property where a pond simply can’t be built because it either, interferes with the sewer drain or utility lines, or it’s not shaded properly. The pond should also not be built in a low spot because it will collect pollutants, flood during rainstorms and be hard to clean. Not only this, the location needs to have the right soil. It should not be sandy or gravelly because that sort of soil drains too quickly. Clay soil is ideal for a pond because it holds on to water.

Lack of Ledges

Ledges are needed for semi-aquatic plants whose roots need be submerged while the rest of them are above water. Ledges can even be resting places for frogs and basking places for turtles. Also, the gravel in a pond that’s dug without ledges will simply slide to the deepest part of the pond, and boulders will crowd the space.

Too Shallow

The water in a pond that’s too shallow will either become too hot, or evaporate out during the summer. In the winter, the water needs to be deep enough so the fish won’t freeze to death. If you have fish, a shallow pond can leave them more susceptible to predators.

Too Deep

A pond that’s too deep is hard to take care of, but it is better to have a pond that is deeper than the owner is comfortable with than one that is too shallow. If you are stocking your pond with fish, a pond that is too deep can hurt the population due to lack of oxygen.

pond lilies

The Wrong Stones/Lining

A natural looking pond should support rocks of several sizes. In the end, the pond owner should have a few tons of different sized rocks, from gravel to boulders. The pond liner has to be large enough to easily cover the area. Pond liners are expensive, but the owner’s best bet is to buy a bit more than they think they need.

Improper Filtration

Though there are some people who have ponds that do not need artificial filters, these ponds are a bit tricky to install and maintain. Chances are they are natural bodies of water anyway. Improper filtration leaves water dirty and unable to sustain the sort of life that the pond owner wants. It may only be able to sustain life such as algae and mosquitoes.

Underestimating the Labour

Anyone who has even planted a sapling in their landscape knows that it can be a job of work, especially if the soil is heavy. Excavating a pond is most likely not a job for one person if they wish to finish it in a reasonable amount of time. Renting a professional with a backhoe is always an option.

Building a pond may be a lot of work, but the end result is more than worth it. Especially if you can do it the right way, by planning ahead and being aware of potential oversights before they can occur. You will certainly enjoy your new water feature a lot more if aren’t worrying about mistakes you made during the build.

Drew BishopDrew Bishop is a contributing writer for Trophy Pond. In his spare time he enjoys camping and spending time on the lake.

Jorge, Plants, Trees

apple tree buying guide

With a bewildering array of options, deciding on your first tree can be a drawn out process. First there is a decision about which variety to choose. Varieties differ in their uses, taste, date of ripening, disease-resistance and fertility. Then, there is the decision about how you want your tree to be supplied. Trees can be supplied as bare root or containerised, and varieties can be grafted onto different rootstocks, which will affect a tree’s size and vigorousness.

Uses

Cultivars can be divided into dessert, cooking and cider apples. Dessert apples are sweeter and cooking apples larger and more acidic. Dessert apples are great for eating fresh of the tree – a typical example being the Cox, which is both aromatic, crisp and juicy. Cooking differ in that they’re firm and maintain their structure when cooked, the best of which remains Bramley’s Seedling. Sour straight off the tree, cooking apples’ flavour improves in storage as the acidity falls over time. Likewise, cider apples often taste awful straight off the tree due to the high levels of astringency and bitterness. However, it is these features that add color, body and mouthfeel to a pint, producing a well proportioned flavour. Not all varieties belong exclusively to one category, for example the versatile Granny Smith is great both fresh and cooked.

Taste

Each variety has a fascinating history of its own and came into being for a variety of reasons. Some are simply found by chance, like the Christmas Pippin, found growing at the side of the M4. Others are historical varieties and have been known for hundreds of years such as Ashmead’s Kernel, originating from the 18th century. Historical cultivars are produced in abundance with the most popular dessert and cooking apple in the UK (Cox and Bramley), originating from the 19th century. Others, produced through various breeding programmes, are selected for certain characteristics. These modern varieties are often recipient of RHS Award of Garden Merit and are superior in many respects to their predecessors.

Before deciding on a dessert apple, it can be worthwhile trying what’s on offer in a supermarket, but not all varieties will be available to purchase as a tree. Cripps Pink (better known by its brand name Pink Lady) is not available to purchase in the UK due to fears from the brand owner the UK’s climate will not do the apple justice.

If you want a recommendation, look no further than Cox’s Orange Pippin – aromatic, crisp and juicy – it’s nuanced taste is far better than imported cultivars such as Braeburn and it’s descendents. A similar modern variety, Red Windsor, itself a descendent of the Cox, has the same robust flavour and aromatic qualities, although is a tad sharper. For something different, try russet and Worcester Pearmain apples. Russets are distinctive for their rough, brownish skin with a taste oft described as sweet and nutty, similar to pineapples. Worcester Pearmain, on the other hand, is distinctive for its strawberry flavour, a trait which has contributed to its popularity with breeders.

For both cooking and cider making, two varieties are often combined to produce the best depth of flavour. For apple pie for example, it is common to combine a sweet and tart apple. For cider varieties, apples vary in their acidity, tannins and sugars, producing four flavours: bittersweet, bittersharp, sharp and sweet. The most popular cooking apple and probably the best, is Bramley’s Seedling. Rare for a historical variety, this cultivar is recipient of RHS’ Award of Garden Merit, which means it’s the best of its kind.

Date of Ripening

Apples can be divided into early, mid and late picking season varieties with apples ripening from early summer to late autumn. The picking date varies significantly on location, but a mid season variety will always ripen later than an early season variety. If you are to buy more than one tree, it is recommended you buy trees with different picking seasons to ensure you have fresh apples throughout harvest period, rather than endure a glut.

Different picking season apples exhibit different storage qualities. Early varieties are best eaten straight off the tree and do not keep. They tend to be brightly coloured and are often sweet and juicy with a natural waxiness. Mid-season varieties do not keep well either, but their freshness can be extended with refrigeration. They tend to be firm fleshed and harder skinned. Late season apples can be kept for several weeks or months with some varieties’ flavour improving after a period of storage. Generally, they are very rich in flavour, drier in texture and russetted.

Disease Resistance

Apple trees suffer from a range of diseases, most of which are easily treatable through containment and fungicides. Many affect the fruit itself, noticeable by retarded growth, discoloration and abscesses. Others cause damage to the leaves, stem and roots, reducing a tree’s productivity. Common problems include canker, scab and powdery mildew and it is resistance to these diseases one should watch out for.

Varieties with good disease resistance have long been selected for breeding programmes, producing cultivars with excellent disease resistance such as Red Windsor. It is modern cultivars such as these that are best selected if you are an organic gardener unwilling to use fungicides.

Fertility

crabapple trees pollinate apple
Crabapple trees are known for their blossom and ornamental apples, which can also be used in cooking.

Like most fruiting species, apple trees can be self-fertile or self-sterile. Self-sterile varieties, deprived of the pollen from another cultivar, will not produce fruit. However, it is probable that you already live within range of another apple tree, especially if you are in an urban area. Crabapples will also pollinate apple trees and can be commonly found in commercial orchards. So, overall it is likely, you do not need to purchase two trees unless you live in an isolated location.

If you are in an isolated location, it is worth noting triploid trees will not pollinate other cultivars, so it is important to buy it with either: a self-fertile variety or two self-sterile varieties. It is also worth noting that all apples trees, including self-fertile varieties, benefit from a pollination partner, so for bigger crops partner up.

Supplied

Trees can be supplied bare root or containerised, which each have their own advantages and disadvantages, although none of these differences will affect a tree’s long term health. However, there are two important distinctions worth considering.

Firstly, most apple trees produce fruit in their 3rd and 4th year. As bare root trees are young, in their 1st or 2nd year, you’ll have to wait a few years until they fruit. Potted trees are older due to the fact bare root trees are transferred into containers upon reaching a certain age. (Although, this does not mean all potted trees were once grown in the ground as some nurseries grow trees exclusively in containers.) Overall, if you buy a potted tree, you can expect fruit in the current year, although don’t expect a large crop.

Secondly, if you wish to train your tree into a fan, espalier or cordon it is important to buy a bare root tree that is easier to train.

fan trained apple tree
Training your tree against a south facing wall will improve yields.

Rootstocks

Rootstocks influence the size of tree and the date it bears fruit. Dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks produce smaller trees but take less time to bear fruit. Vigorous rootstocks produce larger trees, but take longer to fruit. The variety you choose can also affect time to fruiting with some varieties fruiting at a younger age. Many of these are commercial varieties such as Braeburn and Granny Smith, which makes sense considering growers want a return on investment asap.

FAQ

Does it matter when I buy/plant my tree?

Trees are best planted in the autumn, allowing time to establish a root system before the summer. It is not recommended to buy a bare root tree in the winter when the ground is frozen as it is impossible to plant. Nor is it recommended to plant in the peak of summer as trees without an established root system can wilt.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.