To understand the state of Amazon reviews today, let’s take a quick look at Amazon’s development…
1995: a 31-year-old Jeff Bezos launches an online book store out of his garage. He considers the names “Cadabra” and “Relentless” (visit Relentless.com today and see what you get!), but settles on “Amazon”, the name of the largest river in the world.
1998: the New York Times reports that Amazon is expanding beyond books. Bezos aspires to be an online “everything store”.
2010: Berkshire Hathway subsidiary BusinessWire reports that Amazon is the single largest source of reviews online.
2013: Michael Jackson fans mobilize to negatively review and downvote positive reviews on “Untouchable”, a written biography of MJ.
2015: Amazon sues 1114 reviewers for writing paid reviews on Fiverr. Also in 2015, verified purchase badges are removed from units sold for review that have a discount of more than 50%.
2016: Amazon sues 3 sellers for creating fake accounts and posting positive reviews.
As you can see, a lot’s been happening in the world of online reviews. And as an Amazon Seller, it’s hard to keep up.
Don’t worry. We’ve done the research, so you don’t have to. By the end of this piece, you’ll be able to get reviews with confidence.
Put succinctly, Amazon reviews in 2016 are 2 things:
(1) Important and
(2) increasingly regulated.
Let’s break it down…
(1) Important: intelligence firm SmartInsights reports that conversion rate increases with review count, with 50 or more reviews accounting for a 4.6% increase in conversion rates.
But with ROI’s like these, people try to game the system. They’ll pay reviewers for posting, create fake Amazon accounts, leave negative reviews on competing listings, and the like.
That’s why Amazon reviews are increasingly…
(2) Regulated: Amazon has a two-pronged approach for regulating fake reviews: lawsuits to make an example of blackhat sellers (like the Fiverr and triple-seller suits), and changes to its algorithm, which are basically the rules we give computers for making decisions. Going forward, Amazon will have more refined systems for detecting fake reviews, and barring them before they’re posted. Legal as offence, software as defense.
If you’re an Amazon seller and you’re not sure whether or not your review practices are by-the-book, we’re setting the record straight today.
This is… the State of Amazon Reviews in 2016!
Amazon has 3 documents that constitute its policy on product reviews. These pages, along with others, are collectively called Amazon’s “TOS”, or “Terms of Service”.
First up, we’ve got “About Customer Reviews”, a top-level view of the reviewing world. It answers the fundamental question: why create a review system? In Amazon’s words:
“To capture all the energy and enthusiasm (both favorable and critical) that customers have about a product [and to] help customers learn more about the product or genre, hear the reasons behind your star rating, and ultimately decide if this is the right product for them or not.”
See, Amazon sellers need reviews for social proof and sales, while Amazon needs them to help buyers make better decisions. Thankfully, these objectives can harmonize if we know the rules.
Speaking of rules…
“About Customer Reviews” also gives instructive examples for Sellers on what to avoid:
Next, we’ve got Prohibited Seller Activities & Actions, which builds on the illustrations from “About Customer Reviews”:
“ You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free or discount copy of the product. If you offer a free or discount product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free or discount product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”
See some recurring takeaways?
Refunds = bad.
Financial interest = bad.
Compensation for reviewers = bad.
Soliciting positive reviews instead of honest ones = bad.
What surprised some sellers is this sentence, which was silently added to the existing document in August 2015:
“You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products.”
This had everyone asking: just how many is an “excessive” number of products to sell for review?
None of the above. “Excessive” was later revealed to mean an excessive number of products going to a single person, as this would positively influence their review.
And lastly, there’s the Customer Review Creation Guidelines, the most definitive collection of review rules.
In the section called “Paid Reviews”, we get an explanation of how to sell product for review the right way.
“ We do not permit reviews […] that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind. The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact.”
Remember this: the last sentence asks reviewers to leave a disclosure about the fact that they received the product for review purposes. So, as a seller, always make sure that your reviewers include some form of disclaimer.
It’s been quite the ride.
We looked at Amazon’s review history (who’s bad?) as well as the current state of reviews today.
To end things off, here’s a definitive list of things to do going forward…
Stay honest. Encourage both positive and negative feedback on your product. Don’t solicit “positive” or “5-star” ratings.
Product only. Only offer products to reviewers in exchange for a free or discounted copy. No cash, gift cards, sweepstakes, in-game bonuses (for games) or the like.
Final sale. Don’t promise to refund reviewers after the transaction is over.
Avoid self-interest. Anyone writing a review who has a financial (or, I’d add, familial) connection to the brand shouldn’t leave a review. So that means you and your uncle should avoid reviewing your silicone baking mat, and bashing the competitors.
Let it play. Don’t ask buyers to remove negative reviews. Like any customer, you can provide customer service in the event of a bad experience, but asking them to remove a negative review will get you in trouble.
Disclaimers. Make sure that your reviewers leave disclaimers in the text body of their reviews saying that they received the item at a discount for evaluation purposes.
Be yourself. Don’t create multiple reviewer accounts and post Amazon reviews. It seems like an obvious infraction, but was the subject of the most recent lawsuits.
Reviews build social proof and can increase your conversion rates. And customers trust them more than anything you, the brand, can produce.
If you want to get Amazon reviews that adhere with Amazon’s Terms of Service, consider using HonestFew. It’s an all-in-one solution for getting more sales and reviews for your products. Get in touch at email@example.com or here, at HonestFew.com.