This is a guest post from Feedback Five, the company I use to generate better feedback on Amazon, and Product Reviews.
Our Feedback Five team keeps a close eye on all things Amazon policy-related, particularly rules pertaining to customer feedback and reviews. As most sellers know by now, Amazon.com, Inc. recently updated its incentivized review policy.
In this article, we’ll share an overview of what changed and how to protect your reputation.
If you’ve ever launched a private-label product on the Amazon marketplace, you know how important product reviews can be. Reviews are arguably the most influential contributor to effective Amazon SEO, which explains why brand stakeholders (third-party merchants & vendors alike) are increasingly interested in them.
Before the policy update, a common practice involved offering free (or discounted) products to customers. Whether explicitly stated or not, the understanding by both parties typically involved a quid pro quo. In other words, the seller or vendor might lure customers with the promise of a free product in exchange for a review. Some even went so far to join online “review clubs,” which popped up in recent years. Such clubs matched consumers with vendors (or merchants) who were interested in swapping free stuff for reviews.
In October 2016, Amazon formally prohibited the practice of “incentivizing” reviews, unless done so through the Amazon Vine program. As pointed out on its corporate blog, “…we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program. We launched Vine several years ago to carefully facilitate these kinds of reviews and have been happy with feedback from customers and vendors.”
This change obviously presents several challenges, especially for merchants selling lesser-known and/or private-label products. First, the Amazon Vine program is only open to vendors currently. Therefore, most third-party merchants would not qualify, unless they happen to be also selling through the Vendor Central portal. Even if they are, the Vine program is an invitation-only engagement (unless you are accepted into the Launchpad program, which could increase the likelihood of Vine inclusion).
From the reviewer’s perspective, Amazon also made a few noteworthy changes. Perhaps most notably, reviewers are now required to spend a minimum of $50 on Amazon.com (excluding Prime subscriptions or promotions) before they are considered “review eligible.” Also, reviewers are only permitted to leave up to five non-Amazon verified reviews per week.
What is Still Allowed?
There is some good news for the review-minded merchant. Namely, review solicitation is still allowed – so long as the seller does not try to coerce the customer rating. As discussed here, “Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.” Stay focused on ensuring customer satisfaction and maintain a professional tone. Your primary goal should be to confirm that the buyer is entirely happy – if a positive review is the byproduct, then everyone wins.
Also, it appears that the policy changes do not apply to book categories, although Amazon clearly points out that “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.” This does not appear to apply to merchants, so tread lightly when navigating this loophole.
So, to recap, the following activities are still allowed, albeit with certain modifications:
- Offering free products, but only through the Amazon Vine program (except books, as noted above)
- Receiving non-verified reviews, but with limitations
- Asking customers to leave product reviews (as long as there is no coercion)
Can I Automate My Review Solicitation & Still Comply?
Using a service like FeedbackFive (click here for a free 14-day trial) can help you simultaneously stay in compliance and increase reviews for the products you sell. Since we pioneered automated feedback management for Amazon merchants back in 2009, we’ve seen a lot of changes to Amazon policy. Through it all, we’ve remained committed to offering a tool that produces results without jeopardizing one of your most important assets: your good standing with Amazon.
FeedbackFive was designed with your entire seller reputation in mind. Feedback and reviews go hand in hand, which is why our tool tracks both data points in a single, intuitive dashboard.
Since all of your feedback and review data flows seamlessly into FeedbackFive, you can use this information to create rule-based campaigns. Such campaigns do the heavy lifting of identifying your customers who are likely to leave reviews. For example, you might configure a campaign that solicits reviews from customers only if they have left positive feedback. (Our internal studies have shown that positive feedback and positive reviews are often closely correlated.)
As your campaigns begin to produce results, our tool can also be handy for visualizing customer satisfaction. Our buyer-reviewer matching feature is one-of-a-kind in the industry, leveraging a proprietary algorithm to quickly identify your customers who took the time to leave reviews. This is especially handy for addressing customer service issues. Rather than guessing which customer had a negative experience, you’re able to know in a matter of clicks. It’s important to note, however, that asking customers to modify or remove product reviews is strictly prohibited by Amazon. A better approach may involve providing a replacement or a refund, if appropriate, or in some cases explaining something they may have misunderstood about the product. You could also consider leaving a comment to the buyer’s review, but be careful and overly courteous when doing so.
Reviews Still Matter for Your Amazon Retail Business
In the long run, Amazon’s changes are likely to be a net positive for all stakeholders – even merchants like you. Amazon recognizes the importance of maintaining review integrity, which is a major contributor to site’s unparalleled customer loyalty. By weeding out those trying to game the system, Amazon has taken another important step toward further cementing such trust with consumers.