Amazon has once again changed its review policies. It is now against its terms of service to provide a free or discounted product in exchange for a review unless you are using the Vine program. This is the end of incentivized product reviews for third-party merchants.
You can read about the change in several different places on Amazon.com. I believe the Seller Central message sums it up best:
“Amazon no longer permits providing free or discounted products in exchange for reviews.”
What does Amazon mean exactly?
Can I use third-party services to provide free or discounted products to reviewers?
No. The policy applies regardless of whether you compensate reviewers directly or through a third party.
When and how will this policy be enforced?
The policy is effective immediately. If you continue to offer free or discounted products in exchange for a review, your Amazon privileges may be suspended or revoked.
Can I continue to provide discounts and promotions to customers?
Yes. You may continue to offer discounts and promotions as long as they are not in exchange for reviews.
What constitutes a review “in exchange” for a free or discounted product?
“We do not allow any benefit to be offered, requested, or provided in exchange for a review.”
Why is Amazon doing this?
Amazon released a statement on the About Amazon blog explaining its rationale. Reviews are valuable on Amazon, including incentivized product reviews. Amazon merchants face a catch-22: No reviews mean no sales, and no sales mean no reviews. Incentivized product reviews, as long as they are honest, can make a sound foundation for quality Amazon products. However, as of October 3, 2016, Amazon has decided that the only fair, incentivized product reviews should come from Amazon’s Vine program.
Over the past two years, there have been many of platforms created to help Amazon merchants get reviews in exchange for giving a product away for a discount. Most of these platforms allowed merchants to select reviewers individually and only select reviewers who would leave favorable reviews. Some programs even kicked out reviewers who consistently left negative reviews. These tactics forced Amazon to change the rules to ensure the integrity of the marketplace.
What does this mean for merchants?
Like it or not, Amazon is not going to allow merchants to give products away in exchange for a review unless you are using vine. Currently, Vine is only open to first-party merchants, and it’s extremely expensive. To help get initial sales and reviews, merchants will need to drive traffic to products using various marketing techniques like sponsored products and deals sites. Merchants can then follow up with those sales offering excellent customer service and asking for an honest review of the product. These reviews will have no implied contract of review for a discount, and the reviewers will not be required to have a discount disclaimer.
What is Snagshout doing?
With more than 200,000 shoppers, Snagshout will remain the premier marketing platform to drive sales to your Amazon listings. Effective immediately, Snagshout will no longer ask shoppers to leave reviews on Amazon to get deals.
You will still be able to use Snagshout to offer great deals to verified Amazon shoppers. You can then use a third-party messaging system like Feedback Genius to provide excellent customer service and invite the shoppers to leave an honest product review. Snagshout shoppers are highly social and will still be encouraged to share products on social media, but there will no longer be a requirement for buyers to leave reviews to get deals. Instead, Snagshout will be a platform for you to reach social shoppers. We have anticipated this type of change coming from Amazon for a while. In February we launched a new campaign feature that allows merchants to offer discounts without requiring a review. Since that time, our merchants have run campaigns that don’t require a shopper to leave a review. These campaigns have resulted in tens of thousands of sales and an average review rate of 48%.
What will happen to existing incentivized product reviews?
Amazon has offered very little information about this. We believe it may remove some reviews they consider excessive, but only time will tell.
If I sell a product with a coupon code, and the buyer leaves a review, will it get removed?
Discounting products on Amazon is not going away. It is a very effective form of marketing and helps drive sales to products. Amazon will more than likely look at accounts that have excessively discounted reviews and may consider removing some. Currently, Amazon has not been that aggressive in removing discounted reviews. The amount of the discount, the ratio of reviews and the frequency will all play into this. Millions of products are going to be purchased with discount codes. Many of them will get legitimate reviews. We don’t believe Amazon will be deleting all of those reviews.
How should I get reviews now?
You need to use a tool like Feedback Genius to follow up with shoppers offering excellent customer service and ask them to review your products. You will also need to find effective ways to drive sales to your products like sponsored product ads and Snagshout.
How do I get on Amazon Vine?
Amazon Vine is currently only for Amazon first-party merchants.
Is Amazon doing this just to promote Vine?
No, this is mainly in response to the bad press they have gotten from sites like Review Meta about incentivized product reviews. Amazon has to maintain the integrity of the review system. Unfortunately, this will probably push many sellers to start outright paying for reviews that Amazon can not detect. As you read through Mr. Chew’s blog post, he pointed out that “when done carefully, they can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.” He points out several reasons why Amazon trusts the Vine program:
Amazon – not the vendor or seller – identifies and invites trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products;
We have been a big supporter of allowing anybody to review products, and not introducing selection bias toward sellers that only leave positive reviews. We have left the platform open to anybody because we believe that shoppers want to hear from regular users, not just those who have worked their way up the Amazon ranking system.
We do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written;
Snagshout has followed these principles as well. We have always required honest reviews, and not penalized reviewers for being critical.
And we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product.
This is one item that we haven’t done specifically. Our pricing has indirectly influenced this, but we’ve never enforced a maximum, which, in hindsight would have been reasonable, but probably would not have changed their decision.
Watch or listen to the webinar replay to learn more about how this Amazon policy update affects sellers.