Spotted on Amazon: Verified Expert Reviews

Every once in a while, one of us at the office has an Amazon page open and notices something new. This usually results in some office back-and-forth of “Did you see this? Is it coming up for you?” wherein we try to replicate the rendering and investigate the conditions under which it appears. Once we get a handle on that, we poke around some more and try to figure out what it might mean in terms of the bigger Amazon shopping experience. And if Amazon is now allowing verified expert reviews?

One of our team members, Tyler, noticed a new section on the search-results page. In searching for “water bottle,” Tyler encountered something called Amazon Expert Reviews just under the first row of Sponsored Products ads.

This was a new find for the Seller Labs Marketing squad, a find that may or may not appear for you depending on your browser settings and Amazon’s test groups, so we wanted to share what we saw and speculate on what it might be about.

1. Expert reviews > The Best Water Bottles

This is a new section header, complete with a new icon, a link to the source, and the Amazon Verified Expert badge. What makes an expert in this case? How does an individual or an organization become an expert and get verified? Unknown at this point.

The source is named as Wirecutter and it is linked in this header. The link goes to an Amazon Profile page for Wirecutter. At the moment, it looks a lot like an unpopulated social media profile. From this profile page, you can view your own profile, which will look a lot like a Facebook/Twitter combo but with your Amazon stuff like reviews and wishlists and the like, some of which is private and some which is public. Clearly, Amazon wants shoppers to complete missing info and build out their profiles further, thus willingly giving Amazon even more personal data.

2. “Is this helpful?” Thumbs up or thumbs down.

Amazon wants feedback on this new section. Clicking either thumb resulted in no activity or indication that my feedback was even recorded. But this is Amazon and everything is tabulated. Surely more important than the thumbs-up/thumbs-down will be the sales metrics of clicks and conversions on the featured products in this new section.

3. Quickie mouseover blurb with a link to more details.

All products in the section have this, but some have a button for “More Details” (goes to the product detail page) and others have the ubiquitous “Add to Cart” yellow button. I’m guessing that here we have split testing going on to see the effects of each call-to-action button.

4. Wirecutter logo, which looks a lot like a verified badge in and of itself, with “Our Pick” for subcategories of water bottles.

These subcategories have nothing to do with Amazon’s categories, which actually brings us to the question of “Well then, from where is this list of the best water bottles coming?” Answer: see number 5.

5. The blurb about the list.

Clicking “Read more” goes to an atypically bare Amazon landing page with only the Wirecutter name, logo, verified checkmark, and a version of the original Wirecutter article on water bottles. What jumped out at me about this page is how spartan it is, how the date of the article indicated that it was written/updated in mid-2017 and that the content is not original. If you Google “wirecutter best water bottles,” the first result is that of the original mid-2017 article on the Wirecutter website.

Interestingly, within the original article, there are links to purchase each water bottle reviewed. Not all of those links go to Amazon (some go to Jet or REI, etc.) This leaves me wondering 1) if that will change given that there is now a clear relationship between Wirecutter and Amazon, and 2) what the nature of the affiliate relationship has been so far (clicking the “Buy from Amazon” button does show a pass through an affiliate link) and if/how that will change now that Wirecutter is a “verified expert” with premium placement. In other words, “Who’s paying whom and for what leads and sales?”

Final Thoughts

I haven’t got answers to most of the questions I’ve raised here, but I do think that whenever there is a change to the way in which Amazon handles its website real estate (even if that change is short-lived), we ought to pay attention, especially when it comes to advertising, a topic about which so much has been speculated of late, particularly with regard to Amazon competing with Facebook and Google.

And finally, for what it’s worth, Wirecutter is a New York Times company. Jeff Bezos (Bezos not Amazon) owns The Washington Post. The two newspapers are rivals, increasingly so since the 2016 election. A small world grows increasingly smaller and to ignore Amazon’s involvement in the connections, rivalries, and acquisitions would be a big mistake when thinking about the future of retail, advertising, and media. Then again, maybe it’s just a simple design beta test…

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