Don't Get Busted for Amazon Review Manipulation

Four months have passed since Amazon banned incentivized reviews. Since this game-changing terms of service update, merchants have developed new tactics to generate product reviews and stay compliant with Amazon. I have seen all sorts of these tactics. For this post, I want to describe how you can still get reviews and avoid policy violations.  

Amazon and product reviews

Before I dive into specific tactics, I think it’s important to understand how Amazon works and what the intention of its review policies are. Firstly, Amazon needs to ensure that shoppers remain confident in its platform as shopper confidence is contingent on the integrity of the review system.
Amazon loves product reviews and it needs honest product reviews to sell goods. I’m not surprised that the last major review policy update happened at the start of the 4th Quarter—October 3, 2016 to be exact. Many news outlets were talking about the policy update. Amazon’s PR team achieved what they wanted with click-worthy headlines that stated they are cracking down on incentivized product reviews. Amazon typically makes these types of policy changes and then uses technology to enforce them. One such technology is Amazon’s machine learning algorithm. Machine learning crawls through millions of product reviews looking for patterns that could be policy violations. If your business or product is flagged, someone at Amazon will often look at your account in depth. This is why you want to do things the right way.
Just to be clear, Amazon is not on a witch hunt to suspend accounts for no reason. Seller Labs is one of the largest third-party Amazon platforms; we work with thousands of merchants. The number of policy violations regarding review manipulation has been relatively small. A seller who is flagged for violating Amazon’s TOS has flagrantly disregarded it. Regardless, we want to make sure everyone knows how to ensure they stay compliant with the new policy and keep their accounts in good standing.

How to avoid a review manipulation policy violation

Don’t give away discounted or free products in exchange for reviews

You can sell discounted products but you need to make sure there is no obligation or expectation to leave a review. You should also avoid platforms that allow you to select and approve deals for individual Amazon shoppers.

Don’t ask buyers to only leave positive reviews

You should never ask a buyer to leave you a positive or five-star review. Leave that language out of your emails. You should also avoid language like: “If you have a problem with this product please click here to contact customer support. And If you are happy with this product please leave a review.”

Don’t give shoppers review suggestions

Some sellers will email buyers several examples of reviews they could write. Providing these suggestions will get you in trouble.

Don’t spam shoppers

Keep your messages about the order. Ensure you are offering great service and then ask for a review. Don’t spam shoppers with multiple review requests. Remember the golden rule of marketing—market unto to others as you would have them market unto you!

Don’t ask friends, family, employees or paid influencers to write reviews

Amazon clearly states that no one who has financial interests in a product can review it. This means all of the above.

Be cautious when messaging buyers who were given discounted products

In light of the recent policy updates, Amazon’s algorithms are going to be looking at reviews where the product was purchased at a discount. If you’re discounting products, especially at large discounts and getting lots of reviews, it could trigger a manual account review. In this case, you want to make sure your account is squeaky clean. If the language in your emails is questionable, Amazon may suspend you for it. And if you want to be extra cautious—our automated buyer-messaging tool—Feedback Genius has a filter that lets you exclude or write unique messages for buyers that purchase products at a discount.  

Offer great customer service

Focus your buyer-seller messages on great customer service and not on asking for feedback or product reviews.

Don’t trick sellers into not writing bad reviews

Amazon wants honest reviews. Language that used to be OK can now be considered questionable. Directing good comments to reviews and bad comments to customer service could be viewed as manipulation. To avoid this, simply ask the customer if they need to speak with a customer service representative in one email. In a second email, ask for a review. This will give you a chance to blacklist anyone who contacts you for customer service.

Ensure shoppers can opt-out of automated message

Not every buyer wants the extra messages, no matter how helpful they are. Feedback Genius makes it easy for buyers to opt out of future messages.

So what’s an example of a good message to a shopper?

Example message:

Subject: It looks like your [product name] was just delivered!

Hello shopper,

The tracking for order X shows that the item was recently delivered. I’m super excited that you purchased our awesome [product name]. If you have any problems at all, don’t hesitate to reply to this email so we can help you out. We would also love to know your honest opinion of the product. Please [click here] to leave a product review on Amazon.  

This message is short and sweet. It’s clearly about the order but we also have a simple call to action asking for a product review. If Amazon reads this message it will clearly see you are offering great customer service and you not trying to manipulate the buyer into leaving a positive review.

What do I do if I get flagged for a policy violation?

Most of the time Amazon will send a violation before it suspends you from the platform. If you get a policy violation you should take it seriously. You should clearly look at any rules Amazon says you have broken and create a plan of action to resolve the problem. If you want professional help I highly recommend eGrowth Partners. They are experts in Amazon violations and suspensions.
They work with many Amazon Merchants and they take a conservative approach to ensure your Amazon business is compliant. If you want to read their opinion on how to stay in compliance with regarding review manipulation click here.  Seller Labs believes that every seller should explore the facts, understand the current rules with Amazon and make decisions that they are comfortable with for their business. Some sellers will choose to take an ultra-conservative approach while others may be willing to take more risks with their business. As the ever-changing Amazon Terms of Service evolves, all sellers should reevaluate their messages and make the necessary changes based on their own risk tolerance.  

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