Amazon seems to have had enough with a recent trend of fake and incentivized reviews, and many sellers are left to wonder if they will have their Amazon seller account suspended. Amazon seems totally determined to make sure consumers can trust the reviews posted on their marketplace. Multiple Amazon sellers have reported receiving an email with a very stern warning:
“We recently updated our policies to prohibit incentivize reviews, including those posted in exchange for a free or discounted copy of the product. You are receiving this email because products you sell have received incentivize reviews in the past. If you attempt to acquire incentivize reviews going forward, your Amazon privileges will be suspended or terminated.
We consider a review to be incentivized if you have influenced or can influence the review directly or indirectly, including by monitoring whether a review is written and providing or withholding any benefit based on whether a review is written or the content of the review. Below are a few examples where a review is considered incentivize and is not permitted:
- You provide a free or discounted product, gift card, rebate, cash payment, or other compensation in exchange for the review.
- You provide or withhold free or discounted products or other benefits in the future based on whether the customer writes a review.
- You use a review service where reviewers’ continued membership depends on writing reviews.
- You use a review service where you can rate customers based on their reviews.
- You use a review service where customers register their Amazon public profile so that you can monitor their reviews of your products.
Incentivizing customer reviews violates our policies and may violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The following actions are generally allowed, provided you comply with the above restrictions:
- You might offer discounts that are generally available to all Amazon customers, such as Lightning Deals.
- You may give out free products at tradeshows, conventions, or other similar venues where you are unable to monitor whether the recipients write a review or provide or withhold any benefits based on whether a review is written or the content of the review.
The above changes apply only to product categories other than books. We continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advanced review copies of books.”
Amazon Sellers Are Scared
When Amazon released the first TOS change on incentivized reviews on October 3rd, 2016, there was a tremendous amount of shock and fear from Amazon sellers on two different fronts.
The first problem was that sellers were nervous that their Seller Central accounts would be banned due to having used these review services; there were rumors floating around that fanned the fire on this fear, but it was quickly debunked.
The second issue people were concerned with was how they would generate the initial reviews typically required to launch a new product. Most new sellers learn through podcasts, seller support training courses, or online Facebook business groups that it’s critical to get ‘social proof’ in the form of 5-star reviews. And prior to the negative feedback from Amazon, the easiest way to do this was to use a review service.
If you had any doubts about using review and launch services after the announcement a couple weeks ago banning incentivized reviews, today’s carefully worded email sent to most sellers is a warning shot across the bow from Amazon that should immediately put those doubts to bed. Sure, you can try sending an appeal letter to Amazon if you get suspended, but avoiding the circumstances that get you banned in the first place is a better option.
Big Amazon Sellers Speaks Out
Brian Johnson, founder of PPC Scope says:
While Amazon is notifying sellers that they’ve identified the review patterns consistent with incentivized reviews, it’s important to remember that launch and promotional services are still valid, assuming they conform to the new TOS. Additionally, PPC will help you discover new audiences and increase visibility of your product and does not require aggressive bidding in order to counter a new review policy.
Six-figure per month Amazon seller, Kevin King, has a vastly different view on the problem of using launch services:
Personally, I will never use another review or launch service. Even the services that say they don’t require their “buyers” to leave reviews are off limits to me. I believe you are guilty by association. So many of the hundreds of thousands of what I call “fake buyers” that use those services to get free and discounted products are conditioned to leave reviews and put in the disclaimer. The services are now discouraging it, but they have conditioned a large audience and the damage is done. You can’t totally reverse that. Play at your own risk, and that risk is too high for me.
In the past two weeks, I have had hundreds of reviews removed that came from launch services such as Zonblast, I Love To Review, Honest Few, Viral-Launch, Snagshout and Jungle Scout’s Review Kick, including some over a year old. Those services and the many others out there are deeply on Amazon’s radar. Even if you continue to use those services for sales velocity, I think you are seriously risking your account.
There will be reviews that still come in on those discounts. You can’t control that. But you can control your pricing. Ask the owners of those services, and they will say everything is OK. That’s bullshit. It may be OK today, but things are about to get bad and a lot of people are going to go down with their sinking ship. You may have the best seat on the Titanic, but eventually you are going to drown in the cold icy water. Continue using them and you are just treading water until inevitable death comes.
Remember, Amazon shoots first, and asks questions later. Doesn’t matter if you are a $1,000 per month seller or a $20 million account – seriously. It simply is not worth the risk. I recommend you stay as far away from those services and Facebook review groups as possible if you value your account.
You can still give a discount. And there are other, more legitimate ways to get sales velocity and real reviews. But Amazon’s statement in the email that you can do discounts in a similar vain as Lightning Deals is a strong clue to me. My interpretation: a review that comes in on a discount greater than 15-30% off your normal selling price over the past 90 days is suspicious.
In a worse case, I definitely would not go over a 50% discount of your last 90 days selling price (or the average of the top 5-10 sellers in the category if you are launching a new product). Even if the previous review and ranking services change their tune and don’t allow discounts over 50%, they are still tarnished. You are taking a chance using them.
What Does This Mean for Your Amazon Business?
Amazon cares about the customer above all else – never ever forget that. A $20 customer is way up the ladder in importance over your multi-million dollar Seller Central account, even if you have a 100% seller performance rating. Just ask any top seller who has had a product listing suspended over a single negative customer feedback.
You HAVE TO PUT the customer first. The age of “me-too products” slapped together with generic brand logos in cheap plastic bags are mostly gone. The times of deceiving customers with fake reviews are history.
It’s time that we as sellers put customer service first again. Let’s stop depending so much on research tools that give the same seller performance results to everyone. Let’s use our heads to solve this review problem and give customers a good reason to choose our products over competitors. Do real research. Be creative and innovative in how you present your items on your listings. Give customers what THEY want, and not just what you want to give them.
“Most of the reviews from the VIP groups and services are useless and irrelevant, adds Kevin King. “Most of those people aren’t your target audience and they would never have bought your product had it not been for the ridiculous discount. These reviews are a disservice to the “real” regular price customers, Amazon doesn’t like them, and neither should you.”
To reiterate Kevin’s seller performance sentiment, put out a QUALITY product that customers like and are glad to buy. Solve the problems that other products don’t. Treat selling on Amazon as a real business, not a get rich quick scheme with counterfeit products. And always remember to play by Amazon’s rules because you’re only an invited guest on its website.
So You Want to Play By the Rules…What Are Your Options?
Now with the complete ban of incentivized reviews to the point that using such a review can get your account suspended, what options are there for the typical seller?
Organic Reviews – Slow But Safe
One option is to generate reviews organically. Slow, yes — but safe. What this means is that your products will gain reviews naturally over time as people feel the need to write a review on your product inventory. The downside to this is that is it extremely slow, and there is a much higher likelihood that you’ll get negative reviews over positive ones.
Why is this? People are more compelled to vent their frustration regarding a negative experience than they are to spend time to come and show praise for a product. A buyer doesn’t have to be reminded to leave you a negative review. If they are upset or feel cheated in their purchase, they will make the effort to contact you or post a less than favorable review.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you have happy customers who like your product, they almost never think about leaving you a positive review. There is nothing there that is driving them to that action. But you could change this.
10X More Likely to Receive a Bad Review
Based on internal tests, we’ve found out that you are 5 times more likely to receive a 4 or 5-star review than you are a 1 or 2-star review with the right email follow-up sequence following a user’s purchase. If you specifically reach out to a customer via email and ask for a review, the happy customers will now be much more inclined to leave you a positive review.
With a great product, you should have many more happy customers than unhappy ones. This should turn the tables on the positive to negative review ratio that you would get if you never reached out to customers, and relied completely on unsolicited organic reviews.
Bad reviews don’t just pull down your review rating and end there. Bad reviews beget bad reviews. If a customer’s bad review is sitting at the top of your product reviews section where people can scroll down and see it, you are way more likely to receive another bad review from somebody that might have otherwise not left you a review or at the very least not been as critical with their review or the rating they left you.
This phenomenon requires a scientific explanation that goes beyond the scope of this article, but the short version of it has to do with mob mentality, and people doing what they see others doing. The lesson here: Do whatever it takes to make sure you do not have a bad review showing on page one of your reviews.
What’s The New Way To Get Reviews?
Soliciting reviews from your buyers; isn’t that against Amazon’s TOS? Absolutely not. What about giving them a discount or a coupon and then asking for a review? Again this is fine and 100% within Amazon’s current TOS as long as you haven’t made it a requirement for them to review your product for using the discount.
If you make it a condition that the discount will only be given if the person leaves you a review, then you are violating the TOS. And now that means potential suspension. So what can you do?
“I recommend an email follow up with your customers that does not exceed three emails, and preferably two whenever it makes sense. I employ a number of follow-up sequences that vary depending on the product that is being sold.
Typically, I send out two emails, both of which are very short. The first email goes out the day they receive their order and gives the buyer important information that covers the top two or three questions I typically get from customers about the product.
I will end that email with a PS: that asks the user to hit REPLY and let me know if the product is anything other than a fantastic product. The PS: portion of an email is important because almost everybody reads this part.”
This first email gives me good customer feedback on my product, reveals potential issues from a customer who is unhappy and alerts me to the issue before they leave me a negative review, and creates an open loop dialog with the happy customers so that they are more likely to respond to my 2nd email.
My second email is very short and asks for a review. I again reiterate that if they feel the product is not a fantastic product, hit REPLY and let me know why. I use variations of this follow-up to drive up organic reviews. Since this customer found my product on their own and I have never communicated with them beforehand or found them on a review service, this communication between me and the customer is not only helpful for them, but beneficial to grow my review base and improve my social proof to new buyers – and it all falls within Amazon’s TOS.”
The Next Big Amazon Ban Is Coming…
Too many sellers bombard their buyers with emails. This has gotten worse since the banning of review services. This is why it is recommended that sellers only email their customers two or three times at the most. And keep the communication short and easy to read.
“Some of the emails I see sellers sending out to their customers are absolutely insane – mini-novels in an email,” says Manny Coats. “What do you think most buyers do when they open an email and see 100 lines of text? They delete it or skip to another email. On the flip side, if they open an email and there’s just a few lines of text and a PS: at the bottom, they read it, and you get results.”
If sellers continue to bombard buyers with an extreme number of emails, the next step Amazon may take is adjusting the TOS related to seller-buyer communications. We have to be careful because if they do this, and ban the use of soliciting any kind of reviews through their system, then getting reviews is going to get exponentially tougher.
You Need Sales To Get Reviews
Using a smart email follow-up sequence makes sense, but it doesn’t help if you aren’t getting sales. How does a seller get the initial sales required to fuel the follow-up sequence?
One method is to drive sales via Sponsored Ads and Amazon’s Marketing Service. The majority of sellers know about sponsored ads, but very few know that there are strategies to get approved to start using Amazon Marketing Services.
If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then you’ve likely seen ads where a competitor’s product shows up on your listing page right below the buy button. Or you’ve seen a large banner ad across the top of the search results, above all the normal sponsored ads. Those are Amazon Sponsored Ads, and they are incredibly effective at driving traffic to your product listing page.
Drop Your Price During Your Launch Process
Another option that can be used in parallel with using ads is to launch your product at a heavily discounted rate. The AM/PM Podcast has suggested launching at just above your full break-even costs, while slowly raising the price point each week until you reach your full target selling price over the course of a month. The initial lower price coupled with Amazon advertising drives people to an offer that is hard to resist, resulting in sales and reviews if the right follow-up sequence is in place.
Be mindful to not lower your initial launch price so low that your product is converted to an “add-on” product, which we covered in our article about Amazon Add-on Products – Are They Really a Deathblow to Your Sales Figures?
There are other more advanced launch strategies that employ the use of email appending, and we’ll cover those various tactics in the future. One thing is for sure — you can feel comfort in knowing that these new TOS policies regarding reviews can actually help the honest seller while impeding those sellers who have relied heavily upon or almost solely on using these review services to manipulate their way to the top.
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