Amazon has been cracking down on questionable tactics intended to generate product reviews. They have taken some pretty extreme measures in the past, to ensure reviews are legitimate and not incentivized. But, some people think they’re taking it too far. Repercussions include:
-Temporarily suspending seller accounts under the assumption that they committed review manipulation
– Separating variation listings into individual ones due to the fact that the combined reviews were not adequately reflecting the individual variations ratings
-Temporarily preventing listings from getting reviews if they’ve exceeded a certain number in a single day
-Banning the majority of the top 10,000 reviewers accounts owned by Amazon users, under the suspicion that they were being paid or otherwise incentivized to leave those reviews
-Bluntly removing reviews from listings that were unverified, suspected to be incentivized or otherwise ill-gotten
The history of how we got here with Amazon reviews can be found here:
This commitment and crackdown from Amazon to eliminate fake reviews is a good thing. It levels the playing field for all sellers. However, keep in mind that—in the past—building a page on reviews was common practice for some sellers and now they’ll have to start over.
What are the rules for Amazon reviews?
Before we get into how you can actually get reviews on your listings, we need to go over those intensely enforced rules in order to understand what crosses the line and what doesn’t. These rules are stipulated by the Amazon Terms of Service in regards to reviews; you are forbidden to:
-Offer discounts in exchange for reviews
-Directly offer people payments in return for a reviews
-Give away free products in exchange for a review
-Ask people to leave a positive review
-Ask family and friends to leave a review
-Trade reviews with other sellers
-Leave a review for a product you have a personal stake in
The Terms of Service stress that you, as a seller, should not take part in anything that results in your product being rated in a way that is not a reflection of honest and unbiased consumer experiences.
But, asking someone who buys your product to leave a review shouldn’t be as questionable as it’s deemed. It’s up to the customer to be honest in their review. If you’re simply asking them after a purchase, why is that considered “breaking the rules?”
Amazon wants to make sure that products sold on their platform are presented in the most honest way possible. The fact that they are sold online makes things less tangible and the reviews are one of the things that give the products a dose of much needed tangibility.
How to get reviews the right way
There is a sort of paradox when it comes to launching a new product. You need to sell in order to get reviews, but on the other hand, the more reviews you have the more product you will sell—resulting in stronger credibility for your product. You’re more likely to convert a sale when you have more reviews.
The fact that these rules are in place makes it so that many new products start from scratch since it’s against the rules to use any other method to get those first handful of reviews. People would usually find a way to pay someone or have family members review their products to “get the ball rolling.” Nowadays it’s not uncommon to find products with decent organic rankings with no reviews. For example, here’s a listing for a pair of impact gloves that are on page 2 of search results for “impact gloves” with no reviews:
In fact, the item is running out of stock due to its sales. Of course there might not have been too many items that were in stock to begin with, however, the gloves sold enough to get to page 2 of one of the products main relevant keywords.
It may be hard, but try your best to treat your listing as if it has reviews already and promote it to the best of your ability. In general, you should expect 1 review for every 100 sales. But this all depends on questions with answers specific to your product:
- Who are your customers?
- Are they likely to leave a review?
- What other efforts are you putting in to make sure your sales get converted?
The rules say that you can’t offer discounts for reviews. But, you can rely on discounts to incentivize customers to buy and leave a review.
Another idea is setting up a discount coupon for your new product in order to increase sales. You can do special offers on social media or forums.
However, keep in mind that any review that is made by a customer that has bought your product using a discount will be considered an “unverified” review.
However, in terms of optics, it will be added to your review count, the only difference being that it won’t have the “verified review” tag above it. An additional advantage of using coupons is that they make your listing stand out. One of the immediate visual advantages of having reviews is that they will take up that space under the title image when your listing shows up in search results. A listing without reviews seems kind of “empty” -having an active discount coupon goes a long way in both filling out that space and standing out.
In addition to the fact that a green little rectangle stands out on a search results page, it is also an additional signal to the customer that states “This is a new product, not a bad one, that’s why there are no reviews”. Especially considering that it’s against the rules to actually use the word “New” in your listing copy.
Of course in addition to that, you should use the standard tried and true techniques for selling your product:
-Using well made high quality images which showcase the product along with relevant information.
-Optimizing your listing by using relevant keywords in the listing copy and the backend.
-Using PPC strategies to promote your product (if you are running a coupon promotion it will show up on sponsored posts as well).
Early reviewer program
Under “Advertising” you’ll find the “Early Reviewer Program” offered by Amazon.
Amazon is well aware of the challenges that sellers are facing when they launch a new product, this is why Amazon offers this service. Here’s what you need to know:
-It costs $60 per SKU
-You are guaranteed 1 to 5 reviews
-The system works in such a way that Amazon contacts some or all of your customers asking them for a review.
-All the customers they contact are Amazon users that have no history of being suspected of participating in review manipulation
-In return for their review Amazon offers them $1-3 gift card
-They will be asking for an honest review, so you can get anything from 1 to 5 stars
If you’ve started to make sales and aren’t getting reviews, you can consider this option, especially if you believe in your product enough to pay Amazon to reach your customers for reviews. Once you reach 5 reviews, the program automatically stops.
This is a valid option to consider, however you should be asking yourself if that $60 would be better spent on PPC. But it is an option, and it requires no extra effort on your part other than signing up for it and it certainly guarantees that you did right by Amazon.
Asking for reviews nicely
What we know is that you are not allowed to ask for a positive review, which doesn’t mean you cannot ask for one. It’s perfectly “legal” to do so and in fact Amazon has a system in place that allows you to do just that. In fact if you go the the “Manage order” page on your seller central and simply click on a name of a customer you will automatically open the following window:
This allows you to send an email to your customers through Amazon’s own system, which allows you to ask for reviews. You cannot get your customers email, but you can contact them. There are rules to what you can send in these emails, the most important ones being not to ask for a positive review and not to include any external links that lead outside of Amazon. You can also attach a file to your email in the form of a PDF or an image file. Remember, the thing you cannot do is ask for a positive review, you can ask for an honest one.
This allows you to send an email to your customers through Amazon’s own system, which allows you to ask for reviews. You cannot get your customers email, but you can contact them. There are rules as to what you can send in these emails, the most important ones being not to ask for a positive review and not to include any external links that lead outside of Amazon. You can also attach a file to your email in the form of a PDF or an image file. Remember, the thing you cannot do is ask for a positive review or offer an incentivized review, but you can ask for an honest one.
The best part about this system is that you can actually use an automated email service to send a series of emails to your customers. There are plenty of such services and they are all 100% OKlegal according to Amazon Terms of Service. You should pick one that works best for you, since not all of them work on all markets and not all of them allow options such as having multiple SKUs on the same campaign. If you do your research you are bound to find an email service that does exactly what you need.
Can you change negative reviews?
Short answer? Yes, but it’s more complicated than just clicking “delete.”
Using the same Amazon email service, you can get access to a template or a whole series of emails just for negative reviews. The system can identify a customer that left a bad review and respond to them. Even though this process doesn’t generally result in a changed review, it doesn’t hurt to try.
The best thing you can do is to provide amazing customer service and contact your customer directly. Keep in mind, you are allowed to contact your customers, but you are not allowed to ask them to change their review or even to consider changing it.
Look at it this way: the 1-star review is invaluable feedback. You should treat it as such and, before reacting negatively, assess why it was given. Was it your service, or your product? The way you approach your customer should also reflect how you value their feedback. Make sure you ask them if there are any changes you can make to the product that might enhance the user experience, how you can serve them better, and thank them for providing feedback that will help you improve.
If a customer has made a reasonable suggestion, which can result in you making a better product, contact your supplier and see if it’s possible to make the improvement. If you can successfully execute this improvement, send one of the new-and-improved products in your batch to your previous customer. Just write them a quick email requesting their address, thanking them, and that you’d like to send them an improved item as a gift.
This is, by far, the most effective way to get a review changed. Numerous Amazon sellers, as well as myself, have done this and led to some of the most wonderful interactions with customers. Not only will you turn a 1 star review into a 5 star one, you will most likely get a loyal customer, resulting in recommendations.
You might not have to go this far, however, all you can do is say thank you and ask for some more precise feedback. Your options are limited, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your best to maximize every chance you get.
So, while Amazon has made it nearly impossible to “play dirty” when it comes to getting reviews, you don’t want to let your more aptly-funded competitors steam roll over you in rankings because they can afford to spend $5,000 buying reviews. When the game is played fair, the best sellers end up on top. The way you can become one of the best is by putting in the effort and truly putting your customers first. If you do so, you’ll reap the benefits of sales and reviews.