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A comprehensive field-guide
So you’ve listed a great product on Amazon that people are starting to buy. There’s just one problem:
nobody is leaving you any reviews.
Sound familiar? Fear not. We're about to tell you the most common ways Amazon Sellers get their reviews, but because this subject comes with so much controversy, we're going to give a brief history lesson first.
The Good ol' Days
Back in the day Amazon Sellers were able to incentive customers to leave reviews. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it kind of was. Studies showed that incentivized reviews were bias, and it didn’t take long before these incentivized reviews became synonymous with fake reviews. Customers hated them. The media hated them. Amazon started to panic.
As you already know, trust is key to online shopping. If a customer doesn’t trust you, they sure aren’t going to buy from you either. So on 3rd October 2016, Amazon ended their incentivized reviews. RIP, you were great whilst you lasted.
The problem? Amazon didn’t really provide an alternative. Sellers on Amazon were left with nothing but their products and their fingers to cross. The question of how to get Amazon product reviews became one of the most talked about topics in the community. That’s where this guide comes in (you’re welcome).
A study from Vendasta showed that 88% of online shoppers incorporate reviews into their shopping decisions. That’s a huge number, but think about it: when was the last time you bought a product that had an average review of less than a 3?
Yet despite the huge importance of reviews, it’s estimated that less than 1% of customers will leave a review following a purchase.
That's 1 review per 100 products sold... ouch.
What can we deduce from this? Amazon reviews are important for customers, but incredibly difficult to obtain - particularly for new sellers. The phrase you’re looking for is between a rock and a hard place.
What's the Solution(s)?
Well there's actually a lot, but most of them are considered Illegal and are against Amazon's new guidelines. Yes, illegal. In fact, Fortune Magazine has reported Amazon has already sued over 1,000 sellers for fake reviews.
That's right, Amazon not only suspended these sellers, but they also took them to court.
Ok... but what does this all mean?
It means that sellers on Amazon should be concerned. Consumer trust is pivotal to Amazon's business model, which is why Amazon has been ramping up efforts to stop these illegal reviews. Every Amazon seller should take note of this, because it's going to change the way we do business and it could result in lost seller privileges.
Which is why we're going to go over the most common ways sellers currently get product reviews. Both the legal way as permitted by Amazon's new guidelines and the illegal ways. We'll also provide you with the risk involved with each and common benchmarks as reported by sellers.
The intent of this article isn't meant to serve as a tutorial, but to inform you on the current trends used by sellers that will likely shape Amazon's future policy.
With that said, we'll start with the illegal methods...
We at Seller's Suite do NOT encourage anyone to make use of these prohibited methods. They can get your account suspended or banned indefinitely.
As you might imagine, when Amazon unveiled their new guidelines, a host of new (and legally dubious) methods for obtaining reviews sprung from the ashes of the era of incentivized reviews. We know that Amazon are forever trying to clamp down on these methods and we know that their efforts have ramped up in recent times. But what we don’t know is exactly how they’re clamping down. That’s because Amazon won’t tell anyone.
Nonetheless, here are some of the most popular illegal methods out there for getting your product reviewed on Amazon.
We know what you’re thinking. “Surely using family and friends can’t be against the rules!” Think again. Asking your family and friends to “do you a solid” and leave your product a review might feel like a genius move, but it can get you and your chum in very hot water.
That’s because Amazon has checks in place which can spot when two accounts might be related. If they detect that your pal is reviewing your products, they’ll put a very quick stop to it. In classic Amazon fashion, we’ve been left in the dark about exactly how they’re running these checks, but we know they happen.
This is what you'll see if Amazon has flagged your account
There are a ton of Facebook groups that have one purpose and one purpose only: to generate Amazon reviews. They all work on more or less exactly the same premise. Here’s how it goes down:
We found a number of stories where Ken just took the discounted product and never even left a review. These stories were rare, but you don't have to search long to find one.
Review services have existed during both the pre and post-incentivized review era. The key difference is that whereas once they were providing a helpful, legal service, now they’re providing a service that could potentially get you suspended.
However, we did come across a few review sites that claimed to fall within Amazon’s guidelines, so we dug a little deeper and found that these sites don't force you to provide discounts on your products. As such, you could always use these services without offering a discount, but then you're not likely to attract any potential reviews, as we didn't find a single product on any review site that wasn't heavily discounted.
There is one upside...
Review sites do offer a layer of protection, as most of them now require the seller to approve the buyer prior to completing the transaction on the review site. The idea is to give sellers the opportunity to carry out a background check on the buyer, to enure that they're leaving positive reviews. We've also heard rumors that so long as you don't provide a discount greater than 30%, then Amazon is not likely to come after you. Obviously, we couldn't verify this.
We almost left this one out, because it’s a dying method of obtaining Amazon reviews these days. But alas, we’re sticklers for thoroughness.
Amazon seller review forums are like the hybrid lovechild of Facebook review groups and Amazon review services, but with much less accountability and structure. Nowadays, the majority are so dormant that it’s very hard to actually obtain reviews at all.
Even the ones that are active give us very little information about how to get involved.Perhaps this inward-facing approach makes them safer and more reliable, but that’s just pure speculation.
So there you have it, folks. Four illegal methods used to obtain Amazon reviews. In every instance other than the forums, we were able to find first-hand accounts of sellers getting suspended, banned or even sued for using them. We just don’t know how Amazon is catching them.
One thing is for sure: the war on fake reviews is far from over. Amazon’s methods for detecting and preventing fake reviews are only getting more advanced, so what they can’t catch today, they might well be able to catch tomorrow. Tread lightly.
For those who want to be on Santa’s good list this year, we’ve also gone through the legal ways to obtain Amazon Product Reviews.
As you might expect, there aren’t as many legal ways to get Amazon reviews. What you might not expect, however, is that even the legal methods have their own guidelines and controversies. All Amazon sellers should be aware of these nuances.
1) Amazon Vine Programme
Did we say the days of incentivized reviews are over? Did we imply that
offering promotions in return for reviews was illegal? Well,
that’s all true -
unless you're doing it through Amazon's Vine Program.
The Amazon Vine Programme is all of the aforementioned forums and Facebook groups rolled into one exclusive group of top-tiered reviewers. This is an invite-only, red-roped event and only the best Amazon reviewers are allowed in.
These VIPs are then sent a monthly newsletter filled with new and unreleased products for them to choose, try and review completely free of charge.
How do you get your products listed?
Otherwise, it’s invite only. Even once you’ve been invited, getting your product featured in that newsletter isn’t cheap. We’ve read it can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $7,500 just to enroll one item. Ouch.
$1,500 and $7,500 to enroll just ONE product
With costs like this, we think it’s safe to infer that the Amazon Vine Programme is intended for big and established manufacturers only. We have our fingers and toes crossed that a more accessible version will be rolled out in due course.
Of course, even once you’ve received the invite and paid the money, you still need to have a product good enough to get great reviews. Vine Voices - as they’re affectionately known - are not under any obligation to leave a positive review. In fact, they’re encouraged to be as honest as possible (for obvious reasons). Some companies have shelled out large sums of money to end up with a very poorly reviewed product.
2) Writing a Note
Leaving a nice note to a customer is nothing new. People have been doing it since Amazon began, and it remains one of the few ways that sellers can solicit reviews on Amazon legally (so long as you abide by Amazon’s guidelines, of course).
Gauging how effective these notes are is the real challenge. Some sellers claim the number of reviews they received increased by over 10%, but others insist that very little changed.
One seller we spoke to chose to write handwritten letters to each of their customers. According to this seller, it really helped to amass those all-important initial reviews. Once their sales volumes began to pick-up, they switched to typed notes instead.
It’s no secret that the personal touch is appreciated by customers, so why not crack out the pen and paper and get writing?
3) Email follow-ups
Full Disclosure: Seller's Suite is in the business of email follow-ups. It’s our bread and butter. But for the purposes of transparency, we’re going to remain as impartial as we possibly can: even if it hurts us (which it probably will).
When Amazon banned incentivized reviews, email campaigns became one of the primary legal methods to ensure customers were still leaving feedback. This resulted in some sellers (we’re not pointing any fingers) using incredibly aggressive tactics to solicit reviews via email campaigns.
Sometimes this meant 5-6 emails were being sent for a single transaction. It was a nightmare for customers, so it quickly became a nightmare for Amazon too. And so it was that on 28th March, 2017, Amazon allowed customers to opt-out of receiving emails from sellers.
This was ultimately good for everyone involved, but it was also yet another message from Amazon to the seller community:
Respect the customer or we'll take these privileges away from you. - Amazon (probably)
Losing the ability to email customers would be a huge blow to Amazon Sellers, because email campaigns have proven to be extremely useful for both buyers and sellers.
Email follow-ups have a two-pronged advantage. Firstly, you’ll increase your chances of getting reviews. But secondly, you decrease your chances of getting bad reviews. That’s because you’ve already touched base with the customer: if they have a problem, they're more likely to contact you first, as all they have to do is reply to your email rather than messaging you from Amazon's sloppy Buyer-Seller messaging interface.
So what can we do as Amazon sellers to ensure we keep this privilege?
It'simple, respect the customer. If you can't send emails that provide additional value to your customers, don't even send them. Seriously, because all you'll do is waste time and money and annoy your customers, which certainly won't help your chances of getting more reviews.
How do I send valued emails?
A lot of new sellers think that email marketing is as simple sending an email with a generic message and then forgetting about it. Those same sellers are often surprised when they find out that they're not getting any more reviews than before.
That's because email campaigns have almost become synonymous with "spam", which is why it has become really difficult for email marketers to get consumer attention via email, but they ARE getting it.
A study by Constant Contact showed that email campaigns had an average return of $38 for every $1 spent, along with better conversion rates than search engines and social media... combined.
So email marketing clearly works, but as any successful marketer will tell you, it takes some real planning and optimizing to get a campaign that sees significant, positive results.
We have a great guide on how to create great email campaigns, which you can read here.
In the words of everyone’s Grandpa, it was a lot better back in the day.
Or was it? Yes, it’s harder than it used to be to get legal Amazon reviews. Amazon are trying harder than ever to clamp down on fake and illegal reviews, and their methods are only getting more sophisticated.
But that means Amazon is on its way to cultivating a more trusting shopping experience. Without that trust, customers will go elsewhere to do their online shopping. In many ways, whilst Amazon’s restrictions might be frustrating for the fledgling Amazon seller, they’re also one of the key factors that attract and keep the massive audience you expect from Amazon.
So if you want to get more reviews, you have to start by respecting the customer. Figure out how you can provide them with some additional value, and you’ll distinguish yourself from the vast majority of Amazon sellers out there. Suddenly, those reviews won’t seem so elusive.