Gaming Product Reviews? Why It's Not a Good Idea

by Liz Fickenscher

Recently, we were excited to be interviewed by Ina Steiner of EcommerceBytes. The following article, written by Ina, was published in the EcommerceBytes 411 newsletter on March 27, 2017. Click here to learn more about EcommerceBytes.

Garnering positive feedback for your products and business is sound marketing, but it can also get overly enthusiastic sellers into trouble. A recent article in Digiday served as a reminder that when you sell on online marketplaces, you must play by their rules.

We reached out to eComEngine founder and President Jay Lagarde to get some context for sellers who may be wondering about the consequences of Amazon's crackdown on paid reviews. eComEngine provides a number of tools to Amazon merchants, and we found there's a positive side for sellers who have adapted to the new policies.

What is the value of a positive product review on Amazon?

Jay Lagarde: Positive product reviews are incredibly important for driving sales on and off of Amazon. In the last three years alone, the number of consumer searches that begin on Amazon has skyrocketed from only 30% in 2014, according to one study, to over 55% in 2016. Quality product reviews are a big reason for that shift.

Product reviews are critical for Amazon SEO. Listings that appear high in Amazon's search engine results page (SERP) usually have solid recent product reviews. Once your product appears on the SERP, solid product reviews drive higher click through rates for consumers to see your listing. Finally, once a consumer is on your listing, studies show that quality reviews are very important for driving sales in the current shopping climate. Consumers trust product reviews so much, that according to one study, "Over half of young people aged 18 to 34 say they trust online reviews more than the opinions of friends and family."

If you are a brand owner or even just represent a brand on Amazon, product reviews can make or break your business.

What about on eBay now that eBay has product reviews?

Jay Lagarde: Product reviews on eBay offer many of the same benefits as product reviews on Amazon. Reviews help buyers evaluate products before making a purchase and also provide sellers with valuable insight about how customers experience their products. At the same time, eBay does not have as robust of a catalog system as Amazon. Consumers are not typically using eBay as a consumer search engine in the same way as Amazon, so the overall impact on a brand is lower.

Now that Amazon has basically banned paid reviews, how are sellers reacting?

Jay Lagarde: Some sellers were a little blindsided at first. They may have been using one of the review exchange programs, and failed to recognize the handwriting on the wall. Some sellers had a lot of their incentivized reviews removed. Of course, the Amazon marketplace is always changing. If you're not able to adapt when the rules change, you're not going to make it as a serious seller. Most sellers seem to have adjusted quickly, and are now focused on more "organic" and "white hat" SEO techniques, including requesting organic reviews from customers.

That being said, we've found most sellers to be happy (almost relieved) by the policy change. They were seeing a decline in the trust consumers were placing on reviews, and good sellers, almost as much as Amazon, have a strong interest in seeing the Amazon marketplace flourish. At this time, authentic reviews are becoming more powerful and important, since they are not being drowned out by high volumes of incentivized reviews.

Given some of the so-called "underhanded" activities as mentioned by Digiday, what are recommended practices, and what should you avoid?

Jay Lagarde: We have always recommended that our customers follow Amazon's guidelines. While launching a product may feel more challenging after the incentivized review ban, in reality it's simply a return to the way things were before the incentivized review snagging programs became so popular.

Amazon, of course, is aware of ongoing abuse possibilities. Just like how Google has caught up with many "black hat" SEO techniques and severely penalizes those who use them, we can expect a similar fate for some of the companies and reviewers engaged in unscrupulous practices, as Amazon continues to improve the policing of its marketplace.

We have never been comfortable with incentivized reviews for this reason, and have always recommended that sellers obtain product reviews organically by requesting reviews from real buyers.

While the change in Amazon policy no longer allows products to be offered for free in exchange for a review, it does not prevent merchants of recently launched products from offering discounts or other promotions, provided you do not target these buyers for product reviews. Offering a discount can help drive initial sales and increase the likelihood of product reviews. Sponsored product ads and enhanced brand content can also help a product begin to sell.

Originally published on March 28, 2017, updated May 9, 2019

This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.