Originally published on June 8, 2016, updated January 20, 2020
Note: The Amazon policy pertaining to product reviews has changed since the initial publishing of this post. You can learn more about the policy changes and how to increase product reviews here.
The Amazon marketplace has become the go-to destination for many consumers to research and make purchases. Recent research indicates that 44% of shoppers begin their product search on the Amazon website, vs. 34% who begin their product search using a search engine. One of the reasons for this trend is that Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) offers its customers a gold mine of social proof in the form of product reviews.
Customers are visiting the Amazon marketplace to research products, often relying on their reviews to help them make a decision. This is why gathering product reviews is an important part of any new product launch. They play a vital role in convincing a customer to purchase your product. There is also evidence that product reviews help with Amazon SEO. Product reviews are one part of the many factors in the A9 search algorithm, which likely weighs a combination of how many, how good and how recent your reviews are.
So if you’ve launched a new product on the Amazon marketplace, what is the best way to build your product reviews to help your visibility and conversion rate? Even before putting together a product review strategy, know that Amazon is zealously guarding the integrity of its platform’s reviews and is cracking down on how product reviews are gathered. Amazon also updated its terms of service for sellers to prohibit common practices designed to manipulate the review system.
What is the policy? Let’s start with what Amazon says not to do. From its Prohibited Seller Activities page (dated October 2016):
“Reviews: Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers' experiences with products and services—positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free or discounted copy of the product. If you offer a free or discounted product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free or discounted product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products' rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”
A few points worth reviewing:
*Important Update: Amazon's policies have been updated since this post was published and offering free products in exchange for a review is no longer permissible. You can find Amazon's Prohibited Seller Activities here.
The bottom line is, Amazon does not have a problem with you honestly soliciting product reviews. What they are prohibiting are any activities that are intended to manipulate your product’s sales ranking or reviews. Many would call these “black hat” practices, and while they may get you short-term gains, they’ll come back to bite you in the long term as Amazon becomes better at policing them.
So how do you effectively gather reviews and stay in compliance with Amazon’s terms of service? I advise companies to gather reviews for new product launches in two stages: 1) an initial jump-start, and 2) long-term gathering. In all of this, keep in mind that if you have a poor quality product, or are promising something your product cannot do, you will get poor reviews. If you are averaging 3.5 stars or less, take a step back and evaluate what needs to be done to improve product quality or create more accurate customer expectations.
Also, don’t panic if you don’t have a perfect 5.0 review score. Research has shown that customers are skeptical of products that have a full set of perfect reviews. From Econsultancy: "68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30% suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see any negative opinions on the page."
As part of your product launch, plan how to gather an initial set of reviews. How many depends on your budget and your competition. To do this you first need an audience, either your own customer database
or a third-party company like a review club. If using a review club, be sure to research them thoroughly to be sure they are in line with Amazon’s terms of service. There are good services dedicated to making sure they do not violate any of Amazon’s review policies. In exchange for unbiased reviews, you may offer your audience a free product or a discount. They’ll need to purchase the product first, usually using a coupon code you generate through Amazon’s promotional tool. After receiving the product and trying it out they can leave their honest review. Many sellers and review clubs will encourage their reviewers to be transparent and state that they received the product at a discount in exchange for their unbiased review. This may help keep Amazon happy by proving that your intent is to comply with their policies.
You need to be sure you continue to receive reviews over the life of your product. Keeping reviews current is important to Amazon and its customers. And as I stated earlier, Amazon does place more weight on reviews that are from customers who have purchased the product at full price, so it's important to have a long-term strategy to gather these reviews. Set up a drip campaign that solicits reviews from customers who have purchased your products. The easiest way to do this is to use a product like eComEngine’s FeedbackFive software, which will automatically send out emails according to rules you set up. You can create your own email copy, tailoring it to your brand and your customers.
Don’t overlook the importance of gathering product reviews for your new or existing product and build it into your product launch strategy and budget. Products with no social proof will have lower conversion rates and thus will rank lower in Amazon search. Give customers what they are looking for and provide them with a healthy number of reviews that will give evidence of the hard work and thoughtfulness you’ve put into your product.
Originally published on June 8, 2016, updated January 20, 2020
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.