Amazon Bans Incentivized Reviews: Next Steps for Sellers

by Liz Adamson

In October Amazon.com, Inc. ("Amazon") announced a major change to its product review policy, specifically banning the practice of giving away free products or discounts in exchange for reviews, often called “incentivized reviews.” This policy change was inevitable after several articles, such as one at WebRetailer, began calling out the practice and providing data showing that incentivized reviews were more favorable than ones from actual customers.

What is Going On?

Amazon has worked hard this year to clean up its product reviews, even filing lawsuits against companies selling fake reviews and banning reviewers and sellers who use such services. Amazon knows that if customers don’t trust the product review process, they may not trust Amazon or the products listed on its site. Amazon’s success has been built by putting customers first, and it’s not about to change its focus.

With the incentivized reviews getting more negative attention, Amazon has decided to ban them altogether and has even begun taking down existing incentivized reviews that were left before the policy change.

What Options are Available for Sellers Now?

On October 24, Amazon.com, Inc. ("Amazon") published an update to its policy with further clarifications and sent an email out to sellers. It states that sellers cannot provide free or discounted products in exchange for a review, cannot withhold any benefits based on whether a customer writes a review, and cannot use any review service where customer memberships are based on whether or not they leave reviews or allow sellers to rate their reviews.

It also states what is still permitted. A merchant may still offer discounts or free products as long as the discounts are not given in exchange for a review, sellers are not able to track whether or not a customer left a review after using the promotion, and sellers cannot withhold future promotions or benefits based on whether someone has left a review.

Changes to Product Launch Strategy

Using third-party services to gather initial reviews has been a popular step in many sellers’ product launch strategies. Many are left wondering what to do now to get sales started for a newly listed product on the Amazon marketplace. I would suggest the following:

  • Page content matters. Don’t neglect your images, title, bullets and descriptions. Without those initial product reviews, your content will be the only thing there to convince a customer to buy.
  • Continue to use sales and discounts to get sales jump-started. Sales and conversion history is still an important part of the Amazon search algorithm. As long as you are not using any services to advertise promotions that will also track whether or not a customer leaves a review, you are within Amazon’s terms of service. A good promotion will bring in additional traffic and convince customers to buy.
  • Be sure to use a well-optimized Sponsored Product ad campaign to help get visibility while your product is still getting ranked in organic search.
  • Look at different channels outside of Amazon to promote your new product and drive qualified traffic to your new listing. The most successful product launches I’ve worked with have invested in a smart, comprehensive marketing strategy to drive traffic to their listings.
  • Ask for the review after the purchase. Sellers are allowed to send a follow-up email to buyers asking them for an honest product review. You won’t have the same response rate as the incentivized review programs, but you’ll get more reviews than if you didn’t ask. Using programs like FeedbackFive can automate this for you.

As I mentioned in my last article, these policy changes from Amazon will continue. As more and more sellers join the marketplace, competition will continue to increase and sellers will look for ways to maximize their sales. Any practices that jeopardize Amazon’s relationship with its customers will be banned and sellers using them will be penalized. Sellers who put the customer first, provide real value to the marketplace, who are quick to adapt and have diversified their revenue streams will enjoy continued success on the Amazon marketplace.

Originally published on November 23, 2016, updated May 6, 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.

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