Amazon made yet another sudden change to its terms of service in October last year. Amazon is known for its unexpected TOS changes, but this one has been particularly disturbing to sellers. Incentivized reviews, or giving discounted and free products in exchange for reviews on the platform, have been banned. Sellers have enjoyed the practice of encouraging reviews by offering product incentives that entice customers to try their products. This system is not widely utilized by Amazon sellers, but incentivized reviews has been a key tactic for boosting product visibility and brand trust. The good news is that there are still quite a few options available to get the same results. Read on to better understand what this change means for sellers and what can be done to moving forward.

The Ban on Incentivized Reviews

Amazon decided to ban the practice of soliciting reviews for many product types listed on the site. The TOS revisions are very clear. The solicitation of incentivized reviews of any kind is strictly prohibited, whether requested directly or through a review service or other third party that offers similar services. Even implying a connection between a discounted product and a review is considered a violation of the new terms. This therefore means that some promotional and advertising tactics, including placing URLs with affiliate links on product listings, is also disallowed.

Books are exempt from the ban, since Amazon has permitted the release of advance book copies since they started selling them. Reviews that go through Amazon Vine are still allowed, but will be limited to new and pre-release products. Amazon controls the Vine program, so getting a review from that channel entails waiting for Amazon to invite customers to post their reviews.

Incentivized Reviews BannedAmazon released an announcement regarding the update that explains why this change has been made. Amazon refers to its ongoing efforts to make the system of reviews better. To date, Amazon has already penalized thousands of accounts for attempts to manipulate reviews. This TOS change is part of their continuing work to devise stricter review policies that can result in account suspensions even the revocation of Amazon privileges. The company is also working on removing some solicited reviews that that they consider to be excessive, although there has been no comment for clarification on what this term covers.

Apart from Amazon’s announcement, analysts have suggested that Amazon has decided to discontinue incentivized reviews for other reasons as well. First, when the news got out that Amazon was allowing sellers to give away products or offer juicy discounts in exchange for reviews, the public’s reaction was not all positive. The practice raised a few eyebrows and prompted shoppers to wonder if the stars they were seeing were genuine efforts that stemmed from true satisfaction or because they got a special deal. Press relations were strained for a time after incentivized reviews became public knowledge, and Amazon may have decided to phase out the practice to avoid further damage.

Buyer trust has also been suggested as a main reason why Amazon decided to ban incentivized reviews. Many sellers who are unable to get good reviews on their own approach third party review services. These sellers at times have unrealistic expectations, however, and some have no qualms about employing illegitimate techniques to obtain four- and five-star reviews. A product with high ratings will certainly sell well in the beginning, but if the actual product does not perform as well as the reviews suggest, it will result in a lot of unhappy customers. Because of the hype, their reactions are going to be even worse than if the seller had simply left the product to gather reviews organically and worked on improving it and the systems behind it. In addition, the most diligent customers will most often be able to detect a fake or misleading review, and are likely to share this information with other online shoppers. Reviews are one of the top methods that shoppers use to evaluate products online. When word gets out and buyer trust plummets as a result, it is very bad for a brand. Knowledge of less-than-honest reviews on Amazon can also negatively influence other sellers.

Working Without Incentivized Reviews

Don't Panic without Incentivized Reviews
Now that we all have a better understanding of the inner workings of incentivized reviews and why Amazon decided that they were bad for business, we can rest a little easier and begin looking towards promoting products in a more natural way.

Don’t Stop Running Promotions

Sellers are no longer allowed to tell shoppers that they can get a discount or a free product if they leave a review. Sellers can, however, still give discounts or free products without suggesting that shoppers must leave a review before they can get additional products. Most satisfied customers will leave good reviews if they see that a seller has made an effort to provide them with a quality product and excellent service. Going that extra mile to make the shopping experience a happy one rather than trying to demand compensation for what was offered as free is really not a very good business practice.

Focus on Better Product Launches

Some sellers spend time planning awesome product launches that they are willing to invest money in. Others will only spend time trying to find ways to do and spend as little as possible. The former certainly take a bigger risk, but will most often end up on top if their product is one to be proud of. The latter will save money over the short term, but will not see much growth down the line. All that it takes to generate an appropriate level of hype is a reasonable investment in optimized listings, a little bit of creativity, and a genuine belief in the product.
Giving promotional discounts and using Sponsored Product Ads as part of a product launch campaign is a good way to get attention early on. It requires additional monetary investment, but can help sellers find the best keywords that they can use to organically optimize their listings after the launch. Sponsored Products is also known to boost organic rankings and tend to cost less the longer they are run. Running Facebook Ads is also a great way to supplement your Amazon advertising.

Optimize Your Product Listings

Optimize Listings without Incentivized ReviewsIt will take some time to get your listings in shape, but this should be considered one of the essentials investments that you will have to make. Take advantage of each feature that Amazon offers to optimize your listings for desktop as well as mobile shoppers. Without incentivized reviews, having an optimized listing is going to play a key role in boosting your product to encourage more sales, better rankings, and more and better reviews.

Maintain a Good Sales Level

Once you get a good level of sales flowing for your quality product, you can expect to get a good number of reviews. Remember to be polite and real when you ask your customers for reviews, focusing first on the customer’s experience, making your request a secondary goal. Do not stop your efforts when you get a few good reviews. You need to build a good sales history over several months to be able to maintain high rankings for a longer time.

Give Higher Priority to Customer Communication

Happy Without Incentivized ReviewsPost-sales, a little bit of effort to check in on customers can go a long way to boosting product ratings and higher conversions. As mentioned above, customer communication should never be about asking for reviews but showing a genuine concern for your customers’ experience when shopping for your products. Making that effort to reach out to them on a more personal level, especially when they know that you don’t have to, will increase their satisfaction levels. Communicating in a professional yet friendly tone can even help you to better manage poor reviews before they happen, and encourage customers to change their bad first impressions.

Once you have made contact and done all you can to keep your customers happy, it will not take much more to politely ask those who have not yet left a review to give their feedback in that form to help other shoppers enjoy the same experience that they have with you. Set up a system for communicating with your customers so that you can reach them in a timely manner to make them feel that you are paying them due attention. If you need to get help to make this possible, consider it a wise investment in your future sales.

Constantly Review and Reevaluate

Amazon is a dynamic platform, and you need to be prepared to go with the flow if you want to become and remain competitive. Here are a few final tips on staying ahead to keep reviews and conversions on an upward trend: First, be prepared to take on the challenge of working without incentivized reviews. Know how many good reviews you need to hit your sales targets and plan accordingly. Second, always begin work on your organic reviews and marketing efforts with your sales targets in mind so that you can maintain the level of income that you want while you adjust to your new strategy. Third, expect that Amazon is going to change things up from time to time, and be ready to make more adjustments to stay on top.