Why the new Amazon review policy effects small sellers

On October 3rd Amazon updated their community guidelines related to incentivized amazon reviews. The new policy indicates that reviewers cannot not leave product reviews for any products that were received at a discount unless it was through the Amazon Vine Program or Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon has revised their policy a few times over the past year and this latest policy change has a significant impact on the Amazon platform. We are going to look at the reasons behind Amazon’s updated reviewer guidelines, how the new Amazon review policy effects small sellers, and how to get Amazon customer reviews after this policy change.

Why did Amazon update the policy and ban discounted product reviews?

Amazon has made a few updates to their review policy this year. This first change originally required sellers to have an account history of purchases totaling greater than $5. They then updated that threshold to $50 at the beginning of September. Amazon restricted the “Verified Review” badge to purchases with less than a 50% discount. Amazon brought legal action against fake reviewers online over the past year. These policy changes are in-line with Amazon’s legal action against fake reviewers. The legal action combined with the thresholds were intended to prevent individuals from providing fake product reviews. Unscrupulous sellers were using fake reviews to boost the appearance of quality of their products and to hurt competitors in the same market.

The most recent policy change is something that we believed was coming. Amazon faces a slight image problem that was brought to light by Birkenstock’s decision to leave the platform. Counterfeit goods and poor product quality plague certain categories on Amazon. They are taking active steps to clean up the platform by banning discounted product reviews. We are also seeing Amazon deleting customer reviews that were previously left on a discounted product. Amazon’s goal is that this will allow the best products to rise to the top by removing reviews that artificially made products appear better than they were.

How the new Amazon review policy effects small sellers?

The new amazon review policy effects small sellers disproportionately on Amazon. Discounted product reviews were a primary way that small sellers gain credibility among customers. Amazon deleting customer reviews and preventing discounted product reviews puts these sellers at a disadvantage. Small sellers now face more obstacles to increase their product’s social proof without incentivized Amazon reviews. The policy change is too recent to have enough data that definitely shows the effects. What we expect to happen will be that sellers launching new products or getting into selling on Amazon for the first time will have increased difficulty in driving organic sales. Reviews play an important role in converting shoppers into customers. We believe that without reviews small sellers will face lower ROI on higher advertising costs as clicks may lead to less conversions. Lower conversion rates will also have a negative effective on ranking for keywords.

The sellers that really benefit from this change are established sellers, who may have more money to implement other review strategies, and Amazon. The new Amazon review policy effects larger sellers less as they have larger budgets to spend on advertising or other methods that may get them reviews. Amazon already has strong review follow up campaigns via email that will drive organic reviews. This certainly favors products sold by Amazon and may push their listings further up search engine results pages. Amazon will continue to create policies that increase their revenues (such as requiring fees to sell certain brands) and put them first. We expect that down the road Amazon will eventually open up the Amazon Vine Program to other third party sellers (again, a fee for use program).

How to get Amazon customer reviews going forward

It is not the end of the world and sellers do still have options to get product reviews. Sellers will need to get more creative. The one things that all sellers should be doing is utilizing automated email campaigns to reach out to current customers. Programs such as Feedback Genius and SalesBacker are great investments that sellers should make if they don’t already have them. These programs will send automated email reminders to customers asking for seller feedback or product reviews. The seller creates the emails that go out so this gives the opportunity to test new ideas to drive feedback and reviews.

Another thing that sellers can do is borrow a page from the Kindle Direct Publishing playbook. KDP sellers exchange books for reviews. The exchanges are typically for books at $.99 or free, but this is something that I believe some sellers will implement. Review groups on Facebook may turn into product swap groups, where you find someone with a similarly priced product and exchange product reviews at full price. This is certain a more expensive way to get product reviews, but will give you the social proof you need for your product.

Sellers using fulfillment by merchant still have access to customer’s phone numbers as order comes in. These sellers can utilize the phone numbers to provide exceptional customer service. Going a step further than everyone else can help you get more reviews. This is how to get Amazon customer reviews at little or no cost to you.

Sellers can also utilize social media advertising to generate sales and potential reviews for their products. This is certainly another costly option for sellers to pursue, but may need to be done to drive the listing traffic they need to rank organically on Amazon. A question we received recently was if offering something like a “mail-in” rebate redeemable after the purchase and off the Amazon platform could be a way to skirt the rule. These could be considered incentivized Amazon reviews under the new policy and a violation of the updated reviewer guidelines and TOS. It’s always better to play within the rules than getting your account banned. The new Amazon review policy effects sellers, but the most creative sellers will find ways to be successful.

Contact AMZ Advisers if you are interested in increasing your Amazon sales