Product reviews are always a hot ticket item in the seller community. The difference is huge between a product with 5 reviews and one with 500 reviews, as is the gap between a 3-star product and one with a 4.5-star rating. As a result, sellers have used various methods to encourage more (positive) reviews from their customers.
As you may have noticed, Amazon announced this week an update to their review policy. This caused a stir in the community – many thinking back to the huge changes banning incentivized reviews, almost exactly 2 years ago.
We’re going to take a look at what Amazon’s updated product review policy means, and how your business needs to react going forward.
New Product Review Guidelines
As per the update sent out by Amazon, here are the terms added to their product reviews terms of service:
Violations to Customer Reviews policies include, but are not limited to, these actions:
- A seller posts a review of their own product or their competitor’s product.
- A seller offers a third party a financial reward, discount, free products, or other compensation in exchange for a review on their product or their competitor’s product. This includes using services that sell customer reviews, websites, or social media groups
- A seller offers to provide a refund or reimbursement after the buyer writes a review (including reimbursement via a non-Amazon payment method). This could be done via buyer-seller messaging on Amazon or directly contacting customers or using 3rd party services, websites, or social media groups.
- A seller uses a third-party service that offers free or discounted products tied to a review (for example, a review club that requires customers to register their Amazon public profile so that sellers can monitor their reviews).
- A family member or employee of the seller posts a review of the seller’s product or a competitor’s product.
- A seller asks a reviewer to change or remove their review. They might also offer a refund or other compensation to a reviewer in exchange for doing so.
- A seller diverts negative reviews to be sent to them or to a different feedback mechanism while positive reviews are sent to Amazon.
- A seller creates a variation relationship between products with the aim of manipulating reviews and boosting a product’s star rating via review aggregation.
- A seller inserts a request for a positive Amazon review or an incentive in exchange for a review into product packaging or shipping box.
- A seller uses a customer account to write or change a review on his or his competitor’s product.
Note: References to “seller” here includes all the seller’s employees and 3rd party partners.
Amazon states that any violations will be treated with a zero-tolerance policy. If they notice you are guilty of breaking any of these rules, they may:
- Immediately (and permanently) suspend your seller account, and withhold funds.
- Remove all the product reviews on a listing, and make it ineligible for future reviews.
- Permanently delist the product.
- Take legal action, which may include making your name and other details public.
Another point to note from the update:
Any infractions by your business partners, employees, or 3rd party agencies will result in enforcement actions, even if it happened without your knowledge or consent.
Be sure to take this into account. Pleading ignorance will get you nowhere, and neither will laying the blame on someone else. Make sure you, and anyone associated with your business, is aware of Amazon’s rules.
What Does This Mean For Amazon Sellers?
Unlike the incentivized review changes in 2016, this isn’t actually a major change to Amazon’s policies. It’s more of a reminder. Still, it’s important that you know the terms inside and out, so you don’t risk accidentally breaking any rules. A suspension, even if appealed and lifted, can have a huge cost to your business.
Amazon is not messing around
The most important part of the update may not be the rules, but what Amazon will do if you break the rules.
For one thing, they may permanently suspend your seller account. No appeal, with an “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again”. You could be gone for good.
On top of that, they’ll make it harder for you to get up and running on another channel. They may withhold funds from your seller account, and make your name or your brand’s name public. Essentially they’re putting a huge dent in your cashflow and your reputation, so moving on to sell on Walmart, Ebay or your Shopify store will be incredibly hard.
If you’re doing things right, you don’t need to change anything
The update acts as a reminder not to use black or grey hat methods to get reviews. Which means if you’re already doing everything above ground, you have nothing to worry about.
Your main focus for getting reviews should remain the same. Put out quality products to start with. Then concentrate on building customer relationships and delivering top quality service. Building an email list (which you can do with external traffic campaigns and LandingCube), is still a great way to do this.
Don’t ask people to change or remove their review
This may be the most significant part. The review policies now mention you cannot ask a reviewer to remove or change their review – whether you offer compensation or not.
A lot of sellers try to address negative reviews, make the customer happy, and ask they take down their negative review. That’s a no-go now. By all means, you should follow up with the customer and do what’s needed to make them satisfied. But whether they change or remove their review, that’s up to them. If they leave it up, you’ll have to live with it. It’s not the end of the world for your business. Just reply publicly on the review to show potential customers you’ve addressed it, and move on to getting more positive reviews.
Take care with product inserts
Product inserts are another method commonly used to garner reviews. This appears to be the first time Amazon has addressed it in their terms.
It may prove cause for concern for sellers who believed this was an above-ground tactic. But it appears inserts are still allowed, though there are conditions. Looking at this point again:
“A seller inserts a request for a positive Amazon review or an incentive in exchange for a review into product packaging or shipping box.”
What we can gather is, requests for positive reviews are against the rules. Also against terms is offering the customer an incentive for a review, via the insert. It appears this would include something like offering an extended warranty if the customer leaves a review.
Amazon has not said product inserts are against their terms. They are still a good way to build relationships with your customers and make your business seem more legitimate. But tread carefully, and make sure you don’t include anything that might get you in hot water.
Stay away from Amazon review groups and review clubs
Another addition is specific mention of Amazon review groups and the way these groups operate. This isn’t technically anything new – review clubs were completely against the ToS before, and still are. But it bears mention that Amazon is aware of the specifics of these groups. Review groups often have people buy a product, leave a review, and receive reimbursement outside of Amazon later, as a way of getting around verified review rules.
Amazon mentioning review groups in this update goes to show they know about the groups, and are serious about them. If you use shady review clubs, it’s only a matter of time until it catches up with you.
Amazon is addressing negative “smear” tactics
The update isn’t all scary. As mentioned earlier, if you’re doing everything the right way, there’s really nothing to worry about. And it can also be taken as a positive, that Amazon is addressing negative campaigns run by sellers to tank their competitors’ ratings.
Almost all the points mention what a seller can’t do for their own product, or their competitor’s. It’s one of the scariest things for a seller. You do everything the right way, and then another seller comes in with fabricated negative reviews written by themselves, a friend, a family member or someone they’ve paid, trying to bring down your product’s rating.
While you can’t guarantee that Amazon will catch on to all these instances, it shows once again that they’re aware of the problem, and that they are most likely doing something about it. As a seller following the rules, this can only be a positive.
What Does This Mean For LandingCube Users?
Essentially, nothing changes for LandingCube. We’re focused on helping you grow your Amazon business the right way, by collecting emails through 100% ToS-compliant methods, and the update doesn’t change this.
One thing to ensure: if you send review requests using MailChimp, Drip or a similar tool (a great way to follow up with customers collected with LandingCube), be sure not to ask for positive reviews. Always ask for honest feedback. It’s not worth the risk of having your store shut down, to pressure your customers into only leaving 5-star reviews.
Amazon’s update has caused quite a bit of concern in the seller community, but at the end of the day, this should be seen as a step forward. No one likes having reviews taken away without knowing why, or having their account suspended for something that’s not stated in Amazon’s terms. With this update, Amazon is letting sellers know exactly where they stand.
Moving forward, it is all the more important you build a business the right way. Rely on a good product and a positive business image to get reviews, not grey-hat tactics. Amazon is serious about taking down shady sellers. Stay clear of risk, and keep building towards a life of freedom.
[P.S. To learn how to get reviews the right way, download our FREE guide to Getting More Reviews on Amazon]
Chapter 4: Amazon Verified Purchase Reviews, Good Reviews & Bad Reviews5 minWhat makes a good review. Are bad reviews necessarily bad? Learn about verified purchases and other important components of Amazon reviews.