There is some truth in the saying, “Your product is only as good as the reviews say it is.” But there are other ways for you to establish the credibility of your product. There is an unspoken rule among Amazon sellers: “If you have under 20 reviews, the content of the reviews matter. If you have over 20 reviews, the rating is what matters.” I think this goes to show how important the perception of reviews can be, both from the perspective as a seller and as a shopper.
Obviously, sellers want to have as many reviews as possible. And, in the past, there were questionable ways that sellers went about accumulating these reviews. Once the platform started the crackdown on those that were illegitimate or incentivized, the history of Amazon reviews took a sharp turn.
2016: The End of Incentivized Reviews
There are many challenges that come with launching a new product. One of these challenges is that your organic ranking can be so low it’s impossible for customers to find your product.
Before 2016, sellers employed different methods to get as many reviews as possible and as quickly as possible. For a while it worked. Sellers didn’t mind spending money up front in order to acquire assets that will have a higher return on investment. Some of the ways they went about it was:
-Offering discounts in exchange for reviews
-Directly offering people to pay them for a review
-Giving away free products in exchange for a review
In the 4th quarter of 2016, Amazon rewrote their Terms of Service regarding reviews, which forbid the 3 practices listed above along with a few more:
-Asking people to leave a positive review
-Asking family and friends to leave a review
-Trading reviews with other sellers
-Leaving a review for a product you have a personal stake in
Once these Terms of Service were updated, this was sort of the first declaration of war on the side of Amazon against incentivized reviews. This includes risk of temporary suspension or even of account deactivation.
2016-2018: Verified and Unverified Purchases
Amazon distinguishes verified and unverified purchases with tags. An example of an unverified review can be found below. This a review that was gotten from a customer that has purchased a product from the listing under some irregular circumstance, under a discount or as a gift.
This second image has a “Verified Purchase” tag on it. Which implies the product was bought under regular circumstances.
We can clearly see where Amazon is going with this, by the fact that a shopper has paid full price it is more likely that there was not “deal” that could be made in order to get a review. Also, the fact that the shopper has been shopping before on Amazon would suggest that it is not a new account made just for the purpose of leaving reviews. Keep in mind that Amazon has a very sophisticated Algorithm and that Amazon collects and processes an obscene amount of data on a regular basis. Making some adjustments in order to weed out some unorthodox behavior that can suggest that someone is gaming the system is not too difficult of a task for them.
Post-2018: The Review Apocalypse
Amazon has virtually declared war on all potentially dishonest reviews. While their updated Terms of Service was a warning that some sellers didn’t take seriously, it’s common knowledge by now that Amazon means business. Many brands learned this lesson in mid-2018.
Amazon has been aggregating data and closely monitoring the actions of a great number of sellers since 2018. They have become immensely meticulous when it comes to analyzing their data. This is when these 6 new changes began to be implemented:
1.) Reviews being removed – The first and the most obvious shock was that hundreds of thousands of reviews simply started vanishing at an alarming rate. What most likely happened was that Amazon was keeping track at the various rates at which certain sellers on certain listings were getting reviews. We do not know exactly what the reasons were, however, the fact remains that suddenly many sellers started complaining that their reviews were gone, it was this event that was popularly called the “review apocalypse.”
2.) Temporarily blocking reviews – Another method that Amazon started employing was to limit the number of reviews sellers can get, or rather temporarily preventing customers from leaving reviews on certain items. It seems that the unverified and verified reviews were treated differently. There was also an exact number of reviews that would trigger the mechanism to be applied to your item.
The way it works is that if you get more than a certain number of reviews within a single day (3 verified or 6-8 unverified) there would be a ban preventing you from getting additional reviews for a period of 3 to 7 days. Just to be clear, if you reach the threshold for unverified reviews, you could still get verified ones and vice versa. What would happen was that if a customer wanted to leave a review after the threshold has been reached they would simply be greeted with this window:
It was clear that Amazon was trying to get ahead of accounts that were potentially employing some practices that were violating the Terms Of Service. However, it’s not uncommon for a popular item to get a number of reviews that can trigger an unfair ban.
3.) Splitting up reviews by variation – Amazon sellers began the practice of combining individual products into a single listing. This way the total number of reviews for your new product will be a sum total of the reviews of each individual listing.
It didn’t take long for Amazon to catch onto this and, at one point, the platform separated reviews by individual variations in order to ensure there is no false sense of legitimacy to variations that have fewer or no reviews. In most cases this was not applied, but Amazon has continued to deal with the issue that the option of listing variations can be abused in order to “artificially” increase your number of reviews.
This is why, around mid-2019, there were a number of cases where many accounts were either suspended for violation abuse or have had their variations forcefully separated. This was either due to the fact that some had variations that might not be considered variations under specific guidelines, or there was a large discrepancy between the rating on one variation as opposed to another.
4.) Seller feedback based on the previous year – If a seller’s offer is not in the buybox, you can only find it by clicking on additional offers like seen below:
Here you can observe that there are conditions of offers made by other sellers. The change that took place was that seller feedback only goes back to the 12-month period instead of the lifetime period as it was before:
This is yet another practice that Amazon took in protecting their customers from sellers that had previously sold items with a high-rate of returns or bad reviews. This change is mostly to keep wholesale and retail arbitrage sellers in check and to ensure that the ones that perform the best get ahead.
5.) Banning top Amazon reviewers – In order to get incentivized reviews sellers need “accomplices.” This is why Amazon has been tracking the top Amazon users that leave reviews and monitoring their behavior. You might have heard that there are freelancers and services in general that offer to leave a review for your product, most commonly found on Fiverr.com:
Amazon has been ruthless when it comes to these users and has banned many of the top 10,000 reviewers on their platform. This was under the mere suspicion that they have posted reviews that were incentivized.
There is a good subreddit called, “The Great Amazon Purge” that keeps track of the number of reviewers that were banned. It’s now at 6,305.
6.) Account suspensions – Amazon didn’t want to purge sellers as much as they wanted to remove reviewers. Their ultimate goal is to “get everyone in line.” Seller suspensions usually last between 7 to 21 days when it comes to review manipulations, and seller accounts getting permanently banned would have to commit review infractions multiple times.
So, how can I actually get reviews?
Using PPC – Having 0 reviews on a new product is not such a steep hill to climb as it once was exactly for this reason. With good use of PPC after making sure you’ve properly optimized your listing and indexed it on all the relevant keywords, you can be sure that you can get the ball rolling.
Asking for honest reviews reviews nicely – It is perfectly acceptable and expected to ask for reviews using it, you just need to make sure you ask for an honest one. There are also plenty of automated email services specifically made for this purpose and are completely in line with Amazon’s Terms Of Service.
Provide good customer service – There isn’t much you can do in terms of Customer service on Amazon. However, the little you can do can really make a difference. Make sure you stay on top of replying to buyer questions and reviews on your page. Also, make sure that once you communicate with you customers using the seller central system you reply on time and address any concern and questions that they might have.
The history of Amazon reviews is complicated and, in all honesty, has probably made life a little harder for you as a seller. But once you understand the ins-and-outs, you can always find a way to make sure your product gets as much love as it deserves.