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Amazon Bans Incentivised Reviews - What Does This Mean for Businesses

Amazon - the largest Internet-based retailer in the world, recently updated their community guidelines on customer reviews by banning incentivised reviews. This change will make launching a product on Amazon more of a challenge for new users and start-ups. While long time Amazon users will see benefits from a more trustworthy review service.

What is an incentivised review? It is a review that is affected or bias due to receiving compensation in exchange for a review or a product rating. The ecommerce giant, up until recently, had no process in place to discredit or ban incentivised reviews. A recent Review Meta study concluded that on average, an incentivised review would give a product a rating of 4.73 vs the 4.33 that a standard review generates. This difference looks minute, but Review Meta states that it pushed products from the fifty-fourth percentile to the ninety-fourth percentile!

Launching a new product requires two important things

1. Sales

2. Reviews

To establish a high position in search rankings user reviews are paramount, new customers want to feel comfortable when purchasing and often trust user generated product ratings. Previously, promotional giveaways in exchange for reviews was a great sales tactic for Amazon sellers. You could list these giveaways as sales, obtain reviews and this in turn would increase organic sales through the social proof of user reviews.

The official update from Amazon reads: "Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) is not allowed," and while it could be a slight negative for sellers on Amazon, it means an almost completely trustworthy service is now in place for the general Amazon customer/user.

This trust between customers and company is essential for Amazon; the 5-star review system is the main way they can advise buyers on how great or awful a product featured on their site is, before an online purchase. Online retailers are in essence ‘digital’ and so it is fundamental for a company like Amazon to offer review sections that a customer can wholeheartedly trust as otherwise they are physically unable to engage with the product before they make their purchase.

With that in mind, in recent months Amazon have been cracking down on external review services that jeopardise their review system through lawsuits and this community guideline update was the next step in ensuring a totally honest customer reviews system.

Whilst all this could sound gloomy for retailers whose product descriptions are instantaneously devalued in the presence of a particularly well-written poor review, essentially over the past few years the increase in prominence of customer reviews on ecommerce websites globally has shown that people listen to people. A survey done by review site Reevoo found that 64% of consumers would read online reviews when purchasing technology items such as MP3 players and cameras and that 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores.

A fantastic, unbiased review is a much better a way of describing your product than something lifted from a brochure. It provides a completely authentic way of describing your product through the trusted eyes of the user rather than the unauthentic view of the company behind a product. Sales can be notoriously hard work and great customer reviews will let others sell your product for you.

A bad review can also be seen as an opportunity to shine as a brand as part of your digital customer reviews strategy. All reviews play an undeniable role in the purchasing decisions modern consumers make, and it’s crucial for all brands to monitor, reply to, and adjust to them accordingly. If you learn from negativity you can aim to turn a bad review into good customer service. The way a company handles a bad review therefore really matters. Apologising and being visibly empathetic in a timely fashion and offering a solution to the unhappy customer could lead to a reviewer changing their negative review or even becoming a loyal patron. Whilst painting the picture of your company in a caring, social manner is a great juxtaposition away from the usual corporate identity that the consumer usually expects.

Not an issue for Amazon sellers as such but another side benefit of a customer reviews section on your own website is the unique, fresh and searchable new content that will be regularly updating your site for free. Search engines love to crawl a site with frequently updated new content and so customer reviews will increase the overall SEO of the products on your site. Plus, your ‘product name + review’ will also increase in the SERPs which alongside the increase in people using customer reviews online will obviously benefit your traffic volumes and conversion.

Going back to Amazon sellers, it’s not the complete end of the road. It will however, probably mean a change to product launch strategy for sellers on the site through a movement away from incentivising consumers for reviews. Whether that be through an optimised post-purchase email campaign (asking buyers for reviews), a competition, an increase in PPC spend, 2 for 1 coupons, using services like lightning deals or even a decreased initial sales price etc. etc. - a cleverly strategized campaign will have to become part of every strong product seller’s arsenal to successfully launch a product on Amazon.

So, in short will it become harder for sellers on Amazon?

Yes. But, with the review service becoming more transparent for the consumer, reviews will definitely become more trustworthy on Amazon.

Importantly though, with a well propositioned digital strategy in place, is Amazon still a great opportunity for sellers?


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