In October 2016, Amazon announced that it had made changes to its guidelines concerning incentivized reviews.
The retailer noted that the updated guidelines “prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.”
Previously Amazon guidelines did not condone compensation for reviews, though they did allow sellers to exchange free or discounted products for reviews as long as the reviewer disclosed it.
Now the only way for Amazon sellers to solicit reviews will be through Amazon Vine. This, of course, is positive news for many Amazon customers, as they can begin trusting customer reviews on the site again.
But where does it leave Amazon sellers, exactly?
How the New Guidelines Affect Sellers
Incentivized reviews have long been the bread and butter of many online retail stores, and reports show that there is a definite bias shown by reviewers who were compensated for their posts.
Amazon found that products with incentivized reviews received an average rating of 4.74 out of 5 stars compared to 4.36 on average for products without them. While those numbers may look insignificantly different at first glance, it’s enough of a margin to change buyer decisions.
These paid reviews also reward companies who offer them while simultaneously punishing those who don’t. But now the tables are reversed.
Under the new guidelines, “creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation” will bring harsh consequences for companies who still attempt to incentivize.
This is great news for many sellers with high-quality products that will no longer have to compete against others with incentivized high ratings. Customers can identify valuable products without being fooled by false advertising.
But, if you’re one of the companies that has high-quality goods and still relied on incentivizing to boost sales, you’re not totally out of luck just yet. You still have the option of using Amazon Vine.
How Amazon Vine Will Work for Incentivizing
Amazon Vine is an invite-only program that will allow you to continue offering free or discounted products in exchange for reviews in a more supervised manner.
Sellers pay a fee for the service, and Amazon sends the product samples to “Vine Voices” (reviewers) for them to use and review. Reviewers are barred from reselling or giving away the items and are required to post a review within 30 days upon receipt of the product.
Vine Voices are selected based on the number of previously helpful reviews they’ve submitted and they are not paid for writing reviews, but rather earn “badges” that identify them as a top reviewer.
So what are the downsides?
One thing that may frustrate sellers about the Vine program is that it’s invite only, and once you’re accepted, you will need to pay a fee ranging from $2,500 to $7,500. This may be a hindrance to many smaller sellers who could put that money to use elsewhere.
There’s also no guarantee that Vine Voices will leave positive reviews. According to Amazon, “We do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written.”
While Vine is certainly a plausible alternative, many sellers may find that the ROI isn’t quite what they expect. Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways to court reviews without offering something in return.
How to Get Reviews Without Incentivizing
Incentivizing isn’t the only way to court reviewers into leaving positive feedback. There are other strategies that sellers can use to make sure their products are getting positive reviews on a regular basis.
Social Media Reviews
Social media has been shown to affect purchasing decisions as much as traditional reviews. In fact, consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.
One of the biggest social channels for reviews is Facebook. According to SproutSocial, Facebook is the most effective platform to get consumers talking about products. A study by G/O Digital also found that people check out Facebook more than any other channel when doing research about a local business.
If your company has a Facebook page, you can use posts to encourage users to submit reviews about their experience with your store, and use the Reviews tab to manage comments, upload videos, and more.
Google Alerts and Social Mentions
There are probably plenty of customer reviews already written about your company on other sites, such as personal blogs, that you haven’t seen or promoted.
You can set up daily notifications via email on Google Alerts and Social Mention to receive alerts for mentions of your business, your brand, or a specific product. The more variety of applicable terms you use, the better.
Once you find someone that has reviewed your product, you can reach out to see if they will give you permission to share that review on your Amazon store site as well.
Respond to Negative Reviews
One reason why many companies incentivize in the first place is due to potentially negative reviews that may hurt product ratings or overall reputation. However, most companies also don’t address the concerns presented in the negative review and instead either delete them or hide them.
You can counteract negative reviews (and potentially turn them into positive reviews) by responding to as many negative reviews as possible.
If someone comes across a negative comment about your company in a public forum but notices that you have offered to help solve the problem, they may still have a positive impression of your company and buy from you.
Ask for Non-Incentivized Reviews
You can always ask your customers to leave reviews without incentivizing them financially.
Email is a popular way to ask current customers to rate their purchases. Amazon does this automatically, but you can also do it through social media or through a personal email.
Be sure to send the email from a real email address (the more personal, the better) using personal language and include a clear call to action to point them in the right direction.
Optimize Your Product Listings
Finally, the best thing you can do to improve reviews and sales is to have an outstanding product page.
Having appealing product images, including as much relevant information as possible, and getting users to ask and answer questions about your product will all help create a positive impression for users visiting your site.
Even if your product ranking isn’t as high as you’d like sans incentivized reviews, you can create more user satisfaction through optimization, which may ultimately lead to more positive reviews anyway.
While Amazon may have killed off the incentivized review, it’s not necessarily a negative thing for your business, because customers will ultimately trust the reviews (and you) more.
Just because you can’t incentivize financially doesn’t mean you can’t encourage users to submit reviews. You can always leverage social media reviews and promote other discounts on Facebook to get more business.
And if you really, really love incentivizing and just can’t live without it, you can always sign up for Amazon Vine. For a price, that is.