It’s hard work getting those first few reviews of a new product on Amazon.
Last year, Amazon killed incentivized reviews, effectively putting a stop to a secondary industry of review trading that had sprung up. It’s understandable – Amazon needs to protect their integrity as a company and must ensure that customers can generally rely on the reviews that they see.
A new program has simmered in the background for a while, going through beta last year before being released for most sellers to use from the middle of this year. The Early Reviewer Program is Amazon’s way of encouraging more customers to review those products which currently have a low review count.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is the Early Reviewer program?
The Early Reviewer program is run by Amazon and encourages customers who have bought a product to share their genuine experience of it in the form of a review. Amazon selects reviewers at random and will offer them a small reward (such as a low-value Amazon gift card) to provide a review.
The goal is to help brand owners acquire those difficult early reviews. Products are only eligible for the program when they have less than 5 reviews. Those customers who are selected and requested to leave a review don’t know that the product in question is participating in the program. Sellers have zero input into who gets selected or how as it truly is a random selection.
Amazon charges sellers $60 per SKU to participate in the program and the product remains in the program until it gains 5 reviews or until a year has passed. (So yeah, cynically you could say that Amazon killed incentivized reviews but has found a way to profit from seller’s need for reviews). Currently, this program is only available to US-based sellers.
Note: You will only be charged the $60 once the program has brought you at least one review for the enrolled SKU. You’ve got to hope it’s a good one!
How is this different from incentivized reviews?
This is the obvious first question – even if the reward is small, surely the fact that reviewers receive one could be considered incentivized. Well, the difference is that everything happens after the customer has already made a purchase. They don’t go into the purchase with the expectation of some kind of reward.
Second, the reward is very small, between $1 and $3 to spend on Amazon. If you had a terrible experience with a product, would you be likely to write a glowing review for such a reward? Unlikely.
Here’s what Amazon has to say:
We are not giving free products or discounts to these reviewers. We only ask customers who have already purchased the product to share their authentic experience, regardless of whether it is a 1-star or 5-star review. This program is not limited to elite reviewers – we want to hear from all of our customers as long as they have no history of abusive or dishonest reviews.
Prior to the end of incentivized reviews, customers might have received 95% off the purchase price of the product or some other enticing offer. It’s easy to see how this might corrupt the quality of the reviews received.
Sellers should also be relieved to know that, while reviewers are selected at random, Amazon does state that they avoid those with a history of dishonest reviews or abuse. It’s daunting to think reviewers might be random, particularly since previously, the seller had some control over who they were incentivizing to review.
Before shutting down incentivized reviews, Amazon did discover that customers were losing confidence in the credibility of reviews, a good reason to shut down incentives and restore integrity. However, reviews were always relatively tricky to get – it’s challenging to get anyone to do what you want them to. Without incentives, many sellers struggled even more to get those reviews. Amazon had to come up with a solution that helps them to retain control and credibility while helping sellers to obtain crucial reviews.
It’s also worth noting that while sellers are still able to send follow-up emails to encourage reviews after a customer has purchased, Amazon has introduced an option for them to switch off Seller Communication. This further shrank sellers’ options to generate reviews (although you could argue that the customers who turn this off probably aren’t the ones who are obliging about leaving a review anyway).
Who should participate?
First of all, there are a few criteria that you need to meet to be able to participate:
- The SKU must have less than 5 reviews,
- The product must sell for a minimum of $15,
- You need to be the owner of a registered brand (private label sellers, check out the criteria for Amazon Brand Registry, if you haven’t already).
Early reports from sellers who have participated indicate that they’ve seen some success with reviews coming in through the program (these are clear to see as they are marked with an orange badge which says “Early Reviewer Rewards”).
The fact is that you need reviews somehow – they’re a factor in how well you rank and feature in buy boxes, as well as a trust indicator for future customers. A product with no or very few reviews can be a red flag to many people who would rather wait to see what others have to say about it.
If you’ve been struggling to get reviews up, it may be worth your while signing up just to get the ball rolling, but bear in mind that you will still need to conduct other activities to help drive engagement and encourage reviews. (We talked about Amazon Vine and some other ways to get reviews here).
How do sellers sign up?
If you are a US-based seller, that’s the first hurdle to get over. After that, there are a few steps to get started and sign up for the program.
- Register your brand through Amazon Brand Registry if you haven’t already (you need to meet their criteria, including owning the trademark that appears on your products). This will give you access to enter the Early Reviewer Program page, which can be found under the “Advertising” tab in your Seller Central account. You’ll see a message like the screenshot below if you don’t have access.
- Once you have access to the Early Reviewer Program, you can download their CSV template which allows you to submit up to 100 SKUs at once to the program. If you change your mind, you can always cancel an SKU from the program.
- Next, you need to upload your CSV template to the program. Once you have done so, you can refresh your submission status and check to see the total number of accepted and unaccepted products.
Is Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program something that will be worth trying? Well, we feel it holds particular value for sellers who are very new and who haven’t built up a base of engaged customers on other platforms. It’s difficult to get those first few reviews when you’re new, so this program can be the boost you need outside of activities that tend to be more expensive, such as PPC advertising or running deals.
Other than that, anyone who is struggling to get reviews is at least assured that they’ll have one before they are charged for the program, although it’s not guaranteed it will be a good one!
Your best bet is to simply deliver a quality product that does exactly what a buyer would expect when they read your description. Do right by the customer and those reviews you generate should be positive.