The Reality of Amazon Product Reviews in 2019

As Q4 approaches, many sellers on the Amazon marketplace are thinking hard about making their listings stand out. They’re also considering their advertising tactics and the organic visibility of their products. They know that product reviews factor into that visibility, impact some of their advertising abilities and, most frustratingly, are harder and harder to get. To compound this puzzle, there are agencies promising outstanding amounts of product reviews, “bad actors” using review manipulation to sabotage other sellers and other sellers obviously breaking the rules to get reviews and they just don’t seem to be getting caught. 

What do you, as an Amazon seller, do in 2019 to get more product reviews in a way that is compliant with Amazon’s Terms of Service? What can you do to combat the black hat tactics that push ASINs ahead of yours? 

Black Hat Review Tactics

Believe it or not, there are still people blatantly breaking the rules. You probably do believe it, because you see it right there on the Amazon marketplace. You may see a ton of positive reviews on a product that smack of inauthenticity. You may see some of your own hard-earned reviews disappear with no explanation. It’s very frustrating to see that type of unethical behavior at work. You hear all the time that black-hat review tactics can get you suspended, so why aren’t those bad actors getting suspended? 

As frustrating as it might be, they will get their comeuppance. Amazon is very straightforward in their attempt to make sure all product reviews on the marketplace are legit, honest, and not the result of manipulation. As Amazon employs more machine learning and manual audits of the product reviews that come onto the platform, they will catch the bad actors. 

What can you do to help? It’s tricky. Some coaches and experts recommend downvoting reviews suspected to be false, but you can get in trouble with excessive upvoting or downvoting, as that itself can be seen as review manipulation.

Many of the black-hat review tactics employed by bad actors turn the lens back on innocent sellers. Some of the dirtiest tricks involve hacking a seller’s account to upvote and downvote reviews, leave negative reviews on competing products, and ultimately make it look like YOU’RE the bad actor. Protect your Seller Central credentials with your life, and monitor your account every day for suspicious activity. If you see something, report it to Amazon right away. 

One ray of hope is the idea that consumers on the Amazon marketplace are getting more familiar with shady practices on Amazon. Sadly, that’s likely because they’ve experienced a counterfeit product and have had to learn the hard way that not everything on Amazon is what it seems. Certain news outlets, like BuzzFeed News, are educating the average consumer about fake reviews, fake products and the plight of the Amazon seller. I recently talked to a reporter at Consumer Reports who is looking into black-hat tactics, ASIN manipulation and more to help inform the public and help them make good buying decisions. As we head into a world with better-informed consumers, it’s possible that buyers can help police the marketplace to make it safe for both buyers and sellers. 

Getting Reviews on Amazon

Now that the bad news is out of the way, it’s time for more, well, bad news. It’s not nearly as easy to get legitimate product reviews as it used to be. Prior to October 2016, you could send your product at a discount (or for free) to a “top reviewer” and they could leave a review for you on Amazon. When Amazon banned incentivized reviews, it flipped the script entirely. And since then, other things have happened to make it harder to contact buyers. In May 2017, Amazon allowed buyers to opt out of non-critical communication. Obviously, a request for a product review is not “critical communication,” so many buyers stopped getting review requests. How many? Not as many as you think. Here at eComEngine, we actually saw an increase in email conversion rates after the opt-out. We think it’s because the buyers who didn’t want to receive emails don’t, and the ones who are OK with receiving emails are more receptive to the idea of leaving a product review. We see buyer opt-out as a good thing, but it sure did shake the confidence of many an Amazon seller. 

You may be asking, is there any good news at all? Is there any way I can get product reviews on Amazon so that my listings are more visible and so my products sell better in the upcoming holiday season? 

Here are the totally white hat, on the up-and-up ways to get reviews on your ASINS:

Amazon Early Reviewer Program

You’ll hear mixed messages about this Amazon program, because the results do vary. However, it is a relatively inexpensive way to get reviews on your products in a way that Amazon endorses. It costs $60 per product, the product must have less than 5 total reviews, cost more than $15 and you have to be brand registered. Best for new products, the program can take some time to produce reviews, but the reviews you get will be sanctioned by Amazon.

Ask for Product Reviews

You may ask for product reviews, but you must do it in a totally TOS-compliant way. (Our compliance checklist can help!) You can’t offer incentives, you can’t try to manipulate your buyer, you can’t ask friends or family and you must not single out buyers you know have had a good experience to ask for reviews. Do provide fantastic customer service, answer any and all questions about your product and ask for a review in a neutral, polite way. Our FeedbackFive Customer Success Advisors can help you create an email campaign with a killer subject line that converts.

Make It Known That You Want Reviews

If you’re using ManyChat, Facebook chat bots, leveraging your email list or promoting your Amazon store in any other way, you can, in a TOS-compliant way, make it known that you hope buyers of your products will leave a review after purchase. I do caution you against saying ANYTHING that, if Amazon saw it, might get you in trouble. Sure, some of their product review rules apply directly to Buyer Seller Messaging, but any perceived review manipulation on any platform is an invitation for scrutiny. Don’t use language like “product reviews are essential to my business” or “we’re a small, family-owned company fighting sellers who are out to get us.” Keep your review messaging neutral consistent across platforms.

Q4 means more shoppers on the Amazon marketplace, more sales, and more chances for honest feedback on your products. Get your workflow in place to capture, in a compliant way, as many reviews as you can to ensure success throughout the year.

Liz Fickenscher
As the Industry Liaison for eComEngine, Liz Fickenscher is committed to providing valuable information to Amazon Sellers through blog posts and informational webinars. Liz is the affiliate ambassador, engaging with customers and strategic partners to build relationships between eComEngine and the eCommerce industry.