Even though the company has banned incentivized reviews on Amazon in 2016, sellers and buyers are still dealing with fake reviews.
What are incentivized reviews? Incentivized reviews are Amazon reviews that are written by a customer who has agreed to leave a positive review for a benefit.
Despite the company’s efforts to enforce new community guidelines and seller policies, nearly 4 years later, something’s still not adding up… and both Amazon Sellers and Amazon Buyers are getting tired of it.
A Brief History of Changes to Amazon’s Review System
Before 2016, Amazon sellers could essentially purchase reviews through a third-party that connected them with consumers who’d receive discounted products in exchange for a product review post on their listing.
In the fall of that year, the company updated its terms of service and banned all incentivized reviews, except those that originate from within the Amazon Vine review system.
The Amazon Vine Program Enters
What is Amazon Vine? Our experts describe Amazon Vine as the company’s attempt at getting ahead of the review system loopholes that third-party review sites are capitalizing on.
Essentially, it’s Amazon’s early reviewer program for Amazon sellers. A way of encouraging customer reviews by giving away new products, which is different than incentivized reviews because it prompts an honest and unbiased review.
“Amazon Vine invites the most trusted reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make informed purchase decisions. Amazon invites customers to become Vine Voices based on their reviewer rank, which is a reflection of the quality and helpfulness of their reviews as judged by other Amazon customers.”
The Vine program is invite-only and works like a double-blind experiment. VineVoices are given free products from participating vendors in exchange for customer reviews (which are highlighted as vine reviews), but neither vendors nor voices know which items will be distributed to whom.
Amazon’s Anti-Manipulation Ban on Product Packing and Inserts
Although the ban on incentivized reviews on Amazon started in 2016, it did little further enforce this policy. Instead of sellers using third-party sites to connect them with reviewers, sellers took to product inserts, directing customers gift cards in return for a favorable review.
Amazon released a policy reminder to sellers on Seller Forums 3 years later, which directed sellers to remove all verbiage soliciting for a POSITIVE review from product packaging and inserts. It also reminded sellers that urging customers to contact the seller before leaving a bad review is against Amazon policy.
Despite the company’s efforts to control language that incentivizes reviews, the issue remains unsolved.
Incentivized Reviews Just Keep Coming Up
Falsified or incentivized reviews don’t only affect sellers who are being outranked. Shoppers are getting angry about them too.
Although Amazon has taken an aggressive stance on manipulating reviews on both the customer and Amazon seller side of the issue, it seems as though neither side is reaping the benefits of an unbiased shopping experience.
How Incentivized Reviews Affect Sellers
Amazon reviews are important for sellers because it’s one of the leading factors that the site’s algorithm takes into consideration when ranking products, according to our optimization experts.
Why Sellers are Upset About Incentivized Reviews
In a study conducted by ReviewMeta, reviews from customers who have received incentives for writing an Amazon review are scientifically proved to be biased more often than not, and therefore the products that they are given are rewarded higher star ratings.
Though the average incentivized review only receives a .4 star boost, this bias can skyrocket products from the 54th percentile to the 94th percentile of highest rated products on Amazon.
As you can see below, 5-star ratings can influence the content of a product and manipulate reviews.
Many sellers are upset about this problem because star ratings and reviews are factors that determine SERP rankings, and many don’t know how to deal with that problem unless they fight fire with fire.
Sellers Are Taking to Seller Forums
On Seller forums, the most recent forum topic about a Seller asking for advice about incentivized reviews was created as recently as 5 days ago.
In the post, the Seller notes that a competitor who has launched the same product has received over 10x the amount of reviews and even has proof that the account has been participating in black hat review tactics.
From the comments, sellers agree on the sentiment that if their competitors aren’t playing by the rules, then why should they?
This could spell trouble for Amazon if they aren’t proactive about penalizing Amazon accounts that break the rules.
How Incentivized Reviews Affect Buyers
From a seller’s point of view, they may be angry because they feel that competitors who are employing biased reviews are stealing away potential customers. However, it seems that customers are actually turned off by black hat practices and feel their privacy has been breached when reviews aren’t authentic.
Buyers Don’t Want to Do Business with Review Scammers
A recent video uploaded 2 weeks ago by the LockPickingLawyer on Youtube depicts him ordering an “Amazon’s Choice” lockbox product and breaking into it. What garners more attention than the easily broken into lock is the product insert rebate that comes with it.
The LockPickingLawyer has stated his disgust with this by titling his video, “an amazon scam.” In a Reddit comment, he states, “frankly, seeing this card pissed me off. It’s deceptive to the core. I’m also a bit disappointed at those who would sell their integrity for $10. “
His statement seems to resonate with thousands of others, as many users from the audience have also recounted their personal experiences of being bribed with products in exchange for reviews that are favorable.
Despite the thousands of comments and replies, the Mofut locks in the video are still listed on Amazon. However, their products are no longer listed as an Amazon Choice product.
*Editor’s note: Amazon has suspended the Mofut product and Amazon seller account after this blog was published
Amazon will want to get ahead of this to save its reputation, as consumers have started criticizing Amazon’s badge system for allowing “Amazon’s Choice” and “Top Rated” badges to be awarded to sellers who have scammed their way to the top.
What You Can Do Right Now About Incentivized Reviews
Users from Seller Forums have recommended a 3-step approach for sellers dealing with reporting incentivized reviews. The following are step-by-step screenshots and advice are provided by the user papyrophilia.
1. Report A Seller Violation
2. Report the reviews as a group
3. Report each review individually
Ethical business practices are becoming more and more important to be transparent with customers about, especially on a platform that’s as competitive as Amazon.
If you’re a seller that’s frustrated with competitors who you suspect may be receiving incentivized reviews, keep doing what you’re doing and keep your ranking and review strategies white hat. It’s not worth jeopardizing your account health, as more and more buyers are actively choosing to purchase products from listings with genuine ratings.