Product Reviews Policy Updates
Amazon has recently come out with an update to their product review policy. We go over the updated TOS language involving reviews coming up in the episode of the Amazon Seller Podcast.
Nathan: My name is Nathan joined today by Andy Slamans and Liran Hirschkorn. We are going to be talking about Amazon Product Reviews. Updates coming up from Amazon and some of the latest information that you definitely need to be aware of. Before we get into that guys, let’s just talk about what you’ve been up to in your business recently. I know you have some interesting stuff to share with us before we get into talks about product reviews.
Andy, why don’t you go over some of the stuff that you’ve been doing in your business recently in the last couple weeks?
Andy: Sure, I am in the process of adding 2 new products to a brand that I currently have. I’ve been working with my sales rep. Been building the listing, getting the images done as well. We recently launched a product – Nate and I. We have a brand that we’re building. I’m very excited about that, we got it into Amazon FBA and within a few days, organic sales started to happen.
That’s what we say is a “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!” type product. When you don’t have to do any giveaways. You’re just able to land it in the catalog with great copy, great listing, great images and they start to sell. Definitely excited about that. Excited about these other 2 products I’m adding to my current brand as well to get them into Q4.
Nathan: Awesome. Liran, what have you been up to? I know you’ve been busy traveling to Amazon, other things, why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.
Liran: Just to add to what Andy mentioned. There’s somebody in our inner circle group that I have been talking with. I helped vet his product before he launched it. He recently launched it and it’s gotten great sales out of the gate. No launch nothing, just PPC. Actually, its ACOS is like 40% which out of the gate is pretty awesome. And the reason he was able to do that is because he really found a trending product.
If you watch our “What Not to Launch” episodes then you know we talked about last week trending versus fad. He’s launched a trending product, not a fad product. A product that has some good demands, very low reviews. And he was able to differentiate it and just capitalize off of it.
When I originally spoke to him I told him “you probably have to do a launch.” That’s kind of how we generally bring products into the marketplace. But first, he said, “Look, put the product out there and see how it does.” And immediately it started to get sales. I basically told him, “Don’t do a launch, you have Q4 coming, save that inventory.”
It’s a good product for Q4 too, and he’s selling like 9-10 units every day now. And we know that Q4 is just going to crush with this product. And he’s expanding more into the niche now. Just awesome to see that when you source the right products, you can have amazing success on Amazon. So product selection is really key.
As far as myself, I was able to go to Amazon headquarters for the second time this year. I’m part of the exclusives program which gives me some opportunities to go there.
We really did experience in terms of one – they do this brand training. I would say that the training itself if you’re sort of an advance seller it’s not anything revolutionary. Amazon is not going to tell you how to rank your product to the top of the search results. Nor how to get more reviews on your products or things like that. But the networking there is very good. Both with Amazon employees and with other brands. And you do get to hear some things that they’re working on and that are coming.
It’s a good platform for me to sort of rant a little and voice my concerns on things that I don’t like that I’m seeing. And kind of bring that up to Amazon. But also some things that I heard that they’re trying to bring out. They’ve been talking about both of these for a little bit of time. But one is finally bringing attribution data for sellers. The ability to send outside traffic to your listings and get more data around the results of that. Which I think would be huge. I think that’s a big win-win for Amazon.
If I’m sending Facebook traffic to my listing and I know the direct result of that. That means I can take my campaign that I’m spending $10 a day to a thousand dollars a day, right? Scale it if it’s profitable. That’s a huge win for Amazon just to get more of that social media and outside traffic. Google ads, all this kind of things that I think would really help. People sending traffic instead to their own website where they could pixel in conversions instead to Amazon where the conversion rate could be better.
Then also they were talking about the vine program. Amazon’s internal, incentivized review program that is available just to vendor central sellers.
Now, something will come out I think that will make it available to more sellers. Maybe initial beta, maybe something in brand registry. I was in a beta program but it was a one time option about a year ago. And I got 30 reviews, it was really really good. You want to make sure you have an awesome product though. Those vine reviewers tend to be sort of a little bit more critical.
When I launched this product it was right around the time of the launch that I got the vine program. I started to see some 3 and 4 stars review, some 5 from these vine customers. I was a little worried about the quality. But then when the other customer reviews started coming in they were mostly 4 and 5 stars. So turns out that the product was fine. But the vine customers tend to be a little bit more critical, so just something to keep in mind.
Another really cool thing I got to participate in was Amazon took us on a bus to a fulfillment center. We went to the fulfillment center in Kent, Washington. It’s about 20-30 minutes from Amazon headquarters. This is a fulfillment center that was built about 2 and a half years ago. So it’s all like the latest updated technology.
And it really allows you to see into why Amazon is dominating the E-commerce space. The reason is that they’ve combined the selection of having FBA and third-party sellers using their warehouses. And being able to offer so many different products to customers basically anything and everything. With fast shipping and the operational amazing efficiencies that they have.
They have robots in there moving around these racks that have products on bins. And some of the employees there working are so fast. Because I’m sure they’re also sort of tied on their productivity. Good job to those employees, they all just got a raise.
Amazon raised their minimum wage across the board to $15 an hour. But they do have productivity goals.
And they can get incentives for meeting them. This is why they’re beating Walmart. Walmart is not at this level with their technology. That’s kind of been my past couple of weeks. So it’s a cool insight to see why Amazon is so much ahead of the game than everybody else.
Nathan: Awesome. All great information. So, as Andy mentioned he and I have been working on a product that we just recently launched. I was actually pulling up our numbers because you mentioned some of those PPC numbers. With a little over $350 ad spend in the last couple days we’re at a 30% ACOS. So like Andy was saying, things are doing pretty well as far as that goes.
But one of the big concerns for us is product reviews. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
Liran, as you mentioned before we started here – nothing really has changed. However, Amazon has now come out and been a little more specific with what is against the TOS. They came out with a number of specific examples I think we’re going to just kind of go through.
I have the list up here of the recent policy updates that Amazon came up with. They came out with a page that I believe showed up on everybody’s seller central. It was right there on basically the front dashboard of my seller central. It says, “Reminder of the customer product review policy of Amazon”.
So Liran I want to get your thoughts on this. What do you think this means for sellers before we get into the different bullet points. What does it mean for you? For other people’s business? For people who are just getting started? And then maybe for people who have been around for a while and already have a lot of reviews? Maybe you can just cover all of that.
Liran: So in terms of what this means for Amazon sellers, I think nothing really has changed in terms of what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do. We knew all these things inherently just from Amazon’s policy about incentivizing reviews. How you’re not allowed to do that. We knew this. But this is really Amazon #1 – really putting out there that they have a zero-tolerance policy around review manipulation. The first time they see it they can just suspend your account indefinitely forever and ban you.
Amazon is taking a stronger position. They’re saying, “Okay, here’s a warning. We’re taking a much stronger stand on the integrity of the review system. And here are very specific things you can’t do.” Whereas before they never got into specifics like this. Now, on the perhaps positive side of this is that now you might be able to use some of these specific languages that Amazon is using to maybe open cases and get reviews removed. Amazon mentions getting, sending a competitor negative reviews.
Well, now you can mention specifically in the policy. Amazon policy states TOS states you can’t send you competitor a negative review. And we think that’s what’s happening here.
Now, whether or not that’s going to work. Whether or not this policy will work, who knows?
I’m not super excited that just because they put this out there, the community’s seeing is going to be now easily removing reviews. I think it’s still very difficult to get reviews removed. But maybe there is a bright side here as far as being able to site this policy if this is happening to you. And mentioning it too and maybe it will help. Amazon talks about things like variations. There are a lot of specific things we have never heard Amazon talk about. Like inserts. Amazon is basically saying like, “We know what’s up, we know how you’re manipulating reviews. And we want to be clear and specific about the fact that this is not allowed.”
Nathan: Great! Let’s look at some of the specific language that’s used here, first.
Amazon talks about what’s going to happen to you if they detect that you are not following Amazon’s TOS. If you’re manipulating the systems.
So the obvious thing that we all already knew, the thing that people were afraid of is that you can have your selling privileges from Amazon removed. They specifically say that they could even withhold funds. And I think there have definitely been cases where I heard Amazon will suspend the account. Basically hold the funds for a while after that as well.
They also say that they can remove the product reviews and prevent the product from receiving future reviews.
Now, that would be interesting if there was a listing on Amazon that Amazon did not remove a listing, right? The listing is still up but it just basically not able to get reviews ever again. That would be kind of an interesting scenario if that came up.
Liran: And we’ve seen them do this already where they block a listing from getting reviews. If you have a new listing. And at the outright, you suddenly get 10 5-star reviews first week or so of the listing being up. Then Amazon will block the listing from getting reviews. I don’t know for what period of time they do that. I don’t think it’s a lifetime ban but there definitely is something in place that puts a 30-day or some kind of blockage from being able to add additional reviews to the listing.
And I don’t even know if that’s maybe just positive reviews are blocked and maybe negative reviews are allowed, who knows?
That’s definitely a killer to your listing, you might as well close up the listing and start a new one.
And Amazon would probably be happy if you do that. Because you’re going to start again without any reviews and those original sorts of fake reviews, if they are really fake, are going to get wiped. The hope in all this is that Amazon is not just blocking listings. They’re getting legitimate reviews and we’ve seen that.
We’ve seen this review swipe. Amazon has done twice now, at least twice now this year. I think one in May and I think another one in August. Where they did a review swipe and then suddenly those reviews showed up again. Because obviously they were testing something but they reviewed too many reviews. And I know sellers with a thousand reviews that were legitimate. They’ve never done any sort of manipulation. And the reviews got wiped and then suddenly they got most of those back. Maybe out of a thousand they got 900 back a few weeks later.
We know Amazon has been doing a lot of testing around this. We just want to make sure they’re penalizing the right people and not the wrong people.
Nathan: And lastly, they say here obviously that legal action could be taken. And disclosing the seller’s name and other related information publicly.
Amazon’s almost like threatening that they are going to publicly come out and shame you if they want to. probably this would be against big review groups that are kind of really the source of the issues with a lot of this.
Liran: And you know Amazon will publicly shame you and then put a big picture of Jeff Bezos laughing…
Nathan: Right, that classic one of him doing the big laugh. Yeah, I know that one.
Liran: Yes, but it kind of brings a point where us here, those of us that are listening in the US and Canada and Europe. That might be a legitimate concern, Amazon going after and sue you. Now how about if you’re in China – what is Amazon’s ability to go after people in China that are doing this manipulation? And really going after them and suing them and getting anywhere with it, right? Does this give the Chinese, another advantage that they may have over US sellers where…?
Nathan: I’ve been seeing a lot of people say that and they are saying that all of these specific examples that not to target any one group but specifically the Chinese you hear about they’ll say, “They’ll just find ways around this. Because they’re honestly smarter than a lot of the other sellers about getting around these tactics. So they have the bigger advantage.”
Liran: I personally don’t think this will stop Chinese black hat tactics to get reviews at all. Because they’ve been ignoring or not obviously every Chinese seller. But the Chinese sellers that are doing black hat are going to continue black hat, right? They’ve been making a lot of money off black hat tactics. They are only going to stop when the money stops coming in. As long as it’s working for them, they’re going to keep doing it. Where I just think we have more to lose with Amazon. We don’t have all the systems that they have set up there to really do this at scale.
Nathan: Right, and that’s a big concern for anyone who is kind of in this black hat game. Let’s look at some of these specific examples again. Some of them are old, have been stated previously or at least pretty close. And some are brand new as far as the language so the first one is:
#1 – A seller posts a review of their own product or competitor product, that’s pretty specific.
I don’t know if Amazon in the past mentioned the competitor product or not. Do you know, Liran, if there was a specific?
Liran: I don’t think they have. Again I’m not 100% sure but I don’t think they have. I think this is an update. And I think this is Amazon basically recognizing the fact that this does happen. There have been articles about this. How people have had their business ruined.
There’s a famous article I think within the last year that was how these 2 competitors were going at each other. And one guy lost $400,000 or something as a result. Amazon couldn’t help ’em or get anywhere. And after an article came up I think his product came back. But he still had a major loss as a result of a competitor threatening him. I think Amazon is recognizing that it’s an issue.
#2 – Nathan: Right, the second bullet point is about third-party services basically that offer reviews. Which is going back to 2016 now.
This is the first time I believe that I’ve seen where Amazon then at the end of that says, “For social media groups.” Because after that whole thing after that language came out back in 2016 about incentivized reviews. All these Facebook groups popped up and in WeChat and other social media, the We Chats are harder to detect them, I’m sure Facebook is easier but there are all these groups that popped up and so now Amazon is saying “Yeah we recognize there are these social media groups. Some of them were more public, some very private. They are basically just third-party financial services related to incentivized reviews.
#3 – A seller offers to refund or reimburse a buyer after. So, Liran maybe you can talk about this. Because this was kind of what happened after some of those groups were being detected by Amazon’s algorithm. So then they got to the refund and reimbursements stage of it.
Liran: Yeah, and I think there’s a difference here. But definitely something like one – you get a negative review and Amazon has sort of finally it seems like put a stop to be able to do a hundred percent review matching. Where they have the customer profile ID. So things like AMZ Fire, feedback wiz had something, are not working anymore. So while you can still match based on the customer name, there’s even sort of a loophole within looking at their wish list. And some other things you can do to try to find out who the customer is.
Amazon has finally kind of they keep trying to figure out how to avoid sellers emailing customers that have left negative reviews. Now, what they’re trying to avoid is saying to a customer, “Hey we’re really sorry, we see you had a bad experience, you left us a 1-star, we’ve given you a full refund. Please if you can change your review” that’s against Terms of Service.
Now, emailing the customer and saying. “Hey, we’re sorry you had a bad experience, we’ve refunded you. We sent you a replacement.” I think that’s totally ok. But adding in sort of a “this for that” like “we’ve given you a refund” or “we’ll give you a refund if you can change your review.” This is what Amazon is referring to. And then also groups where you create this sort of refund after purchase but then you’re still requiring the person to leave a review.
I think the line that you can’t cross here is I think you can still discount. I think you can still if you want to do a rebate program or something, I think that’s still ok. Where the problem is I don’t think you should be probably asking for a review. Because it is really an incentivized, at the end of the day it’s an incentivized review.
The person is much likely they’ll leave you a 5-star review when they didn’t pay for the product when they pay, they got the product for 80-90% off as opposed to buying at a full price. I know that if I buy a product for $100 and it doesn’t work the way I liked it. I’m more likely to return the product whereas if I bought a /$10 product and it’s not that great, I might just keep it because it was cheap or whatever, right?
The customer is going to have a different point of view if they got a big discount. Amazon is aware of all these things and they are basically saying “you can’t really go after review when you’re refunding the person
Nathan: Well that kind of gets into the next bullet point here where
#4 – Amazon says a seller uses a third-party service that offers free or discounted products tied to a review. For example a review club.
But the question I would have is how is Amazon knowing it’s a review club. Or just kind of a deal club where people are getting discounted products? And they just happen to leave you reviews sometimes? Are those lines going to get crossed in Amazon’s algorithms?
Liran: I think this is all based on your review rate percentage. If I do a launch and I do giveaway product at 70 or 80% off, I may end up getting 1 to 3 reviews. Unverified maybe off that and maybe they get deleted later. I think that’s totally normal and in line with a sort of like average review rates. Because people who are getting these discounts don’t have to leave a review. But what if I suddenly got 30 reviews out of those hundred. Now I think that’s going to raise a flag.
And there’s sort of justification. There must be some incentive here to leave the review or something. because the rate of review you’re getting is much higher.
To me, that’s going to be a differentiator in terms of looking at your listing and certain metrics that might trigger some kind of review or a bot or red flag. I don’t think there’s an issue again with doing discounts and even having a follow up email maybe around it, I still try to avoid follow up emails for discounts, I set up a filter not to email anyone that has gotten like 50% or more discount but I think that’s something that you should be doing but I think it’s all going to be the review rate if you suddenly get very high rate then that will trigger blocking your listing or something.
Nathan: Yup, makes sense. The next bullet point here says –
#5 – A family member or employee of the seller posted a review of the seller’s product. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t mention anything on this page about friends, right?
So it says, family or employee. But on this new updated page, I would have thought that they would have mentioned friends. Maybe that just goes without saying to Amazon. But they do say family and employee specifically. Here is one that says and this is where it gets a little bit tricky for some people who aren’t aware of all the TOS.
#6 – The seller asks a reviewer to change or remove their review that may also offer a refund or other compensation to a reviewer in exchange for doing so. This is what you are mentioning Liran, you were kind of talking about that, you think it’s okay but you just have to be really careful with your language right?
Liran: One thing is I never used the word review in an email to customers ever. Just because that might trigger some things. But you know we never, if we offer a replacement to a customer or anything. First of all, we never ask them to update their review or anything in their email. And if the person gets the new product and they’re sort of happy with it, then we say “Hey if you want to update your feedback feel free to do so.” That even sounds a little scary to me right now.
It’s policy but that’s as far as I would go in terms of I’m not actually asking them to change a review. I’m saying “If you want to update it, you can.” type of thing. And again that’s as far as I would go in asking for anything from a customer. Whether or not if Amazon sees that as manipulation, I don’t see it as manipulation. I’m not requiring the customer to update their review and I’m not asking them to update their review. I’m letting them know it’s an option. Again, it could be a grey area.
Nathan: Makes sense and if there’s anything that we start to hear from other people having an issue with that, I’m sure we’ll talk about it as soon as we hear about it. The next one is something that some sellers might not even be aware of what Amazon is talking about really right? It says –
#7 – The seller diverts negative reviews to be sent to them or to a different feedback mechanism, while positive reviews are sent to Amazon. Maybe you can go over some of the common things that sellers were doing Liran that Amazon’s saying this is manipulative.
Liran: There are several levels of manipulation here that have been going on. So 1- the simplest level of manipulation here where we saw this and we saw people stopping to use this some time ago. But basically, the email said something like, “If you’re happy, we’d love a review. And there was a link to leave a review. And for any reason, you’re not happy please contact us. That’s the first thing, you’re diverting people who are unhappy. You are only asking people who are happy to leave reviews. So your goal is only to get 5-star reviews, that’s sort of one level of manipulation.
Second, level of manipulation – “If you’re happy, leave a review and if you’re unhappy click here to leave a comment or review. ” And in that case, you’re sending people to leave a review if they’re happy. And you’re sending them to give you seller feedback if they’re happy. What happens with seller feedback when it’s written as a product review, you easily get that removed. Kind of a slick move by sellers to still give the customer an option to leave a bad review. But they’re really not leaving it on the listing. The customer doesn’t even know the difference. And the next day when you do that you get it removed. That’s the second level of manipulation.
The third level of manipulation, very tricky. You send customers to some kind of landing page. You have an insert or something where you give customers like a public web page. Or maybe you put a link within a PDF or something that can’t be scanned by Amazon. Like a link within a PDF that you attach to an email. You send somebody to an outside page and it has something like star ratings there. And when you click on 5 stars it sends you to the listing to leave a review. And when you click on anything 3-star or less, it says give us your opinion and they write the negative review. It’s just on the outside landing page, it doesn’t actually go on Amazon.
Obviously a clear manipulation, there’s no questions about it and probably referring to that also. Again, we knew this was all manipulation. It’s just Amazon never put it out there. Now, in my opinion, it’s not bad of you to say “if you’re not happy, contact us. ” It’s just a fact of diverting happy customers here, unhappy customers here. In our language we basically say “We’d love your feedback, here’s a link to leave us your feedback.” and then we also say somewhere along the lines where “For any reason, you’re not satisfied, contact us. We’ll help you get it resolved.” I think doing that is not an issue but sort of the A-B, Happy-Unhappy not something you want to do within emails.
#8 – A seller creates a variation relationship between products with the aim of manipulating reviews. Maybe you can talk to us about what happened to an old listing that was kind of like a dead listing of yours but that you’re trying to bring back to Amazon and what you noticed had happened?
Andy: This is a black hat tactic that sellers will use. If you have a product that has gone out of stock or maybe you decided not to reorder that product. Somehow they have a way combing through Amazon’s system and finding those products that are out of stock and so they’ll add that listing as a variation to their new product that they are launching so it looks like their new product has a hundred reviews if that’s how many you have on your listing. You have to be careful of that, you want to keep a check especially if their products that are underneath your brand and just make sure that’s not happening but thankfully Amazon has heard about this over and over but obviously because there’s such a large ecosystem that takes them a while to act but it sounds like now they are finally taking steps to remedy that.
Nathan: Yeah and that’s interesting because we would find product listing sometimes that had like 30-40,000 reviews. Then you look at all the recent reviews and it’s people complaining that all of the other reviews are for random products. So it will be a barbecue glove. But there’s a review for a lamp. And then a garden hose. And all these different things put together. It’s kind of the extreme version of it and it wasn’t as simple as just adding a variation. Like there were some complicated ways that they would go about doing this. But the fact is that it was happening and it is still happening right now a lot. But it sounds like Amazon’s going to be cracking down on it a little more.
#9 – The seller inserts and request for a positive review or an incentive in exchange for a review in the packaging or shipping docs. Maybe you can talk about that and what you think that means for inserts and if people need to be more careful with their inserts.
Liran: Maybe on the next update Amazon will put a seller targets you on Facebook with an offer like this and not just in an insert. Because I’ve been targeted for a product I bought. But basically, somebody will put in an insert like especially if you’re selling a consumable type of product. Very smart strategy, obviously against Terms of Service. I don’t recommend it but… You just bought a Vitamin D and you get an insert and says “Would you like your next bottle of Vitamin D for free?” And you’re like, “Yeah, why not.” Simply go to this link, leave us a review, send us a screenshot and your next bottle is on us.
Obviously, that’s an incentivized review. Sneaky putting it into an insert. So you’re outside of any ecosystem that Amazon can track. But again Amazon knows this is happening. I’ve seen the same kind of thing happening. I’ve been targeted with ads in my messenger saying like, “Hey, thanks for being a customer. Do you love our product?” So I then get an A_B kind of thing. “Do you love our product or like. No, I don’t have an issue” you click “Yeah, I love your product.” Awesome, would you like to get a bottle for free?” Oh sure, yes” – “Awesome here click this link and send us a screenshot of the review you just wrote and we’ll send you a bottle free.”
This recently happened to me actually and when I posted the response saying “Hey are you offering me a free product in exchange for a review?” The person is like NO! NO! NO! And by the way, I listen to your podcast. I didn’t report them to Amazon but something you need to be careful of.
Because if your competitor bought your product which many times your competitors will. Because they want to see your follow-up sequence. They want to see the kind of marketing that you do. And they want to see your inserts. They might send that off to report a violation on Amazon so you want to be careful.
I’m sure it’s an effective strategy but again it’s a risk you take by doing something like that. Any offer of free something in exchange for something, we knew this existed but Amazon is just saying like “we basically know how this is being done and we’re specific in saying it’s not allowed.
Nathan: I thought something was funny, you actually sent us a picture that I think you had seen somewhere else. Someone had received a sample from Amazon actually for a product. And basically, they were using this strategy. They received an insert card from a product that Amazon was sending out and it basically offered them free samples and then asked them to leave a review on it. And so kind of a case of Amazon this massive machine obviously their different departments don’t always follow the rules, the TOS.
Liran: Absolutely, I’ve spoken to people within Amazon. Let’s say within the advertising department that have no clue about anything elsewhere and have new product and the guy from the advertising department is like “Maybe I can get some friends to get a review for you” and I’m like “Holy shit, this person doesn’t know that this is against Amazon Terms of service” they really just don’t know.
One team on Amazon can have totally no clue about what’s happening with other teams at Amazon.
And I’ve heard this firsthand directly from people at Amazon. They really have no clue what’s going on with another department I’ve seen asking for incentivized reviews, I saw screenshot somebody sent me like wait a second Amazon put up this policy but I got this like insert when I bought a product from Amazon directly a Calvin Klein product but it could also be Calvin Klein inserts in there and used Amazon’s logo and everything else. We don’t know who the real culprit is. But Amazon is the one selling the product. So we would have to suspend Amazon, that was me clapping with the suspension ban to Amazon directly.
Nathan: All great stuff. Obviously, our jobs as sellers are to stay on top of this. To be informed just to know what we need to be careful of. We’re not here to tell you what’s best for your business. But we are here to tell you that Amazon is definitely aware of a lot of this stuff going on. And that you need to be careful. And it does have a big impact on all of us who are sellers. All these changes impact our business. But we are here to help you stay ahead of other sellers. And hopefully, you gain valuable information from listening to this podcast.
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