Amazon no longer permits free or discounted products in exchange for reviews. According to the announcement on Monday, the Marketplace now prohibits incentivized reviews – unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.

Now, the biggest concern is how the update will impact review platforms in addition to the overall landscape of the Marketplace?

Amazon Prohibits Incentivized Reviews

Amazon’s VP, Customer Experience Chee Chew released the following statement on Oct. 3rd:

amazon reviews“Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions, and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job.

In just the past year, we’ve improved review ratings by introducing a machine learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews; applying stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge; and suspending, banning or suing thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.

Our community guidelines have always prohibited compensation for reviews, with an exception – reviewers could post a review in exchange for a free or discounted product as long as they disclosed that fact.

These so-called ‘incentivized reviews’ make up only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of reviews on Amazon, and when done carefully, they can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.

Today, we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.

We launched Vine several years ago to carefully facilitate these kinds of reviews and have been happy with feedback from customers and vendors.

Here’s how Vine works: Amazon – not the vendor or seller – identifies and invites trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products; we do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written; and we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product.

Vine has important controls in place and has proven to be especially valuable for getting early reviews on new products that have not yet been able to generate enough sales to have significant numbers of organic reviews. We also have ideas for how to continue to make Vine an even more useful program going forward. Details on that as we have them.

The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

What do the Amazon experts have to say about the impact of the review changes?

pat-petrielloAccording to Pat Petriello, Senior Marketplace Strategist at CPC Strategy, “Sales velocity matters much more than the reviews themselves for driving organic rankings. The review platforms will have re / un train their users to stop including the giveaway language in their reviews.”

“This will also place a higher premium on being able to generate those first “x” amount of reviews for launching brand new products.”

“Overall, this is good news and is yet another step in the continued evolution of the Amazon marketplace away from fly by night hack seekers and towards legitimate long term businesses.”

Initial Thoughts From Amazon Review Platforms:

ReviewKick, an Amazon product reviews platform released the following statement in response to the announcement:

“Today, Amazon announced a change to its reviewer policy: sellers cannot offer free or discounted products as compensation for a review. 

What does this mean as a reviewer?lol

As of today, we are no longer requiring you to offer a review after you purchase an item on Review Kick. To stay compliant with Amazon’s terms of service, it’s our understanding that all purchases from Review Kick should be treated the same as you would treat any other full price item you purchase from Amazon.

If you do choose to leave a review (again, we’re not requesting or requiring this), it is unclear to us whether you should leave a disclaimer. It appears that according to FTC guidelines you should, however, we recommend you contact Amazon if you are unsure on this matter.

We have built a full system for Amazon sellers to manage their reviews, so we expect that there will be minimal change to the number and quality of Deals found on Review Kick.”

paul johnsonPaul Johnson, Co-Founder Seller Labs & Snagshout also posted an article on Monday – outlining the latest change and next steps for both merchants & review platforms:

“Amazon merchants face a catch-22: No reviews mean no sales, and no sales mean no reviews. Incentivized reviews, as long as they are honest, can be a sound foundation for quality Amazon products.”

“However, as of October 3rd, Amazon has decided that the only fair incentivized reviews come from Amazon’s Vine program.”

“Over the past two years, there have been lots of platforms created that help Amazon merchants get reviews in exchange for giving a product away for a discount.”

“Most of these platforms allowed merchants to select reviewers individually and only select reviewers who would leave favorable reviews. Some programs even kicked out reviewers who consistently left negative reviews. These tactics forced Amazon to change the rules to ensure the integrity of the marketplace.”

Johnson also addressed a number of FAQs regarding the change:

Q. Can I use third-party services to provide free or discounted products to reviewers?

No. The policy applies regardless of whether you compensate reviewers directly or through a third party.

Q. When and how will this policy be enforced?

The policy is effective immediately. If you continue to offer free or discounted products in exchange for a review, your Amazon privileges may be suspended or revoked.

Q. Can I continue to provide discounts and promotions to customers?

Yes. You may continue to offer discounts and promotions as long as they are not in exchange for reviews.

Q. What constitutes a review “in exchange” for a free or discounted product?

“We do not allow any benefit to be offered, requested, or provided in exchange for a review.”

Q. What does this mean for merchants?

Like it or not, Amazon is not going to allow merchants to give products away in exchange for a review unless you are using vine. Currently, Vine is only open to 1st party merchants, and it’s very expensive. To help get initial sales and reviews merchants will need to drive traffic to products using various marketing techniques like sponsored products and deals sites.

Merchants can then follow up with those sales offering excellent customer services and asking for an honest review of the product. These reviews will have no implied contract of review for a discount, and the reviewers will not be required to have a discount disclaimer.

Q. What is Snagshout doing?

With more than 200,000 shoppers Snagshout will remain the premier marketing platform to drive sales to your Amazon listings. Effective Immediately Snagshout will no longer ask shoppers to leave reviews on Amazon to get deals.

You will still be able to use Snagshout to offer great deals to verified Amazon shoppers. You can then use a third-party messaging system like Feedback Genius to provide excellent customer service and invite the shoppers to leave an honest product review.

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Snagshout shoppers are highly social and will still be encouraged to share your product on Social media, but there will no longer be a requirement for buyers to leave reviews to get deals. Instead, Snagshout will be a platform for you to reach social shoppers.

We have anticipated this type of change coming from Amazon for a while. In February we launched a new campaign feature that allows merchants to offer discounts without requiring a review. Since that time, our merchants have run campaigns that don’t require a shopper to leave a review. These campaigns have resulted in tens of thousands of sales and an average review rate of 48%

Q. What will happen to existing reviews?

Amazon has offered very little information about this. We believe they may remove some reviews they consider excessive, but only time will tell.

Q. If I sell a product with a coupon code, and the buyer leaves a review, will it get removed?

Discounting products on Amazon is not going away. It is a very effective form of marketing and helps drive sales to products. Amazon will more than likely look at accounts that have excessively discounted reviews and may consider removing some.

Currently, Amazon has not been that aggressive in removing discounted reviews. The amount of the discount, the ratio of reviews and frequency will all play into this. Millions of products are going to purchased with discount codes. Many of them will get legitimate reviews. We don’t believe Amazon will be deleting all of these reviews.

To read Johnson’s entire blog post click here.

Don’t Miss The Press Conference:  We’ve brought in 4 Amazon Experts to answer your questions around Amazon’s new update.

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About the AuthorTara graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.S. in Journalism / Business. Her passion for creative publishing and quality reporting landed her work opportunities at several companies in Massachusetts, New York and California. She is a leading voice behind CPC Strategy’s Blog. See all posts by this author here.