Trying To Understand the Intentions Behind Amazon’s Latest Coupon Update

I’d like to first stipulate that I am obviously biased party in this discussion seeing that I own and operate Viral Launch. I also don’t claim to understand or know definitively what Amazon’s intentions were. I simply want to lay out all of the information and observations we’ve made around the latest change and how they fit into our perspective of the marketplace. I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of misinformation in the space. A lot of which is spread by “gurus” and service providers. I want to provide this stipulation so no one wrongfully misconstrues this as a pure factual post.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way 🙂  I feel like I can speak a little more freely about my interpretations, so let’s jump into it!

From a High Level

Overall, I am assuming that Amazon’s latest update to the promotion creation process was made with good intentions for the community, however, I think there was a slight oversight as to the entirety of its ramifications. I am expecting Amazon to make another change in the near future that will allow merchants to better protect their inventory when running promotions.

Amazon is big, very big, and with such a large platform there are a ton of complexities. There are a variety of internal departments all with their core functions and responsibilities. Sometimes one department can make a decision based on their understanding and knowledge of a situation, without getting a larger holistic view with the help of other departments. This happens all the time in government (an even larger complex organization built of many departments). Lawmakers will enact a law designed to solve a problem for a select group of people, and without realizing the entirety of the law’s impact, they end up creating new issues for other groups. A quick example would be a recent update to labor laws dictating when it is/isn’t okay to pay employees as salary versus hourly with special emphasis on overtime pay. The intention of the lawmakers was to protect salary workers making under a given pay threshold (let’s say it’s $45,000/year) from being taken advantage of because they make the same amount no matter how many hours they work in a week. On paper, it sounds great, and I’m sure for some it worked well. The problem that arose quite often is that salary workers making just under the pay threshold (ex. $40,000/year) had to become hourly workers and a lot of them took hefty pay cuts or they had to work more hours to achieve the same pay. I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but it helps to illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

Could this have been intentional? Of course. Is Amazon too large and sophisticated to make a “mistake”? That is a great question that I simply do not have enough experience/data to make a more confidence assumption either way. Either way, here is the data we’ve collected that has lead us to our current conclusion.

Supporting Data

Why do we think this was an oversight on Amazon’s end?  Three main reasons:

    1. It Doesn’t Make Sense For The Average Seller

Without the ability to limit the number of units a coupon may be redeemed for, there is no way to protect a seller’s inventory. If I were to create a 50% off coupon and post to a FB group, SlickDeals, or my brand’s personal fan group, one customer could completely wipe my inventory with a single claim code. It’s ludicrous. For those unaware, one purchase for 100 units provides the same amount of keyword ranking power as one sale of one unit. On top of that, considering opportunity costs, you would be losing out on an incredible amount of money.

Sure you are able to protect your inventory with a Multi-Channel Fulfillment Order, but in nearly all circumstances in which a seller provides a coupon to a customer, allowing one customer the ability to grab the entire available inventory would ruin the campaign.

This is not exclusively within the context of running promotions to build sales history in order to improve keyword ranking. These thoughts are within the context of any kind of promotion. There are many reasons why a seller may want to provide a discount code to their customers such as improving brand loyalty, spreading awareness of new products, contests, etc.

No matter the intention of the promotion, without the ability to protect inventory, promotions in their current capacity simply do not make sense.

Promotions/discounts have been a vital tool to sales since the concept of sales existed (probably a fact 🙂 ). Ecommerce without discounts is unnatural and can quickly create a stagnant and stale market due to the significant increase in the barrier to entry for new sellers. Amazon has thrived due to the open competition. As competition becomes stifled, it will be very interesting to see how the market progresses.

So why don’t you just lower the price? Lowering your price is certainly a viable option, but it has its own limitations and drawbacks. To quickly explain, depending on the item, if you drop your price too much you’ll find your product categorized as an add-on item, which can be terrible for organic sales conversions. Amazon can also create limitations to how quickly you can increase your price after a significant drop. For those running Lightning Deals you can quickly find yourself trapped, or your deal canceled as Lightning Deals will play off of your product’s lowest price over a certain time period (30 days I believe, but I’ve heard longer as well).

    2. Correspondences With Amazon Seller Support

Based on a few different interactions with Seller Support regarding the new promotion creation process, we were given a few pieces of information that seem to support our conclusions. I understand that you typically want to take what Seller Support says with a grain of salt. Many times Seller Support is not very knowledgable or in tune with what’s going on, but some of Seller Support actually seemed to be well aware of the recent change and appeared to have a bit of interesting information for us.

Main pieces of information:

This letter from Amazon Seller Support explains that the coupon creation update is something Amazon’s Business Team is testing over the holidays.

 

On a phone call with a well informed Seller Support member, the representative told us that the change was driven largely due to some tax consequences that came with shipping products that are set to 100% off or free. As most have noticed, Amazon no longer allows us to create 100% off promotions, so whether or not this checks out is beyond me. I will not try to act like I know how taxes work for Amazon. I can only imagine the army of CPAs, accountants, lawyers, etc. they have to deal with all of the intricacies and complexities. The representative also mentioned that they were surprised by the removal of dollar off promotions, because he had seen such success with the previous promotion set up, and he expected that the current setup would not last very long.

    3. Language Within Seller Central

This dialog box is available when creating promotions. As you can see from the language used, Amazon appears to be under the impression that you can still protect your inventory with the use of the Single-Use claim codes, which we know to be false. While it is possible that the developers simply forgot to update this field, I’m curious if that is the case because they made sure to update the language on the main Promotions page under the Money Off option to only mention “percentage discount”. With the latest update, single-use claim codes also do not have quantity limits.  If Amazon were unconcerned with providing quantity limits for sellers, I wouldn’t expect to still find this language.

What’s Going to Happen?

As I mentioned, I’m not quite sure what will happen. Based on my data, it seems like this is a temporary change that will have an Amazon-created solution sometime soon.  Based on the Seller Support email shown above, the more sellers that complain the more likely the situation will be remedied. I would imagine there are quite a lot of complaints as this can be a significant risk at nearly any percent off . I’m imagining this update will be remedied soon.

Could I be wrong? Completely, so please don’t take this as fact. I’m simply sharing our perspective and how we expect things to play out.

What do you think? Based on the information and data you’ve collected, what are you expecting the outcome to be?

Amazon Inventory Management: Protect Your Inventory with Max Order Quantity

After a stressful weekend convinced that Amazon had killed the promotion with one simple update, we have some great news!


We have found a TOS (Terms of Service) friendly approach to running promotions while completely protecting your inventory and have already updated our seller Launchpad with the fix!

For those of you who don’t know, Amazon removed the ability to create money/dollar off promotions. Meaning, before when a customer applied a coupon, X number of dollars were deducted from the cart’s total. However, Amazon (according to their website the change occurred on November 7th, though noticed by most sellers on Friday the 11th) has removed the ability to create money/dollar off promotions, limiting promotions to percent off only.

So what is the big deal? The big deal is that there is no way to restrict the quantity of units a customer can apply that promotion to. Even if you set the buyer benefit to 1 unit, even if you use single-use claim codes, it’s not possible. For example, let’s say you create a promotion at 80% off for your widget that typically sells at $20.00. A customer could set the order quantity to 100 units, apply the coupon, and would be able to walk away with 100 units of inventory for $400 versus the MSRP of $2000. As arbitrage becomes more popular, so does the practice of grabbing discounted products and reselling them. It could become dangerous very quickly. Even if you run a 40-50% off promotion, you still run the risk of arbitrageurs wiping out your inventory to sell on top of your listing. At that point running promotions are ludicrous.

So what is the fix? Despite what you may have read in many of the Facebook groups, there is no way to setup a promotion that will allow you to restrict a customer from being able to grab 999 units of your inventory with one promotional code. Also despite what you may read in the Facebook groups, setting your product’s settings in the “More Details” tab in the inventory management section of Seller Central to a “Max Aggregate Ship Quantity” also does not help this (frankly from our tests, I don’t think this setting serves any purpose).

For some products/categories, there is a setting in the Offers tab that allows you to set your Maximum Order Capacity to a specified number. When set to 1 for example, this allows you to limit customers to only purchasing one unit at a time. The customer does not have the ability to add more than one unit to cart whether they have a promotional code or are paying full price.

The problem here is that the majority of categories do not have this setting available in the user interface within Seller Central. So are those sellers without the setting available out of luck….? Fortunately not!

Our brilliant developer Steve was able to discover that through Amazon’s MWS APIs, we are able to update the Max Order Quantity field programmatically for products of every category. This means that for any product we can limit customers to purchasing a specific quantity for any one order! No trickery, no black hat magic. Just a simple API call and all is well.

So, we have spent the day updating our seller’s Launchpad to provide the functionality for sellers to grant us access to their MWS account. Once we have access, you can then set your Max Order Quantity in your product’s settings within Viral Launch. As you start a promotion, set the Max Order Quantity to 1, and once the promotion is ended you can remove the limitation! It is as easy as that! By setting your Max Order Quantity to 1, Amazon restricts customers from adding more units to cart than the value specified, which in this case is 1. The downside to this approach is that if an organic customer attempts to place an order for two units, they would not be able to. Fortunately when using the Viral Launchpad, you can easily adjust this setting once you have completed your promotion by going in and adjusting the settings back to unlimited.

Checkout the video in this link or watch the video down below on how to set everything up within Viral Launch to run product promotions with confidence.

I apologize for the short post; we were rushing to get everything updated and together. I’ll be sending out a longer post tomorrow with my thoughts on the change. I simply wanted to calm everyone’s nerves and let our community know that we have a solution!

Tomorrow I’ll be discussing why we believe Amazon made this change and why the information that I have leads me to believe that this is only temporary.

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions in the comments below!

Latest Amazon Updates: The Week in Review – October 22-29

The month of October has been quite the whirlwind for Amazon and its sellers. October 3rd, Amazon released a ToS update that banned incentivized reviews, kickstarting a season full of updates and policy changes.

To recap the latest Amazon updates:

  • August 28: Amazon enacts massive restrictions on certain brands, preventing 3rd party sellers from selling without approval.
  • September 1: Amazon announces in an email to sellers that, effective November 1st, US Seller fulfilled returns will be automatically authorized, and Amazon will provide prepaid return label on the seller’s behalf. Read more here.
  • October 3: The new Terms of Service prohibits providing a free or discounted product in exchange for a review unless it’s through the Vine program. Read more here.
  • October 10: Amazon closes the door to Fulfillment by Amazon for new sellers during the Q4, 2016 period. See here under the orange button at the bottom of the page.
  • October 21: Amazon clarifies Promotional Content in Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers in wake of the new review policy. Read more here.

This past week continued this month’s trend with Amazon’s mass seller email regarding reviews and the introduction to Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program..

 

Amazon’s Incentivized Review Mass Email

Many sellers reported receiving an email on October 24th from Amazon with a strict warning about moving forward with incentivized reviews:

“We recently updated our policies to prohibit incentivize reviews, including those posted in exchange for a free or discounted copy of the product. You are receiving this email because products you sell have received incentivize reviews in the past. If you attempt to acquire incentivize reviews going forward, your Amazon privileges will be suspended or terminated.

We consider a review to be incentivized if you have influenced or can influence the review directly or indirectly, including by monitoring whether a review is written and providing or withholding any benefit based on whether a review is written or the content of the review. Below are a few examples where a review is considered incentivize and is not permitted:

  • You provide a free or discounted product, gift card, rebate, cash payment, or other compensation in exchange for the review.
  • You provide or withhold free or discounted products or other benefits in the future based on whether the customer writes a review.
  • You use a review service where reviewers’ continued membership depends on writing reviews.
  • You use a review service where you can rate customers based on their reviews.
  • You use a review service where customers register their Amazon public profile so that you can monitor their reviews of your products.

Incentivizing customer reviews violates our policies and may violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The following actions are generally allowed, provided you comply with the above restrictions:

  • You might offer discounts that are generally available to all Amazon customers, such as Lightning Deals.
  • You may give out free products at tradeshows, conventions, or other similar venues where you are unable to monitor whether the recipients write a review or provide or withhold any benefits based on whether a review is written or the content of the review.

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

The initial seller response was shock and a bit of fear. After all, getting called out by the Giant itself is a bit intimidating. However, through this email, Amazon is really just confirming what our CEO, Casey Gauss, mentioned in our initial blog post about the ToS change and our follow up blog post clarifying the policy. Casey posed two large takeaways on October 14th:

  1. “It is okay for 3rd party websites to distribute discounted claim codes on behalf of Amazon merchants.”
  2. “It is okay for merchants to follow-up with the discounted buyers asking for a review, so long as they abide by all other review policies and stipulations (ex. Don’t ask for only a positive review, do not force the customer to leave a review, do not monitor whether or not they were able to leave a review, etc.)”

These statements still hold true, even through this email. Yes, in the past you may have used a review service to receive a review in exchange for a discounted product. But, you weren’t in the wrong. In fact, you were in line with Amazon’s policy at the time. The policy isn’t retroactive, meaning your Amazon privileges should not be suspended or revoked because of those past reviews. *However, we have witnessed that Amazon is retroactively removing thousands of reviews left with a disclaimer.*

This mass email was sent to many sellers who have run promotions in the past, and it serves as a method to make sure that all sellers are well-informed on the new policy. The carefully-worded email instructs sellers on the new do’s and dont’s of offering discounts and receiving reviews, which actually gives some insightful clarification to the update.

So sellers, don’t interpret the email as, “I’m getting kicked off of Amazon, and I’ll never ever be able to sell anything again.” Read it as, “Amazon has notified me that past actions are now against policy. I now have to abide by the new policy, which they’ve just informed me of.” Moving forward, it’s important to abide by these policies. And yes, product promotions are still compliant with these policies. As we mentioned in a blog addressing the review disclaimer a couple of weeks back, “Viral Launch is not giving products in exchange for a review. We are not providing compensation to buyers to leave reviews, nor do our buyers have connections with you as a seller/marketer.” Product giveaways through Viral Launch are still permissible, as we are not providing a product or any compensation for a review, we are not providing products in the future based on whether or not a customer leaves a review, we are not using reviews as a membership requirement on our buyer site, we are not allowing you to rate customers on our buyer site, and we are not registering our buyers’ Amazon public profiles in order to monitor reviews.

All that to say, rest easy, friend. We’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that we are in line with the new policy change. This email may have appeared to be intimidating at first, but as long as you continue to move forward within the Terms of Service, you will be in good shape.

 

Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program

Yesterday, on October 27th, Amazon announced the introduction of its new Early Reviewer Program. After banning sellers from incentivizing reviews, Amazon itself will start rewarding and incentivizing reviews. It is believed that the program is currently in beta testing and will likely be enacted at the start of November. Amazon describes the program on its Site Features:

The Early Reviewer Program encourages customers who have already purchased a product to share their authentic experience about that product, regardless of whether it is a 1-star or 5-star review. Amazon shoppers depend on reviews to learn more about products, and this program helps to acquire early reviews on products that have few or no reviews, helping shoppers make smarter buying decisions. Customers who have purchased a product participating in the Early Reviewer Program may be asked to write a review and those customers who submit a review within the offer period will receive a small reward (e.g. a $1-$3 Amazon.com Gift Card) for helping future shoppers.

This new program should (hopefully) help sellers who are bringing a brand new product to market. Doing so over the past month has been a bit like the chicken and the egg scenario; you need reviews to get sales and you need sales to get reviews. Where the heck do you start? One of our main recommendations has been implementing a stellar email follow-up sequence to capitalize on all sales, trying to get as many of those oh-so-important initial reviews from the get-go. But with this move, Amazon may be trying to smother follow-up review sequences. Think about it from a consumer standpoint…if you are bombarded with emails every time you make a purchase on Amazon, you might end up with a bad taste in your mouth about Amazon as a whole. It may seem like a bunch of review hungry sellers who only want you for your review. But, if Amazon can be in control of who reviews, and if they can make email follow-up sequences seem pointless when they’re bringing in higher review rates, Amazon wins and the customer wins. And for Amazon, that’s a win-win.

As we get more information on the Early Reviewer Program, we’ll be sure to share it. For now, we’ll say that it should hopefully be good news for sellers looking for initial reviews on new products. It does seem a little ironic though, doesn’t it? Amazon bans incentivized reviews and then incentivizes reviews…Well, when you live in Amazon’s world, you’ve got to live by Amazon’s rules.

More information from Amazon concerning the Early Reviewer Program can be found here.

 

Conclusion

The latest Amazon updates have caused quite the buzz within the Amazon seller community. While it may seem hard to keep up, we’re here to comb through the changes and guide you through the wonderful, hard, rewarding, and sometimes stressful process of selling on Amazon. We’ve been busier than ever this month, and I’m sure you have been too. But isn’t that part of the fun?

Continue to stay informed and make decisions that are in line with Amazon’s (ever-changing) policies, and you’ll be okay. While selling on Amazon may be confusing and messy at times, it can surely be rewarding. Although it may be a bit tougher to bring a product to market, it definitely isn’t impossible. In fact, we believe that with the right strategy, you can definitely still be incredibly successful as a private-label seller. Amazon makes the rules, and everyone has to live by them. If you can figure out how to do it best, you’ll be in great shape. And as always, Viral Launch will be here to help inform and clarify along the way.

We would love to hear your thoughts and questions on the latest Amazon updates. Feel free to post in the comments below!

Disclaimer or No? FTC Guidelines on Reviews Left on Discounted Amazon Purchases

We are back with more information surrounding Amazon’s latest TOS update. I really don’t intend on “milking” this subject, but there is simply so much misinformation/rumors, it’s crazy. This misinformation leads to poor decisions and more misinformation, so I would like to do my best to clear up everything as quickly as possible. The team and I have had a good number of questions/comments around the FTC’s guidelines for reviews on products purchased at a discount. While I am not a lawyer, it seems pretty clear to me that reviews left on discounted purchases DO NOT require a disclosure statement to be left. Below, I break things down a bit further with quotes from the FTC.gov website, specifically pages around Endorcements.

As always, I do not expect you to believe me simply because I’ve said it. I am obviously a biased party here, so I have included links and quotes to help you make informed decisions and interpretations for yourself (but again, it seems pretty clear to me)!

 

Logical Breakdown

At the heart of it all, the FTC is concerned with reviews that are left by experts/bloggers/reviewers/etc. who were provided some type of compensation for the review. The intention of promotional services is simply offering discounts on Amazon products, period. Whether or not those buyers happen to leave a review is beyond our concern. Obviously we hope they leave a review for your sake, but it is beyond our company’s scope. To comply with Amazon’s TOS, we simply cannot track whether or not a buyer leaves a review. This is also not to get confused with email follow-up services, which are completely separate.

Think about popular deals websites like Slickdeals or RetailMeNot. Do you find any kind of language on their sites that let you know, “If you use one of the many coupons you find on our site and chose to leave a review, you must use a disclosure or else you will be violating the FTC’s guidelines.”? No, you do not. Nor do you see stipulations when reviewing products on other websites (ex. Walmart.com) that require a disclosure on products purchased with a discount code.

So simply by omission, I can assume that a disclosure is not required if you did indeed purchase/select the product yourself. The only reason this was ever a thing on Amazon is two-fold, 1) Amazon’s terms required it, and 2) when products were given away in exchange for a review, the FTC saw this as an endorsement which then warranted a disclosure statement.

If the product was given in exchange for a review, you were provided some form of compensation before or after, or you have some type of connection to the company, then the reviewer HAS to leave a disclosure allowing the reader to know the given circumstances.

Viral Launch is not giving products in exchange for a review. We are not providing compensation to buyers to leave reviews, nor do our buyers have connections with you as a seller/marketer. Therefore, there is no need for buyers of discounted products on Viral Launch to leave a disclosure statement.

 

Quotes From the FTC

This one seals the deal in my mind. On a very clear and concise page that covers common questions around endorsements on the FTC’s website, we find this question under the headline: “WHEN DOES THE FTC ACT APPLY TO ENDORSEMENTS?“.

For the sake of our topic, replace the word “blogger” and “blog” with “reviewer” and “review”. (The highlighting/bolding is my emphasis.)

“I’m a blogger. I heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?”

No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.

The FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays you or gives you something of value to mention a product. If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered. Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are covered.

 

As you can see, it is pretty clear that there is no need for a disclosure if the buyer/reviewer pays for the item. There is also no need to provide a disclosure if the product is given for free, so long as it is not given with compensation or in exchange for a review.

Hopefully, that makes you feel comfortable with the fact that the FTC does not require a review to contain a disclosure statement if the reviewer purchased the product at a discount from sites like Viral Launch.

As further examples, I’ve included a couple other quotes from different pages on the FTC’s website.

 

If you visit this link here, you will be taken to the U.S. Government Publishing Office discussing “GUIDES CONCERNING USE OF ENDORSEMENTS AND TESTIMONIALS IN ADVERTISING”. This is a bit harder to understand and has the traditional lawyer speak that you may expect. Going through all of their given examples under the headline “Consumer endorsements” and “Disclosure of material connections”, you will find only examples where compensation is provided either before or after the fact. There are no examples provided in which a customer purchases the product at a discount and is required to leave a disclosure.

 

On a page labeled “THE FTC’S ENDORSEMENT GUIDES: BEING UP-FRONT WITH CONSUMERS”, we find these two quotes.

 

Quote 1:

“… marketers who are compensated to promote or review a product should disclose it.”

Quote 2:

“The Endorsement Guides also state that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”

 

These both show that only when compensation is provided or the product is given in exchange for a review is the disclosure statement needed.

 

Using Follow-up Services

Is it within Amazon’s terms of service to solicit a review after a customer has purchased a product? YES. As I mentioned in our previous blog post, we have confirmation from Amazon’s legal department that following up with a buyer asking for a review is completely within Amazon’s TOS so long as it is done correctly. How do you follow-up correctly? That is another post in itself, but briefly, do not incentivize, require, or manipulate the review/reviewer in any way.

One thing that I want to point out is the fact that you should NOT tell reviewers that they cannot leave the disclosure statement in their review. By telling a reviewer they cannot leave the disclosure, in my mind, you are manipulating the content of the review by telling the reviewer what it can/cannot contain.

Our approach to this situation is to inform the buyer that Amazon’s TOS is no longer requiring the disclosure statement, “I purchased this product at a discount in exchange….”. We also let them know that the product was not given in exchange for their review and that they may choose whether or not they decide to review it.

It is simply a question of semantics, but can be critical when adhering to Amazon’s TOS.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully this brief discussion on the FTC’s rules clear up any rumors and/or misinformation that has been floating around. As always, it’s our goal to help you make the most informed decisions possible when it comes to operating and growing your Amazon business.

Overall, it looks like this is further proof that a major intention of Amazon’s latest policy update was simply to rid reviews of the disclosure statement so as to improve the perceived integrity of their review platform to consumers.

 

If you have any other questions, curious about rumors, or anything of the sort, please post them in the comments down below so I can address them for you!

As always, I wish you the best in growing your Amazon business!

An Update on the Update – Clarification on the Amazon TOS Update 2016

In my original post, I posed a lot of questions around how exactly Amazon would interpret and enforce their latest TOS update moving forward. As is too common in this space, we’ve heard an insane amount of rumors. Be careful what you believe and guard who you trust. Thanks to a friend of mine with direct contact to Amazon’s legal department, we have some much appreciated clarification. I’ll update this post in the next couple of days with a link to a post by this friend where he will give exacts from the conversations he has had directly with Amazon’s legal department.

To many, the clarification mentioned below was already common assumption. Personally, I prefer to speak on the facts and make decisions based on data, which we simply did not have just 24 hours after the TOS change was posted.

So what is the clarification? What is the information directly from Amazon’s legal department? 

 

The two largest takeaways are:

 

  1. It is okay for 3rd party websites to distribute discounted claim codes on behalf of Amazon merchants.
  2. It is okay for merchants to follow-up with the discounted buyers asking for a review, so long as they abide by all other review policies and stipulations (ex. Don’t ask for only a positive review, do not force the customer to leave a review, do not monitor whether or not they were able to leave a review, etc.)

 

What does this mean? Well, for Viral Launch specifically, we will continue to operate as we have for the last year or so. Fortunately, we had the foresight to position ourselves away from the review group model, which has had incredible benefits for our customers. Largely the only change we had to make post TOS Update is the removal of all language from the site around “reviews”.

What does this mean for you as a seller? Hopefully this helps to ease concerns and increase confidence in the fact that Amazon allows you to run promotions and to ask customers for reviews after purchasing your products at a discount. Hopefully this helps to convince you that the private label world is not dead. That there is still plenty of hope in a bright future moving forward!

As history has shown and as time progressed, we have come to find out that another TOS update did not have such severe an impact as we initially expected. With that said, the landscape has definitely changed, and depending on your previous launch strategy, launching a product has become quite a bit more difficult. As we’ve always preached, you need to do all things GREAT in order to outsell your competition (and sometimes even survive), now more than ever! If you find yourself having a difficult time getting ahead of the competition, launching a product, or even maintaining sales, look around to see just how well you are executing every aspect of your private label business.

So all in all, the dust seems to have settled for the most part and we are all free to go on our merry way, building scaleable private label businesses on the world’s largest commerce platform! Sounds like a great time to be an entrepreneur to me! 🙂

Side Note: With all of this, I feel like this news has definitely confirmed the suspicions I posed in our initial blog post regarding what net affect this would actually have on the market and what Amazon’s true intentions are (you can read them in here).
As always, we will keep you updated as new word comes out and we wish you and your business the best!!

Always Moving Forward – Amazon TOS Change 2016

We all saw the writing on the wall didn’t we? Today marks yet another Amazon TOS change that set the private label world on fire and sent everyone into chaos. 24 hours later and it looks like things have largely subsided. While many of the industry’s leading review services have posted their interpretation of the rules and how they wish to proceed, I am still not completely convinced of their conclusion and I’ll explain it all.

So what does it mean for you as a seller? What does it mean for Viral Launch and its platform? What does it mean for the Amazon market in general? 

In this post we’ll cover the facts we know around the Terms of Service change, what this policy update means for you as a seller, what it means for the Viral Launch community, and what it means for the private label world as a whole. 

While we are not 100% sure, nor do I think we will ever be (Amazon can be pretty ambiguous with their terminology and can lack uniformity in how they enforce and interpret their rules), I do think we have a pretty good grasp on the impact this TOS change will have moving forward. We will continue to update this blog post with new information and case studies as they come up, but at the very least I wanted to comfort some nerves and hopefully add some peace to the frenzy that has ensued. 

Facts Around the TOS Change

So let’s begin with the actual content posted on Amazon. Firstly, the post that has caused the chaos. Thanks to our friend Chee Chew, VP of Customer Experience at Amazon, we have this “blog post”/“featured post” from mid-day EDT on Oct. 3rd: 

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.

Thank you.

– Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience

The post can be found here

If you follow the link to the Community Guidelines as referred to by Mr. Chew, you’ll see some updated language. Previously, Amazon had very specific language regarding giving discounted or free products in exchange for a review and the stipulations around it such as making sure the product was offered before the review was left, etc. 

If you read the customer guidelines for yourself, you will now see the updated language which attempts to dispel any kind of hope that products can still be given away at a discount in exchange for a review with language such as: 

Promotions and Commercial Solicitations

In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:

  • Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors’ products or services.
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.
  • Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.

To answer all questions more definitively (well for the most part), we also have in the FAQ section of Seller Central these relevant FAQ’s. 

FAQ

Why are we making this change?

Please see our recent announcement.

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

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

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.  

Can I continue to offer discounts and promotions to customers? 

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

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.

 

Looks pretty black and white, right? 

So according to this: As sellers you CANNOT give free or discounted products away to reviewers in exchange for compensation, BUT you CAN offer discounts and promotions to customers as long as they are, again, not offered in exchange for reviews.

The only way to know exactly how Amazon will choose to enforce these rules is time. Time enough to understand just how they distinguish promotional giveaways from a product awareness standpoint versus giveaways in exchange for reviews.

Mr. Chew mentions that all ‘incentivized’ reviews are prohibited unless they are run through their Amazon Vine Program. The Vine program is expensive, open only to Vendors, limits the number of products a brand can enter, and has a ceiling of around 100 units to give for a review depending on your product’s category. This is obviously a significant difference from what some sellers are used to, especially in competitive markets.  

He also mentions that there will be updates to the Vine program coming soon, but is not very specific as to what it will entail. Will they remove the Vendor requirement to join the program? 

TechCrunch also published an article giving a statement from an Amazon Spokesperson saying, “reviews that were received prior to the policy change are only being retroactively removed if they are excessive, and don’t comply with prior policy.” As well as, “if it [Amazon] finds anyone is attempting to manipulate reviews by tying reviews to discounted products, it will take action against them, starting today.”

What does “tying reviews to discounted products” mean exactly? To me it sounds like you better make sure that customers receiving a discount do not leave a review. Again what does “excessive” mean? 100? 1000? A function of the percentage of monthly organic sales? We’re left to chance to find out only once the line has been crossed.

Why I Have A Hard Time Trusting The Current Industry’s Interpretation of the Amazon Policy Update

My biggest apprehensions are two-fold: 

  1. How does Amazon know the intent of the seller handing out coupons? 
  2. And, just because now reviews won’t have the disclosure “I purchased at a discount in exchange…” in them, doesn’t mean that the reviews are now legitimately unbiased. If you pay $1 for something, you are going to be inevitably biased in how you review the product. So that would mean Amazon’s new TOS update served no purpose but to remove the disclosure from reviews essentially. Seems sneaky by Amazon to hide the fact from their buyers.

I am in no way advocating the behavior mentioned in this paragraph, but for example’s sake let’s say I run a promotion giving discounted products to customers without asking for reviews and 30% of them choose to leave a review of their own choice. That seems completely legitimate according to both Amazon’s terms and how review services are interpreting Amazon’s policy change. But, how does Amazon know whether or not you told the customer they were receiving the product in exchange for a review? If that is the case, then theoretically, a seller could still give thousands of products away at a discount in exchange for a review without getting in trouble just so long as the reviewers do not state in the review that they received the product at a discount in exchange for a review. 

Amazon cannot be in on every conversation on the internet to know whether a product was given in exchange for a review or not. To Amazon, a review left on a discounted product looks the same whether it was offered in exchange for a review or not (so long as the customer does not state the fact of course). So how are they able to enforce this rule if a seller coaches their own VIP list not to leave the disclosure in the review? They can’t!

This leaves two possibilities. 

  1. Amazon released this statement as a show of good faith to their large consumer audience. The holidays are coming up, so it is an important time for them to reassure buyers that reviews are still priority when making informed purchasing decisions. However, as I mentioned before, reviews from discounted purchases are likely still biased even under the new regulations. Although they may not be able to enforce it to the standards they speak of, they still want to publicly display their position.
  2. Amazon is not interpreting the terms the same as our industry leaders (and Viral Launch) and may start to enforce these new updates in ways that are likely unfavorable (suspensions, etc.). 

Why Amazon Will Not Suspend You For Getting Reviews From Promotional Sales

Again, this is all my interpretation and logical thought process on the information I’ve received. We are currently running 200+ launches a day and will have enough data to talk in definitives here soon.  

I have a hard time seeing Amazon punishing sellers who are running promotions that just so happen to also generate reviews. If that were the case, the door would be flung wide-open for competitors to use  “ghost-accounts” (accounts that have been well seasoned by sellers to appear legitimate to outside eyes) to post reviews to their competitor’s listings after purchasing. This would be hard to detect whether it was a legitimate customer or not and could be devastating. 

Another example: let’s say you run a 30% off holiday discount and a percentage of those buyers leave a review because they love your product. Is Amazon going to punish you? Seems unlikely.

What History Tells US About Amazon TOS Changes

For those who don’t recall Amazon’s, “the sky is falling announcement” back in August of 2015 we recap it here. There was just about as much chaos and concern caused by their latest TOS announcement, but how did affect us? What devastating impact did it have on us and our clients? LITERALLY NONE!! Sure it had an impact in terms of fear, etc. But it did not actually affect any of us. We saw not one complaint to our clients running white-hat honest businesses. 

So for better or worse, it eases my concerns as to the impact this change will have. From what we’ve covered already, I don’t see this as having too much of a real impact on the Viral Launch platform and our clients directly, but we’ll get into that more further along in this blog.

How This Affects You As A Seller

Are Review Services Dead?

So does this mean that review services with 80%+ review rates that were requiring their user bases to leave a review in order to get access to more products are dead? Yes. After reading Amazon’s TOS, I’m not sure how you can interpret it any differently. A few times they mention ‘incentivized reviews’ as being prohibited while explaining that ‘incentivized reviews’ are reviews posted in exchange for a free or discounted product. In Amazon’s FAQs (listed above), they very explicitly state that you cannot give products away at a discount in exchange for reviews.

The majority of review groups that have announced their interpretation of the policy change and how they will proceed will continue running promotions but are removing the requirement to leave a review post purchase. They will no longer hand out coupons with the agreement that the product is being given in exchange for a review. The services are now focusing on leveraging promotional sales to focus on “sales velocity”. 

If you sell in markets where a competitive number of reviews on page one is around 100 reviews, or even under 500 reviews, then this update doesn’t seem like it will have much of an impact on you. Sure it may slightly decrease the speed at which you can get a product up and selling at a high level organically, but with a little extra time, strategy, and work, you’ll get there just the same. 

If you sell in markets where a competitive number of reviews is in the thousands…it looks like you have your work cut out for you. Impossible? Not at all. More expensive and time consuming? I am afraid so. Making intelligent decisions on which products to source is now more crucial than ever! We have a new tool dropping by the end of the month to help you do just that! (Don’t worry we’re not trying to replace any current tool you’re using like Jungle Scout!)

The days of giving away thousands of products through review groups (Viral Launch is not a review service) to compete with page one sellers in a matter of a month or two are likely over. 

Adjustments To Make..

  • Make sure you do not have any “drip” campaigns running on review services (not Viral Launch) still giving products away in exchange for a review which you are currently subscribed to and cancel any campaigns that are supposed to kick off soon. 
  • Keep your eyes out for new information! Facebook groups are incredible news aggregators for Amazon news. I will also be updating this post with new information and case studies as they become available.
  • Be weary of rumors!! Oh goodness how rumors spread in this space. We actually have a whole blog series planned on busting common myths in this space so watch for those! But check your facts and even feel free to check with our free-of-cost Account Executives if you have a question regarding a rumor. Unfortunately we see a lot of sellers misled by “authorities” in the space that are sometimes misinformed themselves.
  • OPTIMIZE YOUR FEEDBACK SERVICE’S EMAIL FOLLOW-UP SEQUENCES!!! – I cannot stress enough how important having a highly optimized feedback service is! If the only way to generate reviews now is through organic sales, you better put everything you have into converting those organic sales into customer reviews!

Is The Gold Rush Of Amazon Private Label Over?

So overall what does this mean? Are we/sellers going to pack our bags and go home? Is the Amazon gold rush over? Are your chances of a self-sustaining Amazon lifestyle business over?

NOT AT ALL! And I really hope I don’t hear that from any of you. As entrepreneurs it’s our nature to overcome the obstacles we find before us! We can’t give up because the rules of the game we’re playing change. If that’s your mentality in life, you’ll never survive. You’ll never achieve your dreams of running a successful business no matter if you’re selling on Amazon or working in another industry. We have to fight for our success!

When changes arise in the market, we have to look at it as opportunity. Yeah, things are shaken up and may seem to be more difficult for you, but they are shaken up for everyone and just as difficult for your competitors as well. That means you have to figure out the new rules of the game, adjust with tact and move forward full steam ahead. If you hang on to the past, you’ll be left behind. 

I’m extremely confident that we’ll be able to successfully navigate the market after Amazon’s new policy update to launch products to success! We always will! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the mindset of true entrepreneurs. I hope that you’ll ascribe to that way of thinking with me!

How This Affects the Viral Launch Platform

Short Answer: This has a very minimal affect on us and the effectiveness of our platform. For starters, we are so much more than a promotional giveaway platform now. We have also never been a review service. We have never required our users to leave reviews. Our focus in promotional giveaways has always been on providing a platform for sellers to help drive promotional sales targeted at improving keyword ranking, and we will continue to operate almost exactly the same! (Read below to see what change will be made)

Looking at Amazon’s FAQ…

Can I continue to offer discounts and promotions to customers? 

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

It looks like everything is good to go for promotions to drive traffic and promotional sales which we all know help improve a product’s keyword ranking in search results.

We have completely removed all language around reviews on the Viral Launch buyer’s side. We never required or incentivized reviews as many of the review services did. We did however offer a kind reminder for coupon grabbers to leave a review on the products they purchased, but that has now been removed. Therefore, based on Amazon’s direct language, the Viral Launch platform should be compliant with Amazon’s new TOS update.

I have to say “should be”, because with any rule made by Amazon, they are ambiguous, or at the least, leave unanswered questions. 

Two of those unanswered questions: 

  1. By “…promotions to customers” are they referring to a specific set of people? 
    1. By “customers” are they referring to your past customers? 
    2. Amazon “customers” only? Meaning lightning deals, etc. 

I think I may be thinking too hard about it, but at the same time with how vague Amazon can be, I’d rather be safe than sorry. 

  1. How will Amazon determine whether or not the discount was offered in exchange for reviews? How do they know the intent of the coupon distributor?

My honest inclination is that they do not care so long as the reviewer is not posting in the review that they got the product at a discount in exchange for a review AND so long as you are not actually offering products in exchange for a review.

Questions I continue to ask:

  1. Are they looking at the buyer account of product’s purchased at a discount? Meaning if it is a buyer that frequently leaves a review on a discounted product, Amazon assumes it was given at a discount in exchange for a review? Seems grossly inaccurate and unlikely. 
  2. Are they looking at products that have reviews posted saying, “…purchased this product at a discount in exchange for my unbiased review”? Again seems grossly inaccurate, but more likely. If this is the case it’s likely just one method of identification. The largest issue here is if sellers coached reviewers not to leave the disclaimer, they could potentially rack up thousands of reviews very quickly still.
  3. Are they monitoring referrer traffic? Meaning, “did this purchase just come from reviewsite.com? Okay it must have been in exchange for a review.” This would be the worst case of the above mentioned because it would be incredibly inaccurate and would be devastating for a lot of sellers and service providers.

 

What If You Lower The Price Of A Product For A Couple Hours Then Run Traffic To The Product So Reviewers Can Buy For Low And Still Leave A Review?

We will absolutely not being doing this! This seems like review manipulation and we are not that type of company. This is the type of activity that seems to have a high probability of you ending up being sued, suspended, or banned from Amazon. Viral Launch will stay far away from this. 

Moving Forward

If all of the hype is exactly as it seems to be (no reviews left in exchange for a discount), we are going to be coaching our clients on a completely new launch strategy designed to help you succeed with a new set of parameters. For seasoned sellers with a solid review foundation, the launch strategy is unlikely to change. For sellers just bringing a product to market, depending on what that market looks like, we will put together an updated launch strategy which we will be covering later this week. Getting off the ground successfully without the ability to gain traction with initial reviews is going to change the name of the game, but it will be your ability to adapt that will help you beat out competitors trying to do the same thing. 

This is an opportunity for those of you who are focused on building a well rounded business to overcome those sellers who were spending money to take the shortcut. The Viral Launch arsenal is now more valuable than ever, allowing you to build an incredible private label business from the ground up. If you were looking to take shortcuts, you were already in trouble. Its time to double down and get ahead by doing everything better than your competitors.

We are working harder than ever to help optimize email follow-up campaigns to help increase the review rate driven by feedback services. We’ll keep you updated as we see advances. In the meantime, we highly suggest finding a feedback service that works well for you and optimizing it to drive as many reviews as possible from organic sales. 

To Summarize

I know this was about 10X longer than most posts, but I’m more of a skeptic and with the limited amount of data we’ve been able to gather over the last 24 hours, I want to make sure we do not mislead anyone. I also think it’s important to question and discuss the market we all work and thrive in to constantly increase our perspectives of it. It is only going to help to make you a better seller and entrepreneur in the space.

  • Viral Launch will continue to give coupons without incentivizing reviews as before, but will be coaching reviewers on Amazon’s new review policy guidelines.
  • We will continue to monitor the space to help enhance our perspective and hopefully reinforce our confidence in our interpretation by providing definitive data or cases. 
  • Optimize your feedback sequence! We’ve always pushed email follow-up sequences, but now is the time to leverage a feedback service with a killer email sequence to maximize the number of organic reviews you are able to drive.
  • Should go without saying, but don’t give products away for free or at a discount in exchange for a review.
  • Now more than ever, the key to success on Amazon is not a silver bullet. You need an arsenal to effectively attack every aspect of private label selling on Amazon. You need to focus on each element of your business to outsell your competitors.

At the end of the day, it’s our mission to help our clients achieve success. You can guarantee we will be vigilant in staying on top of this situation, but if history repeats itself (which it often does), then we are all pretty safe and know exactly what is going to happen moving forward. 

Our focus at Viral Launch is to be your launchpad to success, whether that entails promotional giveaways or simply coaching. We’re are an incredibly dynamic team of 15 with a large breadth of skills, experience, and knowledge in the Amazon space. This is our focus and we are here to help in anyway possible.

We would love to hear your thoughts, your perspective, and your interpretation of the update and our position on it in the comments! I’ll be open to talk as always!

Amazon Product Launches More Effective Than Ever

Amazon’s Latest Algorithm Change And How You Can Get Ahead

Originally Posted 5/12/2016

 

“War is 90% information” – Napoleon Bonaparte

As the secrets of the A9 ranking algorithm remain locked deep within the Amazon vault, we rely on data to reveal its inner workings and logical constructs. Without documentation and notification of algorithmic updates, staying ahead can be difficult. Even for sellers launching ten or so products, being sure of an algorithm update and its new principles can be extremely difficult. There is simply not enough data.

In today’s era of hyper competition and rapid technological change, data, and our ability to harness it, is our greatest ally. We pride ourselves on understanding the in’s and out’s of ranking products within Amazon’s organic search and we leverage data to develop that understanding. Over the past two years we have run nearly 8,000 product launches for 3,500+ products,  and worked with sellers doing $100m+ /year on Amazon. This is not to boast, but rather to help illustrate the incredible volume of data we have been able to aggregate. We programmatically track the keyword ranking of each launch that runs through our platform, allowing us to know what parameters make for a successful product launch.

Approximately 60 days ago, we noticed a change in the results being produced from our promotional giveaways all else equal. We’ve seen plenty of times over the span of a week or so, odd behavior in terms of launches. This odd behavior typically lasts for around 7-10 days but then all returns to normal. Initially we believed the odd behavior was just another one of those weeks, but ~60 days later and this seemingly “odd behavior” seems to have stuck. We have been anticipating a ranking algorithm update for promotional giveaways for some time, but we had never anticipated that the update would have such positive effects.

Change Is Good (At Least This Time)

In order to explain the change in Amazon’s ranking algorithm properly, I feel it’s important to provide a brief backstory on how the algorithm allotted keyword ranking prior to the change. This will provide the context with which to understand the contrast.

The largest contributing factor to keyword ranking was sales (there are about 1,000,000 other things that contribute to a product’s ranking, but this is the largest and the one we will focus on here). Prior to the algorithmic change, what drove ranking for a particular word was largely the keyword which that sale was driven through. For example, if a customer searches “garcinia cambogia”, selects the product, and completes a purchase, Amazon would attribute keyword ranking boost for the product for the keyword “garcinia cambogia”. There would be little attribution for any other keyword associated with the product (ex. Fat burner, weight loss, etc.). Logically, it makes sense right? The more customers who purchase your product after searching a given set of keywords, the higher it will appear in organic search for that particular key term.

Fast forward to present day and we are seeing somewhat different results. Initially it may not sound like anything worth noting, but hear us out. Making adjustments according to the algorithm’s new rules can be a game changer, and we’ve seen it hundreds of times already.

We’ve always been told and known that the keywords in your product’s title is the most important and controllable field to place your product’s keywords. This is Amazon Private Label 101. Post algorithm change and that basic fundamental has become 100X more important. In the past Amazon boosted the keyword ranking for almost exclusively the keyword which drove the sale (Example, buying after searching the keyword “garcinia cambogia” provides a boost in ranking for only “garcinia cambogia”).

With the latest algorithm update, EVERY keyword in your product’s title AT THE TIME OF SALE is fair game to receive a MAJOR boost in keyword ranking!  This means that when running a promotional launch, granted you have a product title that is optimized for keyword maximization, you could find yourself ranking page one for 10+ high to mid-competition keywords relative to your product.  That means the ROI on promotional giveaways has skyrocketed! In the past, a targeted launch would allow a product to rank for a single keyword (up to 4 targeted keywords), whereas now we’ve run launches in mid-volume markets that walk away ranking page 1 for over 30 keywords!

Data To Prove Our Hypothesis

The team has been working hard to compile a massive amount of data to understand precisely how the new algorithm update is attributing keyword ranking. Running 200+ launches a day allows us to see exactly what is and is not working. We are breaking titles and bullet points down word by word to understand how Amazon is parsing the content and adjusting keyword ranking post-sale accordingly. I want to provide as much information as possible to help illustrate exactly how you can take advantage of the update, but one of our greatest assets is our massive aggregated data, so we don’t want to give away the farm. 🙂

Illustration 1: Product Title: “Fish Oil Pills, 180 Capsules by Healthy Brand”

This is not a particularly good title as I’m sure you can tell. In case you are unaware, the word “omega 3” is a very relevant keyword to the product. Let’s say we ran a healthy promotion to this product with a focus on the keyword “omega 3”. Prior to the algorithm shift, the product would have landed on page 1 for the search term “omega 3” just a few days after the promotion kicked off. Post-update, approximately 80% of the time, we see NO movement at all for the keyword because it was not in the product’s title or top few bullet points. We’ve tried using every URL on the market  the Heatseeker, Dynamic, Organic, etc., but no movement. We saw this many times. Their launch was not all for naught as the launch did produce page 1 rankings for other keyword variations found in their product’s title, such as “fish oil pills” and “fish oil capsules”.

Illustration 2: Product Title: “Best Gym Jump Rope with Bag For Men by Fitness Brand”

This is a great example of the degree to which rankings are being affected by the algorithm change. If we were to run a small promotion to a product with the above title targeting the keyword “jump rope”, we would expect to find the product ranking for the search term “Gym Bag for Men” (among 10+ other keywords). Yes, even though we targeted the “jump rope” keyword, because the title contains the keywords “Gym”, “Bag”, and “For Men” Amazon would push it to top of the ranks for that keyword phrase. Granted “gym bag for men” is not a high volume keyword. Finding your product page one for 10+ similar keywords, is great for collectively increasing your per day sales.

(The examples are both hypothetical but based on real data)

Crafting The Perfect Title

Now more than ever your product’s title, bullet points, and backend keyword submission need to be perfect; down to the character. Literally. Not including a single word in your title could cause you to miss out on rankings for a variety of keywords, which means missed sales. And those sales add up. Amazon has begun cracking down on listing character count limits, making things all the more difficult.

Analyzing hundreds of titles and thousands of keywords over the last two months, we have compiled a vast array of data which has allowed us to break down the perfect title composition to a science. Determining word placement and priority is crucial to maximizing your product’s keyword spread.

Let us put together the perfect title to maximize the keywords and keyword variations your product can rank for in Amazon search. We have the data, experience and creatives to craft a product title that will allow you to rank for the optimum number of keywords allowing you to dramatically increase sales!

Sign up for our Keyword Optimized Product Title Curation service now!

And for the first 50 signups we have a $50 off coupon for you.
Use the coupon: MAXKEYWORDS to take $50 off.

This Is Only Temporary | Get It While It’s Hot

I am quite surprised that the algorithm has been updated as so. Logically, it does not seem to make much sense to weight the characters of a product’s title so heavily in determining ranking attribution. This has led to some odd search results post-promotion. In my opinion there is nothing better in determining a product’s relevance than the keywords that drive a sale. Organically, a customer is not going to buy a jump rope if it shows up in their search for “gym bag for men”. They will buy when they search “jump rope” or “jump rope for men”, because they are relevant search terms for the product. Simple as that.

Because this seems like such an odd move and a miss of the mark, I imagine this algorithm shift will not last for very long. I don’t see how it can. As always, we will be meticulously tracking and analyzing every launch that passes through our system. If/when we see an algorithm shift, we will be sure to report our findings. We are successful when you are successful, and knowledge is more than half the battle.

With that said, the ability to rank for a large volume of keywords in a single promotion is here now, so take advantage of it! With the increased ROI due to increased volume of keywords being ranked from a single promotion, why would you allow this opportunity pass you by? Launches are more effective now than ever!

To help with the cost of running promotions using Viral Launch during this opportune time we removed our monthly subscription minimums and are offering a $50 coupon off for your next month of launches whether it be your first product or not! In addition to the coupon, we are providing free access to our account managers. In order to get the optimal results from a Viral launch, we highly recommend working with one of our account managers normally reserved for our largest sellers. They will work with you personally to develop the ideal launch strategy for your brand or product and help you execute with authority.

Get Launching Now!

Take $50 off your next month of launches.
Use the coupon: UPDATE2016.

To work with one of our account managers for free, simply shoot an email to launches@viral-launch.com to get started!

Warning Against Misuse

Although we have found products for less than relevant search terms inadvertently, make sure the keywords you place in your title abide by Amazon’s standards.

Take care not to violate Amazon’s Search and Browse Policy:

Misuse of Search and Browse: When customers use Amazon’s search engine and browse structure, they expect to find relevant and accurate results. To protect the customer experience, all product-related information, including keywords and search terms, must comply with the guidelines provided under Optimize Listings for Search and Browse. Any attempt to manipulate the search and browse experience is prohibited.

As we diligently track algorithm updates we will be sure to keep you updated, so you can continue to make intelligent and informed decisions!

We are constantly working to provide our clients and the community the best tools and opportunities to be successful in their Amazon businesses. We have a ton of fantastic tools and services in the pipeline that will allow us to help you grow and optimize your business in new ways. As Amazon becomes more competitive, sophistication and a focus to be the best is the only way to walk away on top and with profits in hand. We want to help you to do just that!

Wishing you the best!

Houston, We Have No Problem – Amazon TOS Update 2015

If you are looking for the Amazon TOS Update of 2016 that can be found on our in-depth post here!

 

 

 

 

Our Position on Amazon’s Update to their Terms of Service and the Chaos that has Ensued

Originally Posted: 8/30/2015

Amazon is constantly changing and transforming. We were reminded of that this weekend as they discreetly updated their Selling Policies, specifically their “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions” page.

If you have not read for yourself here are the excerpts from the updated page:

Reviews:

“Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers’ experiences with products and services — positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”

Misuse of Sales Rank:

“The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders. This includes placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description. “

So what does this mean for you as a seller? What does it mean for your future with Viral Launch? There have been more than enough rumors and opinions posed as facts, so we would like to break things down as best as possible for you. We’ve launched over 2,000 products, consulted $50m/year Amazon businesses, and tracked 10′s of millions of data points all in the last 10 months. This is not to brag (hyperbole marketing and telling others how great I think I am is not my style 😉 ), but to illustrate the interesting perspective we have obtained, and while we have no absolutes, here are our thoughts.

Our Position

For those with limited attention spans, or simply want the short version, I want to pose Viral Launch’s official position here at the beginning. I will elaborate and explain in greater depth our position throughout the rest of this post.

Our goal is to provide our clients a long-term solution to promoting their products, gaining exposure and building their businesses. If that means taking calculated precautions so as to ensure we are 100% ToS compliant and without possibility of being accused of manipulative or fraudulent behaviors, then we will take the appropriate actions to do so.We would never want our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Although we do not believe that Amazon will be cracking down on sellers for running promotions through targeted URLs or begin penalizing sellers for running promotions giving more than 50, 100, 300, etc. in a day, the fact of the matter is the language of the new policies deems these actions strictly in violation of policy. For that reason Viral Launch is repositioning itself as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure capable of driving buy-ready traffic to your product in a powerful yet controlled manner. We have an audience that wants to buy your product. Simple as that. Under the hood, everything will remain essentially the same. However, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. You can checkout our new page at https://viral-launch.com.

No One Knows Anything

The thing is, in the Amazon marketplace Amazon creates the law, enforces the law and answers to no one.They write their policies to be broad and vague so that they may interpret as they wish and enforce them as they please. There is no knowing for certain their intentions when crafting these policies. Even if one did know the intent of a rule, the language is so loosely written that they can turn around and penalize sellers on completely different grounds.

-Will Amazon penalize, remove, or suspend you for running promotions through a SuperURL or any other type of targeted URL? The short answer is probably not. However, they can very easily see that you are sending traffic through an unnatural URL, the customer has a new session, and by tracking the referrer tag from the referring URL.  I will say that our OrganicURL satisfies these three issues, but then the question comes down to whether or not Amazon perceives this as an attempt at ranking manipulation, which in my opinion I can very easily see Amazon interpreting this an attempt at ranking manipulation. My opinion does not matter, it is how Amazon decides to interpret and even more importantly how/if they choose to enforce it.

I will say that one leading service in their position announcement made a point trying to “geek-out” and use programming language (the sample code they used was definitely not written by a programmer as it had some major issues and is nothing like what Amazon uses but that is besides the point) to illustrate that Amazon could very easily disallow keyword ranking boosts from launches using the SuperURL. I would like to disagree. I am a developer myself. I hand coded the entire Viral Launch platform, and have experience working with advanced machine learning (AI) algorithms similar to those employed by Amazon. This gives me a unique perspective on the A9 ranking algorithm. The ranking algorithm is not a simple script that allots keyword ranking to products after a sale through a specific keyword like the previously mentioned service believes. We are talking about a brilliantly complex algorithm architected to take into account a myriad of data points with logic constructs that are not easily adjusted. I believe Amazon has intentionally decreased the ranking effects of SuperURLs because they are well aware of launching services using them and Amazon does not like it. So why has Amazon not done away with the ranking effects of the SuperURL altogether? Frankly because at this point, they simply cannot. Think of an intricately designed spider web. It may be easy to remove just a couple of supporting threads, but if too many are removed or adjusted the spider web will collapse in on itself. The A9 Algorithm is just such a spider web, a very complex construction which services millions. It is not easy to completely change how it operates (allotting ranking) while continuing to service such a high volume effectively.  But I digress.

-What is “excessive” in Amazon’s eyes? Who knows, but my assumption is A TON. I am referring to numbers in the thousands. You will see why we believe this in the next section. That being said, Amazon could very well interpret giving 100+/units in a single day as excessive. Do I think you should be concerned with giving more than 100 units in a day? No, but I think it is important to  simply be aware. We have sellers who have been giving 200+/day since the updated terms have launched and thus far nothing has changed. Amazon tells us the term “excessive” is referring to giving an “excessive” number of discounts of the same product to one individual.

-Does running promotions constitute as attempting to inflate sales rank? I think the keyword here is “inflate”. There is a difference between improve and inflate. Inflate, according to Merriam Dictionary refers to excess, which is again a very subjective term. From speaking with Amazon we are led to believe that when the policy refers to “sales rank” it is in direct reference to Best Seller Ranking. Again, we do not think you should be concerned with Amazon accusing you of inflating sales rank, but we want you to be completely informed.

What We Know of Amazon

Amazon prides itself on its review system. The quality and legitimacy of reviews are vital. If consumer confidence plummets in its review system then sales will suffer. From some of the largest brands on Amazon as well as Amazon themselves we are being told that Amazon is far more concerned with review manipulation than they are sellers sending promotions through unnatural targeted links.

Amazon does not care who is at the top of the keyword rankings, no matter who it is, they are making their money all the same. However, as soon as the consumer base loses faith in the integrity of the reviews posted on Amazon, their bottom line will take a hit. That is not acceptable.

That is not just our view, but the shared beliefs of some of our largest allies who have been on Amazon for 10+ years and are each hitting in the ten’s of millions every year.

I think it goes without saying, but you must be uber careful when it comes to reviews. Be wary of promotional services that require their users to leave reviews. They incentivize their users to leave reviews by telling them they can get more deals after they leave their review. I cannot help but view this as manipulating reviews, that is why we have never employed such methods ourselves. Although the methods were more black hat, Amazon recently took legal action against review manipulating companies and I imagine there will be more to come. Amazon is cracking down.

What Amazon is Telling Us

As you know talking with seller support and the info received from them is not exactly the most reliable. Despite this being the case, there were a few points that were offered almost uniformly.  We also have some inside connections with Amazon along with powerful friends with inside connections. Even so, after speaking with many Amazon representatives in various departments, we have no definitive answer and very little clarification on the language used and exact intention of the updated policy.

Here is what we have been told:

  • Incentivizing or manipulating reviews is against policy (duh).
  • Those that abuse or infringe upon this policy will first be warned before action is taken.
  • Amazon does not want you sending multiple units of the same product to the same customer.

We have been told almost uniformly that these new statements are simply an extension of an existing rule working to thwart black hat rank boosting efforts. We have friends of friends who will have a “customer” make hundreds of purchases on a single product at a discount to boost their keyword ranking. There are sellers sending thousands of products to fake accounts and fake addresses. There are ways sellers are working to manipulate the systems, and it is these instances we feel Amazon is largely targeting. Don’t do that.

This is Not the Death of Promotions!

Amazon relies on merchant run promotions as an avenue for driving new customers to the Amazon marketplace. Without promotions, how would one get started in this space. It would be incredibly difficult, and would take a toll on the marketplace’s overall performance.

If Amazon did not want you to give products away at a discount (or free) in exchange for reviews they would not state, “If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review.” The ability to create these promotional codes would be no more. So all the rumors you have heard telling you that you cannot promote your product or else your account will be suspended are absolutely false!

Repositioning

Viral Launch has always prided ourselves on being an honest company and being 100% compliant in our approach. We really care about the success of our users (if you have ever reached out for advice or help you know this first hand). In order to ensure compliance we have to make changes in how we operate and how we advise you with promotions.

1.) First, we are changing our positioning as a company. We no longer want to be lumped into the category as those “blast” sites. In the past we prided ourselves on our ability to raise products from no sales to $10k, $25k, $35k/month after just a couple of launches with only our standard packages. We have been able to boost keyword ranking at will, however, so as to avoid jeopardizing the accounts of sellers we work with, we will now be positioning ourselves as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure to your products and services. While most things under the hood will remain the same, and you will continue to see the same effects, we believe that it is important to change our positioning so that there is no doubt that we are running a completely compliant service. We feel this is imperative to offering a long-term solution to promoting and growing your products and business.

2.) Second, we offer ways to spread or stagger your launch promotions through multi-day launches in a very controlled manner. We have always found that this receives better results and is much more likely to help you feel compliant in terms of not being “excessive.” We will continue to offer this and educate sellers on the best launch strategies for them.

3.) Thirdly, you will now have the choice as to whether or not you wish to use our OrganicURL for your launches.  As stated previously, we do not believe any seller will be penalized for using targeted URLs, however, for your sake we wish to give you the choice.

4.) We have updated our pricing model to better reflect our intentions going forward. As you are familiar with Pay Per Click models on other promotional platform such Google and Amazon, we want to emulate just that. You can view our new pricing on our landing page.

5.) Finally, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. We would never want the opportunity for our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Our Warning to the Wise (and everyone else)

We are in a space of super marketers. They know the exact language needed to make anything sound appealing or appropriate. They will brag about themselves and self-impose superficial titles to sound more authoritative just to get your money. They have no problem claiming you NEED something that just so happens to require you to pay them more money in order to be successful. When they fail to deliver, they blame you. To some services, all you are is money, and they will stop at no expense to get as much of it as they can. They do not care about your success they care about their bottom dollar.

Now more than ever, be skeptical. Only work with the people, services, and companies you trust. It is very easy to be swept up in pretty talk and superlatives. Only do what you are absolutely comfortable with. It is not worth losing the business you have worked so hard to build. Viral Launch is no exception. If you are not 100% comfortable with what we are doing ask us questions. If even then we do not ease your concerns, then I encourage you to find a company which better satisfies your needs and aligns with your perspectives. 🙂

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Do not pay for reviews. Even if they are video reviews.
  • Do not require or incentivize reviews. Using services which require their users leave reviews on the products they get is included in this. Telling users that they will have access to more deals if they leave a review is incentivizing them to leave their review. This is strictly against Amazon’s policy. There are many many services out there that do this. Please be skeptical and use caution.
  • Be weary of services that allow you to pick and choose which users will be reviewing your product. This is a lot like manipulation.

Ultimately, we will continue to work towards providing the best long-term solution to building and growing your business. We are continually building out new features and services that allow you to effectively and efficiently grow while ensuring the probability of your long-term success.

Wishing you the best,
Casey Gauss
CEO/ Co-Founder

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