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:
- “It is okay for 3rd party websites to distribute discounted claim codes on behalf of Amazon merchants.”
- “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.
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!