Amazon Terms of Service: A Quick Recap

When you signed up to be an Amazon Seller, you agreed to a long list of seller policies and terms of use. Over time, the Amazon Terms of Service can become a distant memory and as Q4 ramps up, you may be looking for tactics to push your sales. In the flurry of the holiday season, it is easy to make a rash decision that might fall on the wrong side of the rules, risking future sales or your entire Amazon business.

 

 

Luckily, we are here to give you a quick refresher on the important policies and regulations to help keep your account safe. We have compiled an overview of Amazon Terms of Service, including code of conduct, selling policies and prohibited actions to jog your memory and help you avoid any questionable tactics.

Let’s get started!

Seller Code of Conduct

Amazon strives to provide a safe and trustworthy online marketplace for millions of customers across the globe. They require sellers to adhere by a strict code of conduct to ensure shoppers trust their purchases and continue to return to the site. This code of conduct also protects you as a seller in that it keeps your competitors from using unfair tactics to outsell you and other rule-following sellers.

If Amazon discovers that you have violated their Code of Conduct, they typically take quick action. This can include suspending your seller privileges and/or removing you from the entire Amazon Marketplace.

Amazon Selling Policies

In order to protect consumers, Amazon has rules and requirements on what types of products can be sold on their site. Be sure you are not planning to sell any questionable items on the marketplace. Amazon does not allow you to list products that:

Prohibited Seller Actions

Amazon prohibits certain actions by sellers in order to protect both sellers themselves and shoppers. The site does its best to keep the playing field level for all sellers, so any action that gives you an unfair advantage over your competitors is not permitted. Chances are if you are worried whether a tactic you are considering using may be against the rules, it probably is. Here is a quick recap of some prohibited actions:

1. Diverting traffic from Amazon

Sellers are not permitted to use any sort of language or web links that push traffic away from the Amazon website. This includes any advertisements, special offers or calls to action that encourage shoppers to leave the site.

2. Unauthorized business names

All business names must accurately identify the seller, must not mislead shoppers and must be a name that the seller is permitted to use (i.e. it cannot be a brand or trademarked name that you do not have appropriate permission to use). Business names cannot contain an email suffix (i.e. .com, .biz, .net, etc.).

3. Inappropriate email communications

Sellers are not allowed to send any unsolicited emails to customers other than those needed for order fulfillment or customer service. Marketing emails to customers are not permitted.

4. Improper use of customer phone numbers

Customer phone numbers are provided to sellers who fulfill their own orders so they are able to comply with carrier label requirements. These phone numbers must be handled in accordance with Amazon’s customer personal information policy, which can be found in the Seller Agreement.

5. Multiple seller accounts

Sellers are not permitted to operate and maintain multiple seller accounts. If you have a legitimate business need for multiple accounts, you can apply for an exception by visiting the Contact Us section of your seller account. Click on Selling on Amazon, then select Your Account, then Other Account Issues. You must provide an explanation of your need for multiple accounts in your submission.

6. Misuse of the Amazon seller service

Sellers that upload excessive amounts of data repeatedly or use the service in an excessive or unreasonable way may face restricted or blocked access to product feeds or any other function they are misusing. Amazon decides what constitutes this misuse at their own discretion.

7. Misuse of ratings, feedbacks or reviews

Sellers are strictly prohibited from engaging in any action that may manipulate ratings, feedback, or reviews. This includes offering incentives to customers for their reviews or ratings, posting feedback to your own account, etc. You are allowed to ask for reviews in a neutral manner, but you are not allowed to ask for positive reviews. Sellers must also comply with Amazon’s Community Guidelines when dealing with customer reviews.

8. Misuse of sales rank

Sellers are prohibited from engaging in actions that manipulate sales rank. This includes soliciting or knowingly accepting fake orders, placing orders for your own products or providing compensation to shoppers for buying your products. Sellers are also not allowed to make claims about their sales rank in their product information.

9. Misuse of search and browse

Any attempt to manipulate the Search and Browse experience of shoppers is prohibited. This includes artificially stimulating customer traffic through internet bots, etc., providing misleading catalog information about your product, or adding product identifiers to hidden keyword attributes. Follow Amazon’s guide to properly optimize listings in order to write your listing in compliance with Amazon’s rules.

10. Misuse of product customization

Those products that are listed as being customizable must be able to deliver on this claim. Any attempt to manipulate custom functionality in a manner which bypasses existing Amazon policies or misrepresents customized products is prohibited.

Know the Rules, Follow the Rules

Amazon does not take violations of their terms of service lightly. At best, you may get flagged and temporarily suspended. At worst, you could be banned completely by the online retailer, stopping your cash flow and dashing all hopes of future sales.

Though it may be tempting at times to try questionable tactics to boost sales, it is not worth the risk. You may see some of your competitors breaking the rules to get ahead, and while they may not get caught immediately, Amazon almost always catches up to sellers who are abusing their terms of service.

We at Viral Launch are here to provide TOS compliant solutions to help your listing pick up speed and generate sales. From professional photography to optimized listings, we have a team of experts ready to get to work for you. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you!

4 Tips for Writing Review Booster Emails from Viral Launch Email Guru Brandon Stewart (Follow the Data Ep. 19)

4 Tips for Writing Review Booster Emails from Viral Launch Email Guru Brandon Stewart (Follow the Data Ep. 19)

Getting reviews for a product on Amazon is becoming increasingly difficult. Amazon continues to implement new programs and Terms of Service, limiting seller’s abilities to elicit reviews. One age old strategy for capturing customer reviews is sending follow up emails to customers and skillfully asking for product and seller feedback. Join Cam and Casey as they dive into the data that has resulted from thousands of split tested email follow ups with in-house email copywriting guru Brandon Stewart.

Listen on iTunes   Listen on Stitcher

Follow the Data Show Notes

 

Podcast Transcript

CAMERON YODER:
Getting reviews for a product on Amazon is becoming increasingly difficult. Amazon continues to implement new programs and Terms of Service, limiting seller’s abilities to Elicit reviews.

One age old strategy for capturing customer reviews is sending follow up emails to customers and skillfully asking for product and seller feedback. Today we dive into the data that has resulted from thousands of split tested email follow ups on Amazon. I’m Cameron Yoder

CASEY GAUSS:
And I’m Casey Gauss, your host for Follow the Data: Your Journey to Amazon FBA Success. In this show we leverage the data we’ve accumulated at Viral Launch from over 29,000 product launches and our experience working with 6500 brands to help you understand the big picture when it comes to Amazon and, more importantly, the best practices for success as an Amazon seller.

CAMERON YODER:
In today’s episode, we sit down with our in-house email copywriting guru, Brandon Stewart, to talk about the best practices for writing email follow ups. Although this tactic for generating reviews typically only provides a minimal return, we believe that reviews are way too valuable to discount any method that produces results. In other words, if you can leverage these tips to get even one review, we believe it will have been worth it.

Let’s jump in

Okay so today’s topic, we’re talking about reviews. It’s a very good topic to talk about, and Brandon is here with us to give us the low-down on reviews with Amazon. So first, before we jump into Amazon, maybe Brandon, maybe you should touch on the email landscape in general, so outside of Amazon. What is the landscape of emails like?

BRANDON:
Yeah, so typically people sign up to get emails from companies like Nike or Disney or Southwest Airlines, you name it, and all the emails are a little bit different because people sign up for a particular reason, right? So Nike it might be because they want to see the new contest Nike has or the new videos or the newest shoes or sportswear. And the same thing with Southwest, they may want to see what are my mileage or points or how can I gain more points or how can I double my points, or … they’ll send a happy birthday email to them, and Disney you’re looking at new toys, new videos, new movies coming out: things like that. That’s really what the email landscape is today. People sign up to a particular company, and they’re receiving content from that particular company.

CAMERON:
Because they wanted to go there in the first place, right? So they chose to go the website, and they chose to sign up for their email. Right?

BRANDON:
Yes, yes just like that. Probably, for most of these, they probably signed up online. Some of them, like for example if you’re in a store, they may have you sign up for that for some free coupons or something like that in that store.

CAMERON:
Wouldn’t it be nice as Amazon sellers for people to come and want to sign up for our email follow ups. So that’s the … that’s the general email landscape right now. So compare that to then what Amazon is or what’s present on Amazon.

BRANDON:
Yeah, so Amazon it’s … so I don’t know, you probably buy a lot from Amazon. I know I do.

CAMERON:
Sure.

BRANDON:
I’m sure Casey does as well.

CASEY:
Oh yeah

BRANDON:
And whenever … I don’t always buy a repeat item on there. Many times they’re one-off products. I needed a new phone case for my newest phone or a car case … a case to keep my phone in my car to hold it there, and things like that. And many times they’re from private sellers, from these private labels. I don’t know who they are. I didn’t sign up to be a part of their email program or anything. I know nothing about this brand. And really it comes down to … you have to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. If you were to send them an email, they don’t know you. They don’t know anything about you. And so you gotta, you gotta make things sort of small and brief.

CASEY:
I’ve been hearing about a lot … or I’ve been hearing about a lot of people saying, unsubscribing from Feedback Genius, FeedbackFive, whatever email follow up service provider because less and less emails are being sent out, I’m paying a monthly subscription, and I’m just not getting very many reviews from it. I have two thoughts there. One, listen to this podcast like you are so that you can get some tips on how to improve your email follow up sequence overall. And then two, anything that is driving any amount of reviews, I’m talking about one review a month, whatever, is worth however much money you’re spending. As reviews seem to be from our perspective, from our data, kind of the currency to driving success or driving sales on Amazon, you need every review possible. And so if you’re getting one review a month from your email follow up sequence, that’s one review more than if you weren’t. And honestly looking at the flip side, if you’re not using email follow up sequences, what are you using? Sure you may not be getting a satisfactory rate, but you are getting some kind of rate, and that rate is contributing to the top-line sales that you are or will be seeing in the future. So …

CAMERON:
It really is a refining process. It’s a process that you need to be involved with pretty heavily and keep a close eye on, and Brandon, today … today we have a pretty good handful of comparable steps or kind of tips in general for you guys to follow. And so Brandon, if you could start out, what is the first thing that you would recommend with the idea of revising email follow ups or things that you’ve seen work extremely well. What’s like tip number one that you can give our listeners?

BRANDON:
I’d say tip number one would be don’t … you have to write in such a way that gets their attention, so if you go in there, and you write a story such as “We’re a small seller, and we would love to have a review, and we thrive and depend on your reviews.” Well, you have to understand, people receiving this email, they honestly don’t care about your company, they don’t care about your business. And that’s kind of how you have to look at it. So you want to provide them something that’s worthwhile.

CASEY:
Not only that, but I know that when I see just a wall of text in an email, I’m not even going to read it because who knows how long it’s going to take me. It’s not interesting to me, right?

BRANDON:
And that’s usually what it is too. It’s 3 or 4 paragraphs of all about the company and all why they need your review. They must have a review to survive or if they don’t have a review from you they may go out of business the next day.

CAMERON:
How detailed would you say people need to be then? Because I’ve heard you talk about drama, being dramatic with emails where companies will write maybe not their whole company story, but they’ll try to maybe draw out this big story or somewhat of a story in their email. How detailed do people need to be or how dramatic do people need to be if at all?

BRANDON:
I mean, look at the emails you get from Amazon. They’re very simple; they’re plain, right? And you … it would be best … it’s, from what we’ve seen it’s best to mimic that style. Having something simple: here’s your package, it’s on its way. Things like that.

So number one is not writing all your story out. Now if you have an amazing incredible story—I was a broke college student, and now I’m doing well on Amazon, and hey leave a review—that may be okay, right? That’s a cool story to have. But don’t write something that is basically begging them to leave a review, which is what we see all the time.

CASEY:
I think it’s also important to qualify Brandon, I don’t know … I don’t think we’ve done that so far. So Brandon has … so we used to have this package, we are removing it from our site right now. It just doesn’t make business sense to have Brandon time there, we need Brandon focused on things that we’re doing internally at Viral Launch. Not launching products, I mean like writing emails to our Viral Launch customers. Anyways, Brandon … we had this service, we called it Review Booster, and one of the packages there was management. And so essentially, we would … Brandon would write the emails and then we would go in, implement them for you and then we would manage the subject lines or the structure or different language in the emails to make sure that we were optimizing your open rate and then click-through rate. And so Brandon literally did this for thousands of emails, brands doing everywhere from 40 million a year to people just putting their first product up on Amazon. So this guy has seen it all. He’s used all of the email follow up services. This guy has experience like, you know probably nobody else in the industry, which is pretty awesome. How’s that make you feel Brandon?

BRANDON:
Oh fantastic. All warm inside.

CAMERON:
So this tip was really centered around simplicity, right, and being simple.

CASEY:
Could you give us like an example?

BRANDON:
Of …

CAMERON:
Of being simple. What does being simple look like specifically in an email sequence?

BRANDON:
Yeah, so first one is the let’s say let’s squash negative reviews. Let’s go to another tip. And this is part of the simplicity, of that.

CAMERON:
So this is tip number two.

BRANDON:
Yes, let’s say tip number two. Here’s how you can squash negative reviews before they happen. So when you … so two things first. So Amazon sends out a thank you email or an email that you purchased a product. So you don’t have to do that. They also send you an email when your package ships. So you don’t have to do that. So what I would say is … what we’ve found works best is sending out an email when your product is out for delivery, and you can do that in specific email marketing platforms, email services for Amazon. And inside of that, it’s gonna have something just really simple. It’s gonna have something like “Your product is on on the way,” and it’s going to have an image of a product, right? And then it’s going to have a few tips and tricks about your product, depending on what you need to do. Say it’s a workout product, well you’re probably going to have to have a PDF or an ebook or a gif or a gif, whatever you’d like to say in there, of someone using that product, and it doesn’t have to be very detailed at all. All you’re doing is showing them how to use the product, that it’s on its way, and if there’s any issue at all, please leave me … please contact me right away, and then have a little contact link in there.

CAMERON:
So this is a primer, this is like a primer email. So they haven’t received it yet, it’s on its way, and this is email one of …

BRANDON:
Of two

CAMERON:
Of two.

BRANDON:
I would say three at the most.

CAMERON:
Okay.

CASEY:
So yeah, I think this is important for people to know. A lot of people just look at email follow up sequences as just a way to drive seller feedback or product reviews, but you know, as Brandon has seen, and you know as we think that you should be doing, you should be leveraging this to avoid negative reviews and potentially, as Cam is talking about, prime them for a good review. Show them how to use the product. Show them how to get the most out of the product. You know, at that point, you’re just improving the overall customer experience for them. And when Brandon talks about leaving a link so somebody will contact you, definitely you know, this is not the “Hey if you had a good experience, click this link. If you had a bad experience click this link.” This is something very simple like, “Hey if there’s anything you know we can do for you … maybe Brandon wants to share the exact language, shoot us an email, here’s the email link here.” Nothing more. No buttons. No tricking people to go where they’re not entirely sure they’re trying to go. This is very very simple, people. We wrote email follow up sequences for people, and I think they were expecting us to write, you know, a couple novels for them in these emails, but it’s like the data is showing us that the very simple, and again if you look at Amazon, they have an insane amount of data. This is how they’re writing their emails, just very simple, very to the point, using very simple language. You know, it can be tempting to use sophisticated language or something so that your brand appears very sophisticated, and I understand that, I think you need to take those things into account, but for the most part what the data shows us is that what works is very simple language. Brandon, you know, Brandon studies copywriters all the time. And you should be writing to the what? What grade level or something?

BRANDON:
Yeah, typically the eighth grade level. Um, I think what is it Ernest Hemmingway’s book The Old Man and the Sea, which won a, I think it won a Pulitzer Prize, was at the fourth grade level.

CASEY:
Oh wow.

CAMERON:
Really?

BRANDON:
Yeah

CAMERON:
Oh man. Well, okay so this … this second tip, you’re … just to summarize what this email, this initial delivery, this primer email would look like, again. So it would involve something like “Hey, your product’s on the way.” Right? And then it would involve, if there are instructions needed or if there are instructions involved with the product, including those with something like a video or a gif or gif, however you pronounce it. Right?

BRANDON:
Yes, to an extent, but with Amazon’s terms of service, you … you’re not really supposed to include a video. You can include attachments up to 10 megabytes. There’s nothing in there about video. We’ve seen it happen before … I haven’t heard of anyone being delisted because of that.

CASEY:
Or suspended.

BRANDON:
Or suspended or anything like that. It … you know, you’re more than welcome to try it. But according to Amazon’s terms of service, don’t do it.

CAMERON:
Right. So the … your product is on its way, possible informational thing, and then the third part, which I want to touch on again is the contact us button.

BRANDON:
Yes

CAMERON:
So this, the main tip is to squash negative reviews. It’s to basically put yourself ahead of those negative reviews. I think this contact button is what a lot of people miss. Where they try to or they get negative reviews for their product, and maybe they ask themselves “Oh, another negative review! How do I get around this or how do I prevent this from happening? This, I see as a really preventative step of making that happen.

CASEY:
The downside is that it’s hard to quantify the effectiveness, right?

CAMERON:
Right.

CASEY:
It’s not like Feedback Genius is sending you a report of, yeah, you know, you stopped five negative reviews this week.

CAMERON:
But it’s one of those things to have in place just in case. It’s like a Why Not?

CASEY:
Yeah, it’s a Rather-Be-Safe-Than-Sorry.

CAMERON:
Right

CASEY:
Especially if, you know, you’re just launching this product, getting one negative review right off the bat, you know … no good.

BRANDON:
Yeah, and it gives them a … essentially it stops them from doing that, right? It stops them from going “This product sucked, and I’m going to leave a bad review.” It says something to the effect of … I think the copy I use is, “If there is anything wrong with your order, please contact us or please let us know, please inform us.” And then there’s a big bold “contact us” link they can click on, and it goes right to their email.

CASEY:
And that way they know if something goes wrong throughout the process, hey, here’s who I can reach out to. Versus going straight to the review page.

CAMERON:
Review page, writing a one-star review, bringing your overall rating down.

BRANDON:
It’s essentially telling them we’re here for you, and we’ll take care of your problem for you, not a problem, not a big issue.

CAMERON:
And it’s not a guarantee, but it’s a chance, and if reviews is all about taking as many chances as you can get to improve your rating or to improve your overall score, and this is one of those opportunities that you would not want to pass up.

So, okay let’s move on to the next tip, tip number three. Brandon, what do you got for us?

BRANDON:
Well, for the third one, a lot of people want feedback, but what we’ve found is that feedback does absolutely nothing for your sales.

CAMERON:
Right, right

BRANDON:
And it’s really the review. So the second email to send out, third tip, is to get a review. And the best way to grab that review is not to ask them outright, “Hey, leave me a review.” or go back to that …

CAMERON:
Wait, hold up. Say that again.

BRANDON:
Hey leave me a review!

CAMERON:
So but you’re saying that’s not the best way to ask for a review.

BRANDON:
It’s not the best way to do that because if you think about you and I, or anyone in general, we want our opinion, to share our opinion, right? You want to say to someone, Hey what’s your opinion on this or what do you think about this? How did you feel about that product? Right? And that’s probably, from what we’ve found, is the best question to ask. So the email setup looks a little like this. At the top, it’s going to have something to the effect of: Thank you for purchasing or thank you for ordering and then the name of the product …

CAMERON:
Just to reiterate, this is email number 2. Right?

BRANDON:
Yes, that’s correct.

CAMERON:
Okay.

BRANDON:
And the best time to send out email number two is whenever they’ve used your product. So if it’s, say, a workout product, it may take them a week or two to even begin using it. If it’s something like a phone case, they can probably use that right away. In general, we’ve found the second email to send out, the best time is roughly five days after delivery, after they have that product in their hand and they can use it.

CAMERON:
So just to … I want to jump back a little bit. But the first email, the delivery email, is that after they’ve ordered your product?

BRANDON:
That is when it’s out for delivery.

CAMERON:
When it’s out for delivery.

BRANDON:
Yes

CAMERON:
Okay

BRANDON:
When it is going to be in their mailbox that day.

CAMERON:
Okay, so when it’s going to be in their mailbox that day is email number one.

BRANDON:
Correct

CAMERON:
And number two is …

BRANDON:
Five days after delivery

CAMERON:
Five days after delivery. Recommended.

BRANDON:
Recommended.

CAMERON:
Okay, okay good. So touch on that aspect again. It’s not asking for a review. It’s asking for their opinion.

BRANDON:
Correct

CAMERON:
Okay, tell me more about that.

BRANDON:
Yeah, it’s it’s … you can ask them to leave a review, it’s almost as if they have to do a solid for you. It’s like Hey, here’s a favor. Can you do this for me? Can you take time out of your day to tell me what you thought about this product? Well, more than likely they’re just going to click out of that.

And the best language we’ve found is something along the lines of “What is your opinion?” or “What did you feel or think about the product?” or “What did you feel about … and then you name the product.”

CAMERON:
So do you think people have a stigma against being asked to leave a review. Like, do you think sellers are aware enough to where that creates like a …

CASEY:
You mean buyers?

CAMERON:
Oh yes, sorry, buyers! Not sellers. Where buyers are … where buyers have this … have a negative feeling towards being asked, like Hey leave a review for this product. Do you think they feel that negative? Or they’re just not aware of it?

BRANDON:
I don’t know if it’s a negative feeling. It’s more of Oh I’ve got to do this other thing. I have all these things I have to do today. I just got home. I just sat down. I’ve got to feed my kids now, or I’ve got to eat myself. And I’ve got to go work out, and I have to do dishes. I’ve got to do the laundry, and now there’s this other thing this company wants me to do, someone wants me to do. Why would I want to do this for them?

CAMERON:
And so the opinion is not necessarily asking … asking them to just … that word that verbage is not necessarily not asking them to do another thing, it’s inviting them into something that they want to give, which is their opinion.

BRANDON:
Yeah, right, who doesn’t want to be asked their opinion on something, right? And that’s really what it comes down to. You try something out, and you say What did you think about that? What is your entire opinion on that?

CAMERON:
Do you think, people, listeners right now with all their email sequences set up, do you think it would be a simple step to simply replace the word review with opinion? Or is there specific wording or verbage that should be built around the idea of asking for an opinion?

BRANDON:
I think the best thing to do that is to help them with their opinion. And I don’t mean that in a negative way or a … some type of …

CASEY:
A manipulative way

BRANDON:
… influencing them in a certain way. So from what we found and the best way to do is to show them some reviews, some actual reviews from the product itself. So you can even have two five star reviews and a four star review. And you know, not everyone is going to have all five star reviews. You want to show them that people … you want to show them that you are not perfect, right? Not everyone thinks you’re perfect. I mean, someone may have left a four star review. And then give them one or two sentences, show them one or two sentences of that review. Make sure you put it in quotes. Make sure they know it’s a real review. And then after that, or before that say: Here’s what a few people have shared with us or here’s what a few people have told us about … and then the name of the product.

And then after that is where you ask, What is your opinion? What do you think?

CASEY:
And we do want to make sure that we again stipulate we’re not telling them to say these things.

BRANDON:
Correct

CASEY:
We are not writing reviews for them, anything like that. We are essentially just showing them, hey here’s what some other people have said. What do you think? And again, we’re not saying if you had a good experience, what’s your opinion. We’re not saying anything like that. We’re just asking what your opinion is. I do think that there is some level of inherent risk, one, just with sending email follow ups and maybe potentially with this language. So again, just wanted to stipulate: do this at your own discretion. Use whatever … however risk tolerant you are, assume that risk. But just know we are not saying this is 100% you should do this. We are saying we have never had a seller get in trouble for this kind of language, and yeah …

CAMERON:
I would also recommend … so part of one of Brandon’s recommendations, which was to have a contact us button, really helps you field negative feedback. So ideally, in a perfect world, you would have a great product that works all the time, that does not show up damaged at all, that doesn’t malfunction in any way. But having, having something like the contact us button does really helps you get ahead of negative feedback, number one, but number two, you should really look at the negative feedback that you’re getting if you’re getting any, to ask yourself Okay how can I improve my product. You should just be … you shouldn’t just have negative feelings towards negative reviews and say, Oh I’m just not going to pay attention to them; they’re all wrong. No, you should ask yourself if what they’re saying is true and/or how you yourself can improve your rating or how you yourself can improve your product, which will then in effect improve your overall rating as people review your product. Okay Brandon, we went over those tips. Those are three main tips. There’s a lot of stuff in there, but what … if someone was to come up to you, if a seller was to come up to you and ask, Brandon what’s the biggest … what’s one main tip that I can use right now to improve my review follow up, what would you say? The one, like the biggest thing.

BRANDON:
I thought I just gave them away.

CAMERON:
You gave … you gave … but even I would say if it’s one of these, pick one of them. But I’m asking you for the biggest one.

BRANDON:
Yeah, I think …

CASEY:
Which of the tips that we’ve given is going to have the largest impact?

CAMERON:
Right

BRANDON:
I mean, they’re both going to have a massive impact because if you’re going to stop negative reviews and then if you’re going to at least hopefully gain a review, those are both great things. Obviously, getting a review is going to do more for your business, hopefully, than anything else. than even stopping a potential, well … not stopping a potential negative review I guess, but … if you can get a review, I think the second email is the most important. It really is the most important one that we send out because you’re gaining a review from that person who just purchased, just tried it out, just used it, whatever you want to say. And now they’re going to give their honest opinion about it.

CAMERON:
Brandon, could you … could you go over with us, so we’re talking about Amazon Terms of Service, right now. Could you go over just what, what people should … what is not allowed from an Amazon Terms of Service perspective, what is not allowed in review follow ups.

BRANDON:
Sure. A few of the things that we see the most is linking to some kind of outside … website or your own site or even to Hey check out our Facebook page, or like us on Facebook. Those are all not allowed. Or linking to a YouTube video. Anything that goes outside of Amazon is not allowed. Amazon doesn’t like that at all. They want to keep the money going to themselves.

CAMERON:
Of course. Of course.

BRANDON:
So that’s one of the major things that we see. The other thing is including some sort of incentive to leave a review or even … not even saying Hey leave a review and we’ll give you a coupon. But putting a coupon code inside of a request for a review, right? That’s definitely frowned upon. That goes against Amazon’s terms of service.

Some other things are … if you hire your own HTML coder to create your email follow ups for you, doing something that is prohibited inside of an HTML tag that Amazon says on their website don’t use these HTML tags, or here’s what’s allowed don’t do anything else with that or CSS class, things like that.

We’ve also tested graphics before inside of emails. So if you’re going to make an amazing and beautiful graphic or some type of beautifully designed template for your email, it … from what we’ve seen it doesn’t do as well as … for example Nike, you get a … you receive a email from Nike. Alright, cool, great, awesome. And it’s going to be beautifully designed. It’s going to be that brand’s layout, and you’re going to identify with that because Nike has spent billions of dollars on advertising. In general, and so that aligns with the advertising you’ve seen online, on video, on TV, on YouTube, wherever you may have seen that, inside of magazines. And that email newsletter, or that email template aligns with that. And with people signing up for … buying your product, on email, that graphic, you know they don’t really know your brand all that well. They don’t know your … this is your color, and this is the exact font you have to use. They don’t know any of that. So keep it as simple as possible. Use large buttons that are yellow highlight … yellow background with a black text or a white text, just something like that.

CASEY:
Why yellow?

BRANDON:
That really stands out. What’s that?

CASEY:
Why yellow?

BRANDON:
It’s what Amazon uses, right, and it really stands out. It really helps to stand out, and I think it makes people go, Oh this is still in the Amazon ecosystem. I can feel that this is a part of Amazon.

CASEY:
It’s the little things guys.

CAMERON:
It is. It’s the little things. What about … what about tips or overall strategy for utilizing feedback services. So services that optimize your email sequences for you. Do you have any words on that or any mistakes that people make. What things aren’t people doing well with those services?

BRANDON:
Yeah, I mean it really is very basic. It really comes down to not making it easy enough … for example like Casey was talking about earlier, including a lengthy amount of text and then … or having multiple links inside of that email, you know. At the most our delivery email has one link in it: contact us. At the most, our review email has two in it. It’s got a what is your feedback … what did you think about this product, and the second one is Hey, if there’s any problems or anything we could have made better, please let us know. That’s another link, and that just goes right to your contact us.

CAMERON:
Gotcha. So the theme that I’m getting a lot is really keep it simple. Keep it simple. Have a well thought-out plan while keeping simplicity in mind. Have a contact us button. That’s pretty much it right?

BRANDON:
Basically! That’s really it. If you think about opening an email before, for example you’ve probably opened a Best Buy email. And they have 1,000 different products on there. Well, that email’s not going to have a very big, what we call a click through rate, where they click on something and go and buy that product because it’s overwhelming, there’s so much to look at that people will just instantly delete it or just go to their next email. So you want to make it as simple as possible. No excuses. One simple link in there.

CAMERON:
One simple link. Keep it simple. Simple link. One simple link, and asking for people’s opinion.

BRANDON:
Yes, and white background, black text.

CAMERON:
White background black text.

BRANDON:
You can make a big headline.

CAMERON:
Yellow.

BRANDON:
Yellow button.

CAMERON:
Yellow button! To mock Amazon.

BRANDON:
Yes, and I’ve seen in the past people using Amazon Seller, having that image at the very top of an email. I believe it is allowed. I’ve seen it used. I have not heard of anyone having …

CASEY:
Sorry, what was that?

BRANDON:
Using a small link or an image that says Amazon Seller on it inside of the email itself. And it’s actually using Amazon, the Amazon seller logo inside of that email.

CAMERON:
Interesting.

CASEY:
Yeah, I haven’t heard of it.

CAMERON:
I haven’t heard of anything like that either.

BRANDON:
And some good subject lines like that are asking them about their Amazon order. It’s not just How was your order? Or did your order arrive? It’s did your Amazon order arrive? Or how is your Amazon order? What did you think about it?

CASEY:
Again, you have to remember that a lot of consumers or a decent amount of consumers still think that Amazon is the one selling them these products, not, you know, brand XYZ.

BRANDON:
And that’s why it’s always good to not have your brand at the very top. Like thanks again for buying the name of your brand and then your product. Like, no they just want to know the product, and make sure you put an image in there so they can identify with what they just purchased.

CAMERON:
I think that’s really important to reiterate, the brand thing. So again people don’t associate with the brands that are on Amazon. They associate with the product, assuming that it’s Amazon selling them that product.

CASEY:
You know, I totally get it. The brand is your baby. You care about that, you want to push branding and … but you have to remember a lot of people don’t pay attention to the brand. They’re just buying whatever your widget is, and so if you say Thanks for your brand-whatever purchase, they may be confused. They may not know what’s going on.

And so always pushing it kind of from the context that they understand, which is I just bought this from Amazon, will provide better responses through open rates, click rates, and then also Brandon mentioned including an image, and the reason here is maybe you buy … you just had five things delivered throughout the week, you had ten, fifteen things delivered. I mean … it’s a lot, and so you need to easily show them so they can quickly identify, yes, this is the product you’re talking about. This is the product that I just got.

CAMERON:
Would you rather have your brand name in the email follow up or a better follow up percentage rate.

CASEY:
Yeah, would you rather get reviews or for some brand … or some customer to see your brand name again?

CAMERON:
I’d rather have reviews.

BRANDON:
But that doesn’t mean in the signature you can’t put your brand. Or probably the best thing to do is to put your actual name in there or the name of someone in your company. Humanize it! Not just hey this is your team at, and then the name of your brand and then a logo. Just try to humanize it. Like thanks again, and then your name and then the name of your company.

CAMERON:
That’s good. Well …

CASEY:
Thanks so much Brandon

CAMERON:
Thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for giving us these tips. We will utilize them.

CAMERON YODER:
That’s all for this week. Thanks for joining us on Follow the Data. For more insights and reliable information that will help take your Amazon business to the next level, subscribe to the podcast, check out the Viral Launch blog at viral hyphen launch dot com, and look for us on YouTube. We have a handful of Product Discovery walkthroughs that can really help you leverage the tool. Just go to our YouTube page, and look for my face!

CASEY GAUSS:
Don’t forget to rate the show and leave us a review on iTunes. We’re talking about reviews. WE all know reviews are tough to get, but they definitely help us all out. So we’d love them, and honestly just as a company was love honest feedback. So we’d love to hear what do you want us to talk about? What do you want us to avoid talking about? Or what is … maybe you don’t like the format of the podcast. We want to hear it all so that we can be better for you. So please tell your friends, spread the word, and share the show with other Amazon sellers if you think it would be advantageous to them.

CAMERON YODER:
Thanks again so much for listening, really we so much appreciate all of you taking time to listen to this podcast, as always if you listened to the last episode you heard people’s feedback and questions that they had. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to leave us a voicemail. Our number is 317-721-6590. Until next time, remember: the data is out there.

Another Minor Amazon Policy Update Targeting Non-Verified Reviews

From September of this year forward, we have seen an unprecedented number of Amazon policy changes. Some changes have had major repercussions such as the TOS update posted on October 3rd of this year, and some updates have had minor impact such as the requirement of a customer account to have spent $50 in order to be eligible to leave a review. Posted the weekend of the 18th, we have yet another update, which from our perspective, should be chalked up as a minor change.

What Is The Policy Change

Over the weekend, Amazon updated their customer’s Community Guidelines, specifically under the section “Additional Guidelines for Customer Reviews”.

The new statement reads:

Customers can submit 5 non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews each week, starting on Sundays.”

Just below that bullet is a statement that reads:

When we find unusually high numbers of reviews for a product posted in a short period of time, we may restrict reviews of these Amazon Verified Purchase reviews.”

I am not sure if the second statement is new or how long it has been there, but I find it a bit peculiar which I explain down below.

What It Means For Your And Your Business Moving Forward

A month and a half later and there still seems to be plenty of debate as to whether or not it is okay for reviews to be solicited/left on purchases made at a discount. In a blog post published a week or so after the TOS update of October 3rd banning the practice of giving products away at a discount, we stated that Amazon’s legal department had said specifically that reviews received from promotional sales were within Amazon’s Terms of Service. Naturally, there were still many skeptics, which I completely understand. However, with this update I imagine the air will be cleared.

In my opinion the most significant aspect of this change is simply that it serves as public proof that Amazon is accepting of unverified reviews. It seems as though there is no further room for debate as to whether or not soliciting honest feedback from discounted purchasers is within TOS. While we have known this for a few reasons, there were a lot of rumors floating about in various groups that receiving un-verified purchase reviews could result in a suspension from Amazon, or worse. If you have read some of my other posts, you know of my disdain for misleading rumors. I’m glad Amazon has disproven yet another.

 

How will this limit the number of reviews you are able to obtain from running promotions? I’m not quite sure the answer to this and I am even a bit confused.

There are two known limitations given by Amazon (from the customer’s perspective) when it comes to the quantity of reviews a seller is able to receive. The first limitation states that each customer is able to leave just five non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews each week. While we are not allowed to track review rates from the promotions being run through Viral Launch, we know simply from what our seller’s report that the review rates are low. There is little expectation that this will have any measurable negative impact on the value of promotions as the previous benefit from receiving reviews was marginal.  

The next bullet point also talks about limiting reviews, but it is odd because it is referring specifically to limiting Verified Purchase reviews not non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews. I am pretty well connected and well aware of a lot of things going on in the space. I am not, however, currently aware of any common methods of quickly driving inauthentic Amazon Verified Purchase reviews (not that I want to partake, it is my job to know however). Obviously I am not aware of everything going on, but I am curious if this will have an impact on sellers that are great at running external traffic to drive high volumes of sales and that also have a great feedback funnel (just wait until you see what we’re launching to help you with both of these aspects 😉 ). It will be interesting to see what Amazon means specifically with the phrases  “unusually high” and “in a short period of time”.  I would hate for sellers to be limited in their ability to generate authentic verified purchase reviews knowing just how valuable each and every review is in this day and age.

All in all, this new Amazon policy update is a great thing in my opinion! There is a lot of blackhat and underhanded activity going on in the marketplace that most sellers are not aware of. The more Amazon reigns in those activities, the greater your chances will be at succeeding so long as you focus on executing all aspects of your private label business well. This is a blow to dishonest sellers accumulating reviews from dishonest practices. I think Amazon deserves a “thanks” here. 🙂

As always, we’re here to help you succeed in everything you do. Let us know how/if we can be of any help in your journey to achieving success.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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?

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!

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!!

Ultimate Amazon Private Label Guide to Success – Post Amazon TOS Update 2016

The Amazon space has changed and while we are still waiting for the dust to settle, there are some basic truths we do know like the fact that we CANNOT give products away at a discount. No more 80%+ review rates from discounted product sales. It’s going to change the fundamentals of how sellers can quickly get products up and selling. So the Viral Launch team is putting together a comprehensive Amazon private label guide to successfully launching products on Amazon with the new rules brought about by Amazon’s latest Terms of Service update. It’s epic and incredibly beneficial to all levels of experience on Amazon.

Spoiler Alert! Selling on Amazon Is NOT Over! It’s Not “Too Hard” Now. If That’s Your Mindset, Change It! Life As An Entrepreneur Has Its Challenges. It’s The Strong That Survive, And Together, We’ll Help You Thrive!

Each day we will feature a new step in the process of selling private label products on Amazon with specifics on how each step has been affected by the TOS change. We are super excited to help you navigate the process based on our extensive knowledge and experience in the space of running over 11,000 product launches and working with high level sellers selling between $50-$100 million per year on Amazon.

You can find our Ultimate Amazon Private Label Guide to Success landing page here. Each day we will add a new section and topic! Our first day we discuss product sourcing and how to make intelligent decisions when souring especially with the new market conditions following the TOS update. The page can be found here!

Are you excited about our guide? What topics would you like us to cover?

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!

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