Updated June 2018 with up-to-date tactics and strategies

As we all know, reviews are critical to a product’s success on Amazon. As of October 2016, Amazon removed incentivized reviews (i.e. customers leaving reviews in return for a discount). I firmly believe this was a change for the better as it gives sellers of quality products a more level playing field. However, it certainly made getting your first reviews more difficult. In this post, we’ll discuss the current state of affairs for Amazon reviews and how to get those critical first reviews.

Amazon Today – No Incentivized Reviews

As mentioned, Amazon changed its review policy in late 2016 to remove incentivized reviews. Amazon now prohibits the following activities related to reviews:

  • 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, refunds, or reimbursements) or on behalf of anyone else.
  • Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.
  • Posting advertisements or solicitations, including URLs with referrer tags or affiliate codes.

Let’s rephrase this in wording in Plain Amazon Seller English

  • Amazon will now remove reviews (or at least make them unverified) for products purchased with a discount code greater than a 50% discount
  • Amazon will remove reviews if they can determine there’s a close connection between you and the reviewer

The reality is that there will always be a very greyish-blackish area related to product reviews. I suspect there are very few high volume sellers who at one point have not violated Amazon’s TOS for reviews, specifically in requesting friends and family to buy a product for some type of benefit, either implied or explicit. I’m personally of the mindset that getting some initial review traction is critical and even Amazon probably turns a very big blind eye to this (after all, if it results in more sales that’s a good thing for Amazon). However, manipulating the system and turning a 2-star product into a 5-star product is in neither the customer’s nor Amazon’s interest.

Amazon Today – Limited Automated Emails with Customers

Amazon made it even harder to get reviews this summer when they allowed customers to opt out of unsolicited emails. Sellers were using email responders, specifically Feedback Genius, to automatically send review requests to customers. You can still send these requests but increasingly you’re receiving an undeliverable message like below.

Most customers were tuning out these messages anyways but this was one more blow to automating reviews.

Review Strategy

Amazon Early Reviewer Program

When Amazon removed incentivized reviews they also nearly concurrently released their Early Reviewer Program. The Early Reviewer Program allows a select number of customers to write reviews for products enrolled in the Early Reviewer Program. In return the reviewers receive small credits of $1-3 from Amazon. The cost to you is $60 and the  product must have less than five reviews and you must be brand registered.

Some key points of the program:

  • The cost is $60 and you pay it after you get your first review
  • Eligible for Amazon.com products only
  • Eligible only for products with less than 5 reviews
  • No condition for the reviews to be 5-star

Overall, the Amazon Early Reviewer Program is extremely good value and definitely recommended for new Amazon.com based products for sellers who are brand registered. Given the fact that you do not need to give the products away either, the program is actually less expensive than the old review clubs.

The downside with the early review program is it has limited results. I enrolled about 6 different products in the program and managed to get one review although that is in part due to the fact I have very niche items. However, that one review was hugely important and paid for itself MANY times over.

Amazon early reviewer program

My results from the early reviewer program have been limited but still incredibly worth it.

Request Reviews from Customers Who Have Left Positive Seller Feedback

amazon seller feedback

Monitoring your Amazon Seller Feedback is a great way to solicit product reviews.

Most buyers on Amazon don’t quite understand the difference between seller feedback and product reviews. Most of us have probably seen product reviews left in seller feedback at some point. It is essential to constantly review your seller feedback. Proactively email all customers who have left positive seller feedback, especially those who left product reviews, and request them to leave product reviews. I even include an attachment like this with my emails explaining how exactly to leave product reviews. Only a small minority of buyers leave any feedback and those who have left seller feedback are more likely to leave product reviews.

Request Reviews from Customers You’ve Provided Customer Service To

If you engage in a conversation with people and provide great customer service, 99% of people are happy to leave a great review regardless of the product. And I mean real engagement – not some Feedback Genius autoresponder. Engagement can include:

  • Questions about a product before a purchase
  • Technical support after a purchase
  • Returns for a product that is simply no longer needed
  • Making an unhappy customer happy

If a customer engages you first, you should be able to get a review from them at least half of the time. This engagement can be positive or negative. Obviously the former has a better likelihood of a good review but negative engagement is fine as well as long as you ultimately make them happy. If you have a conversation with a customer and you ask them “can you leave a review?” most customers will happily oblige. The easiest reviews to get are from customers who ask a product question and then order. Check up on them in a week to make sure they got the product. AFTER they respond to your email confirming they got the product then ask for a review (if you ask for a product review right out of the gate customers may pretend not to get the email).

Friend and Acquaintance Reviews

Amazon has basically nixed incentivized reviews and they have clear ways to track this – anyone who used a coupon code exceeding approximately 50% is either ignored or listed as a non-verified review. But ‘acquaintance reviews’ are still prevalent. Basically you have a friend (or a friend of a friend) buy a product and you refund them via another method, normally PayPal, for the purchase price.

Is this strategy of having acquaintances buy products strictly against Amazon’s TOS? Yes. But let’s face it – anyone who has any understanding of Amazon marketing is, at the very least, having their mom buy their products and then leave a review. For better or worse, these small private review clubs are going to be a feature of Amazon for some time. If you’re competing against products with dozens or hundreds of reviews, getting a couple of 5-star reviews isn’t enough to move the needle. But for products with limited competition this can sometimes be more than enough.

If you’re considering using this strategy, only have acquaintances review products after you’ve had a few real purchases of your product. To get those first reviews consider discounting the products significantly, 25%+. Otherwise, it will look suspicious if your first three product purchases all result in 5 star reviews. It’s a good idea to have friends of friends buy products whenever possible opposed to direct friends – there is some folklore that Amazon is very good at drawing connections between people.

Product Inserts

Product inserts are still a powerful way to get product reviews. Full template available in the EcomCrew course.

With my company’s products I include an insert requesting a product picture from the customer (offering a mystery gift in return with a value of around $10)

This accomplishes two things:

  • It gets us photographs
  • It gets us engagement to then ask for reviews

Actual customer photos are SUPER powerful. I invest a lot of money into great photography but legitimate customer photographs snapped with a customer’s cell phone are way more valuable. If these are included with an Amazon review it amplifies the power of that review even more.

Second, if the customer decides to email us the photographs, we now have their email and, more importantly, engagement. At this point, I can simply say to the customer “Thanks so much for the photographs – by the way, do you think you could leave a review for us?”

Discounted Products

It’s important to first offer your products at a significant discount – 25 % or more. If you do this, presumably your products should be of very good value. Most people weigh their review according to their perceived value. You have different quality expectations for some kitchen utensils you buy from Dollar Tree opposed to Nordstrom. If people feel like they are getting a bargain with you they are more inclined to leave a review.

Launching Products to an Email List

In my previous company we built a list of around 5000 people and launched products on Amazon by first emailing this list with links to the Amazon listing. This accomplishes a couple of things:

  • You get vital initial sales velocity for your products
  • Your email list is more likely to produce satisfied customers who will subsequently leave reviews

Sales velocity is critical for Amazon. There are some who believe Amazon also rewards brands that produce sales on Amazon from outside of Amazon.

Second, your email list is likely to be an audience of people who like your product. Subsequently, they’ll be more likely to leave positive reviews. You can also get into grey-hat strategies and in your email blast ask customers to email you after purchase and offer them some kind of refund via PayPal. You’re not refunding them in return for a review – you’re just offering a product discount. Of course, once they email you, you’ve gotten that critical customer engagement and it’s easier to solicit reviews from them.

Review Grooming – How Small Sellers Dominate Large Sellers

There is an entire segment of solopreneurs and small businesses who are dominating Amazon by being ultra-obsessive about soliciting reviews and grooming their bad reviews. Basically, any time a customer leaves a negative review you are extremely proactive about contacting that customer and trying to appease them in the hopes they change their review. There’s a fine grey-hat line to walk here as Amazon explicitly forbids offering compensation in return for a customer modifying a review but simply making a dissatisfied customer satisfied should keep you clean in Amazon’s books. I have a close friend who will even go so far as to make custom products with his sewing machine in his basement for customers who are dissatisfied. The big brands can’t do this. He makes over $200,000 profit a year simply from being obsessive about grooming his reviews.

Often it is easy to determine who has left you a review as the customer’s review name often coincides with their purchase name. However, for all reviews there is a hack to determine the order number of the reviewer but we only reveal that in our course (how’s that for ending a post with a sales pitch?).

Conclusion

The landscape for obtaining reviews on Amazon has completely changed in the last year. Launching products has gotten considerably harder but this can actually be a good thing for many sellers as it keeps out a significant portion of competition.

What is your review strategy for launching a product? Do you have any tactics not mentioned here? Please share in the comments below.

Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous products brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and is currently starting another ecommerce company. He’s also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.