In October 2016 Amazon laid down a rule that’s a double edged sword–incentivized reviews are no longer allowed. On the one hand, it gives sellers with higher quality products a more level playing field, but on the other hand, it makes getting genuine reviews increasingly hard.

In this episode Dave and I talk about what you can do to generate reviews after Amazon banned incentivized reviews. We talk about all the possible ways to get reviews, i.e., legal ways, illegal ways, and those we think might be in the “gray area”. We’re not in any way encouraging you to use the “black hat” and “gray hat” ways of getting reviews–we simply want to give you some awareness and it’s up to you to decide which strategies you want to use in your own business.

The review strategies we discuss in this episode are all taken from Dave’s blog post on How to Get Amazon Product Reviews in 2018. We also discuss which methods we actually use in our own businesses to provide examples.

The strategies that we discuss in detail are the following:

  • Amazon Early Reviewer Program
  • Request Reviews from Customers Who Have Left Positive Seller Feedback
  • Request Reviews from Customers You’ve Provided Customer Service To
  • Friend and Acquaintance Reviews
  • Product Inserts
  • Discounted Products
  • Launching Products to an Email List
  • Review Grooming – How Small Sellers Dominate Large Sellers

From the list you can clearly see which ones are definitely illegal in Amazon’s TOS, but ironically those are the ones that are easiest to do. While getting reviews gets definitely tougher, keep in mind that the risks of using black hat strategies are far too great and the end results too costly.

Resources mentioned:

EcomCrew AMA
Update on customer reviews
How to Get Amazon Product Reviews in 2018

Do you have any questions about this episode? Just leave a comment down below or leave us a voice message.

Thanks for listening! Until the next one, happy selling.

Full Audio Transcript

Mike: This is Mike, and welcome to episode number 153 of the EcomCrew Podcast. You can go to EcomCrew.com/153 to get to the show notes for this episode. Today I got Dave back on the podcast again, making this a regular thing, talking about how to get Amazon reviews in 2018. There’s been a lot of Amazon stuff going on lately. A lot of Amazon podcast by us.

We’re not 100% Amazon sellers but it still is a big part of our business and reviews are an important component to that so much so that we set up EcomCrew.com/Amazonreviews. You can go right to that article. It’s an article that Dave wrote that we’re basing this podcast off of that has a lot of really good information. And right after this break we’re going to get right into the nitty-gritty, we’ll talk to you then.

Dave: This is Dave.

Mike: And this is Mike, and welcome to this edition of the EcomCrew.com Podcast. Dave, I think this is probably the last time I can make fun of your being here for the first time in a while, because like this is a regular thing now. So it’s pretty awesome man.

Dave: Three in a row.

Mike: Yeah. But I think that once I say that, then you’ll skip the next one somehow.

Dave: Well, that’s why I’m trying to bang them all right now so I can take off to China again for seven months without you guiltying me.

Mike: Yeah, no worries, man. You did lots of articles while you were gone, I should say and I was doing podcasting. But in all seriousness, I think that we’re going to try to make it more regular. It definitely won’t be every podcast, but get you on at least a few times a month, which is awesome, especially for topics like this one where we both can add, I think we can both add a lot of value to this one. We’ll see how it goes. But we’re going to be talking about reviews in 2018 for Amazon. Probably pretty interesting topic, don’t you think?

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously, Amazon reviews or any product reviews really are critical to launching a product and keeping that momentum. So and obviously it’s gotten tremendously harder in the past well, even longer than a year, probably a year and a half, especially since Amazon kind of changed their rules and regulations around reviews. So, hopefully we can share a few tactics for getting reviews.

Mike: Yeah and it’s so frustrating because I mean I agree with the changes. I mean the whole incentivized review thing was even when I was doing it back before they banned it in 2016, I realized that this is ridiculous. I mean it was just you’re giving away a product, wink, wink, just leave me a review. And they were like disproportionally five star reviews and plus the disclaimer was just I don’t know it seemed disingenuous. And we had actually toned it way down. We stopped doing a lot of it even before the ban hammer came down. But now it’s like the pendulum swung the other way where even people that want to leave an honest review, it’s tough to get them to do that. And it happens at such a low percentage. It’s actually pretty frustrating.

Dave: Yeah. And I guess just to give a summary of what changed with Amazon in 2016, October 2016 I think it was, Amazon basically said no more incentivized reviews. So you can no longer giveaway a product and receive a review. You can actually give away products and people can still review it. But you cannot give away products with the condition that they review a product.

And so that’s obviously how a lot of review clubs were working is that people were saying, okay, here’s the product and now you have to leave me a review. And of course, there is that wink, wink, nudge, nudge that if you don’t leave me a five star review where basically their review program is more or less going to basically kick them out of the program if they’re not leaving at least a very high percentage of five star reviews.

Mike: Yeah. And you’re not allowed to incentivize in any way. It’s not a matter of giving a free product but any sort of a discount, any other compensation of any kind in any way, and you’re really only allowed to ask for a review once. And I’m not sure what’s coming on the horizon here, but I think that shortly after this podcast is released we might have to do another one because there’s a lot of grumblings from my groups at least.

So there’s going to be some major changes again with this. So I think that the reality is, it’s probably better to be less aggressive than more aggressive because I think that some other changes are coming.

Dave: Interesting. Have you heard any rumblings of what those changes might be? I’m trying to think they could tighten it even more.

Dave: Yeah. So I was just at the Million Dollar Seller Summit thing. And there’s a lot of people have account managers now, so you can pay like $3,500 a month to have an account manager, which to me is just like the ultimate insult where you’re a multimillion dollar seller on Amazon, you have to pay for support. That’s marginally better than what you’re already receiving, which is intended to be given. It’s actually just the most hilarious thing. But there were several people that were saying account managers were saying that basically, you’re not going to be able to ask for a review at all anymore.

And so certainly, you don’t want to be asking more than once. And I’m actually thinking about turning off the sequence of even asking. I mean, 90% or more of those emails are not even getting through anyway. So it’s like why bother taking a chance?

Dave: Yeah, I think most people most even customers have kind of tuned out those review request by now anyways because almost everybody or at least any private label seller selling more than probably one unit a month has some kind of email sequence in there asking for reviews. So I think even the most dinosaur of buyer has kind of learned either to kind of tuned out those review requests in their head or actually physically turn them off within their Amazon dashboard.

Mike: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So let’s dig into some ways on the bright side at least the things that you can do to at least facilitate getting some reviews. And this is all coming off of a blog post that you wrote Dave, I don’t know it’s probably a couple of months ago now. It looks like it was actually several months ago now. But man, it’s a really great blog post and that’s actually why I wanted to suggest this topic for today because there’s like a lot of this really great content, written content on EcomCrew.

And one of the things that seem to happen is that we got people that listen to the podcast pretty religiously, and then people that read the blog pretty religiously, and we found that there’s not a lot of crossover just from some of the data that we’ve looked at. So I think that talking about some of the blog posts on the podcast makes a lot of sense maybe for them.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we can also sometimes get into more detail and give more context when we’re talking about on a podcast like this. And of course, we get your opinion to this way.

Mike: Yeah, definitely. So let’s dig into some ways that you can get reviews. And we’re going to talk about like the pure white hat ways, and we’ll also probably talk about some gray and black hat things and will disclose what we feel on those things. I mean, it’s your business and you can do what you feel is right for you. So we’ll just talk about what’s out there and I’ll tell you what I’m doing. Dave, you can mention what you’re doing and then the audience can decide what they want to with that themselves.

But let’s start with the ultra white hat thing here, which is the Amazon early reviewer program. And we’ve had really good success with this. I wish they would expand this. I wish they would let it be 10 or 20 reviews. But this Amazon early reviewer program allows you to get five reviews or up to five reviews. Because if we get other reviews organically, it will limit the number of reviews you can get. But it’s $60. And they’ve actually just improved the interface. They made it a lot easier.

You used to have to like upload the stupid spreadsheet even if you were — it was so dumb. It was like you could tell like an engineer or put it together or something. I don’t know but it was pretty darn funny. But now you just type in the ASIN through a simple web form and you can apply to be in the early reviewer program. And the way that it works is Amazon will email the customer and they pick like who’s going to be eligible for it. But basically, I think it’s people who haven’t left a lot of reviews in the past that have a very clean profile. They’re looking for people like that. And people don’t know that they’re going to be selected in advance to potentially even get this or have any clue that this even exists out there.

And then Amazon will offer somewhere between one and $3 for them to leave a review, and then the review is designated early reviewer program next to the star ranking, which I don’t think affects it negatively or positively, especially as you get a lot of reviews in. And it’s a way to get your first couple of reviews significantly faster than other methods. And it’s a completely white hat way of doing it. And what I found is that once you get your first couple of reviews, it makes all the difference in the world of the performance of your listing.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s probably one of the top things I do when I’m launching a product is immediately going to advertising, go to the early reviewer program and rule that ASIN in the program because like Mike mentioned for 60 bucks, $60 per review you will get — and this is I think…

Mike: Just real quick it is not $60 per review, it’s $60 per ASIN.

Dave: Is it really?

Mike: Yeah.

Dave: I had no idea. Yeah, you’re right. I’m looking at my account right now, I’m billed $60, and I see two reviews there. Okay well there you go. It’s even cheaper than I thought.

Mike: And the $60 is charged as soon as you get the first review through the program. So if you end up getting no reviews for some reason you never get charged, but once you get the first one you get dinged for the 60 bucks and then you can get up to four more at no additional cost.

Dave: Okay, there you go. So yeah, I mean that works out to less than I guess just over $10 per review if you get five reviews. So I mean that’s — even in the days of giving away discounted products and free products, that still probably works out cheaper in the long run to that. And yeah I mean every time I launch an ASIN now that’s exactly what I do. I roll the product in the early reviewer program.

A couple of great things, I mean that it seems most people leave five star reviews. I don’t know what your experiences Mike but maybe we just have all five star products. But it doesn’t even seem to be a lot of variance between four star and five star reviews. It seems that people feel like they should be giving a five star review when they are on the program.

Mike: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s hard for me to evaluate if it’s disproportionally higher. I’d have to go back and kind of look at that. I mean, our products are all typically four and a half star products anyway. So we don’t get a lot of one star reviews. But I can’t quite put a feel on it yet if it’s disproportionally higher or not. I think that logically you could probably say that it would be at least skewed towards a little bit better than the norm.

Dave: Yeah, I would definitely echo that. So I think, if you’re thinking about rolling in the early reviewer program, I wouldn’t be worried that people are just going to leave nasty reviews for whatever reason. So yeah, I think definitely like Mike said, it skews, the average rating skews a little bit higher than probably average, but hopefully you also have a five star product. Obviously, if you’re trying to sell really totally crap product, people do have that power to leave you a one star review. But if you have a decent product, you’re probably going to get decent reviews.

Mike: Yeah. So that’s actually a great segue into the next thing I actually want to talk about was one thing that wasn’t in your article. But I think that the reality is, is that moving forward here in 2018 and beyond that having quality products is more important than ever. If you think about things that you use in your life, the things that you get that well you talk about more things that are just underwhelming or whatever, you’re going to be less likely to talk about or want to leave a review and be motivated to do that.

So, it really makes me happy because we’ve been on this path for a while. But I think that packaging is ultra important, and inserts and a quality product and all this stuff. And some of the stuff we’re going to talk about that you had in the article, but I think it’s a good aside here just real quick to be thinking about that stuff because packaging, in all the studies that we did and we don’t have time to talk about on this podcast. We can maybe even do a podcast specifically about this as it was an interesting study.

But we have almost a full review point higher ranking with the product. There’s a similar product, exact same product actually that that had better packaging, literally the exact same product. So it’s frustrating because it’s expensive to do packaging especially if you do super high end packaging. And it’s probably more frustrating for us at this point the time that goes into it like. I mean it’s like another whole pain in the rear end for our Philippines team and us internally to like get the packaging right, because there’s a whole like chicken and egg problem.

I’m looking at some products that we’re launching here for Tactical in the next couple of weeks that are in this office here, and we have a picture of the product on all of our packaging. Well, like how do you get that picture before you have the product? So there’s things like that that become a problem. But I just want to make a quick side note that I think that this is more and more important.

Dave: Yeah and like you mentioned, packaging costs are obviously high. But when you have great packaging, you’re going to get higher reviews. When you have higher reviews, you can charge more money. So ultimately definitely great packaging pays for itself especially in the long run. And with great packaging I made two notes. Number one, obviously you need to have great packaging. So the exterior packaging whether it’s a box, you shouldn’t be using poly bags but you can even get fancy on poly bags if you need to. So obviously there’s the exterior packaging.

But the other thing people forget is including instructions. It doesn’t matter how dummy proof your product is, include instructions with your product because your supplier will print those off for free. It’s simply printed on an eight and a half by 11 sheet, nine times out of 10. It requires you to normally actually write the instructions yourself especially if the supplier doesn’t have them. But even if the supplier does have instructions, you still need to rewrite it and something resembling English because you know the Chinese suppliers providing it to you, it’s written in terrible English.

So that’s another great way to give a little bit of a wow factor to your customer, including great instructions written in great English. And it just when the customer opens it up and wants to learn how to use it, there’s instructions that go with it. And conversely, there’s no easier way to get a terrible review than to have no instructions with your product. So that’s definitely one thing I’ve learned over time is it doesn’t matter how dummy proof you think your product is, if you’re selling hair clips, still include a set of instructions with the product. It’s just going to really help your reviews over time.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I completely agree. I think that the way to think about it is like how would your product fit into a retail like on the shelf scenario. And every product that’s sold in a retail off the shelf scenario has instructions in it. I mean it’s just basically one of those default things. And besides the wow factor, I think it adds like a legitimacy factor to your product.

Dave: Yeah, and you can also I mean, it’s one more branding opportunity too. So obviously, put your company logo, and you can probably put a company URL on the Amazon [inaudible 00:16:03] if you put your company URL on the footer, as long as you’re not overtly directing them there. So it’s just one more free branding opportunity for you.

Mike: Yep, definitely agree. All right, let’s move on to the next one here that this one that you have is going to be a fun debate, because when I first read this, I loved this idea. So I’m going to put this just classify this in a potentially gray hat maneuver, because it’s unclear. And this is what’s so frustrating with Amazon. It’s unclear exactly what the hell their policy even is sometimes. But the one you have here is request reviews from customers who have left positive seller feedback.

And just to distinguish this real quick, I’m sure most people that are listening know the difference, but just to make sure that you do your seller profile. So for us, it’s Terran LLC is our company. You were the one selling the items, you can leave a feedback for those for the seller which in this day and age of Amazon especially if you’re selling FBA is basically useless like no one looks at it, or you can leave a review on the product so that when you’re leaving a review for the product, it’s seller agnostic, it doesn’t matter who the hell sold it.

People are reviewing the actual item and what they’re supposed to be doing when they’re reviewing seller feedback is actually reviewing you as a company and how you performed with the delivery experience. But again, most people now are on FBA so you have nothing to do with that. But people, customers don’t understand the difference of this. So you end up with hundreds of customers in our case per month leaving seller feedback which to us is completely useless and it’s a great — so the strategy that Dave talked about here is how to get that feedback from there to your products.

Dave: Yeah, so in your seller feedback, if you log into your seller feedback right now, you’re probably going to see reviews seller feedback along the lines of great quality product, great quality with accessories. It doesn’t matter…

Mike: I’m looking at mine here just real quick. I mean it’s so frustrating. It’s like I love their books, awesome hardback, spiral at the top, one side the best paper, five stars, like that does me no good as a seller review.

Dave: Yeah. And these people are obviously happy with the product. That would be a five star review but they’re leaving it in the incorrect place. So what I do is especially when I’m launching a product, I really need those first few reviews, reach out to those customers, and say, hey thank you for your seller feedback. Hope you enjoyed the product, was there anything else I can help you with, blah, blah, blah. By the way, do you think that you could leave this as a product, or leave a product review as well?

And by that time they think, what a product review, didn’t I already do that? And it at least enlightens them to the fact that no, you left seller feedback, not a product review. And the probability that they’re going to leave the product review I find is probably somewhere around one and four. But still, that’s feedback than being converted into product review simply by asking them to leave a product review in addition to the seller feedback.

Mike: Yeah I mean one in four, I’m looking at — I’m logged in our account right now. We have 139 of these damn seller feedbacks over the last 30 days. So I mean that’s what 35 potentially more reviews on products, which is that’s a lot. I mean that’s a whole lot. That would be great. So okay the first question that I have for you Dave, is this black hat or not? Is this against Terms of Service reaching out and asking people for a review in this way?

Dave: I don’t understand how it’s any different than requesting your review through an auto responder series. And even if you try to contact a customer now directly, you’re still given the option to request feedback and a review. So I think it would be against Amazon’s TOS if you said, hey, can you leave a five star review for this. But simply saying, hey, can you leave a product review, I don’t get how that’s any different than a email autoresponder asking for a product review.

Mike: Yeah I mean I just again it’s based on what’s coming out of a Sellers Summit or that’s also about MDS thing I was just at man I don’t know. Like I’m a little bit nervous these days about like reaching out. And so I think the way that I would approach this is just not to use the word review because I think if you’re sending emails, Amazon is probably looking for that word in particular.

So you could say like, we’ve noticed that you’ve left seller feedback or something, or you left these comments on our seller profile. And while we really appreciate you doing that, people don’t – it would be really helpful to the Amazon community if you left — if you could [overlapping 00:20:42] yeah somehow like really work on the exact words that you’re using. And like give them the length of what to do that so they know how to do it, but leave the word review out of it and kind of sidestep it that way or at least tiptoe around it that way.

And as you said Dave, like be very careful not to say like, leave the same review, or leave a five star review. Or if you do this, I’ll give you something for it. Any of those types of things would definitely be out of bounds. So I guess the question I have for you, Dave, then in your opinion, is this black hat, gray hat, against Terms of Service? What are your feelings on this?

Dave: No, I mean, maybe again, completely to the letter of law with Amazon, it would be considered grey hat, you’re asking for review. But really the spirit of Amazon, you know, trying to keep customer centric, what I’m doing is simply helping the customer redirect what they intended to be a product review into actually becoming a product review. It’s not like I’m asking them to leave a review for a discount or for some incentive or anything, the overall spirit is there. I’m just helping the customer leave what they intended to be a product review as a product review.

So maybe Amazon might slap my wrist and say, hey, you can’t be doing this. I don’t think they’re ever going to suspend my account for life though because I’ve helped a customer leave what was seller feedback and leave it as what they intended it to be as product feedback. So I’m not too worried about that.

Mike: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I for full disclosure I think that this is something that we’re going to start doing. I’m going to write up a little SAP and have our team start reaching out to people that that have done this, because I mean I feel like at the end of the day, like I’m being cheated here. I mean, these are people who intended to try to leave me a review. And these are things that we certainly want on our products. I mean, it helps. I mean, it helps us sell more of our products. We have good products, legitimately like we work really hard to make sure that we provide good customer service and products and we want people to know that.

Dave: Yeah, I mean, I was talking to them to make this easier for customer review. Even when I buy a product, I’m a little bit confused with, where do I write this, where is a product review, where is the seller feedback. And they always seem to ask, remind me to leave seller feedback, but we know that’s useless. So they can make it a lot easier for customers of leave product views which is in everybody’s interest.

Mike: Yeah, I totally agree. Totally agree all right. Now, this next one is definitely tiptoeing over to the gray hat world. But, it’s another interesting concept. But the next heading here is request reviews from customers you provided customer service to. So you got someone that’s, you know, had a problem with the product maybe or was missing something in the box, or whatever things that they might have emailed you for, because we get a ton of email on a daily basis and you’ve interacted with them. You could potentially email them as a part of that and say, we hope that that you had a good experience with us, please leave us feedback here. So how have you been approaching this Dave?

Dave: Yeah, so if a customer has a problem with the product, a lot of times I’ll go over and beyond. So for example, one of the accessories for example, they’ve broken obviously on their — out of their doing, it’s not a warranty issue. They’ve simply broken it. I’ll either send them a replacement part, no questions asked with shipping, pay for shipping. A lot of times I’ll even just send them a whole new product and I’ll say, hey, by the way, do you think you can leave a product review? And I make it clear; I don’t care if it’s a good or bad product review. But if you can leave a product review, that’s much appreciated.

And a lot of times, also, people are reaching out outside of Amazon. They’re just going through the generic customer support email on the bottom of the instruction manuals and how to manuals. So they’re reaching out outside of Amazon. So, there’s no like you mentioned before, there’s no mention of reviews anywhere in any Amazon dialogue. And again, I mean, it’s just I’m not asking for a good or bad review. But chances are I’ve gone above and beyond, they’re going to be happy with the customer service, with the product, and they’re probably going to leave a positive product review.

So that’s my take on it. I guess technically it might be gray hat. Still I’m not quite sure. As far as I know, asking for a review is still within Amazon’s TOS. You can’t lead them into a five star review or a one star — you never lead them to a one star review.

Mike: Please leave me a one star review.

Dave: Yeah. But obviously, I mean, I’ve gone above and beyond and so they’re probably happy. So I’m not sure how that even to the strictest interpretation of Amazon’s TOS would be against it right now. Maybe that’s changing, but I think right now, it’s probably okay.

Mike: Okay. Yeah. All right so let’s move on to the next one here, which is definitely grey hat, no question about it. But I don’t know full disclosure; I’ve done this in the past. I mean, everyone kind of ends up doing this at some point I think in their Amazon journey, but it’s basically friends and family acquaintances reviews. So let’s talk about that a little bit. I mean, if you’re just getting started, I mean, for me at this point, we’re way beyond this. Like I can’t ask my friends every week to leave me a one or two reviews plus it leaves a bad footprint like really quickly.

You end up in a situation where the same person is disproportionately leaving reviews for your brands and your products and Amazon is like way smarter than to allow that. And in fact Amazon is blocking the availability for people to even leave reviews now on a big scale. There’s a lot of reports of this in the MDS forums. We don’t see this happen a lot because we aren’t getting incentivized reviews or doing a lot of the shady tactics a lot of sellers out there are doing. But people that use coupons a lot and people that buy from the same company over and over again are now just not being allowed to leave a review.

If you are a newer accounts and you haven’t made X number of purchases, you weren’t allowed to leave reviews. So there’s a lot of sidestep things. But I think it was about three years ago, I asked my cousin Jay to leave a review and it was like only the second or third time I had ever done this. And he wasn’t allowed to leave a review and I was just like, okay, obviously Amazon is like smarter than I thought that they were. I probably shouldn’t do this.

So for me, I think this is a bad idea. But we still want to talk about all the different options or things that are out there. And Dave has left me a review for a product that I sold a long time ago and before we knew each other all that well. So these are things that happen, but I think that this is at scale like useless.

Dave: To be fair, though we weren’t friends then. And I don’t think he gave me any money? What’s the definition of a friend?

Mike: Yes, it’s true. I think a friend is somebody that does something without getting paid.

Dave: Perhaps there we go. That was our leap into friendship.

Mike: There you go.

Dave: Yeah. So I mean calling a spade a spade, the truth of it is if your first launch on Amazon, first launching your very first product you’re probably having your mom or somebody else leave you a product review. Is that okay within Amazon’s TOS? Definitely not. The truth of it is I would venture to guess the vast majority of people when they’re first experimenting with Amazon are doing it. You can’t really do this on a systemic level. You can’t have your business model being your mom leaving your reviews. So the truth of it is, it only really works when you’re first launching a product.

I think Amazon personally probably turns a blind eye to it if you do it once or twice as a new seller, especially if there’s not a clear direct relationship with you and the reviewer. Ideally, it’s a friend of a friend opposed to your mum where you’ve probably shared an IP with at some point and you probably share last name with. So yeah I don’t think it’s something you want to build a business model around. Truth of it is though, if you’re first starting your Amazon business, I don’t know it’s the way that everyone probably gets started. You should avoid it if you can, but it is what it is.

Mike: Yeah. All right so let’s move on to the next one, a big one here which is product inserts. And this is definitely, this can be black hat or gray hat depending on how you word it, very quickly you can get yourself in trouble. But I think that product inserts are a very necessary and important opponent of Amazon in 2018 in ecosphere of what you’re doing here. The inserts should have things about the product and your company or whatever. But some part of it is leaving a review or getting honest feedback, sharing potentially photos of your product or whatever, however you want to go about doing it.

One of the things that we’re exploring because one of the things to come out of MDS is offering a free gift, like basically like not exchange for anything, just to get their email address, to get them in your database, which is definitely starting to push the boundary. So there’s a lot of things you can do with it. Your mileage might vary and again depending on your business. But I think that at a minimum, you should put the effort of having this in there. And we approach it differently for ColorIt versus Tactical and some other things that we’re doing, but insert is an incredibly valuable and important resource.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think also with review inserts, again, like Mike mentioned how you phrase it, you can either be fairly white hat or you can be extremely black hat. The truth of it is in terms of a risk perspective, I’ve never personally heard of anybody being suspended for an insert. Because, again, being an Amazon employee of three days, I kind of know their hierarchy is that for somebody to open a product package at an Amazon warehouse, find that insert and refer to somebody up or up that can actually make a suspension decision like that, that takes a lot of work and definitely goes against their normal routines.

So I don’t think it’s something they’re actively looking for. I don’t think they have the mechanisms right now to look for that. That may change as more people abuse this type of thing. But in terms of a risk perspective, right now, it’s probably fairly low.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I always say that there’s a zero percent chance of that happening. Where I see the concern is that competitors buy our products all the time, we know this. Some of them are blatant enough to like just do it under their real names and stuff because we will notice competitors crop up and go against like our IP or something like that, and then I’ll do a search for their name and they like lo and behold they bought our product like nine months beforehand and they’re copying and knocking it off. So they’re pretty brazen when it comes to this stuff.

So you get a competitor that does that, they take a picture, send it into Amazon. It seems to be a self policing world in a lot of ways. And that’s where I would worry about it and be thinking about it from that perspective.

Dave: Well, it’s kind of goes back to how even this happens right now. But last year this was a big thing where competitors after Amazon’s new review policy, competitors were buying the product and leaving a review and saying, hey, great product. By the way I left this review in return for a discount which isn’t true, they bought it at full price, but they’re trying to make Amazon think that you’re still using discounted products to get reviews. Amazon I don’t think, they didn’t seem to really crack down on that type of thing. I think they kind of realized the opportunities for abuse, especially from doing that. They were leaving reviews and saying that they got it in return for a discounted product when they never did.

Mike: So this is where Mike is going to make sure I don’t go down a rabbit hole because we could be here for two hours talking about all this shady crap that people do on Amazon these days. So I’m going to let that go and move on even though it is super frustrating. Just as a side note as a part of our Amazon launch course as a part of EcomCrew Premium, we do have templates for inserts as a part of the course. If you are already a course member, go over there under the resources tab and you can download some pre done inserts for you which will save you a bunch of time.

All right, so discounted products is the next one. This is something that we try to stay away from now. I don’t think that this is gray hat at all. But I do think that the more full price sales you can generate the better off you are. But discounted products a lot of times do lead to a higher review rate and there’s a lot of things we could talk about here real quick. Most the time that you’re offering discounted products, you’re probably doing that through some type of a service, whether it’s your own email list or Facebook ads or one of them like Jump Send, or one of these other things out there or something like Rebate Key, which we’ll talk about a little bit here.

But typically I do think that the review rate is higher in those circumstances because for the most part a lot of those people have been pre trained to the old way — people that have been around for a while taking advantage of discounts know that they’re kind of wink-wink supposed to leave a review even though there’s nothing being said about it anymore.

Dave: Yeah, yeah, and it’s funny, actually, from the time that I wrote this to now, my philosophy on this has changed a little bit. And actually it resulted from that mastermind we did in Hong Kong where one of the attendees there mentioned that we all think if we charge less money for a product, people are going to realize, okay, I’m paying less money for this product and I should be forgiving this some minor flaws with the product. But this attendee mentioned, he said, it’s actually the other way around.

If you charge a lot of money for a product, people want to kind of reassure themselves that they made the right decision, and they’re going to convince themselves that because they paid 25% more for this product, it actually is a really great product, and they’ll start to see things that aren’t really there. It’s a consumer psychology. So I’ve kind of experienced this now firsthand, just anecdotally that higher priced products which are slightly above the average now, it’s true, people do seem to leave higher reviews for them because they’re less critical of it. They don’t want to think that they paid a lot of money for a product they made the wrong buying decision.

Mike: Yeah, no, it’s definitely really, really interesting thought process. So yeah, so let’s talk about a couple of the other things that are out there. My friend Ian has put together this thing called Rebate Key. I’m still kind of trying to figure this whole thing out. I’d run a couple of offers on there just to test it out. But they offer a software that lets you do full priced offers. So people are going to Amazon, buying the thing for full price, and then you apply for the rebate through Rebate Key. It’s basically the concept of doing manufacturers rebates, which on the surface seems 100% white hat.

I still can’t put holes in the strategy. I’ve tried to because I’m scared to get down this rabbit hole, but definitely another way to potentially generate more reviews. You can’t communicate with the people and ask for a review through Rebate Key. There’s no automated sequence outside of what you’re doing on Amazon. But I think that again, just looking at it logically, most likely, it’s going to generate reviews at a higher rate. And at a minimum it does help with some sales velocity, which you can start to argue is manipulating rankings and stuff, but I mean at the same time you’re offering a manufacturer rebate, which is completely allowed in retail, and etc.

So I think that it’s one of those things as long as you don’t abuse it, you’re probably going to be fine. And you don’t do something silly like put up a super URL in there, which is clearly against Terms of Service; you’re probably going to be fine.

Dave: Yeah, I think it’s one of those things where yeah it’s probably okay right now; it’s probably going against the spirit of Amazon. So I suspect if this type of thing ever takes off, Amazon will start to crack down on it, but right now I think it’s fine.

Mike: Yeah. So, one of the things we also talked about is discounts are just – I kind of mentioned here is also launching to your own list. And this has been a way for us. We definitely get reviews at a much higher rate than the normal especially for something like ColorIt that’s a little bit more established. When you have fans that you you’re communicating with off Amazon through email and through Facebook fan pages and Facebook groups and messenger, and a whole bunch of other things and providing value to them over a long period of time and they just become fanatics of your products without having to even ask a lot of times — not a lot of times, definitely they’re going to leave reviews at a much higher rate.

So when we launched our last product for ColorIt, I mean in the first month we had 80 reviews on it like completely white hat. And so I think that those are other things, other strategies that you can be doing it. It’s a longer term game but the whole branding and high quality product also community etc off of Facebook and of course — off of Amazon, I’m sorry. And of course you do have an opportunity there to actually ask for a review because it’s outside Amazon’s platform.

So you could say something like, if you did purchase this product, we appreciate an honest review. On our last product launch when people were leaving comments on our Facebook posts that they got the product and they loved it, we just responded to each person individually, and asked them to please leave an honest review. It really helps us out we’re a small company and they did, and that’s completely white hat.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, especially if you have a fanatical fan base and they’re repeat buyers; well they’re probably predisposed to leaving great reviews because they love your products. So again, it’s just trying to increase your probability of getting reviews from people. And people who have purchased products before from you are likely happy with you or your company, your products and your service.

Mike: Yeah, and the way that I know that what we’re doing is white hat and we don’t have problems, I mean, the big thing right now if we were doing an Amazon — we just did an Amazon news podcast a couple of days ago. We didn’t mention this, but one of the big news things that’s coming out of Amazon right now for sellers is that Amazon has like removed like a massive amount of reviews. And we haven’t got caught up in this at all. I haven’t seen one listing that’s had a single review removed which again makes me happy and proud that we haven’t got caught up in a lot of this nonsense.

And it makes me feel like whatever crap that’s going to come down the pike potentially here, this fictitious stuff that might be coming. Who knows? Maybe it’s just folklore or whatever. But like, whatever might come, I feel like we’re going to be safe, because we’re not getting into this black hat and grey hat stuff. And I definitely encourage everyone that’s listening to try to do the same. Because it’s, it’s very easy — you hear a strategy that you know works. You’re struggling to get reviews, you’re frustrated, you’re struggling to rank maybe.

And it’s like taking drugs for the first time. It’s like I’m only going to do this once. But heroin addicts don’t typically just or people that do that don’t just take it once. I mean, that’s the problem. And you end up in this situation where it’s hard to stop. Maybe it’s not a great analogy, you’re laughing at me. I don’t know.

Dave: It’s just terrible that now we’re comparing heroin addictions to Amazon reviews.

Mike: Oh, I mean it’s…

Dave: You’re right. It’s a gateway. It’s a gateway drug going down these review clubs.

Mike: Yeah, and I mean, the last thing I’m going to end on here just real quick is that big data is a real thing. People don’t think about this, and I have a background in programming and IT and stuff and doing database queries and things of this nature. It’s very easy to like get outside the standard deviation from the norm of what should happen in real life. So I mean if you are getting a disproportionate number of reviews for your products, or you’re getting a disproportionate amount of reviews that happen at a discount, or people that are leaving lots of reviews because they’re like using services are very easy to identify, because the average person leaves XYZ percentage of reviews for their products, but you have this one person who leaves reviews every single time.

Like all this stuff is very easy to distinguish and find in a query, and you just don’t want to get wrapped up in that. You don’t want to be one of the people that was just tiptoeing over the line but you happened to be a statistical anomaly and you got caught up in, I’m going to just — we’re going to blanket starts shutting down accounts. Even if you might get your account reopened, the halo effect of being suspended is really negative. We’ve seen some statistics from people who have been banned, and reopened their account three weeks later, you lose all that momentum besides the fact your cash flow gets shot and everything else. You just want to put yourself in a position where you don’t end up there.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. I mean and you may be starting your Amazon business just doing it on the side but eventually it’s going to turn into a full time gig for you. And yeah, you don’t want to when you’re relying on that for full time income, you don’t want Amazon to all of a sudden shut off the taps for you and yeah, cut your account off. And reviews are definitely one of the things that they’re going after for abuse and manipulation.

Mike: Yeah, no doubt about it. All right, so I scrolled down to the end of this article. Did you have any other thoughts or comments before we sign off for this episode?

Dave: No, I think the only thing is that I think overall, just being fanatical about reviews, whether it’s having five star products or just really going above and beyond customer service is really how small sellers are really dominating in retail right now, because the big brands aren’t monitoring their reviews on Amazon. They’re not — when they see a one star review, they’re not reaching out to the customer and helping to provide them better service. They’re just forgetting about Amazon as a platform as a whole.

And this is how small retailers are really dominating because Amazon is so powerful now. And if you want to be successful on Amazon, you have to pay attention to your reviews. So I think this is just kind of the macro trend of why small businesses like ours are succeeding.

Mike: Mm-hmm. Yeah. You actually mentioned – we’re running really late and I didn’t want to say anything else. But you mentioned one thing there that I do think is valuable and important. If someone does leave a negative review on your product, reach out to them. That’s one thing we did not talk about. It is not against Terms of Service to reach out to somebody who left a one star review. It’s hard to find out who they are these days. If they’re labeled Amazon customer there’s no way to go and find them anymore, they used to be. But a lot of people use their name.

So we just search their name through our order database and reach out to them and say, look, we noticed the comment on our — I’m really sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. We’d like to send you another one or give you a refund or whatever it is that the best resolution is, everyone’s a little bit different. And we never even ask them to update the review because I think that’s actually a scary spot to be in. I don’t want to ever say that, but I would say at least 25% or a third of people just naturally do that, because they realize that you help them out.

And a lot of these reviews are — like I was just looking at today, we had six one star reviews left. It was like I don’t know what the hell happened, was that a full moon? Half of them were things that were Amazon’s fault, the package arrived damaged, I ordered a five pack, and I got a three pack. This is ridiculous, which basically is someone bought the five pack, took two out, kept them and returned them and Amazon accepted the return and then resold the item.

Things like this happen all the time. It’s not our fault, and of course we genuinely not only do I not want the one star review but I want to help the customer be happy because that’s our goal to begin with. And so, if you — this is something you should definitely be doing within your business, and I’ll end with that.

Dave: Yeah, I think it’s absolutely dead on. Just be proactive about it, and if you forget about it, that’s definitely a key to failure. So just be proactive about your reviews and good things will happen.

Mike: Yeah I agree. Cool. So that is the end of this episode. Episode number 153 is in the books Dave. It’s good to have you again on here. I think this was an interesting conversation. And as always if you guys have any questions or want to leave a comment on this particular episode, go to the show notes EcomCrew.com/153.

We’ll have a link to the article that we were talking about here. Basically, 90% what we talked about on this podcast today was from an article that Dave wrote a few months ago. And a picture is worth 1,000 words, there is a ton of stuff in the blog post that we can’t talk about on the podcast. So please go over to EcomCrew.com/153. And until the next episode everyone, happy selling, and we’ll talk to you then.