Updated January 2020 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. For many, this has made getting those first reviews on newly launched products more difficult.
In this post, we’ll discuss the current state of affairs for Amazon reviews and how to get those critical first reviews. I’ll also discuss some of the black hat ways other sellers are using to get reviews.
- White Hat Tactic #1: Early Reviewer Program
- White Hat Tactic #2. Turn Seller Feedback into Product Reviews
- White Hat Tactic #3. Request Reviews from Previous Customers
- White Hat Tactic #4: Use Product Inserts
- White Hat Tactic #5: Use ManyChat
- White Hat Tactic #6: Product Giveaways & Discounts
- White Hat Tactic #7: Launch to an Email List
- White Hat Tactic #8: Amazon Vine
- Black Hat Tactic #1: Friends & Acquaintances
- Black Hat Tactic #2: Facebook Review Groups
- Black Hat Tactic #3: Use an Email Append Service
- Black Hat Tactic #4: Buy Fake Reviews
- Black Hat Tactic #5: Pay for Review Deletion
- Maintenance: Review Upvoting, Removal, etc.
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.
Let’s rephrase this 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
What Amazon is really trying to eliminate is the blatant and systematic abuse of the review system which happens frequently, especially for high demand items. 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).
Amazon’s Updated Messaging Policy- Limited Automated Emails & the “Request Review” Button
Amazon made it even harder to get reviews in March 2017 when they allowed customers to opt out of unsolicited emails.
If you send review requests through an email automation service like Feedback Genius you will increasingly receive an undeliverable message like below:
Most customers were tuning out these messages anyways but this was one more blow to automating reviews.
Amazon then made it even harder to solicit reviews by only allowing you to ask for a review one time. As per Amazon’s policy:
“After an order is completed, Amazon automatically sends an email to buyers asking them to leave a review and provide feedback. Additionally, you are allowed to send one email per order to request a Customer Review.”
Also, Amazon does not want you to word your emails in such a way as to only solicit positive reviews. For example, “If you love our product, then leave a review”. Amazon does not want if/then statements in your email autoresponder series.
Again, as per Amazon’s policy:
“If you decide to ask a buyer to provide a Customer Review, you cannot ask only for a positive review, nor can you request reviews solely from buyers who have had a positive experience.”
In 2019, Amazon aggressively suspended sellers’ messaging ability for those identified as using if/then statements.
Finally, in late 2019, Amazon rolled out the Request Review button within your orders’ page.
This mysterious button sends a review request to customers from Amazon asking for a review. Some other details about this button:
- Must be sent within 4-30 days of an order being delivered
- Product ratings request and seller feedback request will be sent in the same email
- Message cannot be customized
- Using it does not disallow you from requesting a review separately
Related Listening: Episode 153: How to Get Amazon Reviews in 2018
How Does Amazon Calculate Product Ratings?
You may have noticed that Amazon uses a complex weight-average algorithm when calculating the average rating of a product. A product with just one five star review could potentially have a rating of anywhere from 0-5 stars.
Amazon does not reveal the factors considered in this algorithm but it’s commonly accepted the following variables are important:
- Review age
- Reviewer profile (number of reviews, average rating of reviews left, etc.)
- Verified or non-verified
White Hat Review Strategy
Here’s a solid white hat review strategy for getting your first product reviews:
White Hat Tactic #1: Amazon Early Reviewer Program
When Amazon removed incentivized reviews they also nearly concurrently released their Early Reviewer Program. This program allows a select number of customers to write reviews for products enrolled in it. In return, the reviewers receive small credits of $1-3 from Amazon. The Early Reviewer Program costs $60 and the product must have less than five reviews and you must be brand registered.
Early Review Key Points/Requirements
- 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
- Selling price must be over $15
Overall, the Amazon Early Reviewer Program is extremely good value and everyone should immediately enroll their new products. The program is actually cheaper than using ‘review clubs’ but the downside is that the results can sometimes take weeks or months to take effect.
White Hat Tactic #2: Request Reviews from Customers Who Have Left Positive Seller Feedback
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.
White Hat Tactic #3: Request Reviews from Customers You’ve Provided Customer Service To
If you engage in a conversation with people and provide great customer service, most 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 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.
White Hat Tactic #4: Use Product Inserts
Product inserts can be useful when reminding customers to leave a review although you must be careful not to provide any if/then statements in the insert verbiage, for example, “If you leave us a review then we’ll give you a lifetime extended warranty”.
One effective and relatively risk-free way to use inserts is to ask customers to register their product for an extended warranty (or something similar) to get their email. Afterwards, you can enter them in an email auto-responder series to remind them to leave a review.
Amazon send an ominous email to sellers reminding them not to use inserts to ask for positive reviews. Reminding the customer to leave a review is still OK, you just can’t ask them to leave a positive review.
White Hat Tactic #5: Use ManyChat to Engage With Previous Customers
If you’re not using ManyChat to help increase your Amazon sales you should be now. The full details of how to setup your ManyChat bot are beyond the scope of this article but you can do it within a few minutes. A sample flow would like the following:
You can use an append service to target previous customers or use an existing audience you have set up (if you don’t use either of these two things you’ll basically be employing a spray and pray approach).
White Hat Tactic #6: Product Giveaways and Discounted Products
By using steep discounts, you can get more sales for your products and increase the likelihood of more reviews. I price all of our prices with a 25% discount when launching them to get stronger immediate sales.
There are also discount and rebate clubs which push the boundaries of white hat tactics but are still technically TOS compliant as of this writing. RebateKey is one of the most popular of these services. These services often are more aimed at getting sellers full price credit for sales than reviews per se but a high percentage of purchasers do in fact leave reviews.
Amazon Ratings vs Reviews
Amazon in 2019 began testing a new ratings system that allows customers to leave ratings for products without actually leaving a written review. The goal according to Amazon is to allow customers to leave authentic reviews more easily.
Only verified purchasers can leave reviews.
They also began allowing customers to rate individual features of product such as durability,ease of assembly, etc.
How these individual ratings affect a product’s overall review rating is still to be determined.
White Hat Tactic #7: Launch New Products to an Email List
Hopefully, you’ve been building your off-Amazon email list. If you have an email list, then when you launch new products do not send them links to your website to purchase, instead send them directly to your Amazon product detail page on Amazon. This accomplishes two 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.
White Hat Tactic #8: Amazon Vine
In December 2019, Amazon rolled out the Vine program to all sellers.
To use Vine you enroll your product via the Advertising menu within Seller Central. You then give your product away to Vine Voices members (people with a history of providing insightful reviews). Currently there’s no fee to enroll (whereas previously it could cost up to $2500 within Vendor Central). You can only enroll products with less than 30 reviews.
Vine is a great way to get some early reviews with one caveat: Vine reviews have been known to be more critical than average. 1-3 star reviews are not uncommon. Contrast this with the Early Reviewer program where most reviews typically are 4 or 5 stars.
How to Find Who Left a Review?
At this point, you may be wondering if there’s a way to figure out who left you a review for a particular product. Amazon certainly does not make it easy to figure out who left a review. Clever services (often Chrome Extensions) for many years have used advanced techniques (specifically something called a profile ID) to help sellers determine the Order ID of who left a review. Amazon has closed these loopholes. As of now the only way to figure out who left a review is if the customer uses the same name on their product review as they use in their shipping address.
Grey & Black Hat Amazon Product Review Techniques
No article on getting Amazon reviews would be complete without speaking about grey and black hat review techniques. I do not endorse these techniques at all (in fact, I would strongly suggest you avoid them altogether) but it’s valuable to know what techniques sellers are using to get reviews in today’s Amazon world.
Black Hat Tactic #1: Friend and Acquaintance Reviews
I suspect most sellers have been guilty of soliciting a review or two from a family member or friend. This is strictly against Amazon’s TOS. Amazon is very good at detecting connections between reviewers and sellers (via shared shipping addresses, IP addresses, etc.) so sellers must be careful to avoid having these connections detected by Amazon if using these strategies. If used sparingly, the detection levels from Amazon are low and generally, if Amazon is suspicious of a small number of reviews, they will simply prevent them from being published.
Account Suspension Risk level: Low
Black Hat Tactic #2: Facebook Review Groups
On Facebook there exist A LOT of Review Groups where you give away your product to group members and refund them after they’ve posted a review. Here’s an example of one Facebook review group. Search for “review group” on Facebook and you’ll see tons more.
This is explicit exchange of a refund for a review is one of Amazon’s most suspendable offense. Given that the entire exchange takes place off of Amazon it is difficult to track, however, all it takes is one customer messaging you through Amazon asking for their refund to immediately arouse significant suspicion from Amazon.
Account Suspension Risk Level: Medium
Black Hat Tactic #3: Using Email Append Services to Target/Contact Customers
Amazon famously does everything possible to keep sellers from accessing customer information. They hide email addresses and phone numbers. Email appending services take Amazon shipping information and match it against Big Data databases to obtain a customer’s email address and/or phone number. Some services claim a 40% success rate but most are well below this.
It’s a bad idea to contact these customers directly once you get their email but these services can be used effectively to remarket to customers on Facebook/Google/etc. with minimal chances of being caught from Amazon.
Account Suspension Risk Level: Medium
Black Hat Tactic #4: Using Zombie Accounts to Get Fake Reviews (Brushing)
Amazon has a serious issue, especially amongst Chinese sellers, with fake reviews. This is done on a LARGE scale to accumulate dozens or hundreds of fake reviews. Essentially these services use fake Amazon accounts to purchase a seller’s products and then leave fake reviews. This sophistication of these services is mind blowing. Prices range from $1-3 per review depending on the likelihood of these reviews to be detected by Amazon.
Amazon is playing a constant game of whack-a-mole to fight against these fake reviews and they are becoming increasingly better at detecting these fake reviews and suspending sellers permanently who use them. However, you don’t need to dig to find a lot of sellers still using fake reviews with impunity.
Account Suspension Risk Level: Very High
Black Hat Tactic #5: Bribing Amazon China Employees to Delete Negative Reviews
Amazon also has a serious problem right now with employees accepting bribes from sellers to perform a number of nefarious tasks including deleting negative reviews. I am serious – this happens on a relatively large scale, especially amongst Chinese sellers. According to price sheets I have viewed from Chinese vendors, Amazon review deletion services charge around $300 per review deletion so it is not cheap.
Account Suspension Risk Level: Extremely High
Review Maintenance: Review Upvoting, Review Removal, etc.
There are a few other things you can do to improve your review profile, some white hat and some black hat.
Do you have a terrible 1-star review that is the first review being displayed? While you may not be able to remove it, you can upvote your top reviews to increase their visibility and decrease the visibility of the negative reviews.
Amazon normally displays the most helpful reviews at the top.
You can ask friends and family to upvote (re: mark as Helpful) a top review. There are also services that will upvote reviews for around $0.50-$1.00 per upvote. This is not TOS-compliant but also something Amazon does not appear to be monitoring vigilantly.
Even more black hat, in 2019 there are reports that a large number of Abuse reports for a particular review will automatically trigger that review being removed.
Believe it or not, Amazon will actually remove negative reviews in certain circumstances.
The easiest reviews to get removed are ones that contain offensive language (swearing, racist terms, etc) or URLs.
However, recently, Amazon is also willing to remove reviews that are entirely fulfillment based for products fulfilled by Amazon. If requesting this type of removal simply open a case within Seller Central, give a link to the review and clearly state the reason that you are requesting removal. Amazon loathes to remove reviews but it’s worth trying, even with a low success rate.
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 the 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 product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He’s also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.