So you've got a beautifully designed and well-optimized Amazon listing - congrats! Now, you need people to get people to find it. Is your pay-per-click running? Check! Marketing plan activated? Check! Lots of reviews on your product page? Well, ....
Accumulating reviews can be the most challenging part of winning on Amazon. Among other factors, though, reviews are a key driver to your achieving page 1 rankings - and page 1 is where over 80% of all purchases are made. ECommerce experts acknowledge how hard it is to get ahead in reviews while playing by the rules. Amazon's policies on review generation are clear, though: you can't ask for positive reviews nor can you offer any incentive to a customer for leaving a review.
Where does this leave Amazon sellers? Here's some perspective on the ways that brands and sellers are generating reviews today - the good, the bad and the don't even think about it.
We'll start with "white hat" tactics. These are approaches that are consistent with policy and generally considered safe and effective.
Selling more stuff
You won't get reviews without buyers so a great way to jumpstart your review accumulation is to drive sales. Coupons, promotions, pay-per-click (PPC), and other media will all help. Great item content is critical.
Great customer service
It's inevitable that problems will come up. Something will break while being shipped or the customer just won't like it for a reason of their own. Every problem is an opportunity as they say and how you deal with these situations is the #1 way that you can drive positive and even rave reviews. Always be prompt with your service and do your best to ensure the customer leaves happy. Respond to reviews, especially the negative ones. Show that you're accessible and available and never try to explain away a problem.
"Surprise and Delight" features
There's nothing wrong with giving the shopper a little extra. If you surprise them with something they didn't expect (a valuable eBook for example or a brilliantly written manual), they'll appreciate it and it's quite possible that they will be even more inclined to share their story with others.
Making customer service easy and transparent
A frequent cause of negative reviews is that the buyer couldn't get a response from the seller or brand. Having a 1-800 number and email address clearly shown on your package (or product insert) can eliminate a lot of negative reviews and also generate positive sentiment. This is especially true of complex products where a little extra help may be needed.
Email followups through Amazon's messaging system
Amazon.com allows 3rd party sellers to communicate directly with their buyers using a tool called the "Buyer-Seller Messaging Service." It is generally considered OK to suggest that a shopper leave a review as part of your automated transactional email communication but the review request itself should not be the sole focus of your message. Any message you send through this service should be adding value to the shopper or solving a problem.
These can be a good value for money at the beginning of an item's life. While they won't necessarily generate a high volume of reviews, establishing those first few reviews can make a huge difference in your momentum.
These "bargain sites" are an often-used part of the launch process - sellers will offer deep discounts on these sites to drive initial sales velocity and reviews. These do not, in and of themselves, violate policy but Amazon cautions against "excessive" giveaways as manipulative. No one really knows where the "excessive" line is however. Be aware of two other pitfalls here. Amazon has flagged some deal club members due to excessive or poor quality reviews, meaning reviews by these users won't stick. There's also an occurrence of third-party resellers trolling these deal sites, buying up your discounted inventory and reselling the inventory on Amazon - usually, this means you'll be fighting the reseller for the buy box on your own listing. It's for this reason that Bold Retail has launched our own "private" site, Bold.Bargains.
Now let's move on to "gray" and "black hat" tactics which, just like it sounds, are either borderline or flat out violations of policy.
DISCLAIMER: We do not recommend you use any of the tactics below. Utilizing these practices could get your listing suspended or, worse, get your selling account shut down (maybe forever). The following information is provided for information only so you can understand practices that may be in use by other sellers.
GRAY HAT OR BLACK HAT
These are a relatively new offering. They are like deal clubs but the buyer makes FULL PRICE purchases and then gets a rebate once their order has been confirmed by the club. This seems innocent and like just a different spin on deal clubs but in effect misleads Amazon by presenting seemingly "verified" purchases and reviews (Amazon doesn't "see" the rebate so interprets the transaction as a full-price sale). This is explicitly prohibited.
These are underground clubs whose members agree to leave reviews for each other in a kind of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" arrangement. In many cases, the seller will also compensate the buyer for purchase price. These are also prohibited which is why they operate underground in the dark corners of social media.
These are like review groups except that the reviewer is getting paid for their activity which is a "business" for them. There's no gray area here - these are 100% black hat.
Encouraging friendly buyers (family, friends, employees) to leave reviews
This is also against the rules because expectation is that the people you choose to ask will be predisposed to help you. Also, if a relationship is detected by Amazon, these reviews likely won't stick anyway. Amazon cites this example overtly as a no-no. There is a fine line, however, since social media and email promotion of your new launch (which is fine) will almost certainly hit your friends, family, and employees disproportionately.
Begging for reviews in email followups
While not specifically addressed in the rules, overly whiny review or aggressive requests will likely lead to a negative response by buyers which could cause other consequences.
Postcards / followup notes sent using the shopper's shipping address
Some sellers will use delivery address data to send notes via snail mail to buyers asking for reviews. This is unauthorized use of Amazon data and a clear violation of terms of service.
Requests for a specific type of feedback
Saying something like "If you liked the product, please leave a review - if you didn't call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX" is considered manipulative because you are suggesting that reviews only be left by happy customers.
Rather than boost their own reviews, some sellers have decided it's easier to leave negative reviews on competitors' items. This can kill a brand when they are just starting out. A terrible practice but one to be aware of because it could happen to you on your product. There are ways, in certain cases, to get these fake negative reviews removed.
As a last thought, it's worth mentioning that Amazon's methods for detecting sellers "gaming" review generation changes and improves constantly. So what people are getting away with today could get them in deep trouble tomorrow.
Your best bet is to sell a great product, deliver incredible service, know your (non-policy violating) options, create magnificent content, and market your products effectively. Common sense, right? Good business usually is...
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