Thursday, December 8, 2016

Amazon Review Policy and the Future of Incentivized Online Reviews

By alisdair (Delivery  Uploaded by MaybeMaybeMaybe)
 [CC BY 2.0
 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons
In mid October of this year, Amazon decided to make a few much needed changes to their review policy.  The future of these sites, in my opinion, seems to be a bit bleak at the moment.  I am still receiving product from the sites that I use but I'm not doing reviews on Amazon's site for any of it because it is now against the rules.  It doesn't matter how anyone twists the verbiage in Amazon's policy, it IS against their rules.

It's no secret that I buy a LOT of stuff on Amazon.  Everything from dog food to kitchen gadgets to gardening supplies to groceries.  In the past 6 months, I've purchased 371 items from the site.  I would estimate that 1/2 of that is made up of free/discounted items that I've grabbed from the review sites and the other 1/2 would be items that I've paid full price for.  Amazon has excellent deals if you know how to shop the site and combine it with the rebate add on Honey.  (Ebates does NOT work with Amazon.)

Why did Amazon make the changes?  Some of this is my own speculation but some of it I'm sure is 100% correct.

Ranking Manipulation

When a product sells well and receives excellent reviews, Amazon wants you to see that product when you are searching for it online because common sense says that you want the best blue widget that they have to offer.  Sellers have been able to manipulate the algorithm by sending out hundreds of coupon codes for a product that require a review be written in exchange for that coupon.

People "purchase" the product and leave a good review for it.

The result has been inferior products taking the top spots and better products have fallen deeper into the search.

Customer Complaints

Let's say you need a blue widget.  You go to Amazon and search for the blue widget.  10 pages of blue widgets appear on your screen.  The top seller has hundreds of 4 and 5 star reviews.  You purchase the item.  It arrives and when you go to use your blue widget, you discover that this particular one is JUNK.  It doesn't work like it is supposed to and you discover you were ripped off.  What do you do?  Of course you immediately complain to Amazon.

This has happened quite a bit on the site.  Products in exchange for a review will usually mean that the review will be positive simply so the reviewer can receive more products down the road.  This can be disastrous for Amazon and the customer that actually pays for the blue widget.

Fake Reviews

The pressure to write false positive reviews for less than stellar products was definitely there whether it was intentional or not.  The seller's ultimate goal is to get their products into the top spot and sell as much as possible while at the same time, receiving positive reviews.  Many reviewers were actually only interested in acquiring as much free and discounted product as they could.

When you signed up for a review site, you were usually required to give them the link to your Amazon profile because your reviews can be seen on that profile.  For example, my Amazon profile link is located here.

Whenever you requested a product, the seller would look at your profile and your most recent reviews to see if they wanted to send you their product for you to write a review for them.  Of course if you are writing reviews that painted a product in a bad light, it is possible that you would do the same to them.  Hence the false reviews.  Reviewers were posting false positive reviews because they were under the impression that if they wrote anything negative, sellers would not send them more stuff.  As a result, Amazon is riddled with fake reviews.

By Álvaro Ibáñez from Madrid, Spain (Amazon España por
dentro) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Junk and Dangerous Products

A lot of the stuff that I got was wanky junk in one way or another.

I was able to get a few different items for Spudward that were ultimately trashed or given away.  I have his measurements and always order off of the seller provided size chart for him.  He does have a nice selection of clothes for winter because he gets cold easily.  I ruined a perfectly good hunting dog.

A really cute LED pumpkin sweatshirt was WAY too small for him.  A winter coat was again, way too small.  A bow tie I got for him might be big enough for the cat to wear.  There was also a t-shirt that is literally large enough that I tried it on as a joke and it fits me.  I ordered off of the size charts that the seller provided.

I wanted to try one of those spiral vegetable slicer things and was glad when I was approved for one for free until the first time I used it.  I'm lucky I didn't cut my finger off and I did cut myself pretty good, twice, the first and only time I used it.  The blades were exposed and someone will eventually get hurt on that thing,  Sad thing is that the product has a ton of 5 star reviews.  That's dangerous.

I also received a few products that just weren't up to par at all.  Crappy construction or materials or it simply doesn't work as advertised.

So... What Are the Rules Now?

I am still able to get items for free or for a discount but I DO NOT post a review on Amazon for any of those products because it is against Amazon's rules.  Some reviewers are saying that if you leave the disclosure out of the review that you can still leave a review.

WRONG!

The "I received this item at a discount" blurb that people were using because they were told to is STILL a requirement by the FTC if you received the item at a discount or free and are doing a review on that product.  That goes for ALL items that you do a review on whether it is purchased through Amazon or not.  The FTC disclosure requirement is VERY clear and you can read it for yourself on their website.

The FTC does have the authority to fine people/bloggers/whatever if the disclosure is left out and there are NO excuses for leaving it out.

Amazon does not want reviews for anything purchased at a discount when that discount is not available to the general public.  Don't do it.  You will eventually have your review privileges yanked.  You can, however, write reviews elsewhere online at places like your own website or blog, on social media and through YouTube videos.

In conclusion, the opportunities aren't dead, they have just changed.  I no longer review products on Amazon but if I find a product that I absolutely love or that I absolutely hate, I'll do a write up on it.  That write up, will of course, include the FTC required disclosures for reviewing the product AND for having an Amazon affiliate link included if the person decides to buy it.

While I don't believe that incentive reviews will end, I do believe that a large number of the reviewers will be self-culled from the herd out of frustration.  That's what happens when something evolves and this situation is a good example of the evolution of online reviews.

I for one am happy that Amazon is cleaning it up because there were definitely problems that needed to be addressed with the reviews on the site.  If a seller sells a good product at a good price they, and their potential customers, deserve to have their product rank higher and keep the customer happy because they have purchased exactly what they want from a seller that isn't ultimately trying to manipulate the system.