How to Legally Get Reviews on Amazon without Incentives
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get new customers and grow your business.
We’ve all told friends about this great new book we read or an amazing kitchen gadget we just bought. That kind of endorsement from a trusted source is what sells people on buying a product themselves.
If you run a Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) online store, your customers can leave reviews providing valuable feedback on your products and business. That’s helpful to you, because it gets more customers buying your products.
But in 2016, Amazon changed one key bit of their review policy: you can’t incentivize reviews, meaning you can’t pay for them by providing free or discounted products specifically in return for reviews.
So, short of crossing your fingers and hoping that your customers leave feedback, how do you get reviews on Amazon? Let’s break down this change and look at the right way to get people to leave reviews for your products and boost your business.
Reviews Matter More than You’d Think
Customers read — and more importantly, make decisions based on — reviews.
BrightLocal, a search marketing company, does an annual consumer review survey about how consumers read and use online reviews. According to their findings, 84 percent of consumers trust an online review as much as a recommendation from a person they know, 90 percent of consumers read fewer than 10 reviews before making up their mind, and 73 percent of consumers think reviews older than three months are out of date.
These numbers show us that people rely on these types of reviews to make decisions, and that the first reviews they see matter most.
Timely, real reviews are valuable to online shoppers. But customers are savvy; they don’t trust reviews that seem fake or are overly enthusiastic (because they’re probably made up).
Positive reviews benefit you because they help raise your search rankings in Amazon’s search engines, which means your product has a better chance of being seen by potential customers.
Bad reviews can be a problem, of course. But they’re also an opportunity to discover problems with your product or store, and fix them. Responding to negative reviews can be a chance for you to provide good customer service. And if you need to remove negative reviews, there is a way to do that.
Recognizing that reviews are important, how does a FBA business owner get those good reviews for their brand new product?
No More Incentives for Reviews
A time-honored tradition for new products has been to get people to endorse them after providing some kind of free sample or access. These incentives are essentially paid reviews, by offering a free or discounted product in return for those reviews.
Up until October 2016, you could offer incentives to your FBA customers in exchange for leaving a review. It was a simple way for a FBA store to move up in the rankings, which made it easier for customers to find them, thus growing their business.
But people raised the question, “How can you judge if a reviewer is being fair if they got paid to give the review?” Even with full disclosure of payment, many customers don’t trust paid reviewers.
And Amazon did a study that found one result of incentivized reviews was that people left more stars for products they received in exchange for offering reviews. Amazon decided that wasn’t fair to store owners who did not or weren’t able to offer incentives, so they changed the policy, making incentivized reviews against the terms of service.
What Amazon wants are organic, genuine notes from customers who really liked or really hated a product.
But these real reviews aren’t just helpful for new customers looking to buy; they’re useful for business owners who need to better understand their product and customer base. Genuine reviews let you engage with your audience and learn what they want, what their pain points are, and what makes them happy.
Know those things, and you can shape your business and the products you offer to reflect that, which will help you grow your business faster and more solidly than if you tried to game the system.
How to Get Organic Amazon Reviews
If you want to get reviews on Amazon, there are four things you can do. Two of them involve following up with your customer and two cover the way you can use promotional content without breaking the rules.
The first, and really most important, thing you should be doing is communicating with your customer to build a relationship. Engaging with your customer creates a sense of trust, which means they may become a return customer, and return customers are more likely to leave good feedback for you, especially if you ask them.
Even if you choose to offer promotional content to your customers, building solid lines of communication with them helps your business overall.
1. Follow Up with Customers
A good way to specifically ask for feedback is through a follow-up email requesting a review.
Amazon already generates an email that asks customers to review their purchases. Here’s an example using a recent book purchase of mine (and, for the record, a great book). Amazon sent me this email:
When I choose how many stars I want to give the purchase, I’m taken to this site where I can leave a written review to go with the number of stars:
Amazon can be a bit pushy about it (new emails include reminders to review past purchases as well), but that’s good because you want Amazon to remind your customers to provide a review.
You might decide to also generate your own email to customers, though keep in mind, it’s probably best not to overwhelm them with emails.
If you choose to send your own email to your customers, there are two ways to frame this follow-up: offer added value, or keep it to a simple request.
To offer added value, you can provide additional information about the product or suggestions on how to use it. For example, if the product is a kitchen gadget like a cheese grater, you might send them two recipes that feature grated cheese as an ingredient.
Or you might offer a link to your blog where there’s a community that talks about other uses for your product (“Hey, did you know you could use a cheese grater to make your own laundry detergent?”).
Offering them added value increases their goodwill toward you and your store, and now when you close the email by asking them to leave a review, they’re more likely to do so because they feel you’ve helped them get more value out of that purchase.
A corollary to follow-up emails is being responsive to your customers’ questions, whether they come on your FBA page or by direct email. Customers who trust you because you are responsive and engaging are more likely to want to help you by sending feedback.
Another way to frame a follow-up email is to keep it simple and straightforward. You can send a short note that clearly asks for a review and provides a link where they can leave feedback. Remember, this is already something that Amazon does, so you may not want to duplicate that effort.
This direct approach has the benefit of not taking up a lot of the customer’s time — they can read and respond in less than a minute. Generally speaking, not wasting their time means a customer is more likely to take a second and leave you a review.
A note on crafting the right language for your follow-up communication: Be thoughtful so it doesn’t appear that you are pressuring your customer or in any way manipulating the process. A request is okay, but don’t push the boundaries.
2. Place Inserts in Packaging
Another way to communicate with your customer is to include an insert in the packaging of the product they purchase. You’re sending the same message, but with a tangible card they get when opening the product instead of an email.
One example of an insert is the sticker Apple puts in every box. You get a cute sticker, they get low-cost visibility for their logo.
You might also make it personal — a signed note of thanks for buying your product and a P.S. with a request for feedback.
It’s important to follow the terms of service. You cannot offer a discount or other compensation, or pressure the buyer for a review.
But as with your email, you can ask if they are satisfied with the product. You can offer value-added knowledge, or a reminder of why this product is the best thing out there.
Like a follow-up email, an insert gives you a chance to communicate with your customer and build that relationship of trust.
3. Go Through Amazon
Amazon has an internal program called Amazon Vine that provides products for free to trusted Amazon customers in return for feedback.
Basically, Amazon is running their own promotional content program, taking certain sellers and certain customers and offering an opportunity for organic reviews to grow out of promotional content.
The customers are called Amazon Vine Voices, and they are given free new and pre-release products provided by Amazon sellers. Customers are invited to become Voices based on their community reputation as someone who writes good, accurate reviews.
Sellers don’t have any contact with Voices — the whole exchange goes through Amazon. And Amazon does not influence or edit the reviews themselves; the idea is that Amazon makes it possible for their customers to get unbiased feedback on new products from people Amazon trusts.
The catch is that Vine is open only to Amazon vendors. If you’re running a FBA, you also need to apply to be an Amazon vendor (or accept Amazon’s invitation) to participate in Vine. Once you’re a vendor, you’ll need to pay a fee to Amazon to participate in the Vine program.
Amazon also has a program called the Early Reviewer Program that allows any customer who has purchased certain products to receive a small “reward” (such as a $1-$3 gift card) for helping other Amazon shoppers by providing their feedback.
Sellers can select products to be featured as part of the program, and when a customer purchases one of those products, Amazon will issue an invitation to the customer for feedback on their purchase. If the customer chooses to leave a review, they receive the reward.
Reviews for these products are marked with an orange badge. There is no contact between the vendor and the customer, and Amazon does not edit or otherwise influence the content of the review.
4. Use Direct Promotional Content the Right Way
Amazon is crystal clear about what you can and can’t do by way of promotional content.
I know, I know. Earlier we talked about how Amazon changed their policy and now you can’t give away products or discount them in return for reviews. That’s absolutely true. Don’t do that.
However, you can give away products or discount them. Full stop.
Here’s the language Amazon uses:
If you give away or discount a product, it has to be entirely up to the purchaser to decide if they will leave a review. You cannot coerce, manipulate, or require a review in return for the product.
You might look through a list of past customers; better yet, past customers who have provided feedback on your other products. You might send a sample product to a blogger or social media influencer.
It’s up to you if it’s worth it to your business to give away a product in the hopes of getting reviews, but if you even hint at a quid pro quo, you will face some serious repercussions from Amazon.
One more time on how seriously Amazon takes the manipulation of reviews (letting those words speak for themselves): “If we determine that you have attempted to manipulate reviews or violated our guidelines in any other manner, we may immediately suspend or terminate your Amazon privileges, remove reviews, and delist related products. In addition, if we determine that an Amazon account has been used to engage in review manipulation, remittances and payments may be withheld or forfeited.”
And, as another reminder, don’t review your own product. It’s not cool and it’s also against Amazon’s rules.
If you’re getting ready to start a FBA business, or are looking for ways to adjust to non-incentivized reviews, start with good business fundamentals. Use follow-up emails and packaging inserts to ask for or remind your customers about leaving reviews.
If you want to offer discounts or free products, remember that you can’t do it in return for reviews. And if you’re interested in using resources provided by Amazon, consider the requirements you’ll need to meet first.
Getting your customers to offer genuine, organic reviews can help grow your business and make it better; just be sure to do it the right way.
Photo credit: zestmarina