Amazon Bans Giving Away Free Products In Exchange For ReviewsRecently, Amazon announced that it was updating its policies to prohibit third-party incentivized reviews.

In other words, Amazon sellers can no longer offer free or discounted products in exchange for reviews - unless it’s done through Amazon’s own Vine program (which we’ll talk about later). The change is effective immediately, which has some sellers scrambling!

The one exception to this is for books. Amazon said it will continue to allow advance review copies of books.

Amazon has always prohibited sellers from paying for reviews. But they had allowed sellers to provide free or discounted product in exchange for reviews, as long as that information was disclosed in the review.  That's why we were seeing so many reviews that said “I received this product for free or at a discount, but the thoughts and opinions are all mine” or something to that effect.

Although the announcement said that incentivized reviews only made up a fraction of the tens of millions of reviews on Amazon, it’s obviously been enough of a problem for Amazon to finally act on it.

Amazon’s policy update, under prohibited seller activities and actions, now says, in part: “…you may not provide compensation (including free or discounted products) for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to modify or remove reviews.”

Here’s our opinion:

It’s about time!

As a buyer, it’s been hard to trust any product and whenever I’ve seen a disclaimer on more than the first two reviews, I move on to the next one.  I want to know that the product is genuinely good, not just a reviewer trying to get free products and a seller willing to give away hundreds of units of the products.

The disclaimers indicated to me that a seller was probably trying to buy their way to a good rank and didn’t have confidence in the product, and also probably hadn’t made the effort to create a good listing.

I would choose a good listing, with zero reviews before I chose a product that had hundreds of product reviews that were all because of free products.

This Change Benefits Buyers and Sellers In The Amazon Community

This new policy change is a good one for both buyers AND sellers.  I know it may feel like a punch in the gut to some sellers, but in the long run, it will make the good sellers stand out above the strategic ones.

Buyers will now have more confidence in their purchasing decisions, knowing that reviews come from people who actually bought the product and who weren’t being “bribed” or in cahoots with the seller.

Of course, this wasn’t the case for everyone. Soliciting reviews is a pretty well-known technique to help launch a new product and get it noticed so it can then take off on its own merits.

But too many sellers abused the practice and would just look to beef up the number of reviews in order to sell something that was mediocre at best. There have even been places that taught this strategy and people who charged for the service. We have been opposed to this practice.  

We believe in creating awesome listings that show up well in search and display exactly what the buyer is getting from the start of your item going up on Amazon.  You can learn our strategies in our Profitable Product Pages course.  

As for sellers, this update is great news for those of you who work to make good listings and sell quality products. Finally, your products will stand on their own without others taking shortcuts to get ahead of you with an inferior product. (We understand of course that some people will still try to work around the rules, but this should still cut way down on the numbers.)

Most of the sellers affected by this rule change are those who do private label, which is a more advanced technique. But it also can apply to sellers who create bundles. Same idea: the updated policy levels the playing field and means those of you who work to create something of value won’t be undermined by those who take the “easy way”.

When you do private label or create bundles, you need to know how to take good photos to best show off that product. You need to understand how to use keywords and how to write a good description.  All things we talk about in our Profitable Product Pages course!

profitable product pages course for amazon sellers

And most of all, you need to provide something of value to buyers. That would mean a great product that solves a problem for them or meets some demand, or a well thought-out bundle that groups together related products and makes life easier.

These all takes some time to learn and, once your product goes live on Amazon, it also takes a little time for the product, show up in search results and get noticed, and for sales momentum to build up.

You can also look to promote your products and advertise and find ways to get the word out to give it a boost. This is a legitimate way to attract buyers, rather than trying to find a way to make your product look better than it really is.

Amazon Vine Is The Only Way To Get Legitimate Reviews In Exchange For Products

Again, there’s nothing wrong with soliciting reviews to help launch your product and get it noticed. The problem was when sellers would abuse that and created situations where the review gave off the impression that something was much better than it really was or sold much better than it really did.

The Amazon best seller rank was being manipulated in these scenarios because hundreds of sales would come in and the rank would skyrocket to the top of the lists!  But the items may not have even had 1 legitimate sale.

Amazon recognized the legitimate side of soliciting reviews and said sellers can still do so, only they need to use Amazon’s own service, called Amazon Vine.

Here’s Amazon’s description of how Vine works:

“Amazon – not the vendor or seller – identifies and invites trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products; we do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written; and we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product. Vine has important controls in place and has proven to be especially valuable for getting early reviews on new products that have not yet been able to generate enough sales to have significant numbers of organic reviews.”

These are great features. It means that products will no longer have a ton of “fake” positive reviews.

And by limiting the number of solicited reviews that appear with any one product, it also means buyers will have a more accurate idea of how popular an item really is. After all, we tend to assume that a product with more reviews is better.

As sellers, we also keep an eye on reviews and assume that a higher number of positive reviews means a lower number of returns on that item. So it’s important to us that this number be accurate.

Amazon said in its announcement that it has ideas for how to continue to make Vine even more useful and will update with more details as they go.

The only issue the announcement did not address was what will happen to listings that have bunches of solicited reviews. We have already seen some sellers who have lost reviews on their products that were received by solicited reviews.  Some sellers have reported that theirs are still on the listings.

In the end, this change is a good one that we very much welcome! It’s also good news after other recent updates - like product and brand restrictions - that had a lot of sellers worried. Here’s one we can celebrate!

What should you do now?

  1. profitable product pages course for amazon sellersCheck any listings you have created and make sure they are fully optimized!
  2. Grab our Profitable Products Pages course so you can understand the main elements of listings and how to fully make your listings top notch.
  3. Share this post with your friends who need to be aware of this change.
  4. Leave a comment letting us know how you feel about this new change.

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