Buying reviews is against Amazon’s rules. But are there ways around this? And is it worth the risk? Matthew Ferguson reveals all.
I have my own private label beauty brand and have been selling products on Amazon for the past five years.
I monitor my competition closely and it seems that over the last month, they’ve been getting a lot of reviews, far more than I’m getting even though my product has higher sales. I think they must be buying reviews.
I thought that doing this was against Amazon’s Terms of Service, so how are my competitors getting away with doing it?
Personally, I’m worried about the risks of getting caught. I’ve heard about Amazon suspending sellers for buying reviews and I don’t want this to happen to me. But, I also don’t want my competitors to be using this against me.
Do you know if there was a way that I could do it too without getting caught? Or even a way that would be treated less harshly by Amazon if I do get caught? I don’t want to do this if the risk of being suspended is too high.
— Grace, CO, United States
I’m going to have to caveat my reply incessantly. Amazon policy is clear on this point, so if I am perceived to be recommending or condoning the solicitation of reviews on Amazon, I would expect to feel the full wrath of Jeff Bezos’ imperial legal team.
So… let me say it now, later, and throughout – you should not be soliciting reviews. You could get suspended from selling on Amazon completely. It is 111% crystal clear in policy that this is not allowed and violators will have their legs broken and be left in a basement full of hungry rats.
There’s my rear end covered. Now let’s chat about this.
Jedi mind tricks
Let’s start by thinking about the legal ways we can increase reviews. After all, why not first cover actions that you won’t lose sleep over, but which can still help? Don’t worry, we will get to the grey areas, and also the very very dark areas, soon after.
Let me ask you point-blank Grace: as a consumer, do you leave reviews? When an order arrives on time and the item is as you expected, do you immediately think “I should log on, and leave a good review right now!” Nope, you don’t. Neither do I. Frankly, I haven’t met anyone yet who does.
Therein lies the challenge. We’re spoiled beings these days. We expect an order to arrive on time, correct and undamaged. When it does, it’s not perceived in our mind as something to highlight. We expected it to happen. We assumed it would.
I can only speak for myself, but I only log on and leave a review when something goes wrong or I’m annoyed. I’m fairly easygoing and accepting, but I do have my meltdown moments when a series of crappy events all happen and I need to blame someone.
Again only speaking for myself, I want to leave positive reviews when things are better than expected. I want to compliment or reward a service, person or entity that surprises me with more than I expected. This is a natural trigger.
What might that be? Well, what if I expected the item to arrive in 3 days and it arrived tomorrow? What if I expected to get the item I ordered, but they included a free gift too? What if I received the item and the seller then followed up with a coupon code giving me 10% off anything I order from them in future? If all this happened, I can assure you I would be tickled pink and want to pay it all forward.
All this is easier said than done. If you are going to use a next day service, it’s taking margin out of your pocket. If you are going to include a free extra, again it’s money out of your pocket. If you give me a coupon, guess what, that’s more money out of your pocket. You probably can’t do this all the time, but what if you invested in doing it on core continuity lines for a limited time or volume? It can all be treated as marketing expenses, because the ideal outcome is that you’re getting natural positive reviews, boosting your ranking and increasing the volume of sales generally.
Let’s forget the shipping extras and the coupon and adding something free to the order that the buyer wasn’t expecting. Let’s assume you don’t have the budget to try this. What can you do? Well, you can still email the buyer a week later reminding them and asking for honest feedback.
Some sellers get this nuance wrong – they assume they cannot email a buyer asking for feedback. Strictly speaking, that’s not true. You cannot solicit a product review, but asking generally for “feedback” is free and allowed.
Tell them your sob story. You’re a “young, family owned, small company” and you are so focused on “satisfaction”, reminding the buyer you’re not the same type of corporate machine they deal with in other areas of their lives. You’re a person and this Amazon shop is your livelihood.
“Every review helps us grow and deliver the same product to others”. I wouldn’t beg, or tell them you’ll be on the streets, and your kids will be begging for food, if they don’t leave reviews… that would be a little desperate. You want to remain polite and professional even when you’re being somewhat informal and colloquial. If you believe in your product, ask them to be honest with their feedback. Wrap it in “your honest opinions would help us and other buyers make the best decisions”.
That email is only time, a template and procedure. It won’t work on all buyers, and I wouldn’t send a message like this more than once without reply, but it will help over time.
Grey Jedi balance
Caveating yet again – these are fringe or naughty thoughts. I’m not condoning them, nor saying you should try them. I’m simply thinking theoretically for you, Grace.
Amazon doesn’t want you adding leaflets to your orders. You’re never supposed to add a flier to the package, which in any way takes the buyer away from Amazon or solicits a review.
But… who’s going to stop you? Rumors and past events have highlighted that Amazon spot-check orders and do “secret shopper” tests from time-to-time. But let’s face it, they have a lot to cover and manage, and Amazon has grown immensely. They have neither the time, resources nor compunction to do this regularly these days.
So let’s say you do add a flier. What do you say? You could boldly offer the client a coupon on their next order for leaving a review. I’m not sure if that’s courageous or stupid, but you could do it and you could get away with it for some time.
The big risk is the buyer. Most buyers won’t read the fliers in detail, and those that do will think, “Sweet, free stuff for one minute of my time. I’m game”. But some buyers will be more strait-laced, and may flag you to Amazon. Buyers, after all, can be sellers and competitors too. And, if a buyer is also selling on Amazon, and sees a company engaging in tactics they know are wrong, they might feel a professional responsibility to flag you and prevent this action from helping you. Or, maybe they are just a goody two-shoes by nature and always told on their classmates smoking behind the school bike shed.
But what if the flier asked for “feedback on how you did”. That’s got some strong negotiation power. Firstly, you’re asking for “feedback”. How would a buyer leave feedback? Reviews, naturally. But you didn’t specifically ask for them, did you?
Secondly, and this has a sincere overtone – you want the buyer to be happy, or to help you improve your service. Why would a buyer not appreciate the gesture?
Thirdly, if Amazon finds out, it’s never a good thing. But your narrative can easily be “I just wanted to provide the best possible experience for all my Amazon buyers, and I thought this was the best way to make sure my service was top notch”. Amazon want excellent service, so you’re playing their motto back to them. Use an appeasing “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong, I’m so sorry” tone. You might well get away with this, typically with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, if that.
It’s rolling the dice, but done at the right times, with the right tone and subject lines. Your chances of being found by Amazon directly are minimal. As long as buyers play along, your chances of being flagged are even lower, and you should get some reviews out of it.
The power of the dark side
Okay, here’s another caveated sentence. Jeff, I don’t condone this. Amazon compliance department personnel, please don’t hurt me.
With the good side of the review force outlined, let’s get Darth Vader on the topic. Super excited about the new Star Wars movie… anyways…
First, yes, plenty of companies engage in naughty tactics to increase reviews.
Out of respect for them, I won’t link to any websites or name names, but there are whole teams of people, whole companies even, who you can pay to increase your reviews. They will buy your product, leave positive reviews and then work out a deal with you on returning the item or crediting you back a percentage of the order totals.
It’s a weird sort of industry that’s grown in the shadows of Amazon policies, offering black hat tactics to trick the system in the favor of any seller willing to pay for it. It’s only really worth it if you have serious stock behind your listings, or a long-term desire to keep selling the item over the years.
They make this easy and usually promise to guarantee no risk of being caught, given the communication is outside Amazon’s vantage point and they appear simply as “buyers”. But I suspect those guarantees will suddenly be met with disconnected phone lines if you ever did get caught. But what they make easy… you could do yourself.
Jeff, do I need to caveat again here that I don’t condone this? Is my fear palpable that I’ll get into trouble if I do? Fear leads to anger, anger leads to suffering… I will stop now.
So how might you do this? Well… simple. The average person knows 130 people in their “natural” network. That’s colleagues, employees, friends, family, extended family and other linked associations.
130 positive reviews would go down well, wouldn’t they? What if they each bought one of your products? It’s unclear how clever Amazon’s algorithm is in flagging potential trickery on this point, but I would assume it’s fairly clever! You may want to ask them to open new accounts with Amazon to muddy the waters, but Amazon is good at linking connected accounts too.
Of course you could open multiple accounts yourself. Not a good idea, as your name, address and/or card details will match your seller information. For Amazon, that will be an easy thing to track and flag up. Realistically, you would need to be opening lots of alias accounts and using as many different delivery and payment details as possible. But sellers have done this and they have gotten away with it. I doubt you could do it many times given the work, risk and time, but it’s within your control.
Another problem is that you are trying to contact buyers and solicit an action “in writing”. That is now a record of you being very naughty, so you will want that connection between you, the seller, far removed from the actual action of soliciting. You can only realistically do that via calls, word of mouth, or working with people who understand the importance of there being no trail back to you.
Well, since I’ll be sued soon…
Before my name is blacklisted and I am banned from even writing the word “Amazon” in the digital ecosphere, I don’t think you should be naughty, Grace.
Your competitors are not being fair, it’s true, but they also may get suspended one day. What they are doing is costing them money, and they may end up doing a lot of work for a product they don’t keep selling for all that long.
Amazon is growing and becoming a monster. But it’s not the only place to sell product. Are you selling on other channels? We regularly face this with new clients. They come to us asking about Amazon, and six months later we’ve proved the point that other channels are vital too. Don’t get too focused on Amazon daily sales and ups-and-downs. Think big picture too, and that means expanding outside of Amazon.
I would suggest that you do what you can within Amazon’s policies, and as I’ve harped on about in other posts, focus on what you control. A good business doesn’t need just a single channel’s sales to succeed. A good business doesn’t need to solicit Amazon reviews to succeed. A good business is stable because it diversifies exposure and range, scales well in proportion to its overheads, and doesn’t lose sight of its long-term direction, and what it needs to achieve to get there.
I guess what I am saying is that reviews will help your Amazon business, but make sure that if Amazon suspended you tomorrow, you wouldn’t be out of business. If you follow this path, the need for reviews becomes less and less critical over time. Do what you can to generate them, but stay focused on a direction where they aren’t your daily obsession.