By now, many of you have heard that the Amazon reviewer guidelines have changed (early October 2016) “to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.” This has impacted how Amazon Sellers, the review-in-exchange programs and review clubs can operate.
Below you will find a summary of the change, how it impacts the above people and companies, and what I think the future of this looks like. Spoiler alert: it’s not all doom and gloom, and I think the future looks bright. Read more for why.
The change in policy
Again, many of you many have already read this, but for those new to it Amazon stated that they are “[prohibiting] incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program”. Meaning, no Amazon Seller or Review Club or company program may offer you a discounted or free product via Amazon and ask for a review to be written about that product in exchange.
This part is very important: Amazon wants Sellers to stop asking and requiring reviews for those products they sent at a discount or free. This applies to review Sites and Clubs too since they are working for the Seller.
What this does NOT prohibit is the age-old practice of giving away product via Amazon at a discount or for free. They can continue to give coupon codes to buy the item on Amazon. Sellers and Companies can even send it to you directly. Just don’t write a review on Amazon for it.
Sellers will likely be banned from Amazon for breaking this rule. There is no express statement on what will happen to Reviewers that do write a review for a product that came with a discount.
What to expect
First, hardly any Seller or Review Club is sending out promotions at time of writing. Most are hunkering down, updating their website and policies, and talking with their Sellers.
When the email promotions start back up (and they will—more on that below) they will likely come with explicit instructions to NOT write a review, or that a review is not expected. These are two very different things, since many of us do not yet know what will happen if a Reviewer chooses to write a review on their own.
Amazon will likely be running a script to scan all accounts to match up reviews with purchases to see if there was a coupon code used for that product. It is possible that Amazon may disable the “write a review’ button altogether for products or orders that had a coupon code used at purchase (which would be smart and proactive.)
In the next few months you will likely see some new programs or tactics being tested. When ebay banned pornography being sold on their platform, some Sellers simply sold boxes of pencils that had porn sent along with it (just an example; not saying this is right or lawful.) There is always a loophole or way around any rule, and some Sellers and services will try and exploit them. Be very careful with these new practices! My stance is to wait and see what shakes out with those new practices. More on that at the end below.
What Review Clubs are doing now
Many of the review clubs and programs listed on the List of Amazon Review Sites have already changed their policies and sent out emails notifying their Sellers and Reviewers of the changes. I have personally received policy change emails from the following companies along with their stance on writing a review:
- I Love to Review — “For future campaigns, you will have no obligation to review the products you receive. For products you have already received, you are under no obligation to review them either.”
- Review Kick — “As of today, we are no longer requiring you to offer a review after you purchase an item on Review Kick. … If you do choose to leave a review (again, we’re not requesting or requiring this), it is unclear to us whether you should leave a disclaimer.”
- The Review Effect — “The Review Effect, no longer require you to post a review for any products received via our service. Whether you post a review or not is your choice.”
- AMZ.One Deals Club — “We no longer request or require our Buyers to leave a product review so you should handle these offers as any other product you purchase on Amazon (products without discount).”
- Amazon Review Trader — “effective immediately whether or not you leave a review for a product is now entirely up to you. We no longer require it at all.”
- Product Testing Group — “You will no longer be obligated to leave a review for any product you receive from a Product Testing Group seller.”
- Blue Ribbons Review — “…you will no longer be required to write a review for that product until the dust completely settles and we know exactly how Amazon is going to proceed.”
- Snagshout — “Effective immediately, Snagshout shoppers are no longer required to leave Amazon product reviews in order to get discounted products.”
- Amazon Review Club — “We will no longer advertise, nor promise reviews in exchange for discounts.”
A couple have sent out emails saying they were shutting down or putting their program on pause.
The sites and programs that have updated their review policies
I won’t be updating the list above. As I find out about their updated policies I am tagging their pages on this site. You can find a list of sites and programs that have updated their review policy here.
Improvise, Adapt and Overcome
As some military members and motivational speakers say, it is time to improvise, adapt and overcome. Those on both sides of the fence that cannot adapt will likely not be moving forward with us.
The Reviewer Collective is not shutting down. The dozen or so emails I got the day of the change and the next day show me that a good number of review clubs and programs are also not shutting down. The speed at which they were able to pivot and come out with promotional emails a day after the announcement are a testament to their planning, fortitude and ability to roll with the punches.
It’s easy to say ‘game over’ on this policy change. But if you read it, they left a huge hole in it. Maybe not a hole per se, but their core feature of allowing Sellers to continue giving out product at a discount or free means they can (and are!) still promote their product just as the industry has been doing for decades. It just means there will be fewer Amazon reviews for product launches and buyers to get insights from.
Does that really matter? How many free and discounted products have you received where you have done the following:
- purchased it again? (Me!)
- given it to Goodwill? (Me!)
- told a friend about it? (Me!)
- re-gifted it to a friend or family member? (Me!)
- posted it to your social media?
Okay, I seriously don’t think I have ever done the last one, but you get the point. A Seller can give out 20, 50 or 100 products knowing that many people will organically do one or more of the above actions. These actions get the product out in front of even more people, who may do the same thing as you. That is what marketers and promoters have been relying on and doing for ages, and they will continue to do so in the future because it works.
Why would a Seller continue with Amazon?
The reach is astronomical. Amazon’s reach is far better than just about any other platform on the planet. Having their product on Amazon is highly beneficial to their reach. Any Seller threatening to leave Amazon over this is being shortsighted. I don’t foresee many leaving, and those that do will be back shortly.
Why would a Seller continue with Review Sites and Programs?
Their reach is definitely better than whatever list the Seller has in their MailChimp or Outlook address book. The time and effort it takes for a Seller to get the emails of engaged and active Reviewers is very time consuming. Using a review site to manage reviewers for you is, in most cases, well worth the cost of doing business with them.
These programs also offer a way for Seller to track their efforts by knowing the ROI (return on investment) of giving away product. Many brands simply hand out product without knowing where it is going and who has it. With using coupon codes on Amazon, the Seller knows exactly where the product shipped to and who has it. They can use that as part of the ROI equation to see if they are getting the reach and coverage they want.
If and when some review sites pivot to start supporting the writing of reviews on other platforms, such as Newegg and other online retailers, blogs, YouTube and more, you will now have a much broader reach to your audience. Amazon is big, but when you add all the others together you likely have something even bigger, and more targeted.
You have to remember that brands have been giving away their product for hundreds of years. And they will continue to do so. This is a small blip on that bigger picture. As I stated in a comment on another post of mine:
RedBull has been giving out their energy drink for well over 10 years. Every day of the year, thousands of cans are handed out for free. Same with Monster energy drink, Kind Bars, Clif Bars, music, food samples, t-shirts and so much more. The marketing and promotional efforts of putting your product into the hands of individuals has been going on far longer than Amazon has been around. Getting the review on Amazon was gravy, a bonus to the hustle.
Now that Sellers have the momentum and reach of the Review Sites, the savvy ones aren’t going to give that up anytime soon. Product is going to continue to flow to consumers, just as it has for hundreds of years, because that is still just one of many channels brands use to get noticed.
A move to the middle
What may change is a move to the middle. It costs a lot of money to get product into the hands of consumers. In the case of Amazon Sellers, I foresee fewer to no very low-end products ($1-5) as well as higher-end products ($100+) being distributed via Amazon. The math tells me that using Amazon and Review Clubs to distribute most inexpensive products isn’t cost effective. As for the $100+ items, without the reviews on Amazon to boost exposure and sales they are (rightfully) going to start to be more picky about the return on their investment of giving it away. I expect the latter category to start requesting YouTube video reviews and blog posts. Or, even asking you to return the item after a trial period (which some major brands do.)
What should you do next?
Chill for a moment. In the following week or so you should get all the policy change emails (be sure to read them!) and start to see review sites and Sellers ramp back up with new promotions.
Don;t write reviews for anything you agreed to before the policy change and still sitting on your shelf. I don’t foresee any review site banging down your door for you to write a review for those items. And point any Sellers pushing you to write a review to this blog post you are reading. I’ll set them straight.
Only write reviews for product you bought yourself. Try and get out of the habit of writing reviews for anything someone gave you.
Look into writing reviews on other platforms. I have to say that my toddler son LOVES watching the unboxing videos on YouTube Kids. He can watch this kid called Ryan unbox monster trucks for an hour straight, if I let him.
And did you know that this now opens up the oportunity to get paid for doing reviews?! yep. Amazon had a policy against it. But, we aren’t under Amazon’s policy anymore. So, there is no reason a Seller or Review Site couldn’t start paying you to help promote their product on YouTube, your blog or elsewhere. Again, start looking into other platforms and their terms of service.
Lastly, I know that the Amazon blog and news all heavily mention Vine and the de facto standard and ‘only’ way to get product reviews. This is simply not true, as I have mentioned above. Also, as a Reviewers, you do NOT need to be on the Vine program to continue to get free and discounted product. Just look to your inbox and you will see. (Plus, Google around and you will see the Vine program is not all it’s made out to be. You will get far more product from Seller and review sites—even after the policy change—than you ever will from the Vine program, should you get on.)
UPDATE 1: the purge email from Amazon
Welp, there it is: Amazon just sent out the purge email stating they are removing older reviews-in-exchange. Nothing is said about the accounts, just the reviews. Here is the email text:
Based on a policy change to our Community Guidelines, some of your reviews will be removed. We recently updated this policy to prohibit incentivized reviews, which includes those posted in exchange for free or discounted products. Incentivized reviews posted prior to this policy change are being retroactively removed if they are excessive or do not comply with the previous policy.
Your reviewing privileges will not be affected by this action, but you will not be able to resubmit the reviews that were removed.
To learn about our review policies, please see our Customer Review Creation Guidelines.”
UPDATE 2: the Amazon forum
Definitely take this with a bit of salt since it was posted to an Amazon forum and there is no hard proof it came from Amazon. Frankly, anyone can type anything into a forum. But here it is.
The text of the image above:
I hope this e-mail finds you well. This is Karen from Amazon Communities Team.
We no longer permit reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including free or discounted copies of the product but you may still leave reviews for your items as long as your review is a free will and is not required by the Seller or Author.
For more details, please see our Community Guidelines:
We look forward to seeing you again soon.
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