Since October 2016, Amazon has made considerable changes to its product review policy. For this reason, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the do’s and don’ts of asking for a product review.
The goal of this article it to take our real-world experience with sellers and their suspensions, as well as our conversation with Amazon seller suspensions expert, Chris McCabe, and do a little reading between the lines for you. We’ll determine what Amazon ultimately considers illegal or unethical, and what they believe is okay.
To be clear, at Jungle Scout we believe all types of review manipulation bring down the Amazon platform. It leads to a loss of shopper trust. And a loss of trust means less sales for the platform, sellers and even our business.
If you’re ever in doubt that what you’re doing might be considered unethical or illegal in Amazon’s eyes, err on the side of caution. It’s always the best option.
So now, let’s start with the terms of service, straight from Amazon’s site.
When it comes to the actual terms of service for customer product reviews, you can find Amazon’s guidelines in Seller Central. But to make this really easy for you, here is exactly what those guidelines say:
Amazon encourages buyers to review the products they like and dislike to help customers make informed decisions about the products they purchase.
For answers to common questions about customer product reviews, see Answers to questions about product reviews.
To ensure that reviews remain helpful, sellers must comply with our Community Guidelines. For example, you cannot offer compensation for a review, and you cannot review your own products or your competitors’ products. You can ask buyers to write a review, but you cannot ask for positive reviews or ask a reviewer to change or remove their review. If you believe a review does not comply with our Community Guidelines, click on the Report Abuse link next to the review. As sellers and manufacturers, you are not allowed to review your own products, nor are you allowed to negatively review a competitor’s product.
Inappropriate product reviews
The following are examples of prohibited activities. This is not an all-inclusive list.
- A seller posts a review of their own product or their competitor’s product either in their own name or as an unbiased buyer.
- A seller offers a third party a financial reward, discount, or other compensation in exchange for a review on their product or their competitor’s product. This includes services that sell customer reviews and websites or social media groups with implicit or explicit agreements or expectations that an incentive is contingent on customers leaving a review.
- A seller offers to provide a refund or reimbursement after the buyer writes a review (including reimbursement via a non-Amazon payment method).
- A seller uses a third-party service that offers free or discounted products tied to a review (for example, a review club that requires customers to register their Amazon public profile so that sellers may monitor their reviews).
- A family member or employee of the seller posts a review of the seller’s product or a competitor’s product.
- A seller offers a refund or other compensation to a reviewer in exchange for changing or removing their review.
- A seller only asks for reviews from buyers who had a positive experience and attempts to divert buyers who had a negative experience to a different feedback mechanism. This includes cases where the customer proactively reaches out to the seller to express satisfaction with their products.
- A seller creates a variation relationship between products that are not actually related to each other in order to boost a product’s star rating.
- A seller inserts a request for a positive Amazon review or an incentive in exchange for a review into product packaging.
- A seller manipulates the ‘Helpful’, ‘Not Helpful’, or ‘Report Abuse’ features on any review on his or his competitor’s products.
Note: References to ‘seller’ here includes all the seller’s employees and third party partners.
You can ask for reviews from customers who purchased your products off Amazon. However, note that all the customer reviews policies apply to these reviews as well.
Note: Violation of our policies may also violate applicable laws, which can lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties. If you violate our policies, we may disclose your name and other related information publicly and to civil or criminal enforcement authorities.
We encourage you to monitor reviews regularly and reach out to customers to resolve product or service issues. However, you cannot ask customers to change or remove their review, even after an issue is resolved. Also, you can reach out to customers by replying to their review on the product detail page and asking them to contact you through Buyer-Seller Messaging to resolve their issues. You cannot reach out to buyers via other means.
It’s a surprisingly short document, but the guideline page is easily one of the most important on the entire site. Now, let’s break down what each element means, and how it can impact your Amazon FBA business.
Amazon advocates neutrality. It wants its shoppers to review not just products they like, but those they’re disappointed with as well. Essentially, if a customer is unhappy with a product, Amazon wants them to let other potential customers know.
The second part of the guidelines’ first statement reveals Amazon’s true intent. They want to appear totally transparent when it comes to their shoppers’ experiences. Reviews–good or bad–should be honest. Then, other customers know exactly what to expect from a product
Amazon seems to be aware of the confusion surrounding product reviews. The terms of service page offers not just one link to its Frequently Asked Questions section, but two.
Next, Amazon directs sellers to its Community Guidelines document. We strongly recommend you review this important guide. It’s jut as important as the customer product reviews page.
And again, to simplify this for you, some of the most important parts of the guidelines are listed below. However, the sections on promotions and commercial solicitations, and additional guidelines for customer reviews, aren’t included here as I go into more detail later on.
Within Amazon’s Community Guidelines section, there are details on what sellers (and shoppers) can and can’t do regarding promotions.
Promos and solicitations include advertisements (both on and off Amazon), product inserts, follow-up emails, or any other content that you put in front of a current or potential customer regarding an Amazon product (yours, your competitors, or any other item on the site).
Within Amazon’s community, this is what the guidelines say is NOT permitted:
However, it also states that there are exceptions. According to Amazon, these are the only ones:
They also state, at the end of the section, that, “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.”
Its true! Amazon does tell us in its Customer product reviews terms of service that its sellers can ask buyers to write reviews. You just have to follow their regulations.
Two important points here:
While not a new rule, it’s important to point this one out anyway. You can’t leave reviews for your own products. You can’t leave an unfavorable review for a competitor’s product either.
It’s worth mentioning that it specifically says “negatively review”, though. In other words, a positive review of your competitors’ product might be okay, but I doubt you’ll be doing that!
October 3rd, 2016, Amazon banned all incentivized reviews. This changed the business strategies of thousands of Amazon sellers overnight, Jungle Scout sellers included.
Data started to circulate that Amazon’s product reviews were, on average, higher than their competitors’. Forbes Magazine started investigating and published Why You Shouldn’t Trust All Amazon Reviews on March 3, 2016.
“Best Reviews looked at 488 different products listed on Amazon with a total of 360,000 user ratings. Out of those reviews, 66.3% (nearly 240,000) were 5-star ratings. It’s an almost unrealistic number for any business, let alone for the hundreds of products monitored in the study.”
Amazon’s been trying to fix the problem ever since.
After incentivized product reviews ended, some creative sellers started offering refunds and reimbursements after the sale to encourage reviews. Amazon caught on. Now, the Amazon abuse team monitors and stops the practice.
Before Amazon stopped incentivized reviews, a large number of review clubs existed. They offered deeply discounted Amazon products in exchange for product reviews. When the October 3rd, 2016 policies emerge, those businesses had to shut down.
One tactic we used to see in the Amazon community were automated emails asking the customer if they were satisfied. The emails had ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ links. The ‘Yes’ link took them to the product’s review page, while the ‘No’ link took them to customer support.
But Amazon has cracked down on cherry picking. Following up with buyers who liked your product, but not with those who didn’t, is now prohibited. In fact, even follow-up emails suggesting a customer should leave a review if they had a positive experience are forbidden.
For example, if your email or product insert uses language like, “If you enjoyed this product and would like to share your five-star experience”, you’re at risk. Amazon views this as manipulative.
Even if the customer contacts you to let you know they love your product, you can’t ask them to leave a review. So, if a customer writes good seller feedback for you, or replies to your follow-up email, don’t ask for a review. Amazon considers it to be manipulative.
Say you’re selling a kitchen knife, and it’s been getting poor reviews. For that reason, you try to connect it to one of your products that’s getting good reviews, like a frying pan.
The theory behind the move is that the product with good reviews will boost the product with bad reviews. But that’s no longer acceptable. Amazon (you guessed it!) sees this as manipulative and forbids it.
Only recently did the word ‘insert’ appear in Amazon’s terms of service language. Now, if a seller includes a product insert that specifically requests a positive review, or gives an incentive for a review, they can face review suppression and account suspension.
Amazon isn’t banning all product inserts though. We just have to make sure that the language in the insert is completely neutral.
Speaking with our Amazon suspension specialist Chris McCabe, he clarified what is NOT allowed on product inserts:
Chris explained that an insert should simply ask for a review. Period.
You can’t attack your competitor’s products either. You can, however, report any abuse you discover.
If a customer buys your product from somewhere other than Amazon, they can still leave a review ON Amazon. Of course, the review will be unverified, and it must follow Amazon’s guidelines.
Again, you can’t ask for a customer to edit or delete their review for any reason.
You can leave a reply on the actual review itself, but you can’t track down your customer’s email and use it to resolve issues. Using software or “hacks” to find the shoppers who left a negative review can get you suspended.
Recently, Greg Mercer and I sat down with Amazon suspension specialist, eCommerce‘s Chris McCabe. He used to work for Amazon, but now helps Amazon sellers avoid terms of service issues with the retail site.
Here are a few of the things we learned from Chris.
Basically, Amazon wants to stay flexible with its do’s and don’ts of product reviews. While they try to remain fair, if they think a seller’s listing content goes against their core value of taking care of their customers, Amazon will take action.
For years, Amazon has worked diligently to create new processes and procedures to take care of its fake review issue. Of course, the biggest move it made was banning incentivized reviews.
Since then, as Chris notes, any review loopholes/hacks sellers might use to get around Amazon’s rules are quickly closed. This suggests Amazon may continue introducing new policies to improve what it, and its critics, see as the retail platform’s biggest issue.
Chris explains that Amazon is under intense pressure and scrutiny, both within Amazon itself and the public.
Suspensions are on the rise, and Chris believes Amazon isn’t taking any chances with sellers trying to “break the system.”
Accounts coming under suspicion for manipulation and content abuse are likely to be suspended, particularly if they continue or fail to address the concern.
A large portion of all sellers are warned by Amazon to cease and desist practices that violate their terms of service, Chris told us. Many fail to notice–or simply ignore–these warnings though.
Don’t be one of those sellers; suspensions of these types of accounts are common. So, if you receive a warning, protect yourself and make the recommended changes.
Regardless of how much business you’re doing on Amazon, Amazon takes its review content very seriously.
Chris explains that during the last major “purge”, Amazon banned thousands of sellers, including accounts making eight or nine figures in revenue. The only advantage larger businesses seem to have is that those who use them are better at hiding their ‘black hat’ practices.
Messaging sent to Amazon customers is one area where Amazon is cracking down.
Chris reviews follow-up emails, correspondences, and even product inserts to ensure that his clients are following Amazon’s terms of service. He explained that this is the number one area of confusion for sellers.
Here are some examples of manipulative language:
Amazon has suspended sellers for all of the above.
Sending out product promotions is fine. However, if only those who have received product promotions receive emails asking for product reviews, Amazon sees this as segmenting.
Amazon believes that those who receive discounted products–even if it wasn’t given in exchange for a review–are easily persuaded to leave a positive review.
In a lot of ways, Chris’ warnings reminded us of people who are pulled over by the police for speeding. Even if they weren’t the person going the fastest, they were still going over the limit and, therefore, got caught. And the same is true for sellers.
There may be sellers bigger than you breaking the rules, but if you’re not following Amazon’s guidelines, you’re putting your account at risk.
Naturally, as Amazon evolves and grows, they will continue to add new rules. Hopefully, though, this article cleared up a lot of the confusion around Amazon’s current product review guidelines.
But if you still have questions, comments, or even stories to share surrounding Amazon’s product reviews, please post them in the comments below.
And a special thanks to Chris McCabe for taking the time to speak with us!