Every Amazon seller knows that getting a new product off the ground is tough. A product that just hit the market and has zero reviews will be completely avoided by most customers—the uncertainty is too high.
Because so many new Amazon sellers struggle with this, one of the most popular (and common) pieces of advice for starting new products is a method for quickly garnering a large number of reviews.
You may have guessed what I’m talking about: discounted reviews.
Discounted reviews have been an excellent strategy for a long time, but some recent news has surprised sellers and reviewers alike. Before we go into that, however, let’s talk about how discounted reviews work in the first place, just in case you’re unfamiliar with the concept.
Amazon is hugely invested in the honesty of its review system—it’s one of the things that differentiates them as an online marketplace. However, they’re in a constant struggle with sellers on this front, because sellers know that having lots of good reviews means more sales. To exploit this, Amazon sellers have tried a number of less-than-honest methods for garnering (fake) reviews on their product pages, from buying reviews to creating dozens of fake accounts to post reviews.
Amazon has consistently shut these attempts down. They have a detailed terms-of-service page explaining inappropriate seller behaviors, and counteracting review manipulation is one of their top priorities. They want organic reviews and only organic reviews.
That is, except for one interesting exception.
Amazon makes a specific allowance for one type of non-organic review directly in their terms of service—the famed “discounted review.” Specifically, the passage states: ”You may not provide compensation for a review other than a free or discount copy of the product.” Amid all the restrictions, asking someone for a review in exchange for a discounted product is perfectly okay!
Understandably, there are restrictions on this method as well. You must ask the reviewer for an unbiased review—soliciting positive reviews is not allowed. Additionally, if you’re unhappy with a solicited review, you’re not allowed to get a refund for the discounted product, nor are you allowed to ask the reviewer to remove a negative review. You’re definitely not allowed to pay reviewers for reviews in any way other than the discounted product. The list goes on.
Nevertheless, as long as you follow all of these guidelines, discounted reviews are perfectly allowed and have been long recommended as a great way to build up a new product's review count and get it off the ground. A number of reviewer communities have sprung up, and they’ve formed a sort of symbiotic relationship with sellers. Reviewers enjoy writing reviews and love receiving free products, while sellers get the huge benefit of a quick influx of reviews for their new products.
These days, however, there’s trouble in paradise.
Here comes the big, shocking update in the world of discounted reviews, so hold on to your hats…
Amazon no longer marks reviews as ‘Verified Purchase’ if the item was purchased at greater than a 50% discount.
An email correspondence with the Amazon Communities team from November of last year sheds some light on this new policy and the reasoning behind it.
To paraphrase, it seems like Amazon made this change because they want the ‘Verified Purchase’ badge to reflect “purchasing experiences that are available to most Amazon customers.” To us, it seems equally likely that they wanted to dial back their allowance of discounted reviews, because they either mistrust the unbiased nature of these reviews or they want to push their system more in the favor of organic reviews.
Either way, this is the way the system works now. What should you do about it?
Yes! What’s more, you should!
Despite this change, there is still plenty of use for discounted reviews. In fact, if you were using them properly before, not much should change for you at all.
Read on to learn what this change actually means, as well as the “right way” and the “wrong way” to use discounted reviews.
In the simplest terms possible, this change means that you can no longer disguise a discounted review as an organic one.
Unfortunately, a lot of sellers tried to pass discounted reviews off as normal reviews, thinking perhaps that admitting the discount would make the review seem biased or unreliable in the eyes of potential customers. Despite no longer being able to do this, the new system isn’t quite as bad as you might think.
So how should you use the system moving forward?
The right way to use discounted reviews is simple: be honest about the discount.
Many reviewers already have a policy of asserting that they’re writing a review in exchange for a free or heavily discounted product. This change simply makes that optional statement official. Seek out reviewers that follow this policy, or clarify that you want the statement included in their review.
”But won’t this make the reviews seem non-legitimate?”
There’s no hiding from Amazon or your customers any more. With the removal of the Verified Purchase badge, they’ll know that something is different about the review whether you tell them or not.
However, a full disclosure and being up-front with buyers can actually increase the legitimacy of a discounted review. Think about it:
Picture a detailed positive review that would otherwise be normal, but has no Verified Purchase badge. It looks suspicious at best, completely fake at worst. Customers won’t trust the review, but what’s worse, they might not trust your company as a whole, since your products seem to have fake reviews.
Now, consider another detailed positive review with no Verified Purchase badge—but this one contains an admission of receiving a discounted product in exchange for a fair review.
The uncertainty is gone—the customer knows that the review wasn’t faked, paid for, or otherwise generated through black hat services. They still might treat the review with caution—after all, it was written in exchange for a discount—but they will likely give it much more merit, on average, than if nothing was said about its origins at all.
Now, here’s what not to do.
To basically reiterate what I just said—don’t try to hide anything. It can only hurt you at this point, so trying to pass the review off as organic will only raise suspicions once customers see the lack of a ‘Verified Purchase’ badge.
However, you may have noticed the 50% threshold for Verified Purchase reviews, and thought to offer discounts at 50% or less in exchange for reviews. Although this is a clever thought, the review community has come to expect discounts much greater than this, and they will be very unlikely to accept any offers this low.
Finally—and this hopefully goes without saying—you shouldn’t try to circumvent Amazon’s discounted review system in any way. This means no reimbursing the reviewer after they bought the product at full price, no sending the reviewer a gift card, no buying your product yourself and shipping it to the reviewer, and no other “clever workarounds” along those lines. Amazon has always caught on, and they will here too.
Ultimately, discounted reviews still serve much of the same purpose they did before, so you don’t have to be too worried about this change. This is good advice for most parts of Amazon selling, but it especially applies here—play by Amazon’s rules and you’ll be fine.
Even though they’ll lose their Verified Purchase badge, discounted reviews will still increase your review count and modify your average rating, which is one of the most important baselines to meet for new products. If you have 40 reviews and a high average rating, customers won’t pick through every review and find out how many were tagged with ‘Verified Purchase’ or not. They’ll feel confident in your product based on the review number alone, and they’ll likely only read through the first five top reviews.
Additionally, discount reviews don’t become totally worthless in the eyes of customers—they can still provide a lot of value. Many reviewers in the community are aware that they’re receiving a great deal in the discount item, and show their gratitude with detailed, thorough reviews rather than a positive bias.
Finally, it seems that the Verified Purchase badge matters a lot more to Amazon and to sellers than it does to the customer. Although some customers may mistrust any review without this badge, to most customers, what matters most is the content and value of the review. If you can gather well-written and in-depth discounted reviews and you’re honest about how you got them, you’ll come out on about the same level as before this change.
Questions, comments, or suggestions? Let us know below!