Ever since I got into the Amazon business, “soliciting reviews” has sounded like a sketchy concept to me. Maybe it’s because I have a negative image of “solicitation” stuck in my mind. There’s a reason we put up “No Soliciting” signs outside our doors, and we’ve all had to frantically come up with excuses to close the door on an uninvited salesman standing outside our house.
Of course, on Amazon, review solicitation means something completely different. “Soliciting reviews,” for Amazon sellers, usually means sending customers an email after their order, asking them if they would leave a review — nicely, of course.
Unfortunately, review solicitation can still fall into grey (or pitch-black) areas, as many Amazon sellers are constantly at odds with Amazon’s vision for their marketplace. Amazon wants any product’s reviews to be an honest representation of its quality. Amazon sellers know that having lots of good reviews means your product will sell. So, conflict often ensues as Amazon sellers use less-than-honest methods of acquiring the good reviews they want so badly.
Amazon is fighting back against fake or otherwise dishonest reviews much harder these days. Sellers have gotten their accounts suspended for hosting fake reviews since the beginning of time (according to our measurements), and some sellers have even been targeted with lawsuits.
The fight doesn’t end there, however. Amazon’s most recent effort in combating fake reviews: requiring would-be reviewers to have spent $5.00 on Amazon before leaving a review, increased from just “making a purchase.” Their goal was to stop armies of “sock puppet” accounts from creating fake reviews — or, at least, to make it much more expensive.
The bottom line is this: Amazon is ever-vigilant, and if you are soliciting fake reviews or otherwise violating their Terms of Service, they will find you and shut you down.
However, amid all this doom and gloom, it’s still very possible to solicit reviews and comply with Amazon’s terms. It’s just more important than ever to walk the fine line very carefully, never crossing over into violation territory.
So, without further ado, here is our list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” for ethical review soliciting.
DO suggest leaving a review in a post-order email.
This is a great way to remind people who would have otherwise forgotten, or to push people who were on the fence about leaving a review. You can provide a link directly to the ‘Create Review’ page to make it even more effortless for them. As long as you make sure you’re asking, not telling, this little reminder can garner you quite a few reviews.
DON’T request a positive review.
If you make it explicit that you only want positive reviews, saying anything from “please leave a positive review” to “only leave 5-star reviews,” you’re violating Amazon’s Terms of Service. Plus, it’s rude — no customer likes to be ordered around.
DO make it easy to contact you if a customer has a problem.
Letting customers know where they can contact your support, and keeping support agents at the ready, is a great customer-oriented method of diverting negative reviews. If you can fix the problem early by directing questions to customer support — through a post-order email, usually — you can prevent negative reviews before they’re even written. This also helps the customer, and Amazon is all about their customers; how could they argue?
DON’T tell customers not to leave a negative review.
Diverting customers to your support line is one thing, but make sure that’s as far as you go. If someone has a bad experience, and you outright tell them not to leave a negative review, congratulations — you’ve just guaranteed yourself an especially scathing negative review.
DO offer a few discounts in exchange for reviews to get products off the ground.
Exchanging a discount product for an unbiased review is the only form of review “compensation” that’s explicitly allowed by Amazon. The reviewer must disclose the fact that they received a discounted product, and the review will not receive a “Verified Purchase” tag, meaning it’s weighted less among all other reviews... but it's totally compliant.
Despite some consumers becoming suspicious (more on this below), discounted reviews are still a great method for getting a new product’s foot in the door. Amazon allows them (partially) as a solution to the “cold-start” problem: no reviews means no sales, and no sales means no reviews. Getting the wheel turning with a few discounted reviews is a key part of Amazon strategy for launching new products.
However, the trick is to only have “a few” discounted reviews. See below.
DON’T overuse discounted reviews.
Consumers are becoming more savvy, and they’re getting warier of any compensated reviews, even the discounted reviews explicitly allowed by Amazon. Some consumers think that these reviews are inherently biased, and cite products whose hundreds of positive reviews are all discounted but whose few “Verified Purchase” reviews reveal serious problems. We disagree about the inherent bias, and we hope that your product is high-quality enough to stand the test of organic reviews, but the disgruntled buyers are still out there.
No matter where you stand, it doesn’t look good if a product’s only positive reviews come from discounted reviewers. It certainly doesn’t inspire trust if a product has hundreds of discounted reviews and only a handful of organic reviews, most of which are negative.
Even if your product itself is fine, sites like fakespot.com are being used more and more. Fakespot, and many sites like it, choose to mark discount reviews as “fake” in their algorithms, even though these reviews are perfectly legitimate.
At the end of the day, you should make sure that the majority of your reviews still come from organic sources. To reiterate, you should mostly use discount reviews to get a new product off the ground — don't use them to build up the vast majority of your review base.
DON’T choose discount reviewers based only on their high review average.
These reviewers usually write dishonest, exclusively positive reviews, often without trying the product out fully or at all. These reviews don’t belong on your product pages. Suspicious reviewers like these are increasingly likely to get banned, or get their reviews wiped if they write an excessive volume of reviews. You could get in trouble by association.
DON’T use review trading groups unless you trust them completely — it’s just too risky.
Review trading groups — whether they're under AMZ Tracker, the many private review trading Facebook groups, or anything else — are coming under fire at the moment. Although they all claim that their reviews are ethical, many of them continue to violate Amazon’s policy. For example, one new review group, although they say they’re fully compliant, assures users that 99% of their reviewers leave 4- or 5-star reviews, and that they kick reviewers out if they leave too many negative reviews. Sound suspicious? Understandably, many of these reviews are getting removed, and sellers are getting suspended by association.
Although it will be more difficult, it’s worth your time to seek out reviewers that you can trust, and that aren’t part of a group that pressures them to leave positive or overly enthusiastic reviews.
If you do choose to use review groups, be very careful. Even if they tell you they’re compliant, don’t take their word for it. Check out some reviews their reviewers have left. Find out what instructions or criteria they give their reviewers. Stay away from any service promising guaranteed results — that’s a sure sign of unethical practices.
DON’T violate Amazon’s Terms of Service in any other way. (See below)
DON’T write the text for your own reviews, then give that text to reviewers for them to post.
DON’T pay anyone anything in exchange for a review, no matter what. Discounted reviews are the only exception.
DON’T try to circumvent the discount system in order to get a discounted review with a Verified Purchase tag.
This includes paying the customer back after they purchased the item in full, buying the product yourself and shipping it directly to the customer, or any other “tricky” workarounds you may think of.
DON’T do anything else listed under the Misuse of ratings, reviews, and feedback section here.
Evidently, there are some very fine lines to be aware of here. Review solicitation is a touchy subject, and Amazon’s getting more and more serious about maintaining the trustworthiness and reliability of their review system.
If we could boil our advice down to one line, it would be: err on the side of caution. If you think you might be crossing the line, back away and try a different, safer strategy.
Unfortunately, even following this one piece of advice isn’t very simple. Amazon’s Terms of Service are purposefully vague — “what does an ‘excessive’ or ‘inappropriate’ amount of discounted products mean?” — so that they can judge individual cases at their own discretion.
Even if you think you’re playing it totally safe, Amazon policy can turn around in an instant and suddenly put you in danger. Being safe might not even be safe. In that case, you’ll have to be both careful and responsive. React to changes as soon as they come, adjusting your strategies as necessary.
Since this is such a tricky subject, it's especially understandable that you might have questions. If so, please leave them below!