Amazon Prohibits Discounted Reviews

In a shocking, yet somewhat inevitable turn of events, Amazon has announced that it is completely banning all discounted reviews, except for those provided by the Vine program.

The company released this announcement detailing the changes they made to the Community Guidelines. The key change to note in the Community Guidelines is this:

“Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else [is prohibited].”

This change comes after a long series of complaints from customers about the supposed unreliability or bias of these discounted reviews. We say ‘supposed’, but it is difficult to argue with the data, after a comprehensive study from ReviewMeta found a statistically significant bias in favor of positive ratings from discounted reviews.

At Efficient Era, we’ve always held the position that a careful and non-excessive use of discounted reviews was perfectly fine for getting brand-new products off the ground, but it seems that too much customer trust has been lost from the excessive use of discounted reviews, and so that option for kick-starting products is no longer on the table.

The "Good News"

I’m not sure if you could call it good news, but there are certainly some glimmers of hope within this otherwise concerning announcement.

First of all, an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that discounted reviews created prior to this change are only being removed if they’re deemed “excessive” (whatever that means), or otherwise didn’t comply with previous policy.

Second, although this may be a stretch, there’s one particular line of interest in Amazon’s announcement:

“We also have ideas for how to continue to make Vine an even more useful program going forward.”

This is incredibly vague, as is the Amazon way, but we can take an optimistic look at this sentence: it may mean that Amazon plans to extend the Vine tool to third-party sellers, not just vendors.

This may seem completely out of left field, but bear with me. Amazon is well aware of the “cold-start problem,” in which new products with no reviews have a hard time selling (because customers don’t trust the lack of reviews), and therefore have a hard time gathering reviews (because no one is buying the product). In fact, they even mention it their announcement — they say that incentivized reviews, when used carefully, “can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.”

Incentivized reviews or, as we call them, discounted reviews, were Amazon’s solution to the cold-start problem for third-party sellers. Unfortunately, discounted reviews weren’t so much used as they were abused, with sketchy review clubs and sellers with 100+ discounted reviews dominating the news. The Vine program is the only “review club” which Amazon knows it can trust, so it makes sense that they’re limiting discounted reviews to that program. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll leave millions of third-party sellers in the lurch.

So, if we hope our hardest and we’re all very good little boys and girls until Christmas, maybe Father Amazon will come around and extend the Vine program to third-party sellers. It’s completely possible that this doesn’t happen for a very long time, however, and it might not happen at all. Mine is just a hypothesis, after all.

This change affects most, if not all, relatively large Amazon sellers in a significant way. How are you planning on dealing with this change in the months to come? Let us know in the comments below.

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