Many things have changed on the Amazon marketplace over the last few years, but for sellers, there’s one axiom that isn’t going anywhere: your products need reviews. One would hope that getting lots of positive reviews would be as simple as selling a good product — “if you build it, they will come” — but the realities of the marketplace, between search rankings, intense competition, and the cold-start problem, quickly shut that idea down.
Sellers have shifted between different tricks and tactics over the years to maximize their review counts, with varying levels of success. These days, there’s a big focus on email automation. With the death of incentivized reviews, email automation is one of the last big review-generation tools that sellers can use without resorting to external platforms.
If you need a quick refresher, here's the idea behind email automation. A seller will set up some sort of automation software to email customers after they make a purchase. This email can contain numerous helpful tidbits, but the most popular use these days is to include a product-specific review link, so that customers can leave a review directly without having to click through Amazon's website and find your product again.
The shift in usage from incentivized reviews to email automation also comes with a shift in attitude. Some sellers are treating email automation as primarily a means of accumulating reviews, letting its other functions fall to the wayside. At Efficient Era, we believe that these “other functions,” mostly relating to customer service, are a vital part of email automation and shouldn’t be forgotten; rather, they should be emphasized.
First, though, let’s talk about how email automation relates to feedback generation.
Email automation has been used to generate reviews for several years at this point. Besides Efficient Era’s email automation features, Feedback Genius and Feedback Five have also been popular among sellers for quite some time.
Nowadays, these services are coming to the forefront as a primary means of review generation, because of reasons we previously discussed — incentivized reviews, the most popular method of generating reviews before the October 2016 ban, are no longer available to most sellers.
However, it’s important to understand the limitations of email automation when it comes to generating reviews, even before we get into the customer service aspects.
Unfortunately, email automation is not a perfect replacement for incentivized reviews. These two tools took very different approaches to generating reviews. Incentivized reviews, while they were still around, were great for building up a “base” of reviews for a new product. This eliminated the stigma of a 0-review product, and let organic reviews start flowing in, boosting you over the hump of the cold-start problem. Email automation, on the other hand, was (and is) most helpful for products which have already gotten off the ground, because it converts purchases into reviews. It can’t generate reviews out of thin air (so to speak) in the same way that incentivized reviews could.
To summarize, incentivized reviews were best for getting new products off the ground, and email automation works best for bolstering an existing base of reviews. It follows that email automation can’t solve the cold-start problem by itself. It can still be useful for generating additional reviews on top of the ones you already have, but email automation has much more effective uses than review generation, some of which are being forgotten as the marketplace moves forward.
As far as Efficient Era sees it, email automation was never meant to be a tool for exclusively generating reviews. When we craft our follow-up emails, we always have one main goal in mind: making sure the customer has everything they need before their item arrives, giving them a smooth unboxing experience.
What exactly that means depends on the product you’re selling. If your product comes with an instruction manual, your follow-up emails would include a PDF of the manual. You could also include a diagram with arrows pointing to all the functions of the product, or some example use cases. If you’re selling electronics that need drivers, you should include instructions and a link to installing those drivers, so that they can install them ahead of time and their device can work as soon as it arrives.
Although our main goal is fairly specific, it falls under the larger umbrella of “good customer service.” Some other good additions in the same vein would be contact information for your support team, so that they don’t have to go through Buyer-Seller Messaging to let you know that there’s a problem.
Of course, this focus on customer service doesn’t preclude leaving a review link. Instead, it’s just an extra addition, a small layer on top of the much-higher-priority customer service elements. In one sense, a review link fits into the overall theme of customer service, because the number of steps required to find the product you bought and leave a review might dissuade potential reviewers, and Amazon’s default follow-up emails don’t provide direct links to anything except seller feedback. In reality, though, it benefits the seller a lot more than it benefits the customer.
So, why all this focus on customer service with email automation?
The different stances on email automation — as a customer service opportunity, or as a review generation tool — tie into a bigger issue of how you view your relationship with customers. Do you see your customers as one-offs, that you want to extract as much benefit from as possible in the short time you’re holding their attention? Or do you see your customers as opportunities for relationships, deserving of a bigger up-front investment to reap greater yields in the long term?
If you’re of the former opinion, it would be understandable that you would focus your email automation efforts solely on review generation. If you’re of the latter opinion, though (can you tell that we are?), you should see customer service as coming first, and the review generation aspect of email automation as a nice bonus.
Of course, your priorities will differ with your product line — some products are more amenable to building relationships with customers, and with others, it’s more difficult to create a lasting impression on your buyers by nature. If you are interested in building your brand and generating a base of repeat customers, however, then you should approach email automation as a customer service tool first and foremost.
Email automation, when you use it to help your customers, is a big part of building that relationships that keeps customers coming back. If they know that they’ll get an email giving them everything they need as soon as they buy your product, you’ll begin to stand out from the crowd in their eyes.
On the other hand, if all they get is an email containing a few pleasantries before pressuring them to leave a review, that might have the opposite effect. The last thing you want is customers shying away from your products because of irritating follow-up emails. So, if your niche supports it, why not go for a more customer-service-oriented approach? Nothing’s stopping you from still including the review link at the bottom, but you generate extra goodwill at no cost.
Just to be absolutely clear, we are not saying that you shouldn’t use email automation to help with review generation at all. All we’re recommending is a mindset, not a definite course of action. Don’t approach the issue of email automation while thinking: “how can I get the highest conversion rate of reviews?” Instead, think: “how can I help the customer before their product arrives?” The review link can still be there, but it shouldn’t subtract from your overall message.
This mindset might not dictate your exact content, but it very much affects the wording, structure, and overall “attitude” of the email. “Attitude” might be a bit of a vague term, but it can still come across in an email. Furthermore, don’t underestimate your customers — they can tell when a seller just wants them for their reviews, and when a seller actually cares about their experience.