Amazon's Early Reviewer Program: How It Works

Amazon just introduced the Early Reviewer Program to provide a new way for sellers to generate organic reviews! Let’s dive into how it works and what it means.

What Is It? How Does It Work?

The Early Reviewer Program is a new program aimed at alleviating the problems introduced by the incentivized review ban. The basic intent is to increase the number of organic reviews left on products by offering random customers small incentives to leave reviews.

How exactly does it work? The first step, as a seller, is to select which products you would like to participate in this program. Once a product is added, a random group of customers who purchase the item will be offered the opportunity to leave an honest review in exchange for a small ($1–3) Amazon gift card. It’s important to note that a product’s Early Reviewer status is not displayed on the product page, so reviewers with less-than-honest intentions won’t know which products they can target for this Amazon credit.

As for the lucky reviewers, they’re chosen mostly at random, although Amazon claims that they’re using an algorithm to root out customers with a history of leaving fake reviews. They also have to meet certain eligibility requirements: Amazon employees, participating sellers, and their friends and families will be ineligible for the Early Reviewer program. Finally, the reviews left under this program are marked with an orange badge that reads “Early Reviewer Rewards,” similar to the badge that Vine reviews receive.

How Is It Different From Incentivized Reviews?

The biggest difference is that participants have to have already bought the product, so there’s less potential for a base of reviews to be instantly generated from a product’s onset. However, the program will still help brand-new products; it just won’t work quite as quickly as incentivized reviews did.

Furthermore, the program still offers incentives to leave honest reviews after the product has been purchased, but the incentive isn’t a free product (which could vary in value from $1 to $100 depending on the product in question), but rather a small gift card of more-or-less constant value.

Finally, like Amazon Vine, It’s also an official Amazon program, meaning there’s still no room for the sketchy third-party sites that caused many of the complaints about incentivized reviews. Amazon no longer needs to bother with policing third-party sites on terms-of-service violations and can focus on optimizing their own in-house programs.

Why Did Amazon Do This?

It would be nice to think that Amazon introduced this program out of the goodness of their heart, that they really do care about us sellers. Unfortunately, that’s probably a bit further from the truth than we would like.

On some level, of course, Amazon does occasionally have to throw sellers a bone in order to keep its ecosystem healthy and make sure there isn’t a mass exodus of third-party sellers. However, Amazon is definitely the biggest game in town when it comes to ecommerce, and they know this very well. Therefore, this program probably wasn’t an act of desperation, although it’s still a nice little olive branch to be offered as sellers.

Of course, you shouldn’t think for a second that Amazon isn’t getting anything out of this. They banned incentivized reviews because of customer complaints about the integrity of their review system. However, banning a type of review that, at one point in time, made up the majority of new reviews coming into Amazon, would understandably decrease the total number of reviews posted. Customers rely on reviews when making purchases, so fewer reviews, especially in the case of products with zero reviews, mean fewer sales. Fewer sales, for the sake of completing the argument, means that Amazon is making less money. Obviously, anything that increases sales helps sellers as well as Amazon, so this program is still a win-win. Just don’t expect a flurry of seller-friendly policies to start flooding out from Seattle. Amazon is still beholden to the customer above all else.

To take a final optimistic look at this situation, though, this new program is a good sign that they do understand the cold-start problem, and that they are willing to take steps towards addressing sellers’ complaints..

What Effect Will It Have?

The main effect of this program, hopefully, will be an increased number of organic reviews. The biggest difference, for better or for worse, between the Early Reviewer program and incentivized reviews/Amazon Vine is that the customer has to have already bought the product. This fact should hopefully remove the free-product effect (for lack of a better term) and lead to reviews that recount authentic experiences, since Early Reviewer participants will have had their own reasons for purchasing the product beyond “I want free stuff.”

Hopefully, as a result of this authenticity, customers will have greater trust in the system, and we won’t see the same backlash that we did against incentivized reviews. Now, there’s still a chance that the orange badges above the reviews will immediately cause some alarm, and customers who haven’t read into the details of the program might start crying foul, claiming “they’re just bringing incentivized reviews back under a new name!” Amazon’s explanation of the program is fairly clear and to-the-point, but not everyone will read it. We would hope that any initial outrage will die down once people start becoming more familiar with the details of the program, but the risk of a backlash is still there.

And, although this goes without saying — if the program works out as intended, sales should increase! This is probably the best new tool for gathering a base of reviews for new products since the death of incentivized reviews, so this program especially helps sellers looking to diversify their product line.

The introduction of this program might also lead to less reliance on follow-up emails for review generation. In another recent article, we talked about how some customers are getting overwhelmed with review request emails, to the point that many refuse to leave a review or stop buying from sellers. With Early Reviewers taking some of the burden of review generation away from email automation, sellers will hopefully send fewer emails, or focus them more around customer service (which we recommend regardless). As a result, the stigma against follow-up emails could decrease a bit.

Hopefully, Amazon’s algorithm will prevent gaming of the system (e.g. sellers pay customers under the table to buy their program-enrolled product and leave reviews), but we could still see it happening. Theoretically, the $50.00 minimum to leave a review should discourage malicious reviewers from constantly creating new accounts in order to avoid the “fake review history” status, and everything should work out smoothly. On the other hand, you should never underestimate the creativity of people looking to game the system.

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