If you’re a private label seller on Amazon, you have to ask your customers for a review. At least, that’s what common knowledge holds these days. What used to be a rare tactic that savvy sellers knew to take advantage of has now become a ubiquitous strategy across private-label sellers. There are a ton of email automation tools out there, each with their advantages and disadvantages, but everyone is using one of them, and everyone is asking for a review in those emails.
This widespread use has had a few interesting effects. First of all, it’s become harder for your emails to stand out in the eyes of customers. Frequent shoppers are receiving a deluge of emails with every order, and yours may get lost under the sheer volume, if they haven’t already disabled third-party communications.
Second, Amazon is starting to pay more attention to exactly how sellers are asking for reviews, and they’re cracking down on some seemingly innocent phrasings. Specifically, they’re concerned about ‘review manipulation,’ and how certain phrases that sellers use may try to draw away negative reviews and only encourage reviews when they’re going to be positive. A few sellers have actually been banned for purported review manipulation, although there have been no widespread ban waves and many sellers are still happily using the same phrasing. Still, it always pays to be safe on Amazon, especially when a suspension could risk your entire business.
In this article, we’re going to go over how to make your review requests totally compliant with Amazon’s Terms of Service, in addition to giving some advice about how to make your follow-up emails stand out from the crowd. First, let’s take a look at Amazon’s Terms of Service to figure out what they actually say about asking for a review.
As always, we go back to our good friend, the Amazon Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions page, one of the most important chunks of Amazon’s Terms of Service. If you navigate to the General Guidelines > Misuse of Ratings, Feedback, or Reviews > Reviews section, you’ll find this:
Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers' experiences with products and services—positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation (including free or discounted products) for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to modify or remove reviews.
For our purposes, the second-to-last sentence is key: “Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.” Now, this might seem obvious to you. Review solicitations (a.k.a post-order, follow-up emails) shouldn’t blatantly ask customers to only leave five-star reviews, neither should they offer to compensate customers if they leave a review.
However, Amazon has been interpreting this line more liberally in past years — even phrasing that very subtly encourages positive reviews or discourages negative reviews can get you in trouble. Let’s discuss exactly how.
First, there’s the obvious case of review manipulation: blatantly asking for positive reviews only.
If you liked the product, please consider leaving us a five-star review here: [review link].
This phrasing is what pops into most people’s heads when they see “solicitations that ask for only positive reviews.” It’s a common phrasing on less regulated websites, but Amazon isn’t having any of it, for obvious reasons. Customers trust Amazon’s reviews to be unbiased and help them make decisions, so Amazon is constantly making efforts to at least remove the appearance of bias in reviews.
However, you shouldn’t pat yourself on the back because your emails don’t look like this. Not being quite so obvious in your review manipulation won’t always cut it anymore. Let’s take a look at a much more common phrasing that, although it’s more subtle, accomplishes a similar goal to the (bad) phrasing above.
Here’s the phrasing to look out for:
If you have any issues with the product at all, please contact us at email@example.com or reply to this email and we can help you out. Otherwise, if the product met or exceeded your expectations, please consider leaving us your honest opinion in the form of a review: [review link].
At first glance, this looks fine. You’re not explicitly asking them to only leave positive reviews, so it seems like none of Amazon’s Terms of Service have been violated. You’re even asking for an “honest” review! Doesn’t that seem like it’s inviting all kinds of reviews?
However, I’m sure you can tell that there’s something tricky going on here. You’re not telling them to only leave positive reviews, per se, but you are insinuating that they should only leave a review if they had a positive experience.
What’s more, with the first sentence, you’re trying to discourage any negative reviews by indicating that customers should contact your support line if they have any problems. The implication is that they would contact support before leaving the negative review, you could fix the problem, and there would be no negative review.
Let’s discuss this further, because this is a tricky point.
Naturally, requesting that a customer talks to you before leaving their negative review makes sense. I’m sure we’ve all looked at a negative review and though “Argh, if only they’d talked to us first!” This instinct isn’t wrong, either. Negative reviews can and should be thought of as customer service incidents, because that’s what they are in the vast majority of cases.
However, despite all of that, what matters is how Amazon perceives these emails.
Evidence has started piling up that they’re treating this form of review manipulation. It’s been inconsistent, but in some cases, trying to persuade customers to enter your support funnel rather than leave a negative review has gotten sellers banned. You can argue whether or not this actually constitutes review manipulation all you want, but the fact is that sellers have gotten banned for these things before.
Again, none of these things are consistent. Some sellers get away with this for a long time, others get suspended very quickly. As many Amazon sellers know, however, it always pays to be careful, especially when it comes to suspensions.
Of course, it’s still a good idea to let them know how they can contact support (often, you just have to tell them to reply to the email). However, you need to be very careful with the phrasing, and make sure the placement can’t be construed as dissuading customers from leaving a negative review. The wording should look something like:
If you have any questions or concerns, our support team is always available. Reply to this email to reach out to us by email, or call us at [phone number].
Importantly, this should come after you’ve already asked for a review. This way, it won’t be seen as pulling away any potential negative reviews.
Now that we’ve talked about references to customer support, let’s talk about the right way to phrase the review request in the first place.
You need to be completely neutral with your review request in order to stay safe. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with asking your customers for a review, just so long as Amazon doesn’t catch a whiff of any perceived “review manipulation.”
A safe way to ask for a review would look something like this:
If you have the time, please consider leaving us your honest opinion in the form of a review. It’ll help other customers make better purchasing decisions, and every review really helps out a small business like ours. To leave a review, click here: [review link].
Notice how there’s no pressure to manipulate their review one way or the other: you’re not discouraging them from leaving a negative review with a support link, nor are you encouraging them to leave a positive review with conditionals like “If you liked it...”. Until further notice, a wording similar to this should keep you safe from suspension, as long as you’re careful about where you place your support link.
However, at this point, our approach still has a fundamental problem, bigger than the wording we use when we ask for a review. The problem is this: why should the customer care about this email?
If you want to run truly successful email campaigns, you need to give your customers a compelling reason to open your emails. This brings us to our next section.
Encouraging reviews is nice, but if that’s the only thing you’re doing in your post-order emails, your customers will begin to wonder what they’re getting out of it. We’ve argued for a long time that your post-order emails should focus on customer service, but more than that, your customers need a good reason to open your emails in the first place.
Every experienced seller around is sending post-order emails asking their customers for reviews. If your customers haven’t already disabled third-party communications communications, they’re likely getting tired of these emails by now. You need to stand out from the crowd in some way. Getting reviews is great for you, but think about what the customer is actually getting out of it. In other words: provide value for your customers.
There are many ways to provide value for your customers in your follow-up emails; it mostly depends on your exact product.
The easiest, most general way to make your emails stand out is to provide helpful tips. This means going beyond simply giving them a list of instructions for use. You know your product better than anyone else — give your customer some creative uses!
The list goes on, as you can imagine.
If your product is on the complicated side, follow-up emails are a great place to put installation/setup instructions, whether you include a manual as an attachment or simply list the steps in the email.
If you’re selling electronics, follow-up emails are also a great place to include drivers in addition to set-up instructions, so that your customers can download the drivers ahead of time and make everything work as soon as the product arrives.
It’s impossible to cover all the ways that follow-up emails can provide value to your customers, as it’s so heavily dependant on the product. However, you know your product better than anyone else, so you should be able to come up with something compelling for your customers. Your goal is engagement. if your customer feels they’ve gotten something out of reading your email, then at the very least, they won’t be as frustrated or annoyed as if your email just asked for a review. The best-case scenario is that they found your extra content so helpful that they’re more likely to leave a review, in appreciation of your thoughtfulness and good customer service. This won’t happen with every customer, but why not give it a go anyway?
Obviously, follow-up emails have become a complicated topic on Amazon. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that I don’t like the way the winds are blowing. The state of follow-up emails at the moment is reminding me of the atmosphere right before incentivized reviews were disallowed — customers complaining, Amazon suspending greater numbers of sellers, etc. Of course, follow-up emails aren’t really comparable to incentivized reviews: reviews are the lifeblood of Amazon’s platform, whereas follow-up emails are just a source of annoyance for some customers. Plus, Amazon has already introduced the ability for sellers to opt out of third-party communications, as mentioned before.
Nevertheless, now is still a good time for sellers need to tread carefully and keep their heads down. Suspensions for review manipulation are still the exception rather than the rule, but it might be just a matter of time before they become the norm. We recommend changing your emails to a more neutral wording, just to stay on the safe side. Keep your ear to the ground, too — change might come quickly, and you want to stay on top of it.