Skubana Guest Blog: The Private Labelers Guide to Navigating Amazon Incentivized Review Changes (Plus Examples You Can Steal)

Until the end of 2016, incentivized reviews were the bread and butter of Amazon review marketing, enabling sellers to offer products to reviewers to quickly boost reviews and sales.  

In June of 2016, Review Meta published a study showing that incentivized reviews on Amazon were heavily biased in favor of the seller. This was one of the final straws in a history of increasing mistrust surrounding Amazon incentivized reviews. From Amazon’s perspective, if customers can’t trust that a review is genuine, they have no motivation to follow through with the purchase. Social proof is one of Amazon’s founding tenants, and is one of the largest contributors to their massive success.

So, when consumers began to doubt the veracity of reviews, Amazon took steps to ban incentivizing. All third-party sellers were hurt by this change in policy, but private label brands manufacturing their own products are hit the hardest, simply because they do not have the existing brand reputation to make sales without reviews.

While you can no longer offer products for free or for a discount in exchange for reviews, there are plenty of other ways to promote your products and build positive feedback. We’ll walk you through how to get started.

Why You Need Reviews (A Quick Refresher)

If you’re already familiar with how reviews build your credibility on Amazon, you can go ahead and skip to the next subhead. If not, here’s a quick refresher.

Reviews generate social proof for products, telling other customers that the product is worth their time and money, the company won’t try to rip them off, and allaying suspicions and fears. While you do want mostly positive reviews, even well-written negative reviews can provide social proof, because customers often fear worse problems than most reviewers talk about.

More reviews will increase buyer confidence, while increasing your ability to rank on Amazon and how much Amazon features your product.

Unfortunately, less than 5% of all purchases result in a review,  which can be damaging to private label brands who don’t have the existing social proof of a big name-brand to move their products.

Building Non-Incentivized Reviews

Amazon no longer allows you to provide incentives in exchange for a review, but there are still plenty of ways to encourage customers to review your products. We’ll go over a few of them and how you can use them for your brand.

Marketing Inserts

Adding marketing inserts to your product boxes is generally frowned upon for Amazon sales, but there is a right way to do it. While you likely shouldn’t spend time branding, promoting your store, or otherwise trying to drive the customer away from Amazon, you can take the time to ask the customer if they like the product and ask them to leave a review if they’re happy.

An Amazon marketing insert can have three primary points without breaking terms of service:

  • Personal messages and thanks
  • Targeted cross-sells
  • Discounts

Each of these offer value to the buyer without driving the customer away from Amazon. But, how does that look in real life? You should usually pick one or two goals for each marketing insert, and then print on both sides to maximize the ‘retail space’ inside of your box. If you can, making these cards personalized to the seller or to the product adds a lot of impact.

Side One: “Thank you for your purchase. Here’s 25% off your next order! Use code “25ForYou”

Side Two: Are you satisfied with your purchase? Contact us at bit.ly/example for customer support. Or visit bit.ly/example2 to share your experience and help other shoppers.

Requesting Reviews

In some cases, you can directly contact the customer to request a review. However, you should have a strategy and a method in place to ensure that your request isn’t annoying or untimely. For example, you should never request a review when the customer is still uncertain about their product or worse, hasn’t received the item yet. Therefore, you should only use this method when using tracked shipments.

Whether you’ve asked the customer to sign up for your newsletter or are contacting them through Amazon, your process should look a bit like this:

Email 1: Amazon Order Confirmation

Dear {full name}

“Thank you for your purchase of [product]. We are processing your order and will be in touch shortly with tracking information.”

Sincerely,

{Your Store}

Email 2: Your Amazon Purchase

Dear {first name}

Thank you for your order of {product}! We hope that it’s meeting your expectations to the fullest.

If you need help with your order, want to return or exchange your {product}, or have a complaint you would like to settle, please contact our customer support team at bit.ly/example. We’re here to help.  

Happy with your order? Share your experience with other shoppers and leave a review at bit.ly/example2

{Name, Customer Service Representative – Your Store}

By making your follow up email more personal with a first name and an email signature, you can drive home the fact that you now have a relationship with the customer.

Distributing Products to Bloggers

While you are no longer allowed to distribute products to reviewers in exchange for reviews, there is nothing against you distributing products anyway without a request for a review. Most of the incentivized review websites still exist, but they no longer require users to leave feedback on Amazon. Some are geared towards building reviews off-site, such as on actual blogs, which can improve your social proof if potential customers choose to Google your product. And, in some cases, these sellers will go on to leave reviews on Amazon anyway.

Amazon Vine

If your store has a large enough sales volume for you to consider moving to Vendor Central, Amazon Vine may be a solution. Amazon Vine is Amazon’s incentivized review program, where you can send anywhere from 15-100 products to Amazon approved reviewers – who will then leave honest reviews. You cannot choose the reviewer and they will not leave you a better review for the product. However, this solution has several disadvantages for private label brands because Vendor Central typically means forfeiting price control for your products. You may also pay fees ranging from $2,500-$7,500 per ASIN to access the Vine program, which can be considerable for smaller brands.

Early Reviewer Program

New products on Amazon now qualify for the Early Reviewer Program. Here, Amazon offers small incentives, such as a $1-$3 gift card to shoppers who have already purchased the product to incentivize them to leave a review. Shoppers who receive the incentive are chosen at random by Amazon. This can help you to boost early sales velocity and reviews, but won’t really help with making the first sales.

Business Practices to Generate Positive Reviews

In one study, it was shown that anywhere from 91-96% of dissatisfied customers won’t ever leave a review. They’ll write it off as a loss and move on, because they are accustomed to reviews and inquiries not helping. They will, however, go on to tell their friends and family.

However, if only 4-9% of all unhappy customers leave reviews, the majority of reviewers are happy customers. This means that you can boost reviews with a three-part strategy that is quite simply designed around making your customer as happy as possible.

  • Surprise the customer by exceeding their expectations
  • Inspect every product and package well
  • Follow up with great customer support

There are a few ways that you can go about achieving this.

Amazon Product Pages

If you can review your Amazon product page you can likely tell if it’s going to offer your customer a good experience or not. Your goal should be to ensure that everything from the images to the bullet points to the description provides all the information the customer needs to make a good decision. Describe the material, the size in inches and centimeters, any compatibilities or lack of, and so on. If the customer can’t read the page and know exactly what the product is, they may be disappointed when they receive it. Similarly, it’s better to under represent quality than to over represent, because a pleasant surprise is better than a disappointment.

Inventory Management

Slow shipping, out-of-stock products, and slow order processing are the most common reasons behind negative reviews or customer dissatisfaction. The simple act of not having a product in stock when the customer orders it is one of the fastest ways to get a bad review.

Your goal should be to manage your inventory so that you do not sell out, so that you can process and ship orders within 48 hours, and so that you can provide low-cost shipping. This is especially important if you sell on multiple channels, which means running the risk of selling too much of a product and being unable to fulfill quickly. Solutions like Skubana provide tools to help you achieve more efficient inventory management by synchronizing your real-time inventory across all your channels, automating order management, automating re-order points to prevent selling out, and automating order processing so that you handle most of the processes between the shopping cart and shipping. Plus, with complete warehouse and order management, you can greatly speed up the time it takes to ship orders, while improving efficiency and reducing costs.

Quality Control

It doesn’t matter how much work you put into your product, inventory, or customer service – if the customer receives a broken or damaged item, they will complain. In fact, many customers will mention that they received a faulty item even if you replace it free of charge, and this can hurt sales, especially if you sell products that are purchased as gifts or for timely events.

Integrating a strict quality control policy in which every product is inspected during Pick and Pack, and ensuring that all products are packaged to avoid damage during transit, will help you to lower these complaints.

Customer Service

Your customer service representatives should be trained, able to help with product information, and know what to do in worst case scenarios. In most cases, when a customer emails you, they are doing so because they’ve had a bad experience and you only have one chance to fix that. Going above and beyond will cost you money, but is an investment in marketing.

Spending a bit more on replacing a product or shipping a new product out with Express Mail for a timely replacement is protecting your brand reputation. And, if your customer service can do more than the customer expects, they will most likely leave a review.

At the end of the day, your goal should be to meet or exceed customer expectations on every front, so that they are left happy and willing to thank you with a review.

Amazon no longer allows you to drive incentivized reviews, but you can take several steps to build reviews on your own. Hopefully, you can use these tactics to boost the reviews on your own products, so you see more sales.

Crucial Vacuum and Skubana Founder Chad Rubin grew his e-commerce business to an 8-figure business in 7 years. He is a Top 250 Amazon Seller, and co-founded Skubana as an all-in-one ERP system and operations platform designed for high volume sellers to run and automate their business. It integrates with most e-commerce marketplaces, 3PLs, and warehouses, provides profitability and multi-channel inventory management, and compiles all of your marketplaces on a single convenient dashboard. Learn more at info@skubana.com or sign up here.

Follow Chad on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram @ecommrenegade or connect with Linkedin.com/in/ecommercerenegade.

-- Skubana: Chad Rubin
Co-Founder & CEO