Amazon.com Inc. is offering its marketplace sellers a new way to bump up the number of reviews of new products.
The online marketplace launched the Early Reviewer Rewards program in June, a service in which sellers pay Amazon to search for customers to write reviews of newly listed products on Amazon.com. Here’s how it works: Once Amazon accepts a marketplace seller to the program, Amazon reaches out to customers who have already purchased the product to write a review in exchange for a small Amazon gift card ($1-$3, for example). Sellers have no influence over which customers write reviews or the content of the reviews. Only products with less than five reviews are eligible for this program. The program is available to U.S. sellers that are branded manufacturers.
Amazon declined to comment on how much this program costs sellers, however one Amazon seller, Chad Rubin, says he paid $60 per SKU for the Early Reviewer Program. Amazon does not promise a number of reviews, but it will look for reviews for up to a year, Rubin says based on his experience of using this service over the last several weeks. Rubin is also CEO and co-founder of Skubana, a company that provides e-commerce software and helps retailers and brands sell on Amazon.
“We’re seeing Early Reviewer reviews come back in batches. We uploaded 14 products and received reviews back on four of them thus far,” Rubin says. “We have now uploaded a couple hundred SKUs.” Early Reviewer Program reviews are identified with an orange badge that reads “Early Reviewer Rewards.”
The Early Reviewer Program is different from the Amazon Vine program, a service only available to brands that sell inventory directly to Amazon, who then sells the inventory on its own. Amazon Vine provides certain customers free samples of items Amazon sells. Amazon selects customers based on their reviewer ranking, “which is a reflection of the quality and helpfulness of their reviews as judged by other Amazon customers,” according to Amazon, No. 1 in the 2017 Internet Retailer Top 500. Suppliers that sell items to Amazon on a wholesale basis pay Amazon a fee for the service and can’t influence whether the rating is positive or negative, Amazon says. Customers aren’t paid to write the review, and Amazon says it limits the number of Vine reviews on products. Vine reviews are identified with the green stripe that says “Vine Review of Free Product.”
The Early Reviewer Program comes after Amazon last October cracked down on how sellers solicited product reviews. Some sellers used to offer discounted—sometimes even free—products to customers who agree to post a review of the product. Amazon allowed this practice so long as the reviewers disclosed within the reviews that they received the product in exchange for promising to write a review. That’s no longer the case. Amazon now prohibits “offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free and discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying or posting content,” the retailer told sellers in October.
The ban came at a time when Amazon was taking heat for biased reviews on its site. Technology research company ReviewMeta last year analyzed 7 million Amazon reviews and concluded that 30% of those reviews were “incentivized,” meaning the reviewer received the product for free or at a discount. The incentivized reviews, which totaled more than 2 million in ReviewMeta’s dataset, had an average rating of 4.74 stars on Amazon. More than 5 million other reviews that weren’t incentivized averaged a lower rating of 4.36 stars. The company says the 0.38 difference can determine whether a product is considered average or becomes a top-rated product because the average product on Amazon is rated about 4.4 stars, according to ReviewMeta.
Further breaking down its data, ReviewMeta says reviewers who are offered an incentive are 12 times less likely to give a 1-star rating than non-incentivized reviewers, and almost four times less likely to leave a critical review in general. What’s more, incentivized reviews accounted for more than half of new reviews submitted to Amazon, based on ReviewMeta data.
With more than an estimated 350 million SKUs listed on Amazon.com, it’s tough for Amazon sellers to launch new products on the site, especially with customer reliance on reviews. An Internet Retailer online survey May 2016 found that 52% of shoppers always look at ratings and reviews when shopping on online marketplaces and usually base purchase decisions on them. 42% said they sometimes look at ratings and reviews, and only 6% said they never look at reviews.
It’s too early to know if this service will help sellers launch new products, but Rubin says the $60 price tag per SKU is low for how valuable reviews can be. Another seller on Amazon’s seller forums agrees. This unnamed seller wrote, “If it’s my product and I’m trying to add it to what I offer on Amazon, I think it’s worth it. Those first reviews are HARD!”