What do you do before buying something online, especially something you’re not too familiar with? If you’re like most of us, you look at the reviews. The reviews – or lack thereof – can tell you a lot about a product or seller. This is especially helpful if you’re buying from a marketplace such as Amazon or eBay.
But can you trust these reviews? There are people who make money writing positive reviews that are nothing but lies. Sometimes merchants reward good reviews with money, free products, and other incentives. This skews the product ratings and could lead to a bad decision on your end.
The good news is that Amazon is doing its part to make things fairer for everyone involved. On October 3, the world’s largest retailer updated its Community Guidelines to ban reviews that are tied to discounted or free products.
A long time coming
In an effort to make online shopping as helpful as possible, Amazon has tried for years to get rid of false reviews. The retailer has even sued the companies who pay for them as well as the people who write them. The only incentivized reviews allowed in the past were ones where reviewers were given a product to try out in exchange for an honest review. Sometimes the products were given away free of charge, while others may have gotten the item at a steep discount. This would have to have been disclosed in the review in order for it to be considered honest.
However, it didn’t seem like the reviews were fair. Most were biased and very favorable toward the product, even though the reviewer had the opportunity to write a negative review. This is likely because of two factors. First, companies may explicitly choose reviewers who were less negative to increase the risk of a good review. Second, reviewers may be inclined to write good reviews for fear of not being able to test any more products for free.
This has caused Amazon customers to feel distrustful toward these reviews. But in reality, this feeling is fact.
While writing reviews doesn’t make one rich – or pay any cash at all, for that matter – it can lead to hundreds of free or discounted products for reviewers. The average incentivized reviewer has written a whopping 232 reviews. A consumer who has not been compensated for writing a review has written an average of 31 reviews – a huge difference!
Incentivized reviews are now only allowed to Amazon Vine customers. Amazon Vine is a program that allows select customers to review products. Not just anyone can join, however. Amazon selects customers who have written helpful reviews in the past and appear to have expertise in a specific category. In addition, the products selected for review are typically new products that haven’t generated a lot of sales.
Those in the Vine program do not receive incentives for writing good reviews. In fact, they aren’t even required to write a review. Plus, the number of Vine reviews for each product will be limited. That means you won’t see any products with nothing but Vine reviews.
Amazon has others controls in place to eliminate the bias that many products have seen with incentivized reviews. Vendors will not be able to communicate with reviewers, which means they can’t sway their opinion.
What happens now?
Source: Search Engine Land
According to the Amazon Community Guidelines, "creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else" is no longer allowed. Unless you are an Amazon Vine reviewer, you won’t be able to receive free products, cash or any other reward for posting a review. Companies who fail to follow these guidelines may have their Amazon account terminated. If the conduct is illegal, Amazon will not hesitate to take legal action, which may include fines, jail time and other criminal penalties.
All product categories – except books – will be affected by these changes. Reviews posted before the October 3 policy change will not be removed unless they did not comply with the prior policy. This means that you will still see these incentivized reviews for various products. However, they should be clearly identified so you can determine for yourself whether you believe them.
The goal of these updated guidelines is to instill honesty and fairness throughout the marketplace so customers will feel more comfortable making purchases without having to deal with competition between businesses. While every business wants to earn customers and make money, it needs to be done fairly, and Amazon is trying to help in that regard.