Amazon Takes Back Ratings and Reviews

amazon takes back reviewsRatings and reviews have become today’s word-of-mouth and are key to driving trial and purchase. Consumers rely more heavily on ratings and reviews to make decisions than on any other type of content. Customers trust one another before they trust brands — and genuine, earned advocacy is crucial to building brand awareness and loyalty.

However, brands often take a “shortcut” to get the reviews they desire and have become reliant on leveraging “incentivized reviews”— reviews from anyone who has received a product for free or to test, in order to galvanize and encourage positive conversations around products. Brands go so far as to pay for these reviews via dollars, discounts or free items. As these incentivized review programs have gained popularity, the result unfortunately has been the dilution of true advocate reviews, skewing results and undermining consumer confidence in purchase decisions.

Today, in a groundbreaking move, Amazon announced they are banning incentivized reviews. While the company has allowed these reviews in the past from companies like BzzAgent and Influenster, recent findings showed these endorsements are warping the rating system and making the site less credible.

To increase the credibility of these reviews and build their booming business— Amazon is encouraging all brands to utilize Amazon Vine, an Amazon-owned review platform that was created “to provide customers with more information including honest and unbiased feedback from some of Amazon’s most trusted reviewers.” The program is invitation-only and “Vine Voices” are chosen based on several criteria including demonstrated interest in the product(s) and helpfulness of reviews—essentially an evaluation of their authenticity.

Participating as a vendor can range from $2500-$7500 per individual product sku to access the program and the number of units per promotions are limited  to 15-100 depending on the category. To sell as a vendor, brands can either accept an invitation from Amazon to register as a vendor or sign up for the Vendor Express program. Amazon’s move certainly changes the game but also makes it fair play by allowing those authentic voices a larger, uncluttered platform to voice their reviews.

This bodes well for brands and agencies alike. It serves as an opportunity to rally influencers who are truly passionate about brands and encourage their followings to share their love as well. It puts the power back to the people who are authentically expressing their opinions. And, as marketers, it allows us to hone in on authentic and un-incentivized moments where the opportunity to convert consumers to advocates is ripe.

Like other consumer efforts to make their online experience with brands more authentic (e.g., ad blocking), Amazon’s move cuts out the extraneous noise and allows consumers to opt-in and advocate for the brands they love.

Ultimately, Amazon’s unincentivized ratings and reviews become a much more powerful call-to-action for brands to engage with true fans and allow agencies to harness the exponential power of the genuine review.

As an agency, we are excited by the opportunities this new rating and review landscape presents while determining the best ways to adjust existing or upcoming strategies based on this change—putting the power back in the hands of the real customers.

Real consumer love will breed advocacy more than any incentivized review can and is consistent with our Artfully Persuasive approach to identifying authentic advocates in an open and transparent fashion that will build our brands for years to come.