Amazon Bans Incentive Reviews – Reviewers Can No Longer Receive Free Or Discounted Items In Exchange For Leaving Reviews

If you are someone who claims the title of “Amazon Reviewer,” you are going to want to keep reading as Amazon has made some significant changes to their community guidelines. Officially announced by Amazon today, the company has made the decision to ban incentive reviews from the website completely.

The only exception to this incentive reviews ban across Amazon is for reviews that emerge within Amazon’s own program called Amazon Vine. Amazon Vine is a program where Amazon itself – not the seller, vendor, or manufacturer of the product – selects reviewers who are trusted to leave bias out of the equation. Advance copies of books for pre-release reviews will still be available, as well.

Amazon Review program cancelled
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Amazon has a long history of prohibiting sellers on the website from giving compensation in exchange for reviews. In the past, according to Tech Crunch, the company has even gone as far as to sue businesses who are paying for fake reviews as well as suing the reviewers who were using the website to leave fake reviews. These lawsuits were all in an effort to keep the review and rating system on Amazon both fair and trustworthy to the customers. In the past, the review system on the website – based on the community guidelines set by Amazon – did allow sellers, businesses, manufacturers, and vendors to offer products to customers in exchange for an “honest” review. Amazon, however, has started to question how “honest” these reviews actually are.

As Amazon reviewers who have experience working with sellers and leaving reviews on the website, it is an extremely common practice for sellers to email the customers and ask them to leave an “honest” four- or five-star review. The sellers will typically go on to say that if the reviewer is unable to leave an “honest” four- or five-star review to email the seller before leaving a review to see if the problem can be resolved. When this happens, it is not uncommon for the seller to just ask the reviewer not to leave a review at all instead of leaving a bad review.

The only condition Amazon had in place for incentive reviews on the website prior to this was that reviewers had to disclose their relationship with the business. This meant that within the review, there had to be a few lines of text in which the reviewer talked about how they had received the product at a discount (or free) in exchange for an honest review.

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While, in theory, it is possible for incentivized reviews to have resulted in honest and true opinions of the product, it was extremely more common for these reviews to be extremely in favor and supportive of how great the product was which made Amazon begin to question how “honest” these reviews were and ultimately resulted in the company making the decision to ban incentive reviews.

Sellers and vendors were even going as far as to search the website for reviewers who had experience leaving reviews on similar products or were known to leave less critical reviews. When the sellers and vendors would find these reviews, they would offer them the incentive to receive a product for free or at a discount in exchange for reviewing it.

A large number of sellers and vendors had the ultimate goal of using incentivized reviews to receive positive reviews (ideally four- or five-star reviews) to increase their product’s ranking on the website. Amazon has made the decision to ban incentivized reviews because this was not the purpose of the practice.

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The biggest reason why Amazon made the decision to ban incentivized reviews is because shoppers on the website have started to distrust reviews on the site because they believe them to be biased (in favor of the product). ReviewMeta reveals that this isn’t just some unnerving feeling shoppers are having with a study of 7 million reviews. The study reveals that the average rating for incentivized reviews is higher than the average rating for natural/non-incentive reviews. The study also showed that incentive reviewers are 12 times less likely to leave a one-star review and four times less likely to leave a critical review of the product.

Technically, reviewers who were being incentivized were not being compensated with cash. However, those who participated in the incentive reviewing process were receiving a lot of free and discounted products.

Amazon Fulfillment Center
[Secondary Image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Amazon has made it clear that effective immediately, the only incentive reviews on the website are going to be those which come directly from the Amazon Vine program. It is important for Amazon reviewers to understand the Amazon Vine program does not work anything like the Amazon incentive reviews did. For starters, Amazon is in complete control of who gets to review products. Amazon only offers products for review that are new, being pre-released, or have not generated a lot of sales (or organic reviews).

Amazon Vine is a program you have to be invited to. You will only be invited to the program after you have written a number of reviews that other customers on the website have deemed “helpful.” This is when Amazon considers to an expert in reviewing a specific product.

“We do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written,” explains Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience at Amazon in an announcement about how Vine controls for bias. “And we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product,” he adds.

The other big difference between Amazon Vine and other incentivized reviews is the fact that the sellers and vendors have absolutely no contact with the reviewers. In fact, it is the Amazon distribution center who sends the products directly to the customers for review.

Amazon customers incentive review program ended
[Secondary Image via David Ryder/Getty Images]

According to Tech Crunch, these changes are effective immediately and apply to all product areas on the website (with the exception of books). Amazon has always allowed authors to provide advanced copies of books to be distributed. Amazon does have plans to try to make the Amazon Vine program more useful to vendors in the future but has not gone into any detail regarding how this will happen.

Amazon has confirmed that reviews that were left prior to this policy being changed are only going to be removed if they are determined to be excessively biased or do not comply with the prior policy. This just means that there are still going to be a number of biased reviews on Amazon for a while. Amazon also has made it clear that anyone who attempts to manipulate the review system to continue to offer products at a discount or free in exchange for incentive reviews will have immediate action taken against them.

What do you think about the decision Amazon has made to ban incentive reviews? Did you previously participate in receiving products for free or at a discount in exchange for leaving an “honest review”? Share your thoughts on this change to Amazon’s review policy in the comments below.

[Featured Image by David Ryder/Getty Images]