State of Customer Reviews & Customer Service on Amazon

The concept of a customer review is fantastic. It flips the power from the brand to the consumer. For the longest time, brands were telling customers what they should want and now customers are telling brands their opinions on their products for everyone to see. Furthermore, customer reviews have raised the expectation of the value of a product. In the 1950s, you could go to the pharmacy store and there were a limited amount of shampoos to choose from. Now, there’s so many choices that it’s overwhelming and customers want some type of social credibility to make that purchasing decision.

Incentivized Reviews

Amazon was created in July 1994. Shortly after in 1995, they adopted the customer review. In the beginning, incentivised reviews were allowed as long as the customer clearly stated they received the product for free in exchange for leaving an honest review.

In October 2016, they stopped allowing incentive reviews claiming all reviews should be authentic. Amazon did a clean sweep, removing reviews that were incentivised. They planned to police reviews moving forward and suspend anyone partaking in review manipulation. According to a recent NYTimes.com article, Amazon said that last year it prevented more than 13 million bogus reviews and “took action” against more than five million accounts.

While they did supposedly do a scrape, removing and deleting reviews that mentioned they were incentivised, there are still old legacy reviews that live on these older listings that were incentivised. This is a disadvantage to brands new to the Amazon platform at that time or after because early adopters will automatically have the advantage moving forward, even if it isn’t a superior product. 

Customers give preferential purchasing habits to products that have several reviews when their product could potentially be better. If you’re a new brand that’s never sold on Amazon before it’s difficult to compete. Therefore, brands are resulting to review manipulation to compete and stay in the game.

Third Party Sellers

Legacy brands that don’t sell on Amazon can receive negative reviews tied to their ASIN from products sold through third party sellers sending old or counterfeit inventory. (See more on Amazon selling counterfeit products on our blog HERE.) If a brand later decides they want to sell on Amazon, these negative reviews are tied to their ASIN and the brand can potentially be stuck with negative reviews when it’s actually an Amazon related issue, not the brands. Brands can make appeals and have negative reviews removed, but it’s not a straightforward and easy process. 

Furthermore, consumers are now using Amazon reviews to make purchasing decisions in-store. If a customer is at the Saks beauty counter and searches Amazon reviews on an eyeliner they’re interested in purchasing and sees negative reviews, they may choose not to purchase that eyeliner. These reviews could actually be negligence from Amazon third party sellers, ultimately resulting in a loss for the brand.

Positive & Negative Reviews

When people click on reviews, it’s human nature to focus on the negative reviews and skip the positive. People are more inclined to complain than they are to praise. We expect to only buy 5-star products but we’ll only leave negative reviews when a product disappoints. 

According to ReviewTrackers data, a consumer is 21 percent more likely to leave a review after a negative experience than a positive one. In addition, more people are looking at 1-star reviews than last year, and we also saw an increase in consumers claiming that 1-star reviews are the most trustworthy.

*graph from ReviewTrackers.com

We’re letting that small percentage of consumers influence the purchasing power of the majority of the e-commerce sales. But there can be benefits to having less reviews, if the reviews are positive, which will in turn impact the overall average. It’s a game. 

In addition, Amazon recently changed the way Product Reviews are displayed on their site. Customers have the option to leave a regular Product Review (with a comment) OR a simple Rating of 1 to 5 stars (no comment). For the latter, there is no way to respond, find out if the rating is verified, or reach out to the customer.

Amazon has introduced the one click review/rating button to make it easier for customers. Simply tap once to leave a star rating on any item, without having to fill out additional fields like a review title and written review, as previously required.

This new system can be positive if more people will be inclined to give a 5 star rating as it is easy and doesn’t require additional steps. However, we must keep in mind that it is just as easy for a customer to click 1 star and brands won’t be able to understand why, respond, or try to rectify.

Ability to Encourage Reviews

Amazon is making it harder for brands to encourage customers to leave reviews. In the past, brands have been able to send post purchase emails. Amazon announced that starting December 3rd links, attachments, and product imagery that’s not necessary to complete the order are no longer allowed in the post purchase emails. Amazon is basically blocking brands from being proactive and reminding customers to leave reviews.

Customer Service

Recently, Amazon started limiting the brands customer service ability. If a product is lost in the mail, the wrong product is sent, or is defective, it’s very difficult for brands to reach out to resolve the issue. Amazon continues to add roadblocks. In the past, brands could visit cellar central and receive a customers info to reach out and rectify the situation. Amazon wants to block brands from being able to reach out to customers because some brands were sending mailers promoting their own products. Now, you don’t receive last names or phone numbers which makes it much harder for honest brands to speak with their customers. 

The only thing brands can do right now is send a note through the buyer message platform which is rarely checked and can be blocked. Brands have a small chance of reaching customers which can ultimately result in a bad review. If this happened on a brands own website they could turn a negative experience into a positive one.

Amazon is stopping brands from improving the customer service experience resulting in negative reviews. Brands are turning to review manipulation to keep themselves afloat in a landscape so harshly judged by what their reviews are, especially if you are a new or emerging brand.

Vine Program

Amazon doesn’t allow incentivized reviews but they have a program called Vine in which they give away free product in exchange for reviews. Previously only available to those on Vender Central, Amazon launched Vine Self Service this week. Right now some of our clients have free credits, but we suspect in early 2020 those credits will cost money. Vine Self Service is available for products with under 30 reviews. Stay tuned for an upcoming detailed blog post on this!

Early Reviewer Program

Amazon also offers an Early Reviewer program. With this program, you are paying Amazon to help get you reviews. It’s only allowed if Amazon facilitates the review and Amazon is charging $60 per parent if the product has less than 5 reviews.

Bright Idea!

I would like to see Amazon update its platform similar to Instagram’s new rollout, where a product with over 100 reviews is indicated by “100+ reviews” to level the playing field for new brands. For Amazon’s sake and for liability purposes, it’s better not to show the number of reviews to cut down on review manipulation. If you sell on Amazon and you have decent sales for 2 years, you should be able to get 100 reviews on your top skus, if it’s honestly a good product.

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