Since the 3rd October 2016, otherwise known as the day when Amazon changed their Terms of Service, there has been so much speculation and discussion about the impact on the Amazon seller community.
Understandably, sellers were worried about the future, about how to launch products, how to increase reviews and ultimately, scale their businesses.
So how did actually it impact sellers?
We recently published a super insightful data-driven study over on the Jungle Scout blog. This study used data we had from Review Kick to assess what impact the TOS change had on sellers in the immediate term. Our data set worked with almost 6,000 products, in which we found only around 25% lost reviews, which is a statistically significant result. You can review the data in more detail and find out which categories were affected here.
Nonetheless, even though this study helped to alleviate some of the doom and gloom, there still seems to be some confusion amongst the community about exactly what you can and cannot do.
- Can I still run promotions?
- Am I able to offer discounts to improve my sales velocity?
- Can I still ask my customers’ to leave reviews when there is no incentive offered?
- If a buyer gets my product at a discount and then leaves a review of their own free will, am I going to get in trouble?
This will undoubtedly be holding some people back from trying tactics to increase sales or reviews, for fear of breaking the rules. We’re going to challenge some common misconceptions right now and lay out all of the facts!
The Calm AFTER The Storm – Amazon Compliance
Since incentivized reviews are no longer an option, Amazon sellers need to move fast and smart to stay ahead. How do we stay on the right side of compliance and still get reviews for our products?
In this post I am going to give a detailed overview of what you can and cannot do. So you can be safe in the knowledge you are fully compliant in the eyes of Amazon. Then we will take a look at the top 5 things that you should incorporate into your strategies for 2017. Ready? Let’s go…
What is definitely not allowed?
Always start with the bad news 😉 What can’t we do anymore?
What it all comes down to in a nutshell is that vetting, selecting or incentivizing your customers in return for reviews is definitely, 100%, not allowed.
Here’s what Amazon’s attorneys told us couldn’t be done:
- Sellers cannot ask for a review in exchange for a discounted product.
- You are not able to offer buyers special privileges (eg. free membership, gift cards, etc.) in exchange for a review.
- There must not be a selection bias when it comes to promotion code distribution (e.g. choosing to give codes based on previous reviewing history).
- Sellers (and deal websites) are not able to track customers who receive a coupon code, to see if they leave a review or not.
- Customers’ information (eg. name, gender, etc.) can not be shared with sellers.
It goes without saying that Amazon want to see a decrease in the amount of “fake” or “incentivized” reviews. I have seen a few services pop up where product reviewers submit unverified reviews that appear to meet all of the Amazon TOS requirements. This generally isn’t a good idea because it’s often easy to see which reviews are fake, not only to Amazon but also to your prospective customers.
In short, it’s still ok to encourage legitimate and honest reviews, and today we’re going to talk about precisely how to do that.
What are we able to do to leverage sales and get more reviews?
There is still a lot that you can do when it comes to promotions and reviews. Sure, the rules have changed and you will need to revise your strategies. But the good thing about being a business owner or entrepreneur is that you tend to develop skills that make you pretty adaptable. So let’s see what we have got to work with now:
- It is still totally within the rules to run promotions and list products at a discount (so long as the first point in what you aren’t allowed to do is observed and you don’t ask for reviews as a prerequisite).
- Discounts and distribution of coupon codes can be done randomly (which can help sellers increase sales velocity).
- Deal sites can verify that shoppers are not robots, and display non-identifying confirmation of the verification process for the sellers (e.g. Jump Send’s SMS Text Message verification badge).
- You can still approve ‘x’ number of requests to receive a coupon code. With two caveats, you can’t apply selection bias as mentioned previously. And it needs to be within reason so that Amazon does not view the promotion as an attempt to manipulate the product’s ranking.
- Sellers can ask for a review of a discounted product AFTER the purchase has been made, just as they would for a full price purchase since the discount the buyer received was not contingent on the buyer leaving a review(!)
- Consumers can leave up to five reviews for unverified purchases (i.e. some discounted products) each week.
Sellers can still ask for a review of a product AFTER the purchase has been made!
About Asking For Reviews
Although asking for a review AFTER a customer purchases a discounted product is not against the rules, Amazon sometimes disallows or removes reviews on products that were bought at a discount. So you might want to filter out any discounted sales in your automated email campaigns just to avoid confusion (you can do this within Jump Send). It’s totally up to you, the key thing is to make sure you don’t require or ask for reviews as a prerequisite.
5 Sales Techniques to Introduce to Your Strategies Right Now
So now that we have the rules nailed down, let’s move on. Here are the top five sales techniques that I recommend you start thinking about right away for all of your products.
1. Add Value
This is something Amazon sellers can all strive to do, and particularly if you are a private label seller. Find ways to improve your products, your customer service and your overall offering.
It sounds simple, but realistically, how do we do this? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Read your reviews or the reviews of similar/competitor products. Look for negatives and find out how you can improve the product for the better. Maybe it means getting a different supplier with higher quality? Could you bundle something that adds value along with the product? Or perhaps the packaging or instructions suck and need to be improved?
- Ever thought about product inserts? Inserts can be added into the physical product, or even added information on the packaging. This can be an inexpensive way to add a personal touch (and also a nice place to ask for product reviews and/or seller feedback but remember, you cannot incentivize them here either).
- Invest in customer support – even though Amazon provides this service, why not provide a more personal approach? Be involved in your customer relations, or even consider hiring someone to work on this for you. (Also see: Point 5).
2. Have the best listing in the land
Speaking of adding value. That perceived value of your product starts right here, on the product listing. Make sure your listings are selling your product in an honest way that highlights all of the benefits and instills the value of the product from the off.
Your product listing is really important, and you can consider all sorts of tactics to optimize it, advertise it and make it stand out above the competition. Here’s some useful ideas and resources to get you off on the right foot:
- Have you heard of ‘Enhanced Brand Content’ yet? It’s a new opportunity for sellers to utilize images and HTML formatting in their product descriptions. This was previously only available for Amazon A+ – find out more here!
- You might have a beautiful listing, but does it get found organically in Amazon’s search results? Find out more about Amazon SEO. You can go even deeper and try and get your product ranking for key terms in Google’s results too, which we covered in some depth in this Jungle Scout article.
- Another way to bolster your traffic and sales is to utilize Amazon pay-per-click (PPC) to get your fantastic product listing in front of more people. If you’re new to Amazon PPC, you will want to check out these articles too: How to advertise on Amazon & how to leverage PPC for better rankings and more data.
- Conversion Rate Optimization is a hot new tactic for Amazon sellers in a post-TOS change world. Find out how Splitly has helped sellers increase their sales and profits in this video – more sales mean more chances of getting reviews.
3. Promotions and discounts are still useful
As we have discovered, it’s still fine for you to run promotions and discounts. Why would you want to do this? Well if you are launching a product, or you need a boost in sales velocity, this is a great way to do it. This is still a method you can use to get a product off the ground or to increase best sellers rank.
As I mentioned earlier, you should never give away products at a discount on the premise that the customer must leave a review. But, you could still ask for a review after the product has been purchased at a discount.
With Jump Send, we have now introduced new features that allow you to protect your inventory, and automatically approve requests.
4. Keep on top of returns
This is more about preventing negative reviews, which effectively helps your reviews drive in the long run. We want more reviews, but we don’t want bad reviews!
For this you need to be keeping an eye on Seller Central every day and make sure you catch any returns that come in. This gives you time to put your awesome customer service that we mentioned earlier to good use. You could even potentially try to stop the return, or offer a discount instead of a return.
The bonus to this is that you will be gathering highly useful product feedback with every return.
Another awesome new feature in Jump Send is the refund trigger for returns. This allows you to automatically send out emails as soon as a customer initiates a return. This will save you time and money, and you won’t ever miss a return by accident if you forgot to check in Seller Central.
5. Send follow-up emails
This is my preferred method for gaining product reviews and seller feedback. It ties in nicely with offering awesome customer service, and allows you to further instill the value of the product in the customer’s mind.
Jump Send allows you to set up automated email campaigns which will save you heaps of time whilst ensuring your customers receive the best customer service.
It’s important to get this right, you don’t want to bombard customers, and you want to get the right messages across at the right time. Here are some best practice tips for your emails:
- Be persuasive, explain why the product adds value to the customer. When asking for reviews, explain that you are a small business (many Amazon shopper’s think all products are from Amazon), that a review would help other customers and that their feedback is important
- Personalize where possible, use the customer’s name a few times. Make them feel special!
- Write enticing email subject lines – make opening your email worthwhile. For example, you could offer instructional tips or additional advice related to the product. You can also utilize service updates, for example, “Your product is on its way – here’s a useful guide!”.
- Questions work well too, especially when asking for a review. This can be in the subject line or the body of the email. For example, “Does [product name] look amazing in your kitchen?”.
- Be an open book – make sure the customer has no doubt in their mind that they can contact you at any time with questions, problems or feedback.
For a more detailed view of what type of emails to send, plus some templates, check out this article.
The good news & silver linings
Let’s not forget that for consumers, this huge change was generally seen in a positive light. A study by ReviewMeta had shown that incentivized reviews led to an average star-rating increase of 0.38. Which painted a negative light on the trustworthiness of Amazon reviews in general.
Clearly, Amazon took this very seriously. Although it felt like a knee-jerk reaction at the time, I honestly believe this will benefit Amazon in the long run. That stands for both sellers and consumers because:
- It means that sellers will have a level playing field, in which they will be required to leverage new ways to improve their offering and get organic reviews in return.
- Importantly, it means that consumers can eventually restore their trust in Amazon reviews, which can only have a positive effect on their buying decisions.
Hopefully, this will guide you when it comes to making business decisions and deciding on the most appropriate way to boost your sales and reviews this year.
Along with these changes we have been busy adapting Jump Send in order to better help sellers towards success.
Everything we do is always 100% compliant with Amazon’s community guidelines. As you have found out, there are still many things that you can do that are within the Terms of Service.
Now with even more features added, Jump Send offers an all-in-one solution for improving the customer experience, increasing sales and getting organic product reviews.
This article was written to give you some factual advice and peace of mind if you were thinking of running some promotions, or setting up some automated emails to increase your chances of receiving non-incentivized reviews.
If you have any questions about any of the topics covered, or want to speak with us about how Jump Send can help, please drop us a line!