“Review Groups and Clubs are the Biggest Threat to Amazon’s Existence”
There, I said it. I hope I’m wrong. Reviews that aren’t organic will slowly lead to Amazon going out of business if Amazon doesn’t do something quickly.
Every quarter public companies have to make statements that inform potential shareholders of the health and viability of their company. They are called SEC 10-K filings. Section 1A is Called “Risk Factors” If Amazon is not listing “Threats to the integrity of Amazon’s Review System,” the SEC should be investigating them.
The Importance of a Trustworthy Review System
In the marketing world, we call it “social proof” – It’s the feeling of trust and assurance that a customer gets when they see someone else has done something and they like it. On late night infomercials it’s a couple sitting in front of the camera talking about how this real estate investment program changed their lives. In a store, it’s a customer walking by or a friend who says “Oh I have that product, and I love it.” or it’s a sales person who personally vouches for the product.
On Amazon, it’s a review.
Customer’s can’t physically pick the product up. They don’t (and shouldn’t) trust what the seller says. Seller’s aren’t all trustworthy. Product descriptions definitely aren’t trustworthy. Bullet points lie constantly. Photos can only show you what the product looks like, not how it feels in the hand, which is much more indicative of quality than the appearance of an item.
Reviews are the last bastion of trust for the customer.
Customers are onto us!
As I read through the reviews for products, I often see comments like “All these other reviews are bought and paid for, this one is real!”
I was talking to a good friend the other day about how much he loves Amazon Prime. Let’s call him Bob. Bob doesn’t know I’m an Amazon seller, he just knows about my day job. Bob, out of the blue, says to me that he’s stopped buying things that aren’t sold by Amazon because he got tired of going through the reviews. I asked him what he meant, and he told me that lately whenever he goes through reviews he constantly sees that the person got the product free so they could review it.
Bob isn’t an internet marketer. He’s a Mechanic. He works with his hands every day. He’s a good old-school common-sense american.
Bob says you can’t trust reviews given because they got a free product. He says you have to have spent your hard earned dollars on something to truly judge whether it’s a good value. Bob says it’s not possible to be thorough and accurate and do so many reviews. I bet if you polled 10 other every day people, most of them would say the same thing as Bob.
The sad truth is, many third party sellers are selling absolute garbage, and calling it premium. They’re giving a ton of it it away to get great reviews. Bob’s onto them.
The Slippery Slope that Destroys a Platform for Sellers
Here’s how it’s going to go down if Amazon does nothing:
- Customers are going to trust reviews for awhile, like Bob.
- Customers will get burned by bad products with good reviews – no matter what happens, it’s a negative experience.
- Some will return their products, Amazon will stand behind them, and refund.
- Others will not return their products. They’ll just consider it a mistake.
- Amazon will take a little hit to their reputation with each transaction, causing customer’s to think twice about making purchases. Like Bob.
- Sales will slow down, and no one will know why. Bob knows.
- A competitor will swoop in and become the new shopping destination. Sort of like Amazon swooped in and displaced E-Bay.
- That competitor will have way tighter controls on who can sell what. Sort of like Amazon did when compared to E-Bay.
- Amazon will become less and less relevant. Sort of like E-Bay.
Now, that’s the doom and gloom version. I admit that.
Because there’s no way Amazon is going to let that happen.
Amazon’s Nuclear Option
Amazon has already taken measures to eliminate review groups. Here are a few things they’ve done in the last year:
- Legally prosecuted groups that are selling reviews
- Erased Reviews without a “Unbiased Review” tag that were suspect
- Removed “Verified Purchase” tag from deeply discounted products
That’s just the opening volly.
Here’s what I expect Amazon will do eventually, when they figure out that this will kill their business:
Eliminate all reviews except those from a legitimate purchase, with a public promotion.
It’s a Nuclear Option. It’s that easy. The integrity of the review system is protected. It’s a disaster for honest sellers.
Of course, then the black-hatters will figure out that they just need to buy gift cards for reviewers, and then they can keep reviews. And they’ll do it. Liars ruin it for all of us. *Sigh*
How to Protect Yourself from, and Possibly Avoid the Nuclear Option
Sellers need to act responsibly now to avoid this possibility.
1. Develop an audience of rabid fans
Launching a new product is hard. You have to get a few reviews just to start out. I did it too. Build an audience of people who are waiting for your product to launch so that you can get that base of reviews.
2. Stop using review groups to improve your rankings
If your product is a good one, this will happen organically. It’s cheating. Amazon will catch you. Doing promotions to improve your rankings is manipulation of the system.
Stop lying to yourself and saying Amazon doesn’t mind. They do mind.
Stop justifying your actions by saying everyone else is doing it. They will get caught or penalized.
3. Have a good review solicitation e-mail sequence
Use one of the e-mail follow up services to send your customers e-mail. Add value to those e-mails, provide good customer service, and ask for reviews.
4. Manage negative reviews, don’t drown them.
If you’re getting a lot of negative reviews, you are doing something wrong. Don’t just drown the legit reviews in unverified reviews.
Figure out what you’re doing wrong, and fix it. If it’s a bad product, improve the quality. If it’s customer education, figure out how to educate the customer as part of your sales/unboxing process. That’s what real businesses do.
Here’s an article I wrote to help: 4 Steps to Handling Your Negative Reviews on Amazon
5. Protect Yourself Now: Reduce your dependence on
foreign oil review groups.
Start now. Don’t say “Well, I’ll figure it out when the time comes” – because your reviews will be gone. Those sellers who did things right from the start, they’ll keep chugging right along.
Ask the SEO marketers who got their business destroyed by any one of the updates Google made to their algorithm. They weren’t doing real business stuff. They were manipulating Google, and Google figured it out.
Many of them are selling on Amazon now. Go Figure.