Since October 2016, Amazon has made considerable changes to its product review policy. For this reason, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the do’s and don’ts of asking for a product review.
The goal of this article it to take our real-world experience with sellers and their suspensions, as well as our conversation with Amazon seller suspensions expert, Chris McCabe, and do a little reading between the lines for you. We’ll determine what Amazon ultimately considers illegal or unethical, and what they believe is okay.
To be clear, at Jungle Scout we believe all types of review manipulation bring down the Amazon platform. It leads to a loss of shopper trust. And a loss of trust means less sales for the platform, sellers and even our business.
If you’re ever in doubt that what you’re doing might be considered unethical or illegal in Amazon’s eyes, err on the side of caution. It’s always the best option.
So now, let’s start with the terms of service, straight from Amazon’s site.
In Amazon’s words:
When it comes to the actual terms of service for customer product reviews, you can find Amazon’s guidelines in Seller Central. But to make this really easy for you, here is exactly what those guidelines say:
Amazon encourages buyers to review the products they like and dislike to help customers make informed decisions about the products they purchase.
For answers to common questions about customer product reviews, see Answers to questions about product reviews.
To ensure that reviews remain helpful, sellers must comply with our Community Guidelines. For example, you cannot offer compensation for a review, and you cannot review your own products or your competitors’ products. You can ask buyers to write a review, but you cannot ask for positive reviews or ask a reviewer to change or remove their review. If you believe a review does not comply with our Community Guidelines, click on the Report Abuse link next to the review. As sellers and manufacturers, you are not allowed to review your own products, nor are you allowed to negatively review a competitor’s product.
Inappropriate product reviews
The following are examples of prohibited activities. This is not an all-inclusive list.
- A seller posts a review of their own product or their competitor’s product either in their own name or as an unbiased buyer.
- A seller offers a third party a financial reward, discount, or other compensation in exchange for a review on their product or their competitor’s product. This includes services that sell customer reviews and websites or social media groups with implicit or explicit agreements or expectations that an incentive is contingent on customers leaving a review.
- A seller offers to provide a refund or reimbursement after the buyer writes a review (including reimbursement via a non-Amazon payment method).
- A seller uses a third-party service that offers free or discounted products tied to a review (for example, a review club that requires customers to register their Amazon public profile so that sellers may monitor their reviews).
- A family member or employee of the seller posts a review of the seller’s product or a competitor’s product.
- A seller offers a refund or other compensation to a reviewer in exchange for changing or removing their review.
- A seller only asks for reviews from buyers who had a positive experience and attempts to divert buyers who had a negative experience to a different feedback mechanism. This includes cases where the customer proactively reaches out to the seller to express satisfaction with their products.
- A seller creates a variation relationship between products that are not actually related to each other in order to boost a product’s star rating.
- A seller inserts a request for a positive Amazon review or an incentive in exchange for a review into product packaging.
- A seller manipulates the ‘Helpful’, ‘Not Helpful’, or ‘Report Abuse’ features on any review on his or his competitor’s products.
Note: References to ‘seller’ here includes all the seller’s employees and third party partners.
You can ask for reviews from customers who purchased your products off Amazon. However, note that all the customer reviews policies apply to these reviews as well.
Note: Violation of our policies may also violate applicable laws, which can lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties. If you violate our policies, we may disclose your name and other related information publicly and to civil or criminal enforcement authorities.
We encourage you to monitor reviews regularly and reach out to customers to resolve product or service issues. However, you cannot ask customers to change or remove their review, even after an issue is resolved. Also, you can reach out to customers by replying to their review on the product detail page and asking them to contact you through Buyer-Seller Messaging to resolve their issues. You cannot reach out to buyers via other means.
Breaking it all down
It’s a surprisingly short document, but the guideline page is easily one of the most important on the entire site. Now, let’s break down what each element means, and how it can impact your Amazon FBA business.
1 – “Amazon encourages buyers to review the products they like and dislike…”
Amazon advocates neutrality. It wants its shoppers to review not just products they like, but those they’re disappointed with as well. Essentially, if a customer is unhappy with a product, Amazon wants them to let other potential customers know.
2 – “…to help customers make informed decisions about the products they purchase.”
The second part of the guidelines’ first statement reveals Amazon’s true intent. They want to appear totally transparent when it comes to their shoppers’ experiences. Reviews–good or bad–should be honest. Then, other customers know exactly what to expect from a product
3 – Amazon’s resources for sellers
Amazon seems to be aware of the confusion surrounding product reviews. The terms of service page offers not just one link to its Frequently Asked Questions section, but two.
4 – “To ensure that reviews remain helpful, sellers must comply with our Community Guidelines.”
Next, Amazon directs sellers to its Community Guidelines document. We strongly recommend you review this important guide. It’s jut as important as the customer product reviews page.
And again, to simplify this for you, some of the most important parts of the guidelines are listed below. However, the sections on promotions and commercial solicitations, and additional guidelines for customer reviews, aren’t included here as I go into more detail later on.
- “We take the integrity of the Community seriously. Any attempt to manipulate Community content or features, including by contributing false, misleading, or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited. If you violate our Guidelines, we may restrict your ability to use Community features, remove content, delist related products, or suspend or terminate your account. If we determine that an Amazon account has been used to engage in any form of misconduct, remittances and payments may be withheld or permanently forfeited. Misconduct may also violate state and federal laws, including the Federal Trade Commission Act, and can lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties.”
- “The Community is intended to provide helpful, relevant content to customers.”
- “In order to maintain a welcoming environment for all users, your participation in the Community must always be respectful of others.”
- Due to user sensitivities, sexual content (though permitted) may be excluded in the community.
- “Don’t post content or interact with other members of the Community in a way that infringes the intellectual property or other proprietary rights of others.”
- “Don’t post content that encourages or supports behavior that is illegal, including violence, fraud, illegal drug use, underage drinking, or child or animal abuse.”
5 – Promotions and Commercial Solicitations
Within Amazon’s Community Guidelines section, there are details on what sellers (and shoppers) can and can’t do regarding promotions.
First, what is a promotion or commercial solicitation?
Promos and solicitations include advertisements (both on and off Amazon), product inserts, follow-up emails, or any other content that you put in front of a current or potential customer regarding an Amazon product (yours, your competitors, or any other item on the site).
Second, what can and can’t we do?
Within Amazon’s community, this is what the guidelines say is NOT permitted:
- “Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.”
- “Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors’ products or services.”
- “Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products, refunds, or reimbursements) or on behalf of anyone else.”
- “Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.”
- “Posting advertisements or solicitations, including URLs with referrer tags or affiliate codes.”
However, it also states that there are exceptions. According to Amazon, these are the only ones:
- “You may post content requested by Amazon (such as Customer Reviews of products you purchased on Amazon or received through the Vine program, and answers requested through Questions and Answers). In those cases, your content must comply with any additional guidelines specified by Amazon.”
- “You may post an answer to a question asked through the Questions and Answers feature (but not a question itself) regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (for example, “I represent the brand for this product.”). We automatically label some answers from sellers or manufacturers, in which case additional disclosure is not necessary.”
- “You may post content other than Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., “I was paid for this post.”). However, no brand or business may participate in the Community in a way (including by advertising, special offers, or any other “call to action”) that diverts Amazon customers to another non-Amazon website, service, application, or channel for the purpose of conducting marketing or sales transactions. Content posted through brand, seller, author, or artist accounts regarding their own products or services does not require additional labeling.”
They also state, at the end of the section, that, “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.”
6 – “You can ask buyers to write a review…”
Its true! Amazon does tell us in its Customer product reviews terms of service that its sellers can ask buyers to write reviews. You just have to follow their regulations.
7 – “… but you cannot ask for positive reviews or ask a reviewer to change or remove their review.”
Two important points here:
- No matter what, you can’t ask a customer to leave you a positive review. Not in your follow-up emails, not in your product inserts, and not through another messaging system like Facebook bots. Amazon has been cracking down on this in the last few months, and are taking it very seriously.
- Second, you can’t ask a reviewer to change or remove a review. Requesting or suggesting a customer edit or delete their negative review is against the rules. Even if their problem is solved, and they tell you they are satisfied, asking them to make changes is not allowed. In the past, Amazon selling experts have said asking a customer to delete or edit their review was okay. But, from what we’ve seen and from what our suspension specialist told us, this is just as bad as asking for a positive review.
8 – “As sellers and manufacturers, you are not allowed to review your own products, nor are you allowed to negatively review a competitor’s product.”
While not a new rule, it’s important to point this one out anyway. You can’t leave reviews for your own products. You can’t leave an unfavorable review for a competitor’s product either.
It’s worth mentioning that it specifically says “negatively review”, though. In other words, a positive review of your competitors’ product might be okay, but I doubt you’ll be doing that!
9 – “A seller offers a third party a financial reward, discount, or other compensation in exchange for a review on their product or their competitor’s product.”
October 3rd, 2016, Amazon banned all incentivized reviews. This changed the business strategies of thousands of Amazon sellers overnight, Jungle Scout sellers included.
Data started to circulate that Amazon’s product reviews were, on average, higher than their competitors’. Forbes Magazine started investigating and published Why You Shouldn’t Trust All Amazon Reviews on March 3, 2016.
“Best Reviews looked at 488 different products listed on Amazon with a total of 360,000 user ratings. Out of those reviews, 66.3% (nearly 240,000) were 5-star ratings. It’s an almost unrealistic number for any business, let alone for the hundreds of products monitored in the study.”
Amazon’s been trying to fix the problem ever since.
10 – “A seller offers to provide a refund or reimbursement after the buyer writes a review.”
After incentivized product reviews ended, some creative sellers started offering refunds and reimbursements after the sale to encourage reviews. Amazon caught on. Now, the Amazon abuse team monitors and stops the practice.
11 – “A seller uses a third-party service that offers free or discounted products tied to a review.”
Before Amazon stopped incentivized reviews, a large number of review clubs existed. They offered deeply discounted Amazon products in exchange for product reviews. When the October 3rd, 2016 policies emerge, those businesses had to shut down.
12 – “A seller only asks for reviews from buyers who had a positive experience and attempts to divert buyers who had a negative experience to a different feedback mechanism.”
One tactic we used to see in the Amazon community were automated emails asking the customer if they were satisfied. The emails had ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ links. The ‘Yes’ link took them to the product’s review page, while the ‘No’ link took them to customer support.
But Amazon has cracked down on cherry picking. Following up with buyers who liked your product, but not with those who didn’t, is now prohibited. In fact, even follow-up emails suggesting a customer should leave a review if they had a positive experience are forbidden.
For example, if your email or product insert uses language like, “If you enjoyed this product and would like to share your five-star experience”, you’re at risk. Amazon views this as manipulative.
13 – “This includes cases where the customer proactively reaches out to the seller to express satisfaction with their products.”
Even if the customer contacts you to let you know they love your product, you can’t ask them to leave a review. So, if a customer writes good seller feedback for you, or replies to your follow-up email, don’t ask for a review. Amazon considers it to be manipulative.
14 – “A seller creates a variation relationship between products that are not actually related to each other in order to boost a product’s star rating.”
Say you’re selling a kitchen knife, and it’s been getting poor reviews. For that reason, you try to connect it to one of your products that’s getting good reviews, like a frying pan.
The theory behind the move is that the product with good reviews will boost the product with bad reviews. But that’s no longer acceptable. Amazon (you guessed it!) sees this as manipulative and forbids it.
15 – “A seller inserts a request for a positive Amazon review or an incentive in exchange for a review into product packaging.”
Only recently did the word ‘insert’ appear in Amazon’s terms of service language. Now, if a seller includes a product insert that specifically requests a positive review, or gives an incentive for a review, they can face review suppression and account suspension.
Amazon isn’t banning all product inserts though. We just have to make sure that the language in the insert is completely neutral.
Speaking with our Amazon suspension specialist Chris McCabe, he clarified what is NOT allowed on product inserts:
- Incentives for reviews.
- Requests for only positive reviews.
- Hints at product reviews. Even an image of five stars is problematic.
- Explaining that you donate profits to charity, you are “a family-owned business”, or any other language that suggests not leaving a review could damage your business or hurt others.
- Offering to take care of potential issues (customer service) before a customer leaves a negative review.
Chris explained that an insert should simply ask for a review. Period.
16 – “A seller manipulates the ‘Helpful’, ‘Not Helpful’, or ‘Report Abuse’ features on any review on his or [her] competitor’s products.”
You can’t attack your competitor’s products either. You can, however, report any abuse you discover.
17 – “You can ask for reviews from customers who purchased your products off Amazon.”
If a customer buys your product from somewhere other than Amazon, they can still leave a review ON Amazon. Of course, the review will be unverified, and it must follow Amazon’s guidelines.
18 – “…you cannot ask customers to change or remove their review, even after an issue is resolved.”
Again, you can’t ask for a customer to edit or delete their review for any reason.
19 – “…you can reach out to customers by replying to their review on the product detail page and asking them to contact you through Buyer-Seller Messaging to resolve their issues. You cannot reach out to buyers via other means.”
You can leave a reply on the actual review itself, but you can’t track down your customer’s email and use it to resolve issues. Using software or “hacks” to find the shoppers who left a negative review can get you suspended.
Ask the Experts: Chris McCabe
Recently, Greg Mercer and I sat down with Amazon suspension specialist, eCommerceChris‘ Chris McCabe. He used to work for Amazon, but now helps Amazon sellers avoid terms of service issues with the retail site.
Here are a few of the things we learned from Chris.
“Amazon keeps it vague – especially in account suspensions.”
Basically, Amazon wants to stay flexible with its do’s and don’ts of product reviews. While they try to remain fair, if they think a seller’s listing content goes against their core value of taking care of their customers, Amazon will take action.
“Amazon is slowly tightening the grip on the process. They still don’t have a handle on how to prevent fake reviews.”
For years, Amazon has worked diligently to create new processes and procedures to take care of its fake review issue. Of course, the biggest move it made was banning incentivized reviews.
Since then, as Chris notes, any review loopholes/hacks sellers might use to get around Amazon’s rules are quickly closed. This suggests Amazon may continue introducing new policies to improve what it, and its critics, see as the retail platform’s biggest issue.
Chris explains that Amazon is under intense pressure and scrutiny, both within Amazon itself and the public.
“Suspicion quickly converts to suspension.”
Suspensions are on the rise, and Chris believes Amazon isn’t taking any chances with sellers trying to “break the system.”
Accounts coming under suspicion for manipulation and content abuse are likely to be suspended, particularly if they continue or fail to address the concern.
“However, Amazon does warn its sellers.”
A large portion of all sellers are warned by Amazon to cease and desist practices that violate their terms of service, Chris told us. Many fail to notice–or simply ignore–these warnings though.
Don’t be one of those sellers; suspensions of these types of accounts are common. So, if you receive a warning, protect yourself and make the recommended changes.
“Big sellers aren’t treated any differently.”
Regardless of how much business you’re doing on Amazon, Amazon takes its review content very seriously.
Chris explains that during the last major “purge”, Amazon banned thousands of sellers, including accounts making eight or nine figures in revenue. The only advantage larger businesses seem to have is that those who use them are better at hiding their ‘black hat’ practices.
“Watch your messaging to Amazon’s customers.”
Messaging sent to Amazon customers is one area where Amazon is cracking down.
Chris reviews follow-up emails, correspondences, and even product inserts to ensure that his clients are following Amazon’s terms of service. He explained that this is the number one area of confusion for sellers.
Also, Chris diligently warns his clients against using manipulative dialogue in messaging and promotional material.
Here are some examples of manipulative language:
- Guilting the buyer. Saying you’re a “small, family-owned business”, that you’re “donating to charity,” or your products are “made in America” all qualify as guilting the buyer.
- Cherry-picking. “If there is any reason why you wouldn’t leave a five-star review, please contact us.”
- Incentivizing. Anything that induces positive behavior around reviews (discounts, unnecessary refunds, etc.).
- Conflict of interest. Encouraging reviews from friends and family. Amazon’s tools can detect it.
Amazon has suspended sellers for all of the above.
“Amazon bans for segmenting its buyers.”
Sending out product promotions is fine. However, if only those who have received product promotions receive emails asking for product reviews, Amazon sees this as segmenting.
Amazon believes that those who receive discounted products–even if it wasn’t given in exchange for a review–are easily persuaded to leave a positive review.
“Just because others are doing it, doesn’t mean you should, too.”
In a lot of ways, Chris’ warnings reminded us of people who are pulled over by the police for speeding. Even if they weren’t the person going the fastest, they were still going over the limit and, therefore, got caught. And the same is true for sellers.
There may be sellers bigger than you breaking the rules, but if you’re not following Amazon’s guidelines, you’re putting your account at risk.
What does Chris suggest as best practices for getting product reviews on Amazon?
- “Be as conservative as possible.” Always err on the side of caution. If it seems like you’re contacting a shopper strictly for the purpose of getting a positive review, you’re probably going against Amazon’s terms of service.
- “Irregular, heavy spikes in sales can draw suspicion.” While we recommend that sellers get a sales boost using launch services like Jungle Scout‘s, Chris advises sellers to play it safe. He thinks getting dozens of sales per day from these sites are ok. But, Amazon raises a red flag if you’re handing out hundreds of discount codes, leading to hundreds of sales each day.
- “Stay away from black hat services.” There are a lot of companies–especially overseas–that sell services to manipulate Amazon’s data. Stay as far away as possible from any service using black hat strategies, or that seems disreputable.
What questions do you have?
Naturally, as Amazon evolves and grows, they will continue to add new rules. Hopefully, though, this article cleared up a lot of the confusion around Amazon’s current product review guidelines.
But if you still have questions, comments, or even stories to share surrounding Amazon’s product reviews, please post them in the comments below.
And a special thanks to Chris McCabe for taking the time to speak with us!