Reviews are essential for the success of online retailers. As many studies have shown in the past, consumers often trust the word of strangers, just as much as testimony from their friends and family. The value of reviews leads some retailers to try tactics that will lead to more positive reviews. To prevent certain kinds of ethical issues related to reviews, Amazon has announced that it will ban nearly all forms of “incentivized reviews”.
To explain quickly, incentivized reviews are reviews where for some reason or another, the person leaving the review has an incentive to give a more positive review. This means incentivized reviews can run the gamut from simple incentives, like bonus points for positive reviews, to the fraudulent, such as paying someone to leave positive reviews.
Amazon changed its Community Guidelines to eliminate any incentivized reviews, except for those conducted Amazon Vine program.
“Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions, and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job,” wrote Chee Choo in a post announcing the change. “In just the past year, we’ve improved review ratings by introducing a machine learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews; applying stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge; and suspending, banning or suing thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.”
The main practice that Amazon is seeking to curb is the use of product freebies to encourage positive reviews. Often, retailers would send their products to online reviewers in exchange for them writing a review. According to Amazon’s new policy, the only time it’s okay to send a free item to a reviewer is by doing it through Amazon’s program (which chooses reviewers who are known for giving honest reviews of products).
The reason for this change is that even when people are told to be honest in their reviews from the person supplying the product, reviewers are inclined to give more positive reviews when the items are given to them. This may be because reviewers like getting free stuff and don’t want to jeopardize that by giving bad reviews.
Similarly, the price someone pays affects how they view the product, so a freely received item would get a better score than the review for an item that was bought by the reviewer. Retailers have become aware of these trends and use them to their advantage. Banning nearly all forms of incentivized reviews will help keep the reviews on Amazon useful for consumers.
Regulators have warned retailers and advertisers about some of the ethical issues related to online product reviews. The FTC and FCC have stated that reviewers need to declare when their reviews are sponsored by an advertisers. This includes disclosing when free items were given to the reviewer. This lets consumers know the review may be slanted toward the retailer.
Amazon’s policy goes beyond what is recommended, but they may become a model for other retailers that want to ensure the reviews on their site are as honest as possible.
While Amazon is working to make reviews more transparent and honest, other marketing platforms are trying to make it easier for retailers to show off their reviews. For more information, read this article on Google’s plan to make local reviews easier to find in search.