An article by Bloomberg appears to claim that Amazon are buying reviews for their own products, in exchange for free merchandise, disadvantaging merchants on the site. The boost is coming from Amazon Vine reviews, a program where Amazon chosen reviewers receive a product for free in exchange for reviewing it but this program isn’t available to merchants.
Amazon have come under fire this year for supposed fake reviews and the accusation that merchants have been buying reviews. In response they tightened the requirements for a consumer to leave a review on Amazon and in some cases block reviews unless they are an Amazon Verified Purchase Review indicating that Amazon knows that the reviewer actually made a purchase on Amazon and so have certainty that they own the product.
There is no doubt that reviews heavily influence buyer behaviour and having a large number of reviews can also act as a signal in Amazon search rankings. A heavily reviewed product is more likely to be promoted to consumers and near the top of search results in comparison to a similar product with few or no reviews.
By using the Amazon Vine program, Amazon is able to gather vast numbers of reviews for the Amazon Private Label products and this will increase their attractiveness to consumers. Amazon Vine reviews aren’t limited to Amazon’s own brands – Amazon Vendors (brands and retailers supplying products to Amazon who will sell them direct) are also eligible to solicit Amazon Vine reviews.
As a merchant you are generally listing against an ASIN and may benefit from reviews even when products are sold bu other merchants or Amazon themselves. What appears unfair is that Amazon and other Vendors who have unique products can benefit from Amazon Vine reviews in exchange for giving away free product and if you are the brand owner you can’t if you sell as an Amazon merchant. Only by becoming a supplier to Amazon retail giving them control over how the product is sold and priced and negotiating discounts from you can you gain reviews from Amazon Vine.
What are Amazon Vine Reviews?
“Amazon provides Vine members with free products that have been submitted to the programme by participating vendors. Vine reviews are the independent opinions of the Vine Voices. The vendor cannot influence, modify or edit the reviews. Amazon does not modify or edit Vine reviews, as long as they comply with our posting guidelines. A Vine review is identified with the green stripe Customer review from the Amazon Vine programme.
Amazon Vine is an invitation-only programme. Vine Voices are selected based on several criteria, but primarily on the helpfulness of their reviews as judged by all other customers and by their demonstrated interest in the types of products that are featured in the programme. Customers who consistently write helpful reviews and develop a reputation for expertise in specific product categories are most likely to be invited into the programme.”
Whilst Amazon Vine reviews are called out with the green stripe, it’s unlikely the casual consumer checking out star ratings will notice that reviews are padded out from reviewers who received free product.
Surprisingly, most Vine-reviews are 5-star-reviews. And no, those are not “superior” products. Just people who really like to receive more free goods in the future.
The potential buyer should be warned – if a product needs Vine-reviews, it probably is not good enough to receive legit reviews.
(Btw. Vine costs a couple of thousand EUR, for *one* product – plus, of course, the free products. )
Something just keeps screaming “anti-trust” in my ear every time I bloody read an article about Amazon these days. It can’t go on the way it is.
Odd thing for Amazon to set up, bit tacky/dodgy. Maybe it seemed a good idea during a Monday morning “brainstorm”.
I think it is worth mentioning that Amazon Vine is simply another profit stream for Amazon, We did a trial of a reviews for a product we wanted to launch in Germany recently and it works out at 65 euros per review. This is a lot of money that Amazon now takes as it is very hard to get legitimate reviews early on a new product on Amazon.
Overall it is part of a wider trend that has been going on for about 2 years. It is simply more and more expensive to sell on amazon. If you include FBA fees, amazon advertising, storage, shipping and of course their actual fee we work out that Amazon are now taking between 24% and 38% (Canada) of every dollar we earn. This will only increase. We were recently asked to participate in a luxury brand program in Germany which involves joining Amazon vendor there. In total the fees for this now work out at 52% of every dollar earned.
It is interesting to note that these are now in line with high street margins that most of us went online to avoid. We will see how this trend progresses but I thin we all know where it is going.
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