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Product Reviews (Ep. 041)

September 29, 2017

It’s been nearly a year since Amazon made a major change when it comes to reviews. They banned Incentivized Review Clubs, disrupting a major go-to strategy for many Amazon merchants. In this episode we’re looking at reviews and the importance both positive and negative reviews have on sales and ranking. Plus, our Amazon Insider, Andrea Leigh, shares how you can figure out how many reviews your product needs.

We’re approaching the one year anniversary of Amazon making a major change to its review policy. On that day, October 5 2016, Amazon released a statement that said:

“Amazon no longer permits providing free or discounted products in exchange for reviews.”

Leading up to the announcement there were many negative media stories about incentivized reviews and how Amazon reviews were no longer trustworthy.

Websites cropped up that allowed Amazon shoppers to see how many reviews contained the phrase “I received this product at a discount in exchange for a review,” meaning the reviews weren’t genuine.

This policy change was a big setback to a lot of merchants who used incentives to get their initial reviews when launching new products. Getting initial reviews is crucial to spurring sales and the data proves it.

In this episode, we’re exploring product reviews to understand how important they are to sales including a surprise find, that negative reviews can boost sales. Finally, we’ll take a look at how merchants can obtain reviews by talking with an owner of a site that had to revamp its entire strategy because of the Amazon policy change.

“I love talking about the data,” says former Amazonian, Andrea Leigh.

Andrea worked at Amazon for 10 years leading 15 different categories. When she left amazon in 2015, 98-percent of the company had started after her. Andrea now runs a company called Leigh and Burdick and they help companies use the Amazon Marketplace to grow. A key strategy she implements is to find out how many reviews it takes to greatly improve a product’s conversion rate in a given category.

“So we did an analysis on review count and conversion and how those reviews were related,” says Andrea, “We were able to see it was at 50 reviews, for them 50 reviews produced a significant uptick in conversion rate.”

Andrea’s team was working on a beauty product line. Understanding the relationship between reviews and conversation rate gave her team an objective, they knew they had to get 50 reviews on a product in that category to see significant improvement in conversion rate.

“We know at 50 reviews conversion increases dramatically for that item in that category, but it seems to be different across different categories,” Andrea says.

The optimal number of reviews your product needs to see results varies by category and that’s because review counts depend on competing products.

“In the beauty category popular products have a lot of reviews, in the jewelry category popular products don’t seem to have as many reviews and that could be a function of age of the category on Amazon and SKU proliferation and all kinds of things,” Andrea says.

To find your own review numbers for your product first, look at your conversion rate. You can find it in your Business Reports. Click on the report under “By ASIN” called “Detail Pages and Traffic.” The column titled “Unit Session Percentage” will give you your conversion rate.

Then you’re going to compare that to how many reviews you have and when you got them.

Looking at changes in your conversion rate over time compared to reviews coming in will tell you your own magic number of reviews for your products.

If you don’t have the time, the answer is likely between 35 and 50 reviews.

Even with this threshold, total review count still matters to sales. In fact, the top 10 products in most categories tend to have two to three times more reviews than the average of the top 100 bestselling products.

Your review count can also include negative reviews because negative reviews can help with sales. The average star rating of the top 100 best sellers have a star rating between 4.2 And 4.6 on average. Research by Northwestern University showed that shoppers are more likely to purchase a product with an average star rating between 4.2 And 4.5 Than one with a perfect 5-star rating. This is because four out of five shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews.

Getting reviews is not only important to improving conversion rate, but also ranking in search. There’s a recent development in the Amazon’s ranking algorithm which seems to factor in recency of reviews. Amazon’s search algorithm appears to penalize products with stale reviews.

In other words, if you have a product that has 200 reviews, but it’s not getting new reviews, that’s a problem when it comes to ranking on Amazon. So although you’ve reached the threshold of review you should have, you need to still get more reviews.

So what can you do to get reviews in the first place?

Amazon recently rolled out an Early Review Program, but that requires you sell your product for more than $15 and it limits you to the product’s first five reviews. Plus you have to generate sales first which is hard without any reviews.

Amazon is also beta testing the Vine Reviewer Program with merchants, but that will cost you at least a thousand dollars plus you have to give away your product for free.

So what else can merchants do?

“There’s not a lot you can do these days to generate more reviews but the more pricing activity and promotional activity and just more sales you generate you know some percentage of customers will always review so you look at it as you run a sale, you buy reviews, as a result of discounting your price,” Andrea says.

Then there’s third party websites like Snagshout.

“Getting reviews is harder than ever on Amazon,” says Snagshout CEO Paul Johnson.

Snagshout used to offer incentivized reviews but had to change their strategy dramatically after the incentivized review club ban last year. They’ve built a new feature to help sellers request reviews through sampling, instead of relying mainly on seeking reviews organically.

“If you look at organic sales on Amazon without sending any email follow up or doing anything you’re going to get a less than one percent review rate,” Paul says.

Snagshout still allows shoppers to get discounts on products, it’s a great way for sellers to get interest and sales on new products. Now Snagshout will follow up with those shoppers to ask for reviews on the products purchased outside of the Amazon Buyer Seller Messaging platform.

“Imagine if you had your own email list of a thousand shoppers and you wanted to send them an email, a coupon code to buy your product on Amazon and then send an email ‘Hey, thanks for buying this, we’d really appreciate if you left a product review,’ that’s basically what we’re doing,” Paul says.

Snagshout offers pre-written messages for sellers to pick from, none of them allow for any sort of incentive to get shoppers to review. And it’s only reaching out to Snagshout’s customers, avoiding Buyer Seller Messaging which is being blocked by more and more shoppers.

Once a product is selling, most merchant use a tool like Feedback Genius to automate the request of asking customers to leave a product review.

Amazon recently started enforcing rules on wording to discourage sellers from asking only for a positive review. Numerous sellers have been suspended for not complying with those rules.

Amazon also deemed asking for product reviews as non-critical and has allowed Amazon shoppers to opt out of these messages.

Even with all these changes automated tools, like Feedback Genius, are more effective than relying solely on organic reviews. To make them even more effective our Insiders recommend turning off any Global Opt Out function provided because it blocks too many legitimate emails from going through to your customers and Amazon is already preventing emails from reaching customers who opted out.

Finally if you don’t mind breaking the rules, there are numerous Facebook groups where you can connect with people who you can pay to review your product. Typically they will buy your product at full price and then you reimburse the shopper via Paypal once they leave a review.  This makes it very difficult for Amazon to track and we haven’t heard of anyone getting suspended, but remember it’s breaking the rules.

This strategy is against Amazon’s terms of service. If you’re caught doing it, your account could be in jeopardy.

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