What can you say in Buyer/ Seller Messaging when requesting a product review?
Watch my interview and recommendations to Jungle Scout.
What IS Amazon’s policy on seller communication with customers? It looks like just about everyone is confused about whether Amazon’s policy has recently changed, and if so, how did it change?
To add to the confusion, we have it from reliable sources that the review abuse prevention team’s management has changed hands, and the new manager may have a different take on what the policies mean, and how they should be enforced. I think we can all agree that warnings, account suspensions and other actions surrounding this topic have lacked consistency or accuracy for quite some time.
As shown in a recent article on Yahoo finance, plenty of sellers have heard of an update to the policy, but no one seems clear on what the update actually means. We have the usual number of cases per week where seller accounts get suspended for communications with customers that are deemed inappropriate by Amazon, but we’ve seen no significant spike this month.
Sellers have asked me repeatedly if they should continue to use third-party services for messaging Amazon buyers, as well, since many sellers that we work with automate their post-order messaging.
Review requests, it must be noted up front, are still permitted by Amazon. No recent policy change discussions have any references to a permanent end to seller-initiated review requests. The policy “update” (as some have called it) came after Amazon encouraged use of its own tool for buyers to request reviews. But what does the clarification say about Amazon’s strategy long-term?
Almost every expert agrees on certain points. Only ask for a review once, and be careful with the language you use.
I talked to Liz Fickenscher of eComEngine and Louis Mizzel, Product Manager for FeedbackFive, to get their take on what’s going on and how significant it might be.
Is this an “update” to Amazon’s Buyer/ Seller Communication policy? Or are we using the wrong term, and why are sellers confused?
According to Liz and Louis, Amazon’s clarification has mostly confused sellers, and “That’s understandable. We think that those emails (and the intention to clarify communication guidelines) are tactics used by Amazon to try to get better control of seller messaging, especially since there are still bad actors trying to game the system.” Liz also considers the new “Request a Review” button to be something they are trying out to “give sellers different options.”
Amazon appears to be making message compliance decisions based on their own interpretations of the rules, per their custom.
According to some sellers, the update is causing confusion because it provides very little, if any, additional context to the existing policy text. Some of the bullet points on policy pages are still unclear, unfortunately, which makes it tougher to give policy insights with 100% certainty.
Make sure you’re not making one of these top 3 mistakes when requesting reviews.
Jeff Cohen of Seller Labs, the operators of Feedback Genius, was quick to note, “the policy change isn’t a change, it’s a clarification.” In terms of what Amazon may want to see in the long-term, Jeff thinks Amazon “wants you to use their own tools” the more they develop them. But Amazon won’t force sellers to use every tool offered, so sellers can still use their chosen methods of soliciting reviews as long as they fall within policy guidelines.
We read that Amazon planned changes on or after December 3. What has changed?
According to one example from the Yahoo article, “Email attachments that are not necessary to complete the order are also banned, according to the guidelines which will be effective on December 3.”
Normally you’d expect Amazon to hold off until Q1 for major policy changes to buyer-seller messaging. According to Jeff, “Goals for end of year starts driving the actions,” and that seems accurate given collective past experience.
Again, Amazon has not ruled out requests for product reviews, but their policy language states that it’s important to do it within the rules.
It seems that experts and sellers can’t come to a consensus on what that actually means. To some, you may only prompt a buyer to reply to an order problem if there’s a delivery issue or essential info required to complete the order. Others believe messages can be about the order, in other words, you can provide supplemental info regarding warranties or instructions. As long as it’s order-related, they say, you’re still good to go.
Some of their policy wording conflicts with the idea that following up with buyers must relate only to an order problem. Jeff agrees, saying the “language needs to be clarified” along with any contradictory language on policy pages. He used as an example, MWS — App store council. “If they didn’t want review requests why did they create those tools?” So they appear to be clarifying to show the behavior they’d like to see from sellers.
Will they take significant actions against sellers en masse, as they sometimes do, out of the blue? Some scared sellers began promising not to communicate with buyers about reviews at all, while others are splitting hairs over specific words or phrases.
What’s the real deal here?
Jeff answered: “I’d be shocked if everyone got suspended for sending emails before Amazon came to us.” When he talks to Amazon about the issue, he asks them “talk to us before anything happens. Tell us, clarify to us first, we’ll help you clarify to them.” We can hope that they’re willing to reach out to some of us, prior to implementation, to help us inform sellers what’s needed on their side of the equation. Otherwise, avoidable suspensions may result.
Why can’t Amazon just clarify all of this, tell you what you can do and what you cannot? Wouldn’t that solidify compliance with policy by third party sellers?
“The teams running Buyer-seller messaging policy and the “request a review tool” aren’t the same thing. One team isn’t talking to the other one.” says Jeff. As with many other things internal to Amazon, he’s aware that different teams have different goals.
Not everyone gets suspended, some sellers are just put on messaging hiatus. “Policy doesn’t mean enforcement, and enforcement doesn’t mean policy.”
So what are the top things sellers need to do to protect themselves?
For starters, watch your tendencies toward self-promotion and consider the context before rolling anything out live. If in doubt, have an expert review it first. Marketing or promotional materials are not essential to order completion.
What are the main steps sellers need to take now if they are asking for reviews?
1. Avoid manipulative language
Don’t use phrases like “our business depends on your reviews” or anything like it. You should avoid any type of language that could be deemed manipulative by Amazon, including the most obvious — anything asking for a positive review. Also, the so-called “if/then statements” are considered manipulative. E.g. “if you like the product, leave us a review, but if you have a problem, please contact us” is against TOS. It’s a violation of Customer Product Reviews Policy when “A seller diverts negative reviews to be sent to them or to a different feedback mechanism while positive reviews are sent to Amazon.”
2. Only send one email per order
“We don’t believe buyers want to receive a lot of emails from sellers, and we find that one well-crafted, thoughtful, TOS-compliant email yields better conversions and invites less trouble,” says Liz. Jeff agrees, “This is based on numerous reports sellers have of warnings for having high quantities of review requests.”
3. Avoid self-promotion
Links to product detail pages, your storefront or the inclusion of coupon codes, special offers, and other deals are against TOS and don’t belong in your Buyer-Seller Messaging. Leave those out and save yourself scrutiny and policy warnings.
4. Don’t include links or attachments
Amazon says, not to include “links or attachments that are not necessary to complete the order.” But what a seller may deem necessary, Amazon may not. According to Jeff, “Amazon made it pretty clear that they don’t want PDFs and other attachments that have special offers and other customer service styled add-ons.”
Third-party services and third-party sellers need to pay close attention to how policy enforcement unfolds around this topic. Don’t make too many assumptions. Run your messaging by compliance experts and be sure you understand what risks you’re taking as we await Amazon’s additional clarifications around buyer-seller messaging, heading into 2020.