By Ellen Sipp-Paris, eComEngine
Nowadays, it seems like every move Amazon makes ends up being a major news story. For the past few years, much of that attention has been focused on the marketplace’s fake review problem.
Product reviews are being scrutinized like never before, leaving many sellers unsure of how to grow their ratings (and, subsequently, their businesses) without getting into trouble. What can you do? What can’t you do? And where does seller feedback fit into it all?
With so much misinformation flying around and a busy Q4 fast approaching, we thought it was a good time to brush up on Amazon’s feedback and review policies. This article will take an in-depth look at Amazon’s rules and include a few best practices that can boost both of these ratings. Enjoy!
Seller Feedback vs. Product Reviews
First things first – feedback and reviews are not the same. It’s easy to mix them up (even experienced sellers do it), but you need to separate the two and strategize for each.
Seller feedback is a public rating of your performance as a seller using information obtained from previous buyers. Based on a scale of one to five stars, it’s meant to give potential customers a better idea of what to expect when purchasing from you, specifically in terms of your product packaging, shipping, customer service, and overall professionalism. Only customers who have purchased your product on Amazon can leave seller feedback. Shoppers can view this information on your product page and seller profile.
Amazon calculates your seller rating using the averages of past scores and displays it both as a star rating and as a percentage. This rating can impact everything from your ability to win the Buy Box to your eligibility for certain Amazon programs and promotions.
Product review is a public rating of a buyer’s satisfaction with a particular item that you sell. Customers use reviews to learn more about a product and get social proof from other buyers that it’s worth purchasing. Reviews can be submitted as a basic star rating, written comment, or video.
Anyone can review Amazon products, but reviews of items that were purchased on Amazon and not at a deep discount (which could unfairly encourage more positive reviews) will have a Verified Purchase label when displayed on your product page.
Amazon calculates a product’s star rating using machine-learned models, which factor in things like your review recency and the perceived authenticity. Amazon’s ranking algorithm places products with large numbers of positive reviews higher up on its search result pages, which exponentially increases your chances of being found by buyers and making a sale.
Amazon’s Review Policies
Since its start, Amazon has amassed millions of product reviews from shoppers all over the world. Today, 63% of online shoppers start their product searches on Amazon because of its access to this vast and valuable buying information.
That being said, if the marketplace continues to be burdened with fake or inauthentic reviews, this will clearly no longer be the case. Reviews fuel the Amazon selling machine, and if they can no longer be trusted, the proverbial wheels are bound to fall off sooner or later.
Amazon has always had several customer review policies in place, but they’ve certainly tightened the reins in recent years. Here’s what you need to know.
Incentives Are No Longer Allowed
Amazon banned incentivized reviews in 2016 and this practice is now one of the most serious offenses. As an Amazon seller, you cannot offer any type of financial reward, discount, free product, or compensation in exchange for a review of your product or a competitor’s. This includes using third-party services, websites, and social media groups that sell customer reviews.
You Can’t Review Your Own Products
Amazon’s customer product reviews policy clearly states that you’re prohibited from reviewing your own product or a competitor’s, even from your own personal customer account. Your family members and/or employees should also refrain from doing so.
Never Ask for Positive Reviews
While you can ask customers to review your products (more on this later), you cannot specifically ask for a positive review. Many sellers have tried to skirt the rules by slipping this type of request into a product insert, but Amazon quickly caught on and has cracked down.
Don’t Manipulate Your Reviews
This includes attempting to boost an item’s star rating by stockpiling reviews, creating variation relationships between products solely for review purposes, and diverting customers who’ve had a negative experience away from Amazon.
Never Ask Someone to Change or Remove a Review
Some sellers try to get rid of their negative reviews by asking buyers to change or remove them in exchange for compensation. This is strictly prohibited. Buyers may choose to edit or remove their review on their own, but the decision can’t be influenced by a seller. Amazon will remove a review if it conflicts with the marketplace’s Community Guidelines, so if you see this happen, report it.
Many people are unaware that you can no longer publicly comment on reviews left on a product listing. Amazon removed the commenting feature in December 2020, much to the chagrin of sellers who relied on this line of communication with buyers to respond to and resolve their negative reviews.
In June 2021, Amazon announced a new feature that gives some of that power back. Available only to brand-registered sellers, the Contact Customer link on the Brands dashboard lets you send direct messages to buyers who have left critical (1-3 star) reviews with templated emails.
You can contact buyers for the following reasons:
- To offer a full courtesy refund or a replacement item.
- To attempt to clarify a product issue based on the review.
These messages can’t be edited and are sent through Buyer-Seller Messaging. You can learn more about this feature here.
How to Ask for Amazon Reviews without Breaking the Rules
One of the biggest misconceptions about Amazon reviews is that it’s no longer acceptable to ask for them. Amazon’s Seller Code of Conduct states that “you may request feedback and reviews from your own customers in a neutral manner.”
Amazon’s updated Communication Guidelines also plainly state that product review and seller feedback requests are considered proactive permitted messages. Per Amazon, these messages must be sent within 30 days of order completion, include the order ID, and be translated into the buyer’s language of preference. They may not include:
- External links (unless they are secure links needed for order completion or links to Amazon)
- Attachments (except for things like shipping labels, invoices, or custom designs)
- Logos that contain or display a link to your website
- Links to opt out of messaging
- Sensitive content
- Tracking pixels or images
- Email addresses
- Telephone numbers (except those related to warranties, shipping providers, or manufacturers)
- Images of the purchased products
- Other unrelated images
- Emojis, emoticons, and animated GIFs
- Message margins over 20% maximum width
- Image or graphic sizes larger than 80% maximum width
- Overrides of Amazon’s default line height, font family, or font color
- Fonts in more than three sizes
- Message bodies that are centered or that otherwise override default text alignment settings
- More than two line-breaks in a row
- Unsecure images (http instead of https)
- Flagrant spelling errors or grammar issues
You can only ask for a product review or seller feedback once per order. Repeat messages may not be sent.
There are a few different ways you can contact buyers. In Seller Central, you can use Buyer-Seller Messaging templates to send product review requests. Note that with this method, you must handle any translation needs and ensure the message meets Amazon’s guidelines.
Another option is Amazon’s Request a Review button, which was introduced in 2019 and is now widely used by sellers. In fact, in a recent survey with Amazon sellers, 55% of respondents said they use Request a Review. Clicking the button (you can find it on a buyer’s Order Details page), prompts Amazon to send out a combined seller feedback and product review request on your behalf. You can’t customize the message, but it’s guaranteed to be fully compliant with Amazon policy.
Amazon notes that requests can also be sent via third-party applications found in the Seller Central Partner Network (formerly known as the Amazon Appstore) or by its Application Programmer Interface (API). Keep in mind that even when you’re working with a third party, you’re ultimately the one responsible for following Amazon’s rules.
Amazon has also created a few of its own review programs. The Early Reviewer Program was launched in 2018 to help sellers acquire reviews for products with little to no ratings. It was closed in 2021. Now, only the Amazon Vine program, which was previously exclusive to vendors, is left. Amazon has since expanded it to include Brand Registry sellers and resumed charging for enrollment ($200 per parent ASIN) following a two-year pause.
Amazon’s Seller Feedback Policy
Many of the same rules we just discussed will also apply to your seller feedback solicitation. You cannot offer buyers incentives or any form of compensation in exchange for providing or removing feedback. Any attempts to manipulate your rating will be punished.
Feedback requests must be sent after the buyer has received your shipment. Your message cannot be promotional or contain links to other websites. You also need to make sure you respect opt-out requests.
Buyers have 90 days to submit one feedback response per order. You can track your seller feedback score and see all comments using the Amazon Feedback Manager tool in Seller Central. This is also where you can request feedback removal from buyers.
Amazon typically won’t remove feedback unless it meets certain criteria. In these cases, Amazon will either remove or strike through it. The impact of that feedback will then be removed from your feedback rating and Order Defect Rate (which also influences Buy Box ownership).
Removal of Feedback
Amazon removes feedback comments if they:
- Contain obscene or profane language.
- Include specific, personally identifiable information like full names, email addresses, or telephone numbers.
- Are entirely a product review
Note that if the feedback comment is only partly a product review and does give some information about your service, it will not be removed.
Striking of Feedback
Amazon may strike through feedback comments if:
- The order was fulfilled by Amazon and the entire comment details the delivery experience. In this case, you’ll also see the following message: This item was fulfilled by Amazon, and we take responsibility for this fulfillment experience.
- The order was shipped using Buy Shipping. If you shipped the order on time via Buy Shipping services but received poor feedback about a delayed or undelivered order, the comment will have a strike through and the following statement: The fulfillment issues associated with this order were not due to the seller.
You can only request feedback removal within 90 days of its submission.
Improve Your Feedback and Review Practices Today
Amazon’s zero-tolerance policy towards customer review violations and the ongoing legal proceedings are working to solidify trust in the marketplace. But you have to do your part, too.
Make sure to stay informed of policy changes and steer clear of any review generation “hacks” you hear about. More often than not, these are black hat tactics that put your selling privileges at risk.
To stay compliant, thousands of Amazon sellers around the world rely on FeedbackFive, an industry-leading feedback and review management tool from eComEngine. This software connects to the Amazon API and your Seller Central account to automate your feedback and review requests through Buyer-Seller Messaging or the Request a Review button.
With FeedbackFive, you’re not forced to send individual requests to buyers at a specific time – you have the freedom to write and send your messages on a schedule more suited to your product lifecycle.
Better yet, FeedbackFive also sends you real-time alerts for negative ratings and shows you detailed analytics about your email campaigns and ASINs. You can find the #1 ranked feedback and review software in the Seller Central Partner Network.