Unfortunately for many sellers, Amazon's updating it's guidelines tremendously, and is no longer going to allow people to offer incentivized reviews. This is in an effort to make their reviews more trustworthy and authentic, but, for sellers who offered incentives to build up reviews, this is of course going to make things more difficult. Naturally, sellers aren't allowed to outright PAY people for reviews… this has been banned for a good many years, but now, sellers won't even be allowed to offer their product for free or at a discount in order to obtain reviews.
Amazon feels that these reviews are too biased for several reasons. First of all, when people get something for free, they often feel like they “owe” something to the person who gave them that free item, and feel obligated to leave a good review. Furthermore, that company may offer deals like this in the future, and people assume if they leave a negative review, they'll be blacklisted from getting more free or heavily discounted items. Also, people will often determine a certain products value based upon what they paid for it, and compare in their minds the cost vs. the value received. So, when people think about an item's value, they compare it to the cost they paid (which, in the case of incentivized reviews, is very little or nothing) and give a review with that in mind. For all these reasons, it's probably not too surprising that Amazon is taking these steps to protect the integrity and reputation of their review system.
For Amazon, this decision also becomes a no-brainer as real data has now emerged which shows a definite bias in favor of incentivized reviews. Out of a 5-star review, incentivized reviews receive an average rating of 4.74 vs. a 4.36 average on standard, non-incentivized reviews. This is definitely enough to change buyer decisions and reward companies who offer incentivized reviews, while punishing the ones who don't.
The exception to this new program will be the Amazon Vine program. This gives Amazon a bit more control, as they're the ones who will decide who gets to review the products through their Vine program. This decision will likely be made based upon the number of reviews a person has, as well as the number of people who found those reviews to be helpful (and indicated such within the review). It's important to note that Vine reviewers aren't incentivized with money or anything else, and of course, every product will only be allowed to have so many Vine reviews, so no one will have to worry about a product with 150 total reviews having 100 Vine reviews, for example.
To benefit sellers, Amazon isn't going to go back and start pulling down reviews that were incentivized previously. This is no doubt to ensure that sellers don't complain about having countless of their reviews taken down, which, at the time, didn't violate any of Amazon's guidelines in any way. So, for sellers, as long as your previous reviews didn't violate other guidelines, they'll be grandfathered in, and will be considered acceptable by Amazon employees.
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