Amazon: ‘Incentivized’ Reviews Get Higher Ratings, Now They’re Banned

business_ethics_highlights_2Amazon’s product review system is one of the world’s most useful repositories of practical knowledge. A smart shopper can use the review system to reduce greatly the chances of buying a disappointing product. For a product boasting a large number of reviews, an hour spent sifting reviews by date, by rating, and by key words allows the reader to gain the benefit of years of experience using the product. Amazon’s review system is both a source of competitive advantage for Amazon as a retailer and a positive externality: anyone with an internet connection may use the review system at no cost. However, Amazon’s review system is ultimately only as good as the integrity of the people who post product reviews. For that reason, Amazon has long forbidden paid reviews. But what about ‘incentivized’ reviews—reviews given in exchange for a free or discounted product?

Recently, ReviewMeta performed an analysis of 7 million Amazon reviews, separating ordinary customer reviews from incentivized reviews. They found that ordinary reviews receive an average rating of 4.36 stars (out of 5), while ‘incentivized’ reviews earn an average rating of 4.74 stars. At first glance, that .38 stars difference may appear to be inconsequential, but as TechCrunch observes, “the impact was substantial—boosting products from the 54th percentile to the 94th percentile [among all products]. Effectively, incentivized reviews could create top-rated products.”

ReviewMeta also found that “2 years ago, incentivized reviews accounted for less than 2% of new reviews. Since February of this year, they make up the majority of all new reviews on Amazon.”

Amazon yesterday announced a change to its terms of service forbidding the posting of incentivized reviews unless facilitated through Amazon’s Vine program. As TechCrunch explains, “These don’t work the same way, however. For starters, Amazon selects who will be allowed to review products, and it does so mainly to boost the review count on new or pre-release products that haven’t yet generated enough sales to have a large number of organic reviews. Vine reviewers are invited to join the program only after having written a number of reviews voted as ‘helpful’ by other customers, and tend to have expertise in a specific product category. . . . In addition, vendors don’t have any contact with Vine reviewers, nor do they get to influence which reviewers will receive their products, which are submitted directly to Amazon for distribution.”

ReviewMeta promises a followup analysis of Vine reviews.


LINK: Amazon bans ‘incentivized’ reviews (by Elizabeth Weise for USA Today)

Under new guidelines, “creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else,” is now prohibited, Amazon’s Community Guidelines now reads.

This means that a company can’t give someone a new TV in exchange for an excellent review of the TV on Amazon, for example.

Prior to this such incentivized reviews were allowed if the person writing the review disclosed that they’d received free or discounted products in exchange.

Amazon will now only allow reviews in exchange for goods as part of its Amazon Vine program, in which the company invites trusted reviewers to post opinions about new and pre-release items.

What do you think?

See also: “Analysis of 7 million Amazon reviews: customers who receive free or discounted item much more likely to write positive review

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Is Amazon Astroturfing the Twitter Discussion About Its Working Conditions? | Business Ethics Highlights

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