Hoping for glowing 5-star reviews for your products on Amazon? The best way to get there is certainly not to commit fraud or pay for fake reviews. Sellers who go this route may experience the full wrath of the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Amazon. A recent case resulted in a $12.8 million fine for one company, and serves as a warning to the tens of thousands of sellers trying to get ahead on Amazon. Using this case as a guide, learn our tips for keeping your reviews and business above board when it comes to customer reviews.
The case against fake reviews
In February 2019, the FTC reached a settlement in the agency’s first case involving fake, paid Amazon reviews. Originating from an FTC complaint, Cure Encapsulations, Inc., and the company owner allegedly made unsubstantiated and false claims for their product. The product was a weight-loss supplement called “Garcinia Cambogia Extract with HCA.” They\ also paid a third-party website to write and post fraudulent 5-star reviews on Amazon.com.
“People rely on reviews when they’re shopping online,” said director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, in a statement with the ruling. “When a company buys fake reviews to inflate its Amazon ratings, it hurts both shoppers and companies that play by the rules.”
The complaint claimed defendants paid the website Amazonverifiedreviews.com to write and post reviews of their product on Amazon. Jacobowitz allegedly told the website’s operator that his product needed to have an average rating higher than 4.3 stars to keep his product in the 5-star range.
The settlement resulted in a court order prohibiting Cure Encapsulations, Inc. from making weight-loss, appetite-suppression, fat-blocking, or disease-treatment claims for any dietary supplement, food, or drug unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence in the form of human clinical testing supporting the claims. It also compelled them to notify customers of the misinformation. Finally, it imposed a $12.8 million fine, $50,000 of which was due immediately.
What this means for sellers
Amazon’s response to the settlement confirms the serious nature of the allegations:
“We welcome the FTC’s work in this area. Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”
As Amazon also recently addressed counterfeiting in their annual report, it’s clear Amazon is taking a more serious stand on the nebulous issue of counterfeiting and fraud in the third-party marketplace.
How to work within Amazon’s policies
Amazon details a number of policies, rules, and guidelines for sellers when it comes to reviews. All sellers can find these in Seller Central. Some of the main “Don’ts” when it comes to reviews are clear:
- Don’t offer free products in exchange for reviews.
- Don’t write your own reviews for products that you financially benefit from.
- Don’t offer money, discounts, promotions, or anything else in exchange for reviews.
- Don’t swap positive reviews for positive reviews with friends or competitors on Amazon.
- Don’t solicit biased reviews from family or friends.
- Don’t vote on the helpfulness of your product’s reviews. This makes reviews biased, according to Amazon.
- Don’t sabotage, review, or comment negatively on competitors’ products. This also created bias.
- Don’t accept unverified reviews or reviews for unreleased products.
By knowing the rules, sellers can be sure they are not in violation of Amazon’s policies and are not misleading customers in any way, shape, or form.
How to legally and legitimately get reviews on Amazon
Reviews are crucial to product’s success on Amazon. There are some way sellers can take action and hopefully gain positive and unbiased reviews from legitimate customers. This, in turn, ensures customers are satisfied and keeps Amazon happy, too.
- Do make sure your products are optimized. This includes ensuring information and images are detailed, correct, and helpful for the customer.
- Do engage with customers by responding to questions quickly and politely.
- Do address concerns or repeated problems with your products, shipping, suppliers, etc. so you can reduce negative reviews.
- Do consider using Amazon Vine if you are a vendor and want your product in the hands of trusted reviewers. Amazon Vine does cost money, so verify that it makes sense for your business before jumping in.
- Do consider using the Amazon Early Reviewer Program if you are a seller. This program costs a $60 flat fee for 5 reviews. Sellers are only charged if their product receives a review through the program.
- Do make sure you’re marketing to your customers. This can be emails, promotions, coupons, discounts, etc., that do NOT ask for a review, but simply drive traffic to your products. These will increase your sales and naturally increase reviews.
- Do remember that Amazon will automatically send follow-up emails to request a review. Amazon sends these emails to verified purchasers within 30 days of the purchase. The policies Amazon has in place treat all sellers equally. Amazon will solicit feedback from customers who are most likely to leave a review. Amazon will also prioritize products with fewer reviews.
- Do familiarize yourself with Amazon's Community Guidelines. These go over eligibility requirements for reviewers, lay out policies, and let you know solicitation and promotions are not allowed.
With these tips in mind, sellers should be able to create a decent strategy and plan for getting positive reviews on Amazon. By following the rules and going above and beyond to make customers happy, sellers should be able to improve sales and get the best possible feedback. For more in-depth strategies or help optimizing products and engaging customers, feel free to contact us at eCommerce Nurse.