On Monday, Amazon banned incentivized product reviews. According to the new community guidelines, sellers can no longer offer compensation – including free or discounted products – in exchange for customer reviews. (The policy change does not apply to books.)
For the most part, getting rid of incentivized product reviews is a great thing. Why?
#1. Incentivized reviews sometimes skew Amazon’s rating system, allowing new, unreliable companies to dominate search engine results. It’s easy to run across a popular product with thousands of reviews, only to discover that you can’t even find any decent information about the company – such as where the company is located, where its products are manufactured, and how long they have been in business.
#2. Sleazy companies expect reviewers to post 4 and 5 star ratings – and when the reviewers don’t, the companies will send harassing messages, coercively trying to get them to increase their rating or delete their review. Some companies will sneakily tell reviewers to let them know whether they dislike a product before posting the review; though there’s nothing wrong with having good customer service, there is something very wrong with trying to silence negative reviews.
#3. Some incentivized reviews are not influenced by the product’s free-for-review nature, but it is often very hard to tell whether an incentivized review is biased or not. There are so many honest reviewers who legitimately give a product four or five stars – not because they feel compelled to, but because they feel as if the product deserves that rating. Unfortunately, in a sea of incentivized product reviews, it’s often hard to separate the good reviews from the bad ones.