I am sharing this information so that you can see how eCommerce companies, and in particular, marketplace focused companies are struggling.
GETTING AMAZON PRODUCT REVIEWS:
One of the biggest immediate concerns is about getting (and keeping) Amazon reviews.
In the past Amazon allowed brands to give away products in exchange for an unbiased review.
This lead to RAMPANT review manipulation which pollutes the entire eco-system of trust at Amazon. It was not good for anyone. The brands with the biggest budgets could have instantly 1000 reviews and add thousands more each week.
Amazon made a clear terms of service (TOS) chance in October of 2016 which prohibited any review manipulation including free product to reviewers which they refer to as incentivized reviews. https://blog.aboutamazon.com/innovation/update-on-customer-reviews
So far in early 2018 Amazon has been removing reviews from 3 different perspectives:
1) AMAZON SELLER FOCUS: Review suspension or removal based on seller review promotional activity, like soliciting product reviews in an improper manner according to Amazon.
2) AMAZON REVIEWER FOCUS: Review removals based on customers who had clearly fake profiles and are leaving reviews that are low quality. (Machine learning is applied to remove reviews that look suspicious.)
3) AMAZON ITEM FOCUS: Review removals based on the Item level (ASIN) review profiling which removes reviews based on the review behavior data that is calculated on the item history and then the machine learning applies it’s own judgement to decide what is an authentic review or not. There are countless false positives being generated by the system on a regular basis.
Some top sellers have found their accounts suspended temporarily when Amazon suspected them of review manipulation or found that their item can no longer accept reviews when the Machine Learning finds a pattern of review submission that is suspicious. Often the seller’s proclaim their innocence and they can illustrate that the reviews were organic and not manipulated. This is a common false positive that the machine learning is creating.
To be sure there are many
There are some nefarious China based companies that are still able to come up with 500 reviews on the day of launch using methods that are considered Black Hat.
Amazon and other marketplaces will always have a cat and mouse battle. The truly bad actors are like criminals and Amazon are the cops. The criminals are always one step ahead of the cops.
Brand owners and marketplace sellers must work in a more effective way to make their products actually noteworthy.
All e-commerce entrepreneurs will struggle to get reviews on Amazon and other channels. (Walmart, eBay, etc…)
Here are 2 resources regarding reviews we wanted to share to get on the radar only - TO BE CLEAR
(We believe these are against Amazon’s TOS)
1) We haven't used this service - but people are saying they have used with success. (We never know if the reviews are sticking or not)
2) We have tested https://honesthippo.com and they have a guarantee if their review disappears they will replace it. Members leave honest and unbiased reviews.
*** Update: ALL HONEST HIPPO REVIEWS WERE REMOVED AND THE COMPANY WE USED TO TEST IT WAS BLOCKED FROM FURTHER REVIEWS.
---------------WE DO NOT RECOMMEND USING THESE OR SERVICES LIKE THESE AT THIS POINT-----------------------
I don’t have a clear solution for the review issue, but if you decide to engage any of these types of review companies you’ll want to tread carefully to be sure to stay within Amazon’s TOS.
The Amazon Early Reviewer program has some merit for a brand new item launch and it is where Amazon incentivizes someone for reviews. The cost is low ($60.00) for 5 reviews. They come in slowly, but they are a good place to start.
The Vine program is for vendors and they offer a similar review incentive scheme as the early review program. The Amazon theory is that they can determine who will leave unbiased reviews therefore they can be trusted to incentivize reviews and reviewers when sellers can’t. I see their point to some degree, but it’s a slippery slope.
The other main concern for sellers is how to launch to get your product visible on the first page of Organic Search Results. (aka the A9 algorithm) The objective is to target some keywords that are active enough to drive views of your product in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), but not so competitive that you are fighting with entrenched power players.
This means finding target keywords (key phrases) that are not too competitive and also not too noncompetitive. A seller should target keywords that are in the middle. (It seems alot like Goldilock trying to get it "just right".)
Once the seller knows the target keywords they can do a standard product launch with a company like Snagshout, Rebate-Key and Empowery Co-op aligned resources that are safer. (catalyst88.com and empowery cooperative members have access to other confidential resources and prices.)
Most of the services will simply provide an online listing with an image of the product that is being offered (typically FREE or very high discount rates.) with a link which embeds the keyword into the resulting URL. This helps Amazon associate that keyword with a sale on the specific seller’s product which drives the A9 algorithm to consider that product relevant for that keyword (or key phrase).
This general premise works on any marketplace site or search engine in general. (EVEN BEYOND AMAZON.)
This method has been under scrutiny recently and although it still seems to work from our tests, there are ALWAYS rumors that this technique will stop working or that it has already stopped working. The smartest data guys I know suggest that it is still working, but it comes with a series of unintended consequences.
Some of the giveaway companies actually rip off brands and disappear with the money that was for the “FREE” product purchase as well as any associated fees. Furthermore some of the giveaway recipients actually buy a bunch of offers and then sell against the original BRAND winning the buy box on products that cost them almost nothing. Amazon Prime customers who engage in this practice are violating Amazon Prime terms of service, but that hasn't slowed them down.
Some of the buyers buy as much of the offer as possible and then sell against the seller’s. Since the product was free to them, they don’t mind selling it at a low price. This can have ramifications far into the future for sellers. The lower prices on that ASIN can impact lighting deals, prime day deals and more because the automatic Amazon system will show the lower priced sales and set that as the new benchmark that must be beaten by 15-20% for sale events.
This is a VERY big bug in the Amazon system, because hijackers can purposely set a low price, get a sale on a counterfeit item that was never shipped, and that ruins the ability for the brand owner to sell at competitive rates for lighting sales, coupons, and other events that require certain discounting.
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Mark Eting is an renowned author in Online Entrepreneurship Market space.