On October 3rd, 2016, Amazon.com announced a terms of service update for its reviewers that affects everyone in a big way. Amazon announced that effective immediately incentivized reviews are no longer allowed on their service. If you’ve shopped on Amazon recently you’ve probably seen them: an incentivized review is when the reviewer has received a free or discounted sample of a product in exchange for their honest review. Under the old system it needed to contain a clear disclosure, “I received this product free or at a discount in exchange for an unbiased review”. Reviewing in exchange for products is now against the rules. On the surface this appears to be a good thing. I know from my fair share of shopping on Amazon that it was getting harder to trust the reviews there as there would often be garbage products with inflated scores. However, in my opinion this change is merely a bandage on the actual problem of biased reviews and this move appears to me to purely be a PR campaign as the way it changes things is not necessarily for the better.
I won’t lie to you: most of the products I have reviewed here I received at a discount or free through Amazon sellers. I try my best to review them honestly by pointing what I like and don’t like about all the products, but there are many others out there who received free products and are essentially posting advertisements, not honest reviews. A company called ReviewMeta made a video a few weeks back that said reviewers are the bane of Amazon buyers, and to an extent I agree. I’ve paid full price for several products based on their positive reviews that ended up being garbage and I’ve had many free products where I look at my fellow reviewers five-star ratings and wonder what could they have been thinking. But here’s the thing: in every case with these incentivized reviews, to stay within Amazon’s rules, the reviewers always had to have a clear disclosure that their review may have bias because they received a product at a discount or free. The new Amazon ruling is vague and anyone can still post a review on any product without it being a verified purchase. With the new rules updates there is a small potential loophole where sellers can send a product to a reviewer for free or discounted, wink a few times and magically the reviewer will feel inclined to review it without a disclosure as they did not promise a review to the seller.
Now that incentivized reviews are banned from Amazon, the honest people who were really trying to help buyers find a good deal within the rules of the system will get pushed away and those who were dishonest will just keep reviewing without the disclosure. This is a win for Amazon and a big loss for the customer. Amazon appears to have solved the problem to the general public when in reality there are still incentivized reviews out there, however, they’re now far difficult to differentiate from organic reviews. In the last two days alone, I have already had a half dozen sellers offer to send me money by PayPal so I can buy their product on Amazon and make it look like an organic sale. I did not go ahead with this but I don’t doubt a less honest reviewer will. Review websites like Amazon Review Trader are now listed as “discount sites” and no longer require a disclosure if a review is left so there’s no way to tell whether it was organic any more aside from the verified purchase badge. Have you ever went to a big tech website and read an article that appeared to be a review, then found out after that it was sponsored content or so called native advertising? This happens everywhere on the internet. Online people can literally say whatever they want. The difference was that on Amazon it was EASY to spot who was saying things with bias. Now it won’t be so easy.
Incentivized reviews were not all that bad in many cases. The reviews often included useful information because review sites rewarded word counts and in depth reviews. I see so many organic reviews that rate a product one star and say things like “box arrived dented” or give a product five stars and just say “works good.” Ok, what about it works good? At least with incentivized reviews there was an incentive to write a detailed analysis of the product. Even if the star rating was skewed a bit higher there was often still a lot of useful information about the product(s) being reviewed.
In the end this entire thing is in my opinion, a mediocre way of covering up the problem. To the general public the problem will appear to be solved but in reality it is not. The only thing you can do to protect yourselves as a buyer is take everything you read with a grain of salt. Look at actual review content instead of star ratings. Look for reviews on other sites, not just Amazon. And don’t be afraid to post your feelings about a product yourself. It’ll help everyone else who is considering buying it, whether your view is positive or negative.
I’d like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this change so please leave your comments below and I’ll do my best to reply to it. As of this article being published, Amazon Canada‘s terms of services have not been updated to reflect the changes at Amazon.com.