Amazon announced on Oct. 3, 2016 that the company was no longer allowing incentivized reviews (except for advanced copies of books), effective immediately.

Amazon had previously allowed incentivized reviews, such as those done in exchange for free product, as long as the reviewers explicitly disclosed that they were incentivized.

Why Amazon Made This Change

This change is a strong benefit to both Amazon's customers and to brands.

Credible reviews drive confident purchases. The rentable reviewer model undercut that confidence and became a growing concern. Incentivized reviews went from 2% of all reviews on Amazon two years ago to now a large and growing majority of all new reviews, according to an analysis of 7 million Amazon reviews on ReviewMeta.

Moreover, those rented reviewers are leaving inflated reviews that substantially change a product's ranking. Those rented reviewers are high-frequency reviewers, creating almost 10X as many reviews as your average Amazon customer, 232 vs. 31, states ReviewMeta. They erode consumer confidence and bury superior brands and products that have earned their great reviews organically through their own customers.

Though Amazon has required the body of incentivized reviews to have disclosure, biased reviews still influence the ever-important aggregate five-star rating connected to each product.

Why Marketers Should Care

A veritable cottage industry of companies has sprung up in the last few years that rent out their existing opt-in base of high-frequency product reviewers. A significant amount of established consumer electronic, household, and packaged goods companies have depended on them as a "check-the-box" item to support new product launches and campaigns.

Though Amazon isn't the only destination for reviews, it's a big enough slice of the pie that skipping Amazon isn't a good option for most brands. It's also likely that many more large ecommerce channels that provide a platform for reviews will shortly follow suit or risk losing shoppers who see Amazon's now more credible reviews as a competitive advantage.

Brands will have to find new methods of reliably driving authentic reviews, and the opt-in reviewer community vendors will need to fundamentally restructure to survive.

What to Do

Build a great product. Earn authentic brand love. Actively foster non-incentivized advocacy.

Reviews are more important than ever, so losing presence just isn't an option. For large existing brands, the best answer is to better use their existing brand advocates, who talk about the product because they authentically love it. Fostering that advocacy between each brand and their own true customer advocates has long been the fundamental core of my company and works because it's inherently built to work with real human trust, not against it.

Brands that have fostered that asset can and still should find opportunities to prompt their satisfied customers to leave a review, to sample and seed new products to relevant brand loyalists, and to coordinate this asset into product launch strategies. But they'll need to use their own customers instead of renting someone else's high frequency and inauthentic opt-ins, and they'll need to be certain when they do seed product to not do it in exchange for a review.

Brands with the best products and an effective method of capitalizing on that brand love will rise to the top and see an increase in buyer trust in authentic reviews and testimonials.

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What Amazon's Ban of Incentivized Reviews Means for Marketers

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image of Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan is the founder and CEO of Crowdly, an advocate marketing platform that connects large brands to an owned channel of their best, authentic customer advocates at scale.

Twitter: @danielmsullivan

LinkedIn: Daniel Sullivan