As many sellers know, one of the most important elements to their products conversion rate is the quantity and quality of their products star ratings. Recently, many sellers have attempted to game the system by simply giving away hundreds or even thousands of products using coupon codes at an exorbitant discount (up to 97% off) in exchange for “unbiased and honest” reviews.

This allowed a product that was brand new to the Amazon marketplace to soar past well established products that had taken years to build up their product reviews, and overtake them in both sales and ranking in a short period of time.

A year ago, Amazon confronted this policy update by amending their Terms of Service to include the statement,

“You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review.”

Amazon’s Updated Review Algorithm & Policy

However, the term “excessive” was hard to define and buried in a policy page did little to stop sellers from violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the policy. In addition to supplying policy, Amazon recently updated it’s algorithm to combat sellers from attempting to manipulate rankings using this method. Recently Amazon began displaying this message when hovering over the stars above the Customer Reviews,

“Amazon calculates a product’s star ratings using a machine learned model instead of a raw data average. The machine learned model takes into account factors including: the age of a review, helpfulness votes by customers and whether the reviews are from verified purchases.”

This update is good news for many sellers who found their product sales decline despite their historical momentum due to sellers who sought to intentionally violate the policy and attempt to “super charge” their products rank artificially. In addition, Amazon has added another layered requirement to Amazon customers submitting reviews, by adding a $50 minimum purchase using a credit or debit card since the account was created.

“To submit reviews, customers must spend at least $50.00 using a valid debit or credit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50.00 minimum.” – Customer Review Creation Guidelines

This promises to add a further layer of security to ensure that customers are at least required to make an actual purchase before writing a review. Note however that this does not mean that the customer must have purchased your product for a minimum of $50 before writing a review, but rather any product using a valid credit card. This is to prevent sellers or reviewers from frivolously creating multiple Amazon accounts simply to add product reviews to bolster their new product.

Verified vs. Non-Verified Purchase Reviews

While previously any Amazon customer could write a product review, only those that purchased the product through Amazon had the opportunity to have their reviews show up as a “Verified Purchase.” This did two things historically. First, it lended credibility to the reviews, since wayward sellers had gone as far as paying individuals to write 5-star reviews for products that they hadn’t even used before (Amazon recently took several Fake Reviewers to court for this). Second, with Amazon’s recent algorithm updates Verified Purchase reviews are now more heavily weighted when it comes to affecting the average star rating of a product than a non-verified review.

Amazon Verified Purchase Reviews

This prevents companies that have gotten lots of actual negative feedback on their product from upgrading their star rating from negative (1-2 star average) to positive (4-5 star average) simply by giving away lots of products or using other means to enhance their products rating. Now on to the most important part, which is what this means for you as a Seller.

Discounts and “Verified Purchase” Reviews on Amazon

While it is important for any seller to get initial product feedback to launch a new product on Amazon, we actually only believe you need 2-3 solid reviews solicited from past customers to enhance the listing and begin driving traffic to your product. Beyond that, the best way to gain legitimate reviews is through an automated feedback request tool that integrates with Amazon and sends an automated email to new customers asking them to rate or review your product a few days to a few weeks after the product is received.

From our internal testing of a $20 Amazon product we discovered that giving customers a discount beyond 20% removes Amazon’s “Verified Purchase” label from a review which decreases its ability to affect your average star rating. This makes a lot of sense, as that falls within a typical sale price that a company might offer on their website for a sale price, allowing it to still remain as a legitimate review with the same impact as a full price purchase review. We found that any product that had been purchased through Amazon with a discount of more than 20% did not have a verified purchase review and also failed to affect the product’s current star rating.

How to Increase Legitimate Amazon Product Reviews

As an avid fan, customer and supporter we have to say that our favorite way to gain legitimate verified purchase reviews is by using FeedbackFive. An online tool developed by eComEngine, FeedbackFive is undoubtedly the most sophisticated Amazon feedback tool currently on the market. They’re a good company with good people and they provide a great product.

With FeedbackFive you can select from a dozen pre-formatted templates allowing you to easily customize feedback request emails that integrate with your Seller Central account, view reports on message open rates, A/B test and more. In addition to great help videos, they also have incredible live and email customer service support should you have any issues with your account.

Recommendations for Sellers to Increase Product Reviews

We recommend that sellers never, ever pay for product reviews, especially where the reviewer has not used the product before. Lastly, be sure to implement a solid feedback strategy solution so that every customer who does end up purchasing your product gets a personalized email asking them to review the product they purchased.