Questions and Answers With Amazon About Writing Reviews

Questions and Answers With Amazon About Writing Reviews

Last week I promised you I would be asking some specific questions about reviewing to Amazon and then sharing with you what I learned.  

questions-and-answers-with-amazon-about-writing-reviews-frostedI addressed my email to Jeff Bezos himself so that I could be sure that whatever answer I received was carefully considered and not just from someone at the Help Desk who may or may not really understand what I was asking, much less what the right answers are. I wanted an answer from a top-level executive at Amazon that I could trust.

After receiving my email, Jeff asked Jennifer P. (why does no one who works at Amazon ever use their full last name?) to respond on his behalf. Jennifer, who works in Executive Customer Relations, responded right away and let me know that she would need some time so that she could work directly with the Communities team on my list of questions.

Here is the text of the letter I sent to Jeff.  You can see full screenshots of the email that I sent and the emails that I received in response by clicking here.



Dear Mr. Bezos,

There are multiple emails from executives at Amazon circulating among the Reviewer Community that seem to contradict one another. By going straight to the top, my expectation is that I will have the answers that are needed so that responsible reviewers will be in compliance with Amazon’s policies.  I can then help distribute this to other responsible reviewers to share with as many other people as possible.
 
I am going to try and keep this cut and dried so that nothing is left to interpretation. All of these can be answered with a Yes or No.
 
1. Are hobbyist Reviewers going against Amazon policy if they use the services of a website, Facebook group, email group, or other organizations to come in contact with Sellers who are offering products at a lower than advertised price, as long as the TOS or rules of the business state that there is no expectation of a review in exchange for the product? 
 
1a. Once they receive the product and test it, are they going against Amazon policy to write a review?
 
2. Are Reviewers going against Amazon policy if they accept a gift that is shipped directly from the seller, and then write a review for that gift, as long as there is no expectation of a review?
 
2a. Are Reviewers going against Amazon policy, in the same situation as above, except that the gift is shipped via Amazon? 
 
3. Are Reviewers allowed to use gift cards supplied by a Seller to order products if they are for the full price of the item and nothing more, or are only promotional codes allowed to be used? 
 
3a. Just to verify, a gift card ends in 4 digits and a promotional code in 6 digits correct? 
 
4. Is a disclosure (disclaimer) required when you leave a review if it is written for a product you received at a lower price than what is currently advertised on Amazon if there was no expectation of a review when the product was offered?
 
4a. Does the disclosure have to stipulate whether it was free vs whether it was received at a discount, or is a general disclosure permissible? 
 
5. If no disclosure is required, isn’t that against FTC guidelines? 
 
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I know that if Reviewers have some concrete answers to these questions, you will find that every effort is made to follow the policy by the vast majority of people who write reviews. 
 
In the past, problems have gotten out of control because there was too much left open to interpretation. In fact, it would be wonderful that if a disclosure is required, you gave us a specific one to use. Just as the Vine Program is clearly identifiable by their badge and no disclosure is necessary, if hobbyist Reviewers had a common disclosure to use it would make things much easier for everyone. 
 
With My Sincerest Gratitude,
Lynn Marie White


As you can tell, I really took into consideration the questions I have read going around in all the different groups I belong to, questions anyone sent me, and things I read on message boards and forums.
I wanted everything to be very clear so nothing would be left to interpretation and no one could argue the facts. I really did try to  make it so specific that a Yes or No answer would be easy for Amazon to provide. Many of these executives are so used to speaking in legalese that perhaps they forget that for the average person, reading their TOS, Community Guidelines, or page about Promotional Content can leave some of us confused at times. I must say, they are getting better and I do think this last change in wording helps define our role more than it did previously. 

At times, change comes with chaos, though. There are so many emails from Amazon executives making the rounds that contradict one another, messages from the help desk that also contradict one another, and some that don’t even make sense. Maybe we should have a contest to see who has received the craziest answer to a recent question about reviewing from Amazon!

That chaos is only taking into consideration the written content from Amazon that I have seen. The rumor mill is out of control with all kinds of crazy speculation from Reviewers, Sellers, Admins, and website representatives too. I will caution you strongly to not believe everything you read and I hope that you have followed what I suggested when the news of the changes started making the rounds, Wait Until the Dust Settles! 

So what are the facts?


First email I received from Jennifer P. 

Hello Lynn,

I’m Jennifer of Amazon.com’s Executive Customer Relations. Jeff Bezos received your e­mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

Thanks so much for sharing your questions regarding Amazon’s review policies ­­ we appreciate our reviewers wanting to be in compliance and I’m happy to answer your questions.

Lynn, because I want to ensure you’re provided the most accurate response to each of your questions, I’m collaborating directly with our Communities team and it’ll take a bit longer than usual. I truly appreciate your patience and I’ll have a thorough response by 4 PM PDT on Tuesday October 11, 2016.

You’ve been a valuable member of our Prime family for 5 years and we appreciate your patronage. I’ll be in touch Tuesday and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

We’d appreciate your feedback. Please use the links below to tell us about your experience today.

Best regards,

Jennifer P.
Executive Customer Relations

Second email I received from Jennifer:

Hello Lynn,

As you recall, I’m Jennifer of Amazon.com’s Executive Customer Relations. I appreciate your patience while I collaborated with our Communities team regarding your inquiry.

We updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.

We do not permit tying a free or discounted product or other benefit to a review, whether or not a review is expressly required. These reviews are prohibited, whether or not the benefit is disclosed in the review:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201929730

In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, promotional content is only allowed in limited circumstances, and must always be clearly and conspicuously disclosed as promotional content if not obvious from the context:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_left_v4_sib?ie=UTF8&…

Please note we do not have information in addition to what is already provided in our help pages and we’re not able to offer additional insight on these matters. We appreciate your understanding.

Best regards,

Jennifer P.
Executive Customer Relations

Thank you.
Amazon.com


 

blue transparent checkmarkThe fact is that unless you are in the Vine Program, do not write a review on Amazon for anything* that you have not purchased yourself with your own valid credit or debit card.  

I would recommend that you not even load up gift cards anymore and use those to make purchases, especially if you might write a review for the product. I know loading up gift cards can often entitle you to a credit, but now, your gift card purchase could result in a loss of your account privileges if you forget and write a review for something you ordered with it.

* There is one exception to this policy, if you are a bibliophile like myself, you will be happy to know that this does not apply to books. The following statement is from the Community Guidelines page. “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.” A disclosure is required to be in compliance with Amazon’s policy in regards to Promotional Content. 

I understand that there are people telling us that it is okay to write a review because no one has asked for a review. Here is what Amazon has said that addresses that statement:

“We do not permit tying a free or discounted product or other benefit to a review,
whether or not a review is expressly required.
These reviews are prohibited, whether or not the benefit is disclosed in the review:”

I have been going through the multitude of emails I have received from websites and some of the groups that I have belonged to that ran promotions. I am sure you are getting them too. They are all saying that the rules have changed and they have changed with them. 

Many are changing their rules, guidelines, or TOS and saying that a review on Amazon is in no way required in order to receive a product promotional code through them. They are claiming that the choice is totally up to you whether you want to leave a review, and in fact, you won’t be breaking Amazon’s policy if you do leave a review. They are calling sellers and reviewers 2themselves shops and stores and you are now a shopper or some other similar term, anything but a Reviewer.

It is true that their rules have changed and they don’t require a review to get a code. You can go to Amazon and order the product, the code you get will work just like it did before. But if you write a review on Amazon, you are in breach of Amazon’s policy. I know some of you are thinking that there is no way that Amazon can track people who are doing this, there are so many Sellers and so many Reviewers that they will never be able to find out if you do,

My background is in software development and business management and I am telling you straight up that I know for a fact how easy it would be for Amazon to track this and wipe the Sellers and Reviewers who are participating in this type of activity, It is my opinion that the long periods between updates in rankings have not just been computer glitches or periods of time to just wipe groups of reviewers. They have used that time to upgrade their servers, work on their database structure, develop algorithms (software scripts that analyze data to do things like track Seller and Reviewer interactions, reviewing patterns, review content, Reviewer to Reviewer relationships, and anything else you can imagine), write and develop new software, test it all out, and assuredly have it up and running by now.

Amazon has already let us know that some of our reviews will be deleted retroactively if they are excessive or do not comply with the previous policy. You can read about that here in my post, Amazon Removing Some Reviews.  I really believe that the operative phrase there is “if they are excessive or do not comply with the previous policy.” I do not think they will remove every single review all of us ever wrote in exchange for a promotional code. As long as both the Reviewer and Seller were in compliance when it was written, it should not be deleted. I know many people didn’t think about what a Seller might be up to and were just concerned about being in compliance themselves. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and it has been and always will be a symbiotic relationship, remember the article about Keyword Searching, Wishlisting, and Other Seller Requests where I talked about how working with someone who did these types of things put your account in jeopardy, even if you didn’t do the special request but did a review for them. It is too bad that at times we weren’t aware of some of the tactics Sellers used or the ones to avoid.

So, do we all stop writing Amazon reviews? No, if you really enjoy writing reviews there is no reason to stop, as long as you write the review for something that you paid for yourself. In fact, there are many reasons to keep writing reviews on Amazon, one of the most important reasons being your ranking. Having a solid ranking is still a great way for Sellers to discover you. I will share more about the other benefits of continuing to write reviews on Amazon later, this post is long enough as it is!

Promotions and free products are not going to go away. They have always been a successful way of marketing, especially for new products. In the future, I will be writing more about other social media reviewing and how to market yourself to Sellers differently now. 

Looking at the facts that Amazon provided, do you agree? Even here on my blog, I urge everyone to look at the facts. I always try to show some evidence if I am saying that things should be done a certain way or in explaining what something means. I can be wrong just as well as the next person, so don’t feel shy about speaking up if you disagree. None of us can learn if we don’t share our knowledge and beliefs with others and be open to discussion about those differences.

I am looking forward to this next stage of development and feel more confident knowing whether I am doing the right thing when it comes to writing reviews on Amazon. The uncertainty surrounding the interpretation of Amazon’s former TOS can be put to rest and we can move forward together. Even those unfortunate Reviewers who were actually honest and good at what they did, but lost their accounts, have huge opportunities moving forward.

Those reviewers who took advantage of the system are out of luck. A  Seller won’t be giving anything to someone who does nothing valid to promote their product.  On Amazon, some Sellers put up with it because perceived sells, the number of positive reviews, and many other metrics improved their Amazon ranking.  Social media reviewing is a whole other game, you need to know what you are doing and not just be a number to the Seller.

if-it-looks-like-a-duck-and-quacks-like-a-duck-then-it-is-probably-a-duck


Thoughts? I would love to hear what you think about this post and how Amazon responded. Do you agree with my conclusion? Do you disagree, if so, why? I love hearing from you all, it is the most important reason I do my blog so let’s hear from you!

Life is about the map we follow and the treasure we find along the way

We have a new map going forward with Amazon and Reviewing in general. You all are the treasures I have found along the way!


12 Responses »

    • Your welcome Debra, thank you for reading the post and commenting! I hope this settles down soon and admins will stop saying it is optional so it is okay. As far as the websites go, some of them are going to take it as far as they can. They don’t care if you lose your account, their eye is on their profit. Hope you have a good weekend!
      Lynn Marie

  1. Awesome post, once again. Thanks for taking the time to get the answers from the source! However, I am still confused – does this new policy apply to books, or not? Advance Review Copies are a decades-long practice in publishing – does Amazon iintend to break with tradition here?

    • Hi Maureen,
      Thank you for reading it! This does not apply to books, thank you for pointing that out. Books specifically weren’t discussed in my emails with Amazon but it is clearly defined in what they included in their last update that the new policy does not apply to books. I am SO GLAD that coloring books fall into that category!!!
      I will update the article to make sure everyone knows that this doesn’t apply to books. Great catch, thank you!
      Lynn Marie

  2. That looks like the exact reply I got.
    I do not agree with how Amazon handled their response. I think by saying they can’t offer any additional assistance, is a closed door policy. They don’t directly answer each question and I’m not exicted about doing business with a company who doesn’t value their customers enough to see a issue through to the end regardless of whether they think they answered your questions fully, and clearly enough.
    I understand why this has happened and I have to say there is a lot of merit to it. I’m not upset about not having the ability to review promotional products on Amazon. I am more concerned with Amazon’s reaction and response.
    It is crystal clear they did not communicate well within their organization and they did a disservice when they gave some people false information after the fallout. That is concerning.
    I agree with your observation and think this is a great article. I also think this will weed out some of the people who just wanted free stuff for not much effort.
    I already see alternative options like blogging and social media shares not being respected. Their are still groups who have said things are much better now because you don’t have to wait a few days before reviewing, or “There is no reason why reviews can’t happen immediatly when receiving the product”. Those are false reviews as the product is not tested at all. I still see sugar coated reviews and I still experience unhappy admins and sellers who threaten not allowing reviewers to review if they are honest.
    That is a shame! You would think lessons would have been learned and realized now is the time to correct those lessons.
    There will always be dishonest people looking for the easy road to get free stuff and those same people will compromise their integrity to do it. SAD!
    I won’t do that and I won’t allow my space on the WWW to be a place for people to lose respect for me or my thoughts.
    Thanks for the great article.
    Raynee @ http://www.thefrugalbranch.com

      • So many great comments and additional thoughts on the subject are being brought up, the comment sections of a post can often be as important as the post themselves, can’t they!
        Thank you, Miss Purple for stopping by!

    • Hi Raynee, Thank you for taking the time to read my article and comment, you are appreciated! I love knowing when people read what I have written and love hearing what they have to think about it!

      You are right, they didn’t answer each question with a simple Yes or No. I guess by answering that we are not allowed to write a review about something (except books) unless we bought it with our own money makes the other questions irrelevant.

      I too am seeing a lot of comments like you have. “I love it, I just got these three things an hour ago and I can go ahead and write my reviews!” I am appalled even more by admins who let this slide or encourage it. And don’t get me started right now (that subject is a whole post within itself) about the websites who have already rebranded and are adamant in telling Reviewers that there is no problem with leaving a review if you want to, just don’t leave a disclaimer.

      It is a sad situation when there are so many people who will do whatever they can to work the system. I read a statement from someone the other day that just about sums it up, “I just don’t understand it! This is the third time Amazon had wiped my account and it isn’t fair! I always write positive reviews, why are they picking on me?”

      When I read Amazon’s reply, their closing statement was what stuck with me more than anything else, but I wanted to try and stick to the topic of their actual answer in the article so didn’t address it. I am so glad you brought it up because now I can vent about it!

      “Please note we do not have information in addition to what is already provided in our help pages and we’re not able to offer additional insight on these matters. We appreciate your understanding.”

      That is almost like a slap in the face. Here I am trying to define the issue in terms that anyone can understand, which in turn helps them. If they would communicate more and be open to discussion, this whole PR nightmare for them and the fall out this has caused too many innocent people could have been avoided.

      We are caught in a situation of Amazon vs Reviewers vs Sellers where communication is not encouraged, rules and responsibilities are not defined, and the result has turned what made Amazon the market leader for online commerce (having the first truly accepted review system open to the public) a joke.

      Social media posts and blogging are going to be the future of Reviewing. Now we have to make sure we know the rules for each platform we post on, so I hope I can help with that. I will be doing a lot of research to make sure my info is correct, so hope you all chime in with comments, corrections if needed, opposing view points to consider, and even guest posts if anyone would like to!

      Thanks again Raynee!

      • I started my blog before ever reviewing a thing and I found a true passion in it. Then I started reviewing and let it slip away. My blog is a paid space which I did to save all my hard work. I also did it to send a message of seriousness to blogging because it is such a passion. I’ve never had a problem voicing my opinions or helping others with whatever knowledge I have that may help others. I want to get back to that and build my “brand” and followers.
        I’ve always wanted to guest post but found myself intimidated as a new blogger. Maybe I will add to your conversation if it is something I have knowledge about and feel comfortable.
        I’ve always been very moral based and it really bothers me when others try to find a loophole to make something right in their mind. That is what a lot of folks are doing right now with regard to the Amazon fiasco rather than learning from the why of it all. It’s quite sad and not something I want to be a part of. I fulfilled my obligations for the products I received and now I can be choosy with who I have a relationship with for reviewing. It will only be with people I feel morally right about.
        As far as Amazon, be fore reviewing I had a lot of respect for them. I live near headquarters and have a lot of friends who work for the company. I felt like they were very customer service oriented. Once I started reviewing and I spent a lot of time really reviewing and doing reviews I would stand behind completely and be proud of. I have lost a lot of respect for them simply because since reviewing the customer service specfic to me is very poor. They grouped all reviewers are one and didn’t really care about thise of us who were fair. Those of us who saw the challenges they were facing and tried very hard not to participate or add to those challenges. The thanks for that was closed communication, door shut in our face without explanation and threats if you didn’t interpret it correctly.
        They bacame successful because of consumers like me and sellers. Not from fake reviewers looking for something for nothing. With poor customer service and refusal to answer valid questions simply for understanding, they are setting themselves up for a huge loss of business. I feel strongly about spending my money only at places that treat me as I would treat them. With respect and fairness. This really is not about not heing able to review as I knew that would be coming. It is about how they treat consumers in the end.
        I appreciate your reply and the conversation that has come from all this. If anything, we have met some great people through it and opened a door for change. Good positive change.
        I look forward to seeing future posts from you.

  3. So if I purchase a gift card with my own money, reviewing the item I use it on could get me in trouble? Geez. That sucks considering I often do that so that the money is out of my account and there (on Amazon) when I need it. Guess I won’t be doing that anymore! 🙁

    Thanks for your hard work and research. Until Amazon comes out and just says no more free/discounted reviews, NO MATTER WHAT, people are still going to look for loopholes and just do it anyway without a disclosure.

    • Hello ChaCha, Amazon hasn’t expressly said that you shouldn’t use gift cards, that is my opinion. I did ask them that question but they chose not to address it.

      By talking about gift cards, they would have to talk about their algorithms and they don’t want to let out any information about what might be included in them.

      If their new system for detecting fradulent reviews is as good as they say it is, they are going to be looking for gift card purchases that are then reviewed as potential reviews that are actually paid for by the Seller.

      Now I would hope that in the algorithms that they are now using, they make an exception for gift cards purchased with the consumers own credit/debit card. But at this point, it is better to be safe than sorry.

      Especially if you have gift cards purchased before Oct 3rd, don’t use them for anything that you are going to review.

      This is really too bad and hurts their business to have people hesitant to use cards or purchase new ones.

      Amazon had said not to do any more free/discounted reviews unless it is for a book or you are in the Vine program. They are actively removing old reviews where they consider the reviewer to have been excessive or otherwise not to have followed TOS.

      The problem is what you just said, all of the people already looking for loop holes and the people who are saying that what Amazon has said with their updated Community Guidelines and Promotional Content definitions isn’t really what they mean or what you think they mean.

      You are also right, if they said it in those terms, “No more… Don’t do it… STOP…” it would be so much easier for everyone to understand!

      I mean come on, they supposedly have a clause in their shipping guarantee or something like that about a zombie apocalypse, why can’t they just stop the legal wording here for once so that people and businesses won’t be able to try to persuade anyone of any other truth behind what they say now.

      Thank you for stopping by and reading my post, I really appreciate it! I always say that it is the people I meet and the interaction with them that is the best thing about reviewing and blogging!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *