This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →
Many marketing jobs are far from glamorous. Take those toiling in the black market for positive reviews on Amazon.
Merchants have historically offered writers on Amazon free products or services in exchange for positive online write-ups. The practice became so rampant that Amazon updated its community guidelines last October to remove incentivized reviews. But still, many retailers are trying to get around the new policy, according to one top-ranked Amazon reviewer.
In today’s Confessions series, where we grant anonymity in exchange for candor, this Amazon reviewer shared her thoughts on Amazon’s policy change — and pulled the curtain back on merchants’ workarounds. Below are excerpts, slightly edited for clarity.
How does one become an influential Amazon reviewer in the first place?
I have been reviewing on Amazon for a few years, sporadically, but only in the past year have I been doing it seriously. That is because I suddenly broke into the top 10,000 reviewers and then began quickly climbing up. At that point, I decided to see how far up I could get. [She made it to top 50.] Once I got into the top 10,000, vendors started to send me requests to review their products. At that time, it was acceptable for a vendor to send you their product for free in exchange for a review so long as you made it clear in the review that you had received the product in exchange for the review.
What is the most expensive item you have received for free in exchange for reviews?
I would say a Bluetooth speaker that is worth $50 or so.
What categories are you seeing the most demand for product reviews?
Mobile phone accessories, bluetooth devices and sometimes baby products.
Did anything change after Amazon’s crackdown last October?
Prior to the crackdown, vendors could provide you with an item for free so that you could review it for them. Since that policy change, vendors are not allowed to do that [other than for books], and reviewers are not allowed to accept items for free in exchange for a review. So, if one was reviewing in order to get free items to review, it affects them a great deal. I know that a top reviewer was removed by Amazon recently all of a sudden, for no reason.
Does the new policy affect you?
Now I delete most of the review requests. Since the crackdown and change in policy, I only review things that I have ordered myself because I actually needed or wanted them. I tend to post a couple of reviews a day, several days a week. Frankly, there is no reason at this point to write reviews other than because I know that they are useful to people, based on feedback that I get, and I enjoy writing.
Are brands trying to get around Amazon’s crackdown?
Some still ask me to go around it. I get dozens of requests to review products every week, some from vendors who do not seem to be aware of the policy change, and others from vendors who are clearly aware of the policy change and are asking me to do something underhanded to violate Amazon’s policy, so that they can get their product into my hands so that I will review it.
What do you mean by “something underhanded?”
Here is an example that I received recently. The seller is telling me to buy the product on Amazon, and it will reimburse me through PayPal, “so it will be a verified purchase review.” Or a seller suggests I order the product through Amazon, then request to return it and receive the refund but keep the product: “After you receive the product, then you apply for a refund but do not need to return product. We will refund your full payment. So you do not have to spend any fees for this product and will enjoy the rapid distribution of Amazon.” This is the most ridiculous, and dishonest, thing that a vendor has asked me to do. In addition, I have had vendors who track me down and message me on Facebook.
Are they soliciting positive reviews from you?
Everyone wants positive reviews. There are some cases where vendors want me to modify my reviews. I have had a vendor who reached out to me after I wrote a negative review asking me to remove it.
What needs to change in your opinion?
I think that Amazon needs to come up with a way to reward their top reviewers if they want them to keep writing useful reviews out of their own pocket.
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