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Confessions of a paid Amazon review writer

From Digiday:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Digiday and thanks to E.M. for the tip.

Amazon, Reviews

25 Comments to “Confessions of a paid Amazon review writer”

  1. This amused me:

    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.

    • I think maybe she doesn’t understand that it’s the whole “reward” thing that’s a potential problem ….

      It’s as if people have forgotten the original purpose of a review – to detail their experience of the product in order to help other customers make an informed decision.

      • Exactly. If she wants to be paid for reviews it seems like she’d just go work for a site/magazine that does reviews in the first place.

        I look at Amazon reviews to see how regular folk are evaluating a product. If the regular person has some expertise, or has bought similar products in the past, so much the better. But I’m less likely to trust someone who is getting swag in exchange for reviews.

        • Same here. That’s also why I frequently leave reviews. It’s helpful to me to know if a blouse runs big or if the color in the photo isn’t accurate. I want to share the same sort of information with other potential customers.

          • Ditto. I rely on what at least looks like a “real person” review. I generally go to the one-star reviews first, then the other stars. If a product has just one review and it’s one star, I tend to ignore it and hope for the best.

            I didn’t leave reviews for many years, but ultimately came ’round to your motivation: if I’m relying on reviews, I ought to supply my own.

    • Perhaps they don’t give a hoot if their top reviewers quit. They know the volume and flow of reviews. The top reviewers may be more impressed with themselves than Amazon is.

  2. 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.

    Interesting that books remain an exception.

    • There is a very long tradition of review copies for books.

      • That, and you don’t lose as much money/time if a book reviewer has led you astray. It’s more subjective to say “this book rocks/this book sucks” and readers know that going in. If nothing else, they may pick up a favorite reviewer to follow/avoid.

        But if someone is spending $$$ on a product that’s objectively crap — it breaks too easily, doesn’t do what it supposed to, etc — he’ll feel very differently about a reviewer who was given free products in exchange for a review. More likely he’ll think it’s fraud, which is where I can see the headache coming for Amazon. I don’t think book reviewers have ever been accused of fraud rather than bad taste.

  3. Another Anonymous

    I liked the ‘something underhanded’ bit. In both examples the seller could then stiff the reviewer if they didn’t like the review (and then the reviewer couldn’t cry to Amazon without proving they were actually doing ‘paid’ reviews — which this reviewer seems to think they should be entitled to anyway.)

  4. I made a purchase a while back that I decided to review. It was either a one- or two-star view. The seller contacted me repeatedly, asking what I “want” to give the product more stars. I responded to the first email, explaining that I wanted nothing and would not change my review. I received at least three more emails telling me the seller was a small business and needed positive reviews. I was asked again what I “want” and how they can make things right for me. I didn’t need to have them do anything. I had returned the product and received a refund. The final email asked if they could use my product photo in their advertising. I ended up deleting the review so they’d leave me alone.

    • Another Anonymous

      Better would have been to ‘correct’ your review — just as they asked you to.

      Down to one if it was a two and in bold a warning that the seller whines about bad reviews and will hound you about them. And maybe a email to Amazon complaining about the company bothering you as well — as you’d never have been bothered by them if Amazon hadn’t given them your email address.

      • That would not have solved the problem of the seller having left a comment on the review in which she used my real name when addressing me in her comment. I had no way to remove that comment. Removing the review got rid of that problem.

      • I’ve tried that, amazon will remove your review if you complain about the retailer messaging you about it. It’s not relevant to the product or something.

    • So they won.

      • I had the same thought, Karen. If it’d been me, I would’ve contacted Amazon to complain about the seller harassing me.

      • I deleted the review when they asked to use the photo. I didn’t want them to swipe my product photo. I wouldn’t have put it past them. All they had to do was click on the photo and save it as a jpg, then upload it to their ads. I certainly didn’t want Amazon to think I provided it to them or reached any kind of deal with them. I toyed with the idea of telling Amazon about their behavior, but decided that could prompt the seller to look at my reviews elsewhere on Amazon and vote them down or post nasty replies. Also, I use an ID, not my name, on reviews. On the review I posted, the seller replied to it using my real name. I did not appreciate that and didn’t want it to remain on their site.

    • I actually did change one of my 2-star reviews to 3 stars after the author emailed me, upset. We talked and I caved. Honestly, I probably shouldn’t have, but whatever. I gave some other 1 and 2 star reviews (like crappy tasting protein shakes, for example), and didn’t get a contact, but very quickly got “not helpful” votes. I always assume that’s “them” trying to get the review lower on the page. But maybe it was a fan of stuff that tastes like vomit.

      I was harassed once by a well-known company. I ended up complaining and Amazon must have noticed and removed a slew of unhelpful votes. AS soon as I put a negative review, dozens of my reviews within minutes had unhelpful clicks. That was them attacking. They didn’t like me dissing their product (which I Had been a loyal buyer of until they changed the formula and made it taste BAD. And I was not alone dissing the new formula.) And I commented on reviews that looked totally faked (like it was their promo team putting them up). I will never buy that compnay’s products again. Those tactics were vile.

  5. I may be one of the few top reviewers who doesn’t take advantage. I made it to the 140s for a spell (my lowest), and I got so many offers for free stuff–DAILY. All told, in the many years I”ve been reviewing, I accepted maybe 20 free items, most under $20–books, shoe inserts, protein drinks, kitchen untensils. I could have had vacuum cleaners, computers, dresses,furniture, appliances, lots of electronics, shoes, etc, but I just didn’t like giving my address to a bunch of strangers. A lot of inquiries come from Chinese companies. A lot.

    I’m in the 400s now, due to not reviewing as much as in the past and reviewing stuff I buy that may not be the popular stuff.

    The way to be a top reviewer faster: Look when books by major authors are coming out and request those, and be among the first two or three to post. That way you get more clicks and you get a higher rank. I found that out by accident. Bought some books by people I enjoy, read them the moment they were released, promptly reviewed them the same day, and those reviews changed my rank by getting lots of “helpful” clicks. But I did it as a fan, not a reviewer. I paid for the books. 😀

    I haven’t asked for stuff in a while, so I didn’t even know you couldn’t get freebies anymore. I had noticed some emails that I opened (I ignore them for the most part solicitations) offered to sell it to me at a lower price, like 80% or 90% off. But I never bothered.

    Still, I can see how people who were very interested, motivated, and avaricious could hve gotten tons of swag. I could have, had I been on fire. I was not. hah.

  6. “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.”

    No, Amazon doesn’t. Because if this reviewer stopped and didn’t review anymore, there would be someone else to rise up and take her place. It’s like she’s decided she’s something special and unique and must be rewarded for it, when that’s not how it works. There are plenty of people who write useful reviews that aren’t trying to become top reviewers and just give their opinions because they want to. So if these top reviewers decide to pack up their toys and go to another sandbox, there’s plenty of people waiting for their turn to climb in.

    I like Amazon’s policy. I think by reviewers getting items for free, they’re biased to be more positive, whether or not they think such a bias exists. I’m much more likely to trust a review from someone who purchased an item than one who got it for free.

  7. had an experience as above, a seller [a male who seemed maybe English was not fluent] kept emailing me that I couldnt give three stars to his whatever, I needed to give five stars. Reported him finally to AMZ, and the harassment stopped, and I think their store disappeared also, which was selling a common item found from many sellers.

    The Vine ‘reviewers’ were wrong for us, as it appeared many reviewed to get pretty expensive items from us, and then didnt know what to do with them in review. It appeared they were gaining ‘gifts’ to re-gift to their pals.

    I’ve no interest in reviews except from those of common language and arent particularly ‘writers.’ If people have a bit of expertise as in tools, electronics, cool, but they are not competing to write reviews of rankings. Just being good guys.

    I know of nowhere today a reviewer of books can be paid decently. Years ago we did an occasional for nyt and wapo. 1200 dollars was common. No more.

    The disruption of ‘reviewers’ from times past, which we think is good, comes from the regular joes reviewing without being twee or trying to be formulaic, without any goal in mind other than letting people know pros and cons according to their personal opine.

    however, if I see a review that is down to earth, commonsensical, whether it praises or duns an item, I will look at what else that person has reviewed because they appear to have that rarity in life: horse sense.

    No offense to those who like to review, game the system or whatever else. Its just that no attention is paid to those if they appear to be careerist, if I could kindly put it that way.

  8. I don’t leave many reviews, and if a company contacts me asking me to, it definitely isn’t gonna happen. I don’t like to be pushed into reviewing. I’ll review if I’m happy or dissatisfied enough with a product to.

    No, reviewers aren’t “entitled” to free stuff/any sort of compensation.

    However, Amazon did allow them to exchange reviews for free stuff from companies for years and years. Wasn’t that what the Amazon Vine (or whatever it was/is called) program about?

    So I can understand why reviewers wouldn’t be pleased things have changed. I also understand why Amazon felt the need to change the rules about free stuff.

    • It’s getting to be routine for sellers to ask/invite a customer to write a review for either the product or for the seller. Even Amazon sends emails asking “did you like?” for items they sell and ship. These requests often arrive after I’ve already reviewed the product.

      The misbehaving seller I mentioned above has asked customers to email them directly (a big no no), and in one case it was clear they’d worked a deal with a one-star reviewer because they posted a second comment to that customer (also calling her by her real name, which she did not post under) mentioning they expected her to keep her promise to them — saying they were sure she was a person of her word. In other words, I think the deal was a refund for removal of the review or more stars. The purchase had been outside the return window when it failed.

  9. Aamazon reviewers are WRITERS who are contributing to the quality of the Amazon purchase experience, without being compensated.

  10. I enjoy reviewing regularly, perhaps because I like to write. I think it’s also because I tend to be opinionated. Also, I rely on reviews for products I buy so I think it’s only fair that I review. I review regularly on Tripadvisor when I travel and try to make my reviews balanced and fair. TripAdvisor has a new system where you get points or badges for reviewing but it doesn’t amount to anything real or beneficial; it’s just a way of keeping track.

    I don’t mind if Amazon (or TripAdvisor) asks me to review but I don’t enjoy receiving a series of requests for reviews from ‘a small family business that relies on positive reviews.’

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