Amazon is making a significant change to its Community Guidelines , announced today , which will eliminate any incentivized reviews, except for those that emerge from within its own Amazon Vine program. This program allows Amazon – not the seller or vendor – to identify trusted reviewers, and has a number of controls in place in order to keep bias out of the review process.
Amazon has historically prohibited compensation for reviews – even going so far as to sue thosebusinesses who pay for fake reviews , as well as the individuals who write them , in an effort to make its review and rating system fairer and more helpful to online shoppers. However, it has allowed businesses to offer products to customers in exchange for their “honest” review.
The only condition was that those reviewers would have to disclose their affiliation with the business in question in the text of their review. Reviewers were generally offered the product for free or at a discounted price, in exchange for their review.
Although, in theory, these reviewers could write their true opinion on the product – positive or negative – these incentivized reviews have tended to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of the product being rated.
This is due to a combination of factors – the fact that the vendor or seller has likely sought out those reviewers who are less critical, and the fact that reviewers may believe they would no longer have the opportunity to receive these sorts of offers, if they chose to say negative things.
In general, shoppers have begun to distrust these reviews because they believe them to be biased. That’s not just a “feeling,” as it turns out – a recent study of over 7 million reviews indicated that the average rating for products with incentivized reviews was higher than non-incentivized ones. (That is, a 4.74 average rating versus a 4.36 average rating, out of 5 stars).
Even with this 0.38 star difference, the impact was substantial – boosting products from the 54th percentile to the 94th percentile. Effectively, incentivized reviews could create top-rated products.
The study also found that incentivized reviewers were 12 times less likely to give a 1-star rating than non-incentivized reviews, and almost 4 times less likely to leave a critical review in general.