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Amazon Says Goodbye to 'Incentivized' Customer Reviews

In an effort to increase the reliability of its review scores, Amazon will now use its Vine program to directly provide "trusted" customers with products to review.
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Customer Reviews
NY Daily News

User reviews are tricky to navigate. You assume you're getting the unvarnished opinions of your fellow shoppers, who've paid their hard-earned money for a product. But what if you're not getting that? How could you tell?

This conundrum is what Amazon is trying to combat with its new customer review policies.

Amazon Will Now Play Review Middleman

Customers had previously been allowed to publish "incentivized" product reviews (the item in question provided for free in exchange for a nominally objective review), so long as that transaction was disclosed. As of October 3, all such reviews go through the invite-only Amazon Vine program.

Amazon will be responsible for identifying trusted reviewers and providing them with review products.

This means Amazon will be responsible for identifying trusted reviewers and providing them with products to review, which removes all contact between the seller and the customer. (Books are the only category exempted from this restriction.) This should lessen the likelihood of biased reviews. Amazon Vine reviews will, of course, be clearly marked.

SEE ALSO: Are You Really Seeing the Best Price on Amazon?

Amazon isn't the first company to fight back against the effect of review compensation on the reliability of scores. Last month, digital games store Steam stipulated that reviews of games activated via keys purchased from other sites, or provided directly from the publisher, would still be published, but would have no effect on the review score average.

Readers, does this change affect how you feel about Amazon customer reviews? Do you trust them any more or less than traditional product reviews? Let us know in the comments below!


Staff Writer

Alan Byrne will have to do for now. He cries a lot. Reassure him at his skillfully neglected blog, or on Twitter at @RidiculousHuman.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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16 comments
streamco
I agree with caveat emptor, I read all the reviews I possibly can if I'm interested in a product I have to sift through the good and the bad ones. The people who are compensated, and the people are not compensated; the people leave one word answers, 1 star and five stars incorrectly entering as happy with shipper, as their review. I also compare my reviews with products from other websites to see who has the cheapest and who might be lying that is the best way to be a good consumer. if you just read what people say and take it at face value and don't try to read between the lines these programs do deceive people and you get what you deserve for not doing due diligence.
zinimusprime
I think one of the best way to sift thru the crap is to look on the right side of the page ant the most recent reviews. For me, it's always been a better indicator of product quality.

I received access to this comment page in exchange for my membership on this website. The previous sentence is my own joke and was in no way influenced by my free membership of this free site. The first 2 sentences are straight truth.
CinciShopper
I don't take the overall rating of any item into consideration unless there are at least 100 ratings. Its too easy to find 12 or even 30 people or bots to manipulate the overall outcome.
foneman
Amazon id taking away freedom of speech. Must be a Democrat!
I quit buying anything from amazon and will continue so.
ironchefwill
I have, for the most part, stopped purchasing items that have reviews containing "received product for substantial discount for my fair and unbiased review..." blah-blah-blah. Like others who have commented here, I see that and I think of all the reasons why such reviews are never "fair" or "unbiased". Vine or not, caveat emptor.
Yellowshock
I buy almost everything on Amazon and have seen the negative impacts of these "review for sample" exchanges. The reviewers almost always leave a 5 star reviews so they get more products or god knows what other reasons.
Most products tend to then end up as top of the rating chain despite being cheap, flawed china products.
For example: I bought a jump starter. Item got 5 stars, claimed 800 Amps and 16800 battery. It worked once and then melted. When opening it have a 4000MaH battery.
Second one recently was a travel battery. Same deal.
So now you need to sift through scores of reviews to spot the biased/rigged ones.
I for one believe Amazon needs to treat the reviews as an important part of attracting visitors and buyers to the site. Letting it deteriorate like what was happening was bad.
Long story short, I applaud the move.
javaking_1000
As a long time Vine reviewer I can say that Vine reviews are a mixed bag. I'm more likely to write a long & detailed review for the items I receive free because I feel it's my responsibility to do a thorough job in return for the free item. If I don't like a product I give it a low rating and explain why. I've never had Amazon do a single thing to encourage me to rate a product higher than I wanted to, and I get plenty of products offered to me for review so it's not like they withhold items if my reviews aren't all 4 & 5 star.

However, I read MANY Vine reviews where it's clear the guy never even took it out of the package (he probably just resold it later). These are the people that make me angry and give Vine reviewers a bad name.

You have to remember, people are more likely to write reviews for products they had problems with because they're angry, that's why you see more 1 & 2 star reviews from non-Vine folks.

Vine has it's place, but every review should be evaluated separately.
RudeVader
In my opinion the only reviews that should be considered before purchase are those that say "Verified purchase"

There are users that create accounts and buy blocks of positive votes for obscure products to propel themselves into the top 10k so that they might get noticed for a possible vine contact.
MCD user
I feel frustrated to see a product in Amazon with 90% of reviews with "received a discount or for free for an honest review".

For one thing, if they receive it for free, then they should say they get it for free. There is no such thing as either "received a discount or for free." They know for certain if they get it for free.

And most of those reviews have no details regarding the product. Example: They say they like it, or it is a good product.

Too generic.

What gets me is one case: a product lists the battery life as 6 hours. My testing with the product shows 2 hours. (later I returned it for refund). And a reviewer said he got 8 hours of battery life.
DealWithIt
Read a Vine program review and it's very clear that they will only say good things about the product. It's been shown that Vine program members that say less than great things will be promptly removed from the program.

Seems Amazon is more interested in positive reviews for partners than real-world reviews for their customers.
marlowe101@outlook.com
Viner reviews were the pits run by a defensive group of pissy children. Freebie reviews were promoted by Amazon. A vendor told me that Amazon wanted only positive reviews (and wholly supported the concocted positive reviews to forward business). I gave up on Amazon b/c I found their ethics to be in the toilet. I get better prices and service on WalMart, Jet, another planet.
dmshop
I disregard all Amazon reviews where a customer is part of their Vine review program, or is submitting an "unbiased" review after having received a free product. In fact, I am now starting to click the "unhelpful" button for all such reviews.
Pilm
compensated reviewers know how the system works and their reviews prove it.
pakonom
Amazon destroyed their credibility with their "paid" review system. Amazon picking who gets paid will not change this. They should have eliminated paid reviews altogether to restore their credibility.
dpllpd
Amazon identifies the "trusted" reviewers who will still get the products for free for their "unbiased" reviews. This is just a continuation of their Vine program and those reviews have always been slanted. Compare reviews from people who actually purchased the product to the Vine reviews. You will see many more 1 or 2 star and much fewer 4 or 5 star reviews from actual buyers compared to the "unbiased" Vine reviews. Subconscious bias has been scientifically proven to confirm that people will rate products higher because they got them free and want to continue receiving more free items. View Vine reviews with skepticism.
MWFplus3
I really applaud Amazon for doing this. I get so sick of reading "I received this item for free or at a discount for my honest, unbiased review." Over and over and over again for the same product.

Now if they'll just start filtering out the one-word reviews as well. When I read a five-star review that says nothing other than "Great" or "Perfect," it drives up the rating, but tells me absolutely nothing about the product or why they rated it five stars.

I used to really value the reviews on Amazon and leaned on them a great deal to guide my buying decision...but I don't any more.
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