Amazon has officially surpassed Walmart as the largest retailer on the planet. Now, more than ever, brands are looking for ways to strengthen their presence on Amazon and grow sales fast.
But before you invest a chunk of your budget into Amazon, you want to ensure you products are “retail-ready.” Retail readiness entails a whole host of guidelines and markers, from your product features, images, bullet points and warehouse availability, to the topic of this article: customer reviews and star ratings.
Amazon retail readiness—reviews and ratings
While it should come as no surprise that products with more positive reviews sell better than products without, Amazon does specify the threshold of reviews and average star ratings that brands need to officially become “retail ready.” Amazon recommends that your products have at least 15 ratings or reviews with an average of 3.5 stars or higher to be considered “retail ready.”
Amazon’s recommendation is a great starting point for brands that are releasing new products regularly and/or are launching for the first time on Amazon. Keep in mind that if your competition in the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP) has several hundred reviews or even several thousand reviews, you’ll need to aim much higher than the Amazon recommended 15 ratings to compete and win.
Why Amazon reviews and ratings matter so much
Amazon reviews in and of themselves are not drivers of high rankings through Amazon search. However, they do fuel conversion (which in turn boosts search ranking). For potential customers, the feedback from those who have already purchased your product is extremely valuable. It puts the content of your product page into context in a way that either confirms or defies the shopper’s expectations.
Best practices for getting more Amazon reviews
Since Amazon reviews are so important for conversions, and ultimately create a higher search ranking on Amazon, obtaining them should be a high priority for your brand. There are a number of tactics for obtaining reviews that are ethical and within Amazon standards. We call these “white hat tactics” and “gray hat tactics”—as opposed to “black hat tactics” like offering free products in exchange for a review or paying shoppers to share positive Amazon reviews. While some companies do engage in black hat tactics, we strongly discourage it. Amazon is savvy to this behavior and has created algorithms to catch it quickly. The punishment can be detrimental to your Amazon business. Instead, consider the following white hat tactics:
1. Send an email post-purchase (Seller Central Only)
One of the simplest ways to encourage reviews for your products on Amazon is to ask. By sending customized, automated emails to your customers post-purchase, you can nurture the relationship and reinforce your brand promise to build affinity over time. Using these emails solely to solicit reviews may not work well for you audience. Instead, create a nurture email and ask for feedback as a secondary call-to-action.
2. Engage with your network and followers
As a brand, you likely manage other channels outside of Amazon, like email lists or social networks. Don’t be afraid to ask your followers to leave reviews of their product purchases on Amazon. Best practice is to ask your network to buy the product at full price on Amazon and leave an honest review. Remember that incentivizing to leave a review violates Amazon’s Terms of Service.
3. Include inserts in product packaging
Another way to increase reviews is to create an insert or sticker inside (or on) your product packaging. As “unboxing” has become an art of sorts, many consumers assume that the opening of the product will prove to be as much of a brand experience as the product itself. You can use the insert to expand on your brand message, welcome your new customer, loop in asks to follow on social media and request Amazon reviews. Amazon recently updated its Terms of Service on product inserts and affirmed that brands can include product inserts but need to meet specific guidelines regarding reviews.
4. Respond and dispute negative reviews
While negative reviews can be frustrating, there is a lot to be gleaned from them. In fact, negative reviews can be seen as an opportunity more than anything else. Negative feedback can result from any number of factors (like customer experience, size, expectations, etc.), not always just the product itself.
All negative reviews should be addressed publicly on the review itself by using the comment feature next to each product review. Comments allow brands to include customer service phone number, email and website information directly to the customers. Acknowledgement of the consumer review is a must, as it shows other shoppers that you take the opinions and experiences of your consumers seriously and that the brand will take care of them if there are issues. In fact, for customers that are in the beginning stages of their product search, seeing both positive and negative reviews with commentary from the seller further solidifies trust.
5. Invest in Amazon Vine (Vendor Central and Launchpad Only)
Amazon Vine is an invite-only program created to provide customers with unbiased feedback from some of Amazon’s most trusted reviewers. Vine members are selected based on a number of criteria, but customers that regularly post helpful reviews and develop a reputation in a specific product category are more likely to be chosen as “Vine Voices.”
As a Vendor Central brand, if you want to participate in Amazon Vine, you pay a fee to Amazon and provide them with free product. Amazon will then use their network of reviewers to try your product and review it with commentary. Often, this investment can help you get the initial reviews you need to create an Amazon retail-ready product. Also, brands can typically receive free Vine credits from a Vendor Manager or a VSP Client Manager.
More Amazon reviews with new rating system
In September 2019, Amazon expanded product reviews by enabling consumers to leave a star review on an Amazon product without any commentary or written review. Previously, title and written review were mandatory fields, but now, shoppers can provide just a star rating with one click.
Over time, this new rating system is expected to result in more rated products and an increase in the average star rating. The thinking is that consumers who have a negative experience will still write a full review, but consumers who have a positive experience will be more likely to contribute with a quick star rating.
Amazon has always placed a high emphasis on the customer experience, and have built this into their core values. Many customers view reviews as mandatory before they are willing to purchase on Amazon—especially products that come at a higher cost. As a seller, it’s crucial to invest time and effort in collecting reviews and not assume that they will come in naturally and at the speed you need. Be proactive about collecting and responding to reviews to ensure your products are Amazon retail ready and ranking well in search.
Kevin Weiss is the vice president of growth and strategy at Amplio Digital, an award-winning Amazon marketing agency based out of Boulder, Colorado, that is committed to helping good companies grow to improve our communities.