Amazon made headlines this month for banning incentivized reviews, meaning brands can no longer give free merchandise in exchange for write-ups and ratings of their products. New guidelines prohibit “creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.” A caveat – brands can take advantage of incentivized reviews as long as they go through Amazon’s Vine program.
Amazon claims limiting reviews to Vine – which costs brands $200 to $300 per review – will eliminate bias because the pre-approved reviewers are not selected based on whether or not they will write a positive review. However, a recent L2 case study finds that participating in Vine does in fact boost ratings.
For example, Cover Girl’s Flamed Out mascara launched in May 2013 and received just 10 reviews in a six-month period with an average rating of 2.5 star. Reviewers did not like the shape of the wand and all reviews were negative. Over time, Cover Girl begins to enlist Vine reviews and the average rating improves to 3.5 stars.
An analysis of Amazon Vine reviews and organic reviews revealed that the paid reviews were more neutral than organic ones. For example, six of the 10 reviews submitted pre-vine featured exclusively negative content and all mentioned the problematic brush. Meanwhile, Vine reviews contained positive and negative comments.
L2 concludes that even if Vine reviewers are not persuaded to give positive reviews, the fact that they are submitting as a professional leads to more neutral ratings and commentary. (For example, if a reviewer mentions the problematic brush, she may feel obligated to mention the fact that the formula stays on all day.) For brands, this means they can boost their reviews with Vine as professional reviewers will be nicer than consumers who feel compelled to share their bad experience.