“A day which will live in infamy!”
-FDR December 7, 1941
Even though this famous quote was in regard to the terrible bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, some melodramatic Amazon sellers might argue that it could also be applied to the date of October 3, 2016: the day that Amazon banned incentivized reviews. So how in the world are we supposed to get Amazon reviews that won’t command the wrath of the Seattle giant?
In a move long overdue, Amazon updated its community guidelines Monday to prohibit “incentivized reviews,” which are customer reviews of a product that are received for free, or at a deep discount, in exchange for a review.
Even though the company stated that these types of reviews make up a tiny fraction of overall Amazon.com reviews, a recent study by ReviewMeta that looked at over 7 million amazon reviews found something we all knew to be true already: people who receive a product for free are more likely to write a positive review.
After that “study” came out, a video detailing the results quickly went viral on Reddit. And just as one would expect, pandemonium ensued. People were in an uproar with some saying they felt betrayed by Amazon for allowing such practices on their site. Even though everyone who has ever bought anything from Amazon and took the time to read reviews will have surely noticed the glaring disclaimer that usually reads, “I received this product at a discounted rate in exchange for my honest opinion”. And it shouldn’t take brain scientist or rocket surgeon to figure out that anyone who gets a product for free is probably going to really like that product.
Amazon, to their credit, did come out and say that the methodology in the study presented by ReviewMeta was highly questionable. Nevertheless, Amazon has a responsibility to protect their customers, and thus this recent and drastic change in their community guidelines was enacted.
If you had been on any of the Amazon Facebook groups yesterday, you would have thought the world was ending. The posts and comments were dripping with fear, disbelief, and utter panic.
“How can I launch my product now? This is the last straw–I’m DONE with Amazon! Oh no! what will we do? I just ordered 1000 garlic presses and now I can’t even get reviews for them!”
Conventional wisdom and ancient proverbs tell us we have two options in this situation: Adapt or Die. I would argue that we have 3 options: LEAD, Adapt or Die. And that’s what sellers, especially private label sellers, will need to do. This move by Amazon should be viewed as a win for FBA sellers. While it takes away the “easy-mode” method of launching products, it also evens the playing field and requires that sellers get more creative.
Another ancillary benefit of this change is that it will absolutely thin the herd. There are a number of sellers who will simply quit. Probably not right away, but once it becomes apparent that launching a product is going to require more good, old-fashioned marketing as well as new, out of the box thinking, there will undoubtedly be a significant number of Amazon sellers who simply don’t have the skill, time, or desire that will now be required to effectively launch a product and drive organic sales and reviews.
Make no mistake, reviews just became even more valuable to sellers. Now that Amazon has effectively separated the chaff from the grain, reviews will become what they were always meant to be: unbiased opinions of a product by people who actually WANT it–not people whose hobby or job it is to write reviews for as many products as they can get for free. Thus, getting these genuine, organic reviews is now more important than ever.
If you’re one of the many sellers that have followed the traditional product launch process touted by so many “gurus”, you are going to need to heed the lead, adapt, or die mantra. The launch process I’m talking about looks something like this: Use Jungle Scout or similar software to find a product that is not too heavy, not too big, isn’t electronic, find a supplier on Alibaba, slap a logo on said product, do a bunch of giveaways via review groups of FB ads to try and get 25 reviews, turn on PPC, sit back and watch the money roll in.
This standard launch process was “taught” by so many experts because it was easy, proven, and didn’t require one bit of original thought or outside-the-box thinking. Those days are over. The future of successful private label launches will need to rely on alternate strategies. Some of these strategies we’ve been talking about for years here at Guided Imports. Because we actually live here in China and work with sellers all over the globe, we see what type of products are coming in and have a good handle on which are successful and which are not. This gives us a unique perspective and allows us to make observations and gather data points to help make predictions.
Some of the strategies we have mentioned before in various guest posts, podcasts, and speaking engagements are now especially relevant. Here are a few ideas that you can use to help overcome this recent change by Amazon and formulate a new way of launching products and growing your FBA business.
Go against traditional logic. Instead of looking for small, inexpensive items, try to source larger, more costly products. This immediately will eliminate the majority of FBA sellers because they simply don’t have the capital to compete.
Some of the most profitable, low competition products are oversized and relatively expensive to source and ship. Here is an example of a real product we sourced 3 years ago for a current client who gave us permission to share details, as he is one of the few people that have no qualms about sharing his product because he knows he does it better than his competitors. In 2014 this customer sold a portable washing machine that was priced around $250 and weighed 40lbs. Needless to say, it was a very expensive endeavor. He sold them under different brands: one marketed for college students and one marketed as a top of the line alternative to full-size washers.
At the time, he had little to no competition because the landed cost was just so high that no one wanted to enter that market. Over the course of 2 years, he had a constant stream of shipping containers filled with these washing machines being sent to Amazon warehouses on a monthly basis. This was an extremely profitable product for him and ended up being the foundation of a now 7 figure a month Amazon business. This strategy will absolutely work today, and even a cursory glance at some of the categories will reveal some great opportunities for those we can afford the investment.
Another strategy is one that’s been around for years, but very few people actually do it. Simply put, It involves making changes and customizing existing products based on the customer reviews and the shortcomings of the current iteration of said product. In fact, this is what private labeling is supposed to be about. But sellers realized that they could get away with just slapping a logo on an existing product without changing anything, except maybe the color. Sellers became lazy, but with good reason; why incur additional costs and waste valuable time by customizing a product when the generic “every-factory-in-China-has-this-mould” was selling just fine?
Making improvements to a current product will not only help differentiate you, but it will also protect your brand and serve to ward off hijackers. The downside to this strategy is obvious: additional costs involved as well as communicating the design changes with the supplier. This can be more of challenge than you might think.
Recently, one of our clients tried to do this on his own and said it took nearly 80 emails back and forth with the supplier before he was confident they understood exactly what needed to be done. After this frustrating and time-consuming debacle, the customer finally found us online and we were able to help him much more efficiently. This customer told us that he decided to use Guided Imports because we were the only company he could find that was actually owned and operated by an American living in China (who actually speaks the language) and having this advantage really helped in a process that involved communicating minute details to Mandarin-speaking factories.
These are just 2 strategies that have existed for years that will allow you to not only differentiate yourself from your competition, but also offer the opportunity to enter a relatively low-competition market, which in and of itself will garner more reviews simply because you will be the “default” choice for that product.
In my next article, I will go into detail an some of the exact strategies you can use to better market your products and get reviews organically, from full-price sales purchased by buyers that you drive to a variety of destinations: your amazon listing, microsites, landing pages, and aggregate deal sites.
I will also cover how applying the age-old internet marketing technique of “affiliate marketing” can drive sales of your product in a way that almost no one is doing.