Ever heard of the Kobayashi Maru? It’s a training simulation referenced throughout Star Trek canon wherein a Starfleet Academy cadet must command a ship through a “no-win scenario”. The exercise basically plays out like this: A stranded ship is in need of assistance for which the Enterprise is in proximity to provide. However, rendering aid requires the Enterprise to cross a neutral-zone territory, and face all-out war, with the Klingons. Retreating, however, means violating Starfleet policy and exposes the Enterprise crew to mutiny and conflict amongst themselves. It is called a no-win scenario for a reason— there is no conventional way to both save the stranded ship, and avoid certain annihilation. A conundrum pitting self-preservation against self-destruction. What does this have to do with Amazon reviews? You need reviews. But you can’t get reviews without selling and you can’t sell without reviews. Much like how Kirk and his crew can’t both save the ship and themselves. There’s seemingly no way out of this vicious cycle. Well, no conventional way out anyway. [spoiler alert] Before Star Trek aficionados state that Captain Kirk had to hack the software in order to defeat it, know that we are NOT about to show you how to cheat or black hat your way into Amazon stardom. Sorry. The way to win the Kobayashi Maru is through original thinking and ingenuity, not by employing methods that puts your enterprise at risk.

Why you need reviews

Let’s come back down to Earth for a moment and consider some of the facts. So far in 2018, something like 77% of consumers read product reviews before clicking the buy button and one-third of all consumers will not give a product any consideration without at least one review. Products with only one review stand a two-thirds better chance of selling over those without any reviews at all. If those reviews are positive, sales for that particular product can jump as high as 30%! In other words, reviews are kind of a big deal— like a Klingon death ritual kind of big deal. Note that Amazon products without reviews may result in similar behaviors.  How reviews influence customer behavior extends beyond the point of purchase and into how they choose to start to find your product. We’ve found that Google is making inroads against Amazon as a place to start your product purchase, perhaps because of the closely held association between Google and authenticity. I think the more that Amazon does to curtail it’s review “klingons” the better chance of success they have at the top of the funnel. Reviews are a gateway to loyalty and, in the digital space, the new word of mouth— influencing buying decisions nearly as much as personal recommendations. But, what if your product is brand new— stranded in a lonely corner of its competitive category? How will you save your Kobayashi Maru?

Using Fake Reviews – Entering the Neutral Zone

In the Kobayashi Maru simulation, entering the neutral zone to save the helpless ship violates a longstanding Federation-Klingon treaty and is viewed by the Klingons as an act of war. In our universe, testing the capabilities of a powerful force like Amazon by violating their terms can have similarly devastating consequences. Sadly, the allure of nefarious means by which to acquire Amazon reviews is so strong, some sellers are willing to risk a legal battle with Amazon; while others simply don’t care and think if they stay small enough, they can just get sued and come back under a different name— creating a sort of whack-a-mole environment for Amazon’s legal team. A recent Buzzfeed article garnered widespread attention to the growing economy of “fake reviews” on Amazon— and it doesn’t look good. The article is brimming with horror stories of lost revenue, customer dissatisfaction and unfair competitive practice.

How Fake Amazon Reviews Work

  1. A seller posts an offer on an online forum or chat server looking for paid positive reviews for their product
  2. Someone agrees to either buy the product using their Amazon (usually Prime) account and leave a review (often having not even used the product) or leave a review without buying the product
  3. The seller reimburses the reviewer for the purchase of their product, along with a tip, for their time
Often the reviewer will then turn around and sell the purchased product elsewhere for a profit. Many of these schemers will outright poach potential customers from other sellers by puffing up their review numbers and ratings in just a few short weeks; resulting in drastic drops in sales for their competitors in the same category. One such seller, the inventor of Bedband, a gadget that helps hold your fitted sheets on your bed, witnessed a drop in sales so drastic, she had to lay off a handful of employees. This dramatic drop in sales was caused by a counterfeit listing padded with glowing reviews. How common are fake reviews? We can’t really be sure. Amazon executives are tight-lipped about the actual number but maintain the percentage to be “tiny”; stating a figure closer to less than 1%. However, a study performed by Reviewmeta puts the number at closer to ten percent. Other estimates maintain a figure of up to 50% for highly competitive categories.

How to Fight Fake Reviews

While Fakespot can be a handy tool for the savvy shopper, whether or not the burden of proof to identify unreliable reviews should rest on the consumer, is debatable.
Some websites such as Fakespot aim to identify fake reviews on Amazon listings and assign a grade based on a number of factors such as reviewer behavior, common text, and the number of reviews already scrubbed from the listing by Amazon. Perhaps you can use this as some defense in researching if you are unfairly being competed against.
While Fakespot can be a handy tool for the savvy shopper, whether or not the burden of proof to identify unreliable reviews should rest on the consumer, is debatable. However harrowing the reality of fake reviews may be, Amazon is taking steps to curb the behavior and is currently pursuing lawsuits against thousands of sellers accused of buying fake reviews. I think it’s safe to say that entering the neutral zone outgunned and in violation of terms is a good way to get blown out of the Amazon universe— and we don’t recommend it.

The Right Way to Acquire Amazon Reviews

Captain James T. Kirk was able to beat the Kobayashi Maru test by understanding the underlying programming of the simulation and using that architecture to his advantage. Through some of our research, we’ve uncovered a few ways to use both the Amazon seller dashboard and third-party systems to gain a completely fair competitive edge. We use these same strategies to help our clients achieve results because, just like Captain Kirk, we don’t believe in no-win scenarios.

Reviews follow relationships

The best way to truly nurture lasting loyalty and continuous customer satisfaction is by building positive relationships. In short, this takes time and expertise. This quote comes to mind, “Hard work works.” I have a recent personal experience with this approach. I was in the market for an affordable, bang-up, small bluetooth speaker. After a little research on Amazon and Reddit, I finally arrived at the Anker Soundcore. Even though I was happy with my purchase, I didn’t leave a review. I was busy, or simply forgot— such is the case with many buyers and a testament to why post-purchase touchpoints are important. A month or two later the speaker suddenly began emitting a buzzing sound at high volumes, (i.e. it was blown). I promptly emailed their customer support. They agreed to send me a new unit and didn’t even ask me to send back the faulty speaker. Sounds like good ol’ fashioned customer service, right? But here’s where they got my loyalty — the support rep sent me the message below:
The answer to her question was a no brainer — I would absolutely leave a review—and I did because “Lena” demonstrated a willingness to nurture our relationship by extending a convenience. I almost had no choice but to return the favor and all it took was a few minutes writing something real and positive; not even about the product per se, but about the awesome care I received from the support team. A review like that will decimate a fake review any day because authenticity always shines. — And good on Anker for seizing an opportunity to squeeze a positive review out of a previously dissatisfied customer. How can you learn from this? Have you considered how to spin negative customer experiences into glowing, authentic Amazon reviews? Now, how can you apply some of this to your business? Luckily there are many tools available, some provided by Amazon and others the product of a little creative thinking, automation and targeted diligence.

Amazon’s Early Reviewer and Vine Programs

Amazon’s Early Reviewer program incentivizes reviews from shoppers for new products. According to Amazon, the purpose of the program is to “help brand owners acquire early reviews, which helps shoppers make smarter buying decisions and can lead to an increase in page views, search click-throughs, and sales.” With this mutually beneficial program, buyers receive a small reward (a $1 to $3 Amazon gift card) for sharing their thoughts on a product, and Amazon sellers receive much-needed reviews for new products. With the Vine program, Amazon distributes products to “Vine Voices”, who are those reviewers who have received many “helpful review” designations by the Amazon buying community, and asks for their feedback. These are great options in that they are sanctioned by Amazon and are, in a way, “curated” by Amazon based on their own stringent selection guidelines. I especially like the Vine program because even if you receive a negative review, your chances of receiving useful feedback and constructive criticism are higher coming from “Amazon’s finest”.

Post Purchase Automated Emails

While the Early Reviewer and Vine programs help you start off strong, you won’t get a high number of reviews relying on those methods alone. We think the benchmark goal number of reviews is 21, meaning that the incremental value of each additional review after 21 reduces (contact us to discuss this Amazon review number in more detail). To keep up the momentum and add those initial review numbers, you’ll have to start an outreach campaign. Some sellers rely on the Amazon messaging service system to reach out to each customer to try and elicit an individual review. But doing so manually can be a real time suck and harmful to your longterm health (see Klingon screaming above). This is where technology in an automated solution becomes essential. Post Purchase Automated Solicitations are pretty simple. As opposed to the default Amazon review/follow up messaging, you set up email templates to send to customers based on their past purchases. Typically we recommend a seller ‘feedback’ email sent upon delivery of your Amazon product ensuring correct and timely delivery. Then follow up this initial message with multiple product review ‘nudges’ a few days after delivery. The timeframe of these product review messages will vary depending on how long a customer would need to fully evaluate your product. Note that over-sending and/or spamming your (previously) “happy” customers can have negative and dire consequences here, so tread lightly. If you are wary of inciting a rebellion against your empire, I’d start with a lower threshold of sending then slowly increase the volume/intensity of messages until you reach a tipping point. Amazon prohibits sellers from contacting your buyers outside of Amazon and these automated messages use the existing Amazon messaging system. When done right and by following the rules and guidelines by Amazon, you’ll gain more positive reviews for the products you sell on Amazon. Here is an example of an automated email draft you might consider sending a customer:

Amazon Post-Purchase Email Template

Hello [Buyer name],

We hope you’re satisfied that you chose to shop with us and that [Product Name] exceeded your expectations. If it did, would you mind sharing your opinion with others here?

Leave your review here. (It will only take 2 minutes) [Link to the product review page for your product on Amazon]

If you have any issues at all, please let me know. Just reply to this email and I’ll do whatever I can to make it right.

Thank you again for your order!

Yours Sincerely,

[Your Name]

For this to work well, you need to make sure you are maintaining a comprehensive customer database to which you can reach out at any time. Always be trying out new messaging templates to test what works best and what doesn’t. Effective communication is the conduit to healthy customer relationships.

Reviews Matter

If you intend to command your ship through some tough scenarios, maintaining a portfolio of positive reviews is key. You should be putting as much effort into snagging reviews as you would be chasing new business. Again, reviews follow relationships. By proactively engaging with your customers following a sale (be it a positive or negative experience for them), you stand a much better chance at collecting positive reviews and steering your products in the right direction.

We’d love to help you grow your Amazon sales!


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