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This is what Amazon Reviews Should Look Like

September 10th, 2018

As the founder of ReviewMeta.com, I’m always asked what Amazon could do to improve things.  I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this, and my answer involves 3 steps:

1. Quick & Easy: Only Allow Verified Purchase Reviews

Amazon claims: ‘Reviews that are not marked “Amazon Verified Purchase” are valuable as well‘. However, I agree with the majority of feedback I receive from shoppers that there’s no reason to allow unverified purchase reviews.  Period.

Our data suggests that Unverified reviews are less reliable than their Verified counterparts.  Looking at reviews on Amazon.com in 2017, unverified reviews were more than twice as likely to end up deleted as their Verified Purchaser counterparts.

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If Amazon is deleting so many Unverified reviews, why are they still allowed on the platform?  I believe that Unverified Purchase reviews are doing more harm than good.

2. Vastly Increase Transparency

At ReviewMeta, my belief is that more information is always better.  Amazon already discloses a few pieces of pertinent info, but you are often required to click to a profile page to get there.  Here’s a mockup of how I believe Amazon’s review page could look:

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At first glance, it looks like a lot of extra info, but I believe each piece of information is important in helping shoppers understand the background of each review.

Here’s a few pieces of information that should be summarized and displayed for every product:

  • Show suppressed (deleted) reviews: At ReviewMeta, we can see that millions of reviews have been deleted on Amazon.  In our opinion, this is a good thing – Amazon is taking action on the fight against fakes.  However, I think that customers should be aware when something like this is taking place.
  • Monthly rating trend: This is something already available through ReviewMeta, but it’s valuable for all shoppers to see.  Has the average rating been going up or down in recent months? With 1,000’s of reviews, it might be hard to tally up yourself, so a summarized graph would be extremely helpful.

For every review, show:

  • Price paid: Shoppers will be able to tell if someone picked up the product at a steep discount or overpaid.  It can also raise red flags if all the reviewers seem to have paid a substantially higher or lower price.
  • Seller purchased from: There have been many stories about people receiving totally different products from the same listing on Amazon.  Sometimes a seller will offer a lower price but ship a knock-off version of the product, resulting in a flood of negative reviews for that product.  Being able to tie each review to a seller can help shoppers avoid counterfeit products.
  • Purchased, delivered, reviewed, returned and edited dates: Currently, Amazon only shows one date on the review.  Shoppers don’t know if that reviewer left feedback 15 minutes after receiving the product or 15 months after receiving the product.
  • Average rating from reviewer: While this info can technically be tallied up (and is already displayed on ReviewMeta), I think it should be more readily available on every customer review on Amazon.  This helps shoppers get a quick sense of how critical a reviewer is.
  • Number of Reviews/Total Helpful Votes: This is already available on the profile pages, but it would be easier if it was also displayed alongside the review.
  • Number of items purchased from Amazon/Prime Status: Here’s where we could run into some privacy issues, but if Amazon could pull it off, it would be a significant win for transparency.  Would you rather trust a review from someone who has bought a single item from Amazon or a prime member who is making consistent purchases?
  • Brand reviews/rating: ReviewMeta is already looking for Brand Repeaters, however displaying it next to every review on Amazon would be another amazing display of transparency.

 

The added transparency would totally transform the review platform and enable shoppers to get a better sense of where the reviews are coming from and which ones to trust.

3. The Ultimate Goal: Trash Amazon Vine, Replace with Amazon Testers

In 2016, when Amazon banned incentivized reviews, their announcement included a promise about improving the Vine program:

We also have ideas for how to continue to make Vine an even more useful program going forward. Details on that as we have them.

Nearly two years later, I still haven’t seen any improvements in the Vine program, let alone any mention of planned changes to the Vine program from Amazon.

Related video: What is the Amazon Vine program?

I think that the Vine program has potential, but Amazon doesn’t seem to be focusing their energy on improving it.  The biggest problem seems to be the extremely high (and not very clear) cost to sellers.  Personally, I still rarely see Vine reviews when shopping on Amazon, and have yet to see a single “Early Reviewer”.

Proposed Solution: The Amazon Tester Program

Shoppers don’t need tens of thousands of anonymous customer reviews to help them make a decision.  Even a hundred Vine reviews only gets you so far.

Shoppers just need a few high-quality, thorough reviews from a trusted source – the Amazon Testers.

Here’s how it would work: Amazon would hire a team of “Product Testers” to work for them.  Yes, they’d be on the payroll and actually go into the office to test products and write reviews all day.  

Product Testers would have access to a studio and high-end camera equipment to quickly and efficiently shoot videos for all their reviews.  They’d also have access to other scientific testing equipment to compare different types of products. Think “Mythbusters” but for gadgets on Amazon.

Rather than lumping these reviews in with the rest of the customer reviews, you’d see them in their own special section with their own average rating.  Yes, that means products could have more than one rating – a Customer Rating and a Tester Rating.

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Trust, Experience and Quality over Quantity

Just one or two reviews from a trusted, experienced source can be much easier for a shopper to digest than tens of thousands of customer reviews.  Here’s why:

  • Specialization: Testers would be specialized in reviewing products from one or two categories, for example Audio/Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, Bath and Beauty, etc.  
  • Experience: Testers would have experience with hundreds of similar products and be able to sort out the good from the bad.  Would you trust a review from someone who just bought their first pair of headphones or from someone who has professionally reviewed hundreds of pairs?
  • Resources: Ideally, Testers would have access to scientific testing equipment to factually determine if products live up to their claims.  No more “guessing” if something works or not.
  • Trust: Knowing that these testers are employees of Amazon and not anonymous “customers”, shoppers won’t have to worry about them being paid shills for the brand.
  • Apples-to-apples comparisons: Competing products will likely be reviewed by the same handful of testers.  With Tester Reviews, brands won’t be able to selectively solicit reviews from the easiest graders.

 

 

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The whole program would eventually pay for itself.

The most obvious concern here would be the enormous cost and manpower required to test the millions of products available on Amazon.  If Amazon implemented this correctly, the entire Tester department would end up paying dividends.

First, Amazon would only be testing the most popular products.  There’s a lot of ways to measure product popularity, but I would look at sales.  

So, for example, Amazon spends $500 testing a pair of headphones that has already generated $500,000 in sales.  That is one-tenth of one percent of total sales to get a solid review on a really popular product. If that expense was transferred directly to the consumer, the pair of headphones that was originally $9.98 is now going to cost you $9.99.

Second, Amazon Testers could help increase consumer confidence and ultimately generate more sales. 10’s of thousands of Amazon shoppers use ReviewMeta daily because they are skeptical of the existing customer review system.  The Amazon Tester program would help address this lack of trust and keep more shoppers on their platform.

Third, the content generated from Amazon Testers would ultimately drive traffic directly to Amazon.  Shoppers often do research outside of Amazon customer reviews to help them make purchase decisions.  Having ultra-high quality reviews from experienced product testers will draw in more shoppers looking for in-depth product info –  directly from Google and other search engines.

For example, I was recently looking for a new high-end cooler.  Customer reviews for all potential products were mixed, but all I wanted to know was which had the best insulation.  I had to leave Amazon to find someone who had tested all the top coolers and had the results available.

In the end, nothing is perfect and it’s easier said than done.

As an experienced web developer, I know that just because someone comes up with an awesome idea doesn’t mean that it’s easy (or possible) to implement.  It’s easy for an outsider to sit here and say “Amazon should just block unverified purchase reviews” or “They should simply show the purchase and delivery dates for every review”, but it might not be that easy.  

What if there are some legal reasons behind allowing unverified purchase reviews?  Or maybe they don’t actually have the data to retroactively go back and show the purchase/delivered dates for all the hundreds of millions of existing reviews.  There are a lot of technical challenges that I’m completely unaware of.

Without having a behind-the-scenes look at how Amazon works on the inside, I have no idea how practical or possible some of these solutions would be.  However, in a perfect world, this would be my starting point.

There’s ultimately no 100% perfect solution to completely remove all bias from product reviews.  Shoppers should always stay critical of what they read and thoroughly research products before making a purchase. Increasing transparency on the customer reviews and hiring professional testers simply give  shoppers additional tools and resources to fully conduct their research and ultimately make their own decision.