What do you do with your review stuff?

I get a lot of solicitations for reviews.  By my count I am getting about 60 requests daily (maybe 40 on Saturday and Sunday).   I am positive that there are people out there who get even more than that, but 60 seems like quite a few at any rate – and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Of those 60 requests I try to keep it to 3 or less a day that I actually accept.  This is for several reasons:

  1. I don’t have the time to review more than a few items in a day (because I have a job separate from this reviewing gig).
  2. I perceive that when I review more than a few items a day (if they are on Amazon) it negatively affects my reviewer rating.
  3. I don’t need or want the vast majority of things I am offered.
  4. I don’t have room for a huge amount of clutter.
clutter

Not my actual house

But, if you add it up – getting three new things per day adds a lot of tonnage to my house.   So what do I do with all this stuff?  The answer is, it depends.

Some items like those I get from Vine (or previously from Walmart) I am required to keep for 6 months.   After that point, I am free to do with them as I please – toss them, sell them, give them away… whatever.   But to sell them or give them away before that point could get me booted from reviewing for them, as it is a violation of their rules.

Items that I get directly from sellers I can do with what I want after I review them.   Some of the items I keep because I need or want them.  Some items I carefully repackage (if that is even possible) and I sell them (mainly it seems to my co-workers who also are aware of my reviewing gig).   Some items I give out to friends and family as gifts.  This has been such a blessing to me, because last year I did virtually no Christmas shopping.   The time and headache saved by not having to shop was priceless.  Is this tacky?  Maybe.   It could be seen in the same light as “re-gifting”, but I don’t care enough about the perception to stop doing it, and I am planning to do it again next Christmas.

 

 

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The worst product I ever recieved

The vast majority of products I have received for review have been at least passable.   There have been a few stinkers though.   I once got a battery operated can opener.   While I was trying it out, it died mid way through a can.   This wouldn’t have been so bad, but I was trying to open a can of tuna.   So trying to wrestle the device off the can, I got tuna juice all over me, and my kitchen.   I ended up getting so frustrated that I threw the can (with the opener still attached) in the trash… and then I had to take a shower.

Because of this experience, I will never again try another battery operated can opener.  I will stick with my OXO Smooth Open can opener, which I’ve had for years.

  • UPDATE  09/09/16 *

I just received another extraordinarily disappointing product.   It was a water bottle which seemed promising.   Stainless steel, double walled and a good size to boot.   What could go wrong?  The printing on the outside of the bottle rubbed off all over my hands, and smeared around the bottle.   Had I actually paid the $17.99 retail for the bottle, I think I would have been really hot under the collar.   Needless to say, my review will not be too glowing.

 

Check out my blog archives, you never know what you’ll find!

Amazon Rank

AmazonWhat is Amazon Reviewer Ranking?  It is the system that Amazon ranks its reviewing customers with, the best reviewers presumably have a higher ranking.    No one is exactly sure the algorithms that govern it, but here is what Amazon says.  Everyone who has put a product review on Amazon has a ranking.   To find out yours go to your profile page on Amazon you should have the ranking listed there.  This is how Amazon stacks you up against their other reviewers on the site.

There are badges associated with Amazon reviewer rank.  Badges do not come into play until you have reached a high level of reviewing.   That can be achieved either by writing a lot of reviews over time which get tagged as helpful, or having just a few very popular (almost viral) reviews on products a large section of people want to buy – for instance the latest tech gadgets.  People are reading those sorts of reviews closely to see if they should purchase, and a good review there will really boost your rank.   In order to have a high ranking though, you need to be able to write those reviews so that people find them useful.

One thing I really like about Amazon’s ranking system is that “fan votes” are not counted towards rank.   This means that even the little guy with not a lot of connections gets a fair shake.   I am not sure exactly how fan votes are determined, for instance if the same person up votes you twice – does that mean they have become a fan?  This part is not clear to me.

I have noticed that as my own reviewer ranking climbs, so does the number of solicitations for reviews I get.   I was reviewing only for Amazon Vine and Walmart previously, but when my ranking climbed up to around 2,000 that was when I started getting solicitations from private companies for reviews, and the higher my ranking climbs – the more requests I receive.

If you are not currently a reviewer, and you are wanting to get into it you should definitely include contact information on your Amazon profile, and any profile you review on.  There are some people who think that is a bad idea, because you will get emails from every Tom, Dick and Harry… but my personal experience has not been negative.

Interested in knowing more about top ranking reviewers?  Amazon does have a forum for top reviewers.  Some of the information there is useful, some of it not – but always interesting reading.

 

To review or not to review… that is the question

Sometimes people ask me what kinds of things I review in my professional life.    The short answer is “anything”, but that isn’t necessarily true.   I can only review things that people offer me, and there are some items I choose not to review.

product reviewI have noticed that certain lower ticket items (inexpensive items) seem to go in cycles.   For awhile it was selfie sticks, and I was getting offered at least a handful of those on a daily basis.   After that it was battery operated Christmas lights.   Next it was silicone oven mitts.   Now it seems I get an inordinate number of review requests for light bulbs and Bluetooth headsets.  (Update – now it’s watermelon slicers.)

People have offered me everything from car accessories to jewelry and furniture to survival gear.  And I’ve reviewed a lot of things; but there are two categories of items I do not review.   Adult items (dildos, vibrators, bondage equipment -etc.) and eBooks or Kindle books.

Why don’t I review adult items?  Because I don’t want to associate myself with something I would be embarrassed by if my kids found out I reviewed or my own friends and acquaintances found out I reviewed.  I like to keep things PG where possible.

Why don’t I review books?  I actually have reviewed a few books, a Bible, some devotionals, and some books on North Korea… but only because I was interested in those topics and would have potentially read those anyway (and because they were physical copies, which I prefer).  The main reason why I don’t review books is when you review a book you are “locked in” to finishing it even if it really sucks, in order to give it a proper review.   I don’t have that kind of time, or energy.  But I also find book reviewing not to be great for business.   That’s a bad way to put it, but what I mean by that is books are so subjective and sometimes people take it personally if you hated a book they loved, or vice versa – it tends to generate a lot of negative feelings.

I have even heard some anecdotal stories of other reviewers who have reviewed books negatively, only to have the author of the book retaliate against the reviewer by harassing them, launching complaints against them to Amazon, and having all their friends and family down-vote the review.  Book reviewing can get personal!

There are reviewers out there who are niche reviewers.  They review only books, or only clothes, only one certain type of product.   My perception is that niche reviewers are usually very knowledgeable in the genre they have chosen and tend to get a lot more review requests in that category (obviously).  If you lean towards certain items, you tend to get offered more items that relate to it I have noticed.   For instance, I bought some shorts from Amazon, and then a week later I was offered several pairs of shorts for review.   I think companies must track purchase history.  Creepy to be sure, but you’d be surprised what people can track about you online, but that is a topic for another blog!

My advice is review only items you are interested in trying or using, or have a lot of knowledge with then gear your review around that.   If you are new to something, write your review from a newcomer’s perspective.  If you are a regular user of a certain type of item give an expert’s opinion.   If you are passionate about a certain kind of item, say camping supplies, try reviewing only camping supplies to build your reputation in that area.

 

I’m passionate about my blog archives.  Read them!

The organized reviewer

If you are aspiring to become a professional reviewer, you will need some sort of system to keep it all organized.  I used to use my email inbox to keep track of things, but that soon became untenable for me.

There is no right or wrong way to do it of course, but for me a spreadsheet was the best option, although because I keep all my data from past contacts and reviews – it is a rather long spreadsheet. I have toyed with the idea of a database, but I am not at that point yet.

Organize ReviewerI have a tab for pending items, a tab for reviewed items, and a tab that I labeled “flaky vendors”.  Anyone who reviews a lot knows that you run into many instances where a company contacts you for a review, says they are sending an item…. and it never arrives.  I don’t concern myself with this too much, but I do keep those items in my spreadsheet because occasionally months later it may arrive, or the company contacts me again… It’s just good to have a record of it in my opinion.   It has come in handy for me a few times.

What information do I save?

  • Item description
  • Item web link
  • Email of the contacting company
  • Date of first contact
  • Date product was sent
  • Tracking number (if applicable)
  • Order number (if applicable)
  • Whether it is a coupon code or being sent direct
  • Any special instructions (for instance, the seller requests at least 2 pictures)
  • The dollar amount paid for item
  • The dollar amount of the item

After the review I also save the following information

  • Date item was reviewed
  • Permalink(s) to the review
  • List of where item was reviewed

 

Want to learn more interesting review stuff?  Check out my blog archive!

 

Coupon Clubs

The biggest problem with reviewing today has got to be coupon clubs.   Not that all of them are bad, but some are less scrupulous than others.  I myself review occasionally for coupon clubs, but I do try to limit the number of reviews I do with them, partly because of the stigma associated with them, and also because Amazon has been suspending accounts of reviewers who are inadvertently (or blatantly) not following Amazons TOS for reviews.

coupon clubI define a coupon club as a company that is trying to get as many reviews as possible, and has it’s reviewers sign up with their company on Facebook or other social media, or has them go through a website portal to select products.  The difference between a “legit” coupon club and one that is not on the up and up, is in how they approach the reviewer, and the review process.

A bad coupon club will:

  • Require you to give a 4 or 5 star review, no matter what.
  • Give you certain things that you have to say in your review about the product.
  • Ask you not to disclose that you got the product for free or a discount.
  • Try to offer you payment over and above the amount of the review item, in the form of cash or Amazon gift cards.
  • Not care so much about the quality of the individual review, but is going for volume.
  • Harass you if you give anything less than 5 stars to get you to alter your review.
  • Threaten not to let you review more products unless you give 5 star reviews.

A good coupon club will:

  • Ask only for honest reviews, no matter the star rating.
  • Never ask you to change a review.
  • Request that you disclose you got the item for free or a discount.
  • Never say that you are not allowed to review again if you leave a less than 5 star review.

Coupon clubs are very easy to get into, and you don’t have to have an established reviewing track record to do them.   That is why I think  people get drawn into them.  You want to review, and you like the free products, but if you don’t compromise your principles and give it a 5 star review (even if it’s a 2 star item) then you get “cut off”.   Of course there are those reviewers out there just doing it to get all the free stuff they can grab.  They don’t care about the integrity of the review, they just want another selfie stick, oven mitt, or string of Christmas lights… whatever happens to come up for review.   I value my integrity over a $10 selfie stick, and I think the majority of reviewers probably do as well.

For those still thinking they want to go the coupon club route, to find one of these clubs a simple google search for “Amazon coupon clubs” will do the trick.  There are dozens of them out there.

 

Don’t forget to check out my blog archives!

The Amazon Vine Program

The Amazon Vine program is an invitation only review program that is run by Amazon.   There is a lot of mystery to it, even among Viners.   No one knows how many people are part of the program.  No one knows how people are selected for the program.

Amazon VineI was invited to join some years back (I think I was among the first to join the program, but in reality I have no way to know that for sure).  How I was notified is a small leaf logo appeared on my Amazon page, inviting me to click to find out more.   I ignored it for awhile, but then curiosity got the better of me.

I don’t remember specifically what it said after I clicked the leaf link, but I do remember being skeptical… because it sounded WAY too good to be true.   Who gets products for free just for reviewing them?  Crazy!   Turned out not to be crazy at all.   Turned out to be pretty wonderful actually.

Over the years the Vine program has changed in the way we are offered products.   It used to be a free for all on certain Thursdays (or was it Tuesday?  I forget) at 2pm CST they’d offer up a long list of products, and only the really fast clickers got the “good” stuff.   All very exciting – and I used to plan my day around it.  Seriously.   I had to be at a computer 5 minutes in advance, poised and ready.    That practice has been abandoned and now we are all have our own “queues” of items that we can pick from and there is no time pressure.  I think this system works out better.

Another change to the Vine review system is that Viners also must pay taxes on the items they receive.   Amazon tracks this for you, so there is no getting around it.  This change was the source of much angst among Viners, but I think ultimately it has helped the program in that now (personally speaking) I only accept items that I really am excited about, instead of casually interested in.   It causes a lot more mindfulness, which can only be good for Amazon, I would think.

 

Don’t forget to check out my blog archives!

Spark Reviewer program by Walmart

WalmartThe Spark Reviewer program was an invitation only reviewer program that Walmart ran.   It was like the Vine program by Amazon, with a few operational differences.  The premise was the same, they offered a selection of product to review on the Walmart site and you were required to have the reviews done in a certain amount of time after receiving the product.

But it (for whatever reason) ended last March (2016).   All of us who were in the program received a letter on March 25th which read like this:

Dear Spark Reviewer,

We thank you for your participation and partnership on the Walmart.com Spark Reviewer Program.  We appreciate the time you’ve taken to test and review the Spark Reviewer samples and for the feedback you’ve provided. We truly appreciate the time and effort you have put into making this program a success. However, we regret to inform you that we will be ending this program. Thank you again for your participation in the Walmart.com Spark Reviewer Program.

Thank you,

Walmart’s Spark Reviewer Team

They even sent a second follow up letter in April to clarify that the entire program was ending, and it wasn’t that they were kicking out individual members from the group.

I don’t know the reasoning for cancelling the program.  If I had to speculate I’d presume it  wasn’t profitable for them. The quality of the reviews they received were probably pretty decent overall, they required (usually) a 200 word minimum review and highly encouraged photos, videos and sharing on other social networks.

It was fun while it lasted, easy come easy go.

UPDATE 3/8/17 – The Spark program is back on!

Want to learn more about reviewing?  Check out my blog archives!

Chinese products and emails

ChinaOne of the things I like about reviewing is that I get a lot of product requests from Chinese companies.  That in and of itself isn’t good or bad… but I like reading those emails better than those of their American (presumably American) counterparts.

I only know one language, English.  And I’m not even an expert with that language, so the fact that someone knows two or more languages is impressive to me.  Let’s get that straight right now.  But I do love reading the emails from people who don’t speak English as their native language.   Some have a better handle on it than others, but sometimes the way they are worded makes me smile.

Here is a sample:

Hi my trusted friend,

This is —– from Amazon store: —-
Respect your high reputation among reviewer. We have gone through your information  on Amazon Top Reviewers list and consider you are a reliable, objective,  and experienced shopper and reviewer.  Would like most cooperation with you.

Delightful.  Chinese companies always like to butter you up before coming at you with the proposal for a review.  There is a certain niceness to that.  They make you feel like a big important person (even when you are just sitting at your kitchen table reading emails in your pajamas).

Sometimes I have gotten to know a few of the sellers a little better and we exchange personal (well, semi personal) emails back and forth.   I really am interested in Chinese life and the people behind all these requests.   Being an American, sometimes I feel a little isolated from the rest of the world, and I truly appreciate the chance communications I’ve been able to have with these people on the other side of the globe.

Check out my blog archives, you never know what you’ll find!

My dream reviews

Most of my reviews are for things that are $50 or less.   Occasionally I get to review luxury items, and when those opportunities arise I am always excited at the chance, because in many cases these are items I either can’t afford or would never spend that kind of money to obtain.

I don’t know if car companies ever send out cars for review (even temporarily) but I would love to get that kind of a review.   I also would not mind reviewing computers.   I have never had the opportunity to do that either.   I know people who have, and I think that would be an extremely cool thing to review.

If you are a reviewer, what’s the best thing you have ever reviewed?

 

Check out my blog archives, you won’t be disappointed!