10/5/16 – My inbox was still (Surprisingly? Predictably?) full of review offers from third party sellers on Amazon, which directly violates the updated terms of service they put out the evening of October 3rd.
I responded to every single one of them directing them to the new terms and asking if they were aware of them.
A few sellers mentioned in their emails something to the effect of “because you are a Vine reviewer, we have these products for you to review”. Clearly these persons read the policy and are trying to link themselves (erroneously) to the Vine program to trick people into reviewing against the new terms, or they just don’t understand how Vine works and are only targeting Vine people with their emails assuming that anyone who reviews for Vine can review anything. Both scenarios are against Amazon’s new terms though. And, any real Vine reviewer would not believe they are associated with the Vine program, because Vine items come directly from Amazon with no middleman, and we have a portal we operate through right on the Amazon website, not via an email that gets sent to us.
For those people who emailed me referencing Vine, I took the time to reply to explain why they would still be in violation of the terms of service. Either they made an honest mistake or were trying to be a bit underhanded. It’s not for me to discern, I just passed on the information and left it at that.
I had one seller ask me to buy the product at full price, and then offer to reimburse me fully via PayPal. This too, seems like a violation that would end up getting people banned from Amazon. So, this too I had to decline.
TWO EMERGING REVIEW ROUTES ON AMAZON:
A few coupon clubs sent emails saying they were going to keep operating but not require (or ask for) reviews. Most of their items are purchased at a discount between 95% and 50% off, very few were ever free. I suspect all the free items will evaporate and the discounts will become less. In that way it’s more like a discount sale site. I think that model could work and not be a violation of Amazon’s new TOS. Time will tell with that.
I think the only recourse for individual third party sellers is to directly ship their products to reviewers unsolicited, and hope they will take it upon themselves to review it. I don’t believe that would be a violation of the new terms, since items would not be selected by the reviewer and no review was explicitly requested. How likely is that to happen? Again, time will tell.
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10/4/16 – It would seem Amazon has changed their policy on reviews. They are now no longer allowing free product or discounted product to be given in exchange for a review.
Certainly this is a HUGE change. The Vine program will still go on unchanged of course, but for everyone else things will definitely change. I myself got two notices in my inbox from sellers regarding this. One told me not to review the HDMI cord I was being sent due to the changes, the other was a coupon club who highlighted the changes but were tentative in saying how that would change things. This could be because their product is not all free, most were discounted – and it wasn’t exclusive in that anyone could buy it at the prices they offered.
Here is the relevant bit from Amazon:
Promotions and Commercial Solicitations
In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:
- Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.
- Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors’ products or services.
- Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.
- Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.
- Posting advertisements or solicitations, including URLs with referrer tags or affiliate codes.
The only exceptions are:
- You may post content requested by Amazon (such as Customer Reviews of products you purchased on Amazon or received through the Vine program, and answers requested through Questions and Answers). In those cases, your content must comply with any additional guidelines specified by Amazon.
- You may post an answer to a question asked through the Questions and Answers feature (but not a question itself) regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., “I represent the brand for this product.”). We automatically label some answers from sellers or manufacturers, in which case additional disclosure is not necessary.
- You may post content other than Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., “I was paid for this post.”). However, no brand or business may participate in the Community in a way (including by advertising, special offers, or any other “call to action”) that diverts Amazon customers to another non-Amazon website, service, application, or channel for the purpose of conducting marketing or sales transactions. Content posted through brand, seller, author, or artist accounts regarding their own products or services does not require additional labeling.
Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.
For more information and examples, read About Promotional Content.
This will take time to digest, we’ll have to see how it all shakes out in the end.
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10/3/16 – I have learned so much about holidays in China working with as many Chinese people and companies as I do. This week is Golden Week in China, which is not so much celebrating anything in particular, rather it’s a holiday that the government invented in 1999 to give it’s people time to travel to see far away relatives, and expand domestic tourism. As with the Mid-Autumn Festival, I notice my inbox for review requests has been drastically curtailed. So in a way it’s a bit of a mini holiday for me as well.
It’s interesting to note in 2006 there were proposals submitted to end the Golden Week celebrations, because it disrupted the 5 week business cycle and it did not have the economic gains with domestic tourism that it originally was designed to have.
It may be that in the future years Golden Week will not be celebrated. In the US we get traditional holidays off, like Christmas, Easter and Independence day among others, but we don’t get a whole week of vacation days, we get just one and we always hope it falls on a Monday or Friday so we get a longer weekend break. Having an entire week would be pretty awesome, but it would hinder business. I can’t see the US ever adopting something like that.
Sometimes people get ridiculous with their disclaimers, to the point of being obnoxious. I stumbled upon some that were over the top and had to share. Partly for entertainment, and partly as a warning about what not to do.
This disclaimer was longer than the actual review:
“I did receive this product at a discounted price for product testing and review. With this said please know I do not give everyone a 5 star rating and that in no way giving me the product at a discount or for free changes how I feel about the product. I am under no obligation to provide a positive review and receive no incentives or rewards for doing so. My goal is to highlight features and drawbacks that I would want to know about as a buyer, not praise the product for the manufacturer unnecessarily. My feedback is sincere. I work very hard trying to write meaningful and thoughtful reviews for each item. I hope that these reviews will be helpful to others. Would you please let me know how I am doing […] If it was not, please comment with how I can improve. This will help me to be able to write more helpful reviews in the future. While it is true that many items are received at discounted rates or complimentary rates, I strive to give a completely honest review and my personal experiences with the product. Again, it is just my opinion, your own thoughts or opinions may vary. I received no monetary compensation and am not required to give positive reviews for any product and would not endorse any product I would not personally use. In terms of analyzing value, I always consider whether I would consider the item a good value at the current listed selling rate, and do not consider any discount I may have received. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission Guidelines on Testimony and Advertising.”
Here’s another review disclaimer that’s less wordy but more hilarious:
“Note: I purchased this product at a discount in exchange for an honest review, and this IS my honest and unbiased thoughts on this product. Now you may be thinking to yourself “Suuure it is…there is no way that this jerk is not at least a little bit full of BS. Anyone else would have at least a slight amount of bias in his particular situation.” And you would usually be correct about the latter, but I can tell you that I am not just anyone. I am a man who has way too much time on their hands and who cares far too much about what random people on the internet think about his opinions. Some say that the ability to leave honest reviews is a blessing, but I know for a fact that it is a curse.“
And here’s another gem:
“Like you, My final decision to purchase on amazon is heavily influenced by another’s product review. Only after my initial intent to already buy this item, did I received this product at a discount or offered a chance to sample the item free of charge.. It in no way has influenced or altered my opinion when reviewing ANY product and When reviewing THIS product and only after trying and testing the product, this review is 100% my honest, unbiased and genuine opinion.. It is important to me that I leave a real and informative review for you to make your own decision. My reviews are completely honest and are my personal experiences with the product. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission Guidelines on Testimony and Advertising.
SooO, if you are curious and are someone wondering (or making comments about reviews that state *discounted or free”) that they tend to be “5-star” reviews or think they are a paid review. Those reviews that are exchanged for a discount or even free of charge mainly because the individuals reviewing those products were already interested in the item BEFORE accepting any offer for a discount in any amount. At least in my experience, it has been this way. You wouldn’t offer Girl Scout cookies to a Girl Scout haters club free for the taking if they leave an honest opinion of them and expect it to do any good for your marketing. HA No one could ever say they don’t care for Girl Scout cookies, right?! Hopefully that made you laugh but it does makes sense, doesn’t it?!?
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Hope you got a chuckle reading these!
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10/1/16 – I have published a blog post on secret shopping and highlighted a legitimate company, BestMark. But for every honest company, there have got to be about 100 scammers. I found one today in my inbox.
To start, any company that contacts you out of the blue to secret shop should send up red flags. No legitimate company does that. So immediately I knew this was a scam, however I wanted to investigate further to show you how to spot a scam if just getting an email from a stranger doesn’t set off your warning bells, or you happen across a company in a search and want to know if they are on the up and up.
Here is the original email I received:
National Shopping Services Network, LLC. My first task was googling their company name. On the surface they actually SEEM legit. There was a stone and mortar business front photo that came up, and nothing standing out immediately that would warn you. I scanned the google results and I saw one for the Better Business Bureau. This is the best resource to use. To my surprise they had a listing, and at first glance that too was positive… but you have to always read carefully:
They have the “A+” rating but the big red letters saying there is an alert should cause you to investigate further. If you scroll down to nearly the bottom of the page you see that the original company called National Shopping Service Network, LLC was taken over by a new entity. The original company might have been on the up and up, but these new owners are not!
Finding an honest company to do business with isn’t always easy and it takes a lot of homework! There are many more scammers out there than real opportunities.
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