We recently received this question from a client of Cascadia: “Perhaps you could comment on ProductElf, if you know anything about them? Is it a safe platform?”
In short, ProductElf (now called Ripple Influence) is a platform for getting product reviews on Amazon.com.
And as you may already be aware, product reviews are always a hot topic on Amazon. Particularly, getting product reviews.
This is an opinion piece, based on my review of their platform and personal experience with Amazon TOS.
Ever since the big shakeup a couple of years ago concerning incentivised reviews (aka “review manipulation”), it seems all anyone can talk about is how unfair, or how great, the change is. People definitely fell into two distinct camps, quickly.
On the one hand, you shouldn’t just be able to pay for reviews. The great thing about the reviews community is that it’s the “honest” opinion of your peers… people who use this thing too… so you can “trust” what these reviews say.
Which would be much truer if people weren’t paying people to say nice things about their products, right?
On the other hand, people don’t buy products online without reviews. That’s a fact. So how are you supposed to sell your stuff to people online, if no one will buy it online, because you haven’t made any online sales, and thusly have no reviews?
It really is a bit of a Catch-22.
Amazon’s Terms of Service do not specify one way or another, if it is OK to use an online platform for getting reviews. The terms of service do state unequivocally that review manipulation (incentivised reviews) is a violation, and it’s easy to see how these review platforms could be viewed as manipulation. I mean, you’re giving someone your product for less than its actual value, and expecting a review. Not a far leap to manipulation at all.
The whole “need reviews, don’t have reviews, can’t sell without reviews” thing really is a tough one. You do need reviews. It is a proven fact that people will not be inclined to buy your product without reviews. Your sales will suffer. I think Amazon understands this.
But as far as an honest assertion that Ripple Influence, or any platform like it is totally safe, I can’t promise that. There is always this odd sort of “talking around” what is really going on. It’s not OK to buy reviews, but that’s exactly what these platforms essentially do. If you’ve ever read Amazon’s TOS, you know they love to keep some things vague, and the verbiage around incentivised reviews is one such area.
There are plenty of these platforms out there, but none can claim they are approved by Amazon. With that said however, many of these sites are flourishing. Many do seem to do their best to honor Amazon’s terms of service, or at least not blatantly fly in the face of it. That’s probably why, though it could be argued that this is review manipulation, Amazon has so far done nothing.
These sites aren’t really the guys that Amazon’s after. In my opinion … since they did sue the sites that ran blatant review buys in the past.
ProductElf… now Ripple Influence… does seem to be one of those sites that’s doing it right, trying to give sellers a vehicle for that much needed product exposure and the reviews that will jumpstart their sales.
The way they work is that users sign up on their site to be reviewers. There are free accounts and also paid accounts. The site then offers them free or deeply discounted products (offered by sellers just like you). The reviewer selects or purchases the products that speak to them, and provides reviews as required by the terms the reviewer has agreed to.
Keep in mind that reviews for products received at greater than a 70% discount are not going to look good on your Amazon account.
In my opinion, ProductElf’s approach isn’t as terrible as some of the other methods out there. When black hat sellers go out on their own, and do things like hire whole networks of Virtual Assistants (VAs) in foreign countries to leave unwarranted reviews on their products, this completely undermines the integrity of the whole platform. Amazon cannot track who these VAs are, and that’s a big problem. Not only are the reviews of poor quality and dishonest to the community at large, they are totally untrackable so Amazon can’t even quantify the damage or contain it. These, are the guys that Amazon is after.
This, is why the heavy hand came down with zero tolerance for review manipulation. But I think I can see why some of these platforms thrive. It’s not that incentivising your reviews is inherently such a terrible thing, it’s that there have been no rules about it thus far. And what do we do in the wild west of the internet where there are no defined rules? We exploit that space. Sad fact.
SnagShout is another platform that has done things right in the past, and one we often recommend, with these same pretty huge caveats, when people ask us who is “safe”. When Amazon made those huge changes to its TOS and began openly forbidding incentivised reviews, SnagShout actually closed its virtual doors for a few days and retooled everything about their service in order to remain compliant with Amazon TOS. That’s a pretty standup thing to do, and I think companies like this are why Amazon doesn’t just sweep everything away in one shot.
Yes, there are highly manipulative ways to get many 5 star reviews in a short period of time. Then there are just ways to get reviews in a short period of time.
One way suggests a cutthroat and dishonest approach.
The other way suggests an avenue by which your product can gain the exposure it needs.
And these two ways run straight into the intersection of that catch-22… the need for reviews and the inability to get them easily. In a perfect world, Amazon would do away with the bad actors and keep the good – or just provide Vine Voice to all sellers – but first they needed to be crystal clear on who is bad, and who is good, and why.
I think the fact that so many of these sites which provide the transparency and the degree of separation Amazon seems to like, have been allowed to stay and grow, is because Amazon has indeed gotten very clear on how to spot a disingenuous review.
You won’t find as many of the obviously incentivised reviews on Amazon these days, and that’s been Amazon’s ultimate goal. In the last couple of years that this has become such a hot topic, we’ve all gotten a little wiser to the review games and how they erode the integrity of the platform.
In case you were wondering, here are the only two 100% aboveboard ways to get reviews on Amazon:
- Sign up for and use Vine Voice (not available generally to sellers)
- Discount your product/add a coupon, run advertising to get more traffic, and enroll in the early reviewer program to get 5 reviews. Once those reviews are on the page, you have to get reviews organically.
So in summary, no, incentivised reviews (in some senses) are not cool.
Yes, we definitely need creative and honest ways of gaining product exposure and buzz.
Is ProductElf one such way? Probably!
But as to whether it’s 100% safe on Amazon specifically, sadly the best answer I can give you is only a solid maybe, depending on how you use it.