Great Suggestion for Friends & Family Reviews on Amazon…?

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Background image from ShutterStock.

REVIEW SUGGESTION FOR AMAZON

Friend and family reviews are a touchy subject among both authors and customers:

  • For the customer review system to be effective, customers need to be able to trust the system. This is why Amazon removes and blocks reviews suspected of being posted by the author’s friends or family members.
  • For the customer who posted the review, having it blocked or removed is time wasted, and discourages the customer from posting reviews in the future.
  • For the self-published author, an invaluable part of marketing entails creating personal relationships. Sometimes, the occasional personal interactions with a fan who didn’t previously know the author causes a book review to be blocked or removed.
  • Unlike the big publishers, self-published authors and indie presses can’t afford to send out hundreds of review copies to strangers. They can get friends to help get the ball rolling, except that friend reviews often get blocked, and they can interact with their target audience in person, although that sometimes leads to blocked reviews, too.
  • Amazon itself thrives on content engagement, one of their best marketing tools. Amazon wants to get customers (and authors) to frequently return to their website. Blocking or removing reviews discourages customers from writing future reviews, which limits their content engagement.
  • Although Amazon frequently blocks and removes 4- and 5-star reviews, Amazon almost never removes a 1- or 2-star review, which brings the average star rating down and discourages sales overall. It allows jealous authors and spiteful exes to prevent sales of books at Amazon that may otherwise sell.

Lighthouse24, a member of the CreateSpace community forum who provides frequent helpful posts, offers a great compromise. (Check out Lighthouse’s website for Helpful Links with valuable self-publishing info.)

  • Instead of blocking or removing the review, Amazon should keep the review, but clearly mark it as having detected a possible relationship with the author.
  • Let each individual customer decide how that matters to them. Some customers may see that designation and discard the review completely, a few may feel disgusted and move on, but in this way, Amazon would let the customer make the decision. Other customers won’t be put off by the designation, and may appreciate the comments. Yet other customers will approach those designated reviews cautiously. One thing we know is that every customer interprets reviews in a different way. So why not let each customer choose what to do with a potential friend or family review?
  • In addition to clearly marking such reviews as being from customers with potential relationships with the author, they could separate those reviews so they show in a slightly different area (perhaps one set above the other, or a different column) so that customers can easily tell the difference.
  • There is a precedent at Goodreads, which allows reviews from friends and family, but which clearly denotes reviews from friends. Surely, Amazon could do this, too.
  • Amazon could first give the customer the opportunity to disclose the relationship, then mark the review as a Family Review, Friend Review, or Fan Review, for example. If the customer doesn’t check one of these boxes, Amazon could then include a note that they discovered a possible relationship with the author and give that review yet another name (e.g. Reviewer May Know the Author).

This would solve a few key problems with the current customer review system:

  • Customers would see that X number of reviews were left by friends or family members. This is disclosed up front. Presently, customers assume that some reviews are from friends and family, without knowing how many, and customers don’t realize that most of those are actually blocked and removed. With full disclosure, customers will begin to realize that Amazon can often tell the difference.
  • Indie authors and small publishers won’t be so disadvantaged compared to big publishers who can send out hundreds of advance review copies. Amazon does want to give indie authors a fair chance, which is why indie authors now have pre-orders, AMS ads for KDP Select, and other new features that used to be only available for big publishers.
  • Amazon will enhance their customer engagement, i.e. have more activity on their website, which is one of their top marketing strategies. Customers won’t be discouraged by having their reviews removed, and thus will be more likely to post reviews in the future.
  • Authors who put the personal touch on their marketing, meeting new people in their target audience, won’t be penalized when Amazon discovers a possible relationship with the author, when in fact that customer had previously been a complete stranger until interacting with the author as a fan.
  • By not blocking and removing so many 4- and 5-star reviews, this would help to achieve a more balanced picture, and limit the effectiveness of jealous authors or spiteful exes striving to prevent a book from selling.

Lighthouse24 recommends that both authors and customers who like this idea should share this suggestion with Amazon. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

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Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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Ratings and Reviews at Amazon, Suddenly?

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New Ratings

I noticed a new ratings number at Amazon today: http://amzn.com/1480250201 .

Look closely at the top of the page, below the author name. Between the gold stars and the 34 reviews tally, you see the number 56 (well, I suppose it’s subject to change before you read this post).

When I place my cursor over the 56, I see a gray rectangle near my cursor that says, “56 customer ratings.”

When I place my cursor over the 34 reviews link, it pulls up a chart showing all 56 customer ratings, averaging out to 4.3 stars.

Scroll down to the review section and the chart is different. That chart shows 34 reviews, averaging out to 4.4 stars.

I only see the non-review ratings on my paperback books. I don’t see any non-review ratings on my Kindle e-books at this time.

(By the way, if you click on the Kindle edition, you can see that the cover is changing. Melissa Stevens, http://theillustratedauthor.net, designed the new cover.)

Author Central is still only showing the reviews.

In case you’re wondering, I have a book that has one rating, but no reviews: http://amzn.com/1467970727.

If you have print books for sale on Amazon, I know what you’ll be doing for the next few minutes. 😉

Now we can speculate. Is this here to stay? Is Amazon just testing it out? Will it be coming for Kindle e-books, too? Time will tell.

You may be wondering how customers gave those ratings. Keep in mind, these weren’t from the end of a Kindle e-book, as the ratings are only showing on paperbacks presently. I had to go to my account at Amazon and explore to figure out how to rate books without reviewing them. I won’t be rating any books though; I much prefer giving reviews.

Has it occurred to you that ratings are anonymous? I’m not ready to think about the ramifications of that…

~ Chris McMullen ~

Amazon Customer Reviews—Simple Survey

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I’m curious how you, as a reader, feel about customer reviews at Amazon. I made this simple survey hoping to find out.

Please answer how you feel as a reader (not as an author).

This survey is just for informational purposes only.

Here is your chance to review the review system. 🙂

Pros:

  • You can learn about experiences that other customers have had with the product.
  • The number of reviews give some indication of how much a product has been purchased.
  • Feedback often includes a variety of opinions to consider.
  • You get to express your opinion about products where thousands of other shoppers can read it.
  • Critical reviews can help to prevent the sale of products that really aren’t fit for sale (though returns and complaints could achieve the same outcome).
  • Honest customer feedback has the opportunity to determine the success of a product.

Cons:

  • Opinions are often contradictory, making it a challenge to judge what to believe.
  • The system can be abused, both with favorable and critical reviews (though Amazon has made it much more difficult to do this compared to a couple of years ago).
  • There are sometimes spiteful remarks in the review section. This is one feature that seems to contradict Amazon’s focus on creating a positive shopping experience.
  • Customers aren’t required to either buy or use a product in order to review it.
  • Reviews can be posted anonymously. This is a pro in terms of internet security, but leaves room for occasional reviews that abuse the spirit of the review system.
  • Some external advertising services require a minimum number of reviews and average star rating, providing an incentive to recruit favorable reviews rather than encouraging reviews to come about naturally.

Overall:

  • Do you feel it’s beneficial, as a reader, to have customer reviews on the product page? That is, do the pros outweigh the cons?
  • Do you like the comments, the ratings, or both?
  • Do you feel that you could improve the customer review system? If so, how?

Vote:

Publishing Resources

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Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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