Amazon’s Choice

AMAZON RECOMMENDS

For several months now, I’ve seen the Amazon’s Choice label beside select products in search results at Amazon.

So far, I haven’t seen it for book results. For example, I just searched for dictionary, but none were Amazon’s Choice.

Evidently, for the time being, it is just for certain types of products, which doesn’t include books.

Specifically, it appears to be for common everyday items.

As an example, when I searched for toothbrush, one of the top results was labeled as Amazon’s Choice (see the picture for this post).

HOW DO YOU GET YOUR PRODUCT LABELED AS AMAZON’S CHOICE?

According to Amazon’s Seller Central discussions, sellers can’t request this.

Rather, Amazon selects their “choice” based on ratings (not the same thing as reviews), price (“well-priced” products), and Prime shipping.

When you proceed to leave a product review, in addition to rating the product, you sometimes get the chance to rate it based on other criteria.

For example, if you leave a customer review for a pair of pants, you may be able to rate “How does the product fit?”

So if Amazon has data on other types of ratings for a product, it’s possible that the product rating (the stars left with reviews) may not be the only rating to make a difference.

FEATURED PRODUCTS

Obviously, having a product labeled as Amazon’s Choice is a huge advantage.

But it’s not the only way that products get featured on Amazon.

Being the bestseller in a category or subcategory also gets a product featured in search results (even for books).

The Bestseller label that appears in search results is just as prominent as the Amazon’s Choice label.

The Amazon’s Choice label says, “Amazon recommends this product.”

The Bestseller product says, “Customers prefer this product.”

Even the “small guys” can get featured in a variety of ways.

On most product pages, you can find “Customers Also Bought” lists.

When you purchase a product, you find other product recommendations.

In general, Amazon recommends products (via Customers Also Bought lists, for example) that have good ratings, are priced “well” (not necessarily the cheapest, but affordable may help), have a proven track record of organic sales (as opposed to referrals from external websites), and have a history of customer satisfaction (Amazon tracks customer satisfaction metrics, a point that is made clear in the Seller Central help pages).

ADVANTAGE, YES; BUT IT ISN’T EVERYTHING

Obviously, not every customer will go with Amazon’s Choice.

It’s certainly a big advantage for a product to be featured on Amazon (whether it’s Amazon’s Choice, a Customers Also Bought list, or some other way).

But it’s not the only criteria.

In fact, on several occasions I have discovered products that were Amazon’s Choice, but which weren’t the Bestseller in their category.

It is possible for similar products to compete with Amazon’s Choice, at least to a degree.

Sometimes, customers purchase many similar items at once.

I sometimes wind up purchasing Amazon’s Choice, but I sometimes prefer a different product.

I’m a customer who tends to take my time making a decision.

I like to look at a variety of products, then give my favorites a closer inspection.

One thing I like about Amazon’s Choice is that I trust Amazon more than a review left by someone I don’t know.

I still read some reviews to get an idea for the kinds of things that have appealed (or not appealed) to other customers.

But all other things being equal, I’m more apt to trust Amazon’s Choice.

The good news for other sellers is that very often, all other things aren’t equal.

Sometimes another product has a feature that I’m looking for. Sometimes another design appeals to me more.

There are many different factors that go into buying decisions. Amazon’s Choice, though it is prominently placed, is just one factor.

YOUR CHOICE

It’s ultimately your decision.

It’s interesting to compare perspectives.

Do you like Amazon’s Choice as a customer? If you were selling a product on Amazon, how would you feel about it?

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2018

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

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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Amazon: Experimenting with Review Changes..?

Amazon Review Changes

If you’ve shopped for Kindle e-books recently on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, you may have noticed some changes to the way that search results are displayed.

Or maybe not. Not all shoppers have been affected.

Apparently, Amazon is testing something out with many customers, but not all customers. That would make sense, actually. Then Amazon would have data for two groups: a control group, shopping like normal, and an experimental group, experiencing the changes.

What’s going on?

This doesn’t apply to everybody. Many customers are observing the following:

The review tally and average star rating are not showing up next to Kindle e-books in search results for many (but not all) customers.

Just to be clear:

  • Reviews are showing, but only on the product page. Normally, you see the total number of reviews and average star rating before reaching the product page, but for those who are experiencing the change, you don’t see any review information until reaching the product page.
  • Print books are not affected. Only Kindle e-books are affected (and only for some customers).
  • Some customers who aren’t seeing the review info in search results were able to switch web browsers (e.g. from Internet Explorer to Mozilla FireFox) and then see the review info. The browser switches haven’t been consistent (e.g. for one person, going from Explorer to FireFox works, but for another, it’s FireFox to Explorer that does the trick). Some customers report that no browser changes resolved the issue.
  • The test applies to shopping for Kindle e-books on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. (There are other ways to shop for Kindle e-books, such as right on the device. Most people shop for Kindle e-books from Amazon’s home page.)

The way we “know” this (of course, only Amazon “knows” for sure) is from various customers (including myself) observing this firsthand, and some authors (this time, myself excluded) contacting Amazon to inquire about this and receiving similar responses.

Will the World End?

Predicting the end of the world doesn’t come with many rewards. Whether you’re right or wrong, either way you seem to lose.

Right now, it’s evidently just a test.

Here is my pure speculation. I don’t have any evidence of the following; I just tried to reach a logical conclusion from what data I have. It might be like watching a news story break out: You hear eight theories for what happened, some of which seem reasonable, and they all turn out to be wrong. But sometimes it’s still fun to play along.

  • Amazon is probably looking at (A) sales data between the control group and experimental group and (B) any impact the changes may have on creating a positive shopping experience.
  • A positive shopping experience may include data on returns, review activity, customer complaints, and average review ratings, for example. Maybe they are also listening to publisher feedback.
  • If the changes lead to (A) increased profit or (B) improved shopping experience without any decrease in profit, it would seem logical for the changes to become permanent.
  • If the changes instead result in a decrease in profit or adversely affect the shopping experience, this will probably be a temporary change and things will soon return to the way they were.
  • It could be a long delay. It might take time for affected customers to get accustomed to the change before they return to their usual buying habits.

What’s going to happen? Would you like to call heads or tails?

I’m interested in the outcome, but I don’t feel strongly one way or the other, either as a customer or as an author.

I sort of like browsing through titles and thumbnails without that review tally in search results. I sort of feel that it may (at least, in principle) encourage authors to worry more about writing and marketing and much less about reviews (but in practice…). I believe there could be a few small benefits. But again, I don’t feel strongly about it. Either way, I won’t lose sleep over this.

Some books may benefit from the changes. Some books may be hurt by the changes. Probably, it will balance out to a large extent. If the changes persist, it probably means that it’s helping more books than it’s hurting.

Sales do fluctuate for all books. So any author whose books are presently on the downward part of a typical fluctuation are presently pulling out their hair. It might be pure coincidence that their sales are down, but if they noticed these review changes, they will surely blame the reviews. But those authors whose books are presently on an upward swing will be thinking that evidently the changes are helping them out. One author isn’t a good statistical sample. Even a handful is not a sufficient indicator.

Personally, I don’t expect things to change much if the changes are here to stay. Right now, you still see the reviews on the product pages, so it’s not like reviews have vanished; you just have to get to the product page before you see them.

Maybe some books that are getting clicked frequently because their ratings are really high won’t be clicked quite as frequently. Maybe some books that aren’t getting clicked as much now because the review ratings are really low will get a few more clicks. Maybe not.

Constant Change

There is only one constant in the publishing business: change.

Several months ago, Amazon eliminated the 4-for-3 program for print books. I expected that to hurt sales, but my paperback sales actually improved significantly after that. Perhaps it’s because Amazon started discounting CreateSpace paperbacks more after discontinuing the 4-for-3 program. Or maybe my sales were about to rise for other factors, such as new releases and marketing. It’s a complicated analysis.

Amazon changed the FREE Super Saver shipping price and the fee for Amazon Prime, but these don’t seem to have affected my sales.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • The change is fair because it affects all Kindle e-books. It’s not like they just did it to your e-book, but left all others like they were.
  • People still want to read Kindle e-books. Your book is still available. Customers are still shopping for books.
  • Reviews generally have much less impact than authors realize. Sometimes a negative review improves sales, sometimes a positive review deters sales, very often reviews don’t affect sales at all, and when sales do change, it might very well be because of some other hidden factor and a review just coincidentally showed up at the same time.

Don’t worry. Be happy. Just read and write more books.

You can’t change the change.

It may not change at all.

If it does, don’t sweat it.

There are probably more important things that you should be doing right now than worrying about this. 🙂

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Amazon Customer Reviews—Simple Survey

Reviews 3

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

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Recent Fines – Another Step toward Customer Review Integrity

Did you see this recent New York Times article, “Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You”?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

(Funny how it says 5 in the title, but 4 in the link. I guess even NYT can goof.)

If you read the article, you’ll see that several businesses were fined large sums of money for using phony online reviews to make their businesses look more appealing to customers.

Most people are aware that there are phony reviews. What needs more publicity is the ongoing effort by various companies (and law enforcement) to remove, prevent, and punish the phony reviews.

For example, Amazon cracked down on phony, family, and close friend reviews a couple of years ago, and this has greatly helped to reduce the number of phony 4- and 5-star reviews. Most customers are aware of the problem, but aren’t aware that it has improved significantly. (Yes, it would be nice if Amazon also cracked down on the phony critical reviews to the same extent, but at least Amazon has made big strides.) Surely, there is still some review abuse, but it is appears to be much better than it was a few years ago.

Many other websites are similarly working to remove and prevent review abuse. Some are even eliminating critical review abuse in addition to favorable review abuse, which is another good sign.

The above article shows that steps are even being taken on the legal side of this issue. When any business senses that a significant amount of money is being lost due to review abuse, this becomes an incentive to help bring action against it.

Don’t lose any sleep over people who may be gaming the system. Things will catch up with them eventually.

Related Article:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/508801/20130925/google-fine-yelp-fake-reviews-schneiderman-ny.htm

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Review Copies

Publishers and authors sometimes send out several advance review copies in an effort to try to build buzz for an upcoming book and, hopefully, generate some early reviews.

(If you’re interested in review copies for any of my books, please see the end of this post.)

Note that there are different types of book reviews. There are customer book reviews that can be posted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads, for example. Bloggers can post reviews on their blogs. Then there are media reviews that may appear in newspapers, magazines, etc.

Readers who receive an advance review copy are required to include a note in the review stating that they received a free review copy.

Amazon, for example, permits this as long as the reviewer isn’t compensated in any way other than a free review copy, it is made clear that the reviewer can leave a good or bad review, and the review doesn’t violate any of Amazon’s customer review guidelines. (Note that Amazon’s program is now pretty effective at blocking many reviews from close friends and family. They can help you generate buzz and promote your book, but aren’t eligible to review your book.)

There are a few ways that an indie author can give out advance review copies.

One way is to get fans to sign up to be on a mailing list for the chance to receive a review copy of your next book. When a fan contacts you, this is something you might offer. Or when you’re ready to send out a limited number of advance review copies, you can post an announcement. You could do this with paperback books or e-books.

Another way is to sign up for a Goodreads giveaway. Recipients are encouraged to post a review, but aren’t required to do so, and, of course, a review could be good or bad.

KDP Select provides an alternative means of giving away free copies with the hope of generating a few reviews. However, there is no guarantee that any reviews will come, and if they do, they may be good or bad. Actually, there is somewhat of an increased chance of getting a negative review because the freebie may attract readers from outside the genre, who aren’t familiar with what to expect, as well as readers who may not bother to read the description and check out the book as thoroughly as if they were to make a purchase. It’s also possible to give away hundreds of free e-books through a free promotion without getting a single review in return.

The KDP Select free promotion is more likely to be effective if you succeed at promoting the freebie to your target audience.

One nice benefit of the KDP Select freebie is that the reviewer may opt to have the Amazon customer review show as an Amazon verified purchase. Other kinds of customer reviews generated at Amazon from review copies will show as unverified purchases. Many reviews that show as unverified purchases may seem suspicious to buyers (although when they come from review copies, they are the result of additional marketing steps that the author or publisher has taken).

A month ago I announced that I was trying out the Goodreads giveaway program. Today I sent books out to 10 lucky winners. Now I cross my fingers.

If you weren’t one of the lucky winners, but are interested in receiving a copy for any of my books or future books, please let me know. One way to email me is to click my name where it shows the photo for the about.me on my blog (on the sidebar to the right). Or you can just leave a comment (but don’t post personal information in the comment), and I’ll try to contact you in return.

Please specify which types of books that I write interest you (or if you have any specific titles, feel free to make a special request) – e.g. self-publishing, math workbooks, etc. It doesn’t have to be for you – e.g. if you have or know some kids who could benefit from some good old-fashioned math practice.

It’s not really a review copy in that I don’t expect anything in return; I just hope the book will be put to good use (or at least firewood). 🙂 (Of course, if there turns out to be a high demand, I may have to be selective. I’ll be surprised – pleasantly – if this offer turns out to be that popular though.)

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Did You See These Funny Reviews Featured on Amazon?

Did you notice the new advertisement for funny reviews at Amazon? On the homepage, there is an ad that says, “You Guys Are Really Funny.” It’s not an external ad; it links to an Amazon page. The page features 10 different products (only the last one is a book). Each has 3 funny customer reviews.

If you haven’t seen these funny reviews, you should check them out:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1001250201

They are pretty hilarious.

Why did Amazon do this?

  • Perhaps to share something funny and put customers in a good mood.
  • Maybe to help try to improve the perception of customer reviews.
  • Possibly to encourage customers to write product reviews – showing that you can be creative and have fun with it.
  • It could be to generate more reviews of products other than books, since 9 out of 10 of the products featured weren’t books.
  • There might not be just one reason. Or it could just be the first point and we shouldn’t overanalyze this.

Regardless of the motive, this advertisement for funny reviews could have any of these effects. None of which would be a bad thing, really.

In the spirit of these reviews, maybe the real reason is to get more guys to buy products on Amazon, hoping the products will help them with the subject of women. 🙂

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Amazon Customer Book Reviews: Recent Improvements (?)

Have you noticed a few subtle changes, recently, to Amazon customer book reviews? Find any book on Amazon with several reviews and look closely.

First, let me back up a little, time-wise. On the product page, customer reviews show in two columns. The wider left column shows the top-rated customer reviews in full, while the narrower right column shows the first sentence (or so) of the most recent reviews, with the newest reviews at the top.

This has changed somewhat.

Until several months ago, Amazon used to only show the three top-voted customer reviews at the left. Now, more reviews show up in full at the left; the exact number depends on how many reviews there are all together. This was a nice improvement that many authors and customers had requested.

Another change that occurred several months ago was the inclusion of a few selected excerpts just above the review section. Until very recently, these quotes appeared one above the other in a list, and included a note of how many other customers made similar statements.

Very recently, this changed for one of my books. The excerpts now appear in callouts, and it no longer shows the number of customers who made similar remarks. If you click on one of the three callouts, Amazon takes you straight to that review.

Another of my books has the old list system instead of the callouts, and still shows the number of similar remarks. Maybe they are testing the callout system with selected books, maybe it will take time to change this for all books, or maybe only select books will feature the callouts.

Anyway, there is an interesting issue with the two-column format with more than three full-length reviews showing at the left. For any book that receives a bad review, this comment always carries weight while it’s the most recent review since it shows up at the top of the reviews in the right column. When eventually a good review comes in, it appears above the old bad review.

Unless… customers vote on the new good review, moving it over to the list at the left. Then the bad review reclaims its position at the top of the right column. When there were only three full-length reviews at the left, it wasn’t easy for a new good review to become popular enough to move onto that exclusive list. But now there may be several reviews on the left, so it’s easier for a review to make the transition.

It’s a rather subtle point, and probably not worth much consideration. I just thought it was interesting.

Another change that occurred several months back is what happens when you click the link to see all of the customer book reviews for a given book. Presently, it shows the top-rated favorable review and the top-rated critical review. In the old days, all of the critical reviews (or all of the favorable reviews) could potentially be buried at the bottom of the list, depending on the circumstances. This feature helps to show some balance. Customers are probably trying to weigh the pros versus the cons, so this may be helpful.

What I like most about the recent changes is that Amazon is evidently constantly assessing their customer review program and striving to improve it. The steps may be small, and it may not seem like an improvement to everybody, but I appreciate the effort – both as an author and a reader.

Amazon has made very significant changes in the past. One of the most notable occurred a few years ago when Amazon altered its program to help block suspected shill, sham, and household family member reviews. This change was implemented when they removed thousands (probably, millions) of suspicious reviews. The revision wasn’t perfect, I’m sure; there are probably a few still out there that didn’t meet the criteria of the program, and there were probably a few removed that should have stood. However, this was a significant change to improve the customer review system, and it appears to have made a marked difference.

Have you seen any other changes recently? What are your thoughts?

Who knows what will come in the future? Since Amazon is making periodic changes, we have reason to hope that it will continue to get better.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Comparing Book and Movie Reviews

I buy books (both paperback and e-book) at Amazon and rent movies from Redbox. As an author, reader, and movie watcher, I find the comparison interesting.

When I pull up Amazon’s home page, I see a customized list of thumbnail images of books. Every book has the average star rating beneath it. However, when I pull up Redbox’s home page, I see just the thumbnail images of the movies – no average star rating. Also, when I shop for movies at a physical Redbox, I don’t see the reviews at all.

The strategy is a little different. Amazon wants you to see the perceived popularity with other customers before you click on a book that looks interesting, while Redbox wants you to decide which movie looks interesting before seeing what other customers think.

At a physical Redbox, they evidently don’t want you to be influenced by reviews at all. Perhaps including highly visible reviews on the machine would slow down the process. Have you ever stood in line just to return your movie, but had to wait twenty minutes for someone who was shopping? If so, just imagine how long the wait would be if customers could read through hundreds of reviews there.

I like how – online – Redbox wants you to first select a movie of interest, and then check out the reviews. I prefer this to Amazon’s method of showing you the average star rating first. I kind of feel that I’m being told what to read: Buy what’s most popular… what everyone else has… we know what’s best for you…

Things become more interesting when you check out the reviews themselves. Movies tend to have very many reviews, and the critics can be harsh. It’s tough to find any movies – even with popular actors and actresses – that have very high average star ratings at Redbox. Sometimes a pretty good movie has an average star rating of around three.

The average review rating can actually be less than one star. Fortunately, the minimum customer review at Amazon is one star. I once clicked on movie that had a really cool cover and looked professional, but had a point-something star rating with over a hundred reviews. What? How could it be that nobody liked the movie?

Authors can gain a different perspective on customer book reviews by checking out some of the Redbox movie reviews. I’m glad I haven’t produced any movies.

Yet even if the movie has many of bad reviews and hardly any good ones, it still has numerous reviews. That is, many people watched it regardless of all those lousy reviews. If a book has many more bad reviews than good ones, customers probably won’t buy it. Its sales rank will plummet.

Ah, there’s another point. Amazon tells you the sales rank. So if a book that was selling regularly suddenly has a dry spell, the sales rank climbs up to a million and shoppers think, “That book must not be good.” If the book is lucky enough to get a sale, the sales rank improves to the hundred thousands, and sometimes that one sale triggers a couple of more sales. If the sales rank climbs to the low thousands, customers perceive it as popular. If it gets on the bestseller list, it must really be good, right? That’s the perception.

Redbox doesn’t tell customers the ‘rental rank.’ Redbox doesn’t tell you which movies are more or less popular. I like that it’s not a popularity contest. It’s just about what interests you.

At Redbox, you sort movies by release date or alphabetically. The order of search results is a little more… interesting.

Of course, Amazon has tens of millions of books to choose from, whereas Redbox can only fit so many recent movies in the machine (Netflix doesn’t have that limitation). A movie is also over in a couple of hours, while you may spend weeks reading a book.

I realize I’m comparing apples to oranges. Actually, the supermarket sells apples pretty much the same way they sell oranges. The difference between book sales and movie rentals is fairly significant.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

How Would You Improve Amazon?

Imagine you suddenly have the job of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Well, even then, you couldn’t do anything you wanted.

So let’s go a step further and grab a magic wand. That’s better. Now you can do anything. Wave your wand a couple of times to test it out.

If you could do it, what would you change at Amazon in order to improve it?

Don’t be selfish here. Don’t just think about bad reviews that you’d like to make vanish or advertisements for your book if you’re an author, or how to make products free for you as a consumer.

I’m not asking how you would make Amazon better for you alone. I’m asking how you would make Amazon better for everyone.

Not just customers. Giving everything away for free would greatly benefit the customers. For a few days, until the company went bankrupt. If you want Amazon to benefit customers in the long run, you must balance what’s best for both the consumers and the business.

Okay. Spend a few moments in fantasy land. Do absolutely anything to Amazon that you want with your magic wand. Then when you return to reality, think about changes that may be beneficial to all.

What would you like to change?

(1) The Amazon Customer Review System

Almost everyone who is familiar with customer reviews on Amazon can write down a few things that they don’t like about them.

Not everyone is in agreement on what should be changed, though. Authors, readers, product owners, editors, publishers. There are some conflicting perspectives here. Even just among customers.

If there is one feature of reviews that we can all agree on, perhaps it’s spitefulness. Some reviews are downright nasty. There are reviews that slander the author, but don’t even mention the book.

You’d think that Amazon would remove such spiteful reviews, right? It even says right there in the terms and conditions that spite is not allowed. But when spiteful reviews are reported – by the author or even a customer – much of the time Amazon simply responds to say that they understand your concern, but this review doesn’t violate the terms and conditions.

Huh?

Evidently, a reviewer must be blatantly spiteful in order to warrant removal of the review.

How is this in Amazon’s best interest? That spitefulness is very negative. Wouldn’t Amazon create a more positive ambiance by removing that spite? By not removing it, they’re actually encouraging such behavior.

Would customers prefer to see the spite remain or be removed? Does such spitefulness help to brand Amazon’s image with a negative shopping environment? How does this help buyers determine which product to buy? How does it help Amazon sell products?

Maybe you can think of some reason to keep it.

I’ll suggest a couple of possibilities. For one, the spiteful reviews are mostly one and two star reviews. If you wave your magic wand and delete all of the spiteful reviews, millions of one and two star reviews will suddenly vanish. Some products, which only have a few reviews, will suddenly seem better liked than they actually are. The customer who loathed a product so much that he was very spiteful when he wrote the review did cast a vote when he gave it one star. Maybe Amazon wants to retain those votes of one or two stars associated with the spiteful reviews (perhaps there is a reason for this).

If Amazon would like to preserve the one star vote, it could be done while still removing the spite. Just edit out (or delete) the spiteful comments instead of the entire review.

Now we run into another possibility. Manpower. Amazon doesn’t have one of those magic wands to wave and quickly zap away all of the spite.

Remember, we’re not thinking of how to improve Amazon just for customers. We want to find changes that will improve Amazon for everyone. That means not going out of business.

How much would it cost Amazon to monitor the customer review system more closely than they already do? That’s what it would take to deal with spitefulness. Let alone other issues with reviews.

With the advent of self-publishing, there are presently hundreds of thousands of authors who feel that they have a bad review that should be removed for one reason or another. Some have multiple books and numerous reviews that they feel strongly about. Add to this number the legitimate reviews that clearly aren’t violations that some authors would also request to be removed.

Amazon already receives a staggering number of requests from authors for reviews to be removed. This occurs with the current policy in place. That is, it’s well-known that Amazon very rarely removes customer reviews, even when they’re fairly spiteful. Yet, they still receive a ton of requests every day.

Imagine how many, many, many, many, let’s add a few more many’s just for effect (but it may be realistic) more requests Amazon would receive if instead it were well-known that Amazon would remove a review if it were just mildly spiteful. Even if the requests didn’t crash the server, the manpower it would take to attend to these requests would be incredible.

Every day, there are numerous posts online on blogs, community forums, and elsewhere describing unfair customer reviews at Amazon. Bear in mind that the majority of authors don’t write posts about bad reviews because doing so would hurt their own author image and would help brand the image of self-publishing as unprofessional.

Have you ever seen an author get in a long debate with a reviewer using the comment system? It’s very unprofessional, but that’s not the point. My point is that, unfortunately, some authors tend to get highly emotional about reviews and find it difficult to stop arguing about them.

So just imagine those authors communicating with Amazon. They request to have a bad review removed. Amazon says no. They respond to Amazon in a long email. This would go back and forth for an eternity, just like they do in the comments, right?

Nope. Amazon learned not to waste resources on possibly endless communications. Amazon tells the author on their second response that they won’t be able to investigate the matter any further. That is, if the author sends a subsequent request, it will be ignored.

Consider that Amazon has this action in place. It suggests that manpower is already an issue. So is it worth the possible investment to deal with spite? Maybe this is one reason that it hasn’t already been done.

Maybe you can think of a way to deal with spite affordably. Perhaps there is a way.

(Amazon already responds to the request to say that they’ve looked at the review, and understand your concerns, but can’t remove the review. How much more work would it be to remove it? A lot. Because word would spread and the requests would pile up immensely.)

What about other changes to the customer review system?

We could eliminate shill reviews and sock puppets. That is, generating fake reviews to make a product seem better than it actually is. Actually, Amazon has already made this change to some extent. Amazon automatically blocks a very large number of reviews and has removed thousands – perhaps millions – of such reviews. This change was affordable, as a computer program could check for correlations between IP addresses and other information in their database between accounts. It may have removed some legitimate reviews, too, but overall the customer experience has been tremendously improved.

But there is still some review abuse, especially negative reviews that arise from jealousy of some sort (rival authors, ex-boyfriends). Can you think of a way to eliminate this?

A common suggestion is to require all reviews to be Amazon Verified Purchases. Why isn’t this done already? There may be reasons for it.

First of all, there are already millions of reviews that are unverified. Would you like to remove all of those? Perhaps those could be left there, and just impose this on new ones. There are still other issues.

Publishers send out a large number of advance review copies. Publishers provide big business for Amazon. It’s probably not good business for Amazon to prevent the recipients of advance review copies from reviewing books on Amazon, as they would all show as unverified purchases.

What about customers who buy the product elsewhere? A bestselling book might sell many more copies in bookstores than on Amazon. Bestselling authors – and Amazon, too – want all of those customers to be eligible to review the books on Amazon.

What about eBooks? Well, customers don’t have to use Kindle to read eBooks, but Amazon still allows them to post reviews. They can be gifted and lent, too.

But maybe there is one aspect of this that most of us would agree on. Amazon has made it clear that customers can review products even if they’ve never seen or used them.

What?

Does this seem crazy to you? Imagine that you invented a machine and one of the first customers left a review saying, “I didn’t buy this, but just looking at it I can tell it wouldn’t work.” Okay, nobody who reads the review is going to take it seriously, but it does affect the average star value.

When a customer clearly states in the review that he or she hasn’t read the book or used the product, maybe those reviews could be removed. Wouldn’t this be a small improvement?

Amazon’s customer review system isn’t perfect, but it is pretty effective at soliciting opinions, and it does provide shoppers with diverse information that they can consider. Most of us may agree that it’s better than no reviews at all.

There may be other ways to improve the system. Remember, cost is a factor. You might want to hire external companies to leave neutral reviews instead of customer reviews, but with tens of millions of products, is that feasible?

I have a few suggestions. I’ve heard a few others express similar ideas. Maybe you have some other ideas that haven’t been addressed.

When you finish reading an eBook on Kindle, why can’t you type your review right then and there? Wouldn’t that be convenient? Why can’t you click on the book on the device and find a quick and easy place to post the review? I have the Kindle in front of me. I’m in the mood to review the book. It’s on my mind. But I must be inconvenienced to login to Amazon, which I would rather do on my pc. How many customers were ready to leave a review, but decided against it out of inconvenience?

I’ve typed reviews and stopped when I saw the preview, thinking I was done. I wonder how many other customers haven’t finished the review process, not realizing that they had to check the preview and approve it? Oops! Or maybe they rated it when they reached the end of a Kindle eBook, thinking that was a review? There may be a little room for improvement here.

How about separating the rating from the reviews? That is, let customers rate the book without reviewing it, like they can do at Goodreads. Some customers can put a number on a book, but feel uncomfortable describing it in words (including reaching the minimum word count).

If you want to drastically increase the frequency of customer reviews, offer a penny for every review. Or make it a nickel, dime, or a percent if you really want to see tons of reviews on Amazon. I bet many authors wouldn’t mind this being subtracted from their royalties to help encourage more reviews. But the discount (off a future purchase, perhaps) might inspire more sales.

(2) Self-Publishing Quality Control

First, let me say that I put this here because it’s a popular issue, not because I personally am in favor of this. I’ll try to show the pros and cons, and you can decide for yourself. Or maybe you will think of better ideas that I’ve left out.

If you could wave a magic wand to remove every book that doesn’t meet a minimum degree of editing, formatting, and writing, would you do it? As long as it’s a magic wand, rather than removing these books, maybe you could just make them magically look more professional.

But we can’t fix them with magic. It would take an insane amount of manpower to format and edit them. It would take an insane amount of manpower just to screen them. So just hiring a very large editing team isn’t feasible.

Amazon could charge a publishing fee to cover the cost. Some people would be in favor of this. But many people would also be against it. Currently, Amazon is free. Amazon has done an amazing thing, opening the doors of publishing to everybody. Amazon has an abundance of support from the self-publishing community for this. These authors – and their family, friends, and acquaintances – don’t just write books, most of them read books, too. Imposing an inhibitive fee may not be good for business in the grand scheme of things.

Even an optional fee has an issue. By being free, Amazon is differentiated from vanity presses.

Free publishing gives Amazon an unbelievable selection.

There are some books with formatting, editing, writing, and even storyline issues. These books are a problem for customers and also adversely affect the image of Kindle, Amazon, and self-publishing.

But how bad is the problem? I don’t mean this as a percentage of books. I mean that most customers check out the description, reviews, and Look Inside and generally are able to avoid such books. Those who don’t are apt to learn to do this through experience. These books tend to have lousy sales ranks. So are they selling enough to be so concerned about? Perhaps a few years ago when Kindle and self-publishing were newer, more customers were coming across such books. Perhaps it was a bigger problem before Amazon’s program started removing and blocking most of the shill reviews and sock puppets. Perhaps it’s not such a problem now. Especially, in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Or maybe you have a better suggestion.

Self-published authors have a strong incentive to improve their books as much as possible, as this will greatly improve their chances of success.

Also, customers can report formatting issues. This helps Amazon catch some of the more serious problems. They actually suspend sales of eBooks until the issues are resolved.

(3) Order of Search Results and Categories

This might be something to consider. Most book categories have thousands of books even in the final subcategory, yet only a dozen books show on the page. If you type a search, you sometimes receive interesting results. Obviously, Amazon wants to order the search results based on what consumers are most likely to buy as well as what is likely to please the customer. But it seems like there could be a better way to sort through tens of millions of products to find what you’re looking for. And there may be ways for people to abuse the system (i.e. to get their products to show higher in the search without merit). Fortunately, Amazon doesn’t publish their algorithm, and may revise it, which makes it harder to abuse.

Amazon is probably considering this on an ongoing basis. Categories have changed over the years, and they have probably revised the program which determines the order of search results. They have also added filters, like “most reviews,” so you can see which books have been reviewed most (whereas searching by the highest customer review would put a book with a single five star review ahead of a book that has hundreds of reviews that are mostly five stars); that’s a small improvement. Can you think of other ways to improve this?

(4) Other Changes

I selected a few popular topics to discuss. Maybe you can think of other areas where Amazon could be improved.

Some of the changes I’ve mentioned I have suggested to Amazon (not all at once). Feel free to send your own suggestions to Amazon. The more times Amazon receives the same suggestion, the more likely they are to realize that there is a demand for it. They claim to welcome feedback, and that customer feedback is invaluable. So apparently this is encouraged.

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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Nonstandard Tipping: Tips for Other Professions (Without Paying $$$)

We all know to leave a tip at a restaurant indicative of how much we appreciated the table service.

But if you really enjoy a product or service of other kinds, you can reward the provider with another kind of tip.

No, it’s not another way to spend your hard-earned cash. These other kinds of tips just cost you a moment of your time.

And might have a small impact on your prospects of being able to enjoy similar products or services in the future.

Suppose a new small business opens in your community. You try it out, and you’re highly impressed.

What should you do?

No, you don’t find the owner and leave him a little cash. That’s not appropriate.

Instead, you could spread the word to friends and family, you could return to that business the next time you need a similar product or service, and you could even write a nice review for it (there are places for this online, or you may have a blog with a relevant audience).

Many of us already do this to some extent. Definitely, if we have a good experience with a business, we’ll consider coming back. That’s automatic.

Some of us tell friends and family.

Most of us probably don’t think to rate the business online or leave a review.

Except for certain kinds of products. It’s becoming more and more common to review books and movies, for example.

Spreading the word and leaving reviews helps reward a business for providing useful products and services at reasonable prices.

Such marketing may actually play a role in whether or not the business thrives.

If you discover a new product that you love, but never tell anyone about it, and suddenly the product is no longer available. Well, if you had helped spread the word, maybe the product would still be available.

What if you try out a product or service, and it turns out to be bad?

It’s interesting to draw an analogy with restaurant tipping.

If you receive lousy service at a restaurant, what do you do? Leave a smaller tip. Maybe even no tip at all.

I bet you wouldn’t ask the waiter or waitress to pay you a tip instead!

Normally, poor service results in a lesser tip, great service in a better tip.

So if you receive lousy service, perhaps the right thing to do is simply not to use the same product or service again. Spread the word about other products or services that you like better.

Saying bad things about the product or service is kind of like asking the waiter or waitress to leave you a tip.

But sometimes it’s necessary. When table service is really awful, you might talk to the manager. Similarly, if a product or service is really awful, you don’t want your friends and family to use it either, so you want to warn them.

Although, saying good things about a product or service that you like better has much the same effect as saying bad things about the product or service that you don’t like. You can choose to focus on positive thoughts about a good product or service instead of negative thoughts about a bad one. You’ll probably feel better this way, too.

For example, if I love a book or movie, I will leave a good review for it. If I don’t like it, I just won’t leave any review at all. It would have to seem particularly deceitful for me to consider leaving a bad review – like advertising a novel when it’s really a short story. Even then, someone else will be all too happy to leave the bad review, so I may as well stay positive and not bother with those unhappy thoughts.

Recently, a new restaurant came into town. We love it: Great food, great service, great prices (usually, you only get two out of the three, at best). We go there frequently, spread the word, and I even went on Google to leave a review. That was my tip. 🙂

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