Is Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program What You Need to Launch New Products?

If you sell on Amazon, you know that product reviews are vital—so vital, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine selling any kind of product without at least a few of them. But if you need reviews to make sales and you need sales to get reviews, how are you ever supposed to get started as an Amazon seller?

At first it may seem like the only way out of this catch-22 is having coworkers or family members purchase your product while you sit alongside them and dictate what they should say in their sterling reviews. Luckily, however, there’s a much easier answer, and it doesn’t involve gaming the system.

Before looking at solutions to the review dilemma, it’s important to understand just how rare product reviews from customers really are. According to a recent episode of the podcast Salesbacker—listen around six minutes in—you can realistically only hope for two or three percent of sales to elicit product reviews from customers. That’s why boosting early sales is so important; there’s no time to waste in starting to build some traction for your products.

Until recently, a brand would email a customer to request a review right after that customer bought the brand’s product. This approach was successful for many brands seeking reviews, but recently Amazon began allowing customers to unsubscribe from these messages. That means this method just became a lot less reliable.

It’s not that Amazon wants to get in your way. As a highly customer-focused company, it just wants to remove every inconvenience from the customer experience. Nevertheless, Amazon knows that reviews are crucial to sales, so it’s willing to work with you to help your brand get the reviews it needs to really gain traction.

Actually, your best interests and Amazon’s are exactly aligned here; Amazon needs your products to have reviews and sell almost as much as you do, since that’s part of how the company earns its money. So it has finally offered a new way to support brands with the launch of the Early Reviewer Program in June 2017.

How does it work?

SKUs with fewer than five reviews are eligible for inclusion in the Early Reviewer Program, provided that the brand is based in the United States and registered with the Amazon Brand Registry.

By entering the program, you’ll be arranging for Amazon to incentivize customers (who’re already buying the product on their own without any push) to leave an authentic review by offering small-dollar amounts of Amazon credit, such as $1 or $3. You’ll be part of the program either for one year or until you’ve gotten five reviews, whichever comes first.

Customers are asked to contribute a review at random, and unlike the Vine program, Amazon’s other incentive system for reviewers, this program allows all customers to be included. Whether they leave a 1-star review or a 5-star review, the customer gets rewarded.

What does it cost?

You’ll pay $60 for each enrolled parent SKU, and only pay after you’ve received your first review. In other words, you only have to pay once the results start showing up.

What should you expect?

Keep in mind that each SKU is limited to five reviews. The program is not here to sustain you over the long term, only to give you a solid push out the door so your products have a chance to compete fairly among the thousands of brands vying for the attention of Amazon’s estimated 244 million customers.

Also, remember that you’re paying to get honest feedback from real customers, but it won’t necessarily be positive feedback.

What’s the final word?

Customers expect to see reviews from satisfied past customers before making purchases, especially on Amazon. Even if these reviews are written by people they’ll never know or see, customers still treat them like personal recommendations. The vast majority of visitors to Amazon will read or skim at least a few of them.

Given that reviews play such a central role in the evaluation and buying process for most customers, few things are as important if you want to do well on Amazon. In other words, you need to give as much weight to reviews as your customers do.

Despite the small fees it involves, the Early Reviewer Program is generally worth the cost. Sales velocity is one of the most important factors in how your product ranks in Amazon’s search algorithm, which means your current sales will dramatically affect your future sales. Building up some momentum through credible product listings with genuine customer reviews is critical.

The Early Reviewer Program can get the ball rolling so sales eventually take on a life of their own, and what’s more vital for your brand than that?