Amazon have updated their policy around parent/child listing variations, which will affect how reviews appear for certain parent products with multiple child variations, and how products with variations will rank in search results.
Traditionally, all product reviews for each individual child ASIN were combined to give a grand total that would appear uniformly for each child variation. Moving forward, it seems that for select parent products each individual child ASIN may display unique review data separately.
The review policy change comes about due to the negative feedback Amazon have received from customers regarding incorrect variations. The following is an excerpt from a Seller’s correspondence with Amazon Seller Support:
This particular Seller initiated a correspondence with Amazon Seller Support when they noticed missing product reviews for one of their child ASINs. During the interchange, the Support representative provided a detailed explanation about how the update to variation display logic will impact product reviews observed on the product listing:
This policy update will impact how brands approach catalog re-organization and optimization on the Amazon marketplace. In the past, merging separated product listings as child variations under a parent product was a strategy that could help improve traffic and conversion for under-performing ASINs, even if products weren’t technically legitimate variations. Merging was also used as a strategy to create more visibility for bundle options. For example, a Toothbrush & Toothpaste Bundle child ASIN could’ve been added as a variation to a parent product with multiple flavor variations of the same style of Toothpaste.
Moving forward, in certain instances product reviews may be more closely attached to individual products, and therefore under-performing ASINs could attract more scrutiny from Amazon shoppers.
WHAT HAS BOBSLED NOTICED SO FAR?
At Bobsled, so far we’ve noticed only a handful of examples of this policy update.
Right now, Amazon only seems to be penalizing brands that have merged products that are obviously unique under a single parent - i.e. not true variations. For the vast majority of parent products with multiple child variations there has been absolutely no change in the total number of product reviews that appear for each ASIN.
However, considering the fact that improving the customer experience is one of Amazon’s main priorities, one can speculate that Amazon may move towards a model in the future where all product reviews are specifically tied to individual ASINs, even if all variations are “legitimate”, rather than a cumulative total across all the child ASINs for a parent product. This would definitely provide customers with more transparency regarding the popularity and feedback rating for each individual ASIN.
HOW WOULD AMAZON ROLL OUT A WIDESPREAD VARIATION LOGIC UPDATE?
Exactly how Amazon would roll out a widespread marketplace update remains unclear, yet past policy changes may offer useful insight.
For example, in late 2016, Amazon banned incentivized reviews as a strategy to improve the legitimacy and quality of customer feedback on the marketplace. During the transitional period, Amazon targeted Sellers who, in Amazon’s eyes, had abused incentivized reviews egregiously. Sellers who had regularly given away huge quantities of inventory for free or at a heavy discount in order to gain more product reviews and maintain a competitive BSR (Best Seller Rank) were punished severely when many of these “paid” reviews were scrubbed completely from their listings by Amazon. Other brands who merely dabbled in this practice were largely unaffected, and therefore it’s still possible to stumble across incentivized reviews from this era on the Amazon marketplace today.
Amazon may use this experience as a precedent when considering how to implement a variation display logic update.
The first target will likely be brands who have combined obviously unique products under a single parent ASIN. As the Seller Support representative has alluded to in the above transcript, reviews for unrelated merged products may get wiped entirely. Or Amazon may simply insist that different styles of product need to be re-categorized under new parent listings, and existing reviews will live on.
From there, Amazon may alter the landscape further by displaying unique review data for every individual ASIN, even if all children are natural variations of one another. Whether existing parent ASINs with legitimate child variations would be “grandfathered-in” remains to be seen.
HOW SHOULD BRANDS ADAPT TO THIS POTENTIAL CHANGE?
At Bobsled, we always prioritize the customer experience when building or optimizing product listings for the Amazon marketplace. If you were managing a brick-and-mortar store, you would try to intelligently group all related products in the same space, and in many ways Amazon is no different.
The limitations of each product category on Amazon can vary wildly, and therefore we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to catalog organization and optimization. Here is our general catalog creation and optimization workflow:
Step 1 - Select the most relevant product category
Certain ASINs may potentially fit into several different categories, therefore we’d recommend finding the most relevant category for each individual product, and then drilling down further by selecting the right subcategory too. If you are lost, a good hack is to analyze the product listings of the closest competitor ASINs and replicate their categorization for your own product.
Some sellers and vendors try and “game” the system by selecting a less popular product category in order to have a better chance at achieving a more optimal BSR. In our opinion, this strategy is futile for several different reasons.
As of today, the vast majority of Amazon shoppers use keywords to search for their desired product rather than combing through the best-selling products within a particular category. Therefore, if you’ve used the right keywords within the product listing you should rank for all the relevant search terms regardless.
Amazon have penalized this practice in the past and insisted on moving products that have been categorized incorrectly.
Amazon may eventually re-design the marketplace and customers may end up browsing through product categories more regularly rather than relying so heavily on the search function. Therefore, if you have purposefully mis-categorized your product catalog, this could have lasting ramifications if and when such a change happens.
Step 2 - Keyword research
Once you have found the right category for your product, the next step is in-depth keyword research. We recommend using reliable search term volume tracking tools in order to ascertain all the relevant keywords that will form the backbone of your listing. Once again, analyzing high-performing competitor ASINs can be hugely advantageous.
Step 3 - Complete the Flat File
A Flat File template is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that contains multiple data columns for describing your products. You enter all the relevant listing content on the file and then upload via Seller Central or Vendor Central. Learn more here.
It is possible to enter new product details directly via the Seller Central or Vendor Central dashboard. However, at Bobsled we always recommend using Flat Files as they provide a written record of your listing content. If there’s ever a change in listing optimization best practices you can refer back to your Flat File, update the relevant areas, and then re-submit the new version of the file.
Download the correct Flat File template for your product category and complete every section you can, including the back-end metadata. On the Flat File you can also decide how to present any parent ASINs with child variations. For example, with certain categories you have the ability to generate two variation themes (e.g. Size and Color), whereas other categories only allow for one. Once you’re happy that the flat file content is optimized for both SEO and on-page conversion simply upload via Seller Central or Vendor Central.
Step 4 - Review the product listing
After submitting the Flat File, it’s important to ensure that all the content is appearing as it should once the product listing becomes active.
Prioritizing the customer experience should be your main focus, and all obstacles that could potentially get in the way of a conversion should be eliminated. For example, if a parent product has 10+ variations on the page, it may be confusing for the customer to browse through all the different options. In this situation separating all the child variations as stand-alone parent items may improve the customer experience and lead to a better conversion percentage.
Step 5 - Monitor performance, optimize accordingly
Over time you will amass traffic and conversion percentage data for all of your product listings. In particular, your advertising dashboard will likely provide useful insight about which keywords are performing, and you can use this data to update listings accordingly.
It’s also important to stay abreast of any changes to Amazon’s listing optimization best practices to ensure your catalog remains optimized for both SEO and on-page conversion.
THE GOLDEN RULE: KEEP THE CUSTOMER TOP OF MIND
In summary, we’d recommend reviewing your product catalog to ensure that all connected child variations are the same style of product. Merging related products under a single parent will generally improve the customer experience, as you are putting all similar options for the shopper in a single location. Conversely, by continuing to include unrelated products under a single parent ASIN you are potentially running the risk of having valuable product reviews wiped at some point in the future.
If you're interested in learning more about Bobsled's approach to catalog organization, you can set up a consultation here.