Update: In June 2021, Amazon started allowing sellers with Brand Registry to send direct, templated messages to buyers that left a critical review. To learn more about this update and its implications, check out this blog post.
In December 2020, Amazon announced that it was disabling product review comments, the feature that allowed shoppers and sellers to post text replies to product reviews. As a co-founder of SellerSmile, an e-commerce customer service agency, commenting on reviews was a vital opportunity to build the brands we represented.
Despite losing the ability to comment, there’s still extraordinary value stored in the details of your reviews. That’s why we developed a simple, four-step approach to convert Amazon product reviews into insights: 1) collect, 2) categorize, 3) report, and 4) improve.
I’d like to share that approach so you can apply it to your own brand, but first, a brief overview of product reviews on Amazon leading up to this change.
Growing Concerns About Product Reviews
Around 2015, the “private label” selling strategy was one of the best and biggest trends on Amazon. Instead of re-selling another brand’s products, sellers everywhere were creating their own products, brands, and intellectual property, and using FBA for distribution.
Since the number and average rating of reviews were highly correlated with the success of an FBA product on Amazon, this created an environment where sellers would go to great lengths to outcompete one another to the highest rating with the most reviews.
Starting in 2016, the authenticity and legitimacy of product reviews on Amazon became subject of greater attention and scrutiny. Amazon banned seller-incentivized reviews and released Amazon Vine and the Early Reviewer Program (now discontinued). Both of these programs were intended to offer sellers a legitimate way to gain their first authentic reviews on new products.
Review Management Before Comments were Disabled
When we started SellerSmile in 2017, we strove to embody Amazon’s first Leadership Principle, “Customer Obsession” in all of our services. For example, we’d complete the following tasks, nearly every day, for each listing:
- Search for new product reviews and post a customized, assistive comment
- Search for the reviewer’s order to reach out in a direct message to offer a resolution
- Record the number and location of review comments.
Using the comment feature according to Amazon’s Community Guidelines, we could offer helpful public support, boosting our brand’s perceived helpfulness, which would increase shopper trust.
If we could assist a customer with a swift resolution, the reviewer might modify or even remove their negative review altogether. When that happened, we felt justified in all of our efforts.
Amazon Disables “Comment” Feature on Product Reviews
In December 2020, from the Customer Reviews dashboard inside Seller Central, Amazon revealed they were removing comments from reviews,
“Please note that commenting on reviews has been disabled. There were many gaps in the comments feature as it existed, it was subject to abuse, and it did not provide sufficient value to our customers. In order to innovate faster and provide a great shopping experience, we are retiring this feature to make way for future innovation for customers in our store.”
This change was especially surprising since Amazon had recently launched Customer Reviews on the Brand Dashboard, which conveniently aggregated reviews into a feed, encouraging sellers enrolled in Brand Registry to manage and reply to them from inside Seller Central.
How to Manage Product Reviews Without Commenting
Every day, people share true and vivid experiences they have with the brands they choose, in the form of public product reviews. Sellers can tap into this feedback to validate assumptions about their products and practices.
Follow these four steps to manage your Amazon product reviews:
Step 1) Collect
Decide how you’ll record and store your product review data. We use the built-in reporting Help Scout offers, but the easiest way to start is with a simple spreadsheet, such as an Excel or Google spreadsheet.
How to find your most recent Amazon product reviews:
- Navigate to one of your Amazon listings
- Find the “Customer Reviews” section
- Sort by “Most recent” in the list picker
- Record each new review as a new entry in your records
Will you monitor your full catalog or a limited list of products? Some sellers manage catalogs of millions of ASINs while most work with far fewer. In either case, a smaller fraction of products tends to receive a larger share of sales and reviews.
Step 2) Categorize
Record the ASIN, rating, and marketplace of each review. Assign one or more “categories” (see below) that describe the main theme or topic of the review and record notable reviewer comments. These entries will allow you to create helpful reports in Step 3.
We recommend tracking at least these five data points for each review:
- ASIN and/or SKU
- Star rating (e.g., 1 to 5)
- Marketplace (e.g., US, CA, UK, DE, etc.)
- Listing content
- Missing items
- Order processing
- Product availability
- Product inquiry/FAQ
- Safety issue
- No response needed/SPAM
- Notable comment (Text paraphrase, keyword, or snippet of the review)
Step 3) Report
Create charts, graphs, and tables that visualize the information. A few useful reports include:
- Marketplaces. Show reviews by marketplace over time to see where more marketing efforts may be needed.
- Categories. Create a pie chart of the review categories you see each month then compare to see trends and changes over time.
- Top Sellers. Show all the review details of your best-selling products (ratings, marketplaces, categories, etc.).
See our Sample Customer Service Report as a visual example of the review reports you might create.
Step 4) Improve
Read your reports periodically, looking for patterns, anomalies, and anything else confusing or fascinating. Is a certain category or issue recurring?
The best place to start is in the negative reviews. Brainstorm, then implement and measure tests that would prevent those poor experiences from happening in the first place. When you see signs of joy and satisfaction, understand why and make a plan to deliver that positivity with greater consistency.
Examples of common insights from product reviews:
- Ways to improve existing products
- Which new products to introduce next
- What information to include in the listing images, bullets, title, FAQ, keywords, etc.
- When to make a change to product packaging
- Where in the customer journey do pain points exist
As you monitor your reviews over time, you might see the content and ratings shift in response to the changes you make in your business. By enhancing awareness of the content in the reviews, we can more readily see the root causes of both negative and positive experiences surrounding a brand. Harnessing this knowledge can lead to brilliant and repeatable successes.
Why We Miss Review Commenting
Sometimes, when an Amazon customer requires assistance the first and only place they go to is the reviews page to share their experience with the community. We used to meet customers there, offering comments as assistance or informing them how to contact us directly for a resolution. Today, there may be an even greater advantage in designing easy-to-use products, since your support team’s ability to educate customers in the reviews has been reduced.
Rarely, Amazon reviewers will publish descriptions and images of injuries or harm that a product has caused them. Examples include allergic reactions, cuts, bruises, burns, or safety complaints. In cases like these, the reviewer may require immediate, white-glove support, but with commenting gone, the only chance for the seller to reach out to the customer has been taken away.
Product reviews used to be more like a forum, an open room with many voices and threaded responses. Now, it feels more like a public wall with privileged access for reviewers only. As stewards of our clients’ brands, we feel like we have the responsibility to contribute to conversations about them, wherever they occur.
The Future of Reviews and Customer Service on Amazon
We’ve seen a wider trend of limiting access to Amazon’s customers. We know that they’re working to “make way for future innovation…”, but that might mean less freedom of expression for brands trying to make a special connection.
We recommend a multi-channel approach so unforeseen changes to Amazon’s features or guidelines are less disruptive to your business plan.
SellerSmile is a team of experts in e-commerce customer service. Schedule a call and let’s discuss how we can help improve your store’s product reviews to win more of the hearts and minds of your customers.