Were Amazon (US) Right to Ban Incentivised Reviews?

So this month Amazon managed to make me really happy and then really annoyed within about 2 days.

Let’s start with happy. I signed up to Amazon Prime after being convinced that between the video streaming service and the next day deliveries, I’d be getting my money’s worth. Within a day of the money leaving my account, this appeared right in my building!


Happy! Next day delivery right to the office. 21st century convenience at its best.

The timing was good for a second reason, because I had a nice little lot of gadgets coming my way from the people at Smart Technology. They would be providing the gadgets, I would be providing an honest review on Amazon and we’d all live happily ever after.

Except the day after they all arrived (at Prime speed to my new Amazon Locker) - this happened!!!

Taken from theguardian website - click the picture for the full story

Taken from theguardian website - click the picture for the full story

Yes, Amazon (in the US) have now banned the so called ‘Incentivised Review’. They’ve not officially given a reason, but the timing is telling as a firm called ReviewMeta released the results of a study that showed these types of review were generating 0.5 more stars on average than the ones written by customers who actually paid for the same product.

What timing! Smart Technology were fine about it and although I’ve enjoyed receiving and reviewing items from them and others over the years, it’s not something I count on.

Now I’m over the initial reaction, do I believe Amazon are right to have implemented a ban?

Well, I do think it’s a shame. Small companies often depend on Amazon reviews as a way to inform potential customers about their products. Whilst they may have their own websites and social network pages, there’s no way they can have the impact and reach that the big brands do. Word of mouth, particularly online is very important to them.

I think the customer can also benefit from the discovery that a lesser known brand is producing a product that rivals a branded one, as it will often come at a fraction of the price!

But this issue of the incentivised reviewer giving too many stars cannot be ignored. Are they being dishonest in order to get more free stuff? Well, it has to be possible, even true, in some cases. There’s no real vetting process done of reviewers, either by Amazon or likely the seller. They often seed repeat customers based on the likelihood that they must already like their products.

But in the majority of cases, I suspect it’s something else. I think it’s the unwritten social obligation of reciprocating when someone gives you a gift. It makes you want to be nice and return the generosity. Marcel Mauss, the French Sociologist wrote of ‘total prestation’ which talked about the giver being forever bonded to the object they’re giving and this holds a power over the receiver giving them a strong sense of need to reciprocate.

For me? But I haven't bought you anything!

For me? But I haven't bought you anything!

It’s all a bit spiritual and whilst I’m not always convinced of these things, I know, for example, that supermarkets like Waitrose are not giving away free coffees to their customers purely out of the goodness of their hearts - it’s a way to form that ‘social bond’ and hope it gets reciprocated by the customer feeling obligated to buy stuff.

Some people will inevitably walk through, grab the coffee (or award the one star) and leave without giving it any thought, but most people will make a gesture at least (4 stars) just because they’re, well, nice!

So what about me? Was I awarding more stars? No, I don’t think so, but I’ve faced occasional dilemmas and it’s hard to be totally objective. I want to be nice to the firm that was nice to me, but I also have to stand by that review in the face of Amazon's ‘Customer Questions’ feature where potential buyers could grill me, or call me out on anything that I’ve said.

In short, no. Just like on this blog, I felt a stronger bond to the person reading the review than to the company supplying the item. I’ve been lucky that I’ve not been sent anything bad and I will miss getting the odd surprise email and extra parcel through the door.

I do think it’s a shame for the sellers. Instead of just killing the idea, Amazon could do more to extend their ‘Vine’ programme so that properly vetted people can continue to provide detailed reviews - or, they could network with the blogger community who are used to properly testing products and well versed in writing about them.

Lastly, because I would like to reciprocate Smart Technology and honestly review each of the final items that they sent me, here’s a short review of each one. If you’re not convinced by my objectivity, feel free to deduct half a star.

Expower  BT28S Bluetooth Speaker

Let’s start with an easy 5 star. I’ve been through a lot of Bluetooth speakers and what I can say about the BT28S is that it’s up there with the £100 units of last year and yet it costs half the price. Not only is the sound quality punchy with good bass thud, it’s a really lovely looking unit. Across the top is a nice slice of aluminium with basic music and call controls (yes, there’s a mic so this can be a hands-free kit for your phone) and the speakers themselves are wrapped in a stylish mesh grille. On the front you’ll see the cutouts for the stereo tweeters and round the back, a small woofer is providing the low notes. Bluetooth is nice and easy to setup these days, but if your phone is equipped with NFC then all you do is place it on top of the speaker for a moment and it’s all done for you. If you don’t want to use your phone, you can also slot in a microSD card full of tunes and it will play away for up to 10 hours. All in all, a lovely piece of kit that will make for a nice Xmas present this year.

Check it out on Amazon here

ExPower Twinkle Light

Not a gadget I would typically get excited about, but these 200 LED outdoor solar light kits are a simple way to bring a little sparkle to your garden. I’m actually well placed to judge these, as for five years we had a set of really pricing John Lewis ones decorating a climber in the back garden. They did a fine job, but were unfortunately destroyed in a storm earlier in the year that brought down all the fences too.

So Expower’s version comes in at half the price of John Lewis. Is it half as good? Well, I’ve not done five years of testing, but I’m confident that they’re way more than half as good. The solar box is a simpler unit, but it appears well built and should keep out the worst of the weather without too much trouble. Unlike the John Lewis kit, you can give these a charge via a micro-USB connection, so I put them outside fully charged to see what happens. After a week, I’m pleased to report that they’re gathering enough charge from the overcast Autumn weather in England to run for at least a few hours once it gets dark and the LEDs are as bright as you would want them to be.

Expower says that the batteries will be good for three years, so would I buy these over the John Lewis ones? Well, it depends where they’re going, as they’re tricky to install on an existing plant, but I’d definitely put these in the front garden and reserve a bigger spend for something that needs to be permanent.

Check them out on Amazon here

Exstud LED Golf Balls

I’m less qualified to review golf balls, although I do play (badly) from time to time. What I can tell you is that these make for a great gift for the golfer in your family or friends circle. They’re really nicely packaged in a reinforced cardboard box with magnetised lid. Opening the lid reveals a pack of 6 seemingly normal golf balls that are filled with red LEDs. What’s the practical application? Well, I guess at this time of year, playing into fading afternoon light, it might be handy to pick your ball out of the rough more easily.

It might also be that much more sad to lose it in the water trap mind you.

Check them out on Amazon here


Thanks to Smart Technology for the review samples