Is Amazon Vine a win for all?
Amazon’s secretive, invite-only Amazon Vine program that provides free products to the platform’s “most trusted reviewers” was recently explored by The New York Times.
On its website, Amazon explains that Vine members are sent free product by participating vendors for “new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make informed purchase decisions.” The invitations to join Vine are determined by an individual’s reviewer rank, which is based on the quality and helpfulness of their reviews.
The Time’s article noted that active Vine members can receive more than $100,000 in product a year.
For Amazon, the purpose of the program is to jumpstart reviews for newer products. Despite the free stuff, Vine reviews are perceived as being less tainted because “at least it’s out there in the open” versus fraudulent reviews.
Amazon asserts the reviews are “independent opinions” and not modified by Amazon or vendors. Negative reviews don’t impact a reviewer’s ranking or Vine participation. Members are removed for violating guidelines. A green stripe next to the review identifies it as being one from a Vine member.
According to Kiri Masters, CEO at Amazon agency Bobsled Marketing and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, participating vendors pay a fee to enroll each SKU in the Vine program and “it can be costly” — up to thousands of dollars per SKU.
Ms. Masters has heard that the program is expensive to administer and agrees that its main payback is increasing the quality and quantity of reviews across the Amazon platform. Said Ms. Masters, “This drives more traffic to Amazon as folks use the website to compare products before shopping elsewhere (including ‘showrooming’ in physical stores).”
For brands, one complaint is that reviewers are not required to write reviews for products they receive. Some also see Amazon’s private labels being overly-featured in Vine reviews.
Other ways Amazon encourages reviews is an “Early Reviewer” program that hands out small rewards (e.g., a $1 – $3 Amazon.com Gift Card) for those who leave a comment on a product that has few or no reviews. Dedicated reviewers are also rewarded with “Badges” next to their names, such as “Top 10 Reviewer.”
- The Secret World of Amazon’s Power Reviewers – The New York Times
- What is Amazon Vine? – Amazon
- What is the Early Reviewer Program? – Amazon
- Amazon’s Top Customer Reviewers – Amazon
- About Top Contributors – Amazon
- About Badges – Amazon
- Amazon Is Raking In Reviews For Its Private-Label Products, But That’s Its Prerogative – Forbes
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does the Amazon Vine program appear to be equally beneficial for Amazon, its customers and participating vendors? Is the program properly designed to limit biased reviews? Should other retailers be developing their own versions of Vine to stoke reviews?