Amazon says goodbye to 'incentivized' customer reviews

In an effort to increase the reliability of its review scores, Amazon will now use its Vine program to directly provide 'trusted' customers with products to review.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
A UPS driver delivers packages from in Palo Alto, Calif.

User reviews are tricky to navigate. You assume you're getting the unvarnished opinions of your fellow shoppers, who've paid their hard-earned money for a product. But what if you're not getting that? How could you tell?

This conundrum is what Amazon is trying to combat with its new customer review policies.

Amazon Will Now Play Review Middleman

Customers had previously been allowed to publish "incentivized" product reviews (the item in question provided for free in exchange for a nominally objective review), so long as that transaction was disclosed. As of October 3, all such reviews go through the invite-only Amazon Vine program.

Amazon will be responsible for identifying trusted reviewers and providing them with review products.

This means Amazon will be responsible for identifying trusted reviewers and providing them with products to review, which removes all contact between the seller and the customer. (Books are the only category exempted from this restriction.) This should lessen the likelihood of biased reviews. Amazon Vine reviews will, of course, be clearly marked.

Amazon isn't the first company to fight back against the effect of review compensation on the reliability of scores. Last month, digital games store Steam stipulated that reviews of games activated via keys purchased from other sites, or provided directly from the publisher, would still be published, but would have no effect on the review score average.

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