The recent discontinuation of Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program (ERP) has caused many in the ecommerce industry to panic. It was already difficult to effectively launch a new product on Amazon, and now it’s only going to become harder. How should brands be adjusting their Amazon strategy in response to this change?
In today’s article we examine the role that ERP played, why Amazon retired the program, and what will happen moving forward.
What was the Amazon Early Reviewer Program?
The ERP helped facilitate customer reviews on Amazon for newly launched products.
Brands would pay Amazon $60 for each enrolled parent SKU, and then Amazon would incentivize customers (who had already purchased the enrolled product on their own accord) to leave an authentic review by offering small-dollar amounts (e.g. $1 or $3) of Amazon credit. Only SKUs with fewer than five reviews were eligible for inclusion in the ERP, and participating sellers needed to be brand registered.
The ERP was by no means a silver bullet. The program did not guarantee positive customer reviews and it didn’t always speed up the process of getting initial reviews. But after the banning of incentivized reviews several years ago, it was the only legitimate review generation strategy available to brands on Amazon.
Now that the ERP has been retired, brands are in the dark about how to acquire social proof for newly launched products.
Why was the Amazon Early Reviewer program retired?
As of March 10 2021, Amazon is no longer accepting any new ERP enrollments. Bobsled CEO Kiri Master sees this as a continuation of an ongoing trend surrounding customer interaction.
Above: Early Reviewer Program removal notice, screenshot from Seller Central.
“Amazon recently removed the ability for brands to comment on product reviews,” explains Kiri. Now they’ve gone ahead and scrapped the Early Reviewer Program.”
“Although Amazon hasn’t provided an official reason why the ERP was removed, my hunch is that it has something to do with the Amazon customer experience. We live in a highly competitive ‘attention economy’, and Amazon understands that superfluous follow-up can undermine a positive customer experience. At just $60 per parent SKU, the ERP was unlikely a big moneymaker for Amazon, and it involved sending their customer base a lot of post purchase messaging.”
“Scrapping the ERP and preventing brands from responding to customer reviews undoubtedly helps Amazon control the customer experience more rigidly. But by simply removing the program and not offering a replacement solution, it creates a real headache for brands selling on the platform.”
What will happen now that the Early Reviewer Program
has been retired?
At this point in time Amazon has not announced any new programs that will replace the ERP. Here are some predictions from the Bobsled team.
Rise in Black Hat and Grey Hat Tactics
Products with more positive customer reviews perform better when it comes to ranking and on-page conversion. So unless something drastic changes with the A9 algorithm, brands are always going to try and find ways to get more customer reviews.
Now that the ERP has been eliminated, more brands will become desperate and turn to black and grey hat review generation tactics in order to gain an advantage over the competition. Brands will need to watch their product listings carefully to ensure they are not being tampered with by bad actors.
Ultimately Amazon wants a marketplace that is trusted by their customer base, so they’ll be doing their best to ensure all sellers abide by their terms of service, but this is easier said than done, especially when there are no legitimate ways to get reviews for new products. Watch this space.
Amazon Will Become Even More Pay-To-Play
“Brands were already relying heavily on PPC to promote new products on Amazon,” explains Bobsled’s Director of Marketplace Strategy & Insights Stefan Jordev. “But now there’s no ERP, it’s even more important to have a rock solid paid advertising strategy. Brands will be spending more aggressively chasing those first few reviews, and this will drive up CPCs.”
In addition to increased PPC spend, brands will also be looking to use Lightning Deals and other promos, as well as lowering their selling price to facilitate more conversions. The collective result will be Amazon will become more explicitly pay-to-play, and this will favor brands with deeper marketing budgets.
Check out Which Amazon Promotions Work Best?
Cannibalization of Other Ecommerce Channels
Many brands may resort to sending their existing email or social media traffic to Amazon listings in order to acquire those crucial first reviews for new products. These audiences that know your brand and product line are in theory more likely to write reviews versus new-to-brand customers. Note: it’s against Amazon’s terms of service to incentivize shoppers in any way to write reviews, but there’s nothing wrong with directing traffic to your Amazon listings.
The downside to this strategy is that by sending existing traffic to Amazon, brands are neglecting other sales channels which are potentially more profitable such as their own ecommerce sites. But considering the size and loyalty of Amazon’s customer base, this cannibalization risk in exchange for social proof may be a fair compromise for many brands in the ecommerce space.
Bigger Brands Thrive At The Expense of Smaller Sellers
Established brands can siphon healthy profit margin from their best selling products to sustain long and costly new product launches, whereas smaller sellers with less cash flow have to be more selective about which products to bring to market.
To compete effectively over the long term contender brands will need to develop products that are very appealing to Amazon customers, and promote their catalog with meticulously lean marketing efforts.
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