The Sky is Falling: Volume 2

As you can imagine, at ZonBlast we get a lot of the same types of questions. However, I can say with confidence that the number one question we receive is about reviews.

Our response is always the same; we aren’t a review service, and in no way require, request, instruct, or otherwise push for a review in any way shape or form.

And every time, those folks ask “why?” They ask why on Earth wouldn’t we offer or guarantee a certain minimum review conversion percentage. They ask what value ZonBlast adds (for those that don’t understand how important ranking is).

So, why have we abstained from being any kind of review service? Why did we take a strong – and at the time, very lonely – position against review groups, review services, and gaming of the review system by way of incentivized reviews?

If it wasn’t already clear today, I’ll break it down.

In August 2015, Amazon changed its TOS to heavily append the sections regarding reviews. They took a firm stance against review manipulation. While there was wild speculation on what the terms meant, it was clear to us at ZonBlast that this was an obvious indicator that Amazon was going to take the power away from review services.

Then Amazon brought suit against hundreds of Fiverr providers being paid for good reviews.

Then Amazon started removing verified purchase tags from heavily discounted purchases. They also changed the review rating algorithm, causing  reviews from unverified purchases to have nowhere near the weight in an overall review/star rating as verified purchase reviews.

Then Amazon started wiping the entire review histories of some reviewer profiles.

Then Amazon started disallowing certain reviewers from leaving reviews at all.

Then Amazon, albeit in limited cases, issued policy violations against sellers who were manipulating reviews.

Then Amazon filed lawsuit against multiple sellers for buying reviews.

Then Amazon implemented a new rule for consumers stating that an account would have to have made at least $5 worth of purchases to be eligible to leave reviews. That was increased to $50 a couple weeks later.

What Did All This Mean?

If you ever followed any of the forums and threads run by reviewers, you’d see speculation run even wilder than among the sellers. Many were convinced that Amazon was banning unwitting reviewers due to the seller giving out “too many coupons.” Their conspiracy theories bordered laughable at best.

What appeared to be happening in reality was Amazon could see the large amount of coupon site reviewers ONLY making discounted purchases. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but when you have accounts with hundreds or thousands of purchases at $1 or free, coupled with a drastically skewed overall review score as compared to the average reviewer, it’s easy for them to detect the bias in these accounts.

When these “professional reviewers” never made any other purchases, and left hundreds of positive reviews, at a certain word length, within a certain timeframe (two days after a supplement purchase, as an example), it became clear that these buyers weren’t really contributing anything useful to the platform. So away their reviews went.

We saw this happening two years ago, when there were just a couple review services in town. We speculated that they were targeting reviewers from specific groups. It would appear this was close to the truth. Amazon was targeting the ranks of “professional reviewers” who were making product reviewing a part time job.

And for a long time, it appeared Amazon may not necessarily have a problem with review sites, per se. They weren’t punishing sellers, just reviewers. And why would they have a problem? These reviews lead to higher conversions and more sales, which makes them more money.

However, more and more it would appear that Amazon’s top concern isn’t actually the money, but instead the customer experience. As if that hadn’t been obvious since their inception almost two decades ago.  As such, review services do damage the experience in skewing the review platform. That is because the reviewers are not vetted by Amazon themselves.

And they do have a program for that. It’s called the Vine Program.

August 2015

A little over a year ago, Amazon released modifications to their TOS that effectively put ZonBlast at odds with an industry, of sorts. Other services (many of them “review services”), countless Facebook groups, blogs, and even some podcasts suggested that the TOS changes that had taken place at that time were specifically targeting those using Super URLs.

But here we were warning everyone about using what was then arguably the hottest way to gain some steam on Amazon: review groups and review services.

With the several salvos that Amazon has lobbed in the direction of review groups and review services now well known, who was right? Who saw the writing on the wall?

The Final Straw

As of October 3rd, Amazon made a change to the reviewer community rules yet again. While it is too soon to say for sure, it appears they served a final nail in the coffin of review services. The new rules state that reviews in exchange for a free or heavily discounted product are now prohibited outside of the Vine Program.

Some changes were made to Prohibited Seller Activities, however no new seller policies were put in place. This new policy was specific to the reviewer community. Reviewers have been put on notice that they are no longer allowed to exchange their reviews for promotional product.

How they will enforce this or what the consequences will be are unknown. If we had to fathom a guess, it is likely that the algorithm used to govern appearance of the verified tag on reviews will be used to “gate” buyer ability to leave a review. That being said, we stated clearly last year that Amazon does not like review services that aren’t Amazon Vine. With the recent TOS change, they’ve made clear they will not compete with unauthorized third-party review groups or services. They want to retain control over who is allowed to review test products and this update defines that in no uncertain terms.

What This Is Not

This has no effect on ZonBlast’s promotional activities. Why? Because WE ARE NOT A REVIEW SERVICE. We don’t gate access to our deals by requiring a review. We don’t force someone to leave a review or risk removal. We make no suggestions as to what content should exist in a review. We have not been, and are not now, a review service.  Thus, we can and will continue doing business as usual.

The reason for this is because we help build real brands. Amazon has afforded the amazing privilege of using their massive platform to everyone. This provides a fantastic opportunity for the small business entrepreneur. Using Amazon as a launchpad for a new brand has created a bastion of hope for entrepreneurs everywhere. And here at ZonBlast, our goal is to help them succeed. Our services are the perfect companion to the ever growing small business outcrop on the Amazon platform. It is a great pairing and we are happy to be doing what we do.

Every few months, Amazon makes a major change to the terms in an effort to make the buying experience the absolute best for their customers. Every time they do this, sellers cry out that the sky is falling. Those who don’t know better or who have ulterior motives point the finger at services like ZonBlast saying “this is the end for them.” And yet we’re still here.

That is because we don’t do anything Amazon would disapprove of. We facilitate a surge of real sales (money transacted from a unique buyer to our sellers). Amazon loves real sales and rewards them with ranking. We offer that to our clients because we have a huge list of loyal and eager Amazon buyers. Amazon likes these buyers too because they aren’t professional reviewers; we specifically avoid those folks. Our people make lots of discount purchases from our group, but because all of our codes are exclusive, they also make a lot of regular purchases.

In sum, we offer what our clients want, what buyers want, and what Amazon wants. This change has no effect on us, our operations, or our customers.

The Paradigm Shift

We stood alone 13 months ago in identifying reviews as being the target of Amazon’s actions. Most did not heed our warnings, instead relying on “gurus” suggesting that Super URLs were the ire of Amazon; that Amazon loved “honest” reviews, appreciated review groups and review services, and despised ranking strategies.

In our follow-up posted March 2016, we again reiterated that Amazon did not like services which weren’t named “Amazon Vine”, and that they “are actively putting measures in place to quell the effects of the review service model as they unnaturally skew the real rating of a product.”

Go back more than a year ago and the name of the game for launching on Amazon centered around getting as many reviews as possible. Stack your listings with as many reviews as possible, the gurus said.

Well, we now have 13 months of specific, very obvious actions that Amazon has taken indicating that they neither trust, nor will accept these so-called “honest” reviews.

We saw the writing on the wall. We saw the shift taking place. It’s unfortunate that so many are only just now, in the past 24 hours or so, seeing this shift.

The new paradigm requires you to accept something that has always been true: that ranking and review-getting are not the same, and are not under one umbrella. Your review-getting strategy is now turned on its head, forcing you to focus instead on stellar follow-up sequences for your organic buyers. Ranking strategy, however, is unchanged. ZonBlast will continue doing what it does best, and when you’ve shifted your mindset from a get-as-many-reviews-as-possible state, to this new paradigm of launching and converting organic buyers to brand evangelists, we’ll welcome you to our platform.

The Good News

Your competition just decreased.

The number of folks who will be unable to make that paradigm shift from review gaming to real business building far outnumber those who are agile and able to accept this change.

Those who only know how to launch by way of stacking dishonest review upon dishonest review are are now marginalized.

Those who understand how to rank and how to convert organic, real buyers to reviewers will be dominating the marketplace going forward.

What’s Coming

With the backdrop of our identification of review gaming being a problem last year, and even against the backdrop of ZonBlast 2.0 launch in January 2016, we’ve been secretly putting together a platform – a suite, even – designed to position you as a seller on a completely different level than those who won’t make it through the paradigm shift.

I had intended on keeping this quiet until release, but for now I’ll be a bit more specific: in June of this year, we doubled our development team, and we laid out a 6-12 month pipeline of tools, services, and software that will serve the core of the Amazon selling experience. The entire underpinnings of our system have been and are being redesigned.

Sponsored ads algorithms, automated on-going listing optimization, competitive intelligence unlike anything you’ve seen before, and a few other major tools we’re keeping close to the chest are all under development and available to our core group of alpha testers.

In September 2014, ZonBlast created an entirely new, innovative way to grow a business on Amazon with a very simple, single focus; what we now call Solo Blasts.

ZonBlast matured in January 2016 with the launch of ZonBlast 2.0, which again revolutionized the industry.

And what we’ve been putting together the last several months will put us, and more importantly our customers and clients, on an entirely new level. Stay tuned.

  • Tom

    Ehm, so what about the small percentage of folks who will decide to leave a review with the norm disclaimer of them receiving the product at a steep discount? We know that with your blasts there are some who will decide to do this even though the claim is made that you are not a review service company. Who is at fault here and how can sellers protect themselves from this if they decide to use a service like yours?

    • anthonynlee

      Hey Tom,
      This is a good and valid question. And honestly, it is still so soon to tell for sure, however, we have been consulting with some sellers who have had customers contact them directly regarding this issue. From what we’ve been told, Amazon is not allowing their review to be posted at all! That means, Amazon’s algorithm that stops a verified tag from being applied, is now also stopping the review from being published. That means, people who run promotions don’t have to be worried.

      I would also like to point out that, we have always taken the stance that we are not a review service. And we’ve told our buyers that as well. Every protection that is possible is in place and we’ve been positioning for this for awhile now. We’ve always been concerned about being above board with Amazon and that is why none of our clients have had any issues. We don’t see that changing anytime soon.

      • SlovakTommy

        Interesting, I read some comments yesterday from some FB groups with reviewers in them stating that some of them were still posting reviews last night and that the Amazon interface for where a review is made accepted their reviews with the normal “thank you for reviewing message”.

        Question is whether or not Amazon actually published the review to the public or if Amazon is now completely blocking the review from the reviewer’s “submit review interface”. The answer to this question will probably come forth in the coming days from testing, it would definitely be good to follow-up on.

        Thanks for your insights.