Listings with zero ever-critical “social proof” made it to page one for important keywords and then started gaining real sales.
If you were a part of the “Amazon Gold Rush” right around 2013 to 2014, then you remember how easy it seemed to be to make money. Everybody was flocking to the quick riches, and many of them succeeded. If you weren’t one of the lucky ones, chances are you know someone who just happened to pick the right product and almost overnight started generating 80, 90, even 100k+ per month in revenue.
It doesn’t feel so easy anymore. With increased competition, as well as increased regulation from Amazon, the marketplace once referred to as “the Wild West” now seems to have established law and order.
A lot has changed since those days. You may even say everything has changed. However, there is still a common thread that binds the early days of FBA entrepreneurship and today’s crop of sellers. All the gurus, experts and service providers have been touting for ages that the barrier of entry to Amazon is reviews. Essentially, you must have them, and as many as you can get, in order to win on Amazon.
Here’s the problem we at SixLeaf have with that assertion; we’ve seen time and time again brand new listings with no reviews rank, then see increased organic sales.
That means, listings with zero ever-critical “social proof” made it to page one for important keywords and then started gaining real sales.
And you don’t have to go far to dig up evidence of this.
On page one for the term “garlic press” there are eight listings with less than 100 reviews. Here are the number of reviews, their BSR’s and estimated sales volume:
While this is only a snapshot of a single major keyword in a single category, it is indicative of what we’d find anywhere on Amazon. Some listings are doing great, some are doing poorly and the vast majority are performing more middle-of-the-road.
Reviews may not mean what all the “experts” claim they mean.
But, what does this PROVE? I mean, what about the other listings with hundreds of reviews? Aren’t they doing significantly better?
On page one? Sure. These are dominated by big brands that don’t even have optimized listings and still manage astronomical sales. But if you look at page two, you will find many listings with over 100 reviews (some with over 1000) and the results are similar.
A couple of listings are doing extremely well, and quite a few (more than on page one) are doing miserably, with many performing at a mid-range.
This tells us that the reviews may not mean what all the “experts” claim they mean. By their logic, the listings with the most reviews would all have the highest sales. By their logic, this would also mean all the listings with the highest reviews would be out-ranking those with lower reviews.
Many gurus also claim that in order to be competitive you should have the same or more reviews as your competitors. As if, somehow, the listing with 101 reviews will perform that much better than the listing with only 100. By that logic, all of the listings within a tight BSR band would have the same amount of reviews. Likely, that would also mean page one for major terms would be dominated by listings with similar review counts.
However, time and time again we see this is simply not the case. The numbers do not support the idea that reviews have an impact on ranking or sales.
What Real Experts Say
In February 2017, Danny McMillan’s YouTube Channel entitled Seller Sessions interviewed Brad Moss, a former Amazon employee who helped build the Amazon seller mobile app.
Brad revealed that Amazon conducted an internal test to see the impact that reviews had on purchasing. In the test, it was shown that buyers only cared about the number of reviews a listing had up to 21 reviews. After that, star rating was the only thing that had an impact.
This was across all categories, all price ranges and all product types. Customers only cared about so-called social proof for up to 21 reviews. This is a pretty low number, and most certainly a smaller target than “the same amount as your top competitors or more.”
So if this is the data provided by Amazon themselves, why do the Amazon gurus keep chanting the same mantra? This is likely because many within the landscape today lack experience or understanding of the way the algorithm works.
They draw seemingly logical conclusions based on surface observations. If social proof drives consumer behavior, then more social proof will drive more behavior. If people depend on reviews to make purchases, then more reviews equals more purchases.
And if you take a limited glance at high volume sellers, it would appear this assertion is supported. That is because, most of the high volume sellers on Amazon are large brands who wholesale directly to the marketplace. To follow this chain of logic further, that means a smaller brand would necessarily need to have MORE reviews in order to seem worthy to browsing buyers.
The Problem with Prevailing Logic
To say that people merely buy based on who has the most high reviews diminishes the intelligence of online shoppers. It says, basically, that they are shallow and don’t know how to think for themselves.
And there is no better place to look at evidence to the contrary of this sentiment than in sales figures. Amazon suffered quite a lot of negative media attention surrounding fake reviews in June of 2016 after the “data scientists” from ReviewMeta published an exposé on the topic. They analyzed reviews over a period of time, showing that there was a significant increase in positive reviews from less than reliable reviewer sources. This prompted a wave of articles on the subject that, arguably, nudged Amazon to make their TOS update in October to address the issue.
With customer sentiment low, it would stand to reason that people would turn away from the platform and sales would suffer. However, this did NOT happen in the slightest. First quarter net sales for 2016 was $513 million. After the review shake up just before third quarter 2016, first quarter 2017 would understandably reflect a steep drop as people took their business to more reliable sources. However, Amazon reported net sales for Q1 2017 of $724 million. That is an unprecedented increase of almost 50%!
If people vote with their wallets, it would appear most are not as concerned with reviews as course builders and service providers would have you believe.
The Psychology of a Buyer
The biggest argument for the necessity-of-reviews concept is that the social proof will give an edge to unknown brands.
This seems totally plausible, the only problem is that brand loyalty has had its foundation shaken by ecommerce.
While most buyers still make many purchases of brands they recognize, this is mainly because of familiarity. Many will quickly switch brands if they have a bad experience or if the price is better elsewhere.
Buyers only cared about the number of reviews a listing had up to 21 reviews.
The ecommerce marketplaces themselves have leveled the playing field, even before reviews were instituted. The anonymity of the purchase and the growing acceptance of unknown brands emboldens people to not be consumer drones controlled by marketing. Many are more than willing to take a leap of faith, with or without reviews.
However, there have been a number of publications that tout how crucial reviews are to purchasing decisions, parroting thinly researched local consumer polls that state people consider online reviews to be as reliable as a personal recommendations.
Despite that, people still only need 21 reviews to be convinced.
Notice also that the vast majority of consumers will not take the time to leave a review unless it is a negative one. Yet we don’t hear of businesses going under left and right due to a string of negative reviews.
Also consider that most consumers who choose to look at reviews will make a decision after only reading one to three, and most consumers don’t trust positive reviews if critical reviews aren’t present.
This means it doesn’t take much, and people are looking for a mix of positive and critical feedback.
These stats paint a much more complex picture than simply “you need reviews to make sales.”
More likely, consumers look to reviews for VALIDATION of a decision or conclusion they already made. They are also likely looking at negative reviews to see if critical issues are severe or within a tolerable range.
What Does This Mean for Your Business
It means that you have a lot more work to do than just trying to accumulate reviews. It means optimization is still key, as your online presentation is still likely to be the deciding factor on a purchase. It also means you need to have a quality product, so the first few reviews you DO get are both genuine and positive.
The path to success, while it may be more difficult, is still paved by the same principles as any business; quality product + good marketing = sales. In the Amazon world, this means ranking and visibility + conversion = sales.
Here at SixLeaf, we’ve been in these trenches for a long time. No one has the amount of data we have, or the experience. This is why we can confidently defy the gurus that are selling buzz words and sensational headlines. What actually works is what drives our offerings. Optimization, ranking, tracking; rinse and repeat. This is how some of the biggest private label brands on Amazon have managed to get ahead.
We can do that for you too.