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All You Ever Need to Know About Amazon’s Customer Reviews

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 27, 2013    •    1183 Views

Yesterday, I “met” Michael in a Planet Money podcast. Ranked #1 as an Amazon product reviewer, Michael Erb has already introduced himself to millions of us. M. Erb is Amazon’s #1 Hall of Fame reviewer and a Vine Voice (we will describe that in a moment). As of last night, I could access 855 reviews that he wrote. Those reviews represent thousands of hours of work. And yet, he is neither employed by Amazon nor formally paid.

I took a peek at several of his reviews. At least several paragraphs long, his reviews are substantive and chatty–like a friend giving you some advice. Corrugated box review (why go to the liquor store when you can buy these great boxes cheaply); Roolen humidifier (safe and cheap); a digital scale (easy to operate); simple cleansing facial wipes (my wife liked them). His wife also said they had no room to eat because their dining table was stacked with items he was trying out.

What is going on?

On the Amazon side, their cleverness is dazzling. Not at all accidental, Amazon’s facility with customer reviews is a carefully articulated and patented competitive tool. Customer reviews, even when occasionally negative, generate sales. They convey quality information. A ranking system for top reviewers encourages a competitive spirit among those who evaluate products.  It creates a non-money reward. Then, further controlling the system, Amazon invites top reviewers to join their Vine Program through which they get free products that they can review.

Reviewers meanwhile report a satisfying reward system. Asked why they do so much unpaid work, they respond that it buoys their sense of self-worth. One retiree said, “It’s a good hobby for an old retired geezer.” Others enjoyed seeing their writing being read by the multitudes, liked the competitive spirit of the ranking system, perceived a good fit between their day job and the products they reviewed, and thought they were providing a community service. Some said it was addictive.

A 2011 academic paper grouped reviewers’  backgrounds:

Amazon's customer reviewers

From: “How Aunt Ammy Gets Her Free Lunch”


Our bottom line: For a firm engaging in monopolistic competition in many markets, Amazon has discovered how to eliminate buyer confusion. Their carefully planned customer review system creates incentives for reviewers and customers. They lead us to one item when we could have been lost in a sea of many.

Included in Amazon’s Patent #6,963,848


FIG. 1 illustrates a first exemplary e-mail message requesting a customer to provide a review;

FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary Web site form page used accept a customer review;

FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary consumer review provided via e-mail;

FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary message presented on a Web site requesting a customer to provide a review of previously purchased items;

FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary commerce system, including Web components for implementing a review request system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention and illustrates typical user components for accessing the system; and

FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary sequence of acts that are performed by the review request application illustrated in FIG. 5.

Sources and resources: H/T to Planet Money for its podcast on Amazon’s customer reviews which took me to a wealth of information in “How Aunt Ammy Gets Her Free Lunch” and NYU’s Anindya Ghose’s and Panaglotis Ipeirotis’s research on consumer generated internet content.


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