Truth About Amazon Vine

Amazon Vine Program

I recently became acquainted with the Amazon Vine program after being invited to participate in it. After spending some time getting to know the ins and outs of the program, I wanted to share a few observations.

First off, yes, people do receive free products and provide reviews on them. However, the nuance here is important. The vendors own the products and submit them to the Vine program. They have no say in the reviews that come out of it, and reviewers have no contact with the vendors. In fact, if a vendor does reach out to a reviewer directly, the reviewer can report them, and the vendor will be removed from the program.

Many people are concerned about the quality of the reviews and the notion that reviewers are “incentivized to give five-star reviews.” I’d like to offer some perspective on that.

Image from Amazon site of Vine Customer Review of Free Product

There is a wide variety of products available in the Vine program for people to select from. There may also be potential tax implications at the end of the year for your selections, depending on a number of factors. Thus, reviewers do have some skin in the game. Think of it more like receiving a 70% discount rather than getting items for free.

You can accumulate a lot of items in a relatively short period of time. Initially, you are limited to selecting 3 items per day. These items start taking up space and require time to review. After all, you need to maintain a certain percentage of reviews to stay in the program. My experience is that people tend to select items they both need and believe to be of a quality they would expect to purchase otherwise. It isn’t the free-for-all you might expect (and the number of boxes can can get out of control). The selection process actually becomes more deliberate the further you get into the program. With that deliberate selection, you tend to choose items you think you will like. So, you go into the review expecting an item to meet a certain standard. If it meets or exceeds that standard, you will give it a good review. If it doesn’t, you won’t. Since people generally prefer not to deal with low-quality items, they select the better products whenever possible, resulting in mostly positive reviews.

I have engaged with a closed Reddit group and on closed Discord channels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the vast majority of people take their reviews quite seriously. There are a few, say 5-10%, who are churn and burn reviewers, but most are committed to providing quality feedback.

The bottom line is, don’t discount the Vine reviews. It’s best to consider them collectively, as there are usually multiple reviews, and see if they tell a consistent story. If they are in harmony, then you can generally trust their accuracy. If one or a few reviews are outliers, try to determine why. Like all reviews, opinions and experiences vary. Look for a common thread or consider if the discrepancy might be due to an off day for the reviewer.

Amazon Vine Program

I have personally given ratings from 1 to 5 stars. I tend to give many 5-star reviews, but that’s because most of the items I’ve selected met my expectations. Here’s how I approach rating when reviewing items:

  • 5 Stars: Exceeds expectations with no more than one minor issue, or two relatively insignificant issues.
  • 4 Stars: Exceeds expectations but has one moderate or two to three minor issues.
  • 3 Stars: Meets expectations but is nothing special, or exceeds expectations but has some significant flaws.
  • 2 Stars: Falls short of expectations and/or has serious flaws.
  • 1 Star: Fails to be fit for purpose.

I have one significant caveat to this: if the advertising for the item is dishonest, it will affect the rating. If it seems like an honest mistake, I may deduct 0 – 1 stars. However, if the listing makes claims that are patently untrue or unverifiable, or if images have been enhanced to misrepresent the item, I will drop the review to one star immediately. At that point, the best outcome, even if the product is perfect in every other way, might be a 2-star review. I have little tolerance for false advertising, and manipulating images or making claims that are simply not true will not be tolerated in my rating scale. So yes, I have given multiple one and two-star reviews, even when other Vine reviewers have given five stars. I don’t begrudge them their opinions; I just adhere to my own standards. Others may focus solely on the product, treating the claims separately, but these differences tend to be revealed over time.

So, my recommendation is to look at the Vine reviews. The longer ones tend to be more thoughtful. Give them some credence. Treat the shorter ones as you would any normal review and take them for what they are.

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