Perk for Top Amazon Reviewers: Major Freebies
No. 1 reviewer has gotten thousands in free merchandise
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2013 8:28 AM CDT
In this Oct. 18, 2010 file photo, an package is prepared for shipment by a United Parcel Service driver in Palo Alto, Calif.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

(Newser) – That review that's influencing your buy? It may not have been written by someone who actually paid for the product. That's because Amazon has an invitation-only program, Vine, for top reviewers—and at least once a month, they get to choose two free products from a list and must review them within 30 days. The reasoning: Products are more likely to sell if they have reviews, even bad ones. NPR talks to one member, currently the No. 1 reviewer on Amazon, who says he's gotten such pricey items as a $500 laser printer and a $1,000 spin bike for free. Michael Erb (M. Erb to Amazon users) has written so many reviews (863 so far), manufacturers have just started sending him stuff directly. But as Business Insider points out, being No. 1 isn't a matter of volume, but the result of a mysterious algorithm that factors in things like quality and helpfulness; in terms of the latter, Erb often goes so far as to include video demos in his reviews. (Here's an example ... for a cardboard box.)

"Literally every other day there's UPS boxes piled up at the door," Erb says. The site can ask for the products back at anytime—though it never has in his five years as a "Vine Voice"—and he can't sell or give away the freebies. One expert says Vine members might be biased toward offering more positive reviews than people who actually paid for their purchases, and The Verge points out that the Vine designation attached to these reviews "wouldn't be hard to glance over." But an Amazon rep says Vine reviews have, on average, fewer stars than non-Vine reviews. Of Erb's last 10 reviews, there are two 3-star reviews, three 4-star reviews, and five 5-star reviews.

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Dec 1, 2013 2:21 AM CST
A friend of mine is a Vine Voice and she get.s some amazing items. But she's very honest and thorough in her reviews of the items - if they're crap, she says so. Also, the reviews are labeled in bright green at the top so it's not like people don't know they were given the product in return for an honest review. She hasn't had to return anything either so she picks things she actually needs like vacuum cleaners, rug shampooers, expensive cosmetics she'd never buy on her own so she's VERY honest with how they work or not, printers, tons of books, toys for her kids, appliances, etc. Just about anything sold on Amazon. But like I said, she does a good job with the reviews and says if the product isn't good and why. Her reviews are ranked well, the only negatives are from other Vine Voices who rank each other poorly so they'll move up in the ranks (yes, like mean children).and it's been a bright spot in her life due to a chronic illness - makes her feel like she's contributing a little bit, helping other consumers out so they don't spend a bunch of money on something that isn't worth it. I don't see anything wrong with it at all.
Oct 31, 2013 12:36 PM CDT
"Decided to quit Amazon this week after it took down one of my critical reviews".... Probably a Walmart regular.
Oct 31, 2013 10:28 AM CDT
Decided to quit Amazon this week after it took down one of my critical reviews. Dishonest, misleading and suspicious. Shopping elsewhere.