Can You Verify That?

I’m guessing you’ve all seen the notation on customer reviews for an “Amazon Verified Purchase” like this one.

I imagine many (most?) people don’t pay much attention to which reviews have or don’t have this, at least most of the time. However, if a review seems suspicious for other reasons, it is used by some people as “evidence” that their suspicions are correct. I’ve also been told that some of the book promotion sites are now looking at the number or percentage of Amazon reader reviews that are verified purchases as part of their vetting process. There is some confusion as to when an Amazon reader review will or won’t show as a verified purchase. So I’ve mucked about and think I have the answers. As it turns out there are several different scenarios and this isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

The first scenario, which fits the vast majority of books with this flag, is people who paid money to buy a book and then reviewed it. Well, duh. But even this scenario isn’t clear cut. When a customer who has purchased a book clicks the button to “Write a customer review” they get this form.

Notice the box at the bottom that is pre-clicked. If someone purchased the book, but chose to unclick that box, the review wouldn’t show up as a verified purchase. Why someone would want to unclick this button if they purchased the item and were willing to review it, I have no idea, but it is an option. Possibly some people do this in error. However, as a general rule, this scenario is straightforward and these people will have the verified purchase flag on their reviews.

If you click the “learn more” link to the right of the verified purchase box you’ll get Amazon’s explanation of what this means. They even suggest that customers use this information in their purchasing decision. They’re quick to add that a customer might have had “experience” with the product, but obtained it somewhere other than Amazon. Only those customers that they can determine have purchased the product in question from Amazon will be shown the verified purchase flag. In fact, Amazon gives you the option of clicking on a link just under the review summary to limit the displayed reviews to those that are verified purchases.

The next obvious scenario is someone who didn’t get your book from Amazon. They bought it from another retailer, you sent them a review copy directly, or they’re your sock puppet who has never even seen a copy of the book. They won’t show as verified purchasers. Since Amazon can’t verify they’ve purchased the book, the verified purchaser box won’t even be displayed when they post their review.

Now for a brief tangent. Suppose someone who Amazon can’t verify has purchased a book posts a review and later buys the book from Amazon. Does the verified purchase notation suddenly appear? The answer is no, it doesn’t. However, if the reviewer edits his or her review the verified purchase box will show up and will be checked. Going through the process of saving the edited review (even if none of the text in the review is changed) will apply the verified purchase flag.

There are a few other scenarios where the verified purchase flag will be displayed on a review (as long as the reviewer doesn’t uncheck the flag). Some of these make sense. A free book that you “bought” for the rock bottom price of zero dollars and no pennies is one. A Kindle book that you received as a gift and redeemed for the book is another. (If you redeemed the gift for gift card credit, that’s a different story. And you should be ashamed.)

However, one scenario you might not have thought of will also show as a verified purchase, even though it is misleading. This is if you’ve gifted the book to someone else. You purchased it from Amazon and they can verify it. Amazon isn’t saying you’ve actually read the book (or even have it to read).

The last scenario is if you purchase and then return the book. (Yes, I did this just to find out, but it wasn’t one of your books, I promise.) Once the book is returned, the verified purchase box goes away on the review. If you reviewed the book before returning it the verified purchase flag would be available. My assumption is that returning it would clear the flag, but I there was a limit to how far I was willing to go to figure these things out. You’ll have to try it yourself if you really want to know.

There are a few ways an author might ethically put this information to good use. Let’s suppose you have a group of readers who have read your book prior to release. We’ll call them ARC readers. They’ve agreed that to thank you for the privilege of reading your masterpiece before the average smuck on the street can even buy it, that they’ll write and post an honest review (remember, I said ethical uses) as soon as your book listing goes live on Amazon. But those won’t show as verified purchases and you sure wish they did. You’ve got two solutions to get that verified purchase flag.

One way is, assuming you’re in KDP Select, to schedule a free day. Ask your ARC Readers to download a copy, then go through the process of editing their review to apply the verified purchase flag. Your other option is to gift these readers a copy of the book and have them go through the same process after redeeming the gift (hopefully for the book, not the gift card credit).

I suppose if you’ve got very cooperative readers you could send a gift card to half of them for the cost of the book and request them to use it to purchase a gift of your book to send to one of the readers in the other half. This idea has some potential issues due to different rules for sales tax and VAT (not to mention different sites), depending on where each of the readers lives. The work required to give adequate directions and managing the logistics of that idea might not be worth whatever money you save. However, at least in theory, it could work.

But if you send me your book as gift, I’m converting it to an Amazon gift card. Consider yourself forewarned.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage.
During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

22 thoughts on “Can You Verify That?”

    1. You’re welcome, Lynne, and thanks for the comment. (Could you check out that buying, reviewing, and then returning thing for me though?) 😀

  1. You know – I’ve come to realize something with reviews – apparently I am one of a teeny-tiny group of people who ACTUALLY read the books they review. After reading this, I went back to Amazon to see if I could edit my book to say whether or not I’d purchased it on Amazon (I didn’t purchase the book as authors are kind enough to send me a copy which I read and then remove from my library – really – I’m just honest like that!)

    Any whooo… I decided to look at one of the books I had recently reviewed – it wasn’t pretty (and that is being kind, seriously) – and saw, much to my chagrin, that this author got freakin’ glowing reviews for a, pardon my typing, F!^#$*g B^d, book. So I edited my review and put a statement at the top of it saying that I actually DID read the book and that I stand by my review 100% and if people don’t like then they can shove it! (okay, so I didn’t say shove it – but it was pretty clear)

    Incidentally, I looked for that little verified purchased box and I didn’t see it nor did I see that the other reviews of the book, which had been ‘read’ by the reviewers, stating that they actually read the book. They didn’t say they had even purchased the book anywhere – not with Amazon or anybody. They are actually friends of the author, I know because the author told me! He told me his friends and coworkers loved it and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t like it. He thought maybe I just didn’t get it. (Right – and monkeys might fly out of my butt, too!)

    AAACCCKK! It’s so frustrating. No wonder folks have a hard time taking Indie Authors seriously when lame ‘5 star’ reviews are posted all over Kingdom Come.

    I think Amazon ought to have a damn, ‘Hey, did you actually read this book?’ box instead of a ‘purchased through Amazon’ or whatever it says box!

    Geez.

    Sorry if I rambled. (I come by the rambling honestly, though and I embrace it, too!)

    1. L. Avery Brown,

      I’m a rambler myself. Some people use the verified purchase flag when a particular review seems suspicious to them as part of the decision making process as one indication of credibility. Of course, there are many reviews that won’t have the flag that are legitimate and credible. An indication that you received a free review copy in the review (which is actually a legal requirement if true) is at least one indication that the reviewer is being upfront on one thing and you know how he or she got the book.

  2. Something a reviewer can post before the review if the book hasn’t been purchased is
    Note: (Author’s name) has permission to republish my review in her marketing materials.
    This will keep Amazon from deleting the review if they change their minds again about the purchase system. It also alerts readers that it is a valid review.

      1. That’s an interesting idea, Aron. Is the idea that the author would then record what the review says just in case? Thanks for the comment.

        1. Al, what I do is copy the review with the mention, file it, just in case it goes missing. It is a legal measure that protects the right to publish a review without purchase. So far, so good for me. You just ask the reviewer if they mind adding it, and politely remind them before it goes live.

  3. I actually love that verified purchase function and if I want to really support an author I’ll buy the ebook, even if I’ve read an ARC copy. The other thing I’ve started to do is use the tweet option when I buy a book I know I’ll love – i.e. from an author or series I’ve read in the past.

    Given how many people leave 1 star reviews on books they haven’t bought or /read/ just to play nasty games with the author, I wish Amazon would take this a step further. If you want to review a book on Amazon then you should have bought the book on Amazon. That way some of the nasties might think twice about pursuing a hate campaign. Or at the very least they will end up supporting the author at the same time.

      1. AC,

        Amazon could decide to do that, but I doubt it is going to happen. They like that there are people who will review a wide range of products (we have to remember that they sell a lot more things than books) and I think those reviews help a lot in those other areas. They could change the rules or how things function for books only, but that could easily have unintended consequences.

        On consequence of requiring a purchase of the product to post a review on Amazon would be that book bloggers who are willing to post reviews that have run on their blog to other places will no longer be able to do so. I post all of mine on Amazon (.com and .uk) as well as B&N. If Amazon and B&N implemented that rule I would no longer do that. As a percentage of the Amazon reviews for a typical Indie author the percentage is probably low, but these are the reviewers who (despite not being a verified purchase) are likely to have a “Top xxx Reviewers” badge and a large number of reviews which are two things that people who decide to vet a specific review for credibility often look at.

    1. It’s deeper than that, acflory. Free books on select count as verifiable purchases so a troll can post a negative review without reading a book. I saw one comment “I haven’t reda the book but…..” and went on to give a 1 star. Amzon allowed it

      Their review system is broken.

  4. I recently had five reviews taken away from me on Amazon. There was no reason as to WHY they were taken down. All of my reviews are legit. I figured it was one of three things: Either the reviewer did not state that they received an ARC or review copy for their honest opinion when writing the review, Amazon decided I had too many ‘good’ reviews and decided to take some away for no reason, or someone complained to the Zon that my reviews were faked. Either way, the system is flawed.
    Thanks so much for this info, Al!!! I now tell reviewers who receive a free copy for a review to PLEASE state this in their review so Amazon will know how they obtained the copy.

    1. Nicole, One of the biggest legitimate complaints people have with Amazon is that they do things like this with no one having a clue why. You aren’t the only person I’ve heard of this happening to and the criteria they use to decide which reviews to target we can only guess. Of course, if they told what that was the true sock puppets would know the rules to fly under the radar. At least IMO, the flawless system isn’t something that is obtainable and some of the things they might do would be too costly to make sense.

      I have no idea how closely they look at the reviews with some of the automated things they do and I’m almost sure they automate at least some of the identification of suspicious reviews. However, one of the in their review guidelines is under the heading of “Full disclosure” and says:

      “If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that that you received the product free of charge. Reviews from the Amazon Vine™ program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary.”

      For US customers this is also a legal requirement although I’ve never heard of the FTC actually coming down on someone for not doing it. It is something anyone reviewing a free copy of a book should do, regardless, and it can’t hurt the odds of the review being left alone.

  5. Thanks for doing the research.
    One of my friends ordered ten copies of my first book for a group of friends. Lots of the ladies posted reviews but they don’t come up as verified because of this scenario.

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