amazoniconI must admit I’m an amazon-aholic I absolutely love Amazon, sending the $70 a year on Amazon Prime is probably the single best technology investment I’ve ever made. My family regular watches movies via Amazon thanks to Prime and I never pay a shipping charge on the products I order. To top that off they get here in just 2 days.

When I’m making a purchase on Amazon I typically know exactly what I’m looking for. If I’m comparative shopping though I do look towards reviews. Now common sense will tell you that when top rated reviewers give a good review you must be on to something good right?

Well a recent expose from NPR and then a write up in Business Insider may have some people second guessing the Amazon review process. NPR recently talked to Michael Erb, the number one product reviewer on Amazon.

What he also revealed was that he is part of a program called Amazon Vine. No it has nothing to do with 6 second video clips. Amazon vine is Amazon’s best of the best reviewer program. It’s an invite only program where Amazon has selected people who have not only done a lot of product reviews but who tend to have thorough reviews highlighting both bad and good.

The other thing they do though, is distribute a list of products that need to be reviewed. Business Insider reports that the Vine program reviewers get a monthly list and they have to pick two items off the list.  Amazon will ship those two products to the reviewer and then the reviewer has thirty days to submit his or her review on that product. After the product review is finished the reviewer gets to keep the product, although Amazon reserves the right to ask for the product back which prevents the products from being sold on eBay or Craigslist. Erb reports that in five years (that’s 120 products at least) he has never had to return anything.

Now don’t get me wrong there are way more normal customer reviews than the reviews from these Vine reviewers when you go to any Amazon items page. There is definitely enough information about most products to form your own opinion and then make a purchase.

As the inbound PR coordinator here, and at a few other sites over the years it’s my job to coordinate with PR folks who want their products written about or reviewed. For our readers it’s pretty much implied that a reviewed product was given to us by the manufacturer or their PR firm for the purpose of that review. While we are just kicking product reviews here at TechFaster into high gear it’s important to note that the PR companies we and I have a relationship with know that if they send junk it’s going to be called junk. We never take money or any other consideration for a product review, neither do any other review sites.

So how is this different from Amazon?

Well for starters we’re not directly selling anything. Amazon on the other hand is. Also Amazon has built up a stellar reputation over the last 15 years as not just a site but a community of sorts. There are reviewers that I see every day on Amazon and have actually either corresponded with or met in person. There are a few that I’ve become friends with who buy certain product types that I often look at our like the same kinds of books. To keep the community aspect in perspective though, it’s important to know that not all reviews are reported equally.

On that note though it’s also important to reiterate the fact that to become a Vine reviewer on Amazon they take into consideration how thorough the review is which includes reviews of products that you don’t like. The Vine reviewers, including Michael Erb, are never required to give a positive review nor are they persuaded to give positive reviews.

An Amazon employee with spoke with on condition of anonymity did say that in the review process that Erb and others participate in the manufacturers and their representatives adhere to a similar policy of ours, no review is guaranteed.