Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Amazon Vine - Scam, Spam, or Just Badly-ran?

Note: To those who keep commenting on this post (long after it was made) as if it were my last word on Amazon Vine, there is an updated post here. Also, please note this post's date before making snarky comments. It reflects the state of the Vine very early on. If you can do a Google search to find the original post, you should have the grey matter to search for subsequent posts in this blog to make sure you're seeing the whole picture.

Two months ago, my husband and I were invited to join "Amazon Vine". The program was sold to us as an opportunity to get products early and for free in return for reviews. Since I've written about 4 pages worth of Amazon product reviews, I figured this may have been the reason we were chosen.

If you read the banner above (click it for a larger version), it says "Free stuff, spotlight reviews, envious friends. It doesn't get much better than this." I'm beginning to think the only thing my friends are going to feel is that I'm an incredible sucker for believing this program is in any way operated as it has been represented.

In the first two newsletters, attempts to request every single product are met with this message:

In the case of the first newsletter, I assumed my waiting 2 days to ask had something to do with it. Amazon sent out out an e-mail a couple of weeks later saying they'd "underestimated demand" and things would be better in the future. I heard the second newsletter hit my in box with a "ding" and figured I'd try again much more rapidly. Lo and behold, every single item was out of stock within 2 minutes of my having received the message.

The Vine message boards attribute this to a "disconnect" problem. This is a pretty absurd notion as it shouldn't be the case that delayed messages (the claim is 8 hours) should cause a complete shut-out in getting a chance to receive and review items. If the program is always going to be survival of the fastest, then it is essentially useless to anyone who isn't monitoring their e-mail constantly for the message's arrival and clicking madly to get first crack at items to review. This would hardly have anything to do with receiving quality reviews for the products and would have everything to do with a mad grab for anything and everything you can get because it's "free" (you do pay postage, or so I'm told...I can't know for sure since I've never seen any item available).

It's my guess that this is a clever means of spamming customers and that my husband and I were chosen not because I made a lot of reviews but rather because we've bought a lot of items. The newsletters encourage you to focus carefully and develop an interest in items because, in theory, you should read the description and choose only to receive items you personally want enough to inspect, read, or watch carefully and write a thoughtful review about. If you pay that much attention to an item and don't get it, there's probably an increased chance that you will buy it or something similar in the future.

I have no doubt that Amazon is giving away some free products and that there are a very small percentage of people on the Vine newsletter who receive items. However, I believe their mailing list is knowingly far, far greater than the number of items available for review. While the Vine program claims to be exclusive, I sincerely doubt that it's sampling a small pool or people who have written helpful or thoughtful reviews in the hopes of stimulating more of the same.

I'm going to see if the program gets any better but I have very low expectations. One of the reasons I feel this way besides a natural cynicism about any business failing to take advantage of an opportunity to advertise under the guise of "free stuff" is that the program currently allows people to get up to three items to review each. Those who get in are getting a lot and those of us who don't are getting squat for the time we waste with the newsletter. If the program really wanted to encourage reviews, it'd limit each person to one item that they'd spend more time with and write careful reviews of.

Personally, this is damaging my regard for Amazon and making it less likely that I'll choose to purchase from them in the future. I don't like being played for a sucker. Even if I give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk this up to poor organization of the program, it doesn't necessarily inspire confidence in them as a business. Either way, Amazon loses and they go down in my estimation. Since my husband and I live in Japan, Amazon has always been a good way to get access to books, DVDs, and CDs we can't get here and to get them more cheaply. Up until now, we've been content to buy from them but this experience is convincing me to take more of my business to Deep Discount DVD even when prices are roughly equivalent (in the past, when all things were equal, I chose Amazon).

At this point, I think that the tag-line for the Vine program ought to be, "It doesn't get more pointless than this."


Marcia said...

Shari, thanks so much for visiting over on the clutter control freak blog and for your excellent comment

Organising Queen,
Clutter Control Freak and
Marcia's take charge blog

Anonymous said...

I really can't understand your gripe. Is it that items do not remain available indefinitely until you're ready to log on and do your "free shopping"? The Vine information sent to all members clearly stated the items become available on the 15th of the month. In September, notification was posted on the Vine Members Page stating that there was a delay and the items would become available and posted on the 18th at 12:01 PST. People who read the notice and logged on, up to ten hours after the items became available, had a decent selection.

One other point, the terms and conditions also said the program is only available for items shipped within the US. So, if you're in Japan, how can you receive Vine items at all?

Shari said...

The Vine newsletter said that those receiving it would be notified by e-mail when the items were available. The fact that the newsletter wasn't sent until the 18th would seem to indicate they were late. If they were available on the 15th, why weren't the newsletters sent out at that time? Could it be they were intentionally delayed because they knew they didn't have enough for the size of the mailing list but they wanted to advertise to us anyway? We all know e-mail is virtually instantaneous and getting messages out doesn't take that long, even if there are a lot of addresses.

As for me being in Japan, the Vine states they will send items to the first U.S. shipping address in your account information. For someone who has an eye open for exactly when the freebies are around so she/he can be first in line for a mad grab, you seem to have missed that little detail. Items for me aren't "free" because I still have to have them re-shipped to me. They're at a somewhat reduced cost since shipping from the U.S. for individuals (the items would be sent to my family) is higher than for companies. I was honestly interested in writing the reviews and being helpful rather than trying to gobble up free junk with both hands. It's an odd concept, I know, but it's true.

I'm not the only one who has had this problem (if you see what the vine forums had to say).

I think my "gripe" is pretty clear. It tends to be lost on those who "got theirs" or are working for the company.

nk2 said...

I have similar problems with LibraryThing's Early Reviewer system - I have yet to receive anything from it. But so what? It doesn't damage my feelings about LibraryThing. The main reasons I go there are still valid. It's not as if signing up for the program somehow damaged the rest of the service the site provides. It sounded cool, but it didn't work out. I've let it go.

Anonymous said...

Exporting the products is against Amazon Vine rules, so hopefully they'll kick you off. That means more for the rest of us, who are grateful for a freebie.

(Amazon pay the postage on goods shipped to legitimate Vine participants, so it really is totally free!)

Bet you don't pay the duty on all those Japanese imports?

Shari said...

I guess it all depends on how you view the situation. If it's corporate conniving in order to increase sales, you've essentially been lied to in order to increase your attention level when receiving advertising. If it's just a pathetic system which is ineffective, then it's easier to just say forget about it.

This harkens back a bit to the days when Amazon showed different prices to registered customers than they did to people who hadn't logged in or registered. You may not know this but there was a time when Amazon was caught charging returning and registered customers higher prices than new visitors. They did this as a means of luring people into shopping with them then denied it when the evidence was clearly presented. Soon after a stink was made about it, they stopped doing it. Calling a company on their shady tactics is one way of getting them to end them. Just blindly accepting it ("letting it go") is a good way to continue to be manipulated, but to each their own.

I have to wonder now that I've read about other companies using similar programs (with similar results) if this is some new emerging "business tactic" that Amazon was late to the party in getting into.

Shari said...

Re: Anonymous

Sorry, but Amazon has all my personal information including my primary address and credit card information. They invited me knowing everything about me. You're simply wrong about me being unqualified or Amazon is actually blanket spamming large quantities of customers without looking at their data (lending more credence to the notion that they're using the service to advertise to people).

Also, having items sent to my parents and then having them sent to me is not "exporting". Exporting means that you are re-selling goods which I am certainly not going to do.

I pay duty on any goods sent to me from any source which qualify for such taxes so you're wrong again there. Most types of items under a certain value do not have duties applied to them. It's not something that can be avoided since the Japanese postal service applies those charges and you pay them upon delivery. They inspect goods and read customs certificates so you can't hide anything from them.

You might want to ponder the sort of soul you've got to live your life with the attitude "more for the rest of us" and to make a whole bunch of (incorrect) assumptions about other people in order to attack them from behind the veil of anonymity. It really makes it look like you're got a pretty empty and unhappy life so I rather feel sorry for you. Also, you may want to educate yourself about the way businesses and international shipping work as you appear to be uninformed.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shari,

I'm on Vine as well and have been able to get the products I've been interested in -- a few books the first time, a mouse and keyboard and a couple of books the next time, and a massage chair the third time.

I think the key is that you can't wait for the email. The email arrives several hours later than the products show up on the Vine page (, and so by the time the email shows up a lot of the products are gone. This seems to me like a situation of their underestimating demand, and of their being several bugs in the system that have yet to be fully worked out, and not a situation of deliberate deception. Maybe I'm only happy with the system because I got my stuff, but I don't think I did anything that anybody else couldn't have done.

I'm sorry it hasn't worked out for you yet. It looks like there are still lots of books and a few other things available, though -- have you still not been able to get anything?

Anonymous said...

Hi Shari,
I am a member of the Amazon vine program, since I am not a computer guy - I usually login at around 7:00 PM eastern and get some books, read them and write reviews.

I do not get any electronic stuff like GPS ..., but thats ok. Atleast I am getting something which I like (books) getting to read them for free and write - which is something which I like !

FYI, today is Dec 29th, 9 days after the amazon newsletter and you can still find 11 books out there.

Do you not think that can find atleast 1 book out of the 11 that will interest you ?


Shari said...

Hi, Sam, and thanks for your comment. For what it's worth, I've since done an updated post on this topic here:

Things have improved and I have been able to get books from them the past 2 months. Like you, I'm just happy to be able to sample books. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Petulant whining when you missed out on items because you didn't bother to read the program FAQ, then a "correction" later without any sort of apology for your poor attitude and worthless hostility when you do finally figure things out (after people here spoon-feed it to you) and get some items from the free program you opted into.

You are pathetic.

Shari said...

Dear Anonymous Rude Person,

There was an updated post which mentioned the changes and applauded Amazon for their efforts, but I guess you were too busy trolling for opportunities to exercise your misplaced hostility to bother to read any further than one very outdated post.

You need some help dealing with your need to go around insulting random strangers and short attention span. Please do everyone a favor (especially yourself), and get it.

Karyyk said...

I've also been invited, and so far, honestly, I couldn't be happier. The first couple of items that I got weren't very good (leftovers really), but the latest couple were very good. I think Amazon has fixed their early problems. Me, I'm not going to complain. If I get anything for free, it's merely a bonus.

Hopefully you'll be in on the next round of items.