Turning Amazon Reviews Into Celebrity Status -- and Free Stuff

For elite status reviewers, it can be a consuming hobby, with perks.

ByAristides Pinedo-burns and Lauren Effron
February 06, 2015, 4:21 PM

— -- On any given day, Bob will come home to find two to three boxes at his front door filled with products that range from cell phone products to coffee mugs all for free.

That’s because by day, Bob, who asked that his last name not be used, is an IT specialist in Washington, D.C., but by night, he’s an Amazon celebrity.

He gained elite status on Amazon by reviewing hundreds of products over the years. Most reviewers like Bob start off small, one review here or there, but now companies send him their products for free. He said he receives about 30 products per week.

Bob is now in the “Top 5” of Amazon’s trusted reviewers and has been in what the company calls “The Reviewers Hall of Fame” for the past five years. For him, it’s more than just a hobby. He said he spends three to four hours a night reviewing products.

And Bob goes all out. He sets up photo and video shoots for his reviews and he’s not afraid to use words like “worthless” in describing products.

“It needs to be time-consuming to be a hobby,” he said. “What good is a hobby that takes 10 minutes a month?”

Mandy, who also asked that her last name not be used, is number 7 on the Amazon celebrity list and has a similar story. A political consultant and a single mom, she spends her spare time building up her review count on Amazon and she too receives dozens of free products now.

“Around Christmas time I was getting around 15 to 20 boxes a day,” she said. “It’s flattering that people [send their products] because you’re not paid for this. This is something that I do because I want to help people. I really want to help small business.”

Many of the free items Mandy said she receives range from clothing to household goods to beauty products, even jewelry. The biggest item she received was a full-sized washing machine, but she said those big ticket items are rare.

Amazon says the number of reviews doesn’t necessarily help a person’s ranking. It’s the number of helpful votes -- the little thumbs up next to every review -- that plays a bigger role in reviewers reaching Amazon’s “Reviewers Hall of Fame.”

Manufacturers hoping to cash in on these Amazon celebs shower them with goods because that golden star of approval often translates to big money.

“[Reviewers] are hugely powerful,” said PR specialist Howard Bragman. “On average they give between one and five reviews a day. So they have a lot of volume, they sell tens of millions dollars’ worth of product because again that’s how our decisions are made.”

Amazon celebrities, Bragman said, are on par with the stars of YouTube, Instagram, Vine and elsewhere online.

“It’s the same as people who have huge Twitter followings or Facebook followings or YouTube followings,” he said. “We trust this person so that person gets power by that nature.”

And while it might seem like a dream to have a closet or a garage full of free stuff, Bob says it’s not very glamorous.

“I don’t want people to know that I have no life,” he said. “It’s a reflection of how pathetic my social life has become.”

He said he’s had to answer to his wife about how much time he is spending reviewing products.

“She hates it,” he said. “She'd rather I spend time doing chores around the house or bathing than doing Amazon reviews.”

Having elite status can also make you a target. Mandy said she has received threats and in one instance she got the police involved after an Internet troll wouldn’t leave her alone.

“It was a little scary because he was so personal in the first couple of emails and then just the tone of it,” Mandy said. “I didn’t want to overreact but at the same time it’s weird when somebody is emailing you personally talking about your kid.”

But with close to a $100 billion in revenues last year, Amazon officials said they hope that these reviewers keep on offering their opinions.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events