Season 1, Episode 113

Dealing with Attacks as we head into Q4

Q4 in the ecommerce world is a period of intense competition, especially on the Amazon marketplace. With increased sales opportunities, it’s also the time where brands face a heightened risk of attacks from competitors using black hat tactics. From fake negative reviews to counterfeit claims, businesses need to be vigilant against these unscrupulous strategies that can damage their reputation and sales.

In this episode, Chris and Leah dive deep into the current landscape of these attacks, the importance of reporting, and the nuances of dealing with Amazon’s systems and support teams.

Show Notes

Transcript

Chris: [00:00:00] Hey everybody, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions. I’m Chris McCabe, your co- host here with Leah McHugh, and we’re coming back from a mini hiatus where we didn’t record a podcast. Coming back in force, talking Q4, talking about things to keep an eye out for, things to avoid, things to prevent in terms of sabotage from competitors and black hat sellers.

Unfortunately, we’re still, six, seven, eight years after our first conversation about this, we’re still talking about it, but in a different way, which is unscrupulous sellers using various tactics to undermine their competition. Could be fake negative reviews, could be fake safety complaints, intellectual property or infringement claims, you name it, it happens in Q4.

And I’d like to kind of just run through some, I guess you’d say, tips for things to keep an eye out for, and things to know how to report, right? Because we’re still seeing sellers just opening cases with seller support and hoping for the best, right? [00:01:00]

Leah: Well, yeah, and there’s kind of two issues there. One, support can’t really do anything. So, not really useful to the seller. But two, when you’re reporting it to support, it doesn’t actually get to the abuse teams. And I’ve actually had conversations with other teams at Amazon where they’re not even aware of the prevalence of some of these abuse tactics because they never get to the teams that are actually responsible for enforcing it.

People just open support cases and then just give up. And so the team’s responsible for trying to even combat this don’t even necessarily know that it’s a problem if nobody’s reporting it correctly.

Chris: They don’t see it and most sellers still don’t understand that there are worth worthwhile ways of reporting abuse and there are worthless ways.

So if you get nothing out of today’s podcast. Worthwhile, worthless. Don’t do the worthless. Amazon won’t even notice it. Right?

Leah: Yeah, although sometimes I do like to start with the worthless just to be able to reference it in the worthwhile [00:02:00] avenues because a lot of times the worthless avenues are actually the ones that Amazon are telling you to take.

So I like to be able to be like, I did what you told me to do and it didn’t work. So

Chris: I know. We used to advise that.

Leah: I mean, I don’t like wait around for it to work, but just like to have it there so I can reference it. Because also you can be like still haven’t had anything on that case that you told me to open up.

Chris: That’s like, that’s probably not going to, in this day and age, even people at Amazon know if they have a candid conversation with you, that that’s not going to work, or that no one will see it, or that no one will care about it. And anyone saying differently is not facing the reality. So, what’s the starting point?

Leah: No, I just like to give them those metrics, because Amazon is metric focused and if anybody at any point looks into the KPIs and they’re like “Hey, this doesn’t work 98% of the times” then maybe, I still have optimism that maybe one day it will be improved.

Chris: Right. well stop being optimistic. [00:03:00] Let’s focus on what you do first.

Leah: Got it.

Chris: Right. Let’s start with the starting point, I suppose. Documentation. Document everything that’s going on from an early stage. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t make guesses. Don’t cast about on the seller forums looking for an identical situation, which may or may not compare with yours.

Treat yourself like you’re being Attacked or manipulated or in some way abused in a unique case. It’s good to know trends. I’m not saying ignore trends, but understand that you need to document everything that’s happening to you and only you before you start making blanket assumptions about

“this is happening to all these other people I’ve seen”. Amazon may not agree that your situation is analogous to theirs, right?

Leah: Yeah, absolutely. And also, I mean, these attackers do change up their tactics, so.

Chris: Yeah, of course.

Leah: It just may not, even be the same thing. And I [00:04:00] think that is where a lot of sellers struggle, is it abuse, or did the seller make a mistake, or is there a technical glitch? It can be difficult to tell. And actually that’s where documenting all of this stuff can also come in handy. Not just in what you’re reporting, but also to be able to see trends. So if you’re consistently having weird things happen the first time, maybe it’s technical glitch, but the second time or the third time, maybe that requires a deeper investigation. And if you’re documenting it from the beginning, it’s a lot easier to see those patterns.

Chris: Honestly, if you think it’s a trend, just ask us. We can tell you very quickly whether or not we’ve seen 10 or 12 or 20 or 30 of them in a row over the course of a weekend or a week. Seller forums asking support. Calling and asking account health. Sometimes they’ll deny that something’s happening when they know what’s happening. Again, you know take with a grain of salt anything they tell you. They might actually tell you [00:05:00] that they’ve had six, seven, eight conversations in a row about the same thing. I don’t think it’s likely. I think you want to keep track of any strange looking orders, obvious fake reviews, tracking the reviewers themselves, any private messaging you get as well. Anything you can use as a thread that they could potentially pull on, you might have to motivate them to pull on the thread, but you can’t just make an allegation of sabotage. You have to start them off, give them a little kickstart without using your feet, and get them on the right path because you don’t want to give Amazon investigators, even abuse prevention teams, an excuse to say, “Oh, I don’t need to pay attention to this.”,

“Oh, I don’t need to work on this.”,

“I don’t need to read this.”,

“It’s too long.”,

“I have a headache.”,

“I’m tired.”

Don’t give them any excuses like that. And again, don’t open cases with support thinking that you’ve taken care of the problem. Don’t call account health reps saying, “We need to escalate this.”,

“We [00:06:00] need you to contact the abuse prevention teams for us.”,

I mean, do that if you have lots of extra spare time. Do not count on that.

Leah: Well, yeah, because also, usually they can’t, and even when they say they can, often it doesn’t actually happen.

Chris: Now, you’re the brand registry. I hate using the term guru, but an expert is such an abused term in the Amazon space.

So, you’re fluent in brand registry to the point that you could give some tips in terms of, do you go there for a second or third? And if so, what do you say?

Leah: Yeah. So I think the issue with brand registry is that a lot of brand owners just go to brand registry for everything, and brand registry isn’t everything.

And to be honest, I actually try to avoid going through brand registry as much as possible because generally they are kind of a black hole when you do send them this information. There are certain things that only brand registry can fix, but I find that particularly if it’s a [00:07:00] keyword abuse issue and you’re trying to remove the abusive keywords, You actually have a much greater chance of success if somebody in the catalog team transfers the issue to brand registry, rather than you trying to email brand registry directly.

You tend to get faster responses and you tend to get better responses when it’s done through an internal transfer, rather than you sending brand registry information. I think the main issue though is that sometimes when sellers are trying to report abuse, what they actually end up doing is submitting everything as an infringement claim, when it isn’t an infringement and they’re essentially combating abuse with their own abuse, and that can get them to get caught. They’re not going to get taken seriously. And two, they can then get into trouble because they are reporting infringement that isn’t infringement, and you don’t want to risk losing access to your brand registry account, which, can happen if you incorrectly report [00:08:00] infringement. Also you are forever banned from ever enrolling a brand in brand registry if you misuse those tools.

So if you are going that route, and I mean, obviously there are legitimate cases of infringement and those should be reported via the notice claim of infringement tools, but everything that happens to your brand is an infringement. And that’s a very important distinction to make when you’re when you’re reporting this.

So, yes, I do use brand registry occasionally, but I generally try to avoid it as much as possible. And like I said, if you can get your issue transferred to brand registry from another team, it tends to work a lot better than when you just reach out to brand registry directly.

Chris: And let’s talk a little bit about monitoring listings in terms of crazy changes to the content on detail page. We’ve talked about that a lot in this podcast. Any other indicators of sabotage? Should you be asking for category listing reports, generating those yourself? Should you be reporting it to catalog? Should you report it to catalog and abuse prevention teams? What are you telling the brands in terms of compliance [00:09:00] side when it comes to listing changes?

Leah: Yeah. So, I mean, you can use the category listing reports. The only trouble with category listing reports is that, God, is it two years ago now? A while ago, Amazon changed the category listing report. So where it used to show the live information in the catalog. Now it only shows your contributions. So in terms of looking at abusive changes, the category listing report isn’t that useful, other than showing you that the changes didn’t happen from your account.

Chris: I think that was only a year ago.

Leah: Was it a year ago? Yeah, I can’t remember how long. It was pretty much as soon as I wrote an article about how to use the category listing report, they changed how it worked. But yeah, so it’s useful in showing yourself that those changes weren’t done by somebody within your own account, but I am recommending most people install listing alert software, so they get an alert whenever a change is made to [00:10:00] their listing. So they can see if somebody else is trying to attack their listing quickly, rather than once Amazon brings it to their attention or somebody on their team happens to stumble across the strange content, because often you don’t see it necessarily immediately on your end until it’s too late. So it’s useful having that alert software. And you can change it so you don’t get alert every single time cause that can get quite exhausting, but you can have, you know, just like a daily digest where it’s tracking all of your ASINs and it tells you when a change is made. So you can see somebody is trying to attack those listings because they usually do like a test run where they do a small range before they really attack.

Chris: Like back in keyword abuse, right? They they try a few before they come in with the 40 terms.

Leah: Right! Or they try to change a category on something that you maybe wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. So it’s useful having that alert software so you can see right away if something weird is happening. And yeah, you do want to work with catalog to correct the change, but you also do want to make sure that you’re reporting it to the [00:11:00] abuse teams, because like I said, otherwise they don’t even know that it’s happening. And you want to report it to also hopefully have action taken against whoever did try to attack your listing.

And if the catalog team tell you that the change was made by Amazon retail, that is most likely an attack unless you’re selling through Vendor Central because that is a known way that people attack listings, using the Vendor Central platform. But Amazon refers to it as the retail team.

Chris: So throughout Q4, we’ll be returning, especially during the peak holiday, we’ll be returning to the topic of black hat abuse, common attacks, trends in abuse that we’re seeing and black hat behavior.

But to close this conversation out, we know that a lot of people say, “This is an attack. I know who it is”, or “I can prove it’s an attack. I’ve got evidence. I’m going to sue. I’m going to get a lawyer. Lawyers are going to fly to Seattle, talk to Amazon on my behalf, or I’m going to email people in Amazon Legal, so on and so forth.”

[00:12:00] If the sabotage is severe enough to warrant legal action in terms of your lawyers are writing to attorneys in Amazon legal. You have to, first of all, if it’s intellectual property in nature, make sure you’re working with an IP attorney, not just somebody who’s, you know, spinning their wheels, making suggestions to make it sound like they know what they’re talking about.

Lots of attorneys plaguing the space doing that. But, if you have a proper legal approach and strategy, Amazon legal does have some precedent for looking at things and taking some action. What we’ve seen in our experience is that the attorneys have past contacts in Amazon legal that they’ve dealt with before on similar issues, or on issues of a similar gravity. So there’s already a relationship there. The last three or four or five brand owners that approached us that said they were going to Amazon legal told us which attorneys they were working with, and of course, my first question was, okay, did they do this before? Do [00:13:00] they have specific people that they’re writing to directly in Amazon legal?

And the answer was no, they were just going to write a letter and send it to an address that they found for Amazon legal, or send it to a generic email address. So as you can imagine, my first words of caution are don’t do that.

Leah: Yeah. I mean, well, one, it can actually take a lot longer to resolve this via the legal teams. And two, I’ve said this to people before and particularly with the type of cases that I work on, once it’s been tagged as somebody in legal has been contacted, it can be a lot harder to get any other team to take action.

Chris: Exactly. And also, if it’s poorly phrased, if there’s a wrong letter sent to the wrong person, potentially you could have done something within Amazon Legal, but you had the wrong lawyer working on it the wrong way, and you’ve completely sidelined the effort for months or a year. We hear from people, brand owners that have been attacked numerous times who didn’t [00:14:00] understand what strategy was, or they just kind of fell for their lawyer’s sales pitch about what a strategy was and it was worthless, right? And nothing happened.

Leah: Yeah.

Chris: And they actually could have made some headway. Especially if they proposed a potential arbitration case where they could argue that they had certain amount of damages, they’ve been attacked a certain number of times by the same Attacker or competitor, whoever it was the black hat seller and Amazon knew it and didn’t take enough action on it. There is a right way to do it, but unfortunately the situation is that we’re hearing from a lot of brand owners who have taken the worst absolute approach to fixing it.

Leah: Yeah, and unfortunately, if you do contact the legal team without any solid legal basis, often the response you get back, if you get any response back, if they are emailing those generic cues, often the response back is this is a final decision from our legal department. And often that decision is not the decision that you’re looking for.

So, [00:15:00] and again, like I said, once you have that. It’s difficult to get any other team within Amazon to overrule what legal has now told you.

Chris: Yeah and it may not even be final because Amazon loves to say this is the final decision at the bottom without meaning it,

Leah: we get those changed all the time, but…

Chris: But, well, with a final but before we wrap here, when it comes from Amazon Legal, it can be a little bit more final than from other teams.

And a lot of people… Trying to force through IP claims the wrong way, or reporting abuse the wrong way, lobbying for brand gating, whatever it might be, don’t seem to understand that yet. And we’re coming to the end of 2023. And I want to make sure that after years and years of seeing these nightmares from people and brands who are self sabotaging, we want to make sure that you are not one of those brands and that you’re not going to take one of these approaches because, I won’t say it’s a road to ruin, but it’s a road to being very unhappy during the worst time of the year to be unhappy.

Is that [00:16:00] fair to say?

Leah: Yeah. It’s sort of a roundabout way of saying it, but yeah.

Chris: I love roundabout ways of saying things. So perfect for this podcast. Well, thanks again for listening. Seller Performance Solutions we’ll have another wonderful podcast in the very near future. And yes, Q4 is right around the corner.

So keep an eye on things. If anything weird, strange, or hard to explain is happening and you want to show us feel free, otherwise we will talk to you then. Thanks, Leah.

Leah: Thanks, Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe

 

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