The problem of fake positive or negative Amazon product reviews left by parties doing their best to game the system and undermine competitors continues to grow unfettered. I spoke with seller Mike Hart about the challenges he and other sellers face when dealing with black hatters overloading his product reviews with as much negativity as possible. Since not everyone adores the sound of my voice or has time to watch and listen to a 15-minute video interview, here’s a summary of what we’ve discussed.
This crucial problem impacts hundreds if not thousands of Amazon sellers on a daily basis. Mike discussed this sales-killing nightmare with Spencer Soper of Bloomberg as part of an interview published last November about sellers manipulating Amazon’s product reviews.
Many black hat sellers precisely choose when they attack now, expecting investigators not to act while your listings tank. If you do complain to Amazon, attackers depend on those reports falling on deaf ears. This past Cyber Monday, Mike noted two tactics. One was the influx of fake Amazon product reviews, and the other included the onset of several new buyer accounts or bot accounts all within the same amount of time that boosted his bad reviews. Customers soon lost confidence in the quality of his products and sales went down. With lower sales, conversion rates decrease rapidly. Of course, your search rank then goes way, way down, further reducing your sales.
What has changed over recent months in terms of who is doing this, and what exactly they’re doing?
Mike believes it was easier to report sellers for this back in 2013-2014 and there was a higher expectation that Amazon teams would try to stop the abuse. He believed they were tracking upvoting of negatives and responded more often before this practice became an everyday attack strategy.
Is part of that problem because Amazon’s teams have too many of these to go through, or do they even understand what you’re showing them? Does it seem like they simply won’t take the time to look?
Mike presented his case clearly and well, and the people who read it over at Bloomberg understood what he was talking about. Unlike Amazon internal teams who read this material hourly, Bloomberg might be a bit less intimately familiar with all the moving parts. Mike and I agreed on one crucial point: This kind of abuse has to be demonstrated clearly to policy teams if you have any chance of effective enforcement. He added that teams he’s talked to wouldn’t put anything in writing back to him. In fact, he further elaborated, “Amazon’s current policy is not to take action on this” based on his conversations. But will that be the end of the story? Not if proper escalation avenues are attempted and additional teams contacted, including the very teams involved in abuse prevention.
What exactly should you show Amazon as proof?
Mike archived images of the listings and gathered up screenshots, “lots of screenshots” as he emphasized to me during the interview. He wanted someone, anyone at Amazon to answer this question: How did his product turn so suddenly from good reviews to one-star reviews? He walked away feeling like his time was wasted, but he had to try to pursue his attacker, given the incredible review damage. To add insult to injury, his Seller Support cases were closed on him. Support then sent him to Customer Service (!?) without explanation. As I pointed out, there’s no reason on earth to send a seller there unless they were trying to get rid of him. This matter is for policy and abuse prevention teams to review, not anyone else.
I pressed Mike for some details about what he sent. Were the screenshots too many and the textual explanations of what went on where too few? Did he send long written summaries or one pagers that an investigator can read in a minute or two? How were the screenshots attached? Were they hard to read or view? You can never tempt Amazon investigators to click past, move on. They’ll jump at that chance every time.
Mike answered that he wrote out a full but not overly long text to explain what the screenshots contained. Having reviewed them myself, I know he highlighted the crucial details.
Ultimately, all sellers depend on Amazon’s policy teams to take these matters seriously and come through for you. The devil’s in the details, as they say. Abuse reports must be specific yet somehow easy to review. It’s a delicate balance I deal with regularly in the course of working on escalations.
A big part of what my company is doing to help sellers with this wide-ranging abuse is to reach out to internal management teams the right way.
I asked if he had any interactions with Strategic Account Managers (SAMs) or Category management. But aside from a friend’s sister who works there, none replied with any degree of real interest in solving the problems. Once the story ran, many said their hands were tied too much to help.
I responded that category relationships pay off for things like this. Category management and SAMs are not hired and paid by Amazon to help you run interference on policy abuse reports. They are there to help Amazon grow categories, like providing more selection and more SKUs while maintaining prices buyers will find appealing. Help them with that, first, by showing off your growth and overall strong performance. Once they consider you a growing (and compliant) player in the game, they are more likely to help you with this sort of problem down the road. I can’t think of a single category manager who lacks the incentive to protect the integrity of product reviews in that category by stopping fake Amazon product reviews.
About that article and speaking with reporters…I asked Mike what it was like to contact Bloomberg about this. How was that experience given that many sellers fear Amazon’s retribution for going public? Mike’s advice is simple. Show the evidence to anyone outside the company in a clear and honest way. Make it self-evident and readily accessible to anyone trying to understand it. I always advise sellers who are considering this path to decide if they want to be on the record or not. It certainly makes a difference for sellers to talk about issues that impact other sellers, which is one reason why a seller trade association is in the works. Sellers in the new year may be able to group together to solve similar Amazon problems.
Lastly, I asked if he thinks review abuse will fade and something else like IP infringement will rise next? He doesn’t know! So hard to predict the future, very few people can see what’s coming next. It sounds as if he’s regularly reading stories from sellers about false IP claims, and he referred to them as “particularly evil” which I found quite apt.
Indeed, new teams are forming as we speak to address the phenomenon of sellers attacking each other with various strongly worded legal threats, some even backed by cooperative law firms promising upcoming litigation.
What else will 2018 bring? Will Amazon start running down reports of fake review abuse properly, or is the problem just too large to get their collective minds around it? I’m going to find out, in short order.