What happens when buyers don’t think product reviews are credible or accurate?
At best, they’ll pay less attention to them.
At worst, product reviews will stop impacting buying decisions.
Helpful product reviews written by Amazon customers have been the heart of the Amazon marketplace from the beginning. Amazon has no interest in seeing their well-established product review system falling by the wayside.
I spoke to Jochen Schall about this subject. He’s a former member of Amazon’s Transaction Risk Management Services/ Merchant Risk Investigation team. Jochen recently left Amazon and we discussed his contact with and knowledge of the Product Review Abuse squad. With all the recent attention focused on this subject, I wanted to get some internal insights and find out where things might be heading in terms of future seller account restrictions.
Why is there all the interest around Amazon product reviews, in your opinion?
Jochen: There were complaints internally and from management that reviews are inflated, and that sellers would get an unfair advantage over other sellers. It came down from the VP level to create the Product Review Abuse (PRA) team.
And what is the PRA team’s role?
Jochen: PRA is a unique team that’s for sure. Their intent is to make sure that items are actually reviewed by real buyers, not all the companies that sell reviews. The team started in early 2015. They’re aggressively going after reviews they deem not to be real, such as reviewing companies, people getting paid for reviews, etc. They get their info via various channels, such as internal complaints from category management or from other teams, and external complaints about ASINs that have several high reviews or ASINs that are new but have large amount of reviews. They’re going after buyer accounts associated with seller accounts that increase reviews and then shut those sellers down.
Ok and where do reports of abuse or fake reviews come from?
Jochen: That is the part I always questioned. Internally they keep track of ASINs which received a large amount of reviews in a short period of time. Also they have reports running to see what related buyer accounts are leaving a larger number of reviews. So that’s a red flag.
Are all sizes of sellers affected by this?
Jochen: I have seen a seller who had over 150 bot related buyer accounts and left reviews via those accounts. All the buyers were frauded (closed permanently) and seller was blocked for good, and the seller was not small.
What is the PRA team’s standard operating procedure with sellers?
Jochen: From what I remember (and barring any updates), sellers will get warned for abuse, and if the abuse is severe then get shut down. All associated buyer accounts will get frauded out and new ones shut down ASAP. If the buyer accounts are attached to seller accounts those sellers get removed as well.
How does category management fit into this? Sellers complain to them, and then they contact PRA internally?
Jochen: Category does whatever they can do on the reviews, and then they open tickets. Too many similar positive reviews is a sign they are fake or not legit which then boosts the ASIN rankings, which boost sales which boost revenue and so on.
Chris: My overall impression is that Amazon takes product review abuse a lot more seriously than in prior years, and devotes more team resources to keep things from getting out of control. Sellers who got away with some dubious activities in the past will not in the future as internal teams iron out processes and execute new strategies. In short, make sure you know what the policies around reviews are and beware buyer account abuse, because you could lose the ability to sell, permanently.
Read the first two parts of this interview, Why you should be worried about Account Suspensions and Amazon Customers Are Trained To Complain.