Amazon Making Sellers Squeal on Product Review Abusers

Amazon Product Review Abuse

This post is by Chris McCabe, a former Amazonian and founder of ecommerceChris.com. For Amazon sellers, having their merchant account suspended means losing time and money trying to get back in business. ecommerceChris shows sellers how to keep their accounts healthy, or, if the worst should happen, how to get their account back from a suspension.

Helpful product reviews written by Amazon customers have been at 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.

An Amazon spokesperson said:

Our goal is to eliminate the incentives for sellers to engage in review abuse and shut down this ecosystem around fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation.

Some sellers have tried to take advantage Amazon’s previously inconsistent scrutiny of product review abuse. But now they’re cracking down. In 2016, I’ve seen sellers warned or suspended for:

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  • Asking friends and relatives to buy from them and leave glowing reviews, even if the buyer accounts were related and/or linkable to their seller accounts.
  • Creating new, fake buyer accounts based on past (and legitimate) buyer account information, in order to leave fresh, positive product reviews.
  • Offering incentives beyond discounted products to supposedly “independent” reviewers in exchange for automatic positive reviews.
  • Purchasing items from competitors for the purpose of leaving bad reviews, or having employees do the same.
  • Having employees purchase using their own buyer accounts for the purpose of leaving a glowing product review.
  • Using review-generating web sites or services which pay reviewers for positive reviews.
  • Creating fake email accounts in order to buy from themselves and review their own products.
  • Using Super URLs to manipulate Amazon’s search algorithm.

The Warning Notice

A warning that several sellers have received in recent days is this:

Hello,

We understand that you may have manipulated some product reviews. Sellers on Amazon.com are not allowed to manipulate ratings, feedback, or reviews.

Violations of our policies may also violate state and federal laws, including the Federal Trade Commission Act. In order to maintain customer trust and provide the best possible shopping experience, Amazon investigates sellers, vendors, and others that attempt to manipulate reviews and third parties that offer reviews in exchange for compensation. Any further violations may result in removal of your Amazon privileges or other enforcement action.

To learn more about this policy, search for “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions” in Seller Central Help and see our Anti-Manipulation Policy for Customer Reviews (https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201749630).

To talk to someone about this email, you can ask our Seller Support team to contact you (https://sellercentral.amazon.com/hz/contact-us/performance).

Sincerely,

Seller Performance Team
Amazon.com

The Suspension Notice

If you fail to heed that one warning (that you may or may not receive) then you might see this:

We recently contacted you about product review manipulation. Because you are still manipulating product reviews, you currently may not sell on Amazon.com. If you have any open orders, please ship them. You can view previous messages on the Performance Notifications page in Seller Central.

In one case I worked on, the seller received their warning months prior to the eventual suspension.

But the warning did not do the trick, somehow. They found themselves suspended because they continued to believe that upvoting nice reviews and downvoting ugly reviews fell into a “grey area” of review manipulation. It’s a black hat act, so it doesn’t.

How Does Product Review Abuse Work?

Based on information from a source close to the Product Review Abuse teams, Amazon measures not only the sheer quantity of these reviews but also the tight timeframe behind the spike in positives, how many accounts were used, and the age on those accounts. That makes this area of selling a potential minefield for many current sellers who think that their “grey area” past behaviors will somehow be grandfathered into this new reality.

In fact, Amazon reserves the right to change their minds and reverse course on a dime, and demands that every seller move right along with them in that direction. Anyone addicted to review abuse who plans to continue it, could easily find themselves on the outside looking in.

Getting Reinstated: The Review Abuse Information Request

As part of the reinstatement process, Amazon wants some sellers to name names and describe or clarify their methods of review abuse. You may have a difficult decision to make about whether or not you want to swap that information for access to the marketplace.

Are you ready to discuss the services you’ve paid for to increase positive product reviews? Are you prepared to divulge all of the methods you’ve employed to boost sales via the number of great reviews for top selling ASINs, without a guarantee of reinstatement?

To sell on Amazon.com, please reply to this message with the following information:

  1. A detailed description of all methods you used to post or obtain customer reviews that are prohibited by Amazon policies. To learn more, please see our Customer Review Creation Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines).
  2. Contact information (name, email address, website, etc.) for any third parties you engaged to obtain Prohibited Reviews.
  3. Identifying information for any customer accounts you or a third party used to post Prohibited Reviews.
  4. List of any Prohibited Reviews remaining on the Amazon site.
  5. A plan that explains how you will prevent product review manipulation in the future. Once we receive your plan, we will review it and decide whether you may sell on Amazon.com again. For help creating your plan, search for “Appeal the Removal of Selling Privileges” in Seller Central Help. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Review Moderator Amazon.com

Which methods are OK, and which are not? What tools and services can you use with confidence and security and which ones must you avoid? Therein lies the rub.

The TOS for reviews are intentionally vague so Amazon can maintain their discretion on a case by case basis. We can’t know which way Amazon will land on this in the future. For example, the policy states, “You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review.” But what is considered an “excessive number?”

Many sellers appear to be looking for concise rules to follow in terms of what can be done, what cannot, and which companies or services sellers should use (or avoid). Amazon doesn’t commit to providing lists of specific companies or services, because they reserve the right to change their minds anytime and don’t like to be hemmed in when it comes to doing so. They will state that knowing and following posted policies are up to you.

Beyond making sure you’re only offering discounts in exchange for “honest” and “unbiased” reviews of products, Amazon isn’t offering much clarification to those who ask. If you decide for yourself what remains a “grey area” based on seller forums or what you see on the site, then keep in mind that grey can turn black awfully fast, when abuse is detected and enforcement tightened.

Chris McCabe
Chris McCabe

So, What Now?

Know the TOS when deciding on your review strategy, and weigh the benefits against the risks.

As always, what Amazon tolerates today may be a lightning rod for enforcement tomorrow. Understand what “abuse” means and be wary of any services advertising easy batches of cheaply acquired reviews. Also stay away from creating several new buyer accounts for the sole purpose of inflating your positive product reviews.

Sellers who continue to play on the edges of acceptable product review behavior may find that the fun does not last very long.

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8 comments on “Amazon Making Sellers Squeal on Product Review Abusers

  1. dear,support,i have received this E-mail message from Amazon,how can i reapy it ?pls help me .

    Hello,

    We recently contacted you about product review manipulation. Because you are still manipulating product reviews, you currently may not sell on Amazon.com. If you have any open orders, please ship them.
    You can view previous messages on the Performance Notifications page in Seller Central (https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/customer-experience/summary.html). To learn more about this policy, search for “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions” in Seller Central Help.

    To sell on Amazon.com, please reply to this message with the following information:

    1. A detailed description of all methods you used to post or obtain customer reviews that are prohibited by Amazon policies. To learn more, please see our Customer Review Creation Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines).
    2. Contact information (name, email address, website, etc.) for any third parties you engaged to obtain Prohibited Reviews.
    3. Identifying information for any customer accounts you or a third party used to post Prohibited Reviews.
    4. List of any Prohibited Reviews remaining on the Amazon site.
    5. A plan that explains how you will prevent product review manipulation in the future.

    Once we receive your plan, we will review it and decide whether you may sell on Amazon.com again.

    For help creating your plan, search for “Appeal the Removal of Selling Privileges” in Seller Central Help.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,

    Seller Performance Team
    Amazon.com
    http://www.amazon.com

    1. I got the same message today. Do you mind sharing how your appeal went with them? Was your account reinstated? How long did it take, and what did you tell them in the appeal?

      I will appreciate your help!

      Thanks.

  2. I had my account suspended and tried to do all the things “by the book”. I read multiple blogs and different people’s books and still my letters were not good enough. I contacted ***** and they told me what was wrong with my letter. LOL. I was just missing 1-2 key words in every sentence. Please, everyone be very careful when making a letter to Amazon. They have only 15 seconds to scan your letter to make a decision. No-one there is even fully reading them. They are looking for the specific keywords to pop-up. Got my account reinstated within 1 week.

  3. “Our goal is to eliminate the incentives for sellers to engage in review abuse and shut down this ecosystem around fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Amazon made it SOOO much worse and it’s proliferating out of control. But they don’t care. Oh, great, just got another email from a Chinese seller wanting a fake positive review.

  4. Hi Kevin, can you cite the quote source to educate our readers?

    I think Amazon cares, but it’s an enormous problem that is tough to control. They definitely don’t like faith undermined in their internal processes, or the marketplace. They really need as much evidence of off-site schemes as possible, which can be hard to do sometimes. Nevertheless, keep at it.

    Fake positive reviews are common, of course, so the best strategy is one that involves multiple approaches, multiple queues, and rock solid info sent via escalation to the proper policy teams.

  5. Sure, I can cite the source. The quote can be found at “it’s the 2nd paragraph of the article on this page that you wrote.” Is it ok that I didn’t use MLA format?

    I believe that sarcasm was justified, no? =P

    Anyway, I don’t mean this as an insult at all, but, while I wish what you were saying was true, you sound a bit naïve.

    I started getting products at a discount in exchange for a review a couple of months before the crackdown, which was royally screwed up by Amazon. All they did was what they’re best at – maintaining the illusion that they care. They prohibited incentivized reviews, which seemed like it made sense because they were all total BS; the sellers were monitoring who gave 5 star ratings, so these selfish reviewers gave positive ratings to keep getting free junk. Personally that makes me sick. If I wrote a bogus review that duped just one person into buying a garbage product, I would hate myself. I don’t know how these sociopaths justify it. Honestly; I save screenshots when I see reviews like “I bought this because of all the good reviews but it [was garbage].”

    FYI, this is the ultra, super-abridged version; I could write a book about all of this. I loved Amazon and Amazon let it be defiled by ignoring their own ToS.

    Anyway, after reviewing a few products, I got one that was a total piece of crap, yet every other review was 5 stars and the reviewer raved like it was the cure for cancer. Then I noticed it everywhere. Even on junk I’d bought, myself. Like a cockroach trap that like 80% of the reviewers claimed was amazing (yet not one posted a photo of a single cockroach) and 20% said sucked. At the time, I figured the 20% used it wrong or didn’t have a roach problem. Now I know it’s because the 80% were full of s*** and the product is completely worthless.

    I bombarded customer service with messages about these scams, but not once did anything ever happen. Well, nothing ever happened to the perpetrators. I got treated like a criminal.

    I felt an obligation to warn people, so when I got this stuff, I always did a video review and showed people exactly what it was, for better or for worse – mostly worse. But even reviews for items that I gave 1 star and warned people against got removed by Amazon. I was banned from leaving comments (because sellers ganged up on my truthful, exposing comments and reported them as abuse) for a long time. In fact, just a few days ago I noticed I could comment, again.

    So, as I was saying, the October 3, 2016 decree, it banned incentivized reviews. Those reviews always had that stupid “I received this at a discount…” disclaimer – that’s how people knew they were worthless.

    As soon as Amazon made that idiotic decision, sellers adjusted*. Now, reviewers buy the items like normal and pay full price. Then the sellers reimburse them via PayPal. I’ve tried reporting this – notice Amazon does NOT have a simple form to report violations – I get lip service and nothing happens.

    Now the fake reviews have the verified purchase label.

    *Amazon is dumb. They advertise exactly how to game the system. When fake reviewer behavior showed patterns, Amazon told everyone what they look for. Now sellers have you use keywords and find the item in the search, rather than link directly to it. Some even try to schedule when you’ll post your review.
    But for the Chinese it doesn’t really matter cause the lifespan of their account is shorter than the time it takes for Amazon to potentially respond to all of their violations.

    I even tried making a blog, amazonisbroken.com to expose Amazon. But it took too much time away from my job search.

    I have 100s, if not 1000s of emails from these sellers offering me free stuff in exchange for reviews.

    But what upsets me the most is that my confidence in Amazon is destroyed. Everything I search for has dozens of listings for the same thing. Which one is legit? Do I even want to spend that much time looking at 50+ listings for Duracell MN1500 AA batteries to try to find the least sketchy one? No. I went to Staples, searched, and one result showed up. Just like how Amazon is supposed to be.

    You’re right that the problem is huge, but – ok, literally this second, I received this email: “Could you please hep us review this mouse today? Since there are negative review and it is really harmful to our business, and we do need your 5 star review urgency.” I don’t even have the item, they just need me to counter the honest reviews.

    Wait, I just checked. There are 78 reviews, 91% 5-star, 4% 2-star, 2% 1-star. 5 people told the truth and they’re panicking.

    I know I’m all over the place; there’s so much to say about the defilement of Amazon. But I’m just going to abruptly cut myself off as I think this is probably more than you bargained for.

    Bottom line, Amazon is a lawless bazaar. There’s no need to follow “rules.” A product listing’s fake 5-star rating is being countered by real negative ratings now that actual customers have been duped? Start over! They don’t even bother to change the pictures or text. And they don’t even remove the original. Sometimes the same seller has 3 identical listings for the same item.

    Damn, got going, again.

    Email me and I’ll send you some screenshots, if you like. Some are pretty hilarious. One, sent en masse to everyone who they refunded for buying their drone but hadn’t gotten a review from, yet, said “I have given you back, you have completed the review yet, has not received your reply, you f**k is dead?” Except there was no censorship.

  6. Well you want to contain the sarcasm a bit if you want to be taken seriously. Not sure I can understand the “naive” comment, but you’re entitled to an opinion.
    You’re certainly seeing a lack of action and reply on their side, but you may want to organize your approach better. If they think you’re drowning them with disorganized stream of consciousness thought, anger/ venting, commentary and frequent departure from your facts, they’ll mark it down as spam and ignore it. They know there’s a major problem — where are you reporting it? Exactly? Are they effective teams and queues? Or just Seller Performance?

    I think you might want to take the concise path, short and sweet.

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