The Web Retailer News Digest for May 14th, 2021

On May 1st, security researchers SafetyDetectives discovered an unprotected server, seemingly located in China, that exposed over 13 million messages. Those messages involved Amazon sellers paying customers to submit positive reviews for their products.

Over 200,000 individuals are implicated by the data leak, which demonstrates more clearly than ever before how sellers in China have generated thousands of fake reviews. All without decisive action being taken against them – until now.

Here’s how it works. The sellers send a list of products to reviewers, who then buy the products on Amazon. A few days later, 5-star reviews are submitted in accordance with the seller’s instructions – such as a minimum word count or a video review. The seller then confirms the review meets their requirements, and refunds the buyer via PayPal.

A few days after this huge fake review scheme was exposed, Amazon started suspending some of its largest Chinese sellers including Mpow, Aukey and VicTsing. To date, no reason has been given publicly for these suspensions, but Amazon swiftly followed by deleting thousands of product reviews. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith to connect the data leak with these seller suspensions.

Huge Amazon fake reviews data leak

Could it be a coincidence that over a dozen Amazon sellers based in China, who have long been accused of unethical review practices, have finally been suspended after this enormous data breach?

The combined annual sales of the suspended sellers is estimated at over a billion dollars, so this is not small change – even for Amazon. After the suspensions, Marketplace Pulse found that Amazon deleted tens of thousands of reviews for these vendor’s’ products. For example, Mpow’s Flame Bluetooth headphones went from 66,000 reviews to only 14,000. All of the suspended brands’ products are unavailable for purchase.

Fake reviews have plagued the Amazon marketplace for years, despite numerous policy changes and detection initiatives. Amazon has taken modest steps in the past such as deleting suspicious reviews, but this is the first time there has been a mass suspension of very prominent and successful selling accounts.

But the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Amazon sellers are known to use third-party services that specialize in soliciting fake reviews, and it’s common for Chinese manufacturers to operate dozens of connected accounts to sell their products. It only takes one of these service providers to have their data seized by law enforcement – or exposed in a data breach – to bring the whole shameful affair crashing down. Our guess is that is what has happened here and, frankly, it was long overdue.

Read more at SafetyDetectives and Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon news

Amazon releases first Brand Protection Report

A new Brand Protection Report published by Amazon this week says that the company blocked ten billion suspicious listings last year.

The report takes a comprehensive look at Amazon’s efforts to protect brands and keep fake products off the site. Some other highlights include:

  • Over $700 million invested, and more than 10,000 people employed, to protect against fraud and abuse.
  • Six million attempts to register selling accounts were blocked by Amazon’s verification processes. Only 6% of attempted account registrations passed verification and went on to list products for sale.
  • Two million counterfeit products in Amazon fulfillment centers were discovered and destroyed.

Amazon also established its Counterfeit Crimes Unit in the year, and initiated legal proceedings against several “bad actors”.

Read more at About Amazon and Forbes.

Automated removals for stranded inventory in EU and UK

Amazon sellers in Europe have new options for dealing with inventory stranded in Amazon’s fulfillment centers post-Brexit.

FBA sellers can now choose different automated removal settings for inventory in the UK and inventory in the EU, including disposal or the return of inventory to different addresses.

Amazon is also reducing fees for MCF (using FBA to fulfill orders from outside Amazon) in the UK. Standard fulfillment fees are reduced by up to 18% and expedited fees by up to 24%, depending on the size band.

Read more at Amazon UK Seller Forums for automated removals and MCF fee reductions.

Fulfillment center tours are back on… virtually

Amazon’s popular Fulfillment Center tours have unsurprisingly been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the company is now offering live virtual tours instead.

The one-hour virtual tours combine 360-degree footage, video, and Q&A time from Fulfillment Centers in the US and UK. They run on every weekday except Wednesdays at multiple times throughout the day.

Amazon has also released an impressive ten-minute video tour on YouTube, featuring FCs in the UK. The video explains each main area: receive, stow, pick, flow, pack, SLAM and ship. You can watch it here.

Virtual tours are also available in German, and are coming in the future in Czech, French, Italian, Polish and Spanish.

Read more at Amazon Virtual FC Tours: US and UK.

Prime Day postponed in India and Canada

Amazon’s annual Prime Day sale event will not take place in India and Canada this June, due to increasing COVID-19 infections in those countries.

It is possible that Prime Day will take place later in the year, but no new date has been announced at the time of writing.

In India, online retail is estimated to have grown by 40% in 2020 despite retailers being forced to ship only essential items for almost three months. India’s Prime Day took place in August last year, earlier than other countries where it was delayed to October.

In Canada, the postponement of Prime Day is reportedly taking place to protect Amazon employees. Four Fulfillment Centers in Canada have been partially or fully shut down in recent weeks, due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Read more at The Economic Times and Canadian Grocer.

Other news

eBay ends the PowerSeller program

eBay’s original scheme to recognize the best sellers on the marketplace, PowerSeller, is being disbanded.

Before the final shut down, sellers can download a special certificate of their PowerSeller status from eBay. The Top Rated Seller program, eBay’s current scheme for leading sellers, will continue to run.

The PowerSeller program ceased to have any tangible benefits several years ago, but remained in existence as a badge of honor.

Read more at Value Added Resource.

Etsy unveils new advertising tools

Handmade marketplaces Etsy has made improvements to the Etsy Ads dashboard to give sellers more control over their ad campaigns.

The changes include:

  • Click rate and ROAS (return on ad spend) is now shown for each listing being advertised.
  • Redesigned dashboard to provide easier access to stats.
  • New toggle control to easily start and stop ads.

Read more at Etsy.

Fulfillment costs are on the rise

A new report based on a survey of over 600 third-party fulfillment service providers includes a number of useful insights for online sellers.

The study found that fulfillment costs are rising, with almost 70% of companies increasing their prices in 2020 and 61% putting up fees in 2021. Average pick and pack fees for B2C fulfillment stand at $3.13 in 2021.

On the positive side, average shipping discounts have also increased to 19% for ground services and 25% for express shipping.

The survey also asked about performance metrics, contract terms, storage costs, and the fees for customer services including account management, receiving and returns.


Webinars in the week ahead

For everyone

May 18: How to grow your business with cross-border selling (Linnworks).

May 19: AMZ Teardown: Product Listings that Beat the Competition (SellerLabs).

May 20: eBay seller check-in for May (eBay).

Various dates: Amazon advertising’s global webinar program rolls on with 20+ webinars scheduled, covering Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, reporting, optimization and tips (Amazon).

For US sellers

May 17: Amazon account health (Amazon).

May 19: Amazon A+ Content (Amazon).

May 19-20: The 2021 Direct-to-Consumer Summit (Tinuiti).

For UK sellers

May 17-21: Tamebay Live sponsored by eBay (Tamebay).

May 20: How to use paid ads to sell internationally (DIT).

And finally…

eBay now sells digital art that anyone can copy, at exorbitant prices

eBay has leaped upon the latest blockchain craze for non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The awkwardly-named system allows people to buy and sell ownership of digital items, such as graphics and videos, without any physical item actually being traded. Other people can still view the item (for free if it has been published online) in just the same way as the “real” owner. Effectively, it’s just a record that you own something. Virtually, of course.

NFTs are selling like exceptionally expensive hot cakes, in a speculative bubble that makes Bitcoin look sedate. In March, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey “sold” his first ever tweet for $2.5 million and a collage of 5,000 daily artworks by Beeple was “sold” by Christie’s for $69 million.

If you are interested in owning something without actually owning it, current offers on eBay include a virtual pack of baseball cards for $10,000, a virtual comic cover for $8,000 and some virtual images of a Delorean for $5,000.

Some sellers have gone to extreme lengths to alert buyers to the fact that they are buying, well, nothing. The seller of the virtual pack of baseball cards mentioned above includes the text “This is NOT a physical item” four times in the item description:

eBay listing for NFT
An eBay listing for a physical item. Oh wait, maybe it’s not.

To drive home their point, this eBay listing for an uber-modern form of exchange uses Comic Sans in bright red and blue. Animated GIFs made a comeback, so why not Comic Sans?

So there it is. Get your wax wallet open, pull out $10,000 of virtual cash, and throw it on the pretend table for an imaginary pack of five trading cards. Any takers?

Read more at The Verge.


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