This guest post was written by Kayleigh Alexandra of MicroStartups.
The Amazon Marketplace gets so much attention that any seller with any ambition can’t overlook it. Unfortunately, that level of attention makes Amazon a breeding ground for questionable tactics. If you’re concerned about how frauds and blackmailers may affect your store, you need to be aware of the following 5 black hat Amazon seller strategies:
1. Issuing False Infringement Claims
This problem has become rife across all platforms that host content, no matter the format. Protecting copyright is important, and hosts that leave infringing content up can be hit with legal action. Those who accuse infringement tend to receive the benefit of the doubt as a result.
This makes it possible for someone who wants to get their competition out of the way to spuriously report them. They may be found innocent in the end, but while the investigation is ongoing, their store will be suspended.
Amazon is slowly getting better at detecting this behavior (and taking action when it does, even suspending accounts that keep engaging in it). As long as the system is in place, though, sellers will find ways to abuse it, and it will be impossible to guard against completely. Keeping comprehensive business records will help you get cleared faster if accused.
2. Using Click Farms and Bots to Manipulate Search
Amazon pioneered the use of smart product recommendations and personalized search filtering, being one of the first online retailers to embrace machine learning. Yet this system can still be manipulated to change which recommendations show up. Using click farms and/or bots to visit Amazon and perform certain actions (e.g. searching for a set phrase, clicking on a particular item, then searching for another phrase), it’s possible to alter the results.
This is because Amazon’s system constantly analyzes user data to determine which results are the most relevant, and it can’t easily tell the difference between real users and fake users. Pay close attention to where you stand in keyword rankings. If you keep appearing below results that are clearly less relevant, report it to Amazon. (There’s no guarantee anything will happen, but it’s still worth doing.)
3. Hacking Accounts and Changing Content
This tactic can be subtle or extremely obvious. If you’re able to gain access to a seller’s account, deleting it won’t necessarily achieve much. Anyone who’s halfway prepared will have all their product information backed up in an inventory report and ready to reupload. You can also be sure they’ll make their account vastly more secure when they rebuild it.
If you sabotage their account by making alterations to the content, however, you can dampen its success for as long as they don’t notice. For example, you could replace product photos with images that are irrelevant (or even considered offensive). You could also render the descriptions nonsensical, or add ludicrous claims to mislead buyers and drive them to leave ultra-critical reviews.
For this reason, you should pay close attention to the content on your Amazon listings. If it ever changes (and you’re not responsible for it changing), then swap your password immediately and inform Amazon.
Additionally, consider whether an Amazon brand management package like something from BuyBox Experts is worth pursuing. Managing your brand is important as you start to scale on the platform.
4. Leaving Fake Product Reviews
Sadly, the review system can be manipulated. The idea is simple: if you visit your competitors’ products and give them numerous glowing fake reviews, it will appear as though they’ve been paying people to leave those reviews. This may lead them to be suspended.
Of course, the pace and quality of these reviews (typically made without purchasing anything) will often see them detected soon enough, but that’s not even the only way to go. You can also actually buy some of your competitors’ products before leaving wildly inaccurate reviews, making them much harder to take down.
When using a dedicated ecommerce store, you have a lot more control over your reviews. Modern ecommerce platforms provide access to countless review plugins and support services (each of Shopify and BigCommerce has an app marketplace, for instance), so you can limit access as needed—for instance, only allowing verified buyers to leave reviews. Amazon has no such protections (only marking verified reviews), so be mindful of this.
5. Creating Fake Inventory Listings
Amazon listing pages show all the merchants offering that product. In one sense, it’s good that anyone who stocks a product can show up in that list, no matter how new their store may be. Unfortunately, this also means it’s possible for con artists to get listed for products they don’t stock. They can then fulfill orders with counterfeit versions (or products so similar that some people may not notice the difference).
Once Amazon is provided with compelling evidence that a seller is offering a fake product, it’ll suspend or terminate the account in line with its Anti-Counterfeiting Policy. (There’s also a new initiative called Project Zero geared towards helping legitimate sellers get counterfeit products removed.) The process takes time, though—and in that time, a fraudulent seller might take some of your sales under false pretenses. Again, if you’re suspicious, let Amazon support know.
Protect Yourself Against Black Hat Amazon Strategies
There are more black hat strategies used by unscrupulous sellers on Amazon, whether to boost their own stores or hamper those of others, but these 5 are particularly frustrating. Be keenly aware of what’s happening both in your store and in the search results for the terms you’re targeting. When in doubt, point it out to support.