How Positive Product Reviews Can Get Your Account Suspended

Another day, another way to get shut down on Amazon. I just worked on a case where a seller got his account shut down for violating product review policies on Amazon.

Turns out there was a competitor targeting his listing through positive reviews. Some of you may be aware of this tactic but others may not: essentially, the approach is to pay for positive reviews on behalf of your competitor so that it looks to Amazon like they are manipulating the product review system for their own gain.

Clever, right? Most sellers will keep track of their negative and neutral reviews, but many sellers do not keep track of their positive reviews.

Now, he did violate one policy, which is that a family friend left a review for him. Don’t do that! It’s one of the most common errors as a brand owner, don’t let friends or family write reviews of your product. It’s just too risky.

So what are some options to protect yourself from this kind of attack and what should you be looking for to see if it’s happening to you? And lastly how do you report this to Amazon?

Reconnaissance Mission

The first thing you need to do is keep track of your name and information on the web. There are a few ways to do this. At Cascadia, we keep track of our own brand name through a tool that identifies any mention of us anywhere on the web.

In the case of the client in question, they had an active antagonist who wrote blog post describing how their product was a fake and a scam. This was an attempt to get anyone searching for our client’s product to see the “this is a scam” blog post, rather than finding the actual product.

While there is unfortunately nothing stopping anyone from writing about your product online, your job as a brand owner is to stay on top of this kind of behavior.

Different categories seem to have different challenges; thus far I have only seen this kind of activity and very competitive categories such as beauty or supplements. But it’s really good to be aware of, and to get on top of managing your reputation online.

See the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

How do you stay on top of this kind of web-based activity? The first way is to set a Google alert, and these are even free!

The tool that we use to keep track of our brand name in addition to Google Alerts is Ahrefs. This allows us to track our rankings on Google for the most important keywords for our marketing goals and it also helps us keep track of competitors. All private label sellers should be doing the same thing.

In addition to keeping track of your performance on Google you should also be tracking your performance on Amazon.

Our favorite tool for keeping track of reviews has been FeedbackFive for a long time. This is because it allows easy download of information, or upload of ASIN data that does not have to be in your account. This makes it easier to track competitors as well as your own products.

With FeedbackFive you can set up a notification process so that you are emailed based on specific key criteria. In the past it was only necessary to be notified when negative reviews appeared; however, in the case of an attacker who is trying to shut down your account for review manipulation, these days you need to be tracking your positive reviews as well.

Prove the sheep is a wolf to Amazon

If you are targeted by this kind of behavior, you’ll need to be able to explain it to Amazon. They have a huge seller community and can’t stay on top of every issue on the platform.

The simplest way to report this kind of violation is to summarize your research, including web addresses pointing to the actual reviews, and any other relevant information.

For example in a situation that I recently worked on, the person who had written a negative website review had peppered the post with his product pictures, links to the Amazon page, and other not-so-subtle advertisements, so it was very easy to see that the purpose of the review was to advertise his own product.

One general comment: if someone wants to write a negative review of your product on a website that they create, that is their own business. It is unfortunate that this is an issue faced by some sellers, but the truth is that a product must stand on its own regardless of these kinds of reviews.

With that said, it is extremely helpful to keep track of these things in case someone decides to take the fight on to Amazon.com, and into the reviews community.

This is the behavior that I think is completely inappropriate, not to mention against TOS, so the competitor knows perfectly well they’re not just affecting your potential sales, but are putting your entire account at risk.

Because Amazon has so little of a sense of humor about product review manipulation, it is deeply damaging to a fellow seller to attempt to manipulate another seller’s account . If someone maligns your product on another website, you can just write your own blog post and compete with them in Google rankings as well, or you can explain why their review is inaccurate or incomplete etc. But there is no such fairness when dealing with Amazon.  

In our client’s case, their account was shut down at the height of the Christmas selling season. Anyone who deliberately does that to another seller needs to seriously reconsider their life choices.

One last note regarding product review manipulation on Amazon: while our seller was a victim of an unscrupulous competitor who took his fight for market dominance onto Amazon, our client was not entirely blameless in that his review request follow up email specifically said that he wanted 5 star reviews or the customer could email him. This is a clear violation of Amazon’s TOS.

You cannot be seen to be trying to manipulate the product review solicitation process.

Amazon is the new Enclosures

Okay, I can’t resist a random historical pun, especially given the wolf/sheep metaphor. Just as enclosures changed England and displaced many existing families and business, so too has Amazon changed the face of retail, and there’s no going back.

In a world where offline retail is becoming smaller and smaller, and the ruins of shopping malls football fields long provide an eerie backdrop for artistic photographers, success on Amazon has become more and more important to many brands across the globe.

Brands who have long been successful offline are now learning that they have a Brave New World to learn about in which on one side competitors have created entire websites just to write negative reviews of their competitors, and on the other side, competitors are actively trying to sabotage their competitor standings on Amazon, arguably one of the most important business properties any retail company now has access to.

Companies in this situation can certainly be forgiven for believing that Amazon should be doing more to protect them in this situation.

The reality is that Amazon truly does care about the fairness of its platform, and Amazon employees are committed to fixing any problems that occur as a result of unfair competitive behavior; however, it is a company run by and sold by humans… and humans make mistakes.

Defending Your Interests

If you are struggling with what seems to be unfair competition, you can use the “Report A Violation” option in the Contact Us form in Seller Central.

Don’t assume that because you’re getting good reviews that are unverified that it’s a good thing – you could be the target of this wolf in sheep’s clothing brand of competitor attack.

I advise all brands, even those who do not actively sell on Amazon, to have Amazon Brand Registry in place and Amazon Seller accounts to protect their both their brand and their interests on Amazon.

You cannot rely on Amazon to do it for you; the marketplace is primarily self service.

If you are not sure Amazon’s terms are being violated, then please contact us so we can help you figure it out.

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About the Author
I got my first job at Amazon because of my German language skills from my Master’s in History. Take that, people who said I’d never get a good job with my liberal arts degree! I soon learned that I’m not good at taking orders and started my MBA coursework at Seattle University.

After more than seven years at Amazon in Fraud/Transaction Risk and Product Compliance & Sustainability, I left to spend more time with my husband and two beautiful children and launch my own business. Unfortunately, I thought I needed more stability and went back to Amazon while my talented and capable husband led the company from December 2016 to June 2017. But Amazon no longer fit me, or I didn't fit it anymore. I decided stability was overrated and I am so grateful to be back doing what I love!

In my not significant free time, I do fiber crafts such as spinning, crocheting, and embroidery, and I have been in a community band since 2009, playing French Horn, Trombone, or Euphonium depending on the band’s needs that season.

6 thoughts on “How Positive Product Reviews Can Get Your Account Suspended

  1. Hi
    I have a question. Up until now it seemed that doing primotional 80% or 90% off giveaways is acceptable, even as stated by Amazon. They are after all making this feature available. However, even if you as the seller are doing these giveaways and are NOT asking for reviews and you dont know who is buying your discounted products, some of those people may leave you positive reviews and those reviews will be unverified. Of course there is a chance you could get a bad review too but my point is you cant control what they do, good review or bad review. They are like normal customers only that they are getting a discount. So how does amazon even know which accounts are being manipulated and which are not? Is it by the number of positive reviews in a short time? I fear now they may be taking it too far to the other extreme where even giveaways may be risky.

    Martha

    • One thing to remember about Amazon is that just because one team lets you do something doesn’t mean another team won’t penalize you for it. Case in point: FBA repackaging service. It was developed to be helpful to sellers by reducing the number of items that got damaged out at the FC. However what it resulted in was a significant increase in negative customer experiences because customers were upset to receive what they perceived as a used product. Never assume that because a function exists that it is entirely safe to use.

      Regarding the heavy discounts through external services, Amazon offers lightning deals for that. As much as possible, we recommend using Amazon tools to reduce the potential for future negative attention. I do understand the need for kicking off a product; just remember that’s now how Amazon does it. They prefer to use Vine Voice to launch, then occasional discounts, plus lightning deals to sell products. Anything beyond that, and you’re skirting the lines of what Amazon wants to see.

  2. How do I report a seller who is using such tactics and actually have someone do something about the tactics. I have blatant proof of prohibited activities and have sent multiple emails to anyone that will listen and nada. I get the same stupid boilerplate response everytime. Whether it be community review or seller performance the result is the same, it seems they blindly adhere to the policy without applying a shred of common sense. For instance the seller in question uses the same people to leave multiple unverified reviews on every single branded item in his/her catalog. They could not make it anymore obvious yet Amazon sits twiddling it’s thumbs. Any advice?

    • Hi John, the way that you inform Amazon of this is critical to your success in getting them to listen. The biggest mistake I see reporters make is not using the actual URLs of the Reviews or Profiles of the reviewers. Everyone at Amazon works hard, and they’re not going to spend time chasing down your bogeyman – you have to make the case clear and easy for them to follow.

      Something interesting I saw recently on the forums is that a lot of items are prohibited from having unverified reviews left. I’m curious if this is a function of Brand Registry – there’s a question on it that asks whether you distribute outside of Amazon. I’m wondering if registered brands that don’t distribute aren’t eligible for unverified reviews (under the assumption that there shouldn’t be any).

  3. I still didn’t understand the issue, so someone wrote positive reviews about a product and it got the seller in trouble because? How do you “make it look” like the competitor “paid” for the reviews?

    Anyway I disagree that Amazon gives a rip about the fairness of the platform. They are about as money hungry as the black hat sellers.
    I had a competitor buy ALL of my product when I first started, ripped up all the boxes, tools screws out of box, and then returned every single ONE! The competitor emailed me and said they were doing it. I had to refund all of the $, then pay for Amazon to ship all my non sellable product back to me, then they shut down my account due to “high returns” and negative review. I lost about $2500, it’s been about 10 months. Have spent about 24 hours with Amazon, sent them the email from the competitor and their statement, and Amazon refunded me $17…… wow. And that was after emailing Jeff Bezos and his supposed email. Yeah right like he actually reads those! So if you want a competitor out, just buy all their product and then return it and Amazon won’t care.

    • Hi Eric, the positive reviews were clearly unverified and purchased, and so it looked as though the reviews were faked and of course, as they were 5 stars, it appeared as though the seller themselves did it to help themselves.

      I’m really sorry that the above happened to you. 🙁 Amazon employees do make mistakes, as every human does, but I can assure you that my old colleagues do genuinely care about the fairness of the platform. It’s simply hard to police and manage such a large quantity of products and large quantity of sellers.

      Jeff does read them occasionally. 🙂 Possibly less than he used to. But they do all get routed to the correct departments for handling.

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