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?
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.