Competition among private label sellers using Amazon is tougher than ever, with sellers around the world jumping into the fray. As we all jockey for any advantage, it’s no wonder that some sellers ignore the rules.

Ethical Amazon sellers — we know that’s you! — need to be aware of black-hat tactics that may be used against you as you grow your business. Battling the bad guys starts with recognizing when a dirty trick violates Amazon policies.

The top seven black hat tactics used by unethical Amazon sellers:

1. Review manipulation.

2. Search manipulation.

3. Negative competitive tactics.

4. Draining competitors’ ad spend.

5. Listing gamesmanship.

6. Account manipulation.

7. Bribes of Amazon representatives.

Let’s explore each and what you can do to fight back and successfully grow your business.

1. Review manipulation

Anyone who shops Amazon frequently learns to spot fake, or at least suspicious, reviews. They praise features that aren’t part of the product, include the same cut-and-paste phrases in review after review, and may be suspiciously short.

But other review sabotage is less obvious. A competitor’s product may go from a few to hundreds of five-star reviews in a week. Or your highly rated product suddenly earns a rash of one-star reviews with vague complaints that make little sense (or can’t indicate a problem in a particular shipment). Even obvious fake reviews that are negative hurt the product rating and reduce the prominence of positive reviews.

Black-hat sellers obtain such fake reviews by paying or otherwise incentivizing shills. Review incentives are prohibited, with the exception of Amazon’s own programs, such as Amazon Vine. But incentivized reviews are posted, often via fraudulent user accounts, by people paid off-Amazon. Companies have built black-market businesses around an army of mercenary reviewers—who post positive or negative reviews simply to earn a buck (or other currency unit).

Another common related tactic is brushing. In this scam, a customer who makes an authentic purchase later receives odd, low-cost products—or empty envelopes—usually from China. The customer didn’t order this stuff. Instead, a supplier has used their information fraudulently to boost sales volumes or create fake user accounts for posting fake reviews. The shipment to the real customer merely creates fraudulent purchase records. It become so common among online marketplaces in China that they made it illegal. But there’s little to stop it here.

2. Search manipulation

It’s not that hard to mislead the A9 algorithm, since it assumes every Amazon user is a) human and b) searching for stuff they’re actually interested in. Unfortunately, neither are always true.

Unethical sellers can have humans in click farms searching, clicking, exploring item details, and adding items to lists with no intention of buying. Instead they increase click-through and engagement ratings, which boosts the product’s Amazon keyword ranking. Bots do the same work for even lower wages.

3. Negative competitive tactics

This grab-bag of bad behavior amounts to direct attacks on competitors. The attacks may be as simple as up-voting negative reviews of competitors’ products.

Or the black-hat tactic could be listing hijacking. The fraudster changes product details to gain an advantage, including driving negative reviews from your customers when what they receive doesn’t match the deceptive listing detail.

Another is a false claim of intellectual property (IP) infringement. Since Amazon tends to suspend the seller account before asking questions, counterfeit claims can cause major damage while you straighten it out. In the meantime, the black-hat competitor captures your sales and market share. At minimum, false counterfeit claims suck up time and energy you’d rather use to grow your business.

Yet another technique is to buy and return a product with, let’s face it, lies about product ingredients or components, safety, or regulatory status. Again, Amazon may suspend the product, with all the ramifications on product ranking, while you document the truth.

4. Draining competitors’ ad spend

Another name for this black-hat tactic is PPC click fraud. The fraudsters click competitors’ ads just to use up their ad budget. Secondary damages include bad data on the effectiveness of the campaign, so your future advertising success can be harmed as much as the current campaign. In the worst case, you might draw faulty conclusions about the relevance of those keywords and make listing changes that could harm the product’s Amazon keyword ranking.

5. Listing gamesmanship

These tactics start with product images that violate guidelines by including text and colorful logos on a main image to attract attention and conversions. Or putting multiple disparate products together as variations of each other, which used to combine reviews and can still be used to “slingshot” momentum from an old product to a new one. AmazonBasics themselves have used these tactics, even though Sellers can be suspended for them.

More clearly black hat is taking a discontinued product with momentum and reviews, and completely changing the listing images and description to that of a new product. This is becoming a common attack on other people’s discontinued or abandoned ASINs, especially those with lots of positive reviews.

6. Account manipulation

Many fraudsters create dozens of Amazon seller accounts, using VPNs to hide IP addresses and cover their tracks. Then, if they get caught and suspended for black hat tactics, they just switch to another of their seller accounts.

7. Bribes of Amazon representatives

As a way of greasing the wheels of commerce, favors and bribes are common in China and India. This makes it hard for Amazon to keep their large support teams there clean. Account managers and support agents have a lot of control over everything from mysterious product disappearances to the handling of support tickets. That control can be manipulated.

What you should do

Wherever there are large amounts of money at stake, marketplaces face a challenge keeping black hats at bay. There will always be people who value shortcuts over honesty, fair play, and customer service. Here are five steps you can take if their black-hat tactics are used against you:

1. Be vigilant. Monitor your products and those of competitors. Use tools to know when new reviews are posted, for instance. Make fraud monitoring part of your daily routine to help protect and grow your business.

2. Report. If you find something evil, let Amazon know with customer service tickets or seller support tickets. Contact Seller Performance or other relevant teams. If you have an account manager or other direct Amazon contacts, use them.

3. Provide details. When you can, find and include the Amazon seller ID of the black hat or the permalink of a fraudulent review.

4. Squeak. Follow up with Amazon repeatedly. Escalate fake reviews to the Product Review Abuse (PRA) managers. Enough squeaky wheels may eventually prompt Amazon to find more systemic solutions.

5. Excel. The best defense may be a powerful offense. Develop unique products, know your customers, and give them products and enhancements tailored to niche uses. The hostile sellers tend to live at the generic, low-quality end of the private-label business. Leverage the things you can do better than they can — especially customer service. Encourage happy customers to leave positive reviews to overwhelm the efforts of black hats. In addition to providing some black-hat defense, these strategies will also help you grow your business.

Learn more

Efficient Era is an all-in-one suite of AI powered tools for Amazon private sellers. Our alerts, analytics and automation will help you build your brand and protect your brand on Amazon. To learn more about Efficient Era tools, visit our website. Get a copy of Flywheels and Feedback loops: A guide to success for Successful Private Label Sellers.

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