Has your ecommerce business ever been the victim of dirty seller tricks? xSellco teamed up with Cynthia Stine, founder and president of eGrowth Partners to reveal the precautions you can take, whether you’re a private label brand or a reseller, to protect your Amazon store from predatory competitors.
We sat down with Cynthia to get her thoughts and advice on how sellers can protect themselves against predatory competitors using underhanded techniques.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- How to identify a competitor who’s trying to take you down
- The evidence you need to build a case for Amazon
- Different ways to reach out to Amazon to get help
A deep dive into dirty seller tricks and best practices to protect your Amazon store
xSellco: I’m really excited to get things started because this topic isn’t something that we here at xSellco have really covered in much detail at all before and I know all of you who are tuning in are interested to learn about the precautions you can and should be taking to protect your Amazon store.
Before we kick things off, I want to get a quick show of hands to get a feel for the types of sellers tuning in today. How many of you have ever been the victim of dirty seller tricks? You should see the poll on your screen where you can enter your answer, yes or no.
I just want to get a better idea of how many of you have struggled with this problem. I’ll give you a few minutes to fill out your answer and I’ll come back to it before the presentation starts off.
With that being said, here’s a rough overview of what we’ll be discussing today: after I explain a bit more about xSellco and eGrowth Partners, we’ll dive into dirty seller tricks and how to identify them, before moving onto best practices to guard your business.
For those of you tuning in who might not be familiar with xSellco, we are a connected e-commerce platform that helps online sellers manage support, feedback and pricing in one place.
And now I’d like to introduce Cynthia, who will tell us a bit more about herself and eGrowth Partners.
Cynthia: Hi, my name is Cynthia Stine and I’m a seller myself. I’ve been selling since 2010, but my primary focus now is eGrowth Partners and helping sellers get back on the platform, negotiate problems with Amazon and basically try to understand what Amazon is doing, because it’s very confusing and it changes all the time.
A couple of years ago, I wrote the book Suspension Prevention to help explain why Amazon does the things that it does. That’s a little bit of my background. I’ve been doing this since 2014 and now we have a worldwide team that helps us with Amazon suspensions and reinstatements.
xSellco: It’s no secret that Amazon is a competitive marketplace, but some sellers take it too far with unfair business practices—and I’m not talking about undercutting on price to win the Buy Box.
Some sellers will stop at nothing to shoot down their competitors, resorting to antics such as false claims, fake reviews, stolen trademarks and more.
Remember the poll question I asked you earlier? Well I have the results! Sixty-three percent of you have been the victim of dirty seller tricks such as the ones I just listed out. So clearly you signed up for this webinar because you want to avoid it happening again.
And the rest of you must have registered because you want to protect your Amazon store from it ever happening in the first place.
Cynthia: I love this quote, it definitely talks about what’s happened with the sellers community. When I first started talking about dirty seller tricks in 2015 people didn’t really want to hear about and they didn’t want to do anything about it.
But the thing is, as a community, we’re the only ones who can. We all know that Amazon isn’t going to jump in and help us or at least not very much so I just put this up as a reminder that not only is it hurting sellers but it will continue if we do nothing.
The sellers that I’m talking about in this case are very deliberate, they know what they’re doing is wrong, they’re targeting competitors and others. They know what they’re doing is against the rules and they don’t care.
Their philosophy is that basically as long as it makes a profit, it’s fair game. Yes, we’d all like to make money but that is actually not how we do business. That’s not how Amazon wants us to do business.
But it’s not how we’d like to do business because competing head-to-head is one thing but having someone torpedo you in the head is a completely separate thing.
The slickest dirty seller tricks today
I will also say if you were wondering where the dirty sellers are coming from, there are plenty of homegrown dirty sellers. I know people like to talk about the Chinese and there definitely are a greater proportion of bad actors from China. But we also have a lot of them coming from India and there are quite a few coming right from here, from the Western world as it were.
It really is about mindset more than geography and here are some of the tricks I’m going to talk about today:
This is where your competitors are filing false claims against you—bogus policy violations—they might be bullying you to get free returns. They may be blackmailing you: you give me free shipping back or I’ll report you to Amazon. These are the sort of people who will buy your product just to say it’s inauthentic. Those are basically false claims.
What’s interesting about this is we do know that people manipulate the platform and they pay money to have good reviews put on their products, right? They also pay someone to put a review on your product and what’s been interesting about it is the latest trick, they used to have people buy your product and claim it was the worst thing ever, it blew up, it hurt me, it’s cheap crappy plastic, one star.
But they stopped doing that and now they’ve gotten smarter and now the common trick is that they’ll leave a 5-star review on your products, but they’ll make sure it looks really fake. So they want to trigger the Amazon algorithm and make it look really fake and make it look like you are manipulating the platform. Now I tell people we have to look out for not only negative reviews but 5-star reviews as well.
Brand registry 2.0 take down
Ever since Brand Registry launched the proliferation of bullying and dirty seller tricks has just been insane. I’m going to go into that because Brand Registry is a great tool and Amazon had good intentions but with so many things there’s unintended consequences and people have found out how to manipulate it almost from day one.
This is a fairly new trick that we’re seeing and it’s sort of a combo with Brand Registry but this trick was already being done before Brand Registry even came about.
If you’re using a common trademark for your private-label products and you have not registered it with the USPTO, you should run and do it now because what they’re doing—and we’ve seen this a lot—is they’re registering your trademark at the USPTO. Then when they get the trademark, they go into Brand Registry, they kick you out and they kick you off your listing and your product because now they own the trademark.
I’ve seen it so egregiously done that a part of the process is that the patent office wants to see the product, right? They’ve literally ordered products from the company that they’re stealing from and sent it to the USPTO as their own. Now, you may say that’s criminal and it in fact is, but a lot of them are getting away with it. So that is a particularly horrible trick and we’re seeing it more and more.
There’s a couple of ways this plays out. Usually they’re using multiple accounts, usually against terms of service and they’re using this to force or lower prices to where you can’t compete or they’re trying to squeeze you out of the first page so when a search is done the buyer might see four or five offers above the fold and doesn’t realize that they’re all the same company.
I got the name of this from Amazon itself from my contact inside Amazon because he said “it’s like we’re playing whack-a-mole” because as hard as we hit another one pops up. A lot of you are familiar with it—it was used a lot by the Chinese and used by others as well where they would pop up on your listing and sell product and might do it in the dead of night when you’re sleeping and then they would disappear.
They’d steal sales from you but even worse they would take your product because people of course would be unhappy and put up all these negative reviews and they weren’t even buying the product from you, they were buying a product from these whack-a-moles.
Here’s what Amazon watches out for:
So here’s how a lot of these tricks work. We all know that Amazon is a pattern beast. The algorithm or algorithms—I call it the robot because I think that way—are looking for patterns of behavior and that’s how they do most of their suspensions. They see a certain pattern, you get taken down and you have to write an appeal. So the dirty actors are playing on this. They know that Amazon responds to patterns and a lot of these tricks rely on creating a pattern that’s not in your favor.
One of the other things that trigger the algorithm is velocity. If you’re going along and your sales are fine, your buyers are happy, then all of a sudden they see a bunch of returns or a bunch of buyer complaints, or suddenly you’re getting infringement after infringement or too many product reviews in a short amount of time—anywhere from a few days to a month—they’re looking at how the seller has done historically and what’s happening now.
That’s why some people can get suspended with relatively few complaints or there’s nothing wrong with the product that the percentage of complaints is above 2 percent it’s bad. If they’re all close together and they’re saying the same thing, Amazon freaks out and it triggers a suspension based on velocity. So these are the two primary mechanisms that a lot of these tricks rely on.
Here is the other leg of the three-legged stool. Of course, they use trigger keywords. These are the kind of words that will trigger the Amazon algorithm and they use them. So “it’s used,” “it’s dirty,” “I got a headache,” “I’m sick”. For example “it started smoking.” Electrical items are very susceptible to that. Even if they just say, “I was afraid,” “I was nervous,” “I was scared and thought I should send the product back.” “Not as described,” as in I expected one thing and I got another. Inauthentic, fake, counterfeit.
These trigger keywords are the foundation and algorithm. When they start to see these words showing up, either from your buyers or from reviews that are left on a product, boom.
Best practices to guard your business
#1. Protect your Amazon store against false claims
False claims and other lies are the hardest one for my clients. It makes them so frustrated because they know the other guy is lying. They know it’s not a real buyer complaint. And yet, they know it’s virtually impossible to prove that to Amazon. Anyone hates to have someone lie about them. So this is definitely the one that makes my clients freak out more than anything because it is so patently false. Now, they’re having to deal with it.
How can you defend yourself against someone who is lying about you? I forgot to mention that a lot of times people report these violations. Like your competitor will report it through the policy violation or they might report it through an email—there’s a couple of ways they might report you.
Here are three ways to defend yourself. The most important one is listening to your buyers. I have always suggested to people that they look at their returns report every week, sorted by ASIN, look at what people are saying and I would look at it for a 60-day rolling. That way you can see if anything new is coming up, like a whole bunch of people saying something about a particular product.
If you start getting complaints in your buyer-seller messages, your seller feedback, product feedback, you should be looking there constantly because that’s where you’ll start to see the bad actors behave and then you can detect patterns and also you can get a feel for what’s real and what’s not.
I mean, you may legitimately have a problem with your product, so when you see buyers and they seem to have real complaints and they’re all very similar. I had a client who sells blankets which you think would be a very straightforward product, not subject to product quality problems, but in fact, she did.
Her first thought was that maybe it was a competitor but in reality, it wasn’t. Her blankets would fall apart when people would wash them. I said that I’m sorry but you actually have a product quality problem and you need to fix it. This is not a competitor. So that’s one way you can defend yourself.
Also, I would say you should fix your vulnerabilities. A lot of my clients are vulnerable to these dirty seller tricks because they’re not prepared to defend themselves. In other words, an inauthentic complaint is the current complaint of choice because so many sellers are not buying their products from authentic sources.
So if you’re doing RA or OA, if you’re drop shipping, if you’re buying from liquidators. When Amazon says they’d like to see an invoice from you for that product, you’re not ready, they may not accept your receipt or if you even have the receipt.
I have a client right now who didn’t keep her receipts, and I don’t know how I’m going to help her because really, Amazon needs a receipt. One of the ways you can prepare yourself is to fix your vulnerabilities, look at where you’re buying your inventory, make sure that you can back it up that it’s authentic.
You know, if it’s an electronic product, make sure that the product you are selling has all the certifications and is on the box, UL certified and things like that because then what happens if you get this frivolous complaint, you can produce the paperwork and your listing will get turned right back on.
While it will be annoying, it’s not going to hurt you. The sellers who get really hurt by this are the ones who don’t have the ability to produce these documents. It can take weeks for us to get them back. If we get them back at all on the ASINs.
Then we have to use Amazon keywords. To defend yourself in the first place, you’ve got to look at through Seller Central and you got to build a case. By the way, you have to defend yourself first with Amazon and work that out. You can’t say “I think it’s a dirty seller.” They don’t care and they won’t listen to that. They want you to take responsibility for fixing a problem.
Once you’re back, let’s say you produce your invoices and you’re pretty sure this is a pattern of behavior then you can build a case and file your own claim through Seller Central. What I find from my clients, things that are very helpful is if in the claim they’re filing they’re using Amazon’s own terms of service.
A keyword that works is a “strawman purchase” which means that the person bought it but never intended to use it themselves. They just bought it to take you out or to give you a negative return. A “strawman purchase” is a good one if that’s what you suspect is happening, particularly if they’re all being returned, but even if they’re not being returned the products that these people bought.
If you suspect that they only bought it for the purpose of being able to leave horrible reviews. Things like “fake reviewer,” “price fixing,” “blackmail threat,” if the behavior creates a “bad buyer experience,” these keywords will get Amazon’s attention because they’re a pattern beast.
You may not know who the dirty seller is. Most of the time my clients have an idea but they’re not sure; it could be this guy or this guy as we always compete on this product. You don’t have to know who it is. In fact, it’s often better if you don’t, or even if you do, do not say so to Amazon.
What we usually have our clients say is something along the lines of “I’m really not sure who this is, I see this pattern of behavior which seems very concerning to me, I’m concerned it’s creating a bad buyer experience.” And then we ask Amazon to look into it.
In that way, it doesn’t come across as if you’re having some sort of finger-pointing war. It comes off as if you’re really looking for help. If you can provide any sort of evidence of what the pattern is that you’re seeing, that’s really helpful.
I will say that sometimes the bad actors are really stupid. They will send their threats through the buyer-seller platform to my clients and that makes it a whole lot easier, like I did receive a message from a guy who told me to stop selling this product or else. It always cracks me up when people send their threats through the buyer-seller platform because Amazon knows exactly who’s at the other end of that email.
xSellco: We have a question from someone in the audience. He says he has a situation where Amazon removed two of his ASINs. He sent them the invoice and those were reinstated but after this, Amazon removed 10 more ASINs. Even though he provided invoices from the same company, Amazon is saying the supplier cannot be verified and they want to know what they should do?
Cynthia: What you want to do in that case is to try and help Amazon verify that supplier. What that means is that they called the supplier and they were not able to get anyone to verify these invoices. So you can attack it from two different directions.
One is if you can get a letter of authorization from the company that says yes, we sold these product on these dates, these invoice numbers, that might do the trick. But more and more, Amazon is actually picking up the phone and calling. What happens is they will get to your manufacturer or distributor who you buy from and the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know what to do. They’ll say they want to verify these invoices and they’ll be like “I don’t know.”
What you can do is provide Amazon with who they should ask for when they call and try make it so that they can verify the invoices. That’s why this is happening—they literally can’t verify the supplier because they can’t get someone on the phone. Or, as happened with a client of mine, they called the manufacturer and the receptionist had no idea what to do and boom. It was very frustrating but had Amazon just asked of the name of the person that my client gave them, he was actually waiting for their call.
xSellco: Here’s another question: can anything be done about competitor listing that copy your bullet points word for word, character for character?
Cynthia: Yes! That is copyright infringement. We can talk about that a little bit more when we get to Brand Registry because I will explain how it works and it will make more sense. If you own the brand and brand-register it, then you can take those people down like that. It’s actually very easy. That’s the really nice thing about Brand Registry 2.0.
Moving on, there are other ways that we escalate our issues if Seller Central doesn’t work. These are two emails you can try. If you have a copyright claim, you can also try to file through legal and there’s an online form on Amazon. You have to Google search it but it’s for people who are not brand-registered but have a copyright complaint, trademark complaint and they can use that form.
To send it to Amazon takes a little longer because somebody is going to review it before they do anything about it. That’s an option for people who are not brand-registered.
Then there’s always file a lawsuit. Nobody likes me to say that but I can tell you filing a lawsuit is incredibly effective against bad actors. We have an IP attorney to work with and I have just seen some amazing things that he’s able to resolve or fix immediately just by filing a lawsuit with the federal court. It’s expensive but depending on what you’re losing every day to these bad actors and how important this product or brand is to you, it can be well worth it.
#2. Determine if your reviews are real or fake
If you see a review and you’re thinking it looks fake or I don’t know if that’s a real 5-star review and you start to wonder if somebody playing this trick on me, there’s a couple of things you can do. There are some giveaways: bad spelling, broken English, another trick is if all of the reviews are cut and paste the same. Those you can be pretty sure were bought, paid for and deliberate, especially if they’re 5-star reviews, right?
What you can do is click through to the profile of the reviewer. A lot of times, they use names, they’re not using their real names on their review but if you click through on the reviewer, you can see other reviews that they have left and if you can detect a pattern.
For example, if they have only reviewed your products and hate all of your products or if they seem to do a ton of 5-star reviews for brands and all they seem to do is 5-star reviews, these are possible triggers. We have on our team a list of criteria that we use to look at a review to help us determine which ones are fake and which ones aren’t but that is the most important one: to look at the other reviews that they have left.
If you suspect that they are fake and they’re trying to hurt you, you can tell Amazon. “I’ve looked at the other reviews, this is what I saw.” Again, Amazon is a pattern beast, so if there’s a pattern and you can articulate it and make them see it for themselves, they’re much more likely to respond.
Other ways that work too: you’ll also see things like up and down voting, where Amazon will show you the top positive review and top critical review. There are people who will go into their competitors’ products, they will upvote the critical review and downvote the positive review.
The only way you can detect this is if you happen to be paying attention to it and you notice a huge jump or spike in the up and down-voting. Let’s say on a normal day there would be one or two people who would up or downvote any of the reviews and then all of sudden you’re getting 30, 40, 50, and you see if jumping, like a hundred people have upvoted a critical review in one day. Those are the kind of things that are a definite pattern.
Even if you don’t see it, like you’re not sure but it just seems like there has been a huge change, that is something you can ask Amazon to look into through the reporter violation function in Seller Central. This is definitely against terms of service. If Amazon detects this kind of behavior and they don’t think it’s just normal, they will act.
Friends and family purchases: now we know we’re not allowed ask our friends and family to review our own products but what happens is a competitor may have their friends and family purchase your product and then leave negative reviews.
Sometimes it’s incredibly obvious, like for example, if you have a bunch of orders from people who all have the same last name or who all come from the same town, one after another. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it’s not. Again, if this is something you suspect and you ask Amazon to look into it, they can tell because they know how these people are connected to each other.
That’s one thing to keep in mind. That’s why a lot of times I will say to my clients “give the pattern, give why you’re suspicious and let Amazon look into it because Amazon has information you don’t.”
Then, of course, we talked about the broken English and all that. “What can you do if they leave you a bad review saying it’s fake, can you get it removed?” If you can prove that the review is a bad actor, they may take down all of the reviewer’s reviews across the platform if they are in fact writing reviews for money or targeting certain competitors. If all they do is buy supplements from you and three other supplement companies, things like that, sometimes they will remove the reviewer.
But if you go to Amazon and you say I want this review removed, I think it’s fake, they won’t remove it. It’s very frustrating to my clients because Amazon will leave a review up even if they know it’s fake or you’ve told them or it’s obvious that it’s fake. What you have to do is report the reviewer as a bad actor and if that works, like I said, not only will that review be removed but so will all the reviews that person has ever written.
Sometimes you just have to be persistent. You could also try other means, try and report it to the legal team or you could try to report it through firstname.lastname@example.org—that’s another email you can try. If you have the documentation you can show, for example, this reviewer left 124 reviews in one day and things like that. They really do care about review manipulation.
I would also say when you write your complaint, be sure you’re using the keywords that I mentioned in the previous slide and speaking Amazon’s language and again, try to be as neutral as possible because they may think that you’re the bad actor.
#3. Protect your Amazon store by improving your seller feedback
xSellco: Bad product reviews are always a nuisance, especially fake ones. Not only can 1-star ratings impact a potential customer’s opinion of your product, they could also drag down a product’s average rating and in turn its Amazon ranking.
With that being said, and with so many evil sellers out there, it’s crucial that you focus on improving one of your most valuable assets—and that’s your Amazon seller feedback rating.
Remember, product reviews can be made by anyone with an Amazon account—even if they didn’t actually purchase that product. But seller feedback requires a recent purchase from a specific seller and it has a massive effect on who wins the Buy Box. So if you focus on improving yours it will help you win the Buy Box more often and grow your business.
Amazon claims that sellers receive feedback for 10 to 20 percent of their orders but that ratio does vary a lot, even going as low as 1 percent for some sellers, especially those who are not actively reaching out to buyers for a review.
If that sounds like you, if you’re one of those sellers who just hopes for the best on the feedback front, you’re missing out on a chance to immediately improve both your reputation and your Buy Box chances because the volume and rating of your seller feedback are two variables that Amazon gives strong weight to when allocating Buy Box ownership.
Your seller feedback score is based on all the customer feedback you have received throughout your seller history. That’s all positive, neutral and negative feedback. And the most recent comments have the biggest impact on your score. Anything from 96 to 99 percent is considered a good score but if you can maintain a 100 percent seller feedback score then you will see Buy Box ownership go up considerably.
But again, you need to be actively reaching out to buyers for feedback. So that means either sending a message to every one of your customers, asking them to leave you feedback, or you could use automated software to help you generate positive feedback quickly.
xSellco Feedback software helps Amazon sellers improve their scores by automating selective feedback requests that target happy customers. Basically, our software helps to increase your seller rating by asking for feedback on the right products, from the right customers, at the right time.
You can target orders by SKU, product type, on-time delivery, destination, and much more. That way you’re only sending feedback requests to customers that you’re confident received the best possible experience. And because it’s automated, you can achieve a great reputation with minimal effort.
Fake reviews and false claims are not the only dirty tricks pulled by evil sellers on their competitors. Something that I’m sure sellers will be surprised to learn is that while Brand Registry can offer some protection to private-label sellers, it doesn’t give complete control over a listing, just increased authority. Cynthia is going to go into more detail about this.
#4. Shield your brand from competitors with Brand Registry
Cynthia: A brand registers themselves, they prove that they have live trademarks and with the USPTO if they’re selling on the U.S. platform. Obviously, if you’re selling in the U.K., you want to have live trademarks from the U.K.
Basically, they set it up, they’re allowed to fix their listings, they can spread content but they can also take down sellers who they claim are infringing on their copyright. Copyright being the text, pictures and their trademarks. Trademarks are how the product is used.
I will give you an example of a brand that did this correctly. It was Velcro, they came out on the platform a few months ago and they took down a lot of sellers and listings because they were incorrectly using the word “velcro” in the listing even though this was not a Velcro product. For example, my tennis shoe has a Velcro fastener or something like that. And so now you’re going to see a lot of hook and loop claims because that’s what you’re going to have to do if you can’t say Velcro.
That’s when it works the way it’s supposed to, but of course, we’re going to talk about when it doesn’t work that way. So here are some of the problems that we’ve seen. We’ve seen that brands are using Brand Registry to enforce MAP (minimum advertised price) which they’re not supposed to do so they’re going after sellers whose only crime is that they dare sell the product under MAP.
You have marauding lawyers as well who are actually taking registered trademarks, registering them in Brand Registry even though they don’t personally own them, they’re doing it on behalf of the company and then taking down sellers. But remember, the brand doesn’t even see this is happening. You have lots of bogus infringement claims, again, as a way to take people off a listing but they are not actually infringing.
I talked earlier about where they might register your trademark and pose as a brand owner, harassment, they’re sending emails to you saying they’re going to take you down and if you don’t comply, they’re going to use Brand Registry to take you out.
Through Brand Registry, they can also go eight years back so this is why a lot of sellers who maybe even never sold a product but maybe they listed it once or thought they were going to sell it or they haven’t sold this product in years are being taken down for trademark because U.S law says that for infringement you can go eight years back. Amazon pulls up for them every single person or company who’s ever sold that product or ever listed it. As you can imagine, this is a real cluster and it has caused a lot of issues.
#5. Guard your brand’s trademark
So you have brands behaving badly but as you know brands are very often other sellers who have a private-label product. We’re not necessarily talking about Fisher-Price behaving badly, it’s usually a private-label brand. Though we have seen some brand on brand stuff too. You might suddenly see a very popular product starts getting bad reviews and then all of a sudden a new competitor launches, right?
It’s really damaging to the competitiveness of a platform. I’ve seen this very case right now where literally somebody did a takedown representing a brand and the brand knew nothing about it, they didn’t even know they were registered on Brand Registry 2.0 and they might not be because people can also still file complaints through the legal mechanism and not go through Brand Registry.
Imagine this, that all the sellers get taken down of one of the hottest product of the month because it’s this season and they’re going to get taken down during peak sales season and the brand had nothing to do with it so that’s what I call brand on brand.
We have brands, like I was saying, to enforce MAP. Sellers are confused, they don’t know what’s real and what’s bluff. I wanted to let you know what Amazon’s rules are about this is that MAP must be enforced offline. Amazon is not responsible for brand distribution problems, the first sale doctrine is still valid. If a brand is filing MAP claims by MAP, Amazon will restrict their enforcement rights.
#6. Spot price fixing on Amazon
A stealth account is basically an account that’s against terms of service. Someone has figured out how to have two, three or four accounts without Amazon knowing about it. That’s the first thing, they’re violating terms of service.
Then they use these accounts like a game of three-card monte. They use these accounts to help each other build up a product line, squeeze out the competition. So highly coordinated pricing and I’m going to show you in more detail how this works in a second and when somebody does a search, they only products they see are owned by the same person and you’ll see multiple brands for the exact product.
I’ve seen this with batteries, I’ve seen this with jewelry in particular because you usually don’t have a brand with the jewelry, you have a lot of jewelry that looks alike, right? Amazon isn’t detecting that it truly is a duplicate listing but it really is.
You may see four or five brands but they’re all owned by one company. Sometimes they’ll use photoshopped images, they’ll photoshop their logo on a product, like this with the batteries, and so they’re selling four or five different brands but it’s the same battery and they’ve literally just changed the picture. Part of this trick uses penny sales so I’m going to show you how that works.
What happens is, you have one main account that you want to keep clean. You want this to be the account that you sell this product at a higher price, the listing is built up and has lots of sales and lots of reviews. And so, you use the other three accounts, in this case, to manipulate that. You may have an account that creates the actual listing but doesn’t actually sell on it. You may have an account that sells the products for a penny.
By the way, the three accounts will change in their roles. I looked at one case that was so sophisticated and they were alternating which account would make the listing, which account would sell the product for a penny, which account would be asking for the reviews—it was insane!
They usually use social media to drive the link and drive people to their products as well. Their profile on Pinterest and other places has the appearance of non-bias, it looks like a normal poster. You don’t realize that it is actually the brand that is doing this. The cool thing is they can post on their pin, multiple pieces of jewelry from different brands which makes it looks like it’s not a biased experience except they own all of those brands.
Eventually, the additional accounts usually get caught or they may get tossed out by Amazon but they always have this one main account which is kept clean. After there’s a lot of interest in the product and the product is coming up high on keyword searches, they come in at a higher price and they sell it.
It’s a really sophisticated marketing tool designed to keep other sellers from selling their brand or their product and they also, of course, engage in price fixing. If you go out and see that three brands are offering a product for $5 and all the competitors are offering it for $10, you’re going to buy one of the $5 ones, right? The point is, is that the money all going to one owner.
#7. Protect your Amazon store from fake negative reviews
This is one that a lot of people are probably familiar with because there was just an explosion of it a couple of years ago. A lot of Chinese sellers are popping up on your listings at odd hours. The product that they’re offering is at the wrong delivery times or it is never delivered which is outright theft or something is delivered and it’s a fake or a completely different product.
Then there are lots of bad reviews, buyers complain, your product is torpedoed. Then is launched against you and they come with lots of 5-star reviews. With the Chinese sellers, in particular, it’s really hard to catch them when they do these review groups but they’ll basically say if you review my product, I’ll review yours. They offer incentives: I need 10 people to leave 5-star reviews about this product, here’s what I want you to say.
It’s very blatant, they do it all in WeChat so it’s extremely difficult to be tracked by Amazon because WeChat is not like Facebook. You can’t join groups. You can only be invited by somebody who is already in it. It’s very hard for Amazon to infiltrate these groups.
You’ll see these guys pop up almost overnight. They’ve got all these reviews. They appear out of nowhere, that’s why I call it whack-a-mole because even though Amazon is desperately trying to stamp this out and they really are, believe me when I say that, they are. The fact is, they just pop up again and again. A lot of these sellers who have multiple accounts, they don’t even care when an account goes down because they may have a hundred more. Literally.
The good news is that Amazon is familiar with this and if you’re having this problem and complain about it, they will help you. If you’re having a lot of counterfeit issues, products are never being delivered. Definitely, they are taking action, they are helping sellers. Brand Registry helps us a lot. Again, if you’re distribution channel is clean like you only sell on Amazon, you know these sellers are counterfeit, it’s pretty easy relatively speaking, to take them out. It’s easier than it used to be.
Protect your Amazon store with the right solution
To fight back, you need to report it. You can use Brand Registry if you’re the brand owner or you can go to the legal or abuse email. You can go through Seller Central as well, although it is much more effective if you’re using Brand Registry 2.0 to file your complaint.
A lot of my clients have a lot of trouble distinguishing when they sell private-label products between themselves and the seller and themselves as the brand owner but Amazon sees you as two completely different people basically. You’ll be more effective if you use Brand Registry to file your complaint.
You can use cease and desist letters. I do find that a lot of the Chinese sellers will go away with cease and desist, largely because they don’t want to deal with it. Sometimes that’s really effective to get rid of the whack-a-moles.
Certainly infringement claims work. Infringement includes counterfeit claims. People don’t realize that counterfeit is a version of trademark infringement. Definitely inauthentic and counterfeit can help you in this case and again do it through Brand Registry 2.0.
You can also file a lawsuit against these guys and we have had clients that have had to do it to get rid of them. They’ll file it in federal court because intellectual property is a federal report problem, not the state or anything like that.
If you’re in a lawsuit you can, in certain circumstances, subpoena Amazon. In that case, they will give you the name of the person behind the storefront. So, there are things that you can do, legally and on your own to fight back.
xSellco: For copyright infringement, do you recommend sending a cease and desist to the offender first before filing a claim through Brand Registry or what would be your order of events there?
Cynthia: If you have a cease and desist ready to go, yes, because a number of people will comply here and that’s simple. But if you’re already registered in Brand Registry, you can do a takedown very easily as well.
It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you do a takedown from Brand Registry you can have the people who want you to do a retraction “please, I need to get back on the platform.” Then you can say, “fine, sign this cease and desist agreement.” They promise to never sell that product again. You then file the retraction. Everybody’s happy.
But this may not be as effective on some of these Chinese sellers who have so many accounts but you’ve just got to try everything you can go. Again, it’s hard to go after a foreign seller. Try the cease and desist first and if it doesn’t work, take them down through Brand Registry.
Do test buys of their product. Show Amazon that it’s counterfeit, fake or a knockoff. In fact, I will tell people who are having a lot of trouble with fake knockoffs and things like that being sold that while Amazon doesn’t do brand gating, if you’re having a legitimately documented problem, like you’ve done the test buys, you can show the problem and really are having a problem, it’s not just that you’re ticked off that somebody else is selling their product on your listing, but that they really are infringing.
One of the things that Amazon still does is that they will do a partial block where they will not allow any new sellers to sell on your listing. This helps a lot with the people who are doing pop-ups, out every week, every time Amazon takes them down, they’re up again the next day.
This will prevent those guys from being on your account so if you’re having those problems, definitely ask through Seller Support “Can you at least block the new sellers from listing on my account?” Eventually, they will. Sometimes they do it right away, sometimes you have to keep being persistent, showing them evidence that you’re having a problem and they will still do it.
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