What are Black Hat Tactics, and are they hurting your Amazon sales? As both a first and third party seller with experience driving Amazon sales for companies small and large, I have seen sales impacted by several of these techniques and have learned tactics to protect my listings.
Below I will explore what five of the most common Black Hat Tactics are, why these tactics are used, and how they can be reported. I do not endorse these tactics in any way and highly discourage anyone from doing them. I feel it is essential to discuss these tactics more publically so that Amazon takes greater action against them.
BIG 5 BLACK HAT TACTICS:
- Hiring people to leave critical reviews of another seller or competitive product and then voting those reviews as being helpful, making them the most prominent feedback seen by shoppers. Freelancers can be hired for as cheap as $5 an hour to do do this. This tactic can drive down the overall rating of a product, or influence the reviews that show up as most helpful on a detail page. Example: A product may have a 4.6-star rating with hundreds of reviews, but shoppers will first see a string of negative one-star reviews on the detail page.
Amazon implemented a Ban on Incentivized Reviews in October 2016, but this has not stopped bad actors from continuing to manipulate community reviews on Amazon. Incentivized reviews often do not show a verified purchase flag next to the reviews, but what about people who pay in full and are incentivized through other means? I have personally been offered a visa gift card that would pay for the product as well as an added bonus of $3, $5, or even $10 when leaving a 5 Star Rating for a product. Craigslist has posters offering $10 through PayPal for each $5-star review. Upwork.com has several people who offer to "upvote" reviews on Amazon.
False Trademark Infringement Claims
Amazon has a large sensitivity toward counterfeits. Some merchants are willing to game the system by filing false trademark infringement claims against competing merchants, which can push a legitimate business to be suspended in Amazon's "guilty-until-proven-innocent" vetting system. Even if the target has selling privileges reinstated, the process can take days or weeks where sales are lost and giving time to the competitor to capture the market share. A simple search on seller forums shows that this is very widespread.
Draining Ad Spend
Hiring people and using bots to repeatedly click and drain ad spends of competitive products. This can lead a brand to think that certain campaigns aren’t working and altogether stop bidding on the terms.
False Product Claims
Hiring people to buy products from competitors and then return the product, stating that it contains a banned ingredient or is a regulated product. This potentially results in a product receiving an andon cord (suppressed detail page & buy box.) Recently saw this with products being called out as having naproxen. The listing was suppressed on Black Friday and after several support tickets was reinstated 5 days later. Meanwhile, sales were lost during the most crucial time of the year.
WHY ARE THESE STILL HAPPENING?
Most of the reasoning behind why these tactics still take place on Amazon can be denoted by Amazon's monitoring and consequences found in Community Guidelines and Conditions of Use. The main reason why these tactics are still happening is the fact that there are HIGH rewards and LOW risk to sellers.
Consequences According to Community Guidelines:
"Any attempt to manipulate Community content or features, including by contributing false, misleading, or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited. If you violate our Guidelines, we may restrict your ability to use Community features, remove content, delist related products, or suspend or terminate your account. If we determine that an Amazon account has been used to engage in any form of misconduct, remittances and payments may be withheld or permanently forfeited. Misconduct may also violate state and federal laws, including the Federal Trade Commission Act, and can lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties."
Individual Consequences: Consequences for individual users is pretty light. Individual users have a low barrier to create new/fake accounts. While Amazon attempted to deter people from creating multiple accounts and leaving reviews, the only real hurdle is their policy of mandating a $50 minimum spend through an account to actually leave a review. This is putting a quick stop toll booth on a freeway with no speed limit. It's an easy hurdle to pass and isn't stopping anyone, let alone companies willing to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to push free product to people in exchange for a review. Outsourced individuals are near impossible for Amazon to track down, and there is little to no ramification to the individuals if their account gets banned.
Seller Consequences: The burden is on Amazon to prove that a seller is in violation of the terms. Thus, punishments are rare and only come when someone is blatantly rigging the system. Amazon doesn’t have a huge incentive to ban sellers. Most of these seller accounts are bringing Amazon hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in revenue. Sellers have few barriers to creating multiple seller accounts, running all of these unapproved tactics through one, while leaving the other completely pure.
This scenario reminds me of the Tour de France, where blood doping is against the rules, but the ones who are winning are doing it.
Amazon is NOT Regularly Reviewing Posted Content:
In Amazon's Conditions of Use: Under Reviews, Comments, Communications, and Other Content, Amazon specifically states that they do "not regularly review posted content."
Instead, Amazon hopes the community will monitor it for them. Amazon states this in Community Guidelines: "We encourage anyone who suspects that content manipulation is taking place or that our Guidelines are being violated in any way to notify us. We will investigate the concern thoroughly and take any appropriate actions." When you actually click on notify us, it takes you to Amazon's standard Customer Service Form Submission.
How Do We Stop Black Hats?
Amazon has put the burden on the community to monitor black hats. Use tools such as ReviewMeta to find listings with potential fake reviews (screenshot below.) Use Keepa to tell you how long a product has existed and monitor BSR.
Submit Customer Service tickets. Submit Vendor or Seller Case Support Tickets. Email your VM, SVS, CL or other contacts at Amazon.
3. Hold Amazon Accountable
Continue to follow up until the offenders are punished.
Above policies are accurate as of 12/1/2017.
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Peak season is almost upon us and with all signs pointing to it starting earlier than ever, with Christmas gifting searches now ramping up in August and September, it’s time to start preparing for peak. In this article, we’re sharing our top five tips for planning and preparing for peak season with Google Ads and the strategies required to get your Paid Search ready so you can drive success over this crucial period.
In 2021, gifting search terms started increasing in popularity in August. The general trend is that people are looking, researching and weighing their options early, so it’s best to start your Paid activity early to ensure that you’re capturing that early research traffic. This will help drive revenue alongside aiding those consumers who are in their research phase.
From 2020 to 2021, spend during Cyber Week actually only rose 2% but in the weeks leading up to it, it increased by 16%. However, Cyber Week is still the biggest period during the latter half of the year, accounting for 23% of all online spend by consumers over peak. Being prepared and starting early will help you to maximise your time during this period.
According to Google, 48% of global consumers have stopped buying or using a service due to privacy concerns. Privacy is front of mind when consumers are shopping online and we know that Google is phasing out 3rd party cookies in 2023. This is going to make it much harder to track users online and it’s something that brands need to think about this now – waiting isn’t an option.
From a Google Ads point of view, you want to ensure you have set up the Google Ads tag across your site and have enabled ‘Enhanced Conversions’, which ensures all conversions are tracked and allows you to monitor other actions such as ‘Add to Cart.’ This is relatively easy to set up, especially if you use ‘Google Tag Manager’.
It’s also vitally important that you build up your first-party data during this time as this is data you own and it can be used when targeting consumers that have provided your brand with their email address. Pattern’s own experience shows that by segmenting and using first-party data, you can see a 10% improvement in revenue and ROI.
A full-funnel approach is now more important than ever as consumers become more discerning and have more choices than ever of where to shop.
Pattern has seen success with Google Ads’ ‘Discovery Campaigns’ (image-based ads that appear on Google platforms such as Gmail and the Google app), which have driven success both from a traffic and revenue perspective.
The performance of these campaigns is significantly enhanced by adopting a segmented and nuanced approach to first-party data and incorporating these into your campaigns. Other options for a full-funnel approach include YouTube and testing bidding on keywords that are more representative of the research phase. (e.g. ‘best baby clothes’ for a baby clothes brand)
Earlier this year, Google announced that they were moving away from Smart Shopping and launched Performance Max. This is a new campaign type that incorporates features and placements from Smart Shopping but expands them onto other platforms such as Gmail but also alternative creative options, such as images and videos.
Since Google has already started automatically upgrading Smart Shopping campaigns to Performance Max, expect to see some fluctuations in the first 2 weeks following the switch over but results generally seem positive. We recommend upgrading sooner rather than later to limit any potential impact to peak period.
Peak period will be even more competitive than in 2021 and you’ll need your budgets to support this period, we recommend boosting budgets in October to start capturing that early peak traffic. As we enter November and the Cyber Period, start early and make sure you are capturing those consumers looking for early bargains, ensuring you are being nimble in your optimisations and reacting to the data that you are seeing.
Overall, peak period is vital to help drive your sales and by preparing early, you will see strong results and drive success for your brand. If you want to discuss how your brand can navigate this next peak period, contact us to discuss your options with our performance team now.
Entering the ecommerce landscape is a huge undertaking for any brand—it usually requires a large investment in resources and expertise to really be successful. Any brand can quickly get in over their heads trying to navigate the nuances of SEO, fulfillment and logistics, distribution control, listing optimization, and meeting the numerous other requirements and administrative tasks to show up well on marketplaces.
Unfortunately, because it’s so easy for third party, gray market, and unauthorized sellers to obtain and sell products online, many brands find themselves pressured to execute an ecommerce plan without the right resources to succeed on marketplaces and their other channels.
So, for brands looking to enter the ecommerce space or improve their current and future performance, it makes sense to partner with an ecommerce consultant.
Pattern’s global presence and proven success with hundreds of brands has allowed us to develop highly effective ecommerce consulting services. We can guide your brand to navigate issues both large and small in marketplaces worldwide. To maximize your ecommerce efforts, you’ll need to understand what an ecommerce consultant does and how to select one who drives the right value for your brand and products.
An ecommerce consultant is a specialist in the ecommerce space who can give you personalized guidance on how to market your products and grow their presence on digital marketplaces.
An ecommerce consultant should be able to analyze your brand, audience, category, opportunity, and current roadblocks and help you understand how to utilize your resources (or what resources are missing) to be most effective in capturing your opportunities in the ecommerce space.
Not sure how to evaluate a consultant? Here are 4 key attributes to look for as you make your choice.
At Pattern, we prioritize brand obsession for a reason—we know that a brand-centered mindset makes a crucial difference in the outcomes and results our partners achieve. So in our experience, when you begin your search for an ecommerce consultant, it’s important to look for a partner who is specialized in ecommerce, invested in the product, and passionate about helping brands build and improve their strategies. Typically, this means finding someone that consults exclusively for ecommerce marketplaces, rather than choosing a consultant who offers many different services.
It’s also important to avoid choosing a consulting partner who can’t deliver the right experience for your brand. The best indication of whether your potential consultant can do that is to review their history, data, and results with other brands. Ask if they’ve helped others in your selling category, if they’ve solved specific issues your brand is facing, and why they feel you are a good fit. The key is to leave the conversation feeling confident that you understand your consultants’ capabilities and whether or not they match up with your needs.
It’s best to pick a consultant who knows how to guide a brand onto and through multiple marketplaces worldwide. You’ll want to take a look at your long-term strategy and think about the regions and platforms you’re currently on and where you might want to take your brand in the future. If your consultant is truly great at what they do, they’ll be able to help you perform well enough with your current product roadmap that it’ll be a no-brainer to expand your presence at the right time.
The most effective partnership with an ecommerce consultant will be able to give you both recommendations and point you to solutions for making those changes in your planning, processes, and execution. Your time and money is valuable, so you want to make sure that you’re spending it as efficiently as possible as you follow your consultant’s advice. So, before you commit to an ecommerce consultant, ask about the resources and concrete solutions they typically recommend to the brands they work with.
Finding an ecommerce consultant that checks the boxes can be a difficult task. At Pattern, our entire focus and drive centers around giving brands the tools and resources they need to succeed on domestic and international ecommerce marketplaces.
With over 100 global ecommerce consultants across 10 global offices, we have the right tools to partner with brands across the world to achieve better ecommerce success. We give specialized advice, then make sure our partners have all the adequate SEO, social media, CRM, Amazon multi-channel fulfillment services, and ecommerce outsourcing services they need.
Interested in ecommerce consulting services? Set up a call here to learn what Pattern can do for your brand on global marketplaces.