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.
Find relevant content to accelerate your ecommerce business. Stay on top of industry trends and best practices.
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.
If you’re interested in expanding your brand internationally, you’re probably familiar with Tmall. Tmall is Asia-Pacific’s (APAC) largest marketplace, and indisputably the biggest ecommerce powerhouse in the world. It represents a huge opportunity for many brands, but entering the space is also a big challenge to take on.
At Pattern, we recommend brands looking to enter international markets should first focus on dialing in their domestic presence. Once you’re satisfied that your brand is well-represented and optimized locally, you’re ready to think about tackling new regions, like APAC, and launching on marketplaces like Tmall. Our top advice for entering Tmall is to understand and strategize around its three most important metrics: service, delivery, and content.
Service, delivery, and content ratings are the three elements that make up Tmall’s Detailed Seller Rating (DSR) score. Each component is scored on a scale of 1-5 that is displayed publicly on your brand’s Tmall flagship store page. This is meant to help consumers decide whether or not to purchase your products.
DSR scores are important because they’re highly influential in driving conversions—customers see DSRs as a way to quickly understand if a brand is trustworthy and worth buying from. They also matter quite a bit to Tmall itself—they monitor these scores and will take action to close flagship stores with low scores.
Let’s go over each element of the DSR score and some steps you’ll need to take to achieve high ratings.
Service is a huge ecommerce component in APAC marketplaces. In most other regions, product listings are static, and consumers use content and reviews to make a decision about what to purchase. On Tmall, consumers want to interact with your brand and test its validity before buying—each transaction takes at least one human interaction to convert.
So, to get a great service rating, you’ll need to have a large, established customer service team dedicated to Tmall sales that can offer real, human touchpoints and very fast response times. To get an idea of the speed your agents should be capable of producing, in our Tmall benchmarking exercise, 92.5% of brands’ customer service agents replied to queries via live chat within 30 seconds, 5% replied within one minute and the remaining 2.5% of brands took longer than a minute. So, look for a Trade Partner (TP) that has enough resources to compete with those numbers, support your sales, and maintain a good DSR score.
Another thing you’ll really want to focus on is a high-quality delivery experience for consumers. As in other regions around the world, Tmall consumers have high expectations for their delivery experience. In our Chinese consumer polling report that targeted consumers buying from Tmall Global, we found that 6% expected same-day delivery, 15% expected next-day delivery, and 46% expected 2-5 day delivery.They want to receive their products fast and they want the products to be undamaged and pristine upon arrival.
So, to achieve a high score for your delivery capabilities, we highly recommend partnering with a TP or ecommerce accelerator like Pattern (which serves as a TP) who has the ability to facilitate your distribution. Make sure your TP has the right infrastructure in place to support high-quality logistics experiences for all of your consumers—they should have an established, well-oiled delivery process in place and the capability to fluidly add you to their current fulfillment system.
As in every digital marketplace, content is a huge component of the decision-making process for consumers on Tmall—they can’t touch your product with their hands or see it in person before buying, so it’s important they’re empowered to make a good decision on whether or not to purchase based on the videos, images, and copy.
The goal is to make all of the content and relevant information on your flagship site easily-accessible—consumers should be able to visit your page and make a decision about whether or not to buy without navigating to a new site/page and taking their conversions with them. Images with text and extensive product details are a great way to do this, as well as making sure your service team can speak to all aspects of your product with any consumers (via text or chat).
As the world’s foremost brand partner for ecommerce acceleration, Pattern truly understands the significance of international expansion. With regional offices around the world, Pattern knows how to successfully launch and grow brands on Tmall and other marketplaces, with the data, insights, and marketplace intelligence to build the metrics that matter.
It’s important to have a fantastic brand presence, a knowledgeable guide, and a clear go-forward strategy for your best chance at success. With our in-country resources, expert teams, and extensive experience in growing brands around the globe, Pattern can help you get there.
Set up a call to get your international expansion strategy in motion.