Amazon Swindlers: How Sellers Game Amazon to Increase Sales

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Unbeknownst to international retail goliath Amazon, there are thousands of outsourced users from countries like Bangladesh and China who log onto the popular eCommerce platform with the sole purpose to make profits not off of sales of their products, but off of the platform itself.

Much like how SEO experts have been trying to use the search engine algorithms to increase the organic impressions and traffic to their website, Amazon users are employing similar tactics to take advantage of Amazon’s search algorithm. Sellers pay users abroad to open Amazon.com and repeatedly type in search terms, every time clicking the hyperlinks of goods they have been told to boost, according to individuals familiar with the operation. Amazon’s algorithms start recognizing that these goods are popular, rank them higher in the search results. The higher the ranking, the greater the prospect of sales.

The scams are utilized to try and outsmart Amazon’s automated system which ranks some 500 million products in search results, according to interviews with advisers and companies engaged in these practices, in addition to sellers who say they have been approached by such businesses. It’s among an ever-rotating wheel of tricks used to game Amazon’s algorithms. Some sellers pay off employees inside Amazon to acquire competitive information. Others hurt competitors’ listings by barraging them with overly negative or positive reviews.

The tactics are not effecting Amazon’s earnings in total, which rose 39% in the second quarter, but they threaten to undermine the integrity of one of the world’s largest web marketplaces, which collects nearly half every U.S. retail dollar spent online. An Amazon spokeswoman said in an announcement that those attempting to abuse its systems only make up a fraction of the activity on the platform.

Amazon is not the only tech giant that has dealt with bad actors in the form of bots and click farms. Twitter Inc. has lately begun clearing accounts for questionable activity from its own systems, while Facebook Inc. has rolled out new features to make it easier to determine fake pages.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other advertising programs have also faced an increase in possibly fraudulent traffic. In a recent analysis, Adobe found that about 28% of traffic across thousands of its clients’ websites showed powerful bot-like signals, directing the software company to believe that the visitors came from robots or click farms.

Fake Amazon reviews have been a problem for decades, and Amazon has improved better countermeasures to combat them. But sellers are getting more inventive, spawning an entire underground economy offering to deceive Amazon’s algorithms.

Competition has increased fierce as the amount of items on Amazon’s market is estimated to have doubled over the past five years to over 550 million, according to data-tracker Marketplace Pulse. Amazon also is pushing to expand globally by alerting makers from China and elsewhere to market direct to customers.

The amount of products on Amazon’s marketplace is estimated to have doubled over the past five years to more than 550 million, according to data-tracker Marketplace Pulse. Each time a shopper enters a search phrase, Amazon weighs a product’s characteristics including sales volume, price and Prime-membership eligibility. Additionally, it factors in aspects like the standard of verified reviews or the amount of times customers have clicked on a item.To make a review, a customer needs to have spent at least 50 more than 12 months with a valid credit or debit card, according to Amazon’s policy. A confirmed review means that the consumer bought the product on Amazon and didn’t receive it at a deep discount.

Amazon allows a few methods for boosting a merchandise in its search positions, including advertising on the website and selling at a steep discount. Sellers can also pay to have a product reviewed by a small arbitrary choice of Amazon-authorized reviewers, even though this will not ensure that the reviews will probably be favorable. But vendors say these measures can be costly, and they don’t always work.

Instead, some vendors—especially those in China, according to the people knowledgeable about the practices—are turning to other sources for assistance. For a range of approximately $30 to $180 a month, some sites guarantee a certain number of favorable reviews by providing reviewers cash and discounts as incentives, circumventing Amazon’s rules.

Many China-based Amazon employees are paid off by vendors to pull confidential seller-account stats, search-optimization suggestions and other internal information, according to people with knowledge of their operations.

Click farms that handle a large number of Amazon accounts also have proliferated. In China, as an example, some secretive businesses rent or market accounts so that merchants can use these to make purchases and leave positive reviews. To trick Amazon and improve a product’s ranking, sellers will send an empty box with a true tracking number to accomplices from the U.S., who then leave a favorable review for the item. They’ll also send knick-knacks, like cheap watches, as a way to reward individuals who allow the use of their addresses.

An Amazon spokeswoman said it decided that fewer than 1 percent of countless millions of reviews were imitation last month, and the firm has sued more than 1,000 individuals for such misuse. Experienced workers and sellers say Amazon is frequently scrubbing suspicious listings, testimonials and vendors.

In addition, Amazon has been operating with Facebook to remove groups on Facebook that encourage fake reviews, according to a person familiar with the issue. However, the tactics keep evolving, according to vendors and advisers. Sellers claim fake reviews became more prevalent after Amazon attempted to crack down on incentivized reviews in Oct. 2016, where sellers gave away or heavily discounted merchandise to solicit reviews.

Since Amazon has cracked down on bogus reviews, some users are leaving five-star, fake-looking reviews on rival listings so they activate Amazon’s scam-detecting algorithm and receive the rival seller suspended, according to insiders. Another tactic is to vote competitions’ bad reviews the most helpful. Others will buy the product and leave safety complaints, which normally activate an immediate listing suspension as Amazon investigates.

The only recourse sellers that are affected by these tactics have is to Amazon to investigate, but that process can take up to two weeks during which they lose sales due to suspension.