The drumbeat of news concerning Amazon’s broken, corrupted system for third-party sellers continues. In the past I’ve talked about how innocent sellers can get snared by Amazon’s rules while sellers breaking them get off scot-free. Publishers are also affected. There is even an actual case of corruption involving sellers, “Amazon consultants,” and Amazon employees, which is now being prosecuted by the feds. Sadly, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
This morning I wanted to share a description of a brief skirmish from the front lines. Once again, the good guys (in the case, customers and honest sellers) lose out while the bad guys win, with no justice served.
First, the relevant evidence, enclosed in a box for a new item:
Even though the front of the card looks kind of real, the back is totally sketchy and a likely violation of Amazon’s community guidelines and Seller TOS. This product, like many electronics, is made in China, and had a whopping number of positive reviews. It even earned the badge “Amazon’s Choice,” which helps to increase sales:
It should be very clear why it has so many positive reviews – they are including these cards in many of the boxes at the point of manufacture, and customers are taking them up on the offer.
Here’s the thread I initiated with support to report the problem:
Me: Hi. The box for this product contained a card that says “Amazon $20 gift card” and looks like a gift card, but the back says I have to give a 5 star review and send my order information to an outlook email address. Is this legitimate? Is it really a $20 Amazon gift card?
Amazon: Thank you so much for your information on this, I will certainly pass it along here so that we can check this promotion or offer directly with the seller. Because I am not seeing that advertised on the item at all
And would not be capable of confirming if that is a legit Amazon gift card because, I do not see that offer on the item
Me: So what should I do?
Amazon: My best suggestion would be to contact the seller directly for this through this link [redacted] So that you can confirm directly with them if this is legit or not
Certainly giving away gift cards for good reviews is not professional
And I have to report the seller for that
Me: I thought this type of offer was forbidden by Amazon’s own policies for sellers. But I will contact them using the link you sent to ask them if that’s what you recommend.
So I contacted the seller through Amazon’s closed system. Interestingly, there are two sellers listed for this brand, and they have different names from each other and the branded electronics item. Both sellers are located in Shenzhen, China. This is what happened:
Me: I received your product and inside the box is a card that says “Amazon $20 gift card” and looks like a gift card, but the back says I have to give a 5 star review and send my order information to an outlook email address. Is this legitimate?
Seller: Thanks for your contact. Could you please follow the instruction and contact us on the email? Please be rest assured that we will fulfill our promise.
So, to summarize:
- Amazon has strict rules in place that forbid asking for 5 star reviews or paying for reviews.
- Amazon’s own support people have a difficult time telling the difference between violations of this policy and legitimate promotions, and leave it up to customers to contact these sellers on their own to figure it out.
- Guess what the sellers say? The rule-breakers are all too willing to lie through their teeth, brazenly using Amazon’s own communication system to do so.
Nothing happened to the seller or the brand, even though the Amazon CSR said he would report it. Their shop is still up and running on Amazon, and the product is still for sale, with thousands of five-start reviews. I believe every box sent from this seller has a similar card, and there are now thousands more sitting in Amazon warehouses waiting to be sent to customers. They are still selling this equipment with bogus reviews without penalty on Amazon and will continue to violate the rules knowing they will make millions thanks to the thousands of positive reviews and “Amazon’s choice” marker on the listing.
Most customers who order from Amazon know that this is the norm these days: Boxes are filled with promises of gift cards, warnings not to contact Amazon if you have a problem, and other shenanigans which violate Amazon Seller TOS. Even if they are reported, nothing happens to the bad guys, so they rinse and repeat for other listings. Garbage ends up getting 5 star reviews, and customers stop believing what they are seeing, like this example from a local parents’ Facebook group I spotted today:
Meanwhile, sellers and brands that follow the rules get lumped in with the clowns.
The good guys are losing.