Amazon takes more enforcement actions these days to prevent fake reviews because they face external pressure to do so. In this episode, Leah and I walk through the sources of those policy suspensions, and why we believe sellers think they can get use giveaways, rebates, and other incentives to "game the system." Old shortcuts to success may be mentioned in groups, classes or videos, but they have a big cost.
[00:00:04] Chris: Hey everybody. This is Seller Performance Solutions. I'm Chris McCabe, Former Amazonian. We're here to talk about Amazon sellers and the wide range of experiences they have with Leah McHugh. How are you doing, Leah?
[00:00:18] Leah: Good, thanks. How are you? For a second, I thought you'd forgotten to introduce me.
[00:00:21] Chris: No, you’re here.
[00:00:23] Leah: I was about to be like “and I'm Leah.”
[00:00:25] Chris: December is a blur, but we're here today to talk about, as the link indicates, product review abuse, which has circled back around since I would say January 1st, but maybe a little bit after. I've seen a lot of warned sellers who are now saying- similar to what we saw last year, they've been asked to provide a plan of action within 72 hours, or they're outright suspended and asked for a plan of action because they were manipulating reviews, manipulating sales rank quite plainly, just trying to use old tactics, old techniques to get product reviews so that they could be searchable and relevant on Amazon, Right? We've been dealing with this topic for what, three years? Four years?
[00:01:03] Leah: Years. I don't know, it feels like forever.
[00:01:06] Chris: Yeah. So you couldn't after 2018 October, you could not incentivize product reviews. In other words, incentivized positives.
[00:01:13] Leah: Was it that recent? I thought it was longer than that.
[00:01:15] Chris: It was October 2018, I’m pretty sure. If I'm wrong, somebody correct me. Happy to admit my fault. But especially in November- last November 2020, they clarified what you could include with messages. They put a lot of new information out there. “Don't include e-books. Pdf’s. Don't induce- basically, don't create a work-around to create or induce a positive review that they otherwise would not have left.
[00:01:40] Leah: And you can email more than once.
[00:01:41] Chris: Right, exactly. Quantity of emails. A lot of sellers were banned from proactive messaging because they were simply sending too many messages to buyers about reviews and about other things. Free gifts, whatever. That's what I want to talk about today: Giveaways, which I know has been the longstanding tactic for new products, new sellers to trend on, to generate revenue and to get eyeballs- get more sales and climb up in the sales rank to page one, page two so that they can be relevant as a seller for that product on Amazon. What's the problem with giveaways?
[00:02:13] Leah: I mean, one, it's considered reviews abuse by Amazon. Another thing is that we're actually seeing Amazon is suspending customers for this as well. And we see this because occasionally we get emails from people who somehow think we're Amazon complaining about their buyer account being shut down. [laughs]
[00:02:29] Chris: Right. And some of those buyers, I mean, took an incentive to leave a positive review. We've heard-
[00:02:34] Leah: Or they were given a gift card to reimburse their purchase after they left a review.
[00:02:39] Chris: The inserts. “You get a free bottle free product free. Whatever. Just go to this link. Call this number. Send an email here.” The inserts are over. Anyone who sees that insert that's a competitor of yours could easily report you for it and easily get you warned, if not suspended, by showing a screenshot or a picture of the insert. So-
[00:02:56] Leah: Even the like, “happy? leave a review, not happy? Contact us.” I still see those.
[00:03:02] Chris: Well, we still see the five stars at the bottom of the insert.
[00:03:06] Leah: That too.
[00:03:08] Chris: None of this- I mean, it might work in terms of getting you some positive reviews, but it doesn't really work because you might get your account shut down, which renders those reviews kind of moot at that point because you're no longer selling that product.
[00:03:18] Leah: Well, and Amazon can also other than shut down your listing, they can also just remove those reviews. So now you just invested- I don't know how much money to give people free products to leave reviews, and then all of those reviews are removed anyway. So what's the point?
[00:03:33] Chris: Yeah. Amazon's cracking down on this in terms of the suspensions, but also they're making it harder to get reinstated every time you get nailed for this. If you've been suspended more than once for this, you definitely shouldn't be doing giveaways or anything remotely similar. Even if you think that “well, I only asked for an honest review.” That's like a 2018 answer or a 2019 answer. There's no way Amazon thinks that that's a valid answer to why they suspended you and why you were doing it.
[00:04:00] Leah: Well, it's funny because I feel like we've gone full circle. There was- people weren't incentivizing anymore, but there was a lot of like “you're supporting a small business, and if you don't support us like us and our puppies will die,” and then now we've kind of gone away from that. We've somehow gone back to incentivizing. It's like everybody has forgotten that you're not allowed to incentivize reviews.
[00:04:18] Chris: Yeah, if you're doing the PayPal payback rebate, any of those things where you're giving 100% of the cost back to the buyer
[00:04:24] Leah: Or any percent of the cost back. If you give 10% back, that's still incentivizing the review.
[00:04:29] Chris: Right. I mean, historically Amazon targeted people who are doing like, 75% off for 100% off. I mean, the high discount seems to have disappeared entirely. It seems like it's just giveaways, which is why this particular podcast, we're talking about giveaways that sellers, for some reason, are getting suspended for but telling me really old fashioned methodology and language in terms of, “we only asked for an honest review.” That doesn't mean anything Amazon. Or- or “we didn't ask for a review it all.” And here's why. If you're not asking for a review, but you're giving the product away, Amazon knows you're more likely to accrue five star reviews or positive reviews from that buyer experience. So they're even suspending people who aren't asking for reviews simply because they've got a cluster. I mean, they're using AI. They're using machine learning. They don't do this manually all day long. They’re identifying clusters and spikes in positive reviews and trying to work their way back and reverse engineer why you got those positive reviews. If they think you're inducing positive review behavior, even if you didn't ask for a positive review, they still suspend. That's the key difference.
[00:05:35] Leah: Well, And if you're in a private Facebook group or a private Slack channel or private Signal group or whatever, anyone from Amazon can join those.
[00:05:44] Chris: Right, especially the Facebook groups. Yeah.
[00:05:46] Leah: Pretending to be a potential reviewer. Any of your competitors can join those pretending to be a potential reviewer and then report you for your actions. So I get, “it's not on Amazon, how could they know?” We're talking about the second-largest data company in the world. Like, they have resources.
[00:06:03] Chris: Well, we already know they're joining certain Facebook groups because they are chasing not just sellers, but the purveyors of strategies and services that are totally against terms of service. Right-
[00:06:13] Leah: Well, and part of this, I think people don't realize it's not just against terms of service. This is against, like FTC regulations. If you're giving away products and the reviewer isn't disclosing that in their review, that's violating FTC rules. So this isn't just an Amazon terms of service thing. This is an FTC legislated thing.
[00:06:30] Chris: Right. I mean, most sellers aren't thinking about the FTC. They're just trying to figure out “am I going to get banned on Amazon?”
[00:06:39] Leah: Oh, I know. [laughs]
[00:06:40] Chris: Right. “Am I going to be suspended on Amazon?” And the thing- The fact is, the data shows and experience shows that maybe not every single seller doing it gets suspended right away. But a lot of sellers get suspended eventually, if not today. And so why-
[00:06:50] Leah: Or you know- or they are no longer allowed to use the Request Review tool on Amazon or they lose their reviews. They don't necessarily always lose the listing, but there is usually, eventually some action taken on that listing or on those reviews or on your account.
[00:07:06] Chris: Right. Well, you don't want to give competitors ammunition against you. I mean, they're looking for an excuse.
[00:07:11] Leah: Right. This is such an easy thing to report people for. Like, “I ordered this, they sent me this. Here's a photo.” Report. Like, it's so easy to report you for this.
[00:07:21] Chris: That's worth talking about for a couple of minutes because sellers are much more savvy now at reporting abuse to the right places than they used to be. People used to just open cases with support, send a straight email to seller performance, or do God knows what and none of that went anywhere because none of those sellers knew how to report a seller who was abusing the review system. So now two things have happened: sellers a better reporting it- actually, and there are better places to report it and the prevention teams are or on the hook for enforcing it. They can't just ignore you anymore.
[00:07:50] Leah: Well, they specifically have a team for reviews.
[00:07:52] Chris: Yeah, and those teams are under the gun, and they've got a spotlight on them for, “Are you actually policing and regulating legitimate reviews on the marketplace?” 10 times more than they were a couple of years ago, so that's another obstacle for any seller that thinks they're going to game the system or be relevant. I understand, ramping up quickly is difficult. Having your products found and searchable isn't easy. But this is not the way to do it. This is not the shortcut you want to do.
[00:08:19] Leah: and just to address the refrain that we hear pretty much all the time is that, “Everybody else is doing it and they're not getting in trouble, and if I don't do it then I can't compete.” Like, yes Amazon is not consistent in their enforcement. But we know from experience because we work on these cases. They are getting caught and there are actions being taken against accounts. Not all of them at once, not all of them that you can see, but this is definitely being enforced. We are working on these cases all the time.
[00:08:49] Chris: Think about it- compar it to listing violations and policy violations.
[00:08:53] Leah: I hear the same thing about those two. [laughs]
[00:08:55] Chris: Completely inconsistent enforcement. You can see sellers breaking ASIN variation rules all the time.
[00:09:01] Leah: Even within your own listings. Like, Amazon might take down one listing and you have 30 other listings. They're doing the exact same thing. But that doesn't mean you should keep those listings the way they are and just wait for them to take them down. This is your opportunity to fix them before they become blocked.
[00:09:16] Chris: Exactly. And this- I mean shortcuts aren't as easy to use to get ahead on Amazon anymore. Generally speaking, but specifically this one with the giveaways. Forget all this stuff about “We only ask for an honest review” or “We didn't ask for a review at all.” Amazon sees the spike, they figure out it's tied to giveaways. They're more than willing to suspend you. So if you take nothing else away from this conversation, come up with some more creative, more long term marketing strategies. And not everything is worth that kind of risk, because you could lose your entire account over it. You have any questions about that or anything about review solicitation and especially around giveaways, Leah and I are here to answer your questions and hope to hear from you soon.
[00:09:58] Leah: We're a lot less ranty when we talk to you directly.
[00:10:01] Chris: Yes. [laughs] Well, this is just- this is-
[00:10:03] Leah: This is just us having- dealing with this for years.
[00:10:05] Chris: This is shocking that we're still having the same kind- I understand Some of them are new sellers, and they didn't know from before. But we're still having the same conversation about tactics that are literally two years old. That's the biggest thing.
[00:10:19] Leah: longer, longer. I mean, how long ago did they-
[00:10:22] Chris: Three years old.
[00:10:23] Leah: Sue people on Fiverr, that was like five years ago.
[00:10:26] Chris: People are still using these basically worthless marketing strategies or reviews accumulation strategies, and I understand that they've been told that they work and they've read lots of fancy ads, and that's great. If they do work, it might be temporary, and you might lose those reviews anyway, or it might not work at all and you might just get your account suspended, and then you're going to need help getting reinstated, which is another cost. So, avoid that by keeping it clean in the beginning. Don't get in this kind of trouble because this is something you can avoid. So. And hopefully we won't have to complete- talk about this over and over throughout 2021. Hopefully, this is the only time.
[00:11:03] Leah: Hopefully this is the only podcast on this topic this year.
[00:11:04] Chris: For the sake of the sellers that get into this kind of trouble. Thanks for joining us again, everyone. Thanks, Leah. Talk to you soon.
[00:11:10] Leah: Thanks, Chris. Bye.