As the new year dawns, I have a few predictions for Amazon sellers. All indicators point to 2019 being the year of the bad actor. Bad actor activity has accelerated on the platform and Amazon is taking the problem very seriously. This blog is based on my observations and opinions. It is a call to action to honest sellers on the platform. We cannot rely on Amazon to track the bad actors without help from sellers. This is a problem that affects all of us.
Over the last few weeks and months we have all been reading articles/seeing videos in the Wall Street Journal, The Verge, and other publications about Amazon insiders selling confidential seller, buyer and sales data and providing illegal services to Amazon sellers like instant reinstatements, unearned reimbursements or classes on how to manipulate the algorithm and knock out the competition.
The pressure is mounting on Amazon to take out bad actors – both internally and externally. Since June we have seen a couple of these players with “inside sources” quietly disappear. They can’t perform without an unfair advantage. We’ve also seen Amazon start to audit reinstatements and sometimes reverse them…permanently.
Based on what I’ve read and on client cases, I believe Amazon is on the hunt. They are the guardians of some of the most valuable retail intelligence in the world. The data they know about each seller and each product on their platform is staggering. They know everything we do on the platform as sellers and customers, and now they are deciding if we are naughty or nice.
Once Amazon identifies the insiders involved, they will likely be terminated (I hear the employee contract is very strict). Some might face criminal charges. Based on past experiences, we believe the bad actors will turn in the sellers they assisted and their internal Amazon contacts in order to avoid or reduce legal consequences.
The middle men who made the 100% reinstatement guarantees and charged exorbitant fees will probably fade away.
But what about the sellers who paid for these services? We suspect they will catch the brunt of Amazon’s wrath and be banned from the platform. These sellers will be easier to find since Amazon now knows what they’re looking for. The question is not if they will catch them but when.
I’m glad Amazon is cleaning house and I wish them Godspeed. The damage done to honest sellers has been heartbreaking. It is not just sellers gaining an unfair advantage – bad enough – but some have used the data and black hat techniques they learned to purposefully destroy other sellers’ listings and accounts. Every seller with a top-selling product in any category has a big, fat target on their backs. They are prepared for competition; they are not prepared for deliberate malice.
Here’s my concern about this situation. Some sellers using these services don’t realize they did anything wrong. Bad actors in my industry are telling them they have “contacts” and it is their contacts at Amazon which makes them better, faster, etc. Either from naivete or from self-delusional wishful thinking, these sellers don’t understand that these contacts are being paid (aka “bribed”) to perform these services. It is illegal. It is not the same as sending a “Jeff letter” or having additional Seller Performance email addresses.
I get it. When you hire a consultant, you assume they have knowledge and experience that helps them get results for their clients. But all sellers need to know that the wrong way of getting results will hurt YOUR account. Sellers are responsible for everything that is done on their behalf.
Some providers claim they can recover astonishing amounts of reimbursements for their clients – reimbursements they split 50/50 with the seller. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sellers need to understand what their service providers are doing for them and be comfortable with it. A day of reckoning is coming. Many of you may remember all the sellers that got taken down for forged documents. These sellers had hired services to get them ungated in various categories and brands. They didn’t question how it was done or how they could get ungated for Apple, for example, without an Apple invoice. Most of them were banned for life.
In my opinion you have two options: hope they don’t find you or provide whatever help you can to Amazon and ask for consideration. We have all seen the cop shows on TV where the first people to ask are the ones that get the deal. Ask for the deal. Amazon is motivated. The press is squeezing them like an orange. The faster they can take out the bad actors, the better for everyone. Hope is not a strategy.
If you have useful information about bad actors in or out of Amazon, give us a call and we’ll talk in strict confidence. Maybe we can assist you in moving forward and not waiting for the Amazon hammer to fall. Perhaps you have information you’d like to share, but you don’t want your name attached to it. We can discuss that as well.
Our clients come to us because we can help them with most problems and, importantly, because we are not the Amazon police. We never share our clients’ names or data without express permission or unless they share that information themselves in a public forum – like testimonials.
I know talking about bad actors is an uncomfortable topic, but please remember this:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke
If some of you are now thinking you’ve broken the rules without meaning to, let’s talk about how you might fix the situation. The first 15 minutes is free and should be enough time for us to determine if we can help you.
With any luck, 2019 will be the year that things get better for sellers. But we cannot stay uninvolved and wait for Amazon to solve our problems for us. It will take sellers and Amazon working together to take bad actors out.
What do you predict for Amazon sellers in 2019? Have you felt the effects of bad actors in your business yet?