This article was originally published on this site
is investigating internal leaks as it fights to root out fake reviews and other seller scams from its website.
Employees of Amazon, primarily with the aid of intermediaries, are offering internal data and other confidential information that can give an edge to independent merchants selling their products on the site, according to sellers who have been offered and purchased the data, brokers who provide it and people familiar with internal investigations.
The practice, which violates company policy, is particularly pronounced in China, according to some of these people, because the number of sellers there is skyrocketing. As well, Amazon employees in China have relatively small salaries, which may embolden them to take risks.
In exchange for payments ranging from roughly $80 to more than $2,000, brokers for Amazon employees in Shenzhen are offering internal sales metrics and reviewers’ email addresses, as well as a service to delete negative reviews and restore banned Amazon accounts, the people said.
- How Sellers Trick Amazon to Boost Sales (July 28)
- On Amazon, Fake Products Plague Smaller Brands (July 19)
Amazon is investigating a number of cases involving employees, including some in the U.S., suspected of accepting these bribes, according to people familiar with the matter. An internal probe began in May after Eric Broussard, Amazon’s vice president who oversees international marketplaces, was tipped off to the practice in China, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon has since shuffled the roles of key executives in China to try to root out the bribery, one of these people said.
Internally, Amazon has worked hard to stop sellers from gaming its systems, but it can sometimes be a Whac-A-Mole situation as fraudsters get more creative, according to former Amazon executives and other people familiar with the company’s thinking.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company has strict policies and a code of business conduct and ethics, and it has installed systems to restrict and audit what employees can access.
The company confirmed it is investigating the claims. “We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties,” she added in a statement.
That goes for sellers, too. “We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them,” she said.
Internal corruption is the latest challenge Amazon faces in upholding its platform’s integrity, after well-publicized problems with fake product reviews and counterfeit merchandise.
For the past few years, Amazon has aggressively recruited independent merchants to sell their products on the company’s marketplace, something that both widens the variety of products offered on the site and reduces prices. More than two million merchants now sell an estimated 550 million products on Amazon, representing more than half of all units sold on the site and contributing an estimated $200 billion in gross merchandise volume last year, according to FactSet estimates.
Sellers must aggressively compete to get their products noticed on the first page of search results, where customers typically make most of their purchase decisions.
Amazon’s automated system ranks the products based on several factors, including the quality of verified reviews, the number of times customers click on a product and its sales volume. Some sellers have sought to game the system by employing tricks such as paying someone to repeatedly click on a listing or create fake positive reviews, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Amazon has fought these attempts.
One of the newer ways some sellers are seeking an edge over rivals is getting access to Amazon employees.
Some midlevel Amazon employees in China have the power to delete negative reviews and can access the email addresses of users who have bought and written reviews of specific items, said a person who has facilitated illicit transactions between third-party sellers and Amazon employees in southern China.
Brokers are the middlemen between Amazon employees and sellers who want negative reviews deleted or access to internal sales information. Brokers search for Amazon employees on Chinese messaging platform
and send messages asking them if they would like to provide these services in exchange for cash, according to brokers and sellers who say they have been approached by brokers.
The going rate for having an Amazon employee delete negative reviews is about $300 per review, according to people familiar with the practice. Brokers usually demand a five-review minimum, meaning that sellers typically must pay at least $1,500 for the service, the people said.
For less money, sellers can pay Amazon employees to download the email addresses of customers who write reviews. This gives sellers the opportunity to reach out to customers who have penned negative reviews and try to persuade them to adjust or delete those reviews, sometimes by offering free or discounted products, the sellers and brokers say. Amazon prohibits this practice.
Brokers also offer proprietary sales information, such as the keywords customers typically use to search for items on Amazon’s site, sales volume and other statistics about buyers’ habits, according to the people. Having this information enables Amazon sellers to craft product descriptions and advertisements in a way that boosts their rankings in search results. Amazon doesn’t disclose this type of detailed sales information.
At a recent conference hosted for sellers—which wasn’t run by Amazon—a broker pulled up internal keyword results on his laptop. The broker said $80 can buy information on sales data, the number of times users searched for a certain product and clicked on a product page, which sellers are bidding for advertisements and how much those cost, according to the person who viewed the results.
One Chinese Amazon seller said competition on the website had become so heated that he is tempted to use illicit tactics to gain an edge. “If I don’t do bad things, I will die,” he said of his business.
Write to Jon Emont at email@example.com, Laura Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org and Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com
Powered by WPeMatico