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Keyword Podcast Episode 51: Review Manipulation with Chris McCabe from ecommerceChris

December 22, 2017

Reviews are one of the most important things when it comes to selling a product. Reviews give potential customers a look at how a product works, any problems or flaws. People want to know what other people think about a product after buying it.

I rarely buy something without reading the reviews. Recently I was shopping for a Christmas gift and stumbled upon a product with 23 reviews and they were all 5-stars. The reviews talked about how amazing this product is and my first thought was,”these reviews are fake.”

The odds of having all perfect reviews, are low. Odds are you’re going to have customers that don’t absolutely love your product. That’s ok. Products that have an average 4.6 star rating sell better. In fact, having a negative review helps shoppers trust the positive reviews more.

I assume that the product I was looking at had reviews all written by friends and family members hoping to help the product sell. That’s considered review manipulation. Review manipulation on the Amazon Marketplace is rampant.  Competitors are also trying to manipulate your reviews, plus some people are still buying reviews. Complaints can and should be sent to Amazon but they need to be structured in a specific way.

Blackhat sellers are constantly looking for techniques to hurt their competition partly because they’re able to get away with it because the teams that investigate these issues are overwhelmed.

“I think it’s just the profit motive gone ugly, gone astray and you see kind of the worst of human behavior in some of these practices,” says former Amazonian Chris McCabe.

Chris used to work at Amazon and his job was to investigate bad actors and suspend seller accounts. Now he has switched sides and he helps sellers get their accounts unsuspended.

Chris says he’s seeing a lot of new ways that sellers are trying to take each other out including through review abuse.

“They think that its a system they can game and they’re finding new ways of doing it,” Chris says.

The really sad thing is that there’s some good sellers that have started taking the attitude of, “Well, everyone else is doing this. Why can’t I?” If you’re a good seller in general and you just dabble in black hat tactics you’re putting your account in jeopardy.

Amazon asks that sellers kind of police themselves. If you see someone doing black hat tactics and you report it and you see no action taken, that’s frustrating. It also might tell you that Amazon isn’t paying attention which might lead you to using some these black hat tactics. What you might not realize is that someone else could report you and this time, Amazon listens and suddenly you’re in big trouble.

“This is just the profit motive gone awry,” Chris says.

Some of the most common review manipulation techniques are:

  • sellers upvoting and downvoting competitor negative and positive reviews.
  • sellers buying reviews by reimbursing shoppers they’ve found off Amazon,
  • sellers buying reviews for competitors.

Recently a seller was suspended for having positive reviews. This seller had a competitor that was buying positive reviews and Amazon started investigating the positive reviews. When it discovered the positive reviews were purchased, they suspended the seller’s account even though they weren’t the ones buying them.

Amazon is not happy when sellers attack each other on the marketplace. They need sellers to help them find the bad actors but bad actors use that to their advantage to hurt competition.

If you’ve filed a complaint with Amazon and you’ve heard nothing, there could be a couple reasons:

  1. Amazon is overwhelmed. They receive thousands of complaints each day.
  2. Maybe your complaint wasn’t structured correctly.

“The information is scattered, disorganized, there might be pages and pages of it.  It seems like it’s all relevant information but it’s presented in such a way that an investigator would really need to spend several minutes to almost an hour going over some of the material,” Chris says.

Structuring a complaint for Amazon

Sellers need to be monitoring reviews. If they notice a pattern of possible manipulation popping up, the information should be well documented and organized in something like a spreadsheet. Then they need to start structuring the complaint. It needs to be concise and something an investigator only needs to spend a few minutes on to discover the problem and possible solution. Sellers need to leave any emotions out of the complaint so that investigators can figure out exactly what’s happening.

Before the complaint is submitted, take a look at it and see if it’s something that can be reviewed in just a few minutes. If not, it’s time for more editing.  

In some situations the abuse is rampant and at that point, outside help needs to be hired. If there’s any question of slander or libel an attorney should be consulted.

Thanks to Chris McCabe for bringing review manipulation to our attention and giving us some insight on structuring complaints. If you need help with these kinds of issues, you can find him at ecommercechris.com.

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