Despite the many advancements in ecommerce, and the changes-for-the-better on the Amazon platform, things are still far from perfect. One thing that is particularly disturbing is that “Bad Actors” continue to plague the marketplace. Cynthia Stine, Founder of eGrowth Partners, seasoned Amazon seller and published author, is no stranger to the black hat actions of these bad actors. In fact, she spends most of her time helping sellers and brand owners fight them, and is finishing a book now called Dirty Seller Tricks to help educate the industry.
Cynthia joined us to talk about the different dirty tricks sellers are playing, how to protect your Amazon account against them, and what to do when it’s time to fight. In this jam-packed, informational session, she covers:
- How black hats target your seller account
- Who are the dirty sellers?
- The tactics used to attack you
- How to detect attacks from black hats
- How to protect your account by fixing your vulnerabilities
- Fighting back
- And more
Ecommerce Marketing Manager, Teikametrics
Founder and President, eGrowth Partners
Recap of Fighting Dirty Seller Tricks
The people and organizations that are practicing bad behavior on Amazon are, in fact, out to get honest sellers and brand owners. They aren’t afraid to break the rules (or the law) to attack you. Accounts that are performing well in a sub or sub-sub category are particularly vulnerable, because many of the bad actors are going for those smaller niches. It’s easier, and they can be just as profitable being #1 in a niche as #4 or #5 in a bigger category or sub-category.
Cynthia gave a real-life example of a brand that had an Amazon exclusive with a leading brand of shoe trees. They were in the #1 position…until they were attacked by a dirty sellers. The lengths this villain went to in order to tank Cynthia’s client were astounding. They:
- Trashed the listing
- Made strawman purchases and left negative reviews
- Made threatening phone calls to the seller and their family members
- “Brushed” reviews on their own listings
- Manipulated the brand’s Vendor Central account
- Submitted false IP complaints
- Made false claims on their own listing
- Convinced the brand’s factory to manufacture the same item for them
The seller had to go to Amazon AND the FBI for help. And even then, a 3rd party seller isn’t guaranteed resolution.
Who Are The Dirty Sellers?
Cynthia says that black hat tactics are regularly taught in China, India and Russia, but that there are sellers all over the world, including the US, that practice these dirty tricks. Additionally, there are consultants and companies that will perform attacks on behalf of an ill-intentioned seller, and even people outside the industry that will put an attack into motion.
What Are The Most Common Tactics?
According to the trends Cynthia has seen amongst eGrowth Partners’ clients, the black hat breakdown is as follows:
- 30% inauthentic claims – gray market, stolen goods, liquidation, drop-shipping, arbitrage
- 21% safety claims – burns, rashes, illness, splinters, poisoning, injury
- 17% IP infringement claims – trademark, copyright, knock-offs, patent
- 9% review manipulation – paid reviews, deal clubs, Facebook review groups, bloggers
In addition, as we saw in Cynthia’s client example, dirty sellers will resort to threats, harassment, listing manipulation, and more.
How to Detect Attacks
Since these attacks can come from all sides, it’s vitally important to keep a close eye on your Amazon account so that you can detect any attacks that might be in play. Cynthia recommends setting real-time alerts so that you can see if any unauthorized changes have been made to your ASIN. That includes:
- Product title, description and bullets
- Product size, ingredients, or other details
- Product keywords, dead keywords
- Product category
Cynthia also recommends monitoring your product reviews, both negative and positive, to ferret out anything suspicious, and to keep an eye on your seller feedback rating, because the attackers will hit you there, too.
Protecting Yourself Against Attacks
In addition to constantly monitoring your Amazon account and listings, you should also protect your IP, make sure you’re Brand Registered, vet your vendors and manufacturers, and follow the rules yourself, so that you can fight back effectively should you be attacked.
It isn’t always easy to gather the evidence needed to fight back against attackers. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your account and keep meticulous records. If you can prove collusion, platform manipulation, violations to Amazon’s Seller Code of Conduct, or theft, you should take it to Amazon Legal. These days, some sellers and brand owners are actually suing their attackers.
Cynthia formed eGrowth Partners to help sellers be successful on Amazon, but she and her team are seller advocates of the first degree. They help their clients fight back, and fight back in a way that usually results in victory.
Contacting eGrowth Partners, and Special Offers
For a free copy of Cynthia Stine’s book, Suspension Prevention, click here
To preorder a discounted copy of the upcoming book, Dirty Seller Tricks, click here
To join the Amazon Seller Advocates Facebook Group, click here
To contact the team at eGrowth Partners, visit their website
Watch the full replay:
Read the full transcript
Liz Fickenscher (00:00:00):
Hi, everybody. It’s Liz from Teikametrics. We are here for a webinar with Cynthia Stine of Egrowth Partners. Cynthia barely needs an introduction because everybody knows who she is but she is a wonderful thought leader and educator in the eCommerce space and today she’s going to talk to us about dirty seller tricks and how to fight them. Say hi, Cynthia.
Cynthia Stine (00:00:19):
Liz Fickenscher (00:00:21):
It’s so good to have you here. So again, I’m Liz, I’m the Ecommerce marketing manager here at Teikametrics. Cynthia is the co-founder and CEO of eGrowth Partners. I was lucky enough to do an interview with Cynthia earlier, at the end of 2020 and I learned about her entrepreneurial journey and there’s practically nobody better to talk to you about how to be an entrepreneur. But also she has done a deep dive into all of those terrible, terrible things that are happening in the Amazon space. So that’s what she’s here to talk about today.
Liz Fickenscher (00:00:55):
Teikametrics optimizes $6 billion of transactions for the largest brands on Amazon. Here are some of them. And Cynthia, tell us about eGrowth Partners.
Cynthia Stine (00:01:07):
So this is, obviously, my background. I founded it, officially, in 2015. I’ve been a seller since 2010. In 2015 I wrote my first book for Amazon sellers called Suspension Prevention, which is about what the heck Amazon was doing to us all of a sudden. And since then I’ve built the company and I’ve done my best to try to keep sellers up to date with what’s happening with Amazon, why they’re suspending sellers. And so my team has a number of ways, we obviously do reinstatements and that’s what we’re known for, but we also have other services as well. We cover a broad range of advice, I guess you could say, and I’m obviously quoted a lot.
Cynthia Stine (00:01:55):
But my background is originally as a business consultant. So when I came to selling in Amazon, I brought that perspective with me, which has been extremely helpful in helping my clients because a lot of times its not just that they’ve run afoul with one of Amazon’s rules, but sometimes it’s the way that they’re doing business. And they can sometimes need a little more help than just Amazon says no. So anyway, I think that that’s given us a lot of perspective on the problem. So that’s who we are. We’re the oldest and the most experienced, and I think the largest in our state. Obviously, this is a cottage industry, there’s really only a couple of handfuls of companies like mine.
Liz Fickenscher (00:02:42):
That’s very true. A couple of housekeeping things while y’all are still pouring into the event. So appreciate you registering and attending this webinar today. It is the first week of January 2021 after a very, very bizarre year. So we are recording this, it will be emailed to you if you registered for this webinar. And you can ask questions in the Q&A section of GoToWebinar and I’ll try to pepper them throughout Cynthia’s talk but I’ll also save some time at the end of Q&A if we possibly can. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Cynthia Stine (00:03:18):
Okay, let’s move on. So this is the things that we’re going to be talking about today. I’m going to talk about why is this happening to you, who are these guys, what are they doing and how you can protect yourself. Pretty straightforward. But as they say, the devil is in the details. So let’s have a look. Next slide.
Cynthia Stine (00:03:43):
Yes, you’re a target. And then go ahead next slide. This is what I need people to understand. This is what’s new over the past few years versus, people like me who’ve been selling since 2010. When I started selling there was hardly any dirty selling tricks going on. I mean, sure there were maybe a few small things but it was very amateur hour. And what happened when the Chinese came, Amazon recruited the Chinese, is all the sudden, we were not facing amateur problems. We were dealing with tens of thousands of sellers that don’t share our sense of fairness and how we do business. And it has been huge. And I say here, they really are out to get you, they really are. What’s different is you’ve got competitors now who want to destroy you. I mean, you always want to out market your competition, these guys want to get you off the platform forever.
Cynthia Stine (00:04:50):
They aren’t afraid to break the law to do it, most of them are breaking the law. If you are doing well in your category or subcategory, so I use the example of one of my clients who sold fire logs. Now that is a sub subcategory. It starts with home and garden, goes all the way down to fireplace logs. And was number one in fireplace logs. And he became a target. And his competitor kept moving him into different categories to get him out of fire logs and into fireplace accessories where he wasn’t doing as well.
Cynthia Stine (00:05:26):
So this is what I’m saying, these guys are very much aware of exactly what the sales are in these sub, sub, subcategories. And for them, there’s more money to be made being number one in a sub sub than being five or six in a larger category. For the most part. I mean, you could say, not in toys, Cynthia. But I’m just saying in general, that’s their strategy. And so that’s why a lot of sellers who are selling kind of, what we would say, every day but it’s no obscure, but things that you wouldn’t think would make them a target. Shoe trees, fire logs, bird feeders. These are the kind of things … Picture frames. These are things you don’t really think you’re going to have a blood thirsty competitor out for you. But you do.
Cynthia Stine (00:06:20):
And so if you’re doing well, if you’re one or two in your sub sub or in your category, you are a target, you should know that right now. And I know it sounds like I’m talking just to brands, but for all my wholesale clients who are selling a major brand, you also have to be concerned because the activities that may happen to you will be happening on the listing as opposed to a separate competitor. Like a competitor will be on your listing, as opposed to having a competing listing. But it happens. It happens to everybody, pretty much. And I know a lot of people, it happened, it dropped in late October. So the indictment Amazon had against these service providers who were breaking the rules, most people, beyond the sheer titillation of it, didn’t really suitcases of cash. They didn’t actually read it. It was 38 pages long.
Cynthia Stine (00:07:20):
And I mention it here because it’s actually a tremendous source of information if you ever do find time, vacation, whatever, to read it because in the indictment, because it is a federal, criminal indictment, Amazon opened the kimono in a way I’ve never seen before. You know how secretive they are. But they basically had to admit that these bad actors, and other like them, had totally raided them. That these bad actors have complete access to all the data that Amazon keeps about sellers and clients, internal groups, Amazon’s processes, the algorithm, they were completely and utterly raided. And so just for that, its worth reading the indictment. But then there’s also this year, like I said, titillation of some of the details, offshore accounts, et cetera. It is an interesting read, I’ve read it about 10 times now and it’s in my next book.
Cynthia Stine (00:08:29):
Even in reading that indictment though, and a lot of people will read that and be like, “No, that can’t be true.” I promise you, it is. That’s the tip of the iceberg. So these happen to be consultants, service providers who got caught. But the fact is, most of the people that are doing this bad behavior that we’re talking about and that we’re going to try and protect you from, they learned it themselves in China. And so they don’t need to hire a service provider to do this for them, they already know it. So if you look at a … Or I’ll mention Howard Thai because he’s very visible and if you look up Howard Thai in the Wall Street Journal, you’ll see the video that he did with the Wall Street Journal where he talks very casually about basically how he cheated Amazon’s algorithm and gets away with it. And he gets away with it because he’s a Chinese national. But I would say Howard is the most brazen and he’s the one who started teaching manufacturers and other Chinese sellers how to do these tricks and they are ubiquitous in China right now. It’s incredible.
Cynthia Stine (00:09:44):
So in the US, in the western world, we hire our service providers to help us do this, if we are bent that way. Over there, they already know how to do it. So I’ll just point that out to you, tip of the iceberg. And these black hat tactics are commonly taught in China, India, Russia, Ukraine. I’m not saying people in Europe and the UK don’t get trained on this too, I’m just saying it’s very common in those countries.
Cynthia Stine (00:10:17):
So I just want to impress upon you, if you haven’t had any problems yet, you’re lucky and you should be grateful and this is a good time to try and protect yourself as much as you can before you have problems. Okay, next slide please.
Cynthia Stine (00:10:37):
So I talked a little bit about the sub sub categories a moment ago and this is what I’m talking about. How being number one in a niche can be just as profitable and it’s because it maximizes Amazon virtuous cycle. Anyways, next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:10:59):
Okay, so this is a case study and I’ll just give it to you quickly. But the reason that I tell this story is one, I have permission. This is a client of mine. I had to get permission. But also, I just want you to know, this seller is gone from the platform and has been pursuing legal action and I’ve been working with him for years. I was with him when the bad behavior first began so I really had a chance to see this story play out. And he had an exclusive with one of the world’s leading brands and the number one position until he was attacked by a competitor. And he was attacked in two ways. One, the competitor started selling a competing product on their own listing, but also, the competitors were selling the product on his listing. But messing it up, getting a lot of complaints and getting people angry about the product that they’re buying and basically his attempt was to trash the listing. So he not only wanted to sell his own product, he wanted to trash the competing product as well and he did it through several ways.
Cynthia Stine (00:12:09):
He did what we call straw man purchases where he and a group of cronies whom we don’t know but they bought product they never intended to use. They bought it and returned it and then made false claims about this. Now you understand what this guy is selling. He’s selling a shoe tree, okay? It’s not a complicated product. And there’s not a lot of areas for product quality problems or safety issues or anything. It’s basically a really nice piece of wood. And so they were making all kinds of stuff up. And the whole idea was, again, to take down his listing and to get him suspended. But it went beyond that. He and his family members started to get threatening phone calls from this guy, basically saying, “Look, either you go away or I’ll hurt you.” And that’s when I told him to report it to the FBI.
Cynthia Stine (00:13:11):
And then they also did a series of nuisance calls, again, to their main number. And these were people who would be calling very randomly, asking very strange, random things that had nothing to do with the business. And so that was an interesting tactic. But also on the new listings created by the competitor, he did what we call brushing. So he actually took listings for old defunct products, that had nothing to do with shoe trees, but had good reviews, and merged them into his listing in such a way that it looked like he had thousands of four and five star reviews. So immediately, he went from zero to hero. And he had more listings than my client, who had been selling this product, which was number one in his category for 10 years.
Liz Fickenscher (00:14:02):
Cynthia, in addition to the brushing, with the straw man purchases, was that a little bit of reviews abuse too in that they used leaving negative reviews?
Cynthia Stine (00:14:15):
Liz Fickenscher (00:14:15):
So tanking the reviews on your client’s listing, creating his own listing and then building it up with a bunch of false information.
Cynthia Stine (00:14:22):
Right. So he’d take one down and pull theirs up. And yeah, they did. They left complaints, they also said things like it was counterfeit or it was dangerous. They were doing everything they could to take these listings down. And it was constant.
Cynthia Stine (00:14:39):
There was also, what I call, Vendor Central manipulations. So they obviously had access to Vendor Central. And they were able to get in and change his listings and then he couldn’t change them back. Well it took a lot of work on our part to get them changed back. And again, that means that his listings are off for days, meanwhile the competitor is making hay while the sun shines, as it is.
Cynthia Stine (00:15:04):
And they made false IP complaints and also, my client found out, that the same factory that was manufacturing for him, and remember he had an exclusive with the brand, was also manufacturing and selling to the competitor. So this is common also. So everybody was making a little bit of something something here, right? You’ve got the competitor who’s making his money, who’s doing his thing. But also the manufacturer where he’s getting the product is basically double dipping because he’s selling to both companies even though he’s not supposed to. And of course, my client really had no recourse. I mean, he wasn’t going to go to China and sue him.
Cynthia Stine (00:15:55):
And like I said, we went to Amazon for help, that wasn’t very effective. We went to the FBI but basically he was out of business in about, I don’t know, three or four months. Again, from being number one in his category, he was out. He was gone. His sales had just declined so badly and his listings were trashed and he was gone.
Cynthia Stine (00:16:22):
And so I put that out there as a cautionary tale. And like I said, it’s one of the few I have details on that I can talk about because most of my clients don’t want to talk about it, understandably. But next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:16:39):
So now that I’ve scared you a little bit, I’m going to talk to you about what are some of their tools of the trade. How do they do it, right? So obviously, like I talked about, they were trying to get his listings and his account suspended. They didn’t really care. They just wanted those listings off. And so a lot of bad actors do that. And this coincided with the rise in the type of suspensions that Amazon was suspending for, if that makes sense.
Cynthia Stine (00:17:12):
So when I first started in 2015, most of the suspensions were performance related. There was some product quality but it was mostly that. And I would say fairly simple to solve, compared to the suspensions that are common today, inauthentic, safety, infringement, review manipulation. Those are much harder. And so again, when the bad actor looks at what they can do to you, this is what they’re looking at. Do you have a question?
Liz Fickenscher (00:17:44):
Yes. Was this seller brand registered?
Cynthia Stine (00:17:49):
He was not because he didn’t own the brand. He had a licensing agreement with the brand and it was an exclusive. But no, the brand managed the brand registry. And so my client didn’t have access to brand registry. But even if they did, the problem is the changes were being made in Vendor Central. And Vendor Central trumps brand registry as well. So the changes made in Vendor Central appear to have been made by Amazon retail and they take priority, even over the brand. That’s why it’s really such a pain to get it fixed, because you can’t go the normal route to get it faxed. The catalog team can’t help you, things like that. It’s a lot more effort to explain and get the right people to see, “Hey, this was a bad actor who did this through Vendor Central. He doesn’t have the right to do this.” It’s just what we would call a hot mess.
Cynthia Stine (00:18:52):
To get back to this slide just for a second, when I say these now represent about 77% of the suspensions, I mean in our company. So I don’t know if our company is representative of the entire industry but what we see, we went from mostly product quality and performance issues, like 80 to 90% to now 77% of the suspensions are basically policy related. And these are the harder ones to fix and they take the longest to resolve. So that’s, of course, why the bad actors like to do them.
Cynthia Stine (00:19:36):
And in addition to making false claims, like we talked about earlier, like the straw man purchases, lying about the quality, lying about safety and things like that, of course some of them have the ability to do more. So that, especially those that have Vendor Central access, they can literally change your listing completely. And I’ve seen that with a number of clients where one guy woke up one morning, looked at his listings. He was suspended and of course wanted to know why, and all of his images on his products, he was selling supplements, had been changed to porn. And I don’t mean Playboy porn, I’m talking about nasty stuff. And of course, people saw this and they were offended and they’re screaming at Amazon and Amazon took everything down as fast as possible. And my client is horrified. And then obviously he didn’t make these changes and it was, again, one of those where it was done through Vendor Central so he had a dickens of a time getting it fixed and they would get it fixed and the bad actor would upload the images again. And he’d get it fixed and the bad actor would upload the images again. I mean, within minutes. And this went on for days until we finally got-
Liz Fickenscher (00:21:03):
Was the attacker using different Seller Central accounts? Dropping out of one and then logging into another or different Vendor Central access? Because I would think that Amazon would be able to figure out who it is if it’s the same user doing it every time, you know?
Cynthia Stine (00:21:19):
Right. But what happens is they create an offer and then they withdraw it. So when you go to look to say who’s offering product X, nobody’s offering it, right? And also these guys know how to cover their tracks, right? So yeah, that’s part of the problem. And we were ultimately able to have Amazon give our client brand priority in that instance, but it’s a big deal and they don’t like to do it. So now only the brand is allowed to make changes to the listing.
Cynthia Stine (00:21:54):
And you ask yourself, “Self, why isn’t that the freaking default?” Right? The brand should be able to manage their own listings and have priority but they don’t. So next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:22:12):
I mean sometimes the bad actors will pay $20-$50,000 to get an account that has Vendor Central access. So let’s find out who these guys are. Next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:22:24):
So we have the combination of ruthless criminals and casual bad actors. So some of these guys are serious criminals. Black market report dealers, some of them are colluding with inside Amazonians, they’re bribing them. You’ve got some who are hackers and who are apparently really good at it. You’ve got secret conspirators, like the indictment called out. You’ve got impossible deed doers. And what I mean by this is because, again, I want people to be on the look out because sometimes people hire these services and they don’t understand how they’re getting the results for them. So they go to this site and it says, “We’re going to make you number one in your category. And our process is the best and our secret formula.” And so you’re like this is great. And maybe your friends have tried it and they all say yeah it works.
Cynthia Stine (00:23:21):
Well, if you don’t know how they’re doing it, I would be very, very careful. Because some of them are, in fact, doing it in an illegal manner. And the indictment was a case in point on this. Because shortly after the indictment some of Joe Neeson’s clients were suspended. And they had no idea. They were absolutely floored by the indictment, by everything. They had no idea that Joe had gotten them the results he had by illegal means. And so I just have to stress to everyone, it is up to you to make sure that your service provider is doing it the right way. And I know it’s hard because what’s the service provider going to say? “Oh yeah, we’re compliant. It’s completely white hat,” all of that stuff. But the fact is, at the end of the day, you’re the one that’s going to get suspended if you’re wrong. And so that’s why I say impossible deed doers because that was part of Joe’s pitch, right? He was able to get people more money and reimbursements than they could get themselves and they were like how did he do that? Well, according to the indictment, he paid someone to get into Amazon’s systems and change things. So that’s how he did it.
Cynthia Stine (00:24:47):
And then you have something other people, these people, they sell stolen goods or counterfeits, they’re money launderers, some are mafia knee breakers and they have a lot at stake and so they’re very organized in their criminal behavior on the platform. And it sounds dramatic to say that. I feel like I’m writing the next chapter of Goodfellas but this really happens and that’s what some of these people are and that’s why they would also hire these service providers to do these services for them, because it gave them a level of distance between them and Amazon and them and the law.
Cynthia Stine (00:25:34):
And some were just thieves and then a lot of them were manufacturers. So like I explained earlier, these guys, they learned it, they’re selling a product and I’ve had clients go to China, sit down with their manufacturer in Shenzen and they’re like, “You know I can get you to number one in a couple of weeks if you want, just let me know.” He was very casual. And they were like bad idea. But the other thing I need people to understand is they have a God’s eye view of your business. They know more data about your business than you do. And because they paid for it and it’s been taken directly from Amazon’s systems and so they know a lot that you’ll never know about your own business. And they think they’re untouchable and many of them, honestly, are. Amazon has no way to go after them in China, for the most part.
Cynthia Stine (00:26:34):
And they have no loyalty to their clients. So this is another thing that amused me. In my two plus years of research on this topic, I’d see three people out there promoting. I knew who some of the players were. But people would yell and scream on Facebook like we always do about how they would help you out, right? And then the minute you weren’t paying you anymore, they went to your competitor and got him to hire them to get back at you. It’s quite a deal. So there’s truly no honor among thieves. Next slide please.
Cynthia Stine (00:27:21):
Okay, so now we get to the good stuff. What the heck can you do? So I basically break it out in a couple of parts. Detect. So one is to figure out, hopefully ahead of time, that there’s actually something happening. Because unfortunately, most of my clients, by the time they come to me, they’re already suspended. And so they didn’t see the warning signs because they weren’t looking for them. Not every case. I just have to be very clear. There are some cases you just can’t see it coming but there are some where you can kind of see it coming and try to head it off the path.
Cynthia Stine (00:27:58):
And so one of the things I recommend for our clients is we set up for them real time alerts for ASIN changes. So this, again, if someone messes with their listing, they’ll know right away. Because if you’re selling hundreds of products, you’re not necessarily going to know that somebody went in and changed product X and put porn in the images until you’re suspended. But if you know the minute the change was made, you might be able to go in and change those listings before Amazon got to it.
Cynthia Stine (00:28:33):
And there’s other changes that bad actors make on listings, too, that you just want to be aware of. They’ll change your text, they’ll change video, they’ll do all kinds of things. So it’s just good to know and there are really good alert systems and we recommend them to our clients and we use them for our clients.
Cynthia Stine (00:28:53):
Also, I tell people you have to read all your product reviews, positive and negative. And honestly you should be reading the negative to make sure there’s not something going on with your account. But one of your products suddenly has a problem, right? So one of the tricks that bad actors will do is they’ll write five star positive reviews, as well as negative reviews. Because now they’re trying to get you taken down for review manipulation. They’ll write them in bad English, they’ll do everything they can to make them look fake. Sometimes the wording will be the same for each and every listing. I mean, they know exactly how to trigger the algorithm.
Cynthia Stine (00:29:29):
And so for my clients who caught that first and reported it to Amazon first, it was easy to get them back because they could say, “Look, we told you. And we asked you for your help.” And they look at their records and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you did.” But if you don’t, if you come back with the story after you’ve been suspended, it’s really tough to get them to pay attention because then they’re like oh yeah, that’s what they all say, right? It wasn’t me, it was the one armed man. And so cultural reference.
Cynthia Stine (00:30:07):
But anyway, so I tell people they have to look at all their reviews. And including their seller reviews. So sometimes they’ll manipulate those as well. Because they know if they can get your seller metrics down, again, you won’t get the buy box as much and the virtuous cycle will start to work against you. And so you’ve got to keep an eye on that because you would think, otherwise, why bother? How many people actually look at seller reviews? Honestly not very many. I do of course but I’m in the biz. But most people don’t. And so what happens is they’re not even realizing that their seller metrics are being undercut. Their seller shipments metrics or whatever, not product reviews.
Liz Fickenscher (00:30:57):
And seller feedback does impact the order defect rate. And if the order defect rate gets beyond 1% your whole account gets shut down. So if you’re not keeping an eye on that seller feedback, you’re in trouble because it can completely tank you. Cynthia, real quick, since I already interrupted you, a lot of people are asking about the real time alerts that you set up for your clients, do you have a tool that you recommend for that?
Cynthia Stine (00:31:25):
Yeah. I’ll send it to you and you can post it for everybody.
Liz Fickenscher (00:31:30):
Cynthia Stine (00:31:31):
Because you’re going to ask me what’s it called? And I think it’s AMZ alerts.
Liz Fickenscher (00:31:36):
I think that’s probably the one. But I’m going to send that to everybody. AMZ Alerts.
Cynthia Stine (00:31:43):
Yeah, we’ve been using them for years and I’m pretty sure that’s who I pay the bill to.
Liz Fickenscher (00:31:52):
And earlier you mentioned that if you caught an ASIN change in time, you might be able to close a listing. Is that only in Vendor Central? Because this person asked if that ASINS were on Amazon forever, can only brands close a listing or is it only on Vendor Central? Can you close a listing on Seller Central?
Cynthia Stine (00:32:10):
Oh I get what they’re asking. Yeah, I wasn’t clear. So what you can do, I mean you’re right. The listing is still there but if there’s no product on it, then it slows. So what I tell people is go in and immediately close the effective listing. At least that way you can go to Amazon and say, “I immediately closed my listing.” And so people go to find this product, it’s not going to show up because there’s no stock. And so you’re not going to get angry buyers complaining to Amazon and Amazon’s not going to pull it up as an option for people to buy because you have no stock because you’ve closed the listing.
Cynthia Stine (00:32:55):
But as for does it actually still exist in the Amazon system? Absolutely. And you want it to because you want to fix it. But that’s the first step. And you may need help fixing it because it depends on how they make the change, right? If you catch it first, Amazon really counts that in your favor that, okay, they saw a problem, they fixed it before we got them. They’re much more forgiving. It won’t stop you from being shut down, let me be clear, you will be shut down. It doesn’t stop that. But what it does is it makes it so much easier to get back because you can say, “Well look, I did this. I immediately closed all my listings.” And they see that and they’re like okay, you saw an issue. It helps a lot.
Cynthia Stine (00:33:48):
Okay, so let’s see where I’m at here. Oh, detect. So some people have heard this before, I’m sure, but I tell people, they should be checking their returns report. You should be downloading the spreadsheet, not just looking at it online because the spreadsheet has the buyer’s comment. And so you want to see that. Because I will tell you, you get a pretty good eye pretty quickly for something that smells fishy. And especially if you’re organizing your spreadsheet and you’re like, how come this one ASIN is suddenly just getting pounded? Either I have a problem with my product quality, possible. Or somebody’s doing something. So for our clients, we have them look at it, we look at it for them if they’re a client, once a week.
Cynthia Stine (00:34:38):
And then buyer/seller messages. Because again, the bad guys know that Amazon’s algorithm is also searching all the buyer/seller messages. So if they use trigger keywords getting a message to you, like you might get an irrationally angry buyer, or something like that, using all these trigger words and you’re like, “Dude, don’t be upset. I’ll give you your refund.” They’re not really upset, they’re doing that because they know that that’s a trigger for Amazon.
Cynthia Stine (00:35:13):
Sometimes you’ll see they’ll change your fee. Suddenly your product is bigger than it was the day before and so you’re paying oversize fees and you’re like what? And sometimes it can be very subtle. So I always tell people they should be keeping track of their fee changes, just to make sure that they’re paying the right fees. Because who wants to give Amazon more of their money?
Cynthia Stine (00:35:39):
Category changes, that’s another trick that may not be apparent to you. Because when you go to the listing it doesn’t say, “Hello, I’ve been moved from fireplace logs to fireplace accessories.” Right? You don’t know that. Not just from looking at it on Amazon. Of course you should always be keeping track of new competitors, but most of my clients are pretty on top of that.
Cynthia Stine (00:36:03):
The other thing that is a sign that people don’t think about is dead keywords. So speaking of my shoe tree guy, he spent months really getting some really good pulling keywords that were working for him in his ad campaigns and then suddenly they were dead. It was from one day to the other and his sales would … And of course all the sales he did get were much more expensive. And he’s like, “What happened to my keywords?” Again, we’re talking about a shoe tree. So it’s not as if they had very complicated keywords. But what likely happened is, because people don’t know that this is possible, is the bad actors know how to go in and literally change … You know how you go and you type something and then Amazon starts giving you suggestions for the keyword as you’re typing? So you type a best selling author and it’ll start bringing up all the author’s books?
Cynthia Stine (00:37:07):
Anyway, people think, and the way it’s supposed to work, is that it’s based on actual buyer activity, right? But if you could just go in and make the auto fill in anything you want, which is what these guys are doing, and of course then these keywords are going directly to their products, their products always came up first, yeah, it would seem like your product was suddenly dead. So that’s exactly what they did. And to say he spent months building up these keywords, refining them, getting them just right and they were pulling for him and then boom. So if you see that happen on your account and you’re suspicious, you should definitely look into it. And you can do that by going and typing in various keywords and seeing what pulls up.
Cynthia Stine (00:38:05):
And then bogus IP complaints, certainly. If you start getting these, you should definitely be suspicious because they’re not going to stop at just one if they’re out to take you down. And so it’s one thing for Amazon to send you a suspected infringement complaint, that’s project zero. That’s not a bad actor. But if you get, what I call a named complaint, where the brand is named that’s complaining and it’s for something like patent infringement or design trademark infringement or utility patent or something like that you’re like what are you talking about? You may have a bad actor on your tail. So it’s always important to deal with all IP complaints that you get but it’s really important that you’re looking at them regularly, even if you decide you’re going to go deal with them later.
Cynthia Stine (00:39:03):
A lot of the suspected infringement, they have clients who handle those every couple of weeks. They don’t do it every day. Next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:39:15):
Okay, so this is another area that people generally fail in. And again, remember what I said about your competitor knows more about you than you know about yourself. And so, for example, they will know every complaint that Amazon has ever had against you and they’ll know what your vulnerabilities are. And they’ll know that Amazon suspects you’re buying from the gray market, for example. And maybe you are. It’s not a crime exactly but it is complicated, right? And so they’ll take advantage of that. They’ll say, this is how we take this guy out. Let’s go after inauthentic complaints, right? Because he’s buying in the gray market and he’s had problems with this before.
Cynthia Stine (00:40:01):
So I tell people to fix their vulnerabilities, to button up, pay attention, get authorized, buy from legitimate sources, protect your intellectual property. You would be shocked at how many people who have experienced bad behavior, made it so easy for the bad actor because they weren’t brand registered, they hadn’t protected their intellectual property. They’ve had bad actors go and register someone else’s intellectual property at brand registry. And boy was that a mess to clean up. so what I’m saying is you’ve really got to be buttoned up as a seller, whether you’re a brand or a wholesaler, you’ve really got to be buttoned up.
Cynthia Stine (00:40:46):
You’ve got to keep good records. [inaudible 00:40:49] how many of my clients where their reinstatement process took days to weeks simply because it took them that long to find the invoices. Paperwork. And then there’s always those who kind of panic and they think they’re going to forge and manipulate the documents. They think Amazon won’t’ accept what they have. That’s a bad idea, kids. Bad idea. I can work with somebody who doesn’t have the documents. It’s hard to work with somebody who has fake documents because Amazon’s going to … And get brand registered.
Cynthia Stine (00:41:27):
Here it is, the beginning of the year. This is a good time to assess, what are your vulnerabilities this year? What can you fix and control this year? This is the time, I would really do it now so that you can have everything tip top shape before Prime Day this summer. And by the way, it’s no coincidence that we see a ton of bad behavior right before and during Prime Day and right before and during Q4. Shocker. Next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:42:03):
What else can we do? This is some of the stuff that the sellers have done. Definitely exposing the trick helps. And I know that sellers don’t like to hear this, a lot of them don’t want to admit what happened to them or they just think Amazon’s going to do nothing about it, which is kind of true. Sometimes they do nothing about it. But it’s important that you report it and that you expose the trick. The reason Amazon has the recent indictment that it did was because sellers had been complaining for a long time. And so I’m not saying their prayers were answered by this indictment, there were plenty of sellers that Amazon didn’t even bother to respond to, but the fact is it does help. Repetition, repetition, they begin to think this might be a real problem. So it’s important to report it to Amazon. And we show people how to do that. And sometimes they do take action, a lot of times they’ll come back and say we don’t have enough evidence to move on this. It’s very frustrating.
Liz Fickenscher (00:43:14):
And gathering that evidence can be really difficult. We had a question at the very beginning that I wanted to save until now because it’s super relevant to right now. We have a sub sub category seller in a specific niche. How do we address issues with a specific competitor we suspect of black hat activities? We know they are based in the US. How would you start researching so that you have enough evidence to give to Amazon?
Cynthia Stine (00:43:40):
So one of the things Amazon does now which is super helpful, they didn’t do before, is they do make their addresses available. Now it could be vague, I know, but that’s the first place I would start is see if you can find them. And now that there’s supposedly an official address, you can start hunting that way. The other thing, some of my clients have hired Private I’s. Some of them have done other research. I have a client right now where they knew who did this to them. Their closest competitor and they knew. But their problem was really figuring it out. And I’ll just say that they did. They figured out how they did it and they actually went and got an affidavit. They went after people. Because they had hired people, local people, their friends, which is stupid. Honestly they should have hired a service if they were going to do this, but they hired people to go in and do the fake review thing. And they also did the upload trick. So they uploaded all of the negative reviews until you had like 30 or 40 people doing that.
Cynthia Stine (00:44:58):
And it was obvious that something was going on. That part Amazon could definitely see. But what was interesting was because they were confident about who the perpetrator was, they went and researched the CEO, this person’s friend on Facebook. And they matched them with their orders. And so they were able to see that a fairly large number of friends of the competitor were buying their product and then, of course, returning it, making complaints about it and doing those stupid uploads. So they took legal action against these buyers who immediately ran to the original guy and said you’ve got to save us. And they did. But the two companies ended up resolving the issue but that is an unusual case.
Cynthia Stine (00:45:56):
But that’s what I’m saying. I guess it takes creativity and every situation is different but a lot of times my clients have a pretty good idea who’s after them. And so they can start with that, they can start building evidence then. But that’s what Amazon needs to see, they need to see a real case that is more than coincidence that will make them take action. And anything that you can think of that Amazon can use to prove your story. So you can’t see what is happening behind the scenes on Amazon’s platform, but you know they can. So you can direct them. If you look at this on this date and this on this date, stuff like that. So I know that’s kind of a broad answer but it’s because it really depends on the situation, how you would do your research. But that’s how you build a case, just like you would build, not as crazy, but just like you would build a lawsuit. You’re really looking for what’s considered hard evidence-
Liz Fickenscher (00:47:09):
And you don’t want to submit a case to Amazon before you’ve got ample evidence. Because isn’t it harder if you open one and they’re like, “Hey, there’s not enough here for us to do anything about this.” And then you try again, it’s harder, right?
Cynthia Stine (00:47:22):
It can be. But also it’s just a waste of your time and theirs. And a lot of times, they get these complaints all the time. That’s another problem. Bad actors are frequently throwing out unsubstantiated claims about other sellers. So all day long they have the finger pointing and the whining messages and this and that. And so their policy is we ignore it unless you have evidence. So that’s what makes it challenging. And that’s one of the things we help our clients do, is try and figure out how we can get that evidence.
Cynthia Stine (00:48:04):
I had a case, this is actually my own case, I had bad actors coming after my seller accounts and I was able to do a lot of crunching math on specifics and I was able to show this dramatic change in pattern on my account from here to here and I had enough historical data that I could show previous years. And anyway, they did in fact believe me and the jerk who did this to me, who I knew who they were by the way, suddenly got very quiet and disappeared. So I haven’t had a problem since. But they knew … I mean, really, how stupid is that? Coming after me. It’s like I know how to get them back. So that time I build the case but I spent hours doing the math and the stats to show Amazon. And it was nuisance. And that’s all they wanted to do, by the way. They weren’t trying to take me down, they just didn’t like me and they wanted to be a pain in my butt.
Cynthia Stine (00:49:16):
Now, there are other things that we can do. And there are sellers who are doing lawsuits. Some of them are suing the competitors, things like for unfair business practices, tortious interference, maybe infringement if that’s involved. So we’re seeing a lot more lawsuits against other sellers. And then you also see a lot more people are filing claims with Amazon Legal. But again, you’ve got to have a case. And we see this, seller code of conduct manipulations, platform manipulations, proof of collusion. These are the types of things that Amazon is really interested in. And if you’re not getting satisfaction through the traditional route, sometimes you can get Amazon Legal to take a look at it, spend a little time with it and then they’re like oh yeah, we’ve got to do something about that.
Cynthia Stine (00:50:15):
So that’s one of the paths that I recommend. Especially for someone who’s having a real problem and an ongoing problem because they’ve got to get it to stop. But their lawsuit is a way to get it to stop too. If you get an emergency injunction against your competitor, Amazon will honor it and they’ll take all your competitor’s listings down. So we work with lawyers who specialize on Amazon and we have a list that we give our clients. That emergency injunction have helped in a lot of cases. Because like I said, immediately your bad actor is gone. And they don’t come back until the case resolves itself. So that’s kind of expensive, right? I mean you’re filing a lawsuit, in federal court usually. But it works. So next slide please.
Cynthia Stine (00:51:15):
Okay, so this is just a little bit about us, our background. We do a lot more than reinstatements. And of course we practice what I preach, which is we help our clients detect problems, monitor for problems and try to fix their vulnerabilities and help them when they’re trying to report to Amazon. So if you do find that you’re having a problem, or you suspect that you’re having a problem, maybe you’re not sure but you’re seeing some unusual behavior, we can help. So next slide, please.
Cynthia Stine (00:51:55):
And then this is just for you guys. Oh yeah, that looks just like me]. But this is how you can reach us. But also for people who are watching this webinar, if you have not read my Suspension Prevention book, you can get a free copy of it by clicking on the link. I can make sure you have the link if you want to post it somewhere, Liz.
Liz Fickenscher (00:52:15):
I’ll make sure.
Cynthia Stine (00:52:17):
Okay. And then also we have a link to reserve my next book. So I’m finishing Dirty Seller Tricks as we speak. It’s going to be coming out soon. Everybody goes when and I’m like soon. But it’s coming out soon, I swear. And people who want to sign up to get their copy first, they’ll get it at a discount. There’s a link for that there. And of course we’d love people in our Facebook group asking questions. So please, come join us. It doesn’t cost anything.
Liz Fickenscher (00:52:52):
And for you attendees, I’ll make sure all of these links are in the replay email that I send you.
Cynthia Stine (00:53:00):
Liz Fickenscher (00:53:01):
Cynthia Stine (00:53:05):
So there’s that. And then just a thought, because so many of my clients and so many sellers are reluctant to actually talk about what’s happening, even when Congress was holding its hearings and trying to get evidence of Amazon’s bad behavior towards its sellers, many people refused to participate because they were so afraid of reprisal. And while I totally understand that, I also just want to point out that the only way you’re going to get change is if we do something. So just keep that in mind and when you see something happening, consider reporting it, even if it’s not happening to you. You might see it happening to someone else. So anyway, I just throw that in as a reminder because that’s part of the problem and that’s part of why there’s so many bad actors on the platform, nobody’s reporting them.
Liz Fickenscher (00:54:04):
We do have a number of questions. Is there another slide or is this the end?
Cynthia Stine (00:54:07):
I think this is the end. I think the last slide just says Q&A.
Liz Fickenscher (00:54:13):
Oh look at that. I actually like this one, I’m going to keep this one up because I think this is a good reminder. If we are the manufacturer of a product, what kind of documents can we submit to Amazon when they ask for invoices to reconcile shipments? It’s a very technical-
Cynthia Stine (00:54:31):
That’s very granular. No problem. Actually, one of the best ways … This is related to the fact that right now Amazon is not signing when they’re receiving shipments right now. So it’s a problem for people who ship stuff in by the pallet and the partial truckload is they have no evidence that that stuff was actually delivered. I actually covered this in a recent blog post but you can actually either get that evidence that you need through Carrier Central, if you have access to Carrier Central, which the large, high volume sellers do. And you can get proof that it was, in fact, delivered. Or if you’re doing a partial truck load, work with the carrier to get the manifest. And the manifest will have everything on it. Now, it will say there were 10 boxes or whatever. But as a manufacturer, if you’re saying, “Well, I sent 10 boxes or 10 pallets and Amazon says they only got nine.” Again, the manifest helps there. But if it’s not clear exactly how many there should be, you can look at your bill of lading or other things like that as proof that you, in fact, had 10 pallets, not nine. You just have to be a little more creative right now because of COVID and because of Amazon rules. But there are ways to let them know and to prove it.
Cynthia Stine (00:56:19):
And then obviously if you’re shipping UPS or USPS or any of those guys, you can go to them. They have tracking data and then you show invoices. But if you’re the manufacturer, most likely you’re not sending boxes by UPS. You’re usually sending big shipments.
Liz Fickenscher (00:56:41):
That was helpful, thank you. Thinking back to your poor shoe tree guy and the porn images, is there a way to fix vulnerabilities in Vendor Central? Or is that account always going to be vulnerable?
Cynthia Stine (00:57:00):
I am hopeful that Amazon is fixing this loophole. They’ve taken some measures lately that look like they’re fixing it. But I would say the best way you can protect yourself is one, be brand registered. And two, be prepared to fight for brand priority. So you can’t just get brand priority. You have to show a problem before they’ll do it. It’s still an exception thing. But again, if you are having problems and you can document it and you can say, “Look, every time I talk to the catalog team they say it’s being done by Amazon retail,” and you can prove that you don’t sell your product direct to Amazon and you don’t have any other way that retail would have your product. Because that’s, of course, another trick. They pretend they have your product but they don’t. And they’ll price it 10 times higher than yours knowing Amazon will never order from them.
Cynthia Stine (00:58:07):
But for some of my clientsthey can prove. I don’t have other distribution channels. You buy from me or you buy from no one. And Amazon is not selling those products and it can’t sell those products so Amazon retail can’t make these changes. So that’s the case. But as far as what you can do ahead of time, the best thing you can do is be brand registered and be as buttoned up as you can about that. Unfortunately there’s really nothing you can do to stop somebody who has that kind of access. And like I said, Amazon has made some recent moves that indicate that that problem may start to fix itself. But we’re not there yet. So it’s still happening. But I think that they are moving to where the brand will have priority. Cynthia’s guess, within the next year. That’s my guess. They haven’t said anything to me but that’s my guess. That’s what it looks like.
Liz Fickenscher (00:59:11):
We do have someone asking where they can read the 38 page indictment?
Cynthia Stine (00:59:17):
I’ll get you a link.
Liz Fickenscher (00:59:19):
Great. To that person, I’ll give your email address to Cynthia and she’ll send it to you.
Cynthia Stine (00:59:27):
Happy to do that.
Liz Fickenscher (00:59:30):
We have so many questions and we don’t have enough time for them all. So if you guys have the burning question that you need to answer, you’re going to have Cynthia’s contact information. We’ll also write a follow up blog post to accompany the video on the Teikametrics blog and I’ll try to get Cynthia to help me with a couple of the questions so we can get those in. But we are very, very respectful of your time and it is the top of the hour so Cynthia, thank you so much. That was so much great information. I would be terrified but also sort of really hopeful now that you’ve given people a little bit of a game plan. So thank you.
Cynthia Stine (01:00:10):
Well, you’re very welcome. And yeah, for those of you who have additional questions, you can also go to my Facebook group and just say, “Hey, I was listening in on the webinar and I still have questions.” I will be going out there to answer questions at least once a day, if not more. So I’m happy to get them. Especially if they’re as granular as that one and really need some time. So I’m happy to do that and I’m really grateful that you invited me and this is a great way to start the year. So happy New Year everybody.
Liz Fickenscher (01:00:45):
Happy New Year everybody.