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How to Protect Your Amazon Business From Black Hat Tactics [Webinar Recap]
Product reviews on Amazon are critical to the success of your business — 79% of consumers go to Amazon to check reviews prior to making a purchase, according to Feedvisor data — but what if your reviews have been manipulated by “black hat” sellers?
Over the last several years, Amazon’s marketplace has been plagued by a growing group of black hat consultants — including counterfeiters, algorithm hackers, and listing hijackers — who use illegitimate tactics and manipulate the system on Amazon to overcome the rising competition and cheat their way to the top.
Should your Amazon account be sabotaged by an unethical seller, your account could be temporarily suspended or, worse, closed permanently, destroying any incoming profits, inventory that is in route to Amazon fulfillment centers, and your seller reputation both on and off Amazon.
Amidst the Q4 holiday rush, the stakes are higher than ever. More than one-third (36%) of Amazon sellers say losing their seller privileges is their greatest concern with operating on the platform, per Feedvisor data. Indeed, falling victim to Amazon black hat tactics in Q4 could be devastating to your bottom line, as 56% of Amazon sellers make up to half of their total annual sales on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
In this webinar, seasoned Amazon expert Cynthia Stine, founder of eGrowth Partners, outlines the various forms of dirty seller tactics, how to identify them on your account, and steps to properly report these tactics to Amazon. In addition, Cynthia offers strategies you can implement to proactively prevent your business from being targeted and ensure you maintain your selling privileges during the most critical time of year.
Who Are These ‘Black Hat’ Sellers and Consultants?
Bad actors on Amazon can take shape in countless forms — from algorithm hackers, thieves, and money launderers to black market report dealers, colluders with Amazonians, and counterfeit manufacturers, to name a few.
While black hat sellers exist across the globe, many derive from international markets, including China, India, and Ukraine, and they lack a sense of loyalty or fair competition. Rather, they pay corrupt consultants hefty sums of money — reportedly $10,000 per month or more — to pinpoint their competitors’ vulnerabilities and purchase stolen data from Amazon that informs them about everything they need to know to sabotage your operation, including your sales data, best-selling products, and customer data.
These bad actors target competitors in all categories, particularly subcategories. If you operate a healthy, profitable business on Amazon, you have a target on your back. The more successful your business, the more black hat sellers want what you have. Niche categories are particularly targeted, as it is much easier to become the No. 1 seller in a niche category than it is to do so in a large, highly saturated category.
To do so, they employ dirty tactics that include but are not limited to:
- False claims and trigger keywords, such as “fake” or “counterfeit,” which will be flagged to Amazon
- Fake reviews, particularly positive reviews that are obviously fake and will appear to Amazon that you broke marketplace policies and hired someone to generate false positive reviews
- Stolen Intellectual Property (IP), including scenarios in which bad actors register the stolen IP and kick the legitimate IP owner off of the listing
- Hijacked listings, including manipulation of product titles, descriptions, and images
- Vendor Central takeovers in which they turn control of your brand over to themselves
- Multi-account squeeze play, meaning a dirty seller operates dozens, sometimes hundreds, of accounts offering the same product to illegitimately boost its presence on Amazon’s search results page
- Brand Registry bogus takedowns, such as claiming your product is counterfeit to cause Amazon to remove it
How to Fight Back and Fix Your Vulnerabilities
Generally, it is painstakingly difficult to prove to Amazon that your business has been manipulated by black hat sellers. Should your account be victimized, you can report the problem to Amazon Legal, providing as much evidence as you can gather. With proof, Amazon’s team will provide support in instances of collusion with Amazon insiders, platform manipulation, violations of the Seller Code of Conduct, theft, and fraud.
However, gathering evidence of corrupt seller tactics is immensely challenging. Hackers, for instance, are experts at covering their trails and eliminating evidence that could be traced back to their origin. As such, many victims of black hat tactics — like unfair business practices, interference, infringement, and defamation — turn to consulting companies, like eGrowth Partners, and hire their own lawyers to file lawsuits.
Still, this process can take months or longer, leaving victims out of business until the problem is resolved. Indeed, the best way to combat black hat tactics on Amazon is to button up your operation and limit your vulnerabilities to avoid being targeted in the first place. These bad actors seek out their competitors’ weaknesses and exploit them to their advantage, knowing how difficult it is to prove violation.
To limit your vulnerabilities, Cynthia says to:
- Anticipate the event that you are targeted and monitor your account for suspicious activities on a weekly basis so that any problems will be caught early on.
- Make sure your products are authorized so you are prepared with a defense in the instance that your items are falsely claimed as counterfeit.
- Watch your reviews, both negative and positive, keeping close attention to trigger keywords or unusual claims around safety and quality.
- Test your products for quality and safety to have a proper defense in place in the instance that your items are flagged as unsafe.
- Vet your vendors and ensure they are authorized to sell products to be listed on Amazon.
As competition on Amazon’s marketplace intensifies, bad actors are increasingly seeking out creative, corrupt tactics to sabotage their competitors and cheat their way to dominating their product category or niche subcategory. While Amazon-enforced seller and brand protections do exist, there are also various policy loopholes and correction challenges that these sellers intentionally exploit. As such, it is ultimately up to you to stay vigilant and limit your vulnerabilities to ensure your selling privileges, brand reputation, and profitability remain intact.
For more information about how to protect your business from Amazon black hat tactics, you can download a free copy of our e-book, Defend Your Amazon Business Against Black Hat Tactics, or watch the full webinar recording at the link provided here.