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Amazon Investigates Marketplace Sellers Fake Review & Ranking Scams

Amazon is investigating overseas marketplace operators selling into Australia in an effort to root out fake reviews and dodgy operators.

The large US online operators is also running an internal operation to try and identify employees, (primarily in Asia) that are selling internal data and other confidential information that can give an edge to independent merchants operating on Amazon sites in countries like Australia, UK and Germany.

Currently Amazon Australia is aggressively recruiting independent marketplace merchants to sell their products on the company’s marketplace. Currently more than two million merchants now sell an estimated 550 million products on Amazon sites worldwide, 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.

What’s been discovered so far is that Amazon employees in China and some in the USA, 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 claims the Wall Street Journal.

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 merchants 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.

A major problem is that Amazon employees in China have relatively small salaries, which has resulted in them taking 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.

At this stage it’s not known whether any Australian marketplace participants have been banned.

Recently Amazon shuffled the roles of key executives in China to try to root out the bribery, one of these people said.

The WSJ said that 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.

Internally, Amazon has worked hard to stop sellers from gaming its systems, but it can sometimes be a Whack-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.

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