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Amazon Going Easy on Some Sellers Using Fake Reviews

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Some Amazon sellers are avoiding account suspensions for fake reviews. Instead, Amazon is simply making it harder for buyers on the platform to find the products in question.

Amazon calls this “reducing discoverability.”

There is good news for some of these sellers. Those who are innocent of review manipulation can have the reduction in discoverability reversed, as can guilty sellers who appeal with a convincing Plan of Action. 

But first, it’s important to understand what constitutes an Amazon fake review and review manipulation. Read on for reasons why Amazon is not flat-out suspending the affected accounts, and what sellers should do if their products’ discoverability is reduced.

What is a fake review and review manipulation on Amazon?

Amazon has extremely specific rules around customer reviews on its platform. In brief, third-party sellers are not allowed to provide incentives to buyers in hopes of receiving an excellent review. In addition, Amazon sellers cannot acquire fake reviews, friends and family reviews, or employee reviews.

The list of prohibited activities is long and not comprehensive. Bad actors are continually coming up with new methods of manipulating reviews of their products – or their competitors’ products. A limited selection of Amazon’s rules is included at the end of this article.

Unfortunately, many brand owners have felt compelled to break these rules. They ask their aunt’s book club for reviews. They hire an overseas firm to upvote their best reviews and downvote their competitors’ worst reviews. They refund orders via PayPal in return for 5-star reviews with photos.

The list goes on and on.

In the past, Amazon typically reacted to review manipulation and fake reviews by:

  • Warning the account owner to stop
  • Warning the account owner and requiring a Plan of Action within 72 hours; if the POA was accepted, the account was not suspended
  • Suspending the account and allowing an appeal
  • If an account was suspended for review manipulation a second time, appeals were not accepted
fake amazon reviews

What is reducing discoverability?

Recently, instead of accounts being suspended, we’ve seen Amazon reduce the discoverability of the ASINs with fake reviews.

Because Amazon detected inauthentic reviews, they make sure the products in question are not visible in search results. In addition, any advertising campaigns are throttled.

What happens next?

“We will continue to reduce discoverability on the products listed in search results and promotional channels until we identify and remove reviews and reverse any unfair advantage accrued to the products driven by such reviews, to the extent feasible. During this period, customers will still be able to find and purchase your products,” reads a message from Seller Performance regarding review abuse.

The message goes on to invite an appeal if there was an error in enforcement.

Why is Amazon doing this?

With so much pressure from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to stop fake reviews on Amazon and other online platforms, it’s somewhat surprising that Amazon would reduce the severity of enforcement.

There are a few possibilities why this strategy was implemented:

  • Amazon may not be absolutely sure the seller did it. Perhaps the source of the fake reviews is questionable, or it appears a competitor took the questionable actions.
  • Amazon may be absolutely sure that the seller did it, but they consider this a midway enforcement point between doing nothing and blocking the account completely. This would give the seller an opportunity to better understand the rules and correct their actions.
  • Amazon may not be that interested in taking down sellers for occasional review manipulation, but they feel the need to take some action just to please government regulators.

What should a seller do if they are hit with this penalty?

If a seller receives this “reduced discoverability” notification from Amazon Seller Performance, they must take immediate action to protect their account.

First and most important, sellers must stop the bad behavior. They cannot assume that their account and their employees are innocent. Many times, account owners don’t realize that they have a brand manager, team member, friend, or family member who wrote or acquired fake reviews.

Next, it’s critical to stop any services that may have acted on the seller’s behalf. This includes collecting a file of related information, such as emails canceling the service, payment records, and past emails. Amazon may ask for these documents as part of the appeal process.

When appealing to Amazon, a Plan of Action must be specific, comprehensive, and convincing. It cannot leave out any details. Even if a seller is convinced they did not break the policies for Review Manipulation, they must explain why and how they avoided violating the rules.

Review Manipulation as defined on Seller Central

Amazon bans the following, as detailed in Seller Central Help:

  • A seller posts a review of their own product or their competitor’s product.
  • A seller offers a third party a financial reward, discount, free products, or other compensation in exchange for a review on their product or their competitor’s product. This includes using services that sell customer reviews, websites, or social media groups.
  • A seller offers to provide a refund or reimbursement after the buyer writes a review (including reimbursement via a non-Amazon payment method) and asks the buyer to change or remove the review, before or after the refund or reimbursement. This could be done via buyer-seller messaging on Amazon or directly contacting customers or using 3rd party services, websites, or social media groups.
  • A seller uses a third-party service that offers free or discounted products tied to a review (for example, a review club that requires customers to register their Amazon public profile so that sellers can monitor their reviews).
  • A family member or employee of the seller posts a review of the seller’s product or a competitor’s product.
  • A seller diverts negative reviews to be sent to them or to a different feedback mechanism while positive reviews are sent to Amazon.
  • A seller creates a variation relationship between products with the aim of manipulating reviews and boosting a product’s star rating via review aggregation.
  • A seller inserts a request for a positive Amazon review or an incentive in exchange for a review into product packaging or shipping box.
  • A seller uses a customer account to write or change a review on his or his competitor’s product.

Riverbend Consulting

Riverbend Consulting is a trusted partner of Helium 10. They are problem-solvers and advocates for online retailers with more than 125 years of ex-Amazon experience. Riverbend’s clients reduce risk, drive revenue and sleep like babies. The online selling world is too treacherous to navigate alone. Their clients include major manufacturers, private-label brands, top-10 resellers, and mom-and-pop businesses. Whether they are vendors or third-party sellers, these online retailers deserve to have experts on their side.

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Lesley Hensell Lesley Hensell is co-founder and co-owner of Riverbend Consulting, where she oversees the firm's client services team. She has personally helped hundreds of third-party sellers get their accounts and ASINs back up and running. Lesley leverages two decades as a small business consultant to advise clients on profitability and operational performance. She has been an Amazon seller for more than a decade, thanks to her boys (20 and 14) who do most of the heavy lifting.

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