I am sharing this information so that you can see how eCommerce companies, and in particular, marketplace focused companies are struggling.
One of the biggest immediate concerns is about getting (and keeping) Amazon reviews.
In the past Amazon allowed brands to give away products in exchange for an unbiased review.
This lead to RAMPANT review manipulation which pollutes the entire eco-system of trust at Amazon. It was not good for anyone. The brands with the biggest budgets could have instantly 1000 reviews and add thousands more each week.
Amazon made a clear terms of service (TOS) chance in October of 2016 which prohibited any review manipulation including free product to reviewers which they refer to as incentivized reviews. https://blog.aboutamazon.com/innovation/update-on-customer-reviews
So far in early 2018 Amazon has been removing reviews from 3 different perspectives:
1) SELLER FOCUS: Review suspension or removal based on seller review promotional activity, like soliciting product reviews in an improper manner according to Amazon.
2) REVIEWER FOCUS: Review removals based on customers who had clearly fake profiles and are leaving reviews that are low quality. (Machine learning is applied to remove reviews that look suspicious.)
3) ITEM FOCUS: Review removals based on the Item level (ASIN) review profiling which removes reviews based on the review behavior data that is calculated on the item history and then the machine learning applies it’s own judgement to decide what is an authentic review or not. There are countless false positives being generated by the system on a regular basis.
Some top sellers have found their accounts suspended temporarily when Amazon suspected them of review manipulation or found that their item can no longer accept reviews when the Machine Learning finds a pattern of review submission that is suspicious. Often the seller’s proclaim their innocence and they can illustrate that the reviews were organic and not manipulated. This is a common false positive that the machine learning is creating.
To be sure there are many
There are some nefarious China based companies that are still able to come up with 500 reviews on the day of launch using methods that are considered Black Hat.
Amazon and other marketplaces will always have a cat and mouse battle. The truly bad actors are like criminals and Amazon are the cops. The criminals are always one step ahead of the cops.
Brand owners and marketplace sellers must
Our members will struggle to get reviews on Amazon and other channels. (Walmart, eBay, etc…)
Here are 2 resources regarding reviews I wanted to share to get on the radar: (These may be against Amazon’s TOS)
1) I haven't used this service - but people are saying they have used with success. (I never know if the reviews are sticking) https://www.panda-boom.com/review-zone/
2) I have used https://honesthippo.com and they have a guarantee if their review disappears they will replace it. I like them. Members leave honest and unbiased reviews.
I don’t have a clear solution for the review issue, but if you decide to engage any of these types of review companies you’ll want to tread carefully to be sure to stay within Amazon’s TOS.
The Amazon Early Reviewer program has some merit for a brand new item launch and it is where Amazon incentivizes someone for reviews. The Vine program is for vendors and they offer a similar review incentive scheme as the early review program. The Amazon theory is that they can determine who will leave unbiased reviews therefore they can be trusted to incentivize reviews and reviewers when sellers can’t. I see their point to some degree, but it’s a slippery slope.
The other main concern for sellers is how to launch to get your product visible on the first page of Organic Search Results. (aka the A9 algorithm) The objective is to target some keywords that are active enough to drive views of your product in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), but not so competitive that you are fighting with entrenched power players.
This means finding target keywords (key phrases) that are not too competitive and also not too noncompetitive. A seller should target keywords that are in the middle. (Like Goldilocks)
Once the seller knows the target keywords they can do a product launch with a company like Panda Boom, Snagshout, Rebate-Key.com or others. (If you are a Catalyst88 member or Empowery member you have access to special resources which are confidential and only available inside the members areas.)
Most of the services will simply provide an online listing with an image of the product that is being offered (typically FREE or very high discount rates.) with a link which embeds the keyword into the resulting URL. This helps Amazon associate that keyword with a sale on the specific seller’s product which drives the A9 algorithm to consider that product relevant for that keyword (or key phrase).
This method has been under scrutiny recently and although it still seems to work from our tests, there are ALWAYS rumors that this technique will stop working or that it has already stopped working. The smartest data guys I know suggest that it is still working, but it comes with a series of unintended consequences.
Some of the giveaway companies actually rip off brands and disappear with the money that was for the “FREE” product purchase as well as any associated fees.
Some of the buyers buy as much of the offer as possible and then sell against the seller’s. Since the product was free to them, they don’t mind selling it at a low price. This can have ramifications far into the future for sellers. The lower prices on that ASIN can impact lighting deals, prime day deals and more because the automatic Amazon system will show the lower priced sales and set that as the new benchmark that must be beaten by 15-20% for sale events.
This is a VERY big bug in the Amazon system, because hijackers can purposely set a low price, get a sale on a counterfeit item that was never shipped, and that ruins the ability for the brand owner to sell at competitive rates for lighting sales, coupons, and other events that require certain discounting.
There is alot more to follow with regardings to getting reviews on Amazon as well as launch ranking, but one thing is clear. The climate is changing everyday. Sellers should stay within TOS even when they see the cheaters buying 500 reviews and sales on the day of launch.*
*The Chinese Sellers often use a network of college students who get the products for free, (often it is not even the real product being reviewed) and they leave a verified review. The students make between $5 and $10 per review. This is a BLACK HAT method and in my opinion should be easy for Amazon's machine learning to suss out, but it still is working as of the time I am writing this.
Steve Simonson is an lifetime entrepreneur having founded, purchased, built, and sold numerous companies over the past 3 decades. Along the way Steve’s companies have been publicly recognized with three consecutive years on the Inc. 500 list, multiple listings on the Internet Retailer Top 500, Washington State Fastest Growing Business as well as a number of other company accolades. Steve was also a finalist in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Steve brings his deep expertise as a leader and operator at many companies which he has taken to from start up to exit. What does Steve do today? His company operations today are managed through his holding company: www.mysymo.com and his FREE entrepreneurial support site: www.awesomers.com as well as the exclusive mastermind group www.Catalyst88.com. Short term, Steve’s focus will be on two newer entrepreneurial focused startups. Parsimony.com is a complete ERP system for ecommerce entrepreneurs. The new Empowery eCommerce Cooperative is a member owed COOP designed to help members gain access to products, services, and a community they need while banding together to save money. www.empowery.com Steve is especially passionate about entrepreneurship and is inspired by the great Zig Ziglar quote: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”