Season 1, Episode 12
Chris: [00:00:07] Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Seller Performance Solutions. I’m Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris. I’m a former Amazonian. I consult sellers on their account suspensions, listing issues, and many other wonderful things. I’m here today with Leah McHugh. Who’s also an e-commerce consultant who helps Amazon sellers. We’re going to be talking today about abuse and how to report it, and why is it so easy to attack another seller. We’re not going to talk about the best ways of attacking each other today. We’re going to talk about how to report it and also try to explain why Amazon is struggling so much with coping with abuse.
You would think it’s a trillion-dollar, trillion and a half dollar data company. Well, I guess I’ll start there. Leah, why do you think a data company like this with the resources at their disposal, Amazon has such trouble tracking abuse and preventing it?
Leah: [00:01:07] I think because they’re not really allocating a great amount of resources to stop it from happening. It seems at least in our communications with them, they seem to have the same issue as we do, which is, is this a failure of Amazon’s tools, or is this abuse? We often can’t tell the difference and it seems like Amazon can’t tell the difference either.
Chris: [00:01:29] Right, and a lot of people report abuse and never see any action or hear anything. So part of it is maybe we should begin with, do they even read these things? Are they reviewing it? Are they starting by separating things into piles of, we’re not even going to look at this or we will look at this? We don’t know everything that happens on the inside, but obviously, we see what they do or don’t do on the outside.
Leah: [00:01:54] Yeah. And I think they also must be inundated with cases that. Maybe you don’t have a lot of merit. I mean, we certainly see a lot of sellers whose default response to anything going wrong on their account is somebody must be abusing my account and that isn’t always the case. And you can’t just say that without any reason as to why you believe that is particularly like hard evidence unless you’re giving Amazon hard evidence of an issue that they really just are going to ignore it.
Chris: [00:02:25] And then they’re bearing under the volume of content.
Leah: [00:02:28] Yeah. I mean, how it’s then somebody’s full-time job to separate out those real cases versus knee-jerk reactions.
Chris: [00:02:35] And they’re getting a little bit better at it very slowly, but if they allocated a lot more resources, maybe they’d be better, faster. There are some good ones that they don’t act on any more than the weak ones.
Leah: [00:02:49] Sure. And I think that comes down to them sorting through these and you know, maybe somebody throwing a good report out with a bad.
Chris: [00:02:57] Well, some of the reports we don’t see a lot of action taken if you’re reporting using the basic channels, like the community dash help at Amazon email is the one that they tell you to start with, or if you have an account manager, you open an SAS ticket, that’s another low level way of doing this. And then of course, people are probably opening seller support cases. We don’t see much action from those. So the main question is, do you have to escalate things and really pressure them to review it really make a lot of noise and have a great well-written report for them to take any action at all.
Leah: [00:03:33] Yeah. That’s certainly what we’ve been seeing, that these cases really do need to be escalated in order for something to be done.
Chris: [00:03:41] When we talk about escalations, we’re talking about sometimes you have to call out the manager of a team or directly contact a specific queue over another queue, but with an idea of who controls and who manages these teams, I mean, we’ve got people who are occasionally trying to knock on the door of a VP who manages that part of the marketplace and the managers report to them. And that’s the only way we actually saw action taken.
Leah: [00:04:08] Well, I think, at least, all science point to this theory. I think that the abuse teams probably have the same key performance metrics as seller support or seller performance, which is just quantity rather than quality. So again, the fastest way for them to get something off of their desk is just to mark it as resolved. If they’re not being judged or graded on the quality of their investigations, they really aren’t incentivized to actually act on those reports, which I think is why we are having to escalate up to those upper management people.
Chris: [00:04:44] That’s the human, you know, personnel management, process management side. What about the tools, you know, are they only able to identify obvious clusters of data? Like somebody gets 500, five-star reviews overnight? Well, their algorithms or machine learning can pick that up. Is it the same thing with detailed page abuse or brand abuse where it has to be a major switch that’s obvious and basic where images of your product are replaced, you know, with images of trees or something?
Leah: [00:05:13] I don’t think it’s necessarily that, I mean we see their automated tools, flagging things that don’t even need to be flagged. So certainly their tools are sensitive. I think it’s just the people that are abusing listings are savvy and they change up the way they do it. They know how the algorithms work and they act accordingly. I mean, it’s not like we see the same abuse tactics that were being used a year ago, or even six months ago, they change. And I think they change because the people doing it are savvy enough to change with the tools.
Chris: [00:05:50] The projects are ahead of slow-moving Amazon teams, and we’ve heard this kind of common knowledge. Now information’s leaked out on how some of the tools operate. Maybe not, you know, mapping out the algorithm, but enough information has gone outside the company walls so that people know how to game the system but still the question becomes why can’t Amazon backtrack within their own tools, detail page abuse. If a bunch of content that doesn’t belong on a page got there and it’s brand registered, the brand registered private label brand owner didn’t do it, didn’t take these actions, didn’t write these words in their backend keywords, didn’t change their own images. Why can’t Amazon? I mean, are their tools so crude and elementary that they can’t even just backtrack who did what and when?
Leah: [00:06:36] Well, we’ve had different reports on that, because I think both you and Michael have told me that when you worked in seller performance, you were able to see an audit trail of changes to the listing. But I’ve heard from multiple people, on the catalog team, that they don’t have access to that audit trail. And I think I’ve, I want to say I’ve heard from somebody in executive seller relations that they can’t see that either. So I don’t know if the tools have changed or if the people just aren’t trained in how to use them, but it certainly seems that they don’t have access to that historical information of what was on the detail page when it was changed, who changed it. Which is why we’re having to get people to upload flat files more and more when we need to push a correct change through, because we need to have that batch ID to refer to in order for catalog to even be able to see.
Chris: [00:07:24] Yeah. And I had an interesting conversation with a reporter the other day, National Media, that covers the tech beat or Amazon, who said that sellers are starting to just schedule flat file uploads every X number of hours, assuming that their abuser, their attacker, has changed a bunch of stuff on their page in the meantime. So it’s just regularly.
Leah: [00:07:45] And a lot of the, a lot of the software tools for updating listings actually do just automatically push the API every.
Chris: [00:07:53] Six hours. I don’t know,
Leah: [00:07:54] However long a period to push those updates through.
Chris: [00:07:57] Yeah. And, just so sellers know, I mean, we do work, we have clients, we work with people who have top seller basins attacked every 24 hours. Every 18 hours. It’s measured in hours now. Not days, not weeks. In the old days, we would every couple of weeks, hey, my ASIN is down again. Somebody’s, you know, fake safety complaint or buyer complaints of inauthentic, whatever it was. They realized the fraudster types, black hats, realized that they could just go right at your listing and add things to it, to get it flagged by algorithms and suspended, which is where a lot of the, I think a lot of the fake pesticide suspensions came from.
Leah: [00:08:35] It’s a mix. Some of them are people putting in words that just got flagged, and then some people are other people putting in words to their listings.
Chris: [00:08:42] I think they use the pesticide ones because they knew that was a hot topic, and they knew that the algorithms were going nuts and there were tons of false positives anyway, so they were trying to trigger those. And then of course we’ve seen people who had listings that had elicit terms of a variety of nature, added to their backend keywords, which more or less got their license suspended immediately. The fact that you can get a competitor’s ASIN suspended by monkeying with their, you know, branded content or their detailed page or their backend keywords still mystifies me to this day.
Leah: [00:09:13] Yeah.
Chris: [00:09:13] It’s a loophole. Yeah. Just so everyone knows it’s a loophole. Amazon has not closed. This is common knowledge. We’re not sharing a black hat technique that attackers haven’t already utilized in spades or thousands and thousands of times, for whatever reason, Amazon is unable to, or unwilling to close these loopholes. And we work daily sometimes again, hourly with brands who are getting attacked from competitors who know how to manipulate these systems or, I sometimes use Amazon internal teams to their advantage. And it’s something you have to prepare for.
Leah: [00:09:46] Yeah. And if your listings keep getting taken down, whether for the same reason or for different reasons, eventually that’s going to put your whole account at risk because Amazon is going to say like, this person keeps breaking the rules, let’s just suspend the account. Why are we still warning them or blocking those things at this point. So then it becomes even more important to resolve the abuse issue, before you lose your account and then have to go through reinstatement.
Chris: [00:10:10] I mean, your risk score is going to go up and you’ll perhaps see the account health bar go to at-risk from good, at least temporarily. And then the question becomes, how many times can you go from green to yellow before they start paying more attention? I mean, I don’t even know if that’s really widely known or understood right now. So the question becomes, I mean, you’ve done like a bajillion of these now, right? Unfortunately or not. So, I mean, what would you say to somebody who says, I understand the nature of the problem now, how do I protect myself? How do I begin to cover myself with some sort of shield that keeps this away?
Leah: [00:10:46] First thing is try and identify who’s doing the abuse. Which, may or may not be possible. That’s really your best bet because that then gives you some avenue to try and get proof of the abuse. I would certainly say that any of your listing changes should be made by flat file. Because again, that gives you a paper trail. So when you do have to report this, as somebody abusing your listing, you can show them, this is the last time we updated our listing batch ID, blah, blah, blah. On this date, none of that information was in the listing at that time. Where if you using the API again, you would have that information to give them, because again, I’ve heard from multiple people at Amazon that they can’t see an audit trail for API changes. So you need to have something that you can refer back to that Amazon can refer back to that shows that this is what your detailed page looks like when you updated it. This is what it looks like now. You did not make those changes.
Chris: [00:11:45] It also helps the investigators who are already short on time. If you give them direction in terms of look here, keyword abuse, keyword abuse, maybe it’s just reporting, repeated the same phrase over and over, but saying it to the point where they’re like maybe I should look at where that abuse is coming from. If they can’t track it and they can’t see it, then they’re going to help you fix the problem and that’ll be the end of the escalation work, but we’re hopeful that you can just keep directing their eyes towards, this is exactly how we’re getting hit on the exact same ASIN’s every time by what’s likely the same competitor or the same black hat seller. At some point they have to see the pattern and say, this pattern is coming from a certain direction and you know, figure out where that sniper’s nest is so they can go after them so that they don’t have to look at your account over and over and over, because that’s just more work for them. Right? What are they afraid of? Mountains of work that they have layered on top of the mountains they already have? Well, they want to reduce their own workload. Maybe they can find the, you know ,the, disease and not just the symptom. I mean, that’s really what they’re doing. They’re just treating the symptom.
Leah: [00:12:57] Right. Exactly.
Chris: [00:12:59] So if anyone has examples of this, wants to show them to us, guidance, obviously we’re here to help. You can go to e-commerce Chris, I’ve got a contact form there and we’ll try to point you in the right direction. So thanks again, Leah. I’ll talk to you soon.
Leah: [00:13:15] Thanks Chris.
Hosts & Guests
Join our workshop at Prosper July 12, 2021, When Black Hats Attack: Defending Your Amazon Business
Category Listing Reports are one of the more useful tools available to sellers, and most don’t know what it is! We use these reports to vet cases, identify abuse, all the way through to strengthening plans of action. Sellers should be using these to protect their accounts. BONUS: they can simplify your listing management.
Dealing with an account suspension is difficult for most sellers. Even more difficult is getting suspended for the same reason twice. Amazon only gives you so many changes, and that second reinstatement is hard to achieve. How do you prove to Amazon that you’ve REALLY implemented a plan of action to prevent future issues when you already failed to follow through on your previous appeal?