But just in case, he reported the matter to Amazon. A few days later, most of the comments disappeared and the problem seemed to be resolved. Pranski reinvested in the operation of millions of dollars worth of weapons.AccessoriesBusiness work. However, two weeks later, the offending email from Amazon said: "You manipulated us.websiteComments on the products sold, this violates our policy. To this end, you will be banned from selling products on Amazon.com, and your list of products is also removed from our website. ”
In fact, this is the formation of competitors against Pransky, and buying a five-star rating on the Amazon website is a very serious crime. The funds in the Plansky account were immediately frozen and his product page was closed. It may take up to several weeks to get back to business. The journey begins with a button he clicks at the bottom of the notice, which says "Decision Appeal."
Amazon becomes a judge, jury and executioner
When you buy something on Amazon, you may not notice that you are not buying from Amazon. Plansky is one of the 6 million sellers on Amazon's third-party trading platform Marketplace. They are largely unknown to customers, but behind any item for sale, there may be dozens of sellers who are vying for your clicks. According to Market Pulse's data from the e-commerce analysis website, last year's Marketplace sales were almost twice that of Amazon's own retail business, making it the world's largest e-commerce company with just the seller's platform.
For sellers, Amazon is like an official agency. They rely on their infrastructure—warehouses, shipping networks, financial systems, and portals for countless customers—and pay taxes on commissions. These sellers also live in the horror of Amazon's rules, which are constantly changing and strictly enforced. A mysterious email like that received by Pranski is likely to make the seller's business go bankrupt, and there is almost no way to appeal.
Amazon's ruling is so severe that its rules have become the ultimate weapon for market competition on the Marketplace. As Pranski has experienced, sellers have come up with complicated plans to frame their competitors. They resort to counterfeiting, copying, deception, threats, and sabotage, and even bribe Amazon employees to get information about competitors.
The seller needs to be self-incriminating. The road to appeal is long.
They are like lawyers, except that the laws they pursue are Amazon's terms of service. Their courts are secret, semi-automated corporate bureaucracies. Their jurisdiction is a global market controlled by algorithms. Conspiracy. People like Sting are middlemen and guides on the cruel land of Amazon. They are willing to help those who are desperate, and of course they need to be rewarded.
In a tree-lined community in eastern Dallas, Sting runs a 25-person company in her house. Every day, she sits in front of two monitors, scribbling notes on the tablet, and picking up calls from upset sellers who have received terrible emails from Amazon. On the phone, she patiently listened to the seller about her dissatisfaction. She said: "You have to pull them off the window sill. One way is to let their voices be heard."
However, Amazon does not offer such an opportunity, they will not talk about these issues with these people. Sting called the Plank's plan a "dirty seller trick," she had seen before. As Amazon's efforts to crack down on false reviews escalate, sellers realize that the most effective strategy is not to buy a five-star rating for themselves, but to buy for a competitor, and the more obvious the fraud is.
And Sting’s team found that the only way to get back to normal business is to “recognize and repent”, even if you think you haven’t done anything wrong. Sting said: "Amazon does not like to see sellers blaming each other." Amazon said the seller's complaint is "appeal", which means that its ruling may be overturned. In fact, this is more like a plea bargain in a business memo, the core of which is the “action plan,” which explains how you will get things done. To do this, you need to admit what you did wrong.
So, Plansky and Stin’s team sat down and wanted to find something wrong, or anything that could be frank. In the appeal, Plansky admitted that before Amazon banned this practice, it offered discounts to buyers who had received favorable reviews. He said, "This is crazy! I feel like I was put into prison because of a crime I have not committed. The only way out is to plead guilty."
To some extent, Plansky's case is simple. He at least knows what he must admit, even if he has not done it. Many sellers don't even know that Amazon is accusing them of making a mistake. A seller described Amazon's typical approach: "I put you in jail, but didn't explain what you did. Now give me a reason: Why should I let you out, you won't do it again."
Most sellers are willing to spend money to avoid disasters
Most of Sting's work involved interpreting the mysterious offending email sent by the Amazon performance team and then mining every comment, metric, and message in the seller's account just to find the violation she needed to design a remedy. Actual violations can be minor or general.
JC Hewitt's law firm often deals with Amazon's sellers. He denounces Amazon's violating title system for pleading guilty and arbitral, saying that its language is "Kafka-style bureaucracy, poor writing." These inscrutable rulings emerged from the black box, the performance team did not leave a phone number, and did not ask for clarification. The only way to interact with them is to file an appeal. When the appeal is dismissed, the seller often does not know the reason.
Sellers can call another department of Amazon, Seller Support, but these employees cannot provide information about the performance team and can only provide general advice about what the seller might have done wrong. This kind of secrecy mechanism may be very frustrating for sellers. They will go to Seattle or Amazon's London office to try to find a real person to solve the problem, but they have nothing to gain.
But in the end, the most annoying thing is not the title. But whenever Hamon appeals, Amazon always responds in the same way, asking for more information. He said: "I am caught in a strange circle of artificial intelligence devices." According to former Amazon employees, in fact, someone may have read Harmon's appeal, but they are only part of a highly automated bureaucracy. The algorithm tags sellers based on a set of metrics (customer complaints, number of returns, certain keywords used in the reviews, and other more mysterious variables) and passes them to performance team employees in India, Costa Rica, and other regions.
According to McCabe and others, they tend to refuse to accept the appeal. These people have to deal with appeals about every four minutes, and it is obviously not good for them to unblock them after the title. When they are at a disadvantage, they often ask the seller to provide more information and find out the mistakes. When asked about the harsh and confusing complaints about the title process, Amazon issued a statement responding that the company supports the business that is sold through its platform.
The company wrote: “In order to protect customers and sellers, we have a sales policy that all sellers agree on and act quickly against violations of these policies. We have an appeal process where sellers can explain how they will prevent violations. Occur, or let us know if they believe that they are compliant." There are a lot of reasons for the title, after all, the prospect of easy access to the global market has attracted countless counterfeiters, money launderers and property owners.
The invisible secret of Amazon's early success
Marketplace Pulse founder Juozas Kaziukenas said that Amazon's ability to hide its Marketplace confusion from consumers was part of the company's early success. Amazon looks like a traditional retailer, and its mechanism can both promote fierce competition and bring a retail-like experience.
Through Amazon's distribution, all sellers have to send their goods to Amazon's warehouse, Amazon is responsible for storage and distribution, and put a Prime logo on their product list, promised to provide fast free shipping and simple return service. Behind the scenes, sellers compete with each other on price and other metrics, mainly related to customer satisfaction, to gain favor from buyers and become the default seller on the buyer's product list.
There are two types of sellers on Amazon. The first is resellers, including product diverters, re-importers and grey market tycoons. They played a hidden and important role in making Amazon a “business store”. Brands that refuse to work with Amazon often find their products on the platform through these back-end channels.
The second type is the "own brand" seller. Instead of competing with dozens of other vendors to sell similar products, they are committed to building their own brands. Some of these sellers have launched original products, similar to traditional companies. Although they are almost entirely based on Amazon, many merchants only add their own logos to popular products from China to create a variety of goods. Catalogue, including spinning machines, cowboy boots and survival gear. As a result, only the brands that sell the same products on Amazon have experienced Cambrian explosions. Recently, their status has been strengthened by a new generation of sellers located in China, closer to the origin.
Although private-label sellers still face competition from other vendors who buy or counterfeit their products, they have largely escaped the battle around the Buy Box. Instead, they find themselves competing in a new area – Amazon's search rankings. On Amazon, about 70% of searches are about ordinary products like "running shoes" or "milk foam", not brands. Amazon makes it so easy to buy things that customers often see the first reaction when they see Prime delivery service.
If sellers can use Amazon's algorithms to earn high scores for their brands, then they can sell more than the big names that are well-known. But the search location is the most important. Just as the competition around the “buy box” spread to the surge of ordinary brands, the competition around search rankings has had unintended consequences: the seller’s competitive focus is not on price and quality, but on who can best destroy it. Ranking. If the destroyers are familiar enough with Amazon's system, they can trap their opponents in the surreal edge of the Amazon court.
"Jeff bomb" into the final appeal
Sting said that in the past people mainly played games on Amazon's platform to get higher rankings. Now they play games to eliminate each other, and sending the most wealthy people in the world is actually increasing the appeal of Amazon sellers. Standard method. This method is called "Jeff bomb." These letters all write: "Dear Mr. Bezos, we need your help very much." It may not be that Bezos is watching these emails. Generally speaking, only lucky sellers will get the sympathy of Bezos employees. And responded.
Pransky’s letter to Bezos has not been echoed, but at a party, a seller gave him the name of the Amazon “high-level”. He sent them an email and soon he retrieved his account. In general, Plansky estimated that the incident cost him about $150,000. Sting realized that the title system is often unfair and always causes unnecessary confusion, but she has confidence in the overall system. Sometimes she compares it to Darwin's theory of evolution, or the way the government shapes society through taxation and punishment. However, in the Amazon example, the ultimate goal is to create a “better buyer experience,” a good thing that you will never want to go to a physical store experience.
Sting pointed out that Amazon occupies the "God's perspective", and every seller whose title is sin has some kind of sin, even if it is only innocent. She believes she is doing Amazon's work and shows sellers how to reform their business to keep it in line with the Amazon model. She likes to say: "Submission is the foundation of growth." But she began to encounter more and more cases like Plasky, the seller is innocent, even if obeying Amazon's strange rules. Obviously, they were framed.
Such attacks are becoming more common on Amazon. More customers and more sellers mean more competition for top search results and more profit. There may be 500 million products on this platform, but the highest search locations and Amazon's best-selling badges are limited. Last year, only about 20,000 sellers (0.3%) had annual sales of more than $1 million. In the highly competitive world that Amazon has built, the company's efforts to correct sellers' misconduct will soon become a weapon for sellers to attack each other.
For example, Amazon's efforts to crack down on false five-star comments have spawned the "five-star bomb" that Pransky has encountered. In 2016, the suspension skateboard began to explode, Amazon became more vigilant about the safety statement, the sellers began to buy each other's products, set fire to the fire, and posted photos in the comments. Amazon has launched a "brand registration" project to allow companies to more effectively guard against counterfeit goods. Any seller with a trademark can register their brand on Amazon and get the product of the seller they claim to infringe quickly. However, scammers have effectively used Amazon's anti-counterfeiting program. The attacks became so common that even the USPTO was pulled over.
When asked about the seller's attack, Amazon said malicious behavior only accounted for a small portion of the site's activities, and the company used machine learning and other tools to stop them. For the “brand registration” attack, Amazon said it is “working closely with the brand, the USPTO and other agencies to continue to strengthen protection measures and implement a preemptive strategy.”
There are more subtle ways to destroy. Sellers sometimes buy Google ads that are not related to the product for competitors. For example, a dog food advertisement linked to shampoo products, so that Amazon's algorithm can see the clicks turn into sales declines and automatically downgrade their products. They will enter the black market, buy or lease seller accounts with special editing rights, and use these accounts to change the color or description of competitor products so that they will be numbered because too many customers complain about the product.
Amazon changes traditional fraud
Considering the fierce competition between commodities, this vicious competition may be surprising, but the size of Amazon has changed the traditional fraud. Instead of attacking luxury brands, it is better to attack ordinary goods that people buy every day, such as USB cables, cutlery boxes, and various extruded plastic products. Sting said: "All profitable small products are definitely potential targets. Whenever you succeed in Amazon, you will be the target of others."
Recently, the fierce competition in the Amazon Marketplace has led to naked bribery. Last September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is investigating employees in the US and India because they leaked internal data to sellers in exchange for bribes. The ads found in Amazon’s internal reports even promise to “monitor your competitors!” said Steen: “This is information that Amazon will never give you, and it’s definitely worth it.”
When asked about internal data breaches, Amazon responded by stating that the company has strict rules of conduct for employee and audit information. The company wrote: "We will never tolerate abuse of our system. If we find bad behavior, we will act quickly, including terminating their sales account, deleting comments, withholding funds, and taking legal action."
However, if someone can guarantee ‘I will unblock your account tomorrow’, are you willing to pay? Most sellers are almost willing to pay this fee. Sting said that among the more than 20 sellers she spoke to, they all said that their experience during the title period was a nightmare, and expressed the hope to return to Amazon to resume sales as soon as possible. Plansky said his search ranking dropped during the title period. In order to regain his position, he purchased an Amazon advertisement.
For most sellers and more and more traditional businesses, Amazon is so large that it has become the default place for people to shop, so that they will try to endure the constant damage, just like the cost of doing business. . In a sense, the chaos of the platform provides the impetus for its own growth. The only way to get your brand managed on Amazon is to join it, as Nike did last year, and after years of boycotts, he eventually joined the Amazon camp.
When sellers get into trouble with customer complaints or counterfeiter attacks, the solution is often more fully integrated with Amazon, including participating in their distribution plans, buying Amazon tags to ensure products are not being transferred, and even making their brands exclusive to Amazon. In order to be specially protected. Many sellers come to Amazon to find new distribution channels for their retail business or find ways to help the company take off. But they found that Amazon has become their advertising company, storefront, warehouse and shipper. For some people, Amazon is still their bank and an intermediary to collect sales tax. It sets rules and enforces them.
This is a system for Amazon that outsources the cost of managing inventory and supplier relationships. The revenue from seller commissions and other expenses has grown much faster than Amazon's online sales. In the first half of the year, Amazon's commission income reached US$19 billion, a year-on-year increase of 41%, accounting for approximately 18% of the company's total revenue. Antitrust concerns have emerged, mainly because Amazon uses its own brand to compete with other vendors. For a company that has become a market itself, it is harder for regulators to grasp whether it is monopolizing the market. But one day, we may all be assimilated by Amazon.