Amazon Updates Terms of Service
Last week, Amazon released an update to their terms of service on “Prohibited Seller Activities”, addressing the manipulation of sales rank.
We spoke with Keith O’Brien, CEO of iLoveToReview, a service provider working with hundreds of sellers from across the globe to discuss his company’s initial response to the announcement and how he believes the update will impact sellers.
Terms of Service Updates
“From what we understand, Amazon is really trying to crack down on very specific black hat techniques such as fake accounts and fake order processing,” O’Brien said.
According to the update, Amazon sellers are no longer allowed to manipulate their products’ ranking by:
- Offering an “excessive” number of free or discounted products, in exchange for reviews.
- Soliciting or knowingly accepting fake or fraudulent orders.
- Making claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page optimization.
Excessive free or discounted products:
As seen in the excerpt above from the updated TOS, sellers are no longer permitted to manipulate their products’ ranking by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products in exchange for a review.
So what qualifies (by Amazon standards) as an “excessive” number of free or discounted products? Is it 5 or 500 products? What is it compared to?
Many Amazon sellers provide product(s) for free or at a discount in exchange for unbiased reviews to help increase their product reviews and seller ranking.
“Nothing in the new update changes that. Regardless of what you have heard, providing products for free or at a discount in exchange for a review is within TOS and encouraged by Amazon,” O’Brien said.
In the updated terms, seller support is referring to when sellers provide multiple units to the same person. According to O’Brien, sellers are doing this for two reasons: to manipulate the review and to manipulate the rank.
For example: A company sends out a free product for review. The customer posts a two star review. When the company sees this type of negative feedback, they send the same customer another free product and ask them to updated their review.
Companies will also manipulate the system by encouraging faux purchases and codes.
“Sellers will have these people create fake orders and fake shipping,” he said.
Ultimately, it tracks the order as if a purchase was made on Amazon but no transaction is actually processed. The person cancels the order soon after – but it still adds ad rank.
Misuse of sales rank:
As explained in the paragraph above, this change is pretty straight forward. Sellers are no longer permitted to use phrases such as “Best Selling”, “#1 Rated”, or other misleading words in their headline, bullet points and/ or descriptions.
Reaction to the TOS update:
According to O’Brien, “We haven’t taken this news lightly. On Monday, we sent the updated TOS to all of our clients so they were informed. While we were gathering information and clarity from Amazon, we also required a written re-confirmation from our clients in order to run a campaign. On Monday, the feedback from Seller Support was all over the board. No one gave the same answer.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, O’Brien said a unified story finally started to emerge.
Amazon seeks to eliminate
- When providing a product in exchange for a review – some sellers are providing additional products (same or different) to try and turn negative reviews to positive. This is manipulation of both the review and potentially of sales rank.
- When providing a product in exchange for a review – some sellers are providing many additional claim code coupons to that same person in order to manipulate sales rank.
Example: A buyer agrees to provide an unbiased review for your product, you provide them 20 discount codes. The buyer get 20 units of the same product, while they only can leave 1 review, the additional or “excessive” units manipulate sales rank.
“I asked Support specifically if I could run a promotion of however many units I wanted to give away in exchange for unbiased reviews and was clearly told that I could,” he said.
“It’s Amazon, so only time will tell. Everyone knows you can get a variety of answers from different people. Amazon is still growing as a company and like any large company, the human factor is at play. We really encourage you to do your own homework. Call seller support and have a specific conversation with them about what your plans are for promotions,” he said.
“If you are doing a promotion in exchange for unbiased reviews, your intent is to generate reviews, not to manipulate rank. Additionally, any sales above your daily average is going to influence your ranking. If you are selling 30 units a day and you do a promotion giving away even 5 units a day, your sales rank will increase. If you do a promotion of 150 units at one time, your sales rank will increase. Any giveaways or promotions that increase your daily sales will increase your rank…there is no way to avoid it,” he said.
“It’s standard business that when you run a promotion or sales, your volume increases. Period. From what I have been told, their intent with the new TOS is not to impact promotions for reviews that are already in compliance with existing TOS.”
For more on the latest TOS updates, email [email protected]