Black Hat Amazon Seller Tricks and How to Spot Them and What To Do

Every experienced Amazon seller has either heard about or had direct experience with black hat sellers at least once in their selling career. What's a black hat seller you might be asking?

A black hat seller is someone who uses illegal tricks to game the system or to put their competitors at a disadvantage. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon employees in the US and India had been helping certain Amazon sellers manipulate search results and some Amazon employees allegedly leaked internal sales and keyword data, deleted negative product reviews in exchange for bribes and sold customer email addresses to sellers. Don't worry, these Amazon employees have been fired, but the threat of malicious activities to gain a competitive advantage still persist.

In this article we'll be going over some of the more common tactics we've seen and what you can do about it. If there's anything on this list that you feel we've missed, please let us know in the comments.

1. Suspending competitors product listings with fake positive reviews

With negative publicity around a rising tide of fake reviews, Amazon is swift to react to any perceived manipulation of its product reviews system. Until recently, the greatest cause for concern was brands and sellers trying to obtain positive reviews for their own products through either paying for reviews outright or incentivizing customers in other ways to leave reviews. When discovered, these product listings would be investigated by Amazon and the seller or vendor put under watch.

But a more nefarious tactic has emerged recently where a seller will generate dozens of fake positive reviews for a competitor - immediately raising red flags in Amazon’s system and causing an almost immediate suspension of the product.

What you can do:

Keep an eye on your reviews and if you start seeing a bunch of un-verified reviews, notify Amazon immediately. Seller's Suite offers a product monitoring tool that will monitor this for you and send you updates when and if this occurs.

2. Highjacking product listing content

Some brands have reported the product images, titles, and other content being changed, sometimes in ways that significantly compromise the brand's ability to sell that product. "The hackers are uploading vulgar and controversial pics on product listings, and deleting the correct pictures. They're also changing the descriptions, putting in claims that products cure cancer, and other diseases, causing amazon's "bots" to permanently remove entire companies product lines from the Amazon catalog." says Hairgenics, a hair care brand that sells on Amazon. This was despite the fact that the brand was enrolled in Amazon's Brand Registry, which should prevent any other seller making changes to the product detail page.

What you can do:

Adding your product to Amazon's Brand Registry helps reduce this risk significantly. If this isn't an option for you, then using a product monitoring tool, like the one mentioned above can notify you if anything like this occurs.

3. Stocking counterfeit products

The phrase ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ is no comfort to brands who have had their product knocked off, and even worse if the counterfeiter is now capturing the brand’s sales for that product. Amazon’s marketplace system means that unless a product or category is gated to new sellers, any seller can list inventory for a product and start selling it. This can open the door to competitors producing knockoffs without a brand being aware of it until customers start complaining.

What you can do:

Again, adding your product to brand registry can help curb these issues, but monitoring your products -cough*Product Monitoring Tool*cough- also helps in identifying hijackers so you can respond quickly by notifying Amazon and sending a cease and desist letter.

4. Suspending competitors’ accounts with false infringement claims

If a seller is able to knock competitors off listings for at least a few days (especially over the weekend), it compromises their ability to make sales. Common methods include black hat sellers submitting false copyright infringement claims, which take several days for sellers to troubleshoot and resolve.

What you can do:

As of recently, Amazon has been suspending seller accounts who file they maliciously file this claims, which has mitigated the issue somewhat. Regardless, Amazon suggests you keep all paperwork related to product safety and compliance, copyright information such as patents and trademarks, and supplier information in an easily accessible place in the event this happens.

5. Draining Ad Spends

This used to be a bigger issue than it is today, but not so long ago, competitors would have bots search for items on Amazon and then click on competitor ads, racking up ad spend. Amazon has allegedly come out with better algorithms in detecting these bots and this doesn't appear to be much of an issue anymore.

What you can do:

There's not a whole lot you can do to stop or even mitigate this one. Just keep an eye on your ad metrics, which you should be doing anyways, and if you see anything unusual respond quickly. One thing to look out for, is if you notice an has a CTR of 5% and then it drops down to 1% for consecutive weeks, then you need to investigate further.

6. Holding Up Inventory With Pending Orders

Ooooooohhhhh is this one a pain the a$$. Some black hats will purchase competitor products on a dummy Amazon account with an expired credit card and purchase your products. Now, since the card is expired, the sale won't actually go through immediately and Amazon will hold that order in pending for a minimum of 7 days while it tries the card again and again. In some rare cases, pending orders can stay in pending for up to 30 days. This tactic is used especially during busy seasons.

What you can do:

First, know your typical orders cycle, specifically how long your typical order stays in pending. Believe it or not, a surprising number of buyers pay by ACH checking account, which can add days to an orders pending status. When you know your typical pending time, then you'll know what is normal and what isn't.

Keep in mind, it's normal to see pending orders go up a little bit doing the holiday season, but if you start seeing 5% of orders in pending over 3 days, then you might have an attack on hand.

When this happens you need to actually contact Seller Support and have them cancel the order. It speeds things up if you can provide the order numbers in a file and email it to them. Also, make sure to keep the case log open until the rush is over, as the attacker will likely keep it up during the duration of the rush.

Conclusion

Amazon is constantly updating their platform in order to make it a better shopping experience for buyers and a better selling experience for sellers. Unfortunately, it seems to be a game of 'whack-a-mole' at the moment, where for every black hat they remove another takes their place.

That's why many sellers are creating their own internal processes for monitoring their Amazon channel, or engaging with third party software or service companies to prevent and cure these situations. Regardless, it's something that all sellers should know about and be up-to-date on all the black hat tactics and how to identify and circumvent them.