Amazon Sellers' Black Hat Tactics and Amazon's Lack of Preventative or Punitive Action

October 05, 2023

To best explain the issue at hand, I've chosen a representative example product (that is currently still live as of this writing on October 5, 2023):

This listing for iPhone 15 cases already has a whopping 356 ratings (it previously had some 922 ratings, but we’ve already reported it once and had that listing taken down).  The current oldest reviews are from all the way back in 2020, which clearly cannot be reviews for the iPhone 15 series cases, which would have only been a product as of a few weeks ago.

The tactic used by these bad actor sellers to manipulate Amazon’s system is by simply taking an old product (in this case, an iPhone 7 case) and adding it to the variation set. When products are all part of a variation set on Amazon (displayed as one listing with multiple options such as size and color), their reviews are bundled together. In this case, any reviews for the very old iPhone 7 case would also be displaying for every other product in the variation set. If the iPhone 7 case is out of stock, then it isn’t even actually shown on the storefront (although the reviews are still included) so no one is wiser to the deception unless someone does more digging. 

On the back-end on the seller side, we do have a way of viewing all of the products in the variation set, and that can often make it obvious which products have been inappropriately added to the variation set:

To us, with a small amount of digging, it is incredibly obvious that this seller is deceiving customers, artificially inflating the reviews of their new iPhone 15 cases, and manipulating the Amazon system in ways that are clear violations of Amazon’s policy.

For some reason, however, Amazon doesn’t seem to take much action despite our best efforts to report these listings. It takes us days, and often repeated reporting of these bad listings for Amazon to take action. Amazon gives us almost no feedback about what they are actually doing to resolve the issue after we've submitted a complaint in their system. Eventually, we are usually able to see that the variation set is broken up by viewing the products on the Amazon storefront, but in most cases the seller will simply recreate the variation set it in some form almost immediately. Obviously this is very frustrating to us and a huge waste of our time.

We sure wish Amazon would take stronger action to prevent these bad actors from using these deceptive and misleading tactics, but in the end we have little power to make any difference. It hurts us as both a seller and as regular Amazon customers ourselves. We just wanted to put this out there so more people can be aware of what is going on and so you can hopefully be a smarter shopper going forward, taking care to read reviews with a grain of salt, and hopefully refraining from supporting these kinds of sellers. 

Note that the example above is just one example out of dozens just for iPhone 15 wallet cases, so who knows the pervasiveness of this problem across all of Amazon, but it is certainly something to be wary of until Amazon makes some serious changes!

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