Unscrupulous sellers are slotting their products into incorrect categories in order to win the #1 Best Seller rank and mislead shoppers into thinking that they’re buying a rockstar product on Amazon.
How the Scam Works
A recent piece from Bloomberg has exposed a black-hat tactic used by bad actors on the Amazon marketplace of putting popular items in incorrect and slow-selling categories to trick the Amazon algorithm into thinking that the product is selling more than it actually is.
Some scams investigated involve smartphone mounts for car dashboards, smartphone cases, and USB drives. A cited example involved a phone mount that showed up under “replacement axle shafts”, under which it obviously does not belong. Because this incorrect category is low-selling and less competitive (ergo, a lot of people are buying phone mounts and not many are buying axle shafts), the popular product skyrocketed to best seller status, causing multiple best selling phone mounts to pop up on the search results page.
This practice will come as no surprise to seasoned Amazon sellers because it is a common black-hat tactic used by unscrupulous sellers to game the marketplace, but its prevalence becomes more pressing as the holidays approach, where online shoppers are expected to spend $120 billion.
Bloomberg identified more than 25 examples of smartphone mounts slotted into incorrect categories, all of which are sold by China-based sellers, who make up 59% of the top sellers on Amazon. Best-selling phone mounts were found in unrelated car accessory categories like “axle shafts” and “windshield wiper hoses”, suggesting that the fraudsters are targeting tangent categories in order to stay under the algorithm’s radar.
Why #1 Best Seller Matters
Amazon Badges like “Best Seller” and “Amazon’s Choice” appear as colored banners next to hot-selling products for any given category. They function as a stamp of approval and indicate a certain product’s quality, sales performance, and good customer reviews.
By slotting products into incorrect categories and getting the Best Seller badge, unscrupulous sellers mislead shoppers into thinking that their products are hotter than they actually are. Moreover, snagging the Best Seller badge in a category means that honest sellers who actually deserve the badge are deprived of the potential sales boost and profits.
The Best Seller badge, which is updated hourly on the marketplace, has been observed to boost sales velocity during the time it attaches to a product because they are directly visible to online shoppers. On the contrary, Amazon shoppers easily overlook the fine print, including the product category, when buying products online. Bad actors use this to boost their own sales by as much as 50%.
What Amazon Is Doing
Slotting products into incorrect categories is definitively against Amazon TOS, although it has not stopped sellers from finding loopholes and gray areas. The prevalence of these best seller scammers shows a degree of lack of enforcement on Amazon’s part in handling fraud cases on the marketplace.
According to an Amazon spokesperson, Amazon uses machine learning to detect products placed in incorrect categories, with manual reviews by product classification experts also employed when needed. Sellers who violate categorization rules usually receive a warning, and repeat offenders can be suspended from selling on the platform. For many sellers, however, reporting these scams have resulted in little to no help from Amazon.
Best Seller scams belong to a plethora of black-hat tactics that bad faith Amazon sellers use to get a leg up on the marketplace, and the biggest losers are always the customers and Amazon sellers who play by the rules.