E111: Amazon Horror Stories from Real Sellers
This is an episode I wish we didn't have to record.
Competition on Amazon is getting stiffer and stiffer and some sellers, in order to succeed, use the shortcut and employ black hat tactics–killing the business of other sellers mercilessly, if need be.
In this episode, we discuss in detail how these black-hat tactics work. I invited three Amazon sellers who actually went through the grueling experience of being victims to competitors who have no moral compass. We are doing this in the hopes that we spread awareness of what is happening, especially since Amazon doesn't seem to care much.
Below is an overview of what we discussed:
- How Kevin Chen, who sells items in the health and beauty market, fell victim to fake reviews and fake comments on nearly all of his reviews
- How Chris Nowak, founder of My PPC Pal, got accused of selling counterfeits of a product he developed and manufactured himself
- Robert Weisberg's baffling case against Amazon itself (or someone selling via Amazon Vendor Express)
- How they tried to resolve their cases and how Amazon responded (spoiler alert: they weren't of any help at all)
Lately, we noticed that these black hat practices are getting more and more prevalent. What's sad is Amazon mostly only cares about buyers and much less about sellers. It seems that they are okay with letting honest sellers lose, as long as they get their commissions.
We want to spread as much awareness as possible about what's happening, and if we band together, we can make a big difference.
Million Dollar Private Label Pros
My PPC Pal
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Thanks for listening!
Full Audio Transcript
Mike: This is Mike, and welcome to episode number 111 of the EcomCrew Podcast. You can go to EcomCrew.com/111 to go to the comments for this episode. And this is an episode that I wish I just didn't have to record. It's about some of the dirty tactics that are going on at Amazon. And as an Amazon seller, I certainly have a dog in this fight. And this stuff is becoming more and more aggravating and concerning as an Amazon seller, a seven-figure Amazon seller. It's disconcerting, to say the least.
And so today we ended up with three people on the podcast that are Amazon sellers themselves, all of which are seven-figure sellers, all of which are telling slightly different tales of really disingenuous pretty dirty stuff that's happening to them that Amazon doesn't seem to care about or respond to in any way, shape, or form other than to ignore it or to say we're sorry or anything that isn't actually solving the problem unfortunately.
So again I wish this was one of these episodes that we didn't have to do. I hope that this does shed some light on some of the things that are happening at Amazon. We are going to do our best to promote this episode in a way that we’ll hopefully get Amazon to look at this and maybe make some positive changes. I think that it's easy for them to do if they had a dog in the fight as well.
The unfortunate thing is, is that if people are searching for items, they're probably going to buy something no matter what. And for Amazon it isn't necessarily in their best interest to protect an individual seller against some of these tactics. So listen to these three guys, understand what's kind of going on, and we'll talk to you on the other side of these segments.
Mike: Hey Kevin, welcome to the EcomCrew Podcast man.
Kevin: Hey Mike, thanks for having me.
Mike: No problem. I wish it was under better circumstances. We're doing this episode on all the shady tactics that happen on Amazon, and just kind of getting some people together that I know in the industry they've had some pretty awful stuff happen to them. And I feel like you're on the extreme end of that spectrum in the review section at least. And this is something that we've talked about on the podcast before.
We know that there's basically like Chinese farms doing this stuff basically full-time through different IP addresses and just descending on competitors’ listings and doing a bunch of really shady stuff. And unfortunately, you've been the target of that, and we're going to talk a little bit about that. This has been, I guess a multi-month or even multi-year problem for you, but more so that they seem to have come back recently and started targeting you.
So this is just to give people a sense of your product here and stuff real quick before we get into it. This is a product in the health and beauty market and hair growth specifically. It used to be a four and a half almost five-star product, best seller in the category, now it's down to four stars and kind of falling from there, and we’ll talk about some specific examples on this part.
But I looked through it before we started recording. And it's just like one of the most disgusting examples of competitors just completely screwing over another competitor in the most egregious way, and Amazon just doesn't do anything about it. So with that introduction, I guess Kevin if you could just give a 30 second to a minute like synopsis of what you've been going through, and then we can go through some specific examples, and then talk a little bit more about what you've done and what has and hasn't happened to this point.
Kevin: Yeah sure Mike. So basically, we've had a niche leader in the hair growth industry as you mentioned. And we've always had four and five-star reviews since our start. And one of these days we noticed a lot of one-star reviews are coming in, and most of them unverified. And a lot of them started talking about how we were scamming our consumers, and that we are exchanging products in exchange for reviews and all of our reviews are basically illegitimate. And this quite frankly it's all BS.
And lately, what they've done is that they've taken to the comments section of the reviews. And they started commenting on every single review that's coming in, and this is been going on for about a week. So every single review that has a comment saying that we are basically incentivizing reviews, that we are essentially getting reviews in a way that’s against terms of service and dissing our customers.
And so in the current marketplace, there is not a lot that we can do to counteract this. And this person is literally, they’re refreshing the listing and just leaving and copying and pasting this review nonstop. So you know I joke that this guy started listing more than I do because reviews would come in and within 20 minutes this guy would copy and paste the same comment.
Mike: Yeah that's crazy. And this is a product — I mean this is not a product that had like 20 reviews, you got hundreds of reviews, and the product was four and a half stars. And Kevin is not exaggerating like I'm going through the listing right now on the fly as we're talking here, and like every freaking review that he has, has a comment on it.
And anyone that sells on Amazon knows that this doesn't happen. I mean this is not normal behavior on Amazon. Someone is going through and left this diatribe same comment on every single review, and it's just complete horse crap. And it's not the only tactic, but just only — it isn't like they're only doing this one thing where they're leaving a comment on every review, there's a bunch of one-star reviews now that are actually verified. So they're obviously going out and buying this product and leaving reviews that are just like obviously not true.
I got one right here that I'm reading like refuses to refund false advertising. I know that that's not you. I've known you for a while, I know you're not going to — and you're smart enough to not, under any circumstances especially on Amazon, someone wants a refund you are going to do it. So I mean they're just leaving comments on there that are going to dissuade people from buying your product. And pretty quickly I'm sure that this has affected your sales.
Kevin: Yeah absolutely. You know being any intelligent seller in the marketplace; you know that Amazon reviews are the lifeblood. And so anytime someone asks for a refund, you give it to them immediately. So there's no way that there's anything literary to what this person is saying.
And that's not all they're doing, right? They're just taking all kinds of angles, and just coming out at this from all angles and attacking us. And they’re doing one star; they’ve done even three stars. So they're getting pretty smart with some of these things because they know that a three star looks a little bit more legitimate.
And it's kind of ridiculous. I mean they've even got to the point of writing so long essays with — I mean I'm not joking. There’s been a full on essay with eight photos that have pictures with diagrams and arrows pointing to things. And I mean it's crazy that they're willing to do this and go to this extent.
Mike: Yeah and I mean again anybody knows that like man I look at your reviews here and I know our reviews. I mean one in 50 people maybe leave pictures. If that, it's really hard to get smiley pictures. So like analytically or statistically when you have all of a sudden 10 out of the last 25 reviews that are left have photographs, that's a pretty big red flag for big data, right?
It's just one of these things where it’s like 20 standard deviations beyond the mean of any probability. You feel like hitting the power ball like back to back nights or something. It just doesn't happen, and even with all statistics and facts, Amazon still doesn't do anything about it.
And it's incredibly frustrating because the reality is – I mean the thing that is frustrating with this is that like someone searching for like hair growth, or whatever it is on Amazon, they're going to buy something no matter what. So Amazon isn't at risk here of losing sales, just an individual seller on Amazon is at risk losing sales. And they don't necessarily care about any one individual losing business when it isn't going to affect them.
And that's like the most screwed up part about this because someone searching for that is going to buy something. So if the competitor ends up winning at this game of immoral compass, it doesn't really hurt Amazon, which is really frustrating.
Kevin: Yeah, I mean that's really frustrating.
Mike: Yeah. I mean what's even more frustrating is what's going to come next here in this conversation because we talked a few minutes before this. And as a result of this, I mean you did what any good business person would do, you hired a lawyer and did the best you could to protect your business and correct this.
And here is where the story for me is just like ultra depressing. I’m sorry to throw salt on the wound, but if you can maybe just talk about what happened after that when you hired a lawyer, and what the results were.
Kevin: Yeah sure. I mean like any good Amazon seller, we knew the importance of taking action immediately. So we lawyered up. We got an attorney, we took photos of all the evidence, we took screenshots, we exported our data. We showed basically that these are people that were reviewing before the products even got sent to them. These are people that were leaving reviews without ever seeing the product, without ever being an actual consumer for it.
And we basically grabbed all that, put in a letter; it was a two-page letter from our attorney. We sent that to Amazon, and here are the things you can do when this happens, right? You can send it to Jeff@Amazon.com, and just the systems are going to see that. And you can send it to email seller performance, sellerperformance@Amazon.com, and you can also send it through community help at Amazon.com.
So that's what we did. We sent to all three of those sources, and we escalated. And after a week or two, Amazon sent us some generic response saying that they're going to take care of it. And then we keep refreshing and refreshing and refreshing our listing and nothing is happening. And finally after a while, they remove one review, and that was it. That's all they did through all the efforts from hiring an attorney, writing a letter, emailing Jeff, and it's just extremely frustrating for us.
Mike: Yeah I mean to me it just makes me feel like throw up on my mouth a little bit because it's just like I know how frustrating it is. This is probably just like that pit in your stomach. So we've had the stuff happen to us too, but just not on this scale. It's definitely happened, and it's one of the disadvantages of having a good selling product. It's almost like you don't want a good selling product, you want like a mediocre selling product. Your lists get less attention. It’s definitely frustrating.
Since all that happened since they removed just the one review, how long ago did that happen? Was that months ago or weeks ago, what's the timeframe here?
Kevin: Yeah, this is from nearly a year ago that they were doing this. And then this recent barrage of reviews started again about two, three weeks ago. So this is kind of a come and go kind of thing. I feel like sometimes they remember, well these guys are doing so well, I better go take them down now.
Mike: So I mean is there any more recourse from Amazon. I mean if you send more emails, or have you sent more emails now it's just like coming on deaf ears and you're going no response from them, or they're just telling you like we're not going take any more action on this, please stop emailing us? Where’s the stand right now?
Kevin: Yeah, it's kind of a difficult spot to be in, do you reply publicly, do you get an attorney, do you email Amazon first? Right now, what we're hoping to do is get an attorney to write a stern letter, and then really escalating that, kind of taking the same steps that I mentioned earlier, emailing Jeff, seller performance and all that. And quite frankly, I don't think that the result is going to be that different from last time simply because it's just not Amazon’s best interest to do anything for us.
Mike: Yeah, I agree.
Kevin: And there's not a whole lot that we can do as sellers honestly. And it's just what do you do right, because all of a sudden everyone knows how important it is have a four, four and a half star product. Anyone that that draws a three and a half and below, then you're going from seven figures to six figures or eight figures to a million in sales.
Mike: Yeah, that’s definitely really frustrating, and this is also why I mean you and I had a talk a while back because I know you for a while just about don't have all your eggs in one basket, don't only plan Amazon sandbox. I guess the bright part of the story is that you do have some or a sizable off Amazon business on your own Shopify store. So at least you have some of that to fall back on.
Kevin: Yeah absolutely. But I will tell you that even if you aren’t selling on Amazon and everybody probably knows this, that people are doing research. People are starting to buy searches on Amazon, they're learning about your brand. They trust your reviews much less than they trust Amazon to verify purchased reviews. So we still rely a lot on Amazon even though we have an off of Amazon business that's a little bit over 50% of our business.
Mike: Yeah, it’s definitely true.
Kevin: So having that be taken away from us is just – I mean it will be detrimental.
Mike: I hear you man, that's frustrating. Hopefully, this sheds some more light on this problem. I mean you're not alone, and that's the whole idea of this podcast. And we're going to share this the best we can to try to get this some in the hands of people that can do some journalistic insights on this and write some other stuff about it and hopefully get this on Amazon's radar and try to make some impactful changes in 2018.
So we’ll definitely keep you posted on how that's going, and I know it's been tough but keep your chin up and best of luck to you in 2018.
Kevin: Yeah thanks. I'll say one last thing, and I think for us as sellers we have to band together and really bring this problem to Amazon because they're not going to care on an individual seller basis. So the only way that we can really get them to take action is if we are able to get a group together or a community of sellers who can really raise this issue. Because as more foreign sellers flood the marketplace, I suspect that this is going to become more and more of an issue. And us consumers and sellers in the States will have fewer and fewer options to counter these black hat tactics coming from these competitors.
Mike: Yeah, I definitely agree. It’s something we’ve actually been thinking about working on ourselves because I think that it's a big issue. And we obviously have a dog in the fight as well because we're a multimillion-dollar Amazon seller ourselves and the stuff is what keeps me up at night. So I agree.
Kevin: Yeah, so Amazon it’s in your court.
Mike: Yup exactly. Alright chief, well best of luck and we'll keep in touch.
Kevin: Alright. Thanks, Mike, take care.
Mike: Hey Chris, thanks for joining me on the podcast today.
Chris: Yeah Mike, I’m glad to talk to you.
Mike: So just as a quick intro: Chris Nowak is a seven-figure Amazon seller, also the founder of My PPC Pal. I know Chris from the million dollar private label pros Amazon group. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. We've been kind of corresponding back and forth, and there's been a lot of black hat stuff kind of cropping up, people complaining about things in the group over the last couple of months, and I want to get a few different people on the podcast to discuss these things.
It's really frustrating. Our hope here is to shed some light on some of these issues. Chris, unfortunately, has had these things happen to him first hand and personally. So that's why I want to get him on the podcast. So again Chris thanks so much for coming on. And let's dig right into it because there's just a lot of really nasty crap that's going on. And we took some notes here before recording.
The first thing is some stuff that happened to you with false IP infringement claims. Let's talk about that for just a second.
Chris: Yeah, so this one just happened recently. This is back in October, so couple months ago. I woke up one morning and five variations of a six variation parent product, so the parent product has six ASINs under it. Five of them had been suspended due to someone claiming that I was selling counterfeit products of my own private label product that I source and manufacture.
Mike: And don’t sell to anybody else.
Chris: And don't sell to anybody else, and I do that on purpose so that I can control my stock. So I was just completely blindsided by that. All they sent was a random — it wasn't John Doe, but it was John something to the email address. Literally, the guy claiming that he owned a company equivalent to the size of Nike sending in from a Gmail address. And because of that complaint, they take down five ASINs.
Mike: So the product is immediately suspended. There's no judge, no jury, no explanation, it’s just this is done, too bad, so sad when that happens.
Chris: Exactly and no ID required. I asked who is this guy, how can he be claiming this. I have a strategic account manager, so I was working with him on it. And the funny thing was three of the five ASINs had never even hit Amazon to be sold yet. And so how was the guy claiming that he bought it and it’s counterfeit if I had never sold a single unit on Amazon or anywhere in the world before?
Mike: And of course as you're going through this process like pleading to Amazon, then I responded to you because I've been through this process. The answer I believe that they gave you is you have to communicate with this random person's Gmail address. And until they initiate an email back to Amazon saying it's been resolved, they just won’t do anything about it.
Chris: Exactly yeah. I got everything; I mean it happened in the morning so my manufacturer was sleeping in China. So by the time they woke up, got me the information, it was later that night. But they got me basically a history of all my invoices that I've been purchasing this product for over three years from them. They got proof that they were a basically authorized distributor of the company the guy was claiming to be, so they had a right to sell me their product.
They got me basically packing photos of our last shipment. We sent them invoices from FedEx Trade Networks, they do all my shipping. We basically sent them all the proof. And exactly that, they just send you a blanket response saying, sorry, after viewing your complaint response; basically, you're out of luck and contact this Gmail address.
Mike: So throughout this process, the product was suspended. I think that you were lucky enough that they didn't suspend your entire count, is that correct?
Chris: Yeah, I did get lucky with that.
Mike: And from start to finish because we only have so much time and I know that this at least eventually had a positive outcome for you, I mean how many weeks or days or whatever was your listing ultimately down for?
Chris: Luckily the main one side of the five, I got two of them up within 48 hours. The three that had never sold a unit for some reason took longer, which I didn't obviously care about because they hadn't been selling. So I got lucky, in 48 hours, I got them back. But those 48 hours cost me literally $5,000 in sales.
Mike: And probably weeks of your life because it’s so stressful.
Chris: Oh yeah it's draining.
Mike: The pit that you get in your stomach and the amount of stress that you can feel because I've been there is just not to be messed with. So okay let's move on to the next thing. I mean obviously that's a disgusting situation, but we have more to talk about, which is even worse.
There was another product that we were talking about that you had. It sounds like it was a four and a half or five-star product over the course of getting 300 reviews it legitimately had, five one-star reviews. And then all of a sudden these black hat sellers probably from China, this is something that I just talked to some people about when I was over in Hong Kong and China a couple months ago.
And it's gross because they are in these IP farms, or I'm not really sure exactly where they're doing it, but from what I understand they're just able to on a bunch of different IP addresses upvote negative reviews, which has obviously adverse consequences on your product and your listing. So let's talk about that other disgusting situation real quick on that product.
Chris: Yeah so this is a product that I created custom molds for, brought to the US, the first seller to bring it to the US to sell anywhere and on Amazon. And obviously you know competitors come in after a while, but that's just normal business. But then it was a couple of days before Black Friday, and this I noticed the sales drop from I forget what it was at the time, but down to almost like nothing.
And I was saying, that's just weird, maybe it's a seasonal thing. And then I clicked on the listing and I didn't even notice it at first, because I'm just seeing, I was actually looking at the recent reviews on the right. Okay no, there's no negative reviews. This was actually a four point eight star product.
Mike: A five-star product.
Chris: Yeah pretty much a five-star product. And I didn't notice it the first time I clicked. And then I kind of went back later that day and I saw like, oh my gosh these one-star reviews, that were nowhere to be seen, were the top five reviews now showing to customers. And they had, I forget the exact number, but it was several hundred.
And the crazy thing was it was like if one of them had 302, all five of them had 302 upvotes. It was so obvious, and again I called Amazon, I emailed Amazon, I emailed Jeff@Amazon, I mean every contact I had. I didn't have the account manager at this time for I just got them this year. But nobody was there to help, and I was trying calling everything every day. I eventually gave up December 9th because I had a daughter born, and I just had too much stress to deal with now with the newborn.
So I gave up on it. It destroyed Black Friday and the whole season of Christmas. I think it was until around February that it actually got resolved, but the product has never ever come back to what it was. Basically they let the black hatters win in this one.
Mike: That sucks man. That’s just so gross. And it's most likely someone else that was going to sell or is selling a competitive product to yours and were just like, well the way that I can beat my competitor is to screw my competitor and with no adverse consequences. It's not traceable back to them, and Amazon won't help you and doesn't seem to care, which is really kind of the crux of this whole episode, which is that these things are happening and Amazon doesn't seem to really care.
And if they do care, they don't care enough to actually do anything about it, because at the end of the day, what's going to end up happening is they're going to still sell the same number of widgets, whether it's to you or to your competitor. And so they're not in a position where they're going to lose any money.
Chris: Yeah that's the crazy part about all this. And I've never done any of the review services or blasts or anything like that. But the fake reviews seem to be getting out of control. And the thing is, is Amazon is still making their 15% on those fake review giveaways, whether that guy is shipping the product or not, just to get the verified badge. We talked about that in our million dollar group. But basically, Amazon is still making their money. So yeah at the end of the day they don't care.
Mike: Yeah it's unfortunate. So and what's even more unfortunate, we have one more disgusting situation to talk about which is hijacking. So we had a situation where someone hopped on one of your listings that was you're selling a private label product that you obviously don't sell to anybody else, and someone descended upon your listing and threw their product on your products. Let's talk about that for a second.
Chris: Yeah so I mean it used to happen on several products. Luckily, I don't know when it was. I actually think I have like a best seller product on my brand, and at that time they seemed to — they actually gated me one day for my own product. But after that, after I sorted that out it seems like all my products were gated on that brand, which is nice. But before that, it was yeah just you wake up random days, and you get this notification that you're not the lowest price. And so you log on and you see sometimes multiple.
So it's like the same person has multiple accounts, and they just open up and they've got thousands of ASINs listed overnight and you happen to be one of them or multiple of them in some of these cases. And sometimes I would try to do the test buy because Amazon again won't help you. They just say, oh this blanket response, you must do a test buy and then show us that it's materially different.
So there was one time where a guy, it was actually on Black Friday. We had just done a Black Friday Lightning deal. The same way I dealt with the other issues, that wasn't a fun Black Friday. But it was just after a lightning deal that runs, so it’s like our perfect time to jump on it, the listing. And I think he had 70ish something in it, so I just bought them all. And I actually got that seller to kind of write me a letter saying that they wouldn't do it again, that they were in the wrong. And I kind of held that as proof to send to Amazon in case they ever jump back on.
But I was getting nowhere with kind of reporting it to Amazon, so I just held on to that for my own basically safety of the product. But the other ones where I would order the products, they wouldn't ship it. And you go back and forth with Amazon and it literally takes weeks of making these threats to the infringer who's jumping on your listing. Sometimes they remove themselves, sometimes they don't. But it seems like Amazon won't do anything for weeks until you either get like there's no shipment, or you get something that's just completely bogus different from your product.
Mike: Yeah and it's so frustrating. And I think that the way that you went about it is probably the right way to go because if you go the route of trying to file an A to Z claim and getting them, this is someone who is unscrupulous, to begin with. Who knows what other retaliation he will do against you? So it's better to just try to make it go away the best way possible, and let them go bother someone else before they spend the time retaliating against you.
Chris: Yeah exactly.
Mike: Yeah, crazy man. Well, I appreciate you coming on today and sharing these three different things. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing some more things from other people. I personally have had all these things happen. But I think it's good to hear from multiple people the same issues so everyone can start to become more aware that this is happening over and over again.
And again, the idea here is to kind of raise awareness of the stuff for people like you and me. I mean like you said, this product you’re talking about, this makes me so sad, you get 300 reviews, and it's a four point eight-star product, so it has five stars. So it's legitimately like a great product that people love. And Amazon, in their quest supposedly, it's like do nothing but keep the customer in mind is actually hurting the customer, because like whatever product has been copied that's going to descend on Amazon, that's going to get the sale instead almost certainly isn't going to be that same five-star product, almost impossible, right?
And it's just unfair to tons of small businesses out there that are doing the right things. I mean you're not trying to game the system and trying to compete when everyone else has an unfair advantage, it's tough. So I definitely appreciate you coming on, explaining your situation, and hopefully, we will talk again soon.
Chris: Yeah thanks for having me, Mike.
Mike: Thanks Chris bye, bye.
Mike: Hey Robert, how is the going my friend?
Robert: Hey, how is the going?
Mike: Good, good. Thank you for joining us on the EcomCrew Podcast today. It's a subject that I really rather not be talking about, but as everyone knows we're going through and talking about black hat techniques that other sellers are using. And you've got something pretty unique that's happened to you unfortunately and we're trying to just kind of show everyone all the different dirty stuff that people are doing.
And your trick or your situation involved the trick of people using Vendor Express to play some black hat tactics. So let's kind of get in under the hood and talk about what happened to you specifically, and we can kind of bounce back some things that you can do maybe to prevent it or deal with it moving forward.
Robert: Okay so what happened to me was around a year ago, March. I think my business partner even said something to me. He said, hey there is somebody selling your item right in the buy box, one of our private label items because we do private label items and we also do branded items. So I take a look there, and I see our product which is at the time brand registered. And I didn't have my trademark at the time, but it had been applied for.
Mike: So it's probably a brand registered 1.0 product?
Robert: Right 1.0 brand registered. So I completely freak out because it says sold by Amazon. I'm like what's going on here? So I start making the full into the wraps this side and the other, and then it led me to the catalog team which, in many cases, can help you get things straight, but not every case. And what the cat — I actually got someone from the catalog team that said to me, hey tough luck, we are Amazon, we can do whatever the heck we want, and he was pretty brunt to me as if it was Amazon who sourced the same item I have and now they're taking control of it.
So I didn't know what to do. I was scrambling, it didn't sound right to me. But I thought something. I said I have brand registry. She said, hey we can pretty much do whatever we want. And that's when I started filing cases and doing a lot of writing back and forth. And one thing I had to do was I lowered the price of my product, and I kind of won back the buy box. So I was able to keep them along at the side, but I had to lower the price of my product now like maybe 20% less than what was.
Mike: I mean typically like you have to be like substantially lower than Amazon because like they’ll race you down to the bottom, they don't care.
Robert: Well you know what I found out? With Vendor Express, it's a little different because it plays just — as far as the pricing goes, it seems that they have a floor that they have planned to sell the item at. So it doesn't seem to work exactly the same as when a normal item that they source directly themselves.
Robert: And that seems to hold true today as well because that will be the second part of what happened. So, I filed a lot of things back and forth, I made a lot of noise and we immediately started doing test buys to see what's going on here. We get the product, it is a knockoff. It doesn't have our name on the product. So I was going in Amazon saying this is a counterfeit product, it's not as described.
And so it wouldn't matter who the seller is, sold by Amazon, sold by me, whatever you want. And that that started opening things up. And this took several weeks where just one day they sent me a message and it was taken off, it was taken down.
Robert: And so that was the first part of it.
Mike: So before going to the second part just we want to kind of recap real quick. So one day, you get someone on your listing, it’s sold by Amazon. You know obviously immediately like you didn't send an inventory and there's a problem. You call the catalog team, they say too bad it’s so sad, we're Amazon, we got a hold of this inventory, it doesn't really matter how we got ahold of it, we're going to sell it. We don't care; we're not going to really do anything about it at this point.
So until you did a test buy and filed an A to Z claim, you basically got nowhere up to that point?
Robert: Right, I had a few of my friends do the test buys. One thing I left out very important, and this I kind of uncovered after the fact doing a little detective work. When that rep was saying to me, hey we're Amazon, we can do whatever we want, she could not see. There's no way for that catalog rep to know the origin of the product, to know whether that product was sourced directly by Amazon or know that that product was sourced through Vendor Express.
They can't see that, and I believe that's still the case now.
Robert: So the only thing that rep knew is it said sold by Amazon.
Mike: That just kind of continues with the whole theme of Amazon doesn't — like one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing within Amazon, it's incredible.
Robert: It's completely locked off, and that seemed to be confirmed. So in the process over the next few months, my trademark got approved. And basically the only reason I got the trademark is for one simple reason, because I thought it may offer me protections on Amazon, that's it. I mean it's merely semantics because we're not talking about some great invention or anything like that, just a matter of that, just to protect my own listing.
So a number of weeks ago, yet again I see the same thing going on. I see somebody on the listing. And again, it's the same situation where I can price my item to where it keeps them out of the buy box, and sometimes merely by pennies where this item is like 10.95 and they're 10.97. And sometimes they'll move the number around, but I was able to keep them out of the buy box, start the whole process again.
This time I had the trademark, I had everything, I had the documentation from last year, and I got the runaround. And I got stone walled. And I filled that one form three different times. They told me the form wasn't filled out properly, and the form was completely filled out. And I was kind of wondering what's going on in the other side here.
So in the process, I started making the phone calls, talking to Vendor Express rep. And they've been fairly deceptive with me because within one phone call they'll tell me this never happens, and then the other part of the phone call they'll tell me this has happened. So I will say that even talking to people in Vendor Express,and it's not easy to reach them, it's very problematic and you really don't go much of anywhere with them.
But you have to go to Vendor Express and file cases on the Vendor Express side of things, and on the Amazon Seller Central side of things, which also creates those same problems within teams, waiting for an update, all that kind of stuff. So I had the trademark, fake seller again. I believe it to be the same seller doing the same tactic, the same person that did it last March, doing it again in 2017.
So still I was going nowhere, and then about a week ago they suspended my item. They suspended my item after I clearly wrote to them. It proves to me that notice to the Amazon.com and all that copyright stuff, they don't actually — they do not actually read. They do not have good reading skills, because I made it very clear up front, make sure you don't suspend my item, because what they ask you to do is to report the other seller. But you can't do that because the other seller shows up as Amazon.com on your listing and your ASIN, all that kind of stuff.
And you have to be very careful too as you know when you talk to Amazon people, you never say my listing because the listing always belongs to Amazon. You've got to be really careful. You want to talk in terms of your product, but not my listing, because that can really ruffle some feathers. So back again, the same grind back and forth. I keep getting messages, working on this.
Then I hear from a Vendor Express rep who tells me, don't worry, it's all taken care of. So I look on the consumer side of Amazon it was taken down, on the business side it was still there. He said to me, wow it could take hours to remove. A day later it was on both ends, it was back on. So, I was still back on paperwork, all that kind of stuff. I sent a letter into Jeff@amazon, and he keeps – this guy, he just keeps talking away.
I get an email saying, you just do want to cut and paste, and all this stuff has been reported, it's just no one decided to act on it. Well right after that I get a message from supposedly [inaudible 00:36:45] offices, oh we have removed that seller.
Mike: So they actually got rid of the seller finally.
Robert: They finally did, and this is a heck of a process. This is not — and I will say having the trademark appears to a certain extent of not really mattering too much. Like it didn't matter that it was a counterfeit item, it wasn't exactly the same, not just by the name on the item, but I looked at the product itself was slightly different. And you know how Amazon is always talking about the customer getting what they — you know getting not as described, that kind of thing.
And obviously this is a major problem. And from what I find out, it is not that uncommon, it really it isn’t. I mean it doesn’t really matter.
Mike: Yeah, and I think that’s probably the most, the thing that is the most frustrating is that even though you get your listing reopened, it doesn't replace the lost sales that you had there, and also the damage caused to your listing.
Robert: Exactly. Lucky for me there were no negative reviews, but I lost sales, okay some sales. I have to look back at the buy box reports to assess how much. I had to sell the product for a lower price. I had to do that repeatedly over a period of weeks. It prevented me from a number of things. And then when we were getting some pay-per-click campaigns, I go in again, the item showed up as a adult item, and the item is a kitchen item. You can only wonder what triggered that.
And then again the reports and all that, the back and forth and as you know it's — and the thing with Amazon too is you don't always know what one thing took care of the problem or not. Everything is a mystery, it's always different every time.
Mike: But I think when you’re in panic mode you don't really care anymore anyway as long as it all gets fixed.
Robert: Oh yeah. he first thing, when you see sold by Amazon, because you have no idea, you're not thinking Vendor Express. Most people don't even know about Vendor Express or what it is. And like I said, I'm pretty sure, I've looked at the pricing, I'm pretty sure because they set like a floor limit when they're buying it from a third party.
So a lot of times you can actually keep them out of the buy box, but in some products, it may come a point where you're not making any money, or you’re losing money to keep them out of the buy box. But pretty much, I think they set some kind of like 30% margin or something on their end of things.
So they'll move the price around all day. Don't get me wrong, and you go to sleep at some point, so you have to put a repricer on to try to — so the first time ever I did that, I put on Appeagle and I was able to keep them out of the buy box, keep forcing them out. So every time they made a play on it, I moved like 30, 40 cents one way or the other, and Appeagle was able to keep them out of the box, I mean periods of days.
Mike: It's always fun when you're competing against your own self.
Robert:]In peak holiday time, it definitely impacted me. But as you know too, you have no recourse against anybody. There's no recourse, there's just they blow smoke at you and say better luck next time, that kind of thing.
Mike: Yeah pretty frustrating, but I definitely appreciate you coming on and telling us your story about what's going on. I think that again the whole idea here is to help others feel like they're not alone because I think some days when this stuff happens to you it's awful and you feel alone.
But also our goal here is just to be able to hopefully raise awareness within Amazon internally. We hope to go to them and talk to them about some of the stuff and see if we can move the needle at all. It's good to hope sometimes. So definitely again, I appreciate you for coming on and telling the story, and best luck to you.
Robert: I've one more suggestion for everybody – to be very persistent both making cases, don't just give up, and calling, doing both. Just don't give up, you have to keep persistent on it. If you don't, then like weeks will go by and nothing will happen, you have to start the whole process again.
Mike: Yeah, without a doubt. That really goes for everything, just so people know with Seller Support. I mean this is just our standard operating procedure internally. I mean I've had to remove myself from it because I'm not a very patient person, it drives me absolutely crazy. But like SOP internally is like to follow up every 12 to 24 hours, both with a phone call and an email no matter how severe it is. Whether it's your listing suspended, or your images have been changed or whatever it is, if you don't stick on top of them, it just won't get done. That’s just kind of how it is. I mean it's unfortunately really poor support .
Robert: I wish you a good holiday, we'll talk later.
Mike: Appreciated, thanks so much, take it easy.
And that's a wrap. I hope you guys — I don't want to use the word enjoyed, I usually say hope you guys enjoyed that episode, but again not really an enjoyable episode. It's one of these things that just makes my stomach feel like it's in knots. We've been targets of these types of tactics ourselves, not to the same extent necessarily as some of the guys who are on this podcast, but certainly to a point where it's bothersome. It's caused us five figures or maybe in the six figures of damages if you want to call it that in adverse consequences, or however you want to call it, it’s been brutal.
But I do want to thank Chris and Kevin and Robert for coming on the podcast. Obviously, it's not fun to come on a public format like this and tell a story like that. So I want to thank them for doing so. And if you guys know anyone that can help get the story out there, please share it. This is one of these things, we normally don't say that type of stuff, and it's not for us obviously to share this. It's to get this out.
And the hope is that someone at Amazon will listen to this. Understand that these are all good people. I like to think I'm a good person. We work really hard to produce five-star products and produce products that our customers love. And I suspect and know actually that Chris and Kevin, and Robert are all the same way.
And it's not only that, but like it's our livelihood as well, and there are lots of shady people. I get it that Amazon is having to deal with as well, but there has to be a better way to protect the honest people, and even worse not let the dishonest people win, which is what's happening right now. So it's almost like you're being penalized for doing the right thing and trying to keep your head up and not cheat the system and not do the immoral thing to your competitor. So that's not the best way to win in business.
So again if you know anybody that can kind of help spread the cause here, please share. And until the next episode guys, happy selling, and we'll talk to you then.
Thanks for listening to the EcomCrew Podcast. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/ecomcrew for weekly live recordings of the EcomCrew Podcast every Monday. And please, do us a favor, and leave an honest review on iTunes, it would really help us out. Again, thanks for listening, and until next week, happy selling
Has Amazon started taking real action to fight these black-hat tactics? Such injustice makes me feel reluctant to list new, quality products on Amazon.
Not really. The rolled out Project Zero recently which would be a step in the right direction for IP infringement, but that’s still in a beta. It seems Amazon doesn’t normally react until there’s a real storm of bad press.