Check Your Head: The Lore & Lingo of the Amazon Black Hat

Since the dawn of trade, there have been cheaters looking to get one over in the deal. And since the dawn of Amazon, cheaters have made it easier, faster, and sadly, more profitable to do so. Smart Amazon sellers are protecting themselves against black-hat tactics. But what if you’re still trying to make sense of it all?

For those just getting up to speed, the whole thing can be daunting. Recently, in our webinar, “In a World of Amazon Black-Hat Tactics, Don’t Let the Bad Gus In or Let Them Win,” Amazon experts Jeff Cohen and Davide Nicolucci tackled the lingo and more.

Whether you’re a seller or a buyer on Amazon, you must wrap your head around these threats and how the industry talks about them. So let’s start with the first question buyers and sellers beginning to understand this shadow industry ask us: “Hats?!? What’s the deal with all these Amazon hats and colors?!?”

Amazon Black Hat (Amazon Black-Hat Tactics)

Born of the old American western movie genre where villains always wore black hats, the terms “black hat,” “black-hatters,” and “black-hat tactics” first gained traction within hacker culture. Black-hat programmers code for criminal purposes such as stealing information or creating security or privacy threats. These are the people who abuse information technology to disrupt for profit and or/pleasure.

The terms have been adopted within the Amazon community to describe similar behavior done by bad actors who hijack legitimate listings, produce and sell counterfeit goods, try to manipulate the Amazon algorithm (A9), create fraudulent reviews, or commit other Amazon Terms of Service violations. Anyone deemed to be doing such is using black-hat tactics (even if he or she claims not to know the behavior is in violation).

Gray Hat (Gray-Hat Tactics)

Sometimes there’s room for interpretation within Amazon’s ToS. When a seller uses such ambiguity to gain an advantage or game the system, the behavior is known as gray-hat. These gray-hatters are usually not attacking other sellers maliciously, but bending the rules or finding ways to “work around them.”

Often gray-hat tacticians are coders who develop apps that exploit some element of Amazon data. The problem with this is that it violates what we call “the spirit of the Amazon Terms of Service” (that which is not explicitly stated but logically implied). A common response to this from gray-hatters is “But it didn’t say I couldn’t in the Amazon Terms of Service.” Save yourself a lot of worry and trouble; don’t do anything that would result in you having to answer to Amazon with that response.

Orange Hat (Orange-Hat Tactics)

You may have thought we’d go straight to white hat (and we will get there), but this is Amazon so you can count on a wildcard in the deck. In this case, there’s a special kind of unethical behavior specific to the Amazon world, and it’s known as orange-hat tactics. Orange-hat tactics are those put forth in those get-rich-quick seminars led by ex-Amazonians or current Amazon insiders.

These folks know what they’re talking about, right? Well, realize that any information they’re revealing is proprietary and that the presenters are violating their non-disclosure contracts with Amazon. Worse, they’re making business exceedingly difficult for sellers playing by the rules.

To be clear, there are legitimate Amazon trainings out there, but they are few and far between when compared to the sketchy offerings.

White Hat (White-Hat Tactics)

White-hat tactics are, as you probably guessed from the origin story about westerns, those employed by the good guys. These techniques are the ones you should already be using (and continuing to use). These include soliciting feedback openly but compliantly, selling ethically but competitively, delivering the products and services that you would want were you the buyer, and always complying with Amazon’s ToS (on page and in spirit).

Sometimes it’s hard to be the good guy. Sometimes it seems like the bad guys win. But success on Amazon is a long game and the good guys will prevail. It may not always seem like Amazon is responding to those who work to undermine the marketplace, but it is. Initiatives like Amazon Project Zero and Amazon Brand Registry aren’t fix-alls, but they are important steps, and I expect even more from Amazon. After all, they are a customer-centric company and bad actors harm customers. Whatever you may think about Amazon, it is in its best interest to create a safe and trusted marketplace.

Know the Terms, Know the Rules, Stay the White-Hat Course.

Knowledge is power. Scammers are betting on sellers and buyers who are not fully informed and who are easily swayed. Here are some things that every seller should do in order to be informed and empowered:

  1. Become fluent. Learn all the terms you need to know about the counterfeiters and bad actors who would do you harm on Amazon. Grab our full terminology guide, “Understanding Amazon Black-Hat Tactics.” It’s also chock full of white-hat tips.
  2. Get your merchant house in order. Do test buys to make sure that your supply chain is clean. Join Amazon Brand Registry to protect your business. Audit your practices and stay up to date on your Amazon Terms of Service compliance.
  3. Do the right thing by always complying with Amazon’s ToS, but be prepared should things go awry and suspension occurs. Have a plan of action in place.
  4. Help protect your Amazon Seller Account with Seller Labs Pro, a stack of complementary tools that help you stave off threats and grow your business the white-hat way.
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