Amazon Policy Update – What You Need to Know

By Paul Johnson | Amazon

Aug 26

The information in this post regarding product reviews is no longer valid after Amazon’s October 3rd, 2016 policy update. Snagshout has since gone through changes in compliance with the policy.

 

This past weekend Amazon quietly updated its “Prohibited Seller Activities” page. These changes have generated a lot of conversation, speculation and concern among sellers. Below is a detailed outline of Seller Labs response to these changes including 8 tips to stay compliant. We welcome all discussion on the topic. Please feel free to comment on the blog post below or plan to join us on a webinar this Friday, August 28, 2015 at 2 p.m. EDT.

You can see the current version of the policies if you are logged into to Seller Central by visiting this link:

https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/help/help.html?itemID=200386250

This page is one of many that describes how Amazon Marketplace Sellers are to behave. It is an explicit list of things sellers should not do. The two changes are:

Under the section for “Misuse of Ratings, feedback, or reviews” the sentence in bold was added:

Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers’ experiences with products and services — positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.

And immediately following, this paragraph was added:

Misuse of sales rank: The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders. This includes placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.
 
As a solutions provider with tens of thousands of sellers using our software–and one of the leading sites that encourages Amazon shoppers to leave product reviews–we pay close attention to these policies and have had users asking us about them. We have been involved with Amazon for many years and believe that any change to its policies is not made hastily. It is likely we’ll soon hear about cases of how Amazon is interpreting these changes, followed by changes in its system and algorithms that will directly and indirectly enforce these policies.

What these changes mean?

Let’s start with the easiest part to interpret–fake and fraudulent orders. Evidently, some sellers seem to have discovered that having a buyer place an order for a product, and then subsequently having the buyer cancel the order, will still result in a positive change in the Sales Rank. This is obviously an abuse of the system, and one that Amazon should easily be able to monitor and enforce now that it is officially against the rules..

Another easy-to-understand addition is the claim of a product’s rank in the product title or description. We’ve seen some products that have added language such as “#1 selling widget on Amazon” to the product title, bullet points, or description. This is now a Terms of Service violation.

From here on, it gets seemingly more vague as to what is to be interpreted as as excessive,manipulative and inflating. Listed below are a few practices we’ve seen in the current environment of Amazon tools that is likely to be interpreted as a violation within the recent policy changes:

Manipulating product review rankings by targeting only positive reviewers

Some sellers use review services that allow them to approve reviewers who receive their deals. When sellers are approving these shoppers they often look at the average star rating they give. It’s only natural for a seller to want to choose reviewers who leave mostly positive reviews. Likewise, reviewers on these platforms understand that if they don’t leave 4- and 5-star reviews they will be less likely to get more deals. These types of platforms create a system that only encourages positive reviews and threatens the integrity of Amazon’s reviews. This is especially true when a seller is selling a product that deserves poor reviews. Consider what Amazon sees on its end. If most of the reviews from discounted and free sales of a product are 4 and 5 stars while the same product is getting mostly 1-, 2- or 3-star ratings for natural sales, Amazon could interpret this as excessively offering free or discounted products to manipulate a product’s review ranking.

How is Snagshout different?

Sellers who use Snagshout do not get to approve who receives their product. By doing this we are able to encourage shoppers to leave their honest opinion. While Snagshout shoppers often do leave positive reviews, poor products on Snagshout often get poor reviews. We work hard to educate our shoppers to be honest and leave real opinions about the products they purchase on the site. Snagshout has been purposely designed to prevent sellers from using it as a tool to manipulate review rankings and instead give them a way to generate an honest conversation about their products.

Inflating sales rank with “blasts” and abusing promo codes

There are some services that allow sellers to send promo codes to a huge list of shoppers in order to spike sales rank. These services often encourage sellers to give products away for free or sell them for $1.00. We don’t believe Amazon has a particular price or quantity threshold it considers acceptable. Instead, let’s use an example: Imagine you are selling a glass water bottle and you’re top competitor has an average sales rank of 1,500 in the “Home and Kitchen” category and you launch a blast campaign that boosts your sales rank to number 1 in the category. All of the sudden, a random new product has jumped into the top position in a popular category. You have blown past the number one competitor and are ranking above products that naturally sell more than all of the glass water bottles on Amazon combined. This type of temporary sales rank inflation is the main goal of these blast services. With Amazon stating that “offering an excessive number of free or discounted products” is now a potential violation, we recommend all sellers to stop using these types of services.

How is Snagshout different?

After reading the previous example, let’s present a more natural and effective strategy you can employ with Snagshout. Before starting a campaign you could estimate the top competitor’s average sales per day (around 30 in this case) and develop a strategy to reach that point. By using Snagshout’s daily limit feature this is simple. A seller can set an item’s daily limit at whatever they desire. You can also couple Snagshout sales with other marketing tools like Amazon Sponsored Product Ads to generate the necessary daily sales volume needed. Snagshout also allows sellers to sell their products at whatever price they desire. By using Snagshout you can adjust your pricing to meet the natural sales velocity you need to achieve your business goals.

Manipulating sales rank with Super URLs

While the language and terminology used in the new policy may not be consistent with terminology we’ve seen used by many active sellers, we believe Amazon is targeting the use of what has become known as “Super URLs”. We published a video in April 2014 explaining how we believe Amazon uses the keywords in URLs to determine what search terms a shopper used while searching on Amazon. Since then we have seen several services rally around the use of Super URLs and their effectiveness. Regardless of any perceived effectiveness, we believe Amazon will be taking measures to prevent Super URLs from working. It’s clear that Amazon is not interested in sellers using cheap hacks to gain an advantage on Amazon, and the Super URL is a clear manipulation of the system.

How Snagshout is different (and is changing)

In effort to stay in strict compliance with Amazon, Snagshout will no longer generate rich URLs (Super URLs) for shopper landing pages. Our URL redirection service in Search Rank will continue to function, but we will be contacting users to consider discontinuing the use of all Super URL tools.

What’s next

New product marketing tactics are emerging everyday; Amazon is still determining what it is comfortable with. These changes are quite new and we are not aware of any other communication from Amazon on the matter. If Amazon believes a seller is in violation of prohibited activities, it will typically issue a policy violation and ask the seller to change their practices. If the seller does not make the necessary changes, Amazon will typically suspend selling privileges. So far we have not heard of a single verified policy violation from Amazon regarding these changes. If you receive a policy violation regarding the new updates, please reach out to our support team so we can work with our contacts at Amazon on your behalf.

Recap: 8 tips to help you stay compliant with the Amazon’s Prohibited Seller Activities TOS update

  1. Avoid review services that require you to approve shoppers as this could be seen as manipulation

  2. Ensure star ratings from organic sales are similar to star ratings from discounted products

  3. Avoid the use of blast services that attempt to inflate sales rank

  4. Consider using Snagshout’s daily limit feature to drive needed conversion and sales overtime

  5. Discontinue the use of Super URLs

  6. Consider supplementing Snagshout campaigns with Sponsored Product Ads for full-priced sales

  7. Don’t make claims in your titles about a product’s rank on Amazon

  8. Work with legitimate companies that provide services you can trust

And if you missed our webinar on the Amazon policy update, simply click the button below to watch the recording.

View Webinar Recording  

About the Author

Paul is the fearless leader and CEO of Seller Labs. His hard work and business savvy continue to lead Seller Labs to industry leading heights.