Why it matters: Sellers on Amazon are willing to take significant risks to beat the competition, including paying to have negative reviews removed. Such practices break the integrity of online reviews and manipulative practices can falsely give the impression that certain products are actually best sellers.
Amazon's vast marketplace is ripe with manipulation from unscrupulous third-party sellers trying to gain better rankings. Reports of Amazon employees accepting bribes to delete negative customer reviews and leaking data are now being investigated.
Middlemen are believed to be working with Amazon employees to sell confidential information that could allow merchants to gain an advantage over other sellers. Data can include sales figures and email addresses of reviewers. Banned accounts can also be reinstated and reviews can be deleted. Payments are alleged to range from $80 to over $2,000 for services rendered.
Sellers are prohibited from emailing customers directly in response to reviews. Should attempts to reconcile negative reviews fail, the market rate for removal services is around $300 per review with a typical minimum order of five take-down requests.
Although many incidents are isolated to Shenzhen, China, Amazon is looking into several cases involving bribes within the United States. A probe has been ongoing since May after the vice president looking over international marketplaces received a tip about suspected activity in China.
Executives working in Shenzhen have been moved around in attempt to try and find out who is responsible for leaks. Amazon's policies already place heavy restrictions on what information employees are able to access and include ethics clauses that strictly prohibit any employee from abusing their privileges.
For sellers trying to play the system and beat Amazon's algorithms, it is not without significant risk. "We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them." There is no hesitation in Amazon closing accounts, holding funds, deleting false reviews, and if necessary, pursuing legal action against sellers engaging in abusive practices.