Below the surface, Amazon is a scene of constant warfare. A growing share of goods on the platform is being sold by third parties, who are relentlessly competing for limited real estate. Some jump on fast-selling offers with counterfeit goods, or frame their competitors with fake reviews. A common tactic is to find a product that was once popular but now abandoned and hijack the listing by using the old reviews on the page to make everything you sell look reliable.
Amazon's marketplace is so chaotic that even Amazon itself cannot be hijacked. Amazon is not only a retail platform, but also sells its own private label products under names such as Amazon Basics, Rivet furniture, Happy Belly food and hundreds of other labels. Sellers often complain that these brands represent unfair competition, and regulators interest in this issue has been expressed in Europe and the United States. But other sellers seem to have found a way to use the Amazon brands for their own purposes. Amazon she promotes heavy, collecting thousands of reviews on offers that the company then leaves when it stops production or comes up with a new version. Enterprising sellers hijack these pages to sell their own goods.
Take this offer, before for one AmazonBasics HDMI cable. Amazon has removed it and other mentions after it was contacted by The edge, but before it was removed, it was used to sell two completely different alarm clocks: a "Warmhoming 2019 updated wooden digital alarm clock with 7-level adjustable brightness, display time date week temperature for bedroom Office Home," and a white wake-up light clock , which was out of stock. Strangely enough, that clock was listed as a second variety, color & # 39; Blackadaafgew & # 39; but the copy of the list referred to binoculars that & # 39; can help you see a clear face more than 200 meters away. & # 39; Many of the Amazon lists seem to be undergoing multiple hijackings.
Doubtful as the list is (the chances of successfully using the advertised "lifetime 7×24 customer service" on this HDMI cable turned clock-binoculars chimera, sold under a name registered by a chemical processing company in Shenzhen, is slim), had 5,324 reviews, with an average of 4.6 stars. Almost all refer to the cable. It was on a respectable number 98 in the Amazon alarm clock category.
With better hijackings, the fraud can be difficult to detect. The edge was first notified of Juozas Kaziukėnas' scam from Marketplace Pulse, following Amazon brands. He noted that every week a handful of dead brands in his selection would resuscitate as non-related goods.
"It just highlights another case of the chaos that exists on Amazon," says Kaziukėnas. "It is an almost comical case of the products that Amazon should curate most in theory because it is their own brands that are used for notorious purposes."
As a consumer, the easiest way to detect a hijack is to check if the reviews refer to the product being sold. The images in the reviews for this one "Headphone adapter for iPhone X Headphone connection Audio charger Earphone splitter Dongle for iPhone" all showed the AmazonBasics HDMI cable it was once. If you switched the reviews to the most recent, there was even more chaos. "I bought cable, not binoculars," a reviewer complained. He gave it one star. "This used to be a temperature control unit for refrigerators and the like – now a headphone adapter is shown!" Said another, who warned customers to watch out for scams. Nevertheless it had 3,836 reviews with an average of 4.3 stars.
The adapter was sold by a seller named Eigeliu, a trademark registered by a company in Shenzhen. For several years, Amazon has been recruiting sellers based in China for its platform. These sellers often have more direct access to the same factories where American sellers get their goods from and can undercut them in price.
There are more than now 2 million sellers on the platform, and Amazon is struggling to maintain order. A recent one Wall Street Journal Research found thousands of items for sale on the site that were fraudulently labeled or declared unsafe by federal regulators. The diary tested multiple items, including items with a badge & # 39; Amazon & # 39; s Choice & # 39 ;, and found that they did not meet federal safety standards.
Amazon makes it easy for sellers to join the platform, list items, and change existing listings. Organizing and monitoring the platform, however, is handled by a mix of automated programs & call center-like employees around the world. With this system, Amazon has been able to quickly expand its catalog, while keeping costs low, but it also offers possibilities for exploitation.
"Where other retailers would probably manage their categories and their brands and everything else, on Amazon, so much depends on automation and data and systems that nobody really notices when someone is hijacked," says Kaziukėnas. "The same forces that Amazon built, that is the infinite store, the infinite shelf and the open market, is also what now causes many of the problems it has – the counterfeits and fraud like this hijacking."
Asked for comment, an Amazon spokesperson said, "We have clear guidelines on when products should be grouped and we have guardrails to prevent products from being grouped incorrectly, either through human error or abuse." Shortly after The edge contacted Amazon, the hijacked lists were deleted.
"I was waiting for this to happen," says Rachel Johnson Greer, laughing, when The edge showed her the hijacked Amazon brands. A former Amazon employee who now works as a consultant for Amazon sellers works with customers who have undergone similar hijackings. She says that these offers were probably seized by a seller who contacted the Amazon seller support team and asked them to push through a file with the changes. The team is mainly based abroad, has a high turnover and is expected to work quickly, Greer says, and if you find the right person, they will not check which changes the file contains.
In one case, one Amazon Basic cable was hijacked to sell a knife sharpener, then one knife. (It was number 236 in Chef’s Knives, but number 27,250 in Electronics, because it is a knife.) In another case, one of Amazon & # 39; s own brands Mattresses from Pinzon was hijacked to sell five pounds weighted blanket for kids, a trendy item, and therefore one that you can find apparently identical versions of hundreds on Amazon. The seller, PetOde, seems to be mainly concerned with plastic folding signs. The trademark is registered by a Shenzhen company that makes clothing for pets.
The hijacked Pinzon page was a battlefield. The copy seemed to come from another weighted blanket company, called Weighted Idea, also registered with a Chinese company. Searching backwards on images shows that a picture was taken of another Amazon-weighted blanket company called ZonLi, registered in Jiangxi, China. Later on the page, the text shifts to describing an iPhone adapter from Eigeliu, the same company that hijacked the Amazon Basic cable. By clicking on the guarantee button, the Pinzon policy of Amazon still came to the fore. In the reviews, customers complain that they have only purchased clothing folding tools to change the listing. It had 3,691 reviews, with an average of 4.2 stars.
"It's completely chaotic," says Greer. There are more than 2 billion listings on Amazon, she says, and they never die. When a product is stopped, the offer is there, ready to be hijacked, and abuse is rarely noticed in the sea of goods – even when it comes to Amazon's own brands.
"The system that they have built, its self-service character, and the fact that it is always expanding, makes it really difficult to do something with it," she says. "I don't pretend to know what Amazon should do, I just know the problem is much bigger than people realize."