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Saturday September 19, 2020 |Notes

Trust & Gatekeepers to Amazon's Marketplace Riches

It took just $100,000 to make $100 million for a network of Amazon Marketplace sellers. Based on reports from Ars Tehnica, six people bribed a handful of Amazon employees and contractors to game the marketplace system, with huge rewards.

It's well known among Amazon sellers that a handful of spots make up the majority of sales. While Amazon is by far the largest marketplace in terms of sellers and products, most sales come from a relatively small percentage of products. That's largely driven by what is returned in search results. Those top positions are incredibly valuable, and its not surprising to learn that the spots would be the target of a bribery case.

In exchange for bribes, Amazon workers "baselessly and fraudulently conferred tens of millions of dollars of competitive benefits upon hundreds of [third-party] seller accounts that the Defendants purported to represent," the indictment said. The DOJ said that workers "helped reinstate products and merchant accounts that Amazon had suspended or blocked entirely from doing business on the Amazon Marketplace" and that "the fraudulently reinstated products included dietary supplements that had been suspended because of customer-safety complaints, household electronics that had been flagged as flammable, consumer goods that had been flagged for intellectual-property violations, and other goods." These fraudulently reinstated seller accounts included ones Amazon had "suspended for manipulating product reviews to deceive consumers, making improper contact with consumers, and other violations of Amazon's seller policies and codes of conduct," the DOJ said.

There's no specific mention by name of the employees or contractors in this article, nor comment from Amazon beyond a boilerplate response. It's certainly a problem that people wanted to game the Amazan Marketplace by bribing those within. It's also hard to ignore winning up to ~$100 million in sales.

Bribes takes two sides and it's not clear exactly what happened on the Amazon side of this issue. It's clear that small changes yield significant impact on the Amazon Marketplace, and those decisions are vital to the businesses effected that have little, if any say. For sellers, this confirms the ongoing trust issues with the Amazon Marketplace.

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