Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"A rival had framed Plansky for buying five-star reviews, a high crime in the world of Amazon"

From a lengthy look at competing in Amazon Marketplace and the experts that help sellers navigate it:

Amazon is the only platform that has a $175 billion prize pool tempting people to game it, and the company must constantly implement new rules and penalties, which in turn, become tools for new abuses, which require yet more rules to police. The evolution of its moderation system has been hyper-charged.

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And what’s a seller to do when they end up in Amazon court? They can turn to someone like Cynthia Stine, who is part of a growing industry of consultants who help sellers navigate the ruthless world of Marketplace and the byzantine rules by which Amazon governs it.

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Stine runs a 25-person company out of the den of her one-story house in a leafy neighborhood of East Dallas. Each day, sitting before dual monitors and jotting notes on her tablet, she takes calls from distraught sellers who have received the dreaded email from Amazon. On her walls: photos of her family and the families of her support staff in the Philippines

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Amazon calls them “appeals,” which suggests that there’s a possibility of having the verdict overturned. In reality, they’re more like a plea bargain crossed with a business memo, the core of which is a “plan of action” — an explanation of how you’ll make things right. And to make things right, you need to admit to having done something wrong. So Plansky sat down with Stine’s team and looked for something, anything, to confess to.

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Stine has a client whose listing for a rustic barn wood picture frame was deemed unsafe and taken down; it turned out the offense was a single customer review that mentioned getting a splinter. (The customer had actually given it five stars.) The seller was allowed back when he promised to add “wear gloves when installing” to his listing. Another seller was suspended for selling Nike shoes that were “not as described.” After he’d filed appeal after appeal proving the shoes were genuine Nikes, Stine’s team figured out the problem: some buyers complained the shoes were too small. That seller was let back on after promising to add a line to the listing recommending customers wear thin socks.

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Over the following days, Harris came to realize that someone had been targeting him for almost a year, preparing an intricate trap. While he had trademarked his watch and registered his brand, Dead End Survival, with Amazon, Harris hadn’t trademarked the name of his Amazon seller account, SharpSurvival. So the interloper did just that, submitting to the patent office