Marketplace merchants and review watchdogs have accused Amazon of manipulating online reviews of its private label products, putting its third-party sellers at a disadvantage.
Amazon reportedly uses the Vine reviews program for its private-label ranges, and according to industry watchdogs, the e-commerce giant is using this system to skew consumer interest away from third-party lines towards its own products.
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the increasing amount of private-label brands popping up on online marketplaces, and whether or not these lines offer a fair trading opportunity for smaller third-party sellers. The latest talking point in this ongoing conversation is Amazon’s use of review programs.
According to critics of the company, Amazon has been using Vine to supply free products to consumers in exchange for reviews. However, because customers are receiving the goods for free, critics fear that reviewers could feel obligated to review Amazon’s private-label goods positively regardless of the quality of the product.
This means that the reviewed products are pushed up higher in the marketplace’s search results, pushing its third-party merchants further down the page.
Amazon representatives have addressed the concerns in a Bloomberg article, stating that Vine users can select any “eligible product” from the marketplace to review, including both private-label and vendor products. However, sources close to the matter have reportedly disputed this statement, saying most vendors on the site only have access to Amazon’s “early reviewer” program, which prohibits merchants from giving shoppers free products in exchange for a review.
The e-commerce goliath originally tightened its marketplace rules around reviews two years ago, after the company received reports of sellers trying to buy reviews from shoppers in exchange for goods to influence the platform’s search algorithm. Closer inspection of Amazon’s rules around reviews has revealed that exchanging products for reviews is still allowed, as long as there is no direct contact between a retail partner and the consumer reviewing the goods.
It seems Amazon is using Vine to get around its own rules.
In the Bloomberg report analysing the situation, a review watchdog compared AmazonBasics motor oil, which launched in July 2018 and has a 4.5 star rating, with a similar third-party product that’s been on the site for six years. Each product reportedly had approximately 100 reviews, but 80 percent of Amazon’s reviews came via Vine, while the third-party products had none through Vine. According to the watchdog, the third-party oil had better quality reviews, but despite this, ranked lower on the site than the private-label product.
Questionable activities like this are reportedly the reason Amazon became the target of an EU antitrust probe in late September. European Antitrust Regulator, Margrethe Vestager is currently looking into how Amazon treats its small merchants.