Amazon sent notices to Amazon third-party sellers this week warning them to cease and desist violating its review manipulation, rank manipulation and seller code of conduct policies. At the same time, it removed RebateKey and Elite Sellers from accessing its API, effectively putting them out of business.
While most sellers were not suspended, the warning is clear: Amazon is watching you and they know what you did. Why weren’t they suspended? Why the amnesty? Elite Sellers claims millions of sellers use its product. Numbers like that would overwhelm Amazon Seller Performance. If sellers don’t comply, however, if they sign up with a RebateKey or Elite Sellers competitor, they can expect to be suspended and perhaps permanently banned. After all, they were warned.
We are advising our clients to disable these applications immediately in their Seller Central account. They are already defunct, but it shows compliance with the warning. You should also review your other service providers for compliance. My guess is sellers have a short window for this.
As I’ve advised before in my blog, presentations and conversations with sellers, warranty and rebate programs are risky. Most are non-compliant. Any campaign using ManyChat or similar tools is risky because it is a big red flag to Amazon.
A basic rule of thumb for Amazon is if it seems too good to be true, it’s not compliant. In the case of both these programs, they were smart and brilliant. I understand why sellers flocked to them. Using just publicly available information, I was able to determine a long time ago that they were not compliant. I thought I’d share my red flags here to help sellers as they evaluate future software providers:
- Elite Sellers is integrated with .
- RebateKey is a deal group that requires buyers to buy for full price on Amazon without Amazon being aware of the discounting.
- RebateKey allows sellers access to the buyers and to use their ability to not pay buyers as leverage for positive reviews.
- Elite Sellers supported warranty programs as well as rebates.
- Elite Sellers gave sellers complete details on their buyers including their full addresses, phone numbers, reviews they left and the ability to export this data for outside purposes.
- Elite Sellers gave sellers the ability to only send review requests to specific buyers – cherry picking. This is expressly forbidden by Amazon.
- Both used gift cards or PayPal to pay buyers their rebates and other incentives. This is forbidden by Amazon.
- Elite Sellers has a QR code generator for product inserts and social media use. These generators had the ability to create super URLs which is where rank and platform manipulation comes in. They called them “Magic Links.” These are expressly against Amazon’s Business Sellers Agreement (BSA).
- RebateKey uses Search Find Buy (SFB) links to help sellers rank for keywords. This is basically their version of magic links.
I can hear the controversy now. Rebates, ManyChat and warranty programs are not expressly against the BSA. True, but they have been abused to the point that the number of sellers using them legitimately is far overwhelmed by the non-compliant campaigns. They are advertised and set up for the express purpose of generating positive reviews and Amazon knows it.
There is a reason Amazon doesn’t give FBA sellers full buyer data and restricts merchant fulfilled sellers from calling buyers except in very limited circumstances. They don’t want you marketing to their buyers outside the platform. They don’t want you harrassing buyers to remove negative feedback. They don’t let FBA sellers export this data in Seller Central. This was a red flag to me that these providers were facilitating practices that are against the BSA.
The use of gift cards or PayPal payments are expressly forbidden in the BSA. The regular QR code is not against the BSA, but the special links are.
RebateKey manipulates Amazon‘s system by creating verified full price purchases and verified reviews on Amazon that were, in fact, deeply discounted. It makes keywords look organic that are not. It is platform manipulation, review manipulation, sales and rank manipulation. They couch carefully on their website the fact that they can force buyers to leave positive reviews by withholding payment and providing proof of the review and that no returns are made. It’s a benefit: “You approve!” and “verify the validity of Amazon orders.” RebateKey acts as the middleman and makes the payments to buyers for you. This is code for “we give you cover. You aren’t making the payments, we are.”
Many sellers have argued with me about RebateKey and its competitors, even when Amazon has suspended them for using the program. All I can say is, we give advice based on what Amazon does. They don’t like most deal groups; they don’t like how most sellers use RebateKey. They don’t like warranty programs. They will suspend your account if they suspect abuse. Not once have we had an innocent client with these programs. Amazon was always right. Even if you don’t require a review to get the refund, it is still an incentivized review if they leave one. That’s the bottom line.
RebateKey and Elite Sellers both use “search, find, buy” campaigns. It’s an industry term and a search term for super URLs designed to rank you for keywords. If you see that term or “2-step URLs” on a website or on a Google search, it’s a red flag. These are often presented as “hacks” to sellers rather than black hat or non-compliant tactics. They are non-compliant. Be aware.
There are compliant deal groups, yes. I love Groupon, for example. However, you should investigate closely before signing up. The vendor will tell you they are compliant. You cannot rely on their claims. You need to look for yourself. They will tell you they work closely with Amazon, but the development team is not Seller Performance. The two groups don’t work together. Sellers need to understand the intent of Amazon’s policies, not just the words. Some new clever program will come along which abuses policies in a new way. Amazon will suspend your account and “You didn’t say we couldn’t do that!” won’t get you reinstated.
Your critical eye should be applied to any program that increases sales, increases reviews, ranks you for keywords or promises to get you on page 1. You want to understand how they do that. Anything that is aimed specifically at Amazon should be reviewed with caution. This includes reimbursement programs, listing programs, restricted category approvals, verification approvals, fixing stranded inventory, PPC programs, and more. There are honest actors out there to work with, but there are many non-compliant or outright bad actors, and it is up to you to vet them. Amazon will hold you accountable.
At eGrowth Partners we follow best practices and focus on compliance. I’ve had many disagreements with vendors and sellers about providers/vendors. Amazon keeps proving me right. My goal is to point out the practices that get sellers suspended so sellers can make informed decisions. Most new ideas aren’t caught by Amazon for a while, maybe even years, so sellers might take the risk anyway. We will help you get reinstated if we can, but our mission is to prevent suspensions in the first place.
If you want to focus on compliance, avoid suspensions and lower your risks, give us a call. We have a range of options for advertising and growth, logistics, account maintenance, listing audits, marketing audits, verification, Brand Registry, Amazon-compliance trained VAs and more. We offer hourly, flat-fee and retainer options to help you manage costs.