The Web Retailer News Digest for February 19th, 2021

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An investigation by UK consumer rights group Which? has uncovered an extensive network of sites where Amazon sellers can bulk-buy reviews from hundreds of thousands of “product reviewers”.

Ten review sites were identified, and Which? investigators signed up for them to discover how they operated and just how far they went in terms of requiring only positive reviews and taking steps to avoid detection by Amazon.

They did not hold back from naming and shaming the review sites, and the sellers using them, and even calling out Google for allowing the review sites to advertise in search results.

Experienced sellers might not be surprised at the scale of this activity, but the fresh publicity will not be welcomed by Amazon, which has a history of reacting decisively to bad PR.

Amazon review buying sites exposed

Some of the findings are particularly damning for sites claiming to be in full compliance with Amazon’s terms. Many are clearly not following the rules. For example, a researcher was offered a service aimed at manipulating the “Amazon’s Choice” badge, and some reviewers complained that they were denied refunds for leaving reviews of three stars or less.

Buying reviews is of course banned by Amazon, as is any kind of search manipulation and offering any incentive for a review, even if the seller does not specifically ask that a positive rating is given. This has been the case for several years now, so it may be a surprise to some just how blatant the sites selling reviews are being.

Ten review sites were named in the report: AMZDiscover, AMZTigers, AppSally, Cashbackbase, Jump Send, Nicerebate, Rebatest, Severnvine and TesterJob. Some of those might be familiar to Amazon sellers, such as Jump Send which is a Jungle Scout-owned service. All were contacted by Which? for comment and none responded.

One of the sellers that were contacted for comment, Chinese company Enacfire, claimed to have no knowledge or involvement in giving refunds for reviews, despite its $50 headphones being offered for free on review site Rebatest. So someone else is giving away their products? How kind of them.

Amazon has taken legal action against fake review sites in the past, but it’s clear that many are still operating and proving popular with consumers and sellers alike. More legal action might be coming soon.

But it’s not just the review sites who could be closed down. Sellers who have ever used these services should be very concerned. If one of these site’s customer databases ever makes it into the open, Amazon will have a perfect record of guilt and thousands of suspensions could swiftly follow.

Read more at Which?

Other Amazon news

Sellers can no long fudge tracking information

Amazon will require the carrier name for seller-fulfilled orders from April 5th, and will validate tracking numbers from May 3rd.

It may come as a surprise that this is not already happening. Even though the carrier name and tracking number fields already exist, it is possible for sellers to enter bogus details to cheat the system. From May 3rd, that should no longer be possible. This is good news, but it may impact honest sellers if the tracking validation system has some glitches – as these things often do.

Read more at Seller Forums – US Announcements.

Listing A/B testing now includes product images

Amazon’s own product page A/B testing system, Manage Your Experiments, now includes product images, in addition to titles and A+ Content.

Manage Your Experiments is currently available to brand-registered sellers on Amazon.com, with enough existing traffic to their listings to generate statistically significant results. Split-testing of listings is also possible with third-party tools, such as Splitly.

Read more at Seller Forums – US Announcements.

Advertisers get a new video ad creator

Amazon’s DSP advertising platform has introduced a new ad builder tool so advertisers can create video ads without, well, having any videos. The tool works by building a video from static images, although existing videos can also be uploaded and edited.

Read more at Amazon Advertising.

Amazon starts collecting Illinois tax

Amazon has started collecting Illinois “retailer occupation tax” on behalf of sellers. Sellers were a little confused that this latest development in the long and very, very complex saga of online sales taxes was announced 47 days after it went into effect.

Read more at Seller Forums – US Announcements.

Amazon’s Launchpad program, which is aimed at getting new innovative products onto the Amazon marketplace, has a new “Innovation Grant” providing $10,000 to two Launchpad sellers each month.

The winners of the January grants were WAYB, for its Pico Travel Car Seat, and nCase, for its nCase Clear Aligner SmartCase and Mobile App.

Applicants must be in the Launchpad program, and be small or medium-sized businesses owned by a US resident.

Read more at About Amazon.

eBay news

Trading card sales were up 142% in 2020

eBay has released a new report into trading card sales on its platform in the past year. It turns out that the pandemic caused thousands of recovered card collectors to fall off the wagon and head up to their attics to dust off their albums and take up the hobby again.

Sales were up 142%, amounting to four million more cards sold in 2020 compared to the year before. Some collectors had very deep pockets, as three trading cards changed hands for more than half a million dollars. That’s a lot of Pokémon-ey. Boom.

eBay Trading Cards
Part of eBay’s trading card infographic

Read more at eBay Inc.

Fast ‘N Free thrown out for “simpler” shipping info

eBay’s flagship shipping program, Fast ‘N Free, apparently wasn’t simple enough for eBay buyers. They got the “free” part but “fast” left them scratching their heads, so eBay has scrapped it and now states the number of days (2, 3, or 4) that fast shipping is expected to take.

The requirements for sellers are unchanged: free shipping, no more than one day to ship orders, carrier tracking details uploaded and delivery within four business days. If you meet all those requirements, a “Free X day shipping” message should be shown.

Read more at Community Announcements.

Other marketplaces

Coupang attracts outlandish valuation for IPO

South Korea’s largest online marketplace Coupang, is set to go public on the New York Stock Exchange. A target valuation of $50 billion would make it the largest IPO in New York since Alibaba in 2014.

Despite total revenue increasing 91% in 2020 to $12 billion, Coupang lost $700 million dollars in the year. Coupang is a huge success story in Korea, at least in terms of sales, but it’s hardly on Alibaba’s scale.

Read more at Reuters.

TikTok launches seller education hub

Following last week’s news that TikTok is no longer likely to be sold to Walmart and friends, the social media app has now unveiled an ecommerce education zone on its site.

The TikTok Seller University is billed as a “training hub to help you do business on TikTok. We offer a full suite of lessons on seller tools, policies and the latest updates to the shop.”

The seller signup system is not fully operational yet, but looks to be coming soon. The Chinese equivalent to TikTok already generates the majority of its revenue from shopping, reflecting the Chinese craze for video shopping. Will the US follow suit?

Read more at SocialMediaToday.

Etsy starts petition against digital service taxes

Facemask marketplace Etsy has started a petition against the problem of “unilateral Digital Services Taxes” (DSTs). We can only assume that Etsy is trying to bore sellers into signing without actually understanding what this is about.

DSTs have been introduced in the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Turkey, and are intended to bump up the tax rate paid by online multinationals such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. Etsy claims that small businesses will bear the cost of this, and that a globally coordinated agreement would be better.

Let’s get this straight, Etsy wants the smallest of businesses to sign a petition against fairer taxation of the world’s biggest businesses? Um, it’s going to be a “no” from me.

Read more at Etsy Community.

Shopify’s GMV hits 40% of Amazon’s

An interesting piece of research comparing Shopify’s GMV (gross merchandise volume – the total revenue generated by its sellers) with Amazon marketplace GMV provides a useful perspective on the ecommerce industry.

Although Amazon dominates ecommerce in the US and elsewhere, the sales of Shopify merchants are growing much more quickly. The Amazon marketplace accounted for around $300 billion of sales in 2020, an increase of 50%, while Shopify’s GMV was $119 billion, up 96%.

Amazon has certainly noticed the fast growth of Shopify, establishing a team to copy parts of its business and buying ecommerce platform Selz.

shopify gmv as a share of amazon marketplace gmv
Chart from Marketplace Pulse

Read more at Marketplace Pulse.

Webinars in the week ahead

For everyone

February 24: Is repricing right for your online selling? with StreetPricer (register here)

February 24-25: Branded By Women virtual ecommerce summit (register here)

All week: Amazon advertising’s global webinar program rolls on with 20+ webinars scheduled, covering Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, reporting, optimization and tips (register here).

For US sellers

February 22: Amazon town hall “Bold Stories of Entrepreneurship” on empowering Black-owned small businesses (register here)

February 24-25: Tinuiti’s two-day Amazon & Retail Media Virtual Summit (register here)

February 24: eBay’s monthly Seller Check-In featuring senior eBay execs (register here)

For UK sellers

February 23: Amazon-run webinar about listing new products, with Carina McLeod (register here)

February 23: Avalara’s Brexit VAT and customs clinic (register here)

February 24: Amazon’s Brexit FAQ Webinar on selling across the EU/UK border (register here)

February 25: Amazon webinar on Pan-European FBA (register here)

And finally…

Second-hand designer fashion marketplace Poshmark has launched a new category for pet outfits, accessories, toys and more. Owners no longer have to feel guilty about picking up a Louis Vuitton handbag without getting a matching collar and leash for their haute couture fur-baby at the same time.

Poshmark also expanded to Australia this week, but that is easily overshadowed when Fido has his little doggy heart set on the latest designer cravat.

Dog wearing a cravat Poshmark
Photo provided by Poshmark

Read more at Fast Company

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