Amazon employees in China are participating in schemes to provide sales data and other internal information to sellers, as well as to delete negative reviews and to restore accounts that have been banned from the site, the Wall Street Journal reports. The activity appears to be quite sophisticated, with brokers making deals for employees, who make from $80 to more than $2,000 on such activities, according to the report.
Amazon didn't deny the report but in a statement emailed to Retail Dive said it has strict conduct and ethics policies and "sophisticated systems to restrict and audit access to information." The spokesperson also said that Amazon is "conducting a thorough investigation of these claims" and that it would take "swift action" against employees or sellers found to be involved in the activities described by the Journal.
The e-commerce giant has previously sought to maintain the integrity of reviews on its site, including taking those posting fake reviews and even its own marketplace sellers to court.
Consumers have an elevated expectation of transparency when making purchases online, which are a way for them to make up for the inability to touch or see merchandise for themselves. That expectation may be yet another way that Amazon itself has set the bar.
The e-commerce giant has long included negative reviews on its site, for example, a practice that many retailers are loathe to follow. But fake reviews, or the idea that a retailer deletes negative reviews, is worse than negative reviews, according to Sara Spivey, chief marketing officer at digital marketing firm Bazaarvoice. "It's true that negative reviews can be damaging to a business, but fake or deleted reviews can have a far greater impact on the e-commerce ecosystem long-term," she said in an email to Retail Dive. "If negative reviews can be easily hidden or deleted, consumers will be hesitant about leaving their own honest feedback or shopping online in general."
That's particularly true for Amazon. A majority (68%) of shoppers consider online reviews "important" or "very important" when considering the purchase of consumer electronic items, for example, and that rises to 78% when surveying only Amazon customers, according to consulting firm Magid's Retail Pulse study of consumers, which was emailed to Retail Dive. "Reviews are an incredibly important part of Amazon's ability to deliver on the need of transparency, a need that has moved to the forefront of customers' mindset primarily due to Amazon reviews," Matt Sargent, Magid senior vice president of retail, told Retail Dive in an email.
Amazon has built up enough trust to weather this report, at least to a point. "Amazon's depth of trust is very high in this space, and my expectation is that Amazon has established considerable goodwill in this space that will insulate them from any potential revelations," Sargent said.
Amazon appears to be taking that seriously, saying that if allegations detailed in the Wall Street Journal prove true, the employees involved will be fired and that sellers will face legal action.
"We have strict policies and a Code of Business Conduct & Ethics in place for our employees. We implement sophisticated systems to restrict and audit access to information," Amazon said in its statement. "We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them, including terminating their selling accounts, deleting reviews, withholding funds, and taking legal action. We are conducting a thorough investigation of these claims."