To best hawk a product on Amazon, third-party sellers hope for a coveted spot on the site's first page of search results, a ranking that's boosted by positive reviews. Sources tell the Wall Street Journal those rankings could be affected by "illicit transactions" between sellers and Amazon employees, who are reportedly taking payments from sellers and giving up confidential company info, mainly through brokers, to give those sellers an edge. The practice is said to be mainly happening in China, where the sources say that, after receiving payments that can exceed $2,000, intermediaries for Amazon workers are offering data on internal sales (including top keywords and info on consumer buying habits), reviewers' email addresses, and a service that scrubs negative reviews. Amazon says it's now investigating the claims in China, as well as in the US.
The way it works, per brokers and sellers: Brokers log on to the WeChat messaging platform used in China, seek out Amazon workers, and then pitch them the idea of leaking data for money. This is all happening due to the fierce competitiveness of selling on Amazon, per the Journal's sources. "If I don’t do bad things, I will die," one Chinese vendor says. The practice is apparently rampant in China because Amazon workers have paltry paychecks and the number of sellers is spiking. In a statement, an Amazon rep says both workers and sellers could face repercussions. "We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems," she notes. The company, which has long had to contend with sellers "gaming its systems," is making organizational changes in China in an attempt to suss out anyone involved in bribery. (Some Amazon workers are paid to tweet positive things about the company.)