Chapter 8 How One Pillow Manufacturer Is Putting Amazon Fraudsters to Bed, One Scammer at a Time
In 1990, my dad set up shop with my mom, selling this pillow with a hole in the middle.
He’s a dermatologist, and made the pillow to provide relief to patients of his suffering from tender ears caused by a condition called Chondrodermatitis Nodularis Helicis (CNH for short).
They’ve been in business ever since then, and up until this year when my husband and I bought the business from them, they did everything exactly the same as they did back in 1990.
That means no advertising, marketing or sales channel changes in almost 30 years.
So, my husband I took over in January and have since changed everything (it is 2017, after all!)
- We updated our website and joined BigCommerce in January of 2017.
- From there, we put ads on Google.
- Then, a few months ago, we started selling on Amazon.
That’s when our sales doubled!
My parents were shocked. “That’s the power of Amazon!” I told them.
We were going to be the next big Amazon success story –– I just knew it. And then, our listing was deactivated.
Someone else had the lowest price.
“OK,’ I said to my husband, “that’s impossible. Nobody else can have the lowest price for this pillow, because nobody else has this pillow. My dad invented it. We have the lowest price, because we have the only price.”
I was freaking out.
It was the first time either of us had ever experienced fraud — and I had no idea what was going on.
But that was then.
I’ve since learned that the kind of fraud we were subject to is a huge problem on Amazon.
I’ve also gone through all the necessary steps each and every time to make it stop. And for my business, I have it down to a science.
Let’s start with what not to do.
What Happens When You Call Amazon About a Fraudulent Seller?
After that first incident, in my panic mode, I called Amazon customer service.
At that point, I had tried to do everything I could within seller central.
Nothing was working. So, I picked up the phone.
They wouldn’t tell me anything about the other seller.
I supposed that it made sense, after all, it’s private and it could be “somebody else’s business,” in theory.
But we’re the only ones who make this pillow, remember?
So I told Amazon:
“This person says they’re selling my product and they can’t be! Nobody else has my product. It’s my own product. Nobody has it.”
To be fair, they were very calm about the whole thing and let me freak out over the phone. They asked me to explain the issue entirely –– and that they’d look into it. So, I did.
Here’s what I told them:
- Another seller listed my item
- They used my picture with my hand on the pillow
- They used the description that I wrote myself
- They had *our* customer service number on there
- And worst of all, they lowered the price to $5.47 –– when the cost is $59.95.
Let’s get transparent on the pricing part.
Our pillow costs us $20-something to make it. There’s no way somebody could have made a similar or knockoff product for even close to $5.
Of course, they weren’t saying it was a knockoff.
- They were saying it was the real deal.
- Our product.
- Our custom-made, copyrighted product.
It was frightening, but Amazon was able to take that seller down decently quickly.
Problem solved, right?
As soon as that seller was taken down, a few hours later another one popped right up again. It’s part of the scam.
Beware the Amazon Seller Scam
Several years ago, Amazon had a big push to become a global marketplace, and so they opened themselves up and made it super easy for international groups or people to sell and open up a store on the platform.
Essentially, almost anybody, almost anywhere, can sell on Amazon within minutes.
It goes like this…
One scammer somewhere in the world says to a want-to-be Amazon merchant:
“Pay us a certain amount of money, and we’ll set you up with a store on Amazon. You pay us and we’ll set you up with a store with 20,000 items for sale. People buy the items from you, and all you have to do is drop ship. You never actually hold any items in stock at all.”
Now, I can only assume that somebody has a program which allows a “seller” to select many items at once and set a price that’s some very low percentage of the price that is originally on there.
It’s why our $59.95 pillow was listed at a little over $5.
I say that this is the case because when you go to the storefronts of these fraudulent sellers, they have hundreds, if not thousands of products listed, all at insanely low prices.
I’m at the storefront for HairWOW. You can see at the top left this newly launched store has 114,976 products! Including mine. Hopefully lots of other vigilant sellers are also reporting them. You’ll need the link to this storefront page to put in the email you send to Amazon.
The products they list alongside might be related, or not.
In our case, there was the CNH pillow, plus a lot of other bedding, and then a lot random stuff.
It’s almost always the case, however, that the scammers will target ‘Just Launched’ items, from genuine sellers with few or no ratings.
Yep, there’s my product, being “sold” by another seller and me. HairWOW is on top because of their lower price, and I’m second. If there was another lower price before mine, I would be bumped completely off the page. If that happens, just repeat all the steps in this article with each fraudulent seller. Usually the seller will be Just Launched, as in this case, and offer free shipping.
This has something to do with the way Amazon lists products.
If I’m a new seller (a genuine one) with no reviews, and I’m ‘competing’ as it were with two scammers, listing my product for a fraction of the price, then even though none of us has any reviews, the scammers will appear above me because their offering is less expensive.
Why Does the Scam Work In the First Place?
The scam works in part purely because of the sheer size of the Amazon marketplace.
Even if Amazon had a team dedicated to tracking down the scammers, it would be incredibly difficult to catch them all at launch.
In practice, the scam works because:
- Before shoppers buy one of these fake items, they’re told it will ship from inside the U.S.
- Then, as soon as they place the order, the fake seller changes the shipping information from U.S. Post, to China Post, and attaches a tracking number.
How do they attach a tracking number when there’s no product to send?
Yep, it’s fake, too.
Why put a tracking number in the first place?
Amazon pays sellers every two weeks. Items posted from China take between three and four weeks to arrive.
The plan is that they’ll get paid in two weeks, then, when in four week’s time the customer hasn’t received their item, that customer will complain to Amazon.
The customer will be refunded by Amazon, but by then the fake seller has already been removed, and set up shop as somebody completely different.
Even if they succeed in getting a small fraction of those sales to work, the scammers are making money. The customer wastes time, but they eventually get their money back.
In the end, it’s the seller who’s losing out, because:
- The customers are angry
- Trust is broken
- They might never want to buy from you again.
This has been the case with us a few times, and when I speak to customers who have been scammed, the conversation goes something like this:
“Hey, I haven’t received my order.”
“I’m sorry. I have no record of you buying from us.”
“I only paid $7.00.”
And so I explain what’s happened, and usually they say, “Well, that sucks. Can I order now?”
But it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Is There Anything Amazon Can Do to Fix This?
- Making sellers jump through a few more hoops before being able to list items would be a start.
- Placing some restrictions on new sellers would help to curb the scammers, or at least slow them down.
But honestly, the way we’ve dealt with things on our own has been really effective, and if it can save you the hassle of going through what we went through, then I would be all too happy to share.
How to Stop the Amazon Scammers
There’s a bit of policing you’ll need to do yourself when it comes to taking down the scammers, but it’s totally worth it.
1. Keep checking your inventory.
If you have just a few items for sale on Amazon, then the first thing you ought to do is go to your inventory page on a daily basis — I do this multiple times a day — to make sure you’ve got the lowest price.
I’ve got my pillow, and I’ve got my extra pillow cover.
Those are my only two items. So I know that I should have the only price on Amazon.
There’s a little green check mark by each item saying, “Yes, you’ve got the lowest price.” I know if that’s the case, I’m fine.
This screenshot is of my inventory page. I checked it this morning and put a red box around the area I was looking at. I wanted to see check marks by both products showing I had the lowest price because I should have the only price, since no one else has my exact product. My extra pillow cover showed I did not have the lowest price, and instead showed someone else had it listed for less. Amazon puts a link there for me to click if I wanted to match their price – which tells me there’s a fraudulent seller out there (or maybe more than one) listing my item.
If you no longer have the lowest price, and you’re the only one selling that item, there could be problem.
If somebody has significantly undercut you on a similar item, do some research before going in guns blazing.
2. Get as many reviews as possible.
If your product has lots of positive reviews, it will help to keep you up high in the listings.
It’s also more work for scammers to fake reviews right after launch.
3. Be open and honest in your product description.
The other thing I do — since it’s my product that I own and manufacture — is to address scamming right there in the product description.
Here’s what I say…
“Beware fraudulent sellers! They don’t have a cheap knockoff version, they do not have a version at all. There is not an item, this is a scam.”
Explaining to people what’s going on –– that if they see something that seems too good to be true –– that it probably is, that helps a lot.
4. Send an email to Amazon.
The third thing –– the most important thing –– to do is to send an email to Amazon.
You don’t want to flood them with emails, or you don’t pester them with phone calls (it doesn’t work) but you do need to reach out.
The email is firstname.lastname@example.org — just send them one email per day.
If you’ve got a lot of fraudulent sellers on your account every day, just pick a time of day and then send them an email.
Here’s the format and process that I use.
- Compose an email to email@example.com
- Subject line: Possible Fraudulent Sellers
- In the email body, put the name of fraudulent seller’s store, with a link to their storefront
- Do this for however many fraudulent sellers there are
- Underneath, say, “We believe the above sellers are engaging in fraudulent selling activity. Please investigate.”
Presto. They will sort it.
This is what it looks like:
Subject: Possible Fraudulent Seller
Seller Name: HairWOW (or whoever it is)
Link to their storefront: (paste here)
We believe the above seller is engaging in fraudulent selling activity. Please investigate. Thanks!
And then you wait. That’s all. If there are multiple fraudulent sellers, you can just list them all in one email.
Bonus tip: Lay the smack down!
Because I believe that everyone should be held accountable for their actions, I also go to that fraudulent seller’s store and click on the button that says, ‘Ask Seller a Question’, and I hit them with my standard shaming paragraph:
“Didn’t your mother teach you not to cheat people out of their money? Don’t you know you’re hurting people’s businesses? This is not a victimless crime. Shame on you.”
I have no idea how many times that’s worked, but it makes me feel much better.
I hope that helps you to navigate this more seedy section of Amazon, and that you won’t get discouraged from selling on what has to be one of the best platforms we’ve ever used — after BigCommerce, of course!
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