Amazon cracked down on buyers last week, suspending them without warning or explanation, leaving thousands of customers trying piece together the reason for their sudden bans.
EcommerceBytes wrote about the incident
on Sunday, and after a backlash on social media, other tech publications began to pick up the story. Business Insider, which didn't quote Amazon, was sympathetic to the suspended customers, while CNBC appeared to blame third-party sellers for getting their buyers in trouble by compensating them for leaving reviews.
So what were the reasons behind Amazon's sudden purge of customers? While Amazon would not be specific when EcommerceBytes inquired on Sunday and again Tuesday, the company did finally send an email today to many of the buyers whose accounts had been deactivated:
Hello from Amazon
Thank you for contacting Amazon Customer Service. We have reviewed your account and confirmed it was deactivated for violations of our Community Guidelines and Conditions of Use.
Your account has been deactivated for one or both of the following reasons:
- Your reviews were posted in exchange for compensation, such as gift cards to purchase the product, product refunds, review swaps, or free or discounted products; and/or
- Your account was used for commercial purposes.
We have submitted your account for re-consideration and will advise in the next 7 business days if your account is eligible for reactivation.
In the meantime, if you have made digital purchases (e.g. movies, audible.com, books) the content is now available to you.
Amazon indicated that its investigation showed bad actors may be behind the "social media campaign." But the reaction to that characterization upset members of a Facebook group of Amazon users whose accounts had been closed since last week. Some members said they hadn't left reviews, or hadn't left reviews since Amazon changed its terms in 2016 to ban incentivized reviews.
However, some customers whose accounts had been deactivated said they had been getting Amazon gift cards or promo cards from third-party services for doing things like uploading shopping receipts through apps such as Paribus.
One buyer said she didn't abuse the system because while she used coupon codes offered by merchants, she didn't follow through, choosing to ignore the pleas for reviews.
Another buyer regularly reviews products on her blog and fully disclosed in her reviews that she had either received the products for free or at a discount; she includes links to the products on Amazon at the bottom of her reviews. She was genuinely perplexed about why Amazon had deactivated her account.
We asked Amazon about the reference to reviews in today's letter, and a spokesperson said:
"We work hard to ensure that customers can trust reviews on Amazon. Inappropriate reviews makeup a tiny percentage of all reviews on Amazon, but even one is unacceptable, and we will not stop until all are identified and removed.
"We prohibit incentivized reviews (reviews where the customer was provided a free or discounted product in exchange for a review) unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program or the Amazon Early Reviewer Program.
"We enforce a participation requirement - All US reviewers must have a password-protected Amazon.com account, used for at least $50.00 in purchases on Amazon with a valid credit or debit card. Amazon is investing heavily in manual and automated systems to identify those who create the demand for fraudulent reviews.
"We have banned and will continue to ban vendors and sellers who abuse the reviews system. We have brought lawsuits against over 1000 defendants for reviews abuse and we will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause - the sellers and manufacturers who create the demand and the individuals who deliver the inauthentic reviews."
Some members of the Facebook Group continue to insist Amazon made a mistake with their account and were particularly incensed by the sudden nature of their suspension without notification. Amazon's spokesperson indicated they may notify customers if they violate its reviews policy once, but if there are multiple violations or other infractions, Amazon may suspend their account without warning.
According to the spokesperson, "Customer trust is one of Amazon's top priorities. To protect that trust, we take a number of actions, including closing accounts that have violated our policies. If a customer has a question about their account, we recommend they contact Customer Service so we can investigate and take appropriate action."