Amazon is currently investigating claims that some of its workers have shared (or offered to share) confidential internal information with sellers, and also delete negative reviews of products, in exchange for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. If this actually occurred, it would be yet another reason to take user reviews with a grain of salt.
This cat in an Amazon box is not amused (Source: Flickr via Stephen Woods)
Internal sales metrics can prove valuable for sellers, particularly keywords that customers type in when searching for a product. The same goes for statistics about a person's buying habits. If a marketplace seller can obtain this information, he or she can then manipulate product descriptions to boost their search rankings on the site.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Amazon started investigating the sale of confidential information to sellers after being tipped off in May that it was happening in China. People who are supposedly familiar with the matter say that some of the incidents involve Amazon employees in the United States as well.
As the story goes, the alleged sale of company data and negative review deletion are typically arranged through brokers. To have a review deleted, the going rate is $300 per review, and brokers usually requires a minimum of five reviews totaling $1,500, WSJ reports. If that is too steep, sellers can reportedly pay a smaller sum for the email addresses of buyers who posted negative reviews. That allows them to reach out to the reviewers directly, and potentially bribe them with free or discounted products to edit or delete their reviews.
Amazon confirmed that it's investigating the claims, adding that it has a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to abusing its systems.
"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," Amazon said. "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."
In its most recent earnings report, Amazon said it increased its second quarter sales 39 percent to $52.9 billion. A large chunk of Amazon's merchandise sales presumably comes from third-party merchants. Amazon is by far the biggest e-commerce site, with a market capitalization of over $938 billion. To put that into perspective, Walmart's market cap is $278 billion, at the time of this writing.