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#124 The Magic Store


Sruthi asks a question “why does it seem like Amazon has suddenly gotten a lot sketchier?“ Alex investigates.

Further Reading:

Elizabeth Dwoskin on Amazon

Buzzfeed's Nicole Nguyen on Amazon Fake Reviewers

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode is brought to you by better for him a new podcast from eighty people. In each episode Francesca Ramsay talks to visionaries in business leaders about mistakes. They ve made how they work their way through them and came out better for it. Listen on sport, fi or wherever you get your podcast. This episode is brought to you by a Sana. A saga is an app designed to help teams plan, organise and execute all the work they do together. It helps you It sure nothing falls through the cracks, so you can focus on the work that matters most learn more try us honour for free visit assign a dot com to get started. That's a ass, a dot com from different. This is via email, its golden River and
in the studio. With truth, you put him in any hey guys, hi hello view have someone mean Peter to the studio, to ask us for your help or something I have a question for you. I mean, I think it's a question for Alex specifically flattering this thing happened to me recently that I do not understand, and I would like you to investigate and then explain it to me. Ok, ok, so it has to do with Amazon. What happened was in March, my dentist, or I should say my kids dentist, told me that I should, purchase for one of my boys, an electric toothbrush, but I was old enough scratch rates in electric toothbrush. I have never purchased an electric toothbrush. I know nothing about them, so I want to Amazon, and I was in a
huge rush. That morning, I remembered that the dentist at something Philip Sana CARE. I saw one that seemed as if it was made by Philip Sonic hair. It was about seventy dollars and I clicked like by one click and also go hey. It's gonna get here in two days, two days later, nothing two weeks go by three weeks ago by finally, in April, I believe that it was a process a box arrives. It is not an Amazon Box, it looks very beat up and I opened it, and theirs is toothbrush that was so chunky. Looking with ammunition
without us. So it looks like this film easy, there's, a fillip, sigh care logo which looks like an old logo yeah. You know what it reminds me of you know: what have you ever been in a farm it like a family owned pharmacy where they have an updated the inventory him, and then they did the shelves our little dusty, but they have one of kind of everything you need at a pharmacy. This is the toothbrush they would have it and unify makeup hepsey from exactly Zactly right, and so I looked in the back to simulate, reduces thing manufacture and it was manufactured in the Netherlands. Copyright date, twenty their team and to think that I was most offended by is that it came within adapter
Europe, because it a european toothbrush that I now need an american daffodil. Oh my eyes, I went back to Amazon me like what like this was not clear. Was it, and so I look here is the one that I thought I was buying. It also looks exactly the same, except this one says Amazon.
Voice. Look at a price, its forty dollars over her, though I was like that the moment when I was like ok, I bought an old toothbrush from a different country that requires an adapter for twice the money. I took photos of the thing and I wrote a review of the the store as you store London, I put up this review. I got ready for work almost within an hour in my memory. I got a phone call and I look at my phone in its like a plus four for number, and I was like that's weird pleasure. My for country code gets a UK country goes from the Uk Hooker, and so I pick it up and it's a person who has an accent. I thought it was an italian Exxon super polite and he was like hello is this? Should thee- and
I said yes and he said well. I work at the store where we censure the tooth brush and I'm so sorry that you had this like bad experience and like it was a misunderstanding, see sort o humming in hiding and has been plight, and then he sighs Wesson. I will give you half of your money back right away and the other half after you take down your bad review, so sketchy. So I mailed it back me so like yeah about two months ago, and I have not heard a peep which, whatever like I can figure out how to get the money for the toothbrush back. That's not my question. The thing that I'm hung up on is like my
feeling after this wise is Amazon, basically going the way of Craigslist like another website that are used to rely on a lot way backlog in the early two, thousands, and now it's just a bunch of people trying just scale failure they lost the war on the scammers is like they they ever road s or right. And then that moment I was like weight. Is this like the beginnings of wet Amazon? Is going to be a billion old days, my blessing, the internet like checked the tracking idea put forward in Bali. Why are we Amazon and, like I think, at eleven haha rolled over and bad and like ordered some toilet paper. I, like that's the level of trust I have. They almost doesn't feel like buying something yeah. You guys felt like you didn't have to research yeah, a relic Amazon Amazon, saying as we did, that research for you re all right,
I will look into this and see if I can figure out if something happened at Amazon. Okay, so First of all, I talk to Z, Store London and they told me they didn't want to do an interview for the story, but they feel like they didn't wrong you in any way like you got your toothbrush They say their prices are competitive with other Russia's of the same style and with regards to the European plug, they say the product can be used in USA and Europe as it is built with voltage compatibility. That's so ridiculous, like of course, a thing I buy in Europe. Can be used in the U S, for you did and adapt
why? Wouldn't american pearly white person? The? U S by a thing it that's meant me used in your. I disagree with them strongly but gone, but, as I was trying to deal with your toothbrush predicament, ended up learning a lot about Amazon itself. So the first thing that you need to Know- and I think you really know this- is the toothbrush that you got- you did not actually buy it from Amazon itself. You bought it from a third party vendor selling on Amazon, Yassir Store, London right. Third party vendors are huge part of what makes Amazon successful like their huge part of the sales. I think twenty seventeen over half of of all sales on and we're from third party vendors, not from Amazon itself. That's crazy! As I feel like everything I order, almost everything comes in Amazon boxes. It can come
bananas, I'm box and still be from a third party seller, ok, but the problem is that Amazon has like a very complicated relationship with the offenders. This relationships, it almost at the very beginning of Amazon, so like two thousand Amazon, the struggling young upstart getting it ass, handed to it by Ebay, basically Ebay, as there is the Amazon, if, like the late. Ninety someone got it's crazy how long ago this is, but also I remember Ebay has sought to use because it was like you never knew when I try to buy something. If the seller was gonna rip, you offer not right. Yeah, Ebay, Ebay was terrible. I like bought two records on it and then I was like. Oh, this is way overpriced and I feel like I'm being cheated all the time I impulse bought our v I could not afford, and then there are the like a mobile home. You know like like, like a van again, Do they want to drive of college and get likewise visa visa? Has a pop top IRA
they can afford. It ordered robotic hard, and so I never complete the auction every Tuesday, vague and oh, but you bought it yeah yeah yeah one and then why just didn't: pay and ridden gone the website. You like you, raised her head action has been hit under ass. They walked out that ITALY four thousand dollars. I don't know why I thought I was going to be able to get. Anyone do give me twelve thousand dollars. But what are you trying to say was that at the time Ebay, the successful when an Amazon was like or it will. Maybe we should do it. You bade us, they try doing auctions and it doesn't we're Amazon at auction yet further. Well, but the thing that they stumbled upon it was like a big success with just two
other people stuff and tossing it into their inventory, as though it were all the same has just eat Amazon selling at themselves. So third party vendors are like kind of a big risk for Amazon, because they they can only control so the way that these people behave to a certain degree. It really is this thing where we're Jeff Bathos was like. I want this store to have every single product, and so like the thick getting stuff from third parties was basically just like a magic trick to make it look like they had more stuff in their window than actually did. They were just like: hey we're gonna. We have all this too, even if not actually hours right and that matter Rick totally work just made the place. Look like it is massively stocked with things. So in two thousand, six Amazon did something that actually made it a lot easier for anyone to be- the seller on Amazon. Basically, they were like we'll do all of the shipping for you all. You have to shift
product are warehouse and we will take care of any order. You get will also take care of your customer service and refunds are basically saying, like you, can wear a giant infinite warehouse and you can like have one of our isles. Basically, I picked the stuff. Doesn't exactly in so tons of new sellers come on Amazon and with that, come like all of these new problems. Re because, like, as you add people to the site, you you have to like police them, basically yeah and so Amazon has basically turn into this war zone between the company trying to keep the best stuff at the top of the search results and people who figured out how to gain the algorithm trying to get their own stuff to the top. So like what what our people doing, I actually talk to a guy who worked for company. They figured out all kinds of crazy ways to get their stuff
The top of the search results- hello, hey Eric, hey, hey! This is allocated to it. I didn't man, I'm good Eric lives in California, near allay, and about a year and a half ago he started working at this company that sells household stuff. Amazon. So what did you know about this company when you started working there like nothing? Why did you choose this job? To apply to night? To be honest, is really close. Your eyes living as like eight minute drive it it's a seemed like is ok, it was in a terrible job. So I just said I tried out so part of our job is to push this one product and it is not a product that I accept back did to be like a product where there is fierce competition.
But actually talk to a seller who told me that they were selling five times as many of their product in the number one spot as they were in the number for spot. But there was this problem, which was that his boss is for a while now So when someone goes on, Amazon and searches for wool drier balls, his companies, DR also the first ones to come up and being number one, is a big deal because you get way more sales in that spot. I actually talk to a seller who told me that they were selling five times as many of their product in the number one spot as they were in the number for spot. But There was this problem, which was that his boss for a while now had been using a very specific strategy to gain the Amazon algorithm. So they noticed that your product was in a lot of Amazon carts and wish lists. It would move up in the rankings so they heard a bunch of guys in Bangladesh to just sitting.
Their computers all day and had the company's drier boss to their hearts. Them to their wish lists, just click on their listings and just leave him there never check out, but just leave them in the guards and just like drier balls like these people in Bangladesh, which just like, like try, brawls, more drier balls, yeah and for a while. This approach has really successful at fooling the algorithm, but then it seems like Amazon, figured out what people were up to, because Eric that one day the trick to stop working and is it like. One day these to be at the top of a search results in the next day. Suddenly they just plummeted. Yes, ok, but airs company, pretty quickly figures at the new thing that will send you to the top of the search results, which is user review. So they need to get as many reviews as possible, which is actually pretty hard, because the reviews that matter to the algorithm are the ones that are left by people who actually bought the thing that there
Viewing so we would hire a contractor in China, ok and then they would get a bunch of fake accounts that time to read the mattresses in the United States right all over, like Virginia She doesn't matter book, but then the product will actually get shipped to those addresses. So the I could get cheap randomly to some address in the United States and then the king tried her that they hired would leave a glowing review for each of those products that they sent them. That was a thing we saw like a few months ago. Regularities emails, people were like? I don't know why I'm springing random boxes of random Amazon brought that's what that was yeah like weren't, you, say like hey? Why did I just received an Amazon tactful hoops? It was because, sir, Amazon hullo hoop seller had bought some fake reviews and, of course that means that his company was actually losing a lot of money for each real. You take a loss, you pay for the product and you lose actual product.
So, how does it become worth it? Because every listing that we had ok for the war as an example, even though we spent like I do know that is six hundred bucks right, Every day we sought a hundred and twenty, I say fish to to dream, so it's a small price to pay in the end. So off of like a six hundred dollar investment, Eric says that his company was making a couple grand a day and that day are still the number one drier ball on Amazon. Eric's company wasn't unique in realising that the outcome, and had changed all across Amazon people like oh, if wanna stay ahead of the game. I want to be in the number one spot. I have to get more views so suddenly, everybody's in the market for fake reviews- and I talked to the reporter- who occur
months ago decided that you wanted to understand how this faker view market worked? My name is Elizabeth was gone and I am the silken bag, a correspondent for the Washington Post, which I feel we should mention, is made of pathos right. So Elizabeth was working with this researcher named Renee, dressed up and Renee said to Elizabeth. Like hey, listen, I think I found like the fake review motherly like where all of the fake reviewers hang out. So she- and I were talking one day about how she had been looking and all these Facebook groups for amateur reviewer clubs and she said one go and check them out see with our like, because they seem to be totally scamming Amazon's rules, so I went in with her and these groups for just unbelievable, because you go in for a second and you kind of announce yourself like you know I'm interested in reviewing dm me
and then suddenly, you'll start getting dozens and dozens of dams from or Facebook messages from sellers, and they just going and rapid fire offering to pay you to review their products there like. Would you like? It unites? No, would you like showing how do you know how about retractable badges, how about Bluetooth, headsets and they'll just on and on and on sweetening the deal rain. Pond shows some of these groups are huge, like I've found one called the Amazon Review Club that as twenty one thousand members- and you have any idea like who is actually writing these reviews yeah. I actually talk to wherever he goes by the name: glue boy glued. Why can you just just to get it. On your voice. Can you tell me it's super earlier where you are a young California, let's run seven fifteen m. While I appreciate you waiting at this early for me, I'm a problem on a student so not to bear so glue boys in college he's twin.
And he told me that over this Pascual year he did dozens of paid reviews on Amazon and he actually gets his hands on the product. Yet he could he bought. He get he purchased, the product to her and then once he's got it right through view any does the reef any gets gets a refund? How much info do the folks who want you to review? Give you now it's a bit more, complicated, because I ask you to search kind of a generic term wedded to the item and then click on a few items look reviews there I'm so that Amazon doesn't. You know not noticed that all of a sudden, a bunch people are going to this products directly. Do they asked for specific language in their views? Are they like make sure to talk about this? Regular thing yes for some sellers, some sellers will pay a you know I'll give you a review, but usually sound very artificial intelligence. That he was reading it like a. I wrote it usually it's a
write your own personal review. What he told me he was like. He was like it's pretty easy to avoid. Detection Amazon was not super sophisticated about this, but I have some like best practices which are dont review everything you buy. That looks superstition, Yes, right, don't review to many of the same type of product that, like Superscribed wiseguy, keep able to headphones many said, something which I loved, which is he was like. The hallmark of a fake review is that it's pretty much uniformly positive and then there's like one tossed off negative thing that easily be ignored. So if you're reviewing when others like dashboard mounted cellphone holders, you would say something like. Oh I've read some people say that it s trouble sticking. But if you clean the surface first, it's totally fine ah itself and could have one of these up up up up up. Eddie was really well reviewed and your mom
getting it and it didn't stick like it just kept breaking off, and I was just like I don't understand. Oh my god, I feel so. I'm like you even more and then I realized that's funny. I did ask em for an interview for the story, but Amazon, even more so than most tech companies is very, very, very secret. If they do not do interviews, they did send me a comment which said in part quote enough: Dick Reviews made of less than one percent of all reviews on Amazon last month, but even one is unacceptable. However, Elizabeth from the Washington Post told me that she worked with an analysed and they found a number that was very, very different according to her in some way
categories, actually more than fifty percent of the review seem suspicious. That was a very big discrepancy. Yes, it is as far as your toothbrush worthy yes after everything, I have learned the fact that you got a crappy toothbrush from another country that didn't work in the United States without an adapter and was overpriced, does not feel like a real aberration to be. It feels like something that is happening more frequently. And the thing that you guys we're noticing that it seems relatively recent that this has started happening more frequently. I think you're right about
I think I know why all of a sudden it feels like Amazon is not a safer place at ease like there's an actual thing that happened. Yes, I'll tell you about it. After the break.
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Welcome back to the show so gaming, the Amazon algorithm, is not particularly new phenomenon. Its pre we ve been going on since third party, so it were allowed on the site. But something happened eighteen months ago that made this problem much much worse, Alyssa to ask in the report from the russian imposed told me what happened, which is? Amazon is starting to face Company sure from Alibaba, which is basically like China and other inner. National sellers, like Amazon and in order to try and remain calm if they made the decision to allow international sellers on Amazon. It used to be that foreign sellers have to go through a reseller. They couldn't cell directly on Amazon just list directly on Amazon, and now they can harm. So, if you're, the manufacturer in China, you can just
friends and you can just list directly on Amazon a member. Some of these companies were probably just manufacturer if they didn't have their own brand identity. Right suddenly sellers in other countries. Especially China who have access to electronic that are being produced their day, need to go to resellers in United States anymore. They cut out the middlemen, Megan just sell, whatever products wet with, how no matter how good or how terrible they are yeah directly on Amazon. This was the turning point for a lot of sellers where suddenly they felt like it wasn't just some fake reviews. It was just a flood of fake reviews. Not the whole review system was becoming totally.
And I guess I don't what I don't understand is like Bailey. They lead in a bunch of foreign sellers. Things at worst arrives the understanding. What happened there? What about that made things worse? Well, first of all, its just a ton, more sellers to police just way more people who are jockeying for the top spot, the search results and the other thing is that a huge. Fortunately, sellers are from China and, if they're doing anything sketchy, it's almost impossible for him is under, do anything about it like very difficult for them to sue pretty much. The only thing that they can do is ban these people, but a seller. Talk. You told us that in China there are services that are started popping up that can get you a new account very easily for like a couple hundred bucks, so either the worst actors on amazon- seem to evade banning right away. Is that fake reviews are not the only weapon in the scammer arsenal. They actually have a bunch of different methods like this one very common scam called listing, hijacking and
Talk to a seller who is actually a target of that particular scam, How should I identify Yonah? Show I mean you, don't want a user name. Can I use your first name yeah, slippers inheritance. Harrison. Didn't want me to use a last name because he's worried about attracting more attention from scammers, so one of the things that he sells on Amazon is barbecue and then one day someone shows up on Amazon claiming to be selling his brand of barbecued animals and when- and he started getting all these negative reviews, because the thing they were selling bore no relation to the thing that he actually sold like he's like make these special tongs and their sixty box and people love em, and then someone selling like ten dollar towns and their like ipods, sixty dot bucks for these songs Do you remember when you saw that that your listing was hijacked unlike what it felt like? Does that mean I check it prematurely, Amazon or climb? So I called it pretty quickly but
That feeling it's like a combination of light, anger and fear, because you worked so hard to make this work to build up this this the product but selling. Well, and then you have somebody come in there who had done basically nothing and outside, and you start dealing yourselves and then the fact it there's nothing. You can do about it. It's just like the was feeling so here what's going on bunch of people on Amazon are selling like the same flashlight Amazon, put them all under one listing and so be the best seller on their page generally, you have to have the lowest price, but the weighted people do, that is by saying they have the lowest price, but then selling like a knock offer a counterfeit at prom, so they effectively hijack the listing and how
since only choice in this situation was to try and sell his real product at a price that is cheaper than what the counterfeiters offer that point you just become good, like a price worth site, be you recalled the images. Your price, like one cent below the other guy back a woman, are matters for weeks. Like is just like a ridiculous game. It there's these tools after their called like auto reprisals, so that I wrote the sit there all day were. Basically, I just set it up so that every time he lowered his price mine automatically goes one simple. Oh it's! So I would do this until he got you a price where it was like so low. I knew he wasn't making money. I think you would like there's like eight dollars and then at that point I bought out. I bought every single one of it in its ships,
you and address, and there are therefore I mean he's out of stock. That seems like a bad strategy given cause. I feel then that tongues others like I get more farms, anything just how my God, cakes didn't work. He regain control of his listening. So it's funny. It's like new. That Amazon was such an exciting place to work. Then I now and it's really easy for counterfeiters died, acquiescing slick, I talked to the seller and they were like. We sell products that are manufactured in China. What are they so they did was all they would tell me. Is there that the item has timber glass in it fox their side, and they told me that the hijacking of their listings with knock off brands, has gotten so bad they're just gonna, stop making things that are easy to counterfeit. They were like we're. Gonna go into apps, because apps are harder to counterfeit. They sell apps on Amazon, now they're going to sell apps outside of Amazon threat. We just doin if there are leaving Amazon, they were like we're. Gonna still sell this stuff that we ve got right now
but like it's getting harder and harder, and this is such a huge part of our of like how much are we make money? We might have to just abandon this completely it's here because, like I had a feeling that something was off, it's a hearing. The story makes a few concrete in a way that I'm like this really socks. Because Amazon is just like this thing that makes all the colleagues in my life like just go smoothly there, I think, also living it makes me rise- is like that there is a two like relatively recent news stories where people bought stuff on Amazon. That was like very dangerously defective and tried to suit the there is a woman who she bought a hover board and burned burn her house. Now, yes, Amazon selling it end like they were coming from like Nazi reputable sellers, and so at least some of them were setting on fire
then there is the other woman who just I've, got a dog leash of Amazon and it was shadowy made and so like it ripped when her dog old and a metal part sprung back knocked her glasses broken, us into her eye and tissues like partially bind it, and she was like. I want to do that, like they saw me a super defective product linkages, there's an eye innovation that the things you buy will not hurt you, but in both cases, Amazon, one to court- and they said like we are not liable for this cause. Amazon is not a store. What Amazon is is like a platform like the same way like Twitter and Facebook or platforms, Amazon hissing, that's true for us, even though, were selling like real physical things and, like the court agreed with them it so we're because I've always heard Amazon.
I mean it's not a whole thing that they're the everything store. Yes, that sucks. I know I mean it just feels like this magic store that you guys thought it was, is definitely not what it is today. It seems much more like a place that will put you in touch with some dude selling Tong's in Hong Kong and maybe you'll. Get a great pair and maybe you'll get ripped off. It's just like any other website now You guys. Why now know I ended up buying, though right electric toothbrush from Philip Sonic Hair on Amazon, you still body where? Where else are you actually surprise yeah? No, I found it the right price. It was animals choice
I got it in two days and young kids real happy. The play always hosted by me your vote in me out its golden our shared produced by truly predominating, feel abandoned, Damietta Marketing and Anna. Our editors are to Howard, serious errors and are, in turn, Jessica Young. We were mixed by one in Emma backtracking by show Harris Special thanks this week. Fox fact, Reuben Nicole, when Joe Cashing, heinous Redstone, Tommy, Newton and Laundering
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into a state of slow motion, movement against luggage, our strong out and meaningless. They captain for years There was a log on my own and I finally picture with an acoustic guitars drew rein back where I was only go on for three seconds: the timers differently there and the chief Please let me down further. It feels good to talk about this.
Mother, are you kidding me right now, a definition that believe them not recognised by. Mr President, at such a fine, I know you are, but I know of course it's not anywhere. I think we have to do next. Gonna suck.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-13.