how to avoid chinese sellers on amazon

Looking for how to boycott chinese products on amazon? Amazon is in love with Chinese entrepreneurs, Chinese entrepreneurs are in love with Amazon, and the Chinese government is in love with Amazon. Let’s examine why the love affair exists and also how many Chinese sellers there are. Now let’s find out How To Avoid Chinese Sellers On Amazon.

How To Avoid Chinese Sellers On Amazon

1. Know who’s selling the product

Owner Shaking Hands with Customer

Third-party sellers often use sites like Amazon to clear their excess inventory, garner more visibility, or find a larger audience. While these sellers don’t equate to a fake product, they do warrant a closer look as most counterfeit products come from them.

A How-to Geek writer, who was scammed by a counterfeiter on Amazon, breaks down three different types of products you’ll find on the site:

Ships from and sold by [Name of Third-Party Seller]: The product is sold by the third-party seller and shipped directly to you.

Sold by [Name of Third-Party Seller] and Fulfilled by Amazon: A third-party seller ships the product to Amazon’s warehouses, which then ships it to you without confirming the product is authentic beforehand.

Ships from and sold by Amazon.com: Amazon sells the product, so it should be legitimate. While this method isn’t completely immune to counterfeits, as they can get commingled into the general stock, it’s still your best bet.

Narrow down your shopping search on e-commerce retailers to products sold by the site itself.

2. If it’s not coming from the retailer, look up the seller

online shopping amazon

“You can look to see if something is sold by or fulfilled by that particular website. If it’s fulfilled by that, [it] doesn’t mean that website is selling it to you, it means that they are getting the product to you, but it’s coming from a third party,” Gianopoulos said, adding you should look for a customer service phone number and address in case you need to return the product.

Find the seller via the website’s product page, check out their profile, and even Google them — a lack of online presence is worth noting.

Michael Crider of How-To Geek cautions against a “just launched” badge on a seller’s profile, as scammers often run multiple accounts for short periods of time — and against odd names. In an attempt to slip through counterfeit defenses, scammers will use random groups of characters for their name.

“If the name of the vendor is something that looks like it was typed by a drunk monkey, it’s probably fake,” he writes.

3. Spot the fake reviews

confused upset thinking talking boss employee

Sometimes, the telltale sign of a fake a product is a fake review. Just because an item has five-star ratings doesn’t mean it’s authentic. On the contrary, a high number of positive reviews can be a red flag.

Don’t be fooled by a “verified purchased” tag on Amazon — while it helps establish credibility, sellers cheat the system by hiring businesses to create dummy accounts, purchase products, and write a stellar review.

You can use online tools to help determine the legitimacy of a review, such as Fakespot, which provides a score regarding the likelihood of fake reviews for a product.

But, you don’t always need the help of an online service — there are a few warning signs you can spot with your own eye.

Wirecutter points out that a lot of positive reviews within a few days can indicate people pushed for reviews to happen on a timeline. Poor spelling and grammar, similarly staged user photos, and similar wording can also be warning signs, as can certain words and phrases — think high usage of first-person singular, verbs, and adverbs as well as specifics, like references to people or exact details.

4. Look into shipping logistics

Shipping

Another red flag waves in the form of extra-long ship times, especially on Amazon where third-party sellers don’t see their sales in their bank accounts for fourteen days.

A new vendor with fake merchandise has to maintain their account for at least two weeks, so they’ll schedule shipping time for longer than the Amazon processing time to prevent consumer complaints.

Also look from where the product is shipping. “I don’t want to pick on China, but that’s where most of the counterfeits are coming from,” James Thomson, a former Amazon executive, told MarketWatch.

5. Examine product photos

mobile shopping

In the age of Photoshop and technology, it’s easy for a scammer to edit or steal a photo to make their product look authentic.

Stuart Fuller, director of commercial operation and communications at global brand protection firm NetNames, recommends downloading an image and using Google’s reverse image search to see if the photos were taken from another site.

He also suggests contacting the seller to ask for more photos. If they won’t provide their own photos, there’s probably a reason behind that.

6. Watch out for unrealistic deals

Walmart sale

Ryan Robison of detective agency the Robison Group told MarketWatch that the biggest telltale sign of a counterfeit item is the price.

“Almost always, the incentive for people to buy [suspect goods] is that they’re cheaper,” Thomson explained. “But the reason they’re cheaper is because they haven’t been tested and certified.”

In an interview with NewBeauty, Kelly McCarthy, partner at intellectual property and brand protection group Sideman & Bancroft, advised avoiding the temptation to purchase beauty products from convenient online locations — instead, buy them directly from the brand or department store.

“If you see a ‘deal’ on beauty products and the sale is not happening in a store that you know is an authorized seller, you are definitely raising your risk that the product is fake,” she said. “If the pricing looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

7. Inspect the product for suspect packaging

amazon boxes packages mail

If you’ve done all the above and decided the product should reach your doorstep, your inspection shouldn’t stop there.

goVerify on eBay has a few guidelines on what to look for when determining the authenticity of a designer item, as do YouTube videos comparing dupes with their legitimate counterparts. 

There are a few general tricks you can look for — tags, typos, misspellings, and poor printing should all be on your radar. Packaging should include all the retail packaging for new products, such as manuals or printed materials, and UPC barcodes.

Bharat Dube, chief executive of brand protection agency Strategic IP information, told MarketWatch suspect packaging “can be basic things such as not having plastic covering on the hand bag’s handle.”

If something looks off, return it and contact customer service to seek a refund.

how to avoid chinese sellers on amazon

An Amazon spokesperson provided the following statement concerning the sale of counterfeit goods on its site:

“Our customers trust that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products, and we take any claims that endanger that trust seriously. We strictly prohibit the sale of counterfeit products and invest heavily—both funds and company energy—to ensure our policy against the sale of such products is followed. Our global team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to and take action on reported violations and notices of potential infringement.

“In order to detect bad actors and potentially counterfeit products, we make significant investments in machine learning and automated systems. We employ dedicated teams of software engineers, research scientists, program managers, and investigators to operate and continually refine our anti-counterfeiting program. When a business registers to sell products through Amazon’s Marketplace, Amazon’s systems scan information for signals that the business might be a bad actor, and Amazon blocks identified bad actors before they can offer any products for sale. Amazon’s systems also automatically and continuously scan numerous data points related to sellers, products, brands, and offers to detect activity that indicates products offered might be counterfeit. Over 99.9% of all Amazon page views by our customers landed on pages that did not receive a notice of potential infringement.

“We also work closely with vendors, sellers, and rights owners to strengthen protections for their brands on Amazon. Any rights owner can enroll in Amazon’s Brand Registry to manage and protect their brand and intellectual property rights on our store. More than 40,000 brands are enrolled in Brand Registry and are using our free service to better protect their brand and control product information displayed on Amazon—this means brands can ensure their information is accurate and customers can make confident, informed purchasing decisions on Amazon.

“We encourage rights owners who have product authenticity concerns to notify us; we investigate all claims thoroughly. We remove suspected counterfeit items as we become aware of them, and we permanently remove bad actors from selling on Amazon. Amazon investigated and took action on 93% of all notices of potential infringement received from Brand Registry within four hours. With our proactive innovations that learn from the information in Brand Registry, brands in Brand Registry on average are finding and reporting 99% fewer suspected infringements than before the launch of Brand Registry. We have also successfully taken legal action against bad actors and will continue to pursue litigation and work with law enforcement where appropriate. 

“Customers are always protected by our A-to-z Guarantee, whether they make a purchase from Amazon or a third-party seller. If the product doesn’t arrive or isn’t as advertised, customers can contact our customer support for a full refund of their order.

Customers trust that they will receive authentic goods when they shop on Amazon and anything that diminishes that trust is unacceptable. Counterfeit is an age-old problem, but one that we will continue to fight and innovate on to protect customers, brands, and sellers.”

Why Chinese Entrepreneurs Love Amazon

There are arguably a few other countries as comfortable with ecommerce as China. The two largest sites in China, JD.com and Taobao.com have, respectively, $67 billion and $40 billion in revenue (which, when combined, is over 40% more than Amazon’s revenue). When you combine this with China’s rich manufacturing background, it’s no wonder the dream of ‘selling on Amazon’ is huge.

There is also no shortage of online marketers selling this dream. One popular Chinese e-learning website has dozens of courses covering every selling on Amazon topic imaginable at prices ranging from $5 to $100.

Why Amazon Loves Chinese Sellers

Amazon’s mission is to provide customers with the lowest priced products possible. Part of the way to achieve this is to deliver the flattest supply chain, and that means getting sellers as close to Chinese factories as possible.

The Chinese version of the Amazon Selling portal (translated into English) actively promotes how easy it is to get started selling on Amazon to hopeful Chinese sellers.

One of the ways Amazon actively recruits more sellers is by routinely holding summits in Mainland China. These conferences are now held in several cities across the country each year and attract thousands of people, both those already selling on Amazon and those looking to sell on Amazon.

Why the Chinese Government Loves Amazon

At the same time, the Chinese government is hungry for anything cross-border ecommerce. Why? Cross-border ecommerce means exports, something the Chinese government is desperate for, especially in the midst of a trade war with the U.S.

The majority of Chinese Amazon sellers are based in China’s Silicon Valley, Shenzhen.

In Shenzhen, the Silicon Valley of China, the Chinese government has helped to develop numerous industrial parks such as China South City (华南城) devoted almost entirely to ecommerce sellers. Provincial governments have also gotten onboard like Zhejiang who has developed “Cross-border E-Commerce Experimental Zones” focused on promoting cross-border ecommerce to local manufacturers and sellers (Zhejiang claimed to have over roughly 80,000 cross border sellers).

How Many Chinese Amazon Sellers Are There?

For the first time, Amazon announced that third-party sellers overall make up 58% of all of Amazon’s sales. It’s also estimated that there are 2,500,000 active sellers on Amazon.

Amazon has never released exact figures on just how many of these sellers are Chinese but there’s a couple ways we can estimate it.

First, we can determine a seller’s origin by cross-referencing their brand registry trademark information to their registered address using a tool like Seller Motor. By looking at products with a top 5000 BSR (Best Seller Rank) we determined that over 48% were Chinese.

As determined by cross referencing Brand Registry trademark information using Seller Motor

In our poll of high-volume sellers, 44% of sellers estimated between 10-19.99% of their competitors were Chinese.

EcomCrew’s survey of high volume sellers revealed 44% of sellers believed 10-19.99% of their competitors were Chinese.

These numbers are consistent with other industry estimates which have suggested the number of Chinese sellers overall ranges from 10% to 25%.

What (Malicious) Tactics are Chinese Sellers Using to Get Ahead?

There are several malicious selling strategies being used by Chinese sellers including:

  • Fake reviews
  • Counterfeit products
  • Sabotaging competitors’ product listings
  • Variation abuse
  • Stealing internal Amazon data

I’ll review how each of these tactics is employed below.

Using Fake Reviews to Mislead Buyers

It’s no secret that Amazon customer reviews are one of the most important factors affecting a customer’s purchase decision on Amazon. So it’s no surprise that it’s also one of the most frequently abused tactics by Chinese sellers. Zach Franklin of AMZKungfu is originally from Detroit but now lives in Shenzhen, China and is a popular non-Chinese Amazon consultant for Chinese sellers. He explained to me that in his experience at least 50% of Chinese sellers are using some form of review strategy against Amazon’s terms of service. As Zach described to me, “To many Chinese Amazon sellers, the question of how to succeed on Amazon has a simple answer: reviews equal sales”.

Zack Franklin, a consultant for Chinese sellers, says that in his experience over 50% of Chinese sellers are using some type of black-hat review strategy but also stresses that most of them would prefer to build real defensible brands without resorting to such strategies.

A Chinese seller’s review strategy can come in one of two varieties: compensating/reimbursing real customers for leaving a positive review, or the more extreme technique of making fake orders and leaving positive reviews through zombie Amazon accounts. Both of these practices of getting reviews were frequent in 2018 and continue in 2019.

Fake review services, normally from China, aggressively solicit Amazon sellers, even from within Amazon’s Seller Central platform. This is a typical email that many sellers receive several times a week.

Fake review companies (almost always in China) open hundreds or thousands of fake Amazon accounts known as “zombie accounts”. They then emulate “real” customer browsing behavior so as not to arouse Amazon’s suspicions. According to one Chinese selling consultant, who wished to remain anonymous, fake reviews generally start at $3 to $5 depending on how likely or not these fake reviews are to be detected by Amazon.

Of course, outright fake reviews aren’t the only way reviews are manipulated. While Amazon banned incentivized reviews in 2016, the practice still exists in various forms, everything from “rebate clubs” where consumers get rebates (often for a 100% rebate of the purchase price) to compensating consumers for leaving positive reviews in the form of extended warranties and future discounts.

Amazon has taken measures to fight fake reviews by blocking products from receiving any new reviews after they have received a suspicious influx of positive reviews. However, fake reviews continue to be a problem plaguing the platform.

Counterfeit Products and Listing Hijacking

The next malicious way in which Chinese sellers are getting ahead is through offering counterfeit products.

Amazon has a GIANT counterfeit product problem. In it’s earning report earlier in the year, Amazon admitted as much stating “We also may be unable to prevent sellers in our stores or through other stores from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others, or otherwise violating our policies….In addition…we could face civil or criminal liability for unlawful activities by our sellers.”

The problem largely circles back to the fact that Amazon is a marketplace like eBay that allows multiple sellers to sell the same item. Amazon does not actively audit items sent into its warehouses to determine if they are genuine products or not. Instead, it rests strictly on whether the item has the correct UPC barcode or not. A malicious seller can simply print a fake UPC bar code, apply it to their counterfeit item, and Amazon will deem it to be a genuine product.

This is an issue that we at EcomCrew, as sellers, have experienced firsthand. It’s also one of the problems many members of EcomCrew Premium have experienced as well. One member, Joe Cochran, posted in our private community recently “We’ve battled counterfeit sellers every year since we developed our brand and have lost tens of thousands battling them”

Amazon recently instituted the Project Zero program which gives sellers greater power to remove counterfeit sellers from their listings.

The issue of counterfeit products, along with fake reviews, is one of the greatest threats to Amazon and they have taken several measures to counter the prevalence of fake products. Amazon implemented the Transparency program in 2018 that gives sellers exclusive and trackable barcodes for its items. Earlier in the year they also rolled out Project Zero which gives sellers greater ability to remove counterfeit sellers from their listings.

While both the Transparency and Project Zero programs are positive steps in the right direction, it does not remove the problem of counterfeits entirely. The onus is still on sellers to monitor their listings and all of the Amazon marketplace to ensure no counterfeiters exist.

Listing Sabotage

Competitor listing sabotage is a frequent strategy used by Chinese sellers.

Because of the way Amazon’s marketplace works (it allows many sellers to use the same listing), it works under a “community contribution” principle (not dissimilar from Wikipedia) where any seller can potentially edit a listing. The premise is that the community will decide the best pictures to describe a product, the description, etc.. Community contributions work most of the time but sometimes malicious actors get out of hand, like when The North Face altered dozens of Wikipedia pages to plug its gear. The same thing happens with Amazon.

A product on Amazon can have many sellers and each seller can (potentially) have the power to edit that listing.

For instance, during Christmas 2018, a malicious competitor altered nearly every listing of yoga balls on the first page of Amazon’s search results to show a picture of a PlayStation 4 instead of yoga balls. The consequence? Confused customers either chose not to buy the yoga balls at all or, worse, they bought what they thought were PlayStation 4s and received yoga balls instead.

Amazon has a complicated hierarchy for determining what suggested changes are implemented and which are not. Malicious sellers have figured out that Vendor Central clients, i.e. vendors who sell products to Amazon as opposed to on Amazon, have the highest priority. Subsequently, phony Vendor Central accounts are a hot commodity in the world of black market Amazon services selling.

Variation Abuse

On Amazon, a product may have several variations. For example, a shirt may come in several different colors or an Instant Pot may come in different sizes.

A product on Amazon may have several different variations and often those variations are not closely related to the original listing.

Again, based on the community contribution model, any seller may potentially add a variation to an existing product. This works fine when a seller adds a variation as a customer would expect, such as a different size or color. Where clever sellers are gaming the system is to add a completely different product to ‘absorb the review juice’ from the existing listing.

For example, if I decided to start selling kitchen spatulas I could potentially add my spatula as a different variation to the Instant Pot listing above and it would appear as though my brand new kitchen spatula had 37,970 reviews as, in most cases, Amazon pools reviews across all variations.

Often though, adding a completely different product as a variation to a popular product gets noticed by Amazon and customers pretty quickly. So clever sellers are going so far as to search for discontinued products in Amazon’s catalog with lots of reviews and add their items as variations to these listings so as not to raise any suspicion.

Leaked Competitor Information from Amazon Employees

It became big news in 2018 that Amazon employees in China were selling stolen internal competitor information to other sellers.

This is how it works: mid to senior-ranking employees within Amazon China have direct access to Amazon’s internal network that allows them to access private information related to all sellers. Corrupt Amazon employees will steal a business report of any desired competitor showing information such as how many times a product was viewed over a period, how many times a product was purchased, and the total sales of those items.

An example of a stolen “ASIN report” from Amazon showing private search statistics for a particular product.

Chinese employees will also resell Amazon customer information. This information can be used in a variety of ways –  everything from privately contacting a customer to ask them to remove a negative review in exchange for some type of payoff, all the way up to running advertising campaigns directed towards those customers.

Prices for these reports range widely (invariably the reports are cheaper from Chinese-only websites).  A stolen report can start at $20 per piece while individual customer records can go for $3. As one Chinese reseller of this information described to me (he wished to remain anonymous), the price will depend on the riskiness of that employee accessing that information (i.e. the chances of them getting fired).

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