I’ve been libelled by Amazon… :(

Sad Amazon

So,

I’ve been a loyal customer of Amazon for at least 11 years (the earliest email I can find is from 2004, and that was for a return), and I’ve been writing numerous and regular reviews for products sold on amazon.co.uk over the past six months or so, as you may have seen on this website.

I’ve been posting reviews for items I’ve purchased, items I’ve been given a discount code for, and items that I’ve been provided free of charge, for the purpose of review (similar to the Amazon Vine program).

Every review I’ve posted has met Amazon’s Customer Review Creation Guidelines, to the letter.

It’s been really cool watching my reviewer ranking rise from in excess of 750,000, to 5,301 (at its best). I got quite excited when I got past 10,000.

I always gave honest reviews, and if an item deserved five stars, it got five stars. If it deserved three stars, it got three stars. If there was a problem with an item, just as I would if I’d purchased it, I contacted the supplier and asked them what they wanted to do about it. When I was sent a replacement item, I’d review the replacement item, but still point out in the review what had happened – I think knowing that a supplier is responsible and responsive is important.

One of the perks of my reviewer ranking reaching its lofty heights has been some cool stuff coming through the door to review, that I’d never normally consider buying, or wasn’t even aware existed. We barely kept any of the stuff, after reviewing it, handing off bags of it to friends and colleagues (you can only keep so many humidifiers / aroma diffusers in the house) every now and again when our cupboards got full.

In actual fact, the amount of products being sent to us for review got to such a point, that it was taking over our lives. I have a full time job as an IT consultant (which is by no way 9-5), and putting in hours each day to write reviews, to help customers make buying decisions, and to help sellers improve their rankings and sales, was taking it out of me a little bit, and taking family time away from us.

To help, Mrs Zoo Keeper offered to take on some of the reviewing duties, and relieve some of the pressure, which I gladly accepted. To do this on her own account, which we thought was best, she needed to up her own reviewer ranking, so we decided that she should review some items that we’d had sent to us, that I’d already reviewed. After posting the reviews, and noticing that we had problems on both accounts with the reviews for those items, we made a discovery… It is against the guidelines for members of the same household to review the same item. Ooops – not good. The first thing I did was send an email off to the Amazon customer reviews help address, explaining the mistake and asking for help in putting it right:

Hi there,

It seems that my wife and I have fallen foul of one of the review guidelines / rules, and I’m hoping you can help.

I’ve been reviewing products on Amazon for a while, and my wife ({redacted}) decided she would like to improve her reviewer profile too.

We have both submitted reviews for the same products this evening, and had problems with these reviews.

After figuring out it was the same items we reviewed that had the problem, we wondered if it was because our accounts were linked.

Reading the regulations, it’s clear that the issue is because you prohibit reviews of the same item by members of the same household.

The items we both reviewed are:
{redacted}
{redacted}

So that we meet any criteria, could you please remove the reviews, whether published or pending, for those items, from both of our accounts?

If you agree that it’s OK, I can then submit the reviews again, for my verified purchases of the items, against my account only.

Please let me know if there’s anything else we need to do to get this resolved.

Many thanks,

This was their reply:

Hello,

We’ve removed Customer Reviews left by your account because it’s come to our attention that you have violated our policies by manipulating Customer Reviews. Any attempt to manipulate ratings, feedback, or Customer Reviews is prohibited.

After reviewing your account, we’ve determined that your reviews will remain removed from the site. For more information, please review our Customer Review Guidelines (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines).

We appreciate your cooperation.

Review Moderator

Oh.

Hang on a minute. We didn’t manipulate any reviews. My wife, on her account, made a mistake by reviewing something that somebody else in the household had already reviewed. When we contacted them, it was to explain the mistake, and ask for help, not report ourselves for “manipulation”. The response is to delete all my reviews, dropping my reviewer ranking to around 450,000? Even though the mistake was not actually made on my account? WTF?

I’d heard Amazon were mean to their staff, diligently avoided paying taxes where they legally could, and didn’t have great corporate ethics, but accusing their loyal and helpful customers of “manipulating customer reviews”, and just destroying many, many hours of hard work and effort in a few seconds seems a bit strong.

The fact that they’d accused me of this malfeasance, in writing, accounts quite simply to libel. No evidence was provided of this “manipulation”, no suggestion as to what part of my review process had caused this determination was given, I was just in the dark, and effectively, punished. Also punished, were the sellers who rely on customer reviews to show people what they’re buying in the real world, customers who rely on real world opinions of products, and Amazon themselves, who could lose sales due to the lack of reviews.

Cue a pretty stern email from me, demanding an explanation:

Excuse me?

Manipulated customer reviews?

Could you please explain exactly what that means?

I have placed reviews for items that I have purchased, either with codes from the vendors, or directly. I have also left reviews for some items that I have not purchased from Amazon, but actually own.

I do not understand how that can be construed as “manipulated customer reviews”.

My wife also attempted to submit two reviews, for items that we as a household own. Unfortunately (a little too late), we realised that this breached your policy on multiple reviews of the same item in one household. We accept that this breached your policy, and asked you to please help rectify our mistake.

Again, I do not understand how that can be construed as “manipulated customer reviews”.

I would appreciate an explanation of your terminology.

I feel that the number of reviews I submit, and my reviewer ranking, demonstrate that I am an active and positive contributor to the Amazon reviewer program, and I don’t think that a simple mistake such as my wife wanting to submit reviews for the same products as me warrants such an offensive accusatory statement.

If you are unable to help resolve this personally, or provide an appropriate explanation, could you please escalate my message to management?

Many thanks,

Stern? Yeah, probably. Angry? You bet! Assertive? I hope so. Offensive? I don’t think so. Aggressive? Again, probably not. Let’s call it “harsh but fair”, and leave it at that.

A day or so later, after receiving stony silence in lieu of a response, it was time to give them a call. I was connected to a nice, friendly Indian gentleman, who empathised with my problem, and although he agreed that he would feel the same way given the circumstances, he couldn’t put me through to the reviews help team or help me directly, but promised that my call and email would be responded to. It might be good to note that my tone was friendly and nice on the ‘phone, I’d cooled down a little since sending the email.

…More Stony Silence From Amazon…

2 days later, I figured I might as well follow up with another email:

I am extremely concerned at this time that nobody has contacted me.

I replied to this email three days ago, yet nobody has responded.

I telephoned two days ago, was promised a response, yet nobody has responded.

I have submitted seven new reviews since this email, for the following products, yet none have been published, I have had no rejection notifications, it is as if my reviewer account has gone into limbo.

If possible, I would really appreciate somebody calling me to discuss this matter on {redacted}, or at the very least responding to the email, and engaging in a discussion with me.

Many thanks,

Surely that would get a response? Well, a day and a half later, it did:

Hello,

We removed the Customer Reviews that you posted and revoked your reviewing privileges because we have determined that you manipulated our review system.

Our policies state that you may not post any review that is misleading or manipulative.

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Creation Guidelines (http://www.amazon.co.uk/review-guidelines).

We cannot share any further information about our decision and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.

At this time, we provide support for questions about customer reviews by email only.

Review Moderator

Oh. “Revoked your reviewing privileges”. Cue sad face (well, maybe not as sad as it could have been, as I was queueing for Kentucky Fried Chicken when the email came through). So they’ve “determined that I manipulated their review system”. They say I’ve posted reviews that are “misleading or manipulative” (most of my reviews are copied to this website, please let me know if you think any of them are either misleading or manipulative). They refuse to share any further information about their decision, and won’t talk to me any more about it.

The weird thing is, my wife can still post reviews on her account, and that’s the one where the only genuine known breach of the guidelines has occurred.

Wow!

Thanks Amazon, for that. You’ve lost a customer of at least 11 years standing. You’ve lost a customer that was paying you annually for Amazon Prime. You’ve lost a customer that was contributing to your reviewer community, helping your customers make informed decisions and your sellers to get their products noticed. You lost that customer by libelling them, by disposing of their work as worthless, and by being a company that needs to seriously evaluate what customer service means. Keep this up, and I won’t be the only one.

Although I’ve considered it, I probably won’t be taking legal action against this libel. I’m a very small fish, and really can’t afford the legal representation it would require to take on this enormous behemoth of a company. But I reserve my right to do so, and if enough of us are out there, you may see what the Americans call “class action” before very long.

As it happens, this is probably a blessing in disguise. I’ll get time back with my family, and we’ll have space in our cupboards again.

If you’re thinking of reviewing products for Amazon, go in with your eyes wide open.

The Zoo Keeper

Author: TheZooKeeper

An IT Consultant, specialising in messaging and infrastructure (Wintel). Diabetic who used to like chocolate, doughnuts and Frank's RedHot sauce, but never got the chance to try all three in combination!

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