Amazon is now cowboy country as sellers cheat their way to the ...

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Amazon is now cowboy country as sellers cheat their way to the top

From hijacking to sabotage, the online retail boom has led to sellers using every trick in the book to get results

James Titcomb

Yoga balls are relatively interchangeable. Once you get past the variations in colour and size, one big inflatable orb is much like another. And yet, search Amazon for “yoga ball” and it will deliver more than 8,000 results. How is any seller on the ultra-competitive online marketplace supposed to stand out?

Shortly before Christmas two years ago one enthusiastic yoga ball seller took matters into its own hands and manipulated the giant Amazon catalogue. It switched numerous rival listings to display pictures of Sony PlayStations so that searching for “yoga ball” would mean only their listing would display what shoppers were seeking. The incident was an extreme example of the lengths that some sellers go to get ahead in the hyper-competitive Amazon marketplace.

On a daily basis, a fraction of the millions of third-party sellers are in a constant game of cheating, hustling and sabotage. Often, they are helped by networks of online consultants with access to Amazon employees, providing a back-door advantage. This month, American prosecutors charged six people with an international conspiracy to secure unfair advantages for Amazon sellers by bribing employees, using them to bypass the company’s rules, reinstate accounts that had been suspended, and flood competitors with negative reviews. They are alleged to have secured more than $10m for clients in unfair sales...

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