These days, most of the merchandise on Amazon’s online marketplace isn’t actually from Amazon. An estimated 56% of all products sold on the platform come from third-party sellers. Now, these sellers aren’t supposed to be able to email their Amazon customers directly, and doing so outside of Amazon’s official channels violates the platform’s terms of service.
However, a concerning new Wall Street Journal report shows that some sellers are still finding ways to get in touch with buyers and hound them about editing or deleting their negative reviews, and some companies even offer “email extraction” and “reviewer lookup” services so sellers can hunt down unsatisfied customers.
One such customer the Journal spoke with is New Yorker Katherine Scott, who said she left a negative review for a kitchen oil spray bottle that she bought in March after the product didn’t work as advertised. A week later, someone claiming to be a customer service rep from the seller reached out via email to offer her a refund in exchange for deleting her review.
“We are willing to refund in full. When we do not receive a response, we will assume that you did not see it, and will continue to send emails,” the message read via the Journal. It concluded with a plea: “We hope you can reconsider deleting comments at your convenience okay?”
When Scott asked for a refund but refused to take down her review, she received an email from another representative offering her $20, double what she paid for the product, to delete it. She received several more unwanted emails over the next few months, all pestering her to take her review down.
“It was so creepy. They emailed me directly about it over and over,” Scott told the outlet.
At least a dozen other customer reviews for similar products mentioned that the seller reached out and pressured them to revise their negative review. “Product doesn’t work and company will bother you till you change review,” one customer wrote, the Journal reports. “Seller offers $20-$30 to delete negative reviews,” said another.
Another Amazon customer, Ben Hendin of Tulsa, Oklahoma, told the outlet that a seller reached out to him four times after he left a negative review of a finger splint. To try to convince him to delete the review, the seller kept upping the refund amount, eventually reaching $40, more than double what the splint cost.
When it comes to sharing information with third-party sellers, Amazon only releases “customers’ personal information related to those transactions with that third party,” according to its privacy notice. Qualified sellers have the option of using Amazon’s buyer-seller messaging service, but that uses a unique encrypted email address rather than the customer’s personal email.
“We do not share customer email addresses with third-party sellers,” an Amazon spokesperson told Journal.
Amazon’s customer product review policies for sellers explicitly prohibit them from asking a customer to change or remove their review. Sellers are also banned from offering “a refund or other compensation” to a reviewer in exchange for editing their review.
As for how the seller got her email address, Scott told the Journal she had a theory. Her Amazon package came with a “free gift” insert for a cooking thermometer that prompted her to enter her email address and order ID, she said. This kind of insert is also against Amazon’s policies, a company spokesperson told the Journal. Hendin said he asked the seller directly about how they got his contact information, to which the representative reportedly replied: “Boss found it through social software search for names.”
There’s apparently enough demand from sellers that companies have begun offering services explicitly dedicated to finding contact info for unsatisfied customers. One company the Journal investigated, Matic Chain, reportedly offers an “email extraction service for Amazon sellers.” A company representative told the outlet that it combs through Google and social media to match a buyer’s name with their contact information.
Another company that offers similar services, ZonBoost, openly boasts about it on its website. As screenshotted below, it advertises a “Reviewer Lookup” tool where, for just $60 a pop, you can plug in the link to the Amazon review and ZonBoost promises to “find you those buyers’ name & personal email with 100% accuracy!” (Technically it’s 60 “credits,” but each credit costs one dollar.)
“The data source of all of our features is Amazon’s database, which guarantees 100% accuracy!” reads the tool’s Q&A page.
Amazon and ZonBoost did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comments.
After the Journal reached out to Amazon about Scott’s experience, the listing, seller, and brand all disappeared from the platform, according to the outlet.
“The issue you’re highlighting was detected by our internal processes, and the appropriate enforcement actions were taken,” an Amazon spokesperson told the outlet. They continued:
“Amazon provides a great deal of help content, proactive coaching, warnings and other assistance to sellers to ensure they remain compliant with our clearly stated policies. We have clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibit abuse of our community features, and we suspend, ban and take legal action against those who violate these policies. Bad actors that attempt to abuse our system make up a tiny fraction of activity on our site and we use sophisticated tools to combat them and we make it increasingly difficult for them to hide.”
So what should you do if a seller tries to pressure you into changing your review? An Amazon spokesperson told the Journal that customers can report them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or click the “Report Abuse” link on the review page.