Amazon might not catch you, but blackmailers could
By: Lesley Hensell
For third-party sellers, dealing with Amazon can be frustrating and difficult. Some third-party sellers use corporate espionage to get data from Amazon. Unfortunately, a significant number of 3P sellers go down this road, which adds an unacceptable level of risk to their businesses.
Before you completely dismiss this idea, think for a moment. Have you been offered the notes on your Amazon account? Have you paid a service or an Amazon employee for notations? Or, have you heard about sellers paying for details on their competition?
All of these happen – daily. And all of them are subject to both criminal prosecution and civil litigation.
But is it really corporate espionage?
Yes, Virginia, these behaviors really are corporate espionage. Here is why.
Amazon’s data belongs to Amazon. This is critical business information regarding third-party seller accounts including products, sales, risk management, payments, reviews, feedback and more. All of this data falls under the classification of trade secrets – especially since Amazon promises to protect its third-party sellers from data breaches and prying eyes.
Here are some scenarios where 3P sellers have been known to acquire Amazon data – in direct contravention of the law:
- Purchasing Seller Performance notes on their own account. There are companies that openly advertise they will obtain these notes for you. The service providers have insiders they pay off at Amazon for this information.
- Buying competitor information. Sellers sometimes ask Amazon employees to give them data on their competitors, including sales volumes on specific ASINs.
- Buying Amazon 1P data. In the boldest scenarios, 3P sellers pay Amazon 1P personnel to find out about Amazon’s vendors and pricing on competitive items.
In all three of these cases, the data being purchased is clearly Amazon property. Therefore, buying it on the down-low is clearly illegal.
What can realistically happen to you if you buy Amazon data?
Technically speaking, a third-party seller buying and/or stealing Amazon data could be criminally prosecuted. Will they? Doubtful.
In fact, it’s also unlikely they would be civilly sued by Amazon. Instead, Amazon would probably block their selling account and permanently hold their funds.
Can this happen? Yes. Amazon has busted employees on three continents for selling data. When they did so, they worked hard to discover which sellers were buying the information and blocked those accounts with a Code of Conduct notation. In addition, they held very large dollar amounts that were never disbursed.
But there’s another scenario that has played out for many sellers – that nobody talks about. It falls under the heading of blackmail. A Seller Support employee, for example, may be on the phone with a seller. They dangle the idea of providing competitive information, notations and the like. (Keep in mind that they likely don’t have access to much – if any – of this information.) They ask for payment and provide some information.
Then later, the Seller Support rep demands more money, allegedly for “hot” information. If the seller refuses, the rouge Seller Support rep threatens to turn them in to Amazon and get them suspended, or to otherwise harm their account.
In conclusion, if the fear of breaking the law isn’t enough reason to avoid these tactics, perhaps the fear of blackmail will be. Stay safe. Keep it legal.
Lesley is co-founder and co-owner of Riverbend Consulting, where she oversees the firm’s client services team. She leverages two decades as a small business consultant to advise clients on profitability and operational performance. Lesley has been an Amazon seller for almost a decade.