After nearly 10-years I cancelled my Amazon Prime account the day after Black Friday 2018. As a customer my Amazon purchase experiences are increasingly frustrating and I am utilizing their marketplace less.

Being a book collector it was an easy marketplace to get sucked into early – it seemed Amazon was the master of product page layout – but increasingly my purchases transitioned to everything needed day-to-day. Anyone knows right after moving you’re getting a handful of Amazon boxes each day.

My frustrations started when all of these purchases stopped being sold by Amazon and instead were fulfilled by third-party companies. As background almost 60% of sales on Amazon are now through third-party vendors and is a key to Amazon’s meteoric platform growth. Vendors utilize Amazon’s scale and in some cases warehouse fulfillment, then Amazon takes a cut off the top.

For products like books this isn’t really a problem, as I’m choosing the lowest price on a unique item, but for competing on the best water bottle, for example, which of the 100,000 water bottles should be on the first page of results? As product options grow exponentially the overall quality of products will drop.

This problem is exacerbated by sponsored ads now dominating the top spots and all real estate above the page fold of search results. This is very important because Amazon is the top non-brand search engine in the world for consumers. When customers check prices before making a purchase, 82% use Amazon, and 79% use the e-tailer to check reviews.

Now that it is a pay-to-play model, a very poor-quality water bottle can be the first result a customer sees. It’s also a model rife for manipulation, because if you set rules to the game they will be exploited for monetary advantage by the players.

This really digs into why Amazon was so successful early; especially with me. I have that personality type that cannot purchase something before reading dozens-and-dozens of reviews even on trivial purchases. What makes a water-bottle good? Who has used it at the gym?

If rank is based on popularity and purchasing decisions are influenced by customer reviews it’s a healthy ecosystem. Now rank is based on money and reviews are largely faked or paid for with sponsored products. There is literally a website tool dedicated to detecting whether a group of reviews on an Amazon product are fake or not.

Speaking of fakes and adding to my frustration, I tried purchasing a benign item like electric toothbrush heads on Amazon. I’ll go on the record to say the average consumer has no shot at purchasing an authentic replacement. There are poor knock-offs, realistic knock-offs (they don’t attach very well, cheap bristles), third-party replacements for much cheaper, and then the unicorn that is the real head sold by Amazon which is usually not in-stock. Is it okay to ask a consumer to spend hours researching toothbrush heads?

If I no longer know who is selling a product, don’t know whether the product is real, cannot trust the reviews of the product, and am shown mostly ads for products, why as a consumer would I continue to use this marketplace? Two-day shipping that I pay extra for each year?

To be clear I am a digital marketer with clients utilizing Amazon; both FBA and FBM. However it is high-time Amazon work to improve the user experience on Amazon to continue revenue growth both for themselves and the type of B2C merchants I represent. Will Amazon add additional vetting processes for products as they continue to scale?

Many great ideas are easily found online. Decay reviews over time so they are removed and at a higher rate the more popular a product is. Only allow them on verified, non-sponsored purchases. Similarly don’t group reviews of product variations or across platforms into the same reviews section.

Don’t allow vendors to utilize paid ads until a product has sufficient time on-site, total purchases, or validated reviews. Make optimizing organic listings the first step before short-cutting to the top-of-the-page. When I manage merchants in Amazon this is the process anyway. Work on content, keywords, enhanced brand pages, fulfillment times, etc. first.

How do online merchants capitalize on these Amazon weaknesses for their own sites?

  • Run trusted product and site reviews through a review platform – I recommend Yotpo – and syndicate those reviews out to your social media and customers.
  • Update your marketing messages to guarantee authenticity – especially important for luxury brands – and offer free returns.
  • Offer incentives to upgrade for free to 2-day shipping from standard ground. A great promotion to test in the affiliate channel, for example.
  • Create fantastic product pages that add content about your brand, has additional recommendations or pairings, and a super streamlined check-out process.

Overall the Amazon marketplace shifts quickly enough that it’s not safe for merchants to rely on a large portion of their business to run through Amazon. Who knows when you’ll be removed? As Amazon begins to monetize, upset merchants and customers are being left in its wake.