Who wins when Amazon removes brands from their store?
If you’re looking to buy a new USB cable, wireless charger, or that fast-charging USB power brick that didn’t come with your new $ 1,000 phone (but definitely should have had it), there is a typical process that a lot of people go through. You open the Amazon site in a new tab or the app on your phone, type in what you’re looking for, scan a few review notes, and click Buy Now.
Except now some of the best wireless chargers, cables, and tablets are gone – products that reviewers like us have independently recommended and that you can buy more cheaply than other brands.
Today, a search for USB-C or wireless chargers on Amazon will still bring up products from Anker, Apple, and AmazonBasics, as well as many obscure brands with alphabet soup style names. But you won’t find options among a bunch of popular brands that were there just a few months ago. Many brand lines have been wiped from Amazon’s storefront, leaving fewer, sometimes less desirable, options for consumers looking for these products.
This is a strange situation, given that Amazon has been dubbed “the store of everything” for years. (Journalist Brad Stone titled his first book on the company exactly that.) And with Amazon’s dominance in the ecommerce world and its status as the default place to buy for many, bolstered by its Prime service which guarantees fast delivery and has over 200 million subscribers, that means the average person who buys these things has fewer options than a few months ago.
Earlier this week, Amazon pulled Choetech’s products from its store. This followed the removal of Aukey and Mpow in May and RavPower, Vava and TaoTronics in June, and likely others that we just aren’t aware of. Amazon has confirmed that it has removed most of these companies’ listings, but declined to explain why. Logical reasoning indicates a response to reports that these brands violated Amazon rules by providing incentives for positive reviews. If you’ve ever purchased something from Amazon, you’ve probably seen the little cards inserted into the box offering gift cards or refunds if you post a product review. (If so, my colleague Sean Hollister is collecting photos of them for another story; you can send them to him at [email protected])
Playing with Amazon’s rating system is definitely a problem, and it’s not an activity that I tolerate. Many buyers rely on product review scores to decide whether or not to buy something. For smaller commodities like cables and chargers, Amazon’s review score is often the only judge of how good you might be before you deposit your money.
Most people would assume that companies that engage in shady activities to promote their products are doing so because the product is not good in the first place. But, in a particular twist, that’s not the case with any of the companies I mentioned above. Overall, these companies were selling good competitive products and putting pressure on the prices of other companies making similar devices. RavPower, Aukey, and Choetech manufacture countless versions of the USB chargers, wireless chargers, and cables needed by today’s phones, tablets, and laptops; Vava is known for its line of multiport USB-C hubs; TaoTronics and Mpow sell inexpensive headphones and earphones that perform surprisingly well for their price. We have tested and recommended the products of these brands here on The edge, like many other publications; I have personally purchased many products made by them and have had great experiences.
These brands have differentiated themselves from others in several ways, including offering unique port designs and configurations; Pack useful add-ons like a cable with a charger or a charging brick powerful enough for a wireless charger to work properly; or by selling the same effective thing at a lower price. The reasons we specifically named RavPower’s wireless charger and are the best to buy were because it worked well, came with the cable and charging brick you needed to use it – a rarity in the world. the domain – and it was priced better than the competition. I personally bought Choetech chargers because they came with long, high quality USB-C cables, which you don’t usually get in the Anker box. A pack of two RavPower 20W USB-C compact chargers cost me less than one, bigger from Apple and less than the similar option available from Anker.
These brands have also been around long enough to have established a reputation for quality – I’m more likely to buy a charger from a brand I have experience with than take a leaflet out of a charger that I don’t. have never heard of it before. They were far from improvised companies.
Amazon’s removal from these listings is notable because, unlike Anker, Belkin, Apple, and other big brands, you can’t buy products from these companies outside of Amazon or their own websites. They don’t exist in wireless carrier stores or on virtual shelves or in person at Best Buy or Target. These are, in fact, companies that exist purely because of Amazon’s dominance in the ecommerce world. (The exception here is that you will now find these brands sold by third-party sellers through Walmart, which has turned its website into a marketplace, much like Amazon. But you won’t find them in retail stores.) They, like RavPower, were so dependent on Amazon that they sometimes used the retailer as a fulfillment partner for listings on their own sites.
Given that a large part of their business depends on Amazon buyers, so it makes sense that these companies are going out of their way to be successful on the platform, where a more and more people are looking for products to buy and bypassing other stores and search engines directly. Companies that pay people to post reviews on their products try to get more people to see what they have: by getting more positive reviews of their products, these businesses will rank higher in search results from Amazon, which will lead to more sales. A positive rating on Amazon can make or break the success of a product.
But instead of examining why these companies are trying to manipulate its system and make adjustments to its platform to deter that activity, Amazon has taken a brutal approach to simply ban those who get caught breaking its rules.
Amazon doesn’t seem interested in changing the incentives on its platform, preferring to simply remove sellers it sees as bad actors. In his June blog post, the company blamed social media companies for not better monitoring police groups that collaborate to play with Amazon’s rating system, and bragged about reporting more than 1,000 groups during the first three months of 2021. The company’s position is that this is how it protects buyers from getting ripped off or having a bad experience.
But as long as sellers on Amazon are enticed and rewarded for high ratings and positive customer reviews on their products, there will be those who will use tactics Amazon doesn’t like, and be less scrupulous about those who buy the some products. These businesses are more likely to be smaller businesses that don’t have other retail channels or brand recognition to rely on, even if their product is good enough to stand on its own. This is the reality of the system that Amazon has built.
An even more cynical take on this is that Amazon is simply going to supplant those retailers’ products with more of its own AmazonBasics-branded gear. The business has been taken in the past using data from what’s popular on its store to inform their AmazonBasics product roadmap. Amazon may be rolling out cheaper versions of what Anker and Belkin sell with its name, taking the place of the RavPowers and Choetechs that were there. I’m not convinced that’s what’s going on here, but in the service of teasing all possibilities, this is it.
I also don’t have a practical answer on how Amazon might solve this problem, and it’s not really my job to come up with a solution for one of the wealthiest companies on the planet. Authorities in both the United States and the UK have started pressuring Amazon to fix its fake reviews problem, but the company’s tactics so far appear to be blaming sellers who break the rules, without assessing the flaws. inherent in the system itself.
Ultimately, Amazon’s policies and platform, while ostensibly protecting buyers from fraud, end up giving consumers less choice than they otherwise would have. Until the company repairs its platform, buyers will be the only ones holding the bag.