I had coffee this week with someone knowledgeable about guidelines for managing comments posted by customers of Amazon.com’s Marketplace program. For anyone not already familiar with Marketplace, it ‘s roughly Amazon’s version of eBay. Independent Sellers sell their goods (new as well as used) on Amazon.com alongside Amazon’s own items. Items offered by Marketplace Sellers come up in product search results and can be reviewed like other products. Payments are processed through Amazon’s usual checkout. And in many cases fulfillment (boxing, labeling, and shipping the goods) is handled by Amazon.
So here’s where community comes in: also akin to eBay, and roughly analogous to BizRate.com, Amazon allows customers to evaluate the performance of Sellers in the Marketplace via both a rating (1 to 5 stars) and comments. This level of transparency with respect to Sellers no doubt reassures customers uncertain about purchasing from someone they’ve never heard of before. And of course, it also enables Amazon to monitor Sellers and take appropriate action, like terminating Seller from the Marketplace program, when merited.
The part I want to focus on in this post is when Sellers receive customer comments they don’t like. Sellers don’t have the power to edit or delete comments, but they can complain to Amazon. At which point someone at Amazon has to decide whether or not to remove the comments being complained about. (Apparently comments are never edited, they are either left as-is or deleted.) So how is this decided?
This question hearkens back to my earlier post entitled When to delete posts to your company’s Facebook page in which I roughly outline the concept of maintaining a consistent editorial policy for a company’s Facebook community that reflects fans’ tastes as well as the company brand.
Not surprisingly, Marketplace comment guidelines are worked out in a way that can be applied consistently to a wide range of Sellers and situations by community management staff (this is too big a job for one person). As in any community, fairness, or at least a credible attempt to achieve fairness, is a precious commodity. If either Sellers or customers believed that problems were being covered up, or that community rules were being applied arbitrarily, it could not only damage the MarketPlace brand but Amazon’s core brand as well.
In essence, the guidelines seem like a good attempt to strike a balance between the interests of customers and Sellers in a way that naturally enough puts Amazon in the best possible light by shielding the community from inappropriate or irrelevant posts while exposing potentially legitimate customer concerns.
Examples of comments that qualify a comment for deletion:
- Comments containing obscenities (I tend to euphemistically call this “inappropriate language”).
- Comments containing personal attacks against the Seller.
- Comments concerning the product being sold rather than the Seller who sold it.
Examples of elements that don’t qualify for deletion:
- Comments claiming that a product didn’t match its online description (which could indicate a mistake or misrepresentation by the Seller).
- Comments concerning the condition of the product — except when fulfillment was provided by Amazon. (This last I found a bit curious. Amazon allows criticism of Sellers but vetoes criticisms of itself? But I didn’t get any details about how complaints about Amazon’s fulfillment might be handled otherwise.)
When situations arise that don’t clearly fall within the guidelines, front line community management staff are instructed to escalate complaints to higher levels of authority. Ideally this helps both manitain consistency and set the right precedents. (By way of comparison, see my post concerning Coca Cola’s 3-tiered social media policy – Coke’s social media policy for 1 million associates: a good template – wherein level 2 “social media certified spokespersons“ are instructed to refer issues to level 3 “subject matter experts” whenever how to proceed isn’t clear.)
Kudos to Amazon. This setup isn’t earth-shatteringly innovative, but it just makes sense.
Full disclosure: I do not participate in Marketplace, and have no Amazon.com product links on this site as of this post date, but I am a member of Amazon’s affiliate program and receive a small fee when people click through and buy books I’ve reviewed on other sites.)