This post is by Chris McCabe, a former Investigation Specialist for Amazon’s Seller Performance team and founder of ecommerceChris.com. For Amazon sellers, having their merchant account suspended means losing time and money trying to get back in business. ecommerceChris shows sellers how to keep their accounts healthy, or, if the worst should happen, how to get their account back from a suspension.
If your household only has one account, total, then this won’t apply to you.
Do you have anything to declare?
This is what travelers are asked whenever they pass through Customs at airports around the world. Amazon is asking you this too, if you have more than one account. Which one is it? What’s the email associated with it, so we can have a look and decide if you need it?
If you don’t declare items to customs and they find them later, you pay more, right? The same principle applies here. If Amazon sends this message now they’re doing more than looking for a confession. They’re sending a warning shot prior to taking more aggressive actions, if past policy matters are any guide.
Review the below new notification sent to numerous Amazon sellers in recent days.
Subject: Multiple Accounts Policy
Amazon’s policies prohibit a seller from operating or maintaining multiple accounts; however, we understand that in certain circumstances, sellers may need to own multiple accounts.
We would like to ask you a few questions:
- Do you have multiple Amazon selling accounts?
- Have you opened or operated more than one seller account in the past?
- In addition to your seller account, do any other members of your household also have a seller account?
In order to protect your account, please reply to this email with the following information:
- The email address(es) associated with each account you own
- The email address(es) associated with each account owned by members of your household other than yourself
- The reason(s) why you need each account
If you own just one account, have never owned more than one account in the past, and no one else in your household has or has had an account, please disregard this notice.
What You Should Do
- Respond to Amazon truthfully, following their instructions. Indicate the dates you received the email from Seller Performance allowing a second account, if you have it.
- If you have a dormant account that you have not used in a long time, terminate it. Then it will not show up as a related, and potentially active, account.
- If you have an account that you opened to separate out different business entities, you need to ask yourself if you ever asked to get approval, and if Amazon properly annotated that account at the time. The only way to know or prove that Amazon actually annotated is to produce the email they sent you assuring you that they have done so. Anything else is just an assumption.
- If you have family or friends or anyone signing in from your location, or even selling from the same house, provide Amazon with enough info to distinguish the accounts from each other. They can already see this in the tools, in most cases, and may be ready to act on it if they consider those account profiles to be too similar to each other.
- Secondary accounts and accounts in the same household should not sell the same products if you want to stay off the radar. Best practice is to sell in different categories.
- Don’t try to game the system by masking your sign-ins and don’t make excuses for why you are one of the sellers who can ignore the email.
The Right Way To Use Multiple Accounts
You need to specify “legitimate business reasons” for a separate account and email Seller Performance requesting approval.
You need to show a significant business need for separate operations of different businesses
What’s considered legitimate? You need to show a significant business need for separate operations of different businesses, or a need to separate inventory or accounting processes, and also demonstrate that the different businesses don’t share financial or tax ID information.
Amazon is interested in preventing unfair competitive advantage across all categories. Sharing inventory, suppliers, and locations or sign-ins won’t be a good idea if you have two accounts doing more or less the same work. Having a different bank account, a different name on the account, or different physical addresses is not enough. You must demonstrate entirely unrelated operations and an understandable reason why you need them to function apart from each other. Anything else will be thought of as an excuse and means extra work for them.
Make sure you have written confirmation that Amazon annotated your account with the approval. This is not something to contact Seller Support about. Note that they do not necessarily say in their message that previously approved and annotated accounts are exempt from this query.
If you have two or more accounts and can’t produce an email acknowledging and approving them, well, Amazon’s now very interested in what other accounts you operate, and why. They want to hear which ones you may have run in the past, even if you’re no longer using them.
They also want to know if your friends or family are running a business similar to yours, especially from the same location. They may someday want to know why you’re not following the overall policy if you aren’t producing the email approvals and legitimate business reasons for extra accounts.
Why Are They Doing This Now?
On the surface, this looks like a renewed interest in separating out who in what household operates which accounts, and why. Or, if you opened a second account for your own reasons and did not know they considered that against policy, here’s your chance to take action yourself before a warning comes in. I don’t think they are going to go after approved accounts, but they could be looking into which “legitimate business needs” are valid, and which are not.
Unapproved accounts could spell competitive advantage for sellers looking to game the system
Amazon wants control over who can have another account, instead of leaving it open to debate, discussion, and a seller’s own decision or judgment. This loophole existed years ago when I worked in Performance and Policy, and it stayed around right up until now. Amazon appears keen to find any unapproved accounts that could spell competitive advantage for sellers looking to game the system. They’re also looking to reduce unnecessary work reviewing extra accounts in the future.
In my time at Amazon, sellers often presented explanations without regard to whether or not their reasons presented them with an unfair advantage in their category, or in general. When I approved requests for second accounts, I made sure to annotate each one, stating the other account was OK’d. In the absence of that wording now, investigators may look over related accounts in the course of another investigation and conclude that the seller took it upon themselves to open one up for their own reasons.
If Seller Performance approved your request for another account, then you have a paper trail documenting that permission. Ostensibly, the reasons for that approval are clear in your account annotations. Is Amazon simply re-confirming that you still have a legitimate need for that extra account? Time will tell. Don’t forget, more accounts for you means more work for them. It takes Amazon time, but they eventually find time to clean up everything when it comes to policy violations.
Where Does that Leave You?
Think you can outwit the Amazon tools for detecting related accounts?
You can try that out, but if there are consequences later, embrace those as tightly as you have the effort to evade Amazon’s tools. Asking “how will they know?” has rarely worked long-term in the past. Don’t try it now, either.
Anyone with approved accounts established for valid business and legal reasons should have no problem providing email addresses and details about such accounts. Everyone else needs to decide what kind of risk they want to take heading into the peak holiday season with more than one account.
Accounts that were established to create a backup plan just in case you’re suspended do not belong in operation. Best to take the hint here and move it on out of existence. If you have orders to fulfill, by all means do so. But do not leave active listings up solely because no one has yet bothered you about running two accounts.
Chris McCabe can be contacted via ecommerceChris.com.