This post is by Connor Gillivan, co-founder of Outsource School.
Were you recently suspended from selling on the Amazon Marketplace? Or has it happened in the past? Thousands of Amazon sellers are suspended each month and Amazon has an entire team that is dedicated to reading the suspension letters that are submitted.
If you’re familiar with the suspension process, the Amazon Seller Performance team sends you a performance notification that states that your selling permissions have been temporarily suspended because of reason XYZ. The non-descriptive letter encourages you to appeal the suspension by following their Plan of Action guidelines and then you just hope for the best.
At my company we’ve become experts at understanding how the Amazon Marketplace functions. Over the years, I have researched and learned a tremendous amount about the suspension process. Its mysterious characteristics intrigued me to dig deeper and to really understand what Amazon is saying when they send out their suspension letters.
Why sellers get suspended
As I said above, all Amazon suspension letters arrive in a similar template that dryly outlines that fact that your business has been temporarily shut down. In every situation, Amazon has identified a way in which you, as a seller, have failed to comply by the standards and expectations that they hold for their sellers.
The majority of the situations stem from two areas. The first is from a failure to follow one of the Seller Policies that you agree to when you create your seller account. For example: selling inauthentic products or drop shipping from retailers. The second is from one of your seller metrics going above the allowed maximums that Amazon holds all of its sellers to. For example: order defect rate, late shipment rate, refund rate, etc.
Amazon’s main goal as a marketplace is to provide their users with a positive shopping experience. When a seller fails to uphold their expectations, it creates a situation that could lead to a poor customer experience. Amazon will provide you with Performance Notifications and fair warnings that your actions may lead to a suspension, but they can only do it for so long. If you are unable to fix your account quickly, it can lead to you receiving the dreaded Amazon suspension letter.
Part one: decipher your suspension letter
The one good thing about Amazon’s templated suspension letter is that it is easy to find the place where they communicate why they are suspending you. Most of the time, the reason for your suspension will appear in the first two sentences of the notification. It reads something like this:
You currently may not sell on Amazon any longer because…[reason]
As you can tell, the difficult part is not necessarily finding where Amazon communicates what you have been suspended for. Rather, the difficult task is understanding what their reason actually means with regards to your seller account. To help you in your efforts, I have provided a list of the 5 most common reasons for suspension and a short explanation of each.
1. Inauthentic product complaints
This means that there has been a complaint about a product that you sold to a customer. It is the most open-ended reason that Amazon provides for suspended accounts and can boil down to a handful of issues that you may have as a seller.
Sellers may receive this reason because:
- Someone complained that the product they received was not the same as that described on the Amazon product listing.
- Someone complained that they received their order in damaged or used condition when they purchased it as new.
- Someone complained that the product they received is counterfeit.
To decipher this particular reason, you should go to the Performance Notifications center in your seller account and look for past warnings from Amazon regarding such possible issues. If you find similar warnings, look further into the order, ASINs, and customer to determine if there could have been an issue with the order.
If you cannot find similar warnings in your dashboard, go to where you manage your Amazon customer emails and search keywords like “used”, “inauthentic”, “counterfeit”, etc. If you find any emails that bring back these keywords, look into what the customer is saying and how you handled the situation. Sometimes customers will immediately complain to Amazon instead of contacting the seller because they don’t understand the difference between the two.
When you go to write your suspension appeal letter, Amazon wants to see that you fully understand where the complaint came from and how you could have handled it better. Diving into your records to find what could have been the issue is a key first step to getting reinstated.
2. Rights owner notice of infringement
This means that there was a complaint directly from the brand owner of a given product that you were selling through your store. In most situations, the rights owner is complaining that you, as the seller, do not have the rights to sell their product through your store because you do not have an authorized reselling relationship with them.
With the growth of the internet and ecommerce, it has become much more difficult to monitor who is selling your products online. Amazon receives a lot of negative feedback from brands because of the number of sellers that are reselling their products without authorization directly from the brand.
In some instances, the seller is blatantly going around the rights owner to sell the product. In other situations, there is a misunderstanding because the seller received rights to sell the product through a distributor, and the distributor did not communicate the seller’s name to the rights owner of the product.
No matter what the situation, Amazon will always request that you submit invoices from your supplier and contact information for your supplier. In the case that you do not have invoices, your case to get reinstated will become more difficult.
3. Order defect rate
This means that your Order Defect Rate has most likely gone above the allowed maximum of 1.0% within the past 30 or 90 days. The Order Defect Rate can be found in your seller metrics by navigating to Performance and then clicking on Account Health. On this page, you will find the main metrics that Amazon tracks for all of its sellers.
As defined by Amazon:
An order has a defect if it incurs a negative feedback, an A-to-z Guarantee claim that is not denied, or a service credit card chargeback. Your order defect rate is defined as the number of orders with a defect divided by the number of orders in the time period of interest. Order defect rate is the key measure of your ability to provide a good customer experience.
Again, it is a key measure to make sure that you are providing a positive customer experience.
The best way to understand your Order Defect Rate is to compile a list of all the negative feedback, A-to-z claims, and credit card chargebacks that you’ve received within those given time frames where your ODR is over 1.0%. Look at how you handled the order and find where you fell short as a seller. That reason is what Amazon wants to hear you explain in your appeal letter.
4. Late shipment rate
This means that your Late Shipment Rate has gone above the maximum allowed level of 4.0%. Each Amazon order has an expected ship date associated with it that is built off of the lead time to ship that you associate with your products. In your account, you have the ability to change the lead time for each product, but it starts as 1-2 days by default. If you do not mark your order as shipped and add a valid tracking number by the end of that assigned lead time, Amazon’s system will mark the order as a late shipment.
Here is an example to better understand:
- You have a popular product that you sell on a daily basis.
- The lead time associated with this product is 1-2 days.
- You sell one of the products on Monday.
- Amazon’s expected ship date is going to be Wednesday.
If you do not mark the product as shipped with tracking information before the end of Wednesday, your order will be considered late and it will go against your Late Shipment Rate.
When appealing a Late Shipment Rate suspension, you want to look into each order that went late, determine how it happened, and create a plan to adjust your operations to make sure that it does not happen again. Most of the time, it is better increasing your lead times or adjusting your fulfillment operations.
5. Cancellation rate
This means that your pre-fulfillment Cancellation Rate went above the maximum level of 2.5%. As defined by Amazon:
[This] metric measures your in-stock rate for seller-fulfilled items sold on Amazon.
When you sell a product from your store that you do not have in stock, you have to cancel the order and notify the customer. Amazon does not like it when this happens because it creates a poor customer experience. Cancelling orders is held against you and can lead to a suspension if you go above Amazon’s threshold.
When appealing a Cancellation Rate suspension, you want to compile a list of all the orders that you had to cancel within the given time frame that your cancellation rate went above 2.5%.
Next, you want to look into each order and understand why you were cancelling so many orders. The biggest reason that sellers go over 2.5% is that their inventory management is very poor, and they are selling a lot of items that are not in stock at the time that a customer makes a purchase.
If you can explain how you are improving your inventory management practices, you should be able to create a good case for unsuspension to Amazon.
Part two: structure and write your appeal
Now that you know why you were suspended from selling on Amazon, it’s time to outline your appeal letter so that it meets Amazon’s expectations and clearly explains how you are going to make this situation right.
In every suspension appeal, Amazon wants to see three things:
- Acknowledgement of where you messed up and a clear understanding of what exact actions led to your suspension.
- Action steps that you’ve already taken in the time that you were suspended and that you are submitting your suspension appeal.
- Action steps that you will take in the near future if you are to be reinstated.
If you can successfully communicate those three details in an organized fashion, you have an amazing chance of being unsuspended. When you don’t address these three areas that Amazon wants to see, your chances of being reinstated go significantly down.
Below is an example format that you may use to organize your suspension letter to focus on these three areas.
State who you are, the name of your seller account, and the reason that you were suspended. Write a paragraph about your situation and what you’ve learned from the process of being suspended.
2. The main issues that lead to your suspension
State the main reason that you were suspended from being an Amazon seller. Explain how you determined this to be the main issue and what actions led to this happening on your account. Take responsibility for your actions and express that you messed up.
If there is more than one issue that you identified, be sure to add a bullet point for it as well.
3. The action steps you have taken since being suspended
State the action steps that you have taken since being suspended to address the main issues that you outlined above. Go into the detail of what you and your team have done, to show how you understand what the issue was and how you are making changes so that it won’t happen again.
Make it as easy as possible to read. State the main issue and then add bullet points underneath it so that it matches fluently with the top section. There is a team that reads hundreds of these each day. They need an organized document that they can read efficiently.
4. The action steps you will take when reinstated
State the action steps that you and your team will take once reinstated. Focus on how you will change your operations to ensure that this issue does not happen again.
Provide an overall summary of the action steps that you have taken and will take to ensure this problem does not happen again with your seller account.
Call to Action: write a clear sentence asking for your seller account to be reinstated.
The structure of your appeal letter is almost as important as the content within it. It is important that you make your appeal letter focused on the three main areas that I outlined above and that it is easy for someone to identify those core areas upon reading through.
If the Amazon employee reading your appeal letter has to search for the three core areas of content that they are looking for, there is a better chance that they will reject your appeal letter and ask for more information.
Bonus: how to escalate your appeal
Amazon is a massive company and despite their rigid organization, they do make mistakes when handling seller suspensions and appeal submissions.
I’ve witnessed sellers who have submitted their appeal letters and never received a response. I’ve seen sellers submit multiple responses and be advised each time that Amazon needs more information regarding their suspension issue. And in the worst cases, I’ve seen sellers reinstated based on the appeal letter they submitted, then immediately suspended again by the Seller Performance team.
It’s impossible to fully understand what is going on at Amazon as they are reviewing hundreds of seller suspension letters each month. The good news is that you can escalate your situation to the next level in the case that something wonky occurs.
Here’s the secret… email Jeff Bezos. That’s right… email the CEO and founder of Amazon explaining your situation with a copy of your appeal letter attached to the email.
Anyone can send Jeff Bezos an email by emailing [email protected]. We return to a theme that has been present throughout this entire article: Amazon’s number one priority is creating a positive customer experience. If customers don’t feel that they are being treated correctly, they can email Jeff and he will take care of it. The same goes for Amazon sellers.
I’ve seen this method work and I’m sure that it has helped hundreds of Amazon sellers circumnavigate the odd situations that sometimes occur when communicating with the Seller Performance team with suspension appeals. If your email is convincing enough and your appeal letter clearly addresses the three main points that I outlined above, “Jeff” will forward the email along to Seller Performance and urge them to make the situation right.
I hope that this article helps you navigate the muddy waters of Amazon seller suspensions.
If you have additional questions about Amazon suspensions or would like to review your specific situation with me, post a comment below.
This post was by Connor Gillivan, co-founder of Outsource School. Connor has been running ecommerce businesses since 2009 and has sold over $20 million worth of products.