This post is by Chris McCabe, owner and founder of ecommerceChris, LLC, an Amazon seller account consultancy.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in the past few months regarding how Amazon executes account suspensions and how they evaluate seller appeals for reinstatement.
Specifically, I’ve seen Amazon test out some new messaging to sellers who violated the terms of the Transparency program and those were suspended for inauthentic or counterfeit item complaints:
If you do not send an acceptable plan within 17 days, or after two unsuccessful appeals (whichever occurs sooner), we may not allow you to sell on Amazon.
If Amazon rolls this out across the board for all suspension types, it will be earth-shattering.
Where did this come from and what does it mean?
Processes are always changing, and Amazon just keeps thinking up new ways to keep sellers on their toes.
This change arrives after the establishment of Account Health Services to alert sellers before they get suspended. Once alerted, you can submit a “pre-POA” showing that immediate action will prevent future complaints or violations. If that fails, investigators will take your account down with a suspension.
Whatever you do, once suspended, don’t play around with your Plan of Action (POA). In the past, several clients of mine told me they dashed off a POA the same day their suspension hit. They assumed it was good to get an appeal in quickly, because they’d get more chances if their initial attempt (or two) failed.
No longer can any seller depend on getting that third strike before account closure. Two could be it for you, then Amazon will move your account suspension to an account block, and send the dreaded “final word” message.
How should this change your reaction to an account suspension?
If you’re taking your own shot at appealing, make sure your first appeal is the best it could possibly be.
Don’t slap something together based on a template you saw in a group somewhere. Those are posted by sellers whose situation has little in common with yours, aside from the cause of suspension that was given.
Amazon also instantly rejects the use of any POA you’ve used in the past to appeal an ASIN or account suspension. If you do send in the same POA more than once, expect to get a reply like this:
Thank you for submitting your plan. Unfortunately, your plan is not sufficient because it resembles a plan you submitted for a prior appeal.
Templates now have about as much value as a hole in the head. Investigators have read them all a thousand times, hour after hour, day after day. They know that a cookie-cutter submission means you didn’t do your homework at all, even when they suspended your account. They deny your appeal, annotate your account, and move on to the next seller.
Take time to learn the proper way to build the right kind of plan. Do you really know what Amazon considers to be a “root cause” behind a suspension? Do you know the kind of actions they expect to see for each of those causes in a Plan of Action? Know that really well before you even begin. If you are guessing, they’ll see that when they read your plan.
What is the right kind of plan?
First, build an outline of key root causes and potential remedies, laying out each method you’ll use to fulfill those.
Based on your POA outline, estimate how long your first draft will be. If it’s going to include multiple pages of repetitive details, don’t even start writing. Pare back the content until you know it’ll fit into a page or a page and a half. If it’s too long, you’ll make the investigator’s life harder. They’ll skip over it and move on.
Determine the right format before you start writing, too. Use bullets or numbered points, and make sure they all include unique content. If each point you make rehashes the one above it, you won’t get anywhere. Investigators will jump at the chance to deny your appeal and move on, sensing that you only hit upon one or two “ideas” and no real solutions.
Maybe you’ve decided not to wade into the water on your own, since too much is at stake. But don’t rush to grab at the first “suspension consultant” you find in a Google search. Do some real research! You can’t afford to rush to judgment when seeking help elsewhere, when you only get a couple of decent shots at this.
Many sellers have come to me after using fly-by-night suspension consultants who gave bad advice and couldn’t get them reinstated. Cynthia Stine and I talked at the Prosper Show earlier this year about some of the false claims made and poor practices undertaken by these people.
What if I get denied after one appeal, or I’m repeatedly asked for more information?
If you think you’re only missing one key point in a POA, or just need to better organize the documentation they’re looking for, then by all means take another shot. But make sure your assessment of your chances is accurate.
Do you know what the odds are of a reinstatement on the second pass? Will they reply back that you haven’t sent a viable plan, and they’re closing the account:
You have not sent us an acceptable plan to address the complaints we received about your items. As a result, you may no longer sell on Amazon.com. Your listings have been removed from our site, and we are withholding any funds available in your account. If you have FBA inventory of the items that caused “inauthentic” complaints, they are currently ineligible for removal.
Accounts may still be appealed and successfully reinstated even if you see this message. But why burn through a couple of potential chances for reinstatement if you don’t have to? That could cost you thousands.
So, assess honestly the main points of your root causes, and ask yourself if you addressed what really led to buyer or brand complaints.
Don’t simply reproduce the comments or details that Amazon gave you. Those are the reasons that buyers submitted complaints on their orders for those ASINs, yes. But they are not the root causes. Make sure you know the difference.
My two chances (or 17 days) are gone. What should I do?
If you received the 17 days or two appeals message, and you’re still not selling after that, it’s still possible to get reinstated.
Reexamine any potentially missing info one last time, either on:
- Documentation such as your invoices.
- The strength of the solutions you gave to Seller Performance.
Are there any big problem-solver actions, however painful to your business, that you could have taken? If so, add them now. Don’t hold back; you might never get another chance.
Make one last submission with a revised Plan of Action. Highlight any new key steps identified in your reevaluation.
Will you get a general denial? Sure, sometimes you will. But they may respond asking you to fill in one last specific step, if you’re close. Also, they may simply ask you to confirm if you have already “implemented all remedies” outlined in your POA. That’s another good sign. It means they read it, and they took it seriously this time.
Escalation is another option. Completed the right way, any stuck case can get unstuck. Make sure that you submit one with a properly written escalation letter to go with your viable POA. For escalation, there are two pieces to the puzzle that need to go to Amazon.
Contact Executive Seller Relations, indicating that Seller Performance failed to show any sign that they reviewed or appreciated your wonderful POA. When Seller Performance lets you down, you need to go beyond the team that suspended your Amazon account. This is very common. Escalation investigators are not shocked when Seller Performance work winds up on their doorstep. In fact, it’s become normal.
What do I do if my escalation fails?
Ready yourself to try all alternative options to get their attention. In the absence of solid contacts inside, bring in someone who understands how Amazon’s internal teams communicate with each other and what lesser-used paths attract Amazonian eyeballs to your case.
Rewrite your escalation letter in a more pressing manner, indicating that everything they would need to reinstate you was already sent. If needed, present a highlight reel of your POA and attach it to a demand for a new review.
If you’re ignored because investigators take more interest in reading annotations of prior denials than looking at your new POA, get ready to get angry. State that you’ve reached out to managers but received the same rubber-stamped review process that their investigators are well known for.
If Seller Performance teams won’t reinstate you, even when you submitted an escalation to their management teams, be ready to escalate elsewhere. If you have specific contacts, direct their attention to the detailed, comprehensive appeals you’ve sent in and ask them why those POAs were summarily ignored. Will they ask around for you, or even go to bat for you? Is there any indication on your account annotations that anyone was really looking?
Why it’s so important to get it right first time
In the end, your main objective is to avoid having to escalate your appeal with Seller Performance at all. When given the opportunity, many investigators will parrot the previous investigator and send the same requests for the same info. They will give the same general denials, lacking any specifics on why they’ve done so.
It’s worth investing in an expert to show you how to do it right. The last thing you want to do when you’re first suspended, is to wing it and hope for the best. Can you risk your entire business on a roll of the dice?
This post was by Chris McCabe, owner and founder of ecommerceChris, LLC, an Amazon seller account consultancy. Chris was formerly an Investigation Specialist for Amazon’s Seller Performance team.