This post is by Chris McCabe, a former Investigation Specialist for Amazon’s Seller Performance team and founder of ecommerceChris.com. ecommerceChris shows Amazon sellers how to keep their accounts healthy, or, if the worst should happen, how to get their account back from a suspension.
UPDATE February 2018: This second edition has been fully reviewed and revised.
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. Amazon are regularly sending messages to sellers who they suspect of having multiple accounts, but 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.
The multiple Amazon selling accounts notice
Amazon’s notifications are usually along these lines:
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.
Why are Amazon sending these messages? Why do they care if someone has a second selling account?
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. They appear 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.
You can reduce your chances of getting this notification, and be in a strong position to respond if you do receive it, if you:
- Get approval for multiple accounts in advance
- Avoid being associated with accounts that have no connection to you
I’ll cover those now.
Getting approval for multiple Amazon accounts
First, consider the reasons why you really need another account. Do you have different business entities that genuinely need separate accounts, or do you just want to keep categories or inventory apart from each other?
I worked on the Seller Performance queues as an Amazon account investigator for almost six years. I reviewed appeals from sellers to open second and sometimes even third accounts, sometimes dozens in a single day. Some were from sellers who really needed another account to operate their business effectively, and some were from sellers who were looking to add one as a contingency.
Many never understood, when their appeal was denied, that opening a second account has nothing to do with protecting them from losing the first. Our SOPs gave us guidelines to measure a seller’s real need for opening a second account, but we were also allowed to make judgment calls based on the particular details of each individual case. Requests were not simply rubber stamped, or decided just on having the “correct” wording.
So, understand how Seller Performance evaluates these requests, but also keep in mind that each one is decided on a case-by-case basis. It’s tempting to use groups or forums to compare your request to other sellers, but remember that the decision involves your unique account history and business situation.
Legitimate business reasons
You need to specify “legitimate business reasons” for a separate account and email Seller Performance requesting approval.
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.
Some sellers will be granted another account if they’ve performed well on the first one, and if they have a strong presence in two categories. But you will NOT be granted many accounts if you sell in many categories. That is way too much work for Seller Performance to handle.
Do’s and dont’s
Don’t ask for another account when you have a recent metrics miss, lots of recent policy violations, Notice Claims of infringements piling up, or anything similar. They’ll think you’re trying to compensate for trouble on one account by arranging a back-up plan.
If you are granted permission for multiple accounts, you must get it in writing from Seller Performance! In my time at Amazon, 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, future investigators may conclude that the seller took it upon themselves to open additional accounts for their own reasons.
A conversation with a Business Development rep or anyone in Seller Support will not be accepted as proof. The only way to know or prove that Amazon actually annotated your account with their approval, is to produce the email they sent you assuring you that they have done so.
Avoiding “false positive” detections of multiple accounts
If you have what they call a “dormant” or inactive account that you have not used in a long time, I recommend you terminate it. Then it will not show up as a related and potentially active account. They can see you haven’t used it in a while, but why take a chance?
If you have family or friends signing in from your location, or even selling from the same house, ensure you have enough data reflecting different people, companies and operations to distinguish the accounts from each other. Amazon will already have seen that these accounts are potentially connected, in most cases, and may be ready to act on it if they consider them to be too similar to each other. Amazon’s tools pick up layers of overlap between accounts, so separate your operations and think ahead. For example, when it comes to item type, be sure that you’re not selling the same, or similar, items from the same location.
Never offer or agree to help other sellers with setting up their accounts. IP hits are not the sole criteria for making a determination that two accounts are related, but it’s an excellent start. If you also sell in the same category (what Amazon investigators call “IT,” or item type), then you’re well on your way to looking like you share operations with the companies behind those accounts.
Don’t set up partnerships, incorporate your business, or make any other structural changes, before considering what Seller Performance will flag as “shared operations”. They will not lose a lot of sleep after deciding you’re related to another active account. If you look related in the tools, you might as well be related in real life.
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.
If you want to stay off the radar, secondary accounts and accounts in the same household should not sell the same products. Best practice is to sell in different categories or create different companies, at different addresses, that have no overlaps at all. Not even sign-ins at the same location or computer.
Likewise, accounts that were established to create a backup plan just in case you’re suspended should not be in operation. Take the hint 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.
This post is by Chris McCabe, a former Investigation Specialist for Amazon’s Seller Performance team and founder of ecommerceChris.com. Chris can be contacted via ecommerceChris.com.