For sellers afloat on Amazonian waters, here’s how to sail into the shark-infested depths, break your oars and smash a hole in your boat.
This post is by Chris McCabe, owner and founder of ecommerceChris, LLC, an Amazon seller account consultancy.
It’s Q4, in case you hadn’t noticed! Every Amazon seller is scrambling to get as much inventory sold as possible, as quickly as possible.
Who has time to reply to performance notifications as soon as they come in? Do you have a spare moment to dig for invoices, if Product Quality teams come calling for proof of authenticity? What if a notice of claimed infringement comes in, when a brand tells Amazon that you’ve violated their intellectual property rights?
If you’re not well-versed in any of these processes, you’ll probably disregard the messaging for the time being. At most, you’ll delete your listing for that product, maybe even pull the inventory out of FBA. Problem solved, right? At least for now?
Not anymore, and definitely not at this time of year. Last week, Leah McHugh and I got together for a Facebook Live Q&A to tackle the most common suspension causes happening right now. Our audience had a lot of first-hand experiences to share, and one thing was crystal clear: if you want to get suspended, some ways will get you there in no time at all.
1. Infringement claims
Over the past month and a half, Amazon has suspended thousands of accounts due to intellectual property infringement claims.
We’ve had several sellers tell us that Amazon suspended them for one, and only one, infringement claim. Amazon told them over and over that they needed to resolve the issue with the rights owner, and get a retraction emailed to Amazon Notice teams. Eventually, the right escalation path pushed them through to reinstatement. But it would have been a lot easier on their Q4 if they had managed to avoid the suspension in the first place.
Do you think that any items you sell may lead to intellectual property infringement claims, that the rights owner will refuse to remove? Then pull the inventory and listings before they can bring down your account. Or, if you have received notifications, take them seriously and make changes before the Notice teams come and take a bite out of you.
As always, if the infringement claims are false, submit a proper Notice-Dispute claim with a solid appeal that explains your sourcing of the products from reputable suppliers, attaching genuine supply chain documentation.
You don’t necessarily need an attorney to do this properly. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of bogus claims submitted every day. Learn how to handle those when they happen, without forking fees over to a lawyer.
2. Misuse of variations
When it comes to Amazon variation listings, we talk to sellers all the time who tell us things like, “We’re pretty sure we do these correctly”. Then we take a look at their parent-child ASIN variations, or bundle listings, and everything is definitely not ship-shape. Sellers tend to get confused by what is and isn’t allowed with variations, thinking if the catalog team lets them do it, it must be correct. For example, using a color variation type when the child items actually vary by quantity.
Many sellers are delegating their listing work to employees, or third-party services, who don’t understand Amazon’s listing policy and the proper use of variations. Amazon’s policy team investigators executed a slew of heavy-handed suspensions for variations abuse last September. We can expect to see a lot more of that.
Sellers have the same misunderstandings around how to use variations today, but they still believe they always do these right. That misconception can lead to suspension. If you lost an account over this, make sure you properly delineate the root causes in your Plan of Action. But, if you sound like you don’t know what you’re doing with variations, they’ll toss it aside.
3. Inauthentic item complaints
We receive countless daily contacts from sellers asking for help because they’ve been suspended for inauthentic item complaints from brands or customers. Simply put, Amazon’s Product Quality and Notice teams will suspend you pending valid invoices showing that you sell authentic branded items from verifiable, reliable distributors and suppliers.
If you have a relationship with the brand, and they don’t mind that you sell their products on Amazon, that’s great. But get it in a written agreement before you start.
What if your supplier isn’t sure if you can sell a brand on Amazon without attracting rights owner complaints? Then, if you sell those products on Amazon, you’ll be swimming with the sharks. You could attract negative attention and inauthentic item complaints from the brands at any time.
Also consider dumping any supplier who will not provide an authenticity letter describing their relationship with the brands they sell, and their business dealings with you. If they won’t do that, they’re not a good supplier for Amazon sellers, and you will need to find someone better.
Already suspended? Here’s how to stay that way.
Amazon are really cutting back on how many chances sellers get to appeal their suspensions. Here’s how to go full steam ahead and use up your appeals as quickly as possible.
1. Complain about buyers submitting fake complaints to get free shipping
Blaming buyers for lying about damaged, inauthentic or badly described products won’t get you anywhere. Returns and refunds are a fact of Amazon life that we all need to accept.
Don’t resist the process and fight with the buyers, or Amazon, to get them to see that you’ve done nothing to warrant a suspension. It’s frustrating, but they won’t debate that with you. They’ll only read a viable POA.
2. Use a template for your appeal and Plan of Action
Everyone now has a friend, neighbor, colleague or goldfish who offers account suspension and appeal services. Many of these services use or sell copy-and-paste templates.
Their ads even feature sellers who used the same exact document to get back selling. If it worked for them, it will work for you, right? That’s not how Amazon views this cookie-cutter approach. If you reuse a template with text that Amazon investigators have read over and over that same day, you can expect a denial and a lost chance to appeal.
Templates have little chance of getting you reinstated. When the sharks are circling, you don’t want to be wearing a life jacket that’s been through a dozen attacks already.
3. Blame competitors using fake buyer accounts (unless you can really prove it)
Everyone knows, including Amazon, that black-hat sellers use fake or paid-for accounts to buy from competitors, then report unsafe, inauthentic or otherwise “not as advertised” items.
However, if you are going to appeal on this basis, you will need incontrovertible evidence of abuse, to escalate to teams that handle policy violations. Don’t waste their time, or yours, making allegations in the hope that they’ll dig out the proof themselves.
If you can point out exactly where Amazon investigators can look to confirm your complaints of anti-competitive behavior, then terrific. Just don’t say anything you cannot back up.
4. Lose your cool
Getting angry at Amazon is pointless and counterproductive, for obvious reasons. If you take your anger and harness it into a good plan and strategy you can use, then great. But if you’re spouting invectives and making accusations, no one on ANY Amazon performance or policy team will read them. You might as well be shouting at the sea.
Don’t rock the boat, baby
We know it’s a tough time of year, and it won’t be getting any easier for people who have top-selling ASINs suspended, or even lose their entire account.
So, do everything in your power to avoid these selling mistakes and policy miscues. Learn the right way to manage your account, and you’ll greatly improve your odds of selling through that big pile of inventory that you pushed into FBA for Q4.
The goal is to get reinstated, not to fight the injustices of the world, however painful that may be to swallow. Your employees, loyal customers, family, creditors and business partners will all thank you for keeping the ship afloat.
ecommerceChris has the world’s first membership program teaching Amazon Sellers how to navigate policy and communicate effectively with Amazon.
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.