This article is by Lesley Hensell of Riverbend Consulting.
Over the last few months, Amazon has made significant changes to the Seller Central interface. Each of these modifications is a subtle nudge, encouraging certain seller behaviors and discouraging others.
Many sellers, however, have not seen these changes for what they are. In their efforts to keep up and adapt, they have failed to question why Amazon modified Seller Central in this way.
The short answer? Every one of these changes makes life easier for Amazon, and harder for sellers. As an Amazon seller, it’s critical that you understand the ecommerce giant’s strategies and then make your own choices about how to respond. Following Amazon’s hints and recommendations blindly could prove disastrous for your bottom line.
The Seller Central dashboard
Seller Central is the interface that sellers use to manage their Amazon accounts. Until recently, most pages of Seller Central had essentially been unchanged for about a decade.
Suddenly, over the summer, Amazon made dramatic changes to the home page of Seller Central. In the past, sellers could easily see their sales for the past 7, 15 and 30 days, their open cases with Seller Support, their feedback rating and more at a glance.
Now, many of these important data points are buried deep inside the Seller Central interface. In almost every case, the change was made to advance an Amazon-centric goal. Here’s how it works.
1. Amazon wants sellers to file fewer cases
As a seller, there is only one way to get assistance from Amazon with common problems. You must open cases, by going to the “help” area of Seller Central and describing your issue. Seller Support will then either call you or respond with a written message.
But here’s the rub. Amazon does not want sellers to file cases. They don’t really want to hear from sellers – at all. Every case filed means time and money spent by the Seller Support team, the Catalog team, and countless other teams inside of Amazon. Seller contact costs money. It’s that simple.
In the past, a widget on the home page was available to “manage cases.” This is where sellers could see – at a glance – if Amazon had replied to their support requests. In addition, it provided easy access for filing additional cases to help with anything from missing inventory to problems with product detail pages and more.
So what did Amazon do? They disappeared the case log off the home page. This makes it more difficult to file cases, and more likely that sellers forget to follow up before Amazon’s inadequate answers are permanently archived, making it impossible to re-open the cases. (FYI, sellers can now click the teeny-tiny word “help” in the top-right of the home page to find their case log.)
2. Amazon wants sellers to stop asking for feedback removal
Seller feedback is for comments from buyers about the storefront from which they purchased a product. Amazon shows potential buyers the store’s star rating, and what percentage of positive feedback they have.
Seller feedback is not supposed to be about the product that was purchased. In addition, if Amazon fulfilled the item and the complaints are about delivery, the feedback is considered invalid since the buyer’s experience was Amazon’s fault, not the seller’s. In either of these cases, sellers can ask for 1-, 2- or 3-star feedback to be removed.
Over the last couple of years, Amazon has worked hard to automate its feedback removal system. If particular words are detected in seller feedback, for example, it will be automatically removed upon a request from the seller.
For a decade, a widget on the home page of Seller Central put each seller’s feedback rating front-and-center. The moment a seller logged in, they were greeted with their “star” rating, and they could click on those stars to find any recent negative feedback. Two clicks later, they could ask Amazon to remove the feedback.
As part of the Seller Central redesign, the feedback widget disappeared from the home page. There is only one possible reason for that. Amazon wants sellers to stop asking for negative feedback removal – which opens a case and requires work from Amazon employees.
3. Amazon wants lower prices on the platform
With the Seller Central redesign, Amazon added widgets for “Match Buy Box Price” and “Match Low Price” to the Seller Central home page. These widgets feature a competing offer and a suggested new price. They lack all other context for sellers.
A seller who feels anxious about revenue might be tempted to match the price, which can be done with a single click, right there from the home page.
Why is this a bad strategy for sellers? Amazon is comparing apples to oranges. For example, sellers can usually charge more for Prime offers. But the widgets encouraging lower prices don’t show whether the competing offer is Prime-eligible or not. In addition, any seller worth his salt won’t lower a price if the Buy Box seller is about to run out of stock.
The best advice? Ignore these widgets completely. Rely on non-Amazon repricing software or manual common sense instead.
4. Amazon managers use sellers to back up their “successes”
Amazon sellers desperate for entertainment need look no further than the Seller Polls on the home page of Seller Central. These are written by program or project managers, ostensibly seeking to gather data about the seller community.
Unfortunately, these one-size-fits-all poll questions are shallow and mean almost nothing. Many sellers are afraid to answer in the negative, thinking Amazon might somehow take revenge. (I know that sounds like a conspiracy theory, but Amazon has struck fear into the hearts of many intrepid sellers.)
The questions include such brain teasers as:
- I feel connected to other Amazon sellers. (Answer: Depends on your business model.)
- I trust that the inventory I send to FBA is handled appropriately. (Answer: A resounding no.)
- Amazon protects me when I report a customer for taking advantage of my business. (Answer: Nope.)
From experience with thousands of Amazon sellers, I can report that the answers to these polls are not honest. Sellers who would give an unattractive answer simply refrain from participation. Most likely, these polls are used to pad the positive results program managers need to show executives inside Amazon.
What’s a seller to do?
For years, Amazon has preached that sellers should be proactive, rather than reactive. This is one piece of advice with which I heartily agree.
- File cases when you need to file cases – and set reminders to follow up. Don’t let the hiding of “help” be discouraging. Set a reminder each day to check the cases section of Seller Central for responses and information requests.
- Check feedback every day and file feedback removal requests as needed.
- When Amazon refuses to remove negative feedback, take advantage of the seller response tool. Positively tell your side of the story if feedback isn’t removed.
- Don’t allow Amazon to bully you on pricing. Make pricing decisions based on FBA versus MFN offerings, number of competing offers, volume available, seasonality, margins and other concrete factors. Use a repricer or common sense – not Amazon’s repricer or recommendations.
Amazon continues to offer the most powerful platform in the world. To get the most out of it, you need to find your own way – and focus on your own numbers.
This article was by Lesley Hensell, co-founder and co-owner of Riverbend Consulting, where she oversees the firm’s client services team. Lesley has personally helped hundreds of third-party sellers get their accounts and ASINs back up and running, leveraging two decades of experience as a small business consultant and almost a decade as an Amazon seller.
It's about time group action was taken against these greedy bastards.
The sheer misery and distress Amazon has caused for thousands of small businesses is incalculable.