These past couple of months have seen a large number of Amazon sellers suspended. In case you are wondering, it IS on purpose…and it is highly automated. More on that below.
For those of you wondering where I disappeared to, I’ve got an update at the end with what’s going on. In addition, I’ll be traveling and speaking a lot this fall. Hopefully I can say hello personally to many of you at Jim Cockrum’s CES III (Sept 10-12), the Sellers Conference for Online Entrepreneurs (SCOE) (Oct 2-4), StartupBros Import Summit Conference (Oct 8-11) or at eCom Chicago (Oct 16-17). Back to our topic…
Online Sales Step by Step LLC (my company) has executed more than 130 Plans of Action on behalf of our clients in the past few months. We have learned a lot about Amazon in that short time. Much of this is through observation and some is through the occasional rare conversation we might have with an Amazon insider. We have five U.S.-based consultants and a team of four in the Philippines for administrative support. We are still hiring and growing. That is what Amazon’s algorithm changes have made necessary. And it is not just us, of course, a whole crop of consultants are working to address the need. Recently we have begun getting clients who were unhappy with their first provider choice for whatever reason and it occurred to me that it might be useful to have a set of criteria/questions for Sellers to use when picking a consultant:
- Check their track record. How many successful reinstatements, how many failures? I’m surprised at how few people ask me this question.
- How thoroughly will your consultant investigate your account? If they don’t dig deep, they won’t find all the problems and your appeal could fail. We spend hours reading through our clients’ accounts.
- Can they articulate the difference between a reactive and a proactive Plan of Action? Amazon has drilled the word “proactive” into Seller Performance workers’ heads. Make sure you know the difference.
- Will they protect your account? We use layers of protection to keep our clients’ accounts from being linked to other suspended sellers (or to us!)
- Do they have references? Right now our client base is mostly referrals from one reinstated seller to a suspended colleague. We have a lot of great references.
- Can they explain what it means? Many of our clients don’t understand why they were suspended in the first place. Amazon terms can be bewildering. “Counterfeit” isn’t always counterfeit and “Used Sold as New” isn’t always about used product. Make sure your team understands the nuances.
- How long are their plans, typically? The right answer is “as long as it takes and no more.” Anyone who tells you they should be a page or less is probably not thorough enough. You need a proactive Plan for each item on Amazon’s complaint list. That is rarely accomplished in a page.
- What is their plan if you are denied? Make sure your team is persistent and has a plan if the first appeal fails. This is particularly relevant for many of our clients since they are already denied when they come to us.
- Have they gotten cases like yours reinstated before? Some of our clients came to us after been turned away by other consultants as being too difficult. If one consultant/company tells you no, try another.
- Do they understand business? Many of our clients get in trouble with Amazon due to their business processes, not just violations. Make sure your reinstatement partner understands how your business works so they can help you pinpoint problems in your processes and fix issues that led to your suspension. To be an Amazon seller isn’t enough. When you are suspended, you need a business consultant.
- Are they selling you a letter or a customized plan? I’ve seen some crazy stuff out there. Some guys give you a letter and if it works then you owe them a huge amount of money like $5,000. If it doesn’t work you owe them nothing. Talk about gambling! No one plan fits all situations. If it doesn’t work for you, then you’ve wasted your chance for a faster response and will be spending time sending in appeals to a backlogged PQ group. In one case, we helped the seller get reinstated and then the previous vendor came after him for $5,000 because that was the deal – the vendor didn’t care that my client didn’t use his letter.
- When do they stop trying? Some consultant’s services stop when you turn in your Plan of Action. We find that is often the midpoint. Amazon may come back and ask for more clarification or they might deny our client and then we have to shift into high gear to get them reinstated. Sometimes we’ve tweaked, rewritten and added to appeals many times before our clients are reinstated. Make sure your consultant is an advocate for you who won’t give up right away.
This list plays to our strengths, of course, and is not comprehensive. You may have other criteria that is important to you like reputation, credibility, complexity of your case and – of course – cost. I didn’t put down cost because 13 is an unlucky number, but I will say that it is relative (and relevant) to your situation. A larger seller who is losing tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars a day sees cost differently than a smaller seller that is selling less than $10 thousand a month – they also tend to have more complicated suspensions.
To get back to what’s happening in Reinstatements today, we’ve learned from a source what we long suspected which is that Amazon updated its algorithm for product quality earlier this spring/summer. By raising its standards, many long-time sellers were suddenly suspended for reasons that had not been previously as important to Amazon. Did Amazon put out an announcement or give warning to the community? They did not.
I call this the “Rise of the Robots.” While it is really an algorithm, “robots” captures the impersonal and implacable behavior by Amazon once you are suspended.
Amazon did not anticipate how many sellers would be caught by the algorithm changes. According to our source, the PQ (product quality) group is backlogged three weeks. That was our observation, too. We do our best to circumvent this group when we can because every day cost our clients money. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes our clients have to wait. Our experience has been that the complexity of the case and whether or not the client was denied a previous appeal both impact the waiting time.
What’s Up With the Blog, Cynthia?
It has been a long time since I’ve written a blog post, but not since I’ve written. I’ve just completed my new book Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect Your Amazon Seller Account. It should be on Amazon by the end of September. Between consulting and writing, I was maxed out. Things will hopefully be a little bit better now that the book is in the hands of the publisher.
Suspension Prevention is 200+ pages of Amazon suspension intelligence hard won from the trenches. I cover how to detect dirty seller tricks, how to get reinstated, and 15-steps to avoid suspension in the first place. While the names are all changed, I use real case studies to illustrate my points. If you sign up now, you will be the first to know when it comes out and you’ll be eligible for my launch deal. It will be available on Amazon as a softcover book and from me as a digital copy in the Kindle, Nook or PDF version.
Attendees at CES III will be getting for free a 37-page eBook that I created with Jim Cockrum on Suspension Prevention that shares the 15-steps to avoid suspension. I will also be leading the discussion topic group on “Reinstatement” during the conference as well.
Local sellers in Dallas-Fort Worth are all invited to my launch party/FBA in DFW meeting/networking event.
WHAT: Launch party for Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect Your Amazon Seller Account and chance to network with fellow sellers. Cynthia will give a brief presentation, serve wine and sign books.
WHERE: Times 10 Cellars in East Dallas
WHEN: September 29, 2015
TIME: 7:00 PM-10:00 PM
WHO: We are inviting Stephanie Inge’s eBay group and all the Amazon sellers in the DFW area.
RSVP: PLEASE RSVP at the FBA in DFW Facebook group. I’m renting a room and need to know how many are coming and – more importantly – how many snacks and party favors to get. If you are not already a member of our facebook group, please join us!
In October, I will be on the road a lot and hope to meet many of my readers and clients at SCOE in Seattle, eCom Chicago in the Windy City and The Import Summit in Orlando, FL. I’m speaking formally and informally at these conferences on the topic of Suspension Prevention and reinstatement.Plus I will be signing copies of my new book. Come by and say hello!
If you are coming to SCOE, type in STEPBYSTEP and you will get a conference discount of $100. I’m not sure what the cut off date is, but give it a try.
Next, I will be focusing my blog more and more on Amazon business issues and sharing stories of how sellers are solving challenges in their businesses and I will be writing again. I know it has been a while.
Lastly, I also plan to officially launch my Get Clean Stay Clean services this fall. This is why I’ve been hiring and training. We are planning to offer ongoing services to our clients that will help them stay on top of their accounts, get an early warning if something is going wrong and help them avoid suspension. If you would like to be notified when these services are officially available, please sign up here. These services will provide ongoing, continuous seller support at an affordable price.
If you are going to one of the conferences mentioned above, let me know in the comments below so we can be sure to meet!
See you soon!