Does Amazon Realize It Is Q4?
Does Amazon Realize It Is Q4?
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of Amazon changes that are making the seller community run in circles….right before Q4. From brand restrictions to linked accounts to new suspension reasons to its continuing crack down on product review programs, Amazon is vigorously cleaning house. Our volume of suspensions has been increasing. What is going on?!? Does Amazon even realize it is Q4? All these changes come at a really tough time for sellers who are suddenly afraid to ramp up for the holidays.
If you have never sold on the platform using Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program, you are now blocked from sending in FBA shipments until after December 19, 2016. We found out about this last Friday and were able to warn our clients, but many new or all-Merchant Fulfilled (MF) sellers are finding out the hard way this week.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done at this point to sell FBA. Sellers can still merchant fulfill.
WHAT’S THE LATEST WITH RETAIL ARBITRAGE?
We announced last month that Amazon was going to stop accepting receipts as proof of authenticity which we speculated meant the end of retail arbitrage on the platform as we knew it. So far, sellers in good standing can still use receipts to answer inauthentic complaints and – sometimes – even to get ungated in a brand (NOT a category, however). That’s the good news.
Sellers with accounts in poorer condition or who have previously been suspended are required to provide invoices. New sellers of a brand – even if their accounts are in good condition – generally need invoices and must pay a fee.
So the retail arbitrage party isn’t over yet, but the banners are hanging above the entrance so to speak.
Another sign of change: Earlier this week, a seller was suspended specifically for retail arbitrage. They were told they are no longer allowed to sell items they bought retail as NEW on the platform. They can still sell them as USED of course but that severely limits the kind of inventory they can buy since many products like toys and clothing can only be sold NEW. In their case, they also need to recall their inventory and re-sticker it – thousands of SKUs.
This suspension really surprised us because so many people inside of Amazon don’t even know what retail arbitrage IS, and because we have never seen a suspension that specifically said you could not buy in retail stores and sell as NEW. We’ve been telling our clients this for years that Amazon felt this way, but we never thought Amazon would put it in writing.
Right now this is one case. We are waiting to see what unfolds.
EVERYONE GETS THE TRACE FOR LINKED ACCOUNTS
This has been in the works for a while. Anyone who has heard me talk in the past month knows that normally Amazon doesn’t put the “trace” on you for linked accounts until you are suspended. We were told last month that was changing and, as of 10/3/16, it looks like the trace is on:
Our records indicate that you may own multiple seller accounts. Amazon’s policies strictly prohibit operating or maintaining multiple accounts. Exceptions are granted on a case-by-case basis based on each seller’s circumstances.
If you currently have multiple seller accounts, have operated or maintained more than one seller account in the past, or if any members of your household (besides yourself) have operated or maintained a seller 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 to operate each account
Failure to disclosure your accounts may result in a loss of selling privileges.
If you only own 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.
This is an odd warning from Seller Performance and came by email rather than a performance notification. It looks like a fishing expedition more than a warning BUT you have to assume it is the only warning you will get before you are suspended. One client who received it has never had another account or another account in his family so we don’t know what to think. Another client had a brother who opened an account and never did anything with it.
We are advising our clients to answer even if the answer is “I only own one account and have never owned more than one account in the past.”
If you have family members with accounts be sure to explain all the relationships to Amazon and why they should not be considered part of your account.
I hesitate to use the word “amnesty” here, but Amazon is clearly giving sellers a chance to come clean before dropping the hammer. This is your chance to fix things and either get proper permission or close down your additional account(s).
If you’ve not gotten this notice yet you may be OK, or it may be that they are rolling this out in waves. For those of you who just broke out into a cold sweat because you KNOW you have multiple accounts or because you have family members with their own accounts, now is the time to confess.
If you have deliberately set up multiple accounts for yourself as a “plan b,” you will now get to see if your measures are good enough. Many of our clients who have a plan b account were previously suspended, so one could conclude that their efforts were good enough to thwart the trace. We will see now for sure. For these sellers there is no upside to confessing. They are already violating policy and will not be allowed to keep their account(s).
For those sellers who have never been suspended but who set up a second account “just in case,” you have reason to sweat. You don’t know if your measures will hold up against Amazon’s relentless algorithm. Should you confess? Should you roll the dice? Your decision. The safest move is to confess and close down an account. I realize it may be more complicated than that.
One seller was stating on Facebook that he’ll be fine because Amazon never said anything about his second account before. Please hear me. They didn’t catch you because they weren’t looking. They are looking now.
If you want to chat about your particular situation,sign up here for a one-hour consultation.
NO MORE PRODUCT REVIEW PROGRAMS?
As part of Amazon’s ongoing efforts to build and maintain buyer trust, it has been cracking down on product review companies and sellers who use or abuse them. We have seen sellers suspended for using facebook groups and small private review clubs as well as big names like AMZ Tracker (by name).
ReviewMeta recently put together a data analysis that proved definitively just how advantageous review programs were to brands. While this policy change by Amazon has been in the works for a while, we imagine its implementation was hastened by all the negative press.
When asked, I always state that the only “approved” product review program is Amazon’s Vine program. Now Amazon has made it mandatory. Sellers can ONLY use Vine for product giveaways in exchange for reviews. Currently only 1P sellers – those selling to Amazon directly – can use the Vine program. Within our company we have speculated that Amazon may be getting ready to allow 3P sellers access to the program. I hope so. They’ve cut off most other avenues.
As of Oct 3, Amazon released new rules about product review programs. In the Q&A it was very specific that no other program besides Vine will be allowed. Reviewers will no longer state that they received product in exchange for an honest review because that will no longer be allowed.
Here Are The Questions We Are Hoping To Get Definitively Answered For The Community:
- What happens to the reviews we already have on the platform that came from review sites and programs?
- Is there any kind of grace period? There are reviewers out there who just received product from us and will probably post a review in the next week or two.
- Is it still OK to giveaway product as long as we don’t ask for a review?
What if we ask for reviews on other platforms like facebook or through bloggers? Is that OK?
- Is Amazon planning to offer Vine to 3P sellers in the future?
- Can we still ask buyers for a product review through the buyer/seller email platform as long as we only ask once and as long as we are not specifically targeting buyers who got our product at a discount or free?
- Will Amazon’s algorithm even the playing field such that new products and brands have a chance to compete with established brands with thousands of reviews?
We know that Amazon sellers are among the most creative business people on the planet so we expect there will still be loopholes to exploit. Try to resist the temptation.
I already see problems with question number three with a kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge that could happen among sellers and reviewers. “You are not obligated to leave an Amazon review” says one vendor after another but…everyone knows that’s what we want, right? Vendors can’t kick a reviewer out of their program for not leaving an Amazon review any more, but….will they find more subtle ways to encourage Amazon reviews? Probably.
Already Facebook is abuzz with sellers trying to get around the new rules. So far they’ve failed. Sellers have had THOUSANDS of reviews taken down from their listings overnight. I have clients in the UK who are still using review programs. Please hear me, this is coming your way very soon. Stop using product review programs NONE of them are compliant.
Amazon is playing whack-a-mole with its sellers. Every time someone comes up with a way to game the system, they whack the seller on the head. Don’t be that seller. Amazon owns the hammer.
We’ve had clients hire writers to create false accounts – by the hundreds – and go post reviews. Amazon closed that loophole by requiring all accounts to have purchased $50 worth of products before leaving their first review. They can match a reviewer to a purchase. They know when a reviewer posts a review before getting product, they know when the reviewer comes to them from a review company website.
So what is going to happen with all these product review vendors? Many of them will convert to velocity driver sites, offering deals to drive purchases. As long as the majority of your sales are not at a deep discount, this is probably fine. Amazon loves deals and sales. If nearly all your sales are at X price, however, they may conclude that X is the actual correct price for your product.
The biggest question we are getting this week is “What CAN I do?” See my previous blog post on safe reviews for that answer. While some of that post is now obsolete, traditional marketing tactics still work.
CATEGORY UNGATING STICKER SHOCK
Some sellers have found themselves needing to apply to the Beauty category again and are having sticker shock as Amazon is asking them to pay $3,000 if they are accepted. This is the price sellers will have to pay from now on for selling topicals on the platform, basically.
The reason for this is because the liability for Amazon is so much higher for products that are ingested or that are absorbed by the skin. Lotions, shampoos, soaps, mud masks…you get the idea. These products can cause real harm if not properly controlled. Private label sellers are under particular scrutiny.
September was an exciting whirlwind of conferences and meeting our clients, partners and friends of the company in China, Nashville, LA, Las Vegas and Dallas! October is just as exciting. We look forward this month to meeting our international clients in London and our Midwest sellers in Chicago – please join us!
eCom Chicago – Cynthia will be talking about the latest policy changes and suspensions at Amazon. You don’t want to be late to this conference! Chris Green, former Amazonian Peter Kearns, Cordelia Blake, John Lawson, Jason T. Smith, Eddie Levine and Nadene Shearstone and Jeff Cohen are among the all-star speakers at this year’s event.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Fresh and bold perspectives are appreciated.
– Cynthia Stine
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