As the new year is underway and businesses are setting their annual goals, I thought about what goals I would like Amazon to set for its sellers. It’s a wish list since sellers have no input into how Amazon interacts with its sellers, but I hope someone reads this. What do you think? What is your wish list for Amazon in 2020?
- Listen and respond to us
- Tell us what you want exactly
- Give us advance notice
- Take out the bad actors
- Give us our account annotations
- Give us a level playing field
Listen and Respond to Us
The Amazon communication system with its sellers is broken and draconian. There’s no process for exceptions or unusual circumstances. No one is listening on the other end. It’s always been bad. These past six months have been worse. Did Amazon decide to fire all its Seller Performance teams and let an algorithm auto-respond to our messages? I’m serious. I want to know.
I’ve heard rumors of reorganizations of Seller Performance and the notice-dispute@ team and terminations. If true, I hope this action benefits sellers and isn’t just more of the same.
Sellers are providing Amazon with feedback constantly. We report bad actors. We tell Amazon when someone is breaking the rules and…crickets. We document our cases. We spend real time putting together careful appeals and if what we have to say doesn’t fit into whatever checkbox the Amazonian on the other end is filling out, we aren’t heard. If our problem is about IP, we dread it because notice-dispute only responds with auto templates telling us to work it out with the rights owner – even though we just explained that the rights owner won’t talk to us or that the complaint is not legitimate.
If we forgot about a seller account we had in college to sell our textbooks, we can no longer explain it to Amazon. Our “linked accounts” have just killed our future. We used to be pretty good at explaining honest mistakes to Amazon. Now it seems no one is listening. We’ve stopped accepting linked account cases at eGP unless we know the exact linkage until we can make it work again.
How many times have we been told that Amazon “couldn’t verify your invoices,” only to find out that the Amazonian called a business in the dead of night or never called at all? How many times have we exposed fake email addresses for so-called “rights owners” filing bogus IP complaints only to have Amazon do nothing?
How many times have we carefully explained the dirty seller trick the other guy is playing and had nothing happen?
Is it any wonder that sellers send emails to everyone they can find on LinkedIn and to Jeff@amazon.com? We even tweet about it hoping the social media team can get someone to look at our case.
Is it any wonder that sellers believe that good guys finish last on Amazon?
We pay $1,600+ a month to Amazon just so we can have an internal person to talk to. We don’t care what Amazon’s salespeople say at a trade show booth about how the paid strategic account managers can’t help with reinstatements. We want someone to listen and respond to us. We are desperate.
Amazon could skip all the growth and marketing stuff and most of us would sign up because when our SAM sends our appeal to Seller Performance for us, we get better answers faster than sellers without a SAM. Even with the same elements in the appeal. We’ve observed reinstatements are 2-3 days faster with a SAM. It’s a conflict of interest for Amazon, and it is not right.
Tell Us What You Want Exactly
A lot of Amazon sellers get into trouble or inadvertently violate Amazon’s terms of service because we don’t understand what the company wants. The language in our contracts and on Seller Central is not clear.
Getting a new notice from Amazon is like trying to interpret a Kabuki dance. Amazon snaps open its fan – winter has fallen. There are so many rules and ways to fall afoul of them. I do this for a living, and I’m constantly learning new things – how can a regular seller with a business to run keep on top of everything?
We learn a lot when Amazon Marketplace starts to enforce a policy because we now learn what you mean, and what is important. We at eGrowth Partners have written thousands of appeals for Amazon sellers on a wide variety of topics. We qualify as experts and yet we collaborate daily on our client’s cases because it is not clear what Amazon wants. We’re trying to figure out how to make our client’s situation fit or understand why our client’s appeal is not being accepted.
For example, with verification, sellers not only need to include their bank statement, but it also has to have transactions on it. You can’t just give Amazon the brand-new Payoneer bank account you just opened for your business…not anymore. Amazon wants every single page of the statement, not just the transaction part. That includes the ads, disclaimer language, and blah-blah that nobody reads on their statement. While it is written in Seller Central now, it would have been great to know that at the same time the rule was created. We learned the hard way.
Amazon doesn’t tell prospective sellers that if they fail verification they’ll never sell on the platform, ever, so they don’t take it as seriously as they should. There is no appeal process for verification once a seller has failed. They don’t tell sellers that something as small as a comma can cause them to be rejected (Company X, LLC or Company X LLC – we’ve seen it too often to be just one overzealous employee).
The guidelines for variations are woefully inadequate. Not everything on the platform is a t-shirt or a sheet set. We have some tricky cases with multiple variables, and we’re getting bad advice from the support teams on what is OK. We look at Amazon’s own listings for its Amazon Basics products as a guideline, and we see Amazon violating its own variation rules. What’s the right answer? We wish we knew.
Every time Amazon “clarifies” something in Seller Central as they did recently on emails to buyers, it creates more confusion and consternation. After my recent blog post on the “clarifications,” I got calls from automated email service providers telling me I was wrong. They talk constantly to contacts inside Amazon to make sure their email templates are compliant, etc.
I can only follow what Amazon is enforcing against, not what it says. It really shouldn’t be that way.
Oh, and don’t tell us that you are clear because I wouldn’t have a business at all if that were true. An important function of our business is explaining to sellers what Amazon wants or what they mean by a notification they’ve sent out. We function as Amazon translators or interpreters.
Give us advance notice
We can tell when Amazon has “tweaked the algorithm” (our phrase for whatever it is y’all do over there to enforce) because we’ll get waves of sellers suspended for the same reason. If you’d given the seller community a few weeks of warning, you wouldn’t have to enforce against so many of us.
Most sellers desperately want to please and will make changes, audit their listings, get GS1 codes, etc., if they just know what is coming. And sure, I know Amazon’s thought process on this is: “but it has always been in the TOS what constitutes a proper variation (or whatever the enforcement of the day is).” Yes, it probably has, but sellers thought they were compliant — see wish #2.
Most of our clients taken down for variation mistakes, aka “twister abuse” (sure would have been nice to have Amazon’s definition of that in advance) or PDP abuse (product detail page, we figured that one out on our own), were not bad actors. They were sellers who didn’t understand that their variations or updates to their product detail pages were against TOS.
If they’d had warning, they could have worked with someone like us (don’t get me started on how often Seller Support gives sellers the wrong answers), or their SAM to check and fix their listings. Amazon would get what it wants, and sellers wouldn’t have to be suspended.
Amazon Marketplace enforces regulations from different countries and tells sellers that they need to comply with local laws. We get that. What would be helpful, though, is to tell sellers how and where to do that. The laws in Germany about recycling certification took a lot of us by surprise because we were already certified in the EU. We didn’t know that Germany had its own. We didn’t know that even creating a listing without that certification is illegal. Amazon knew it. Why not share it with us?
When Her Royal Majesty’s Revenue Service decided everyone need a VAT number regardless of the volume of sales, many of us were shut down for weeks while we got that sorted and waited for Her Majesty to tell you that we had a VAT. It would have been great if we’d known that new requirement in advance.
When sellers started sending goods from the US to the EU either through FBA or FBM, it would have been nice to have as part of our EU onboarding a discussion of parallel imports and restricted products/ingredients. Amazon has a few paragraphs about parallel imports in Seller Central NOW, but only because brands started doing takedowns for it.
Amazon knows exactly where sellers can download restricted items from the EU commission and keep abreast of changes, why not give us the link?
Nearly six months after Amazon announced it would give sellers worldwide 30 days’ notice of deactivations, I’ve finally started to see it in some – very limited – situations. The notices are as inscrutable and vague as ever, but I guess it’s progress.
The point is; Amazon has all this information that it could share with us. It would benefit both sides. If we really are partners as your spokespeople keep saying, then treat us like partners.
Take Out the Bad Seller Actors and Clean Up Corruption at Amazon
It really galls sellers to see Amazon cozying up to the mainland Chinese sellers and hosting big conferences for them because so many of them are making our lives miserable. We tell Amazon how they are using Vendor Central to mess with our listings (PDP tampering). We tell Amazon how they are adding themselves or their inappropriate children to our listings and Amazon does nothing. We tell Amazon about false IP complaints and fake patents. We tell Amazon that they are getting Amazon’s “Best Choice” badge by adding fake orders to carts without going through the listing (simulating Alexa orders, in other words).
And sure, it’s not just the mainland Chinese. There are bad actors everywhere, but these guys take it to the next level. They have courses where they teach each other how to trick Amazon. They pay off internal Amazon people to reinstate them or to change their seller status, so they aren’t even taken down with well-documented evidence. They pay $25K to “get” a verification-proof Vendor Central account so they can mess with their competitor’s listings and destroy them. Where is the outrage, Amazon??? They have outsmarted you, and they are getting away with it!
They pay off internal people to get more reimbursements for bad actors than they deserve. They are able to get ALL of Amazon’s data on their competitors, categories, etc. They know exactly how many sales they need to have to be number one in their subcategory, and they pay huge networks of buyers to get them to that point.
Black hat tactics are so widely known and taught at mainstream seller conferences that they’ve become normalized. Honest sellers think some of these tactics (especially around inserts) are compliant. So many speakers start their presentations with “we are all white hat!” and then proceed to share tactics and tools that violate terms of service. It’s a joke.
And yeah, black hats manipulate the hell out of reviews. There are WeChat groups that are very business-like. I’m paying X amount for 20 reviews, you need to highlight these features, etc. They purchase items with each other’s products and leave reviews. Even when specific and egregiously obvious cases are brought to Amazon by reporters, the bad actors don’t lose their reviews, they aren’t taken down and they continue to pay for reviews. The going rate bad actors are paying buyers to remove negative feedback is $50. How do I know that? They say so IN THE REVIEWS on their product. This is what I mean by egregiously obvious. And…crickets. See Wish #1.
Nothing I’m saying here is news to Amazon, but publicly the company downplays its role – “a few bad apples, a few low-level people…” etc. It’s not. It’s high-level people, too, and it’s a lot of bad apples. We’ve seen the lawsuits against gurus who fleece their flock, we’ve heard rumors about internal purges (nothing I can prove), but what we want to see is real action against dirty players. Make it public and earn back our trust.
I’ve personally been approached multiple times to enter into a corrupt relationship so I can help my clients. It’s hard to say no sometimes because good guys get screwed all the time by Amazon. My perception is colored. No one hires someone like me if everything’s going great. I get it. But I’m not wrong about the pervasive fear in the community and the eye-popping money sellers will pay to get reinstated in a few hours.
When will we see a lawsuit against the service providers who teach black hat tactics for $30K? They are not hiding – they’re brazen! When will we see lawsuits against service providers who pay internal contacts to “flip the switch” on reinstatements or give out undeserved reimbursements?
Honest sellers are leaving the platform because they can’t compete against these tactics and are crushed by them. If the trend continues, there won’t be many good actors left to counterbalance the bad ones.
Do these bad guys often take advantage of vulnerabilities and loopholes in Amazon’s own system – surely something that could be fixed by one of the greatest technology companies in the world?
For example, Vendor Central. VC should not have priority over Brand Registered listings. Period. This would instantly cut down on a lot of bad actor behavior. This is a no brainer! Brand Registered brands should have priority on their own listings as a default, not an exception.
Tell Us our Account Annotations
Ok, I know Amazon won’t do this; but hear me out. When we can get account annotations for our clients, we can usually get them reinstated or at least tell them to stop trying. Sometimes our clients give us their account annotations (we ask no questions). Sometimes their SAM is able to get insights into their case by talking with an internal person who can see the account annos. Occasionally the Account Health team will give our clients hints. It helps a lot in the cases where the performance notification does not match the notes Amazon has on file for our client.
For example, a recent client was taken down for “review manipulation.” We were baffled because they were as clean as a whistle. We audited all their marketing efforts, emails, inserts, listings, etc. We could not find what Amazon was talking about.
They pushed their SAM who found out it was for “review aggregation,” and a lightbulb went off in our heads. OH! It was variation abuse. Now we knew where to look. And once we waded in, we could see where they had made mistakes and help them fix them. These guys are rule followers. They thought they were setting up their variations correctly. They are the kind of seller Amazon wants on the platform, but they could have been kicked off forever because they couldn’t figure out what Amazon was talking about.
We’ve now added “variations” to our list of things that might fall under “review manipulation,” but there will be new baffling notifications. So, my wish is this, can Amazon share more about each seller’s case?
I understand we won’t get the actual account annotations from Amazon – and most people couldn’t interpret them if they did – but would it be so bad to tell a seller that it is specifically “review aggregation?” Or even to tell them there’s no hope? I’ve seen the “do not reinstate” annotations in client accounts. Why not just tell them so they don’t waste time and money trying to chase a pipedream? Amazon already does that for fraud and verified counterfeit.
As an added benefit, sellers would be less likely to push the “easy button” of going to a service provider that is bribing internal contacts. While it is wrong, good sellers sometimes do it because they are so frustrated with Amazon Marketplace. They’ve been trying for weeks with appeal after appeal not being read or the rejections are the same vague form letter that doesn’t tell them what they are missing…if they are actually missing anything at all.
Getting reinstated by Seller Performance is highly subjective. The same appeal can be rejected by one agent and accepted by the next, so it is hard to know what to do when we get the template rejection. Add to that the fact that Amazon sometimes takes weeks to even respond…I understand the sellers’ motivations. This is something Amazon can control and fix.
In a recent case, for example, the complaint was restricted products. What we found out later was that Amazon also wanted us to address “expired.” There was nothing in the performance notification to indicate that this was the case.
When we are working with our clients, we often see other possible issues in their accounts and help them clean up everything on their account, so they don’t get suspended in the future. Past experience has shown us, however, that when we bring these other things to Amazon’s attention, our appeals are longer and less likely to be read. We’ve been told that Amazon only wants to see the POA for the current suspension. That’s why we didn’t add expired to the original appeal. It’s a classic lose-lose scenario. If Amazon is going to hold us accountable for violations of its TOS, we need to know exactly what that means to Amazon. It’s only fair.
Give Us a Level Playing Field
What level playing field means to me is:
- Bad actors don’t get away with it. These guys are criminals.
- An official “exceptions” channel where someone will actually read the appeal or “report a violation” notice and do something about it.
- Amazon communicates better with its sellers about what it wants from them.
- More advance warnings for regular, non-safety, non-criminal TOS issues.
- Greater responsiveness. Amazon used to promise turnaround of appeals in 48 hours.
- The same rules and support applied to all sellers. No favoritism for those with SAMs.
- Brand registered brands have priority over their own listings.
- A seat at the table.
Amazon’s clear favoritism to the mainland Chinese and lack of action against bad actors is enormously frustrating to the entire community. And nothing says “we don’t care” more than not listening to us.
One of my industry colleagues posted a Change.org petition that got a lot of buzz on Facebook and with the media. Amazon’s PR team reached out to him and helped his clients. It was like a miracle! He now has legitimate inside contacts to help his clients. They are listening to him. We are thrilled for those sellers who got help, but what about all the other deserving sellers who can’t get Amazon’s attention?
Jeff Bezos doesn’t work anymore for appeals. Seller Performance is broken. Amazon is insisting that sellers not send emails to internal Amazon email addresses. The social media team won’t forward seller appeals anymore. What’s left? We pay Amazon $1600+ a month for the privilege of getting an answer?
We’d really like a clear escalation path – a team designed to handle the exceptions.
A seat at the table means a way for sellers to communicate with Amazon about broader issues that impact the community. It would be helpful to have a regular forum where seller representatives could sit and talk to people on Amazon’s seller relations teams about what the seller pain points are and be heard. A real discussion with action behind it, not an email sent to Seller Support.
We could type up the notes and share them with the entire community so they would know Amazon is listening. Sellers could submit issues that would be consolidated and presented about any aspect of selling on Amazon. I talk a lot about reinstatement and compliance because that’s my thing, but other sellers may be more concerned about issues they are having with FBA or selling into a new amazon marketplace or Project Zero.
And there’s a benefit to Amazon with this approach, too. A huge majority of your employees have no idea what it is like to be a seller on the platform. Even if they are sellers, they are in a privileged position because they are Amazonians. They can send an internal email to get things done or make a phone call. They don’t need a SAM. Getting regular insights from typical sellers could help Amazon be more strategic and less reactive when creating new seller programs or enforcements.
I know that Amazon brings in groups of sellers from time to time, but that is not the same as having a seat at the table where sellers can contribute to positive changes on the platform. We don’t want to be part of a focus group. I’m talking about a partnership. What do you think? Is there something that you’d add? What do you think is on Amazon’s wish list when it comes to sellers? We’ll be talking about wish lists in our Facebook group: Amazon Seller Advocates. Please join us.
Other Amazon News
- Amazon will now be reporting counterfeiters to law enforcement – terrifying news from CNBC since Amazon believes that if a brand accuses you of counterfeit, it’s true. If you can’t get reinstated from a bogus counterfeit charge, you may face criminal charges.
- Some recent Amazon employee purges are becoming public. Amazon, as usual, minimizes the extent and type of data that was “leaked” to bad hat sellers. It is my opinion that it wasn’t leaked, it was paid for. They only talk about what they can’t hide – consumer emails and phone numbers – and nothing else. Still, it’s progress that they are rooting out internal corruption.
- Amazon is launching a luxury fashion brands-dedicated platform. I assume they won’t allow 3P sellers. We’ll see how this shakes out.
- Amazon is part of a federal pilot program to stop dangerous and illicit imports that are shipped in small, low-value packages. This is a direct aim against overseas 3P sellers.
- Publishers are in the fight of their lives which explains why so many sellers are being taken down for counterfeit/inauthentic and are facing lawsuits from the publishers. They are taking anti-trust action in the US and EU. Sellers can expect to see more problems, not less, selling media on the platform in 2020.
- You might be buying trash on Amazon – literally – Great, cringeworthy WSJ story on dumpster divers selling on the platform in case you missed it.
- Amazon’s new rating system causes rise in reviews – Now the bad actors don’t even have to leave a review, they can just mark something 5-stars and move on.
- NYT story on how Amazon squeezes 3P sellers – no news to any of us, but some interesting nuggets.
Upcoming speaking engagements and conferences for Cynthia Stine include:
Event: ECF Live 2020
Date: Sun 2 February 2020 7:00PM to Wed 5 February 2020 10:00PM
Venue: The St. Anthony Hotel – San Antonio, 78205
Website: Ecommerce Fuel
Event: UnConference 2020
Date: February 27 to March 01, 2020
Location: Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, 14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, Orlando, Florida
Event: PROSPER Show 2020
Session Title: Seller Performance / Product Compliance Panel – What are the Latest Amazon Enforcement Issues We All Need to Understand
Session Date/Time: March 24, 2020 / 4:00PM
Venue: Las Vegas at the Westgate Hotel
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