There are those among us who were very difficult children to raise. If mom and dad said “no,” you wanted it fiercely bad. In this case, Amazon is dad with all its restricted categories where we just KNOW we could make a fortune if we could sell in there. We love our dad but inside our seller chests our heart says “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!!”
For all of you who know this stubborn passion, this blog post is for you. If you don’t understand that reference, you are young my friend and should rent Dirty Dancing immediately.
Recently, the fun folks at ScannerMonkey hosted a live spreecast about how to get approval in the restricted categories. I took notes.
Cordelia Blake and I collaborated on this post and she graciously made the hour-long spreecast available for free to everyone – even if you are not a ScannerMonkey member. Normally, spreecasts are only free during the live broadcasts and you have to be a member to go through the archives – so check it out! It is at the end of this post.
Basically, Amazon restricts categories in order to ensure the customer experience is excellent. In categories like apparel, there are a lot more things to consider like size, color and return policies that are not as relevant or difficult for an appliance or a book. In order to make sure that you will treat its customers as well as Amazon would, big daddy makes you jump through some hoops. These hoops include a questionnaire. Often you also have to provide pictures and a flat file. In some categories like food or health & beauty, you now need invoices. Lastly, you need a track record with Amazon. Unless you are the manufacturer of this gated item, they want to see that you are a good seller first.
All of this paperwork and fiddly rules are quite do-able they just take some work and attention on your part. In most categories when they ask you for something, you need to provide it within a few days. For this reason, Cordelia recommended that you apply for restricted categories in batches – while you are in the application zone doing your pictures and flat files.
In our notes below you will find details for each of the restricted categories discussed. This chart is also available as a downloadable PDF from my free FBA Library. The PDF has live hyperlinks so you can jump directly to Amazon’s page about that category.
Please note that some of this information may seem contradictory. That is because approvals are done by people. Some Amazon approvers are sticklers for the rules, some are more lenient. To be successful, you need to plan for the sticklers. Cordelia, rebel that she is, didn’t always follow the rules and still got accepted but your experience may not be the same.
Before you dive in, one cautionary note: Don’t be evil! Be sure to use your new freedoms for good and follow the rules. This week, a friend of mine had an FBA seller change the category of some food she was selling from Grocery to Apparel. The guy even had the nerve to put the word “Men’s” in the title. For a kiddie snack! We were both incensed.
This kind of behavior is forbidden by Amazon. She totally ratted him out and Amazon fixed the listing back on the spot. It was such a blatant attempt by the other seller to kick her off the listing I hope he got a spanking. Remember kids, this is not the right way to compete with other sellers. If your product legitimately fits in another category (like costumes which are often found in apparel and toys), then you can make your case for a NEW listing being in a gated category, but probably not for an established listing. See our notes in clothing, below.
Seven Steps Of Approval Success In The Restricted Category
- Be clear about your own motivations and how you plan to use that category. Don’t be evil.
- Set aside some time to do this as it will be a busy week or two of paperwork and phone calls with Amazon.
- Read all the guidelines!
- Follow the rules. Most FBA sellers are approved if they follow the rules.
- Have good seller metrics. It is harder for a brand new seller to get approved because you don’t have good seller metrics yet.
- Be available. Amazon will phone you during more complicated approvals.
- Keep your application simple. Avoid restricted brands even if you have permission from the manufacturer. Get permission in the category first, then provide them proof of your ability to sell that particular brand.
Grocery, Health & Beauty
You need three invoices with very specific information (see online). You also need three separate orders purchased in three separate days and shipped on separate days. If you are ordering online for resale, you must show the packing slip to prove you received the goods as well. Walmart, Walgreens did NOT have all the required info. Drugstore.com had the info needed. There’s an eBate of 4% cash back for drugstore.com. BJ’s Wholesale Club also works. Submit a scanned PDF of your packing slips to Amazon along with online form.
Many sellers want to join because of sports cross-overs like backpacks that are sometimes in sports, sometimes in clothing, sometimes in toys. Costumes are often in clothing, sometimes in toys. Sign up online. They ask if you are the manufacturer. Otherwise they prefer that you buy directly from the manufacturer (fewer problems with counterfeit). Then they ask for the brands, a history of your business and five images that meet Amazon requirements. Make sure they match requirements exactly. These can be of products already for sale on Amazon.
- Photos – Read the style guide before you submit. Angle of clothing and positioning is dictated by Amazon. Ironically, 24 of the pictures they rejected of hers were actually taken from the Amazon catalog! It was a lesson learned. See links to the style guides below.
- Cross-browsing items – They went through her listings and found several cross-browsing items (like a backpack in toys that she wanted to list in clothing) that they rejected.
- Specific rules about parent/child listings – Parent=style, child=colors/sizes. Karin had one hat in three different colors for this requirement.
- Timing – You only have 2 days between steps. When they give you the flat file (spreadsheet) to fill out, you have two days to return it or they will cancel your application. Cordelia got an extension by talking to them.
BISS=Business, Industrial, and Scientific Supplies Your flat file requires five images and 40 items in the flat file. One of the spreecast participants mentioned she is planning to sell those Legos that are in BISS (robotics, etc.).
If you are approved, you automatically can sell shoes and sunglasses. Avoid anything that could be considered luggage. Go very small! A lot of ladies handbags are considered luggage. Caution: beware of restricted brands. No invoices required. Amazon requires at least a minimum of five products with at least one Parent/Child. [Note: Cordelia submitted hers with no Parent/Child and it was accepted].
Very easy. One seller just did totes and got approved easily. Images of handbags that are considered “luggage” can be used too. Check Amazon website to see what category they consider the bag to be. No invoices required. Amazon requires at least a minimum of five products with at least one Parent/Child relationship (which can be a size or size/color variation). [Note: Cordelia submitted hers with no parent/child and it was still accepted.]
All you need is five images. Easy. But Amazon is fussy about the images.
Currently closed for an extensive audit. While we don’t yet know what the requirements will be for new sellers, one seems fairly certain – you have to be authorized by the manufacturer. They are stamping down hard on knock-offs and counterfeiters. It seems unlikely that we will be able to do retail arbitrage for jewelry.
Give examples. State that you are not interested in creating new listings but in accessories, like Chilton manuals. Emphasize your good metrics and seller statistics. If you truly want to create listings and/or sell more extensively in automotive, then you will likely need permission from the manufacturers you want to represent.
Need five images, no flat file. One of the chat room attendees said “Follow the guidelines or you’ll be sending in dildo pictures until the cows some home.” If you want to join these brave sellers in the contest for the most embarrassing shopping basket…this is your category. You should see the pictures they post online!
Collectible Books (Cynthia’s Experience)
Very easy if you are already a bookseller on Amazon.com and have a good history. I filled out an online form and was approved in a day. If you are already a rare book dealer, then it is a snap. Basically, collectible books are first editions, those signed by the author and those extremely rare. They have a different lingo and condition requirements. Collectible book buyers are just as fussy as any Black Label Barbie collector. You’ll want to protect your collectible books in bubble wrap and/or poly bags, describe them in detail (maybe even an added picture) and be patient. I only got into the category because some of the used books I sent in were gated as collectible only. You have to read all the rules and agree to them, basically. I sold a very much used first edition Julia Child cookbook for a fantastic price even though it was in the lowest condition. There’s no accounting for what a collector wants, but be sure to take care of it the best you can.
Miscellaneous Tips And Resources
- When sending in your flat file, it needs to be an Excel file even though they specifically say “tab delimited” in their directions.
- If you are afraid of spreadsheets, get someone to help you so you learn it – you’ll use it a lot with Amazon.
- The items in the flat file do NOT have to be items you have for sale right now. The flat file does NOT create listings for you. This is simply to give Amazon an idea of the types of products you want to sell.
- Get your flat file templates here.
- algopix.com – will tell you the correct UPC code for anything in the Amazon catalog – helpful in doing your flat files.
- You can use your Amazon storefront for wholesalers wanting to see your site and Amazon when it requests to see your storefront. Cordelia has a URL with a permanent redirect to her storefront for use with wholesalers.
- Once you are in the category you can sell anything in the category. You are not required to sell the items you submit.
- Keep your application simple. Avoid restricted brands even if you have permission from the manufacturer. Get permission in the category first, then provide them proof of your ability to sell the product.
- Go to these links for photo style guides:
Don’t let Amazon put you in a corner! You now have the tools to get into many of the restricted categories. Do a sexy dance with your sweetie in the living room!
You’ll notice I didn’t list wine and a few of the more obscure restricted categories. That is largely because they are highly regulated categories. If you are a winery, you are well familiar with these legal restrictions. Most of the rest of us can’t apply.
Still got some questions? ScannerMonkey had some lively discussions HERE and HERE if you are a member. Otherwise, ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!
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Check out Gated Category Approval on Spreecast.