Five Questions and Answers to Help Global Amazon Sellers Overcome Universal Obstacles
This blog post was originally contributed by Chris McCabe, a former Amazonian and an Amazon Seller Consultant at ecommerceChris.com.
As Amazon regulations become increasingly plentiful and restrictive, many sellers have begun to feel that ever more of their business is at risk. It doesn’t take much to end up on the wrong side of a buyer-said/seller-said or seller-said/other-seller-said complaint and to then find your account restricted in some way by Amazon. Over time, international sellers have seen by Amazon’s example that the marketplace represents a big opportunity, but there are some unseen barriers to entry. Prior to launching products, sellers are tasked with mastery of all selling rules. Listing mistakes or general errors, however small or quickly corrected, are no longer tolerated. Sellers making any such mistakes can expect suspensions in place of warnings from now on.
While speaking at recent conferences and hosting Amazon seller events, I’ve spent a lot of time meeting business owners in the US, Australia, and Germany. Globally, seller perspective on the marketplace (and its regulations) remains both familiar and frustrating. They face unclear messaging based on vaguely or poorly identified account problems. In place of specifics, many find themselves guessing about the nature of the infractions or from where they originate. It’s troubling that so many sellers struggle to understand why Amazon chose to communicate as it does. Do many sellers really need to defend against countless infringement claims aimed at removing them from listings or banishing them from the site? Must they contend with single or infrequent buyer complaints when their performance on an ASIN (or overall) is impeccable? Sellers worry that their hard work won’t be taken seriously and their questions to me reflect this unease and concern.
Many Sellers Fear Suspension Due to Amazon’s Ever-Changing Rules
The overwhelming message I’m hearing from sellers everywhere is one of fear, resulting from confusion over quickly changing rules. Rules are meant to clarify and protect all parties, not to instill uncertainty and trepidation while creating more questions than they answer. It seems absurd that experienced sellers find themselves asking questions such as “Why does Amazon suspend an account due to bank account or credit card updates?” and “Why is it so difficult and time-consuming to confirm that I’m really me?”.
Five Questions and Answers to Help Global Amazon Sellers Overcome Universal Obstacles
Question 1: Why would Amazon suspend me over a single complaint when I’ve executed thousands of orders for this product without any problems?
Answer: Amazon uses algorithms to chart your item quality complaints and to queue up manual investigations and warnings, but they must act on anecdotal complaints as well. Investigators send warnings to sellers without using consistent or reliable processes to vet complaints. It’s become increasingly clear that this will continue until Amazon recognizes that individual or small numbers of complaints should be weighed against overall account health and general buyer satisfaction.
It would also help if investigators paid mind to the current trend of sellers buying from their competitors in an attempt to report a violation and gain an edge.
When Amazon messages a seller to say an investigation did not show evidence of “anti-competitive behavior” does it mean they really looked? Do the tools show ample confirmation or denial of this, or are there ways around that for dedicated troublemakers? We’ve all heard the black-hat stories and we know how competitive the marketplace can get. Gaps and loopholes exist and those willing to cheat the system will exploit weaknesses wherever present.
I’ve told sellers to maintain vigilance on competitor behavior and to compile as much evidence as possible before even thinking about filing complaints of sabotage. Communicate the information concisely and properly, too. And when it comes to defending against anecdotal complaints, make sure you don’t focus on your metrics or a lack of visible complaints from buyers. Take it upon yourself to present real solutions and due-diligence measures that eliminate even the potential for problems. That will make your life a lot easier and get you reinstated faster.
Question 2: Why doesn’t Amazon tell you anything useful about the complaints themselves?
Answer: Amazon won’t give you specifics about item quality complaints or “inauthentic” claims that come in against you. Some of that is by design. Clearly, they intentionally leave out certain details because they do not want to serve up your appeal on a platter. They use this method to prompt you to do some digging and to deliver the best improvement plan possible. Hopefully, you give them one you’ve already set into motion.
Amazon does not give specific order numbers or buyer complaint comments because they need to protect that buyer’s privacy and prevent you from identifying and contacting them to complain or seek retribution. At the same time, they ask you to search through return reasons, claims, negative feedback, buyer comments to you, reviews or anything else you might find in order to examine the complaint causes. Needless to say, this is time-consuming and sends a mixed message.
Armed with few details about the complaint against you, you are now charged with composing a complete plan to provide solutions. In Amazon’s view, a generic plan will not suffice. Amazon then repeatedly requests more information from you while offering little to guide you about the complaint itself. You respond by replying with as much information as you can find while the days pass with no sales. Remember, quality communication with Amazon teams is vital. Understand what is being asked of you and conduct proper research into the causes of the complaint. Then, and only then, can you launch into a proper creation plan that will satisfy them. Anything less, results in those automated-sounding “we need more information” replies.
Question 3: I keep calling Seller Support and opening cases. Why don’t they help me get my account or listings back or provide actual support?
Answer: Simply put, Amazon adds language “If you want to talk to someone about this message…” to the end of their notifications more in an attempt to show some interest in sellers and less out of a desire to resolve anything with you during a phone call. Seller Support provides general guidance and occasional technical support as needed, mostly to troubleshoot glitches or problems of a how-to nature. They’ve begun providing some limited answers on topics such as “How do I write a Plan of Action?” but nothing even close to offering strong enough ideas that will catch an investigator’s limited attention during the review process.
My advice here remains the same: remember, Seller Support cannot help you resolve account restrictions or suspended listings. They can provide a voice on a phone and bits of general advice to someone in your situation, but when it comes to successful reinstatement, you’ll need to accomplish that in writing with a solid appeal. Anything else wastes your time and spins your wheels, going nowhere. If you want to feel better temporarily, then Seller support is a good choice. If you want to get reinstated and get back to selling, then target the teams that took the action against the account, my former performance and policy teams.
Question 4: How do I get faster replies from Seller Performance or Product Quality? Why do they copy and paste the same response over and over, no matter what I send?
Answer: Rest assured, everyone feels this pain globally and it can be hard to tell anyone seller exactly what he or she could do to circumvent the ongoing nightmare around delayed responses. Usually, I assess each situation individually and provide follow-up or even escalation advice depending on the history. Sometimes, you may need only send a single gentle nudge email asking for an update on their appeal review. Other times, you may need to change your strategy if faced with a general denial or the same unhelpful “more info” request several times in a row. Amazon won’t spend much time modifying the messaging or clarifying things in followups. You’ll be the one who must decide which path to take and if you have a true escalation need, but before you escalate make sure you have a great plan of action. Otherwise, your words will fall on deaf ears.
Are they doing the usual quick read-and-reply with no actual review of the information? That technique helps them push emails out of the queues faster since it’s now widely known that it takes days or weeks for them to catch up. A non-decision and fast reply also minimize the risk that they might make an investigation error. No seller can afford to wait a week for a reply and then get an answer showing little or no appreciation for the content contained therein. Sellers need answers, and if they have to provide further details, now is preferable to 10 days from now. That delay costs money and it limits the products and selection open to Amazon buyers in the meantime, hurting the buyer experience Amazon is so keen to protect.
Rather than wait with no clear idea if you’re closer to resolution, try different email queues to escalate and emphasize that all requested information has already been provided (as long as it has been). Do you need to email Scott Kubicki’s team before submitting an escalation to Jeff? Have you done one or the other of those already and need to know what steps to take next? Ask someone who understands how escalations work, preferably someone who handled them on the inside. Given that an escalation may be your last real chance, handle it wisely.
Question 5: Is it harder to sell in the US than in other marketplaces?
Answer: German and EU sellers have expressed curiosity about selling more in the US and they often ask me about what they can expect. While sellers take shots at each other globally using various tools and anti-competitive tactics, I’ve seen it happening the most in the US. Is that because I handle mostly US clients? Not at all, I have clients all over the world now. We help sellers in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, China, Germany, and all over the EU. Many of our clients sell in as many places as they can find buyers. Yet it’s in the US where Amazon accounts see the most friction and turmoil from clogged email queues, reports of abuse, buyer accounts meant for abuse complaints that are tied to seller accounts, etc. Everyone selling in the US needs to monitor their account constantly, remaining vigilant for any possible signs of bad behavior.
After listening to my dissection of frequent-and-disturbing seller tactics employed to take out competitors, internationally-based sellers may have to think about how much of that they want in their lives. There may be cultural differences at work as well since US sellers have shown more willingness to do anything in their power to push someone out of their way even for a small increase in sales. Not every business culture or marketplace seller will reach that far for a few extra bits of revenue.
Beyond disruptive US seller marketplace behavior, European sellers must understand profit margins and price competition before they enter into Amazon.com sales. The comments I’ve heard most about US sales during my several days in Germany suggested costs and prices did not allow many of them to compete. Will Amazon offer new incentives to EU sellers to assist them in the pursuit of cost-effective business in the US? Time will tell. Otherwise, do the math and see where potential profits lay before taking a giant plunge. It’s always best to build gradually.
In the meantime, I’m working hard to advocate for improved enforcement on Amazon’s end so that abuse-prevention teams stay on the ball and take appropriate action where necessary. If we don’t keep them honest and focused, who will? Don’t panic, remain vigilant, and always stay on your toes. You never know where the next performance notification may come from.
About the Author
Chris McCabe worked for years on Amazon performance-and-policy enforcement teams as well as Bezos escalations. He now uses his knowledge and experience to help sellers think like Amazon and protect their businesses. Get Your Listings Back!
Claim your sneak peak of a former Amazonian’s proven method for crafting successful Amazon appeals. It’s Chris himself giving you his insider secrets on communicating with Amazon.
Jessica Wright is the in-house "Amazon Genius" for the Seller Labs Managed Services team. Her focus is working with our team members and clients to educate and answer tough Amazon questions in areas outside of PPC advertising. With 15 years of manufacturing and eCommerce experience on both the brand and agency sides of the business, Jessica is knowledgeable in all things Amazon and is constantly seeking out the latest updates to help Seller Labs clients stay ahead.