Amazon Suspensions for Code of Conduct Violations: 5 Things to Check Right Now
Code of Conduct Suspensions are not like other suspensions, and should be treated (and avoided) as such. Most suspension types offer an appeals process where reinstatement is likely with a well-written, detailed POA. We estimate that fewer than 10% of all Code of Conduct suspensions get reinstated. So the odds of getting back for “bad faith” behavior that leads to a code of conduct review and account suspension are considerably worse than most cases.
Review your compliance now to make sure you’re never in that position.
You cannot treat Amazon buyers the same way you would a visitor to your own website. If you attempt to evade Amazon policies or game a system that impacts buyers OR sellers on Amazon, then you’re considered untrustworthy as a marketplace player.
Comb through all of your communications with buyers, sellers, and with Amazon, to make sure there’s nothing they could consider outside the lines. Amazon doesn’t want to waste time dealing with “behavioral” investigations any more than you want to be reprimanded or suspended, so stay within the rules when it comes to communication strategies.
Make sure you’re not committing any violations that could result in the below notification hitting your inbox.
Your account has been closed due to violations of our Seller Policies and Seller Code of Conduct. I have provided our Seller Code of Conduct below for reference:
Seller code of conduct:
Amazon enables you to reach hundreds of millions of customers. We strive to ensure a fair and trustworthy buyer and seller experience. At Amazon, we expect you to adhere to the code of conduct principles outlined below. Violation of the code of conduct principles may result in the loss of your selling privileges and removal from Amazon Marketplace.
Seller Code of Conduct Principles:
- Adhere to all applicable laws and abide by all Amazon policies.
- Maintain current account information.
- Never misrepresent yourself.
- Always act in a manner that ensures a trustworthy experience for Amazon customers.
- Never list products that may cause harm to Amazon customers.
- Never engage in any misleading, inappropriate or offensive behavior. This applies to all your activities, including but not limited to:
- Information provided on your account
- Information provided in listings, content or images
- Communication between you and Amazon or you and our customers
- Act fairly at all times. Unfair behavior includes but is not limited to the following:
- Behavior that could be deemed as manipulation or “gaming” of any part of the buying or selling experience.
- Actions that could be perceived as manipulating customer reviews, including by directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content.
- Activities that could be perceived as attempting to manipulate Amazon’s search results or sales rankings.
- Actions that intentionally damage another seller, their listings or their ratings.
Take it from a former Amazonian who enforced these policies, this list has grown a lot longer in the past year or so. Based on current trends, that list of violations will lengthen again soon. Why is Amazon so aggressive? If they think you’re willing to flaunt the rules, they won’t trust you with their customers.
Check yourself now, before you get a Code of Conduct suspension
If you do get the dreaded email, you’d likely start with one question: where did this come from? Most suspended sellers receive this message and then say, OK Amazon, which of these am I guilty of? And that’s the point, they want you to tell them which ones apply. Were you manipulating sales rank or abusing product review policies? They want details on that without being asked to give you any.
Amazon expects you to examine the list and determine on your own what you did wrong, based on your own knowledge of Amazon’s policies.
Sellers that appeal asking what they did wrong or asking for Amazon’s details only see swift denials in response.
I recommend that you focus on these five main points, to ensure you’re keeping track of how to manage your Amazon marketplace communications and observance of key policies that Amazon regulates.
1. Messaging or manipulation that could present a danger to an Amazon buyer’s experience.
Interactions with buyers that push them in the direction of a good review and away from a bad one (and towards contacting you, instead) are fair game for an account suspension.
Reviews abuse prevention is one of Amazon’s main policy enforcement targets, if only because the public is beginning to catch up with the fact that many reviews on Amazon aren’t accurate or real.
Amazon stings from negative press coverage on this topic and will continue to suspend the sellers that can be easily tracked down for any possible violation of these policies. If you’re reimbursing buyers in exchange for positive reviews or offering huge discounts that lead to clusters of good reviews then you will be suspended.
If investigators see evidence you’re encouraging reviews only for favorable buyer experiences, they take action per their Standard Operating Procedures.
Make sure your messaging to buyers are compliant and don’t tell your buyers to contact you when they have problems with an order or product, but to help you out by leaving a review if they don’t.
Although nitpicky, that’s now considered review manipulation. In fact, any means of guiding a buyer in the direction of a positive review potentially gets flagged. Leave out talk about how much you need their help because you’re a “small, family-owned business” and that you won’t survive without reviews like theirs.
Or you’ll donate money to help dying puppies for every review. To Amazon, that is likely to result in a positive. This isn’t about asking for positives or 5-star reviews explicitly anymore, it’s all in the language used, and how it’s used.
2. Rights ownership issues. Be Careful with those Cease and Desists!
Are you using Amazon Notice teams to allege rights ownership infringements that are invalid or cannot be proven conclusively when disputed?
Sellers sometimes get suspended for knowingly (or not) submitting fake infringement or counterfeit claims when they have no evidence to prove that the items are counterfeit. Posts on the forums or in various groups suggest that the best way to get a “hijacker” off your listing is to report them for a fake products or IP violations, but these allegations need to be substantiated.
Also, I have seen a lot of past use of “materially different item” claims somehow turn into allegations of counterfeit, without prior certainty that such claims will hold up legally if challenged. Amazon doesn’t want to take action on unsubstantiated claims, it can increase their degree of liability in the end.
If you overreach and try to use a legal defense without enough solid ground to stand on, you’re the one who takes the fall, not your attorney. You’ll still want to get test buy evidence to Amazon and have a photo and written text descriptions in hand to back up your claims.
Consider that a fake claim and a detail page mismatch may not be the same thing, according to Amazon policy teams.
I’ll be covering this in a Part Two article given the enormous amount of content to address, but the short version is this: make sure you can substantiate allegations made to Amazon against other sellers, of any nature. Consider carefully your word choices and degree of aggression when sending these out to other sellers
Rights ownership protection is crucial to the integrity and safety of the marketplace for brands, but it must be pursued in a compliant (and legal) fashion.
As always, seek out reliable and trustworthy legal expertise when you research your options. Given my familiarity with the topic, I’m always available to refer sellers and brands to consistently successful IP attorneys and legal resources.
Amazon’s Code of Conduct vaguely phrases what may be regarded as threatening or harassing behavior, “Communication between you and Amazon or you and our customers” and “Actions that intentionally damage another seller,” because Amazon reserves the right to interpret these rules as they see fit.
Don’t put yourself at the mercy of their decision by leaving yourself open to the accusation. Expect competitors to report you if you give them the opportunity.
3. Buying from competitors for the purpose of leaving fake reviews, safety complaints, or bad feedback.
Amazon has finally started to address the kinds of anti-competitive practices, by bad faith sellers and 3rd party hired guns, plaguing the marketplace. They can’t afford to ignore the bad behavior being used to gain a competitive advantage unless they want many more emails about it.
What kinds of things are they looking for?
Amazon understands that certain groups of black hat services lead to fake reviews, fake feedback, or complaints to Customer Service, from buyers that claim safety risks, hazards, injuries, or sickness.
Beyond that, some sellers are using basic programs to trigger algorithms with use of the keywords “fake” and “counterfeit” as often as possible. If you’re using a service to try to get your rival knocked off, think about this. A lot.
A) Will the company you hire leave breadcrumbs for Amazon investigators to track? If so, will the tactics lead to a familiar fake reviews/ fake attack model they’ve observed and documented previously?
I know tactics move and change over time, but if they can tie you to a known service or method, it certainly won’t look good. The same applies for leaving yourself positive reviews, i.e. letting a service use their buyer accounts to pad your positive reviews.
If the wording stays the same and all patterns indicate manipulation, you’re going to face scrutiny for trying to cut to the front of the line.
B) Do your competitors have a better knowledge of Amazon internal teams than you do? Do they know where and how to contact abuse prevention teams?
If they have their own account manager or their own contacts within performance and other teams, you have a worthy adversary who reports you.
C) If you use these measures to attack a competitor, then let’s forget about Amazon for a second. Do you know they won’t be able to retaliate in kind and damage you more than you could hurt them? Think about this before you join the race to the bottom.
Keep in mind, buying from a competitor to report their counterfeit version of your product is one thing, and that can be proven fairly easily in a test buy. Buying from them for black hat purposes, whether or not you’re the one making the buy, is exactly the kind of bad conduct that this policy seeks to eliminate.
4. Manipulating documents or forging letters from suppliers and manufacturers.
The language associated with suspending an account for forged or manipulated documents mirrors the Code of Conduct messaging, but it’s not an exact match.
The general line there about misrepresenting yourself or “Information provided on your account” covers any attempt to mislead Amazon teams by editing or altering documentation regarding when you bought products and from where. Even worse, falsifying safety documentation can prove to Amazon that you cannot be trusted with their buyers.
It goes without saying that your willingness to fake documentation signifies your disinterest in reputable, honest or even legal selling on Amazon. I don’t take on any cases where sellers admit they have faked documents, due to the likelihood that Amazon won’t allow them back on.
I do, however, successfully help sellers appeal when they have done no such “invoice fabrication” and have been wrongfully accused. All cases presented with conclusive proof to Seller Performance teams should resolve positively.
One case involved a seller who erred and sent in the wrong invoice, not a forged one. We managed to get that allegation removed, and they’re actively selling now.
Amazon is not interested in hosting the sales of fraudulent parties. Editing (or Photoshopping) content on an invoice or making up supplier letters constitutes fraud out in the real world and a violation of the seller Code of Conduct on Amazon.
There’s no clear way to get reinstated once you’re caught doing this, so make sure you never do it, to begin with. This kind of manipulation is another “one and done” suspension type.
5. Creating multiple accounts or evading policies around multiple account approval.
As many sellers have experienced in the last couple of months, Amazon sends warnings for multiple accounts less frequently now. What they do instead is suspend the account until you can explain why you evaded their multiple account policies.
Amazon has zero remaining tolerance for sellers misunderstanding these rules. They believe these are 100% clear. To be fully compliant with Amazon’s multiple account policies, sellers must contact Seller Performance in advance and ask for permission to operate a second account.
Conditions and criteria for a seller’s need to have a second account have to be met and substantiated to Seller Performance before they can approve it.
Seller Performance retains all decision-making power, and the final word. If you attempt to interpret this policy as you see fit for your own benefit, investigators will suspend first, and ask for your explanation later. Then, they’ll decide if they consider your appeal acceptable.
As you might expect, my advice to anyone who has been suspended for abusing any of the above rules is to come clean and demonstrate new processes around how you’ll avoid such policy violations in the future.
If you intend to keep breaking rules in the same way once you’re reinstated, expect to be shut down swiftly. This is not a second, third, and fourth chance suspension type. Amazon has no interest in sellers who engage in bad faith business and they won’t trust you with their customers.
If you’re still actively selling and committing any of these violations and want to avoid an account suspension, then read the Code of Conduct policy over again thoroughly.
Devise a solid plan to stay compliant. If you’re doing any forbidden behaviors, then knock it off! You’re risking your Amazon business and potentially your entire financial livelihood.
Chris McCabe is an ex-Amazon employee turned suspension consultant. See how Chris helps Amazon sellers by clicking here.
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- Coping with Suspensions by Amazon Notice Infringement Teams - April 7, 2020