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# 278 – How to Stay Out of Trouble with Amazon in 2021

E-commerce has become extremely lucrative. It can also be confusing. An expert helps us navigate compliance with Amazon’s rules and regulations.
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Helium 10 The Helium 10 Software
42 minutes read

It seems that every other day we hear from someone that has decided to try their hand at selling on Amazon. At the same time, we are reading stories about Amazon sellers that are willing to risk their selling privileges to try to achieve a competitive advantage through practices that have been outlawed by Amazon.

Because of that, Amazon has increasingly instituted measures intended to stop the “black hat” sellers from tipping the e-commerce scales in their favor. What that has done is make the online selling marketplace one in which honest sellers need to be careful where they step.

That’s why, today on the Serious Sellers Podcast, Helium 10’s Director of Training and Chief Evangelist, Bradley Sutton welcomes back an Amazon Seller Consultant and former Amazonian to give us the latest updates you need to be aware of. Chris McCabe is one of the world’s foremost experts on Amazon compliance and suspensions. Through his company, e-commerceChris, he helps sellers to more effectively communicate with Amazon to protect (and save) their businesses.

Want to know what Amazon really cares about, or how to avoid the most preventable compliance mistakes? Chris is here to help!

In episode 278 of the Serious Sellers Podcast, Bradley and Chris discuss:

  • 03:45 – What is Affecting Amazon Sellers in 2021?
  • 05:30 – These Are the Things That Amazon Cares About Right Now
  • 07:15 – Avoiding Preventable Listing Problems
  • 08:45 – Amazon is Cracking Down on the Questionable Practices of Huge Sellers
  • 10:30 – Fake Amazon News is Getting Attention  
  • 12:40 – How are Bad Actors Getting Access to Amazon Listing Backends?
  • 15:30 – It’s Important to Keep Reporting the Abuse
  • 18:00 – Amazon Sellers Need Brand Exclusivity
  • 22:00 – How are ManyChat Flows Getting Flagged by Amazon?
  • 26:00 – Amazon’s Compliance Initiatives   
  • 29:10 – Don’t Panic When There’s Radio Silence from Amazon  
  • 33:30 – Get Help from Pros Before it’s Too Late
  • 35:00 – Navigating Amazon’s Multiple Account Policy
  • 40:35 – How to Reach Out to Chris

Transcript

Bradley Sutton:

Today, we invite back to the show, a former Amazonian who’s one of the foremost experts in the world on Amazon compliance and suspensions. And he’s going to let you guys know lots of things you need to be on guard about to help protect your Amazon accounts. How cool is that? Pretty cool, I think.

Bradley Sutton:

What was your gross sales yesterday last week, last year, more importantly? What are your profits after all your cost of selling on Amazon? Did you pay any storage charges to Amazon? How much did you spend on PPC? Find out these key metrics and more by using the Helium 10 tool Profits. For more information, go to h10.me/profits.

Bradley Sutton:

Hello everybody. And welcome to another episode of the Serious Sellers Podcast by Helium 10. I am your host Bradley Sutton, and this is the show that’s a completely BS-free, unscripted, and unrehearsed organic conversation about serious strategies for serious sellers of any level in the Amazon or Walmart world. And actually, that’s kind of somewhat of a little new intro I do. I’ve been saying that for the last couple of weeks because we were trying to cater a little bit more also to Walmart seller. So actually Chris, I’m going to lead off right with that. I know your expertise is on Amazon. You use to work for Amazon and everything, and about the legal issues that some people might come up with. But I’m just curious, and I’ve never asked you this before, but in the last year and a half in my experience, exponentially more amount of sellers are interested in selling in Walmart. And I’m just curious, like, have you seen anything on your side where all of a sudden now you’re getting requests about, Hey, this happened to be on a Walmart. Do you help with Walmart or you haven’t seen that?

Chris:

I mean, I don’t help people with Walmart accounts. But I have had a couple of requests for– we’re suspended or we have a problem with the listing. More often than not people just ask me if they should start selling more on Walmart and they’d tell me that in the past they tried it, but they had trouble with like the platform or the function will be technical issues or listing problems, things like that.

Bradley Sutton:

Yeah. Well, I’m just going to tell you right now, like my prediction, usually, I don’t like doing those shows where like, Hey, here’s my predictions for 2023 or it’s like complete shots in the dark, right. But I’ll tell you right now like I’m very comfortable to predict that that within a year you’re going to start getting a lot of requests for issues. Like, I don’t think Walmart suspends anybody for anything almost it seems, but I bet you they’re going to change their policies and get more aligned with Amazon. So, you might want to get some ex– well, we call them ex-Amazonians. What do you call an X-Walmart? I don’t even know if there’s a word.

Chris:

Walmartians?

Bradley Sutton:

Walmartians, yeah. You might need to go for your team in X Walmartian. And by the way, guys, if you ever hear that phrase in the future, you just heard it first year created by Chris.

Chris:

You got to footnote me when you use that phrase.

Bradley Sutton:

I love it. I love it. All right. Let’s go back to your bread and butter and always talk about this like the second or third time you’ve been on the podcast and this is always a popular episode because every year there’s something else in the Amazon world that people are either get in trouble about, or they’re having to deal with and they don’t know how to deal with it. So, right off the bat, though, I think the last time you were on the show might have been around June, July of 2020. Let’s just bullet point some of the main new-ish things, or just maybe it’s an old thing that still is very common. Let’s talk about the things that are affecting sellers the most in your world.

Chris:

We’ve seen since last summer, I would say a huge increase in listing take-downs, listing suspensions. For more reasons, listing compliance issues are being enforced more across the board.

Bradley Sutton:

HTML thing, I think I’ve seen, like the Amazon always says something, but then they never actually do anything about like, oh yeah. All caps in your bullets are bad. And like, literally I’ve never seen, I mean, personally, I’ve never seen anybody before, but then I saw some people just a few days ago like they got their listing suppressed because they didn’t take out their HTML right, from the description?

Chris:

Exactly. Well, style guide. I’m glad you brought that up. People putting all caps or I mean, there’s a variety of style guide violations that they would sort of let go in the past, but they don’t let it go as much anymore. Enforcement’s always going to be inconsistent. So, I think the worst thing sellers can do is copy what their neighbor’s doing, assuming that because it’s live on the site. It’s okay. And it’s policy compliant. We’ve been shouting that from the rooftops for years. And I think now finally it’s resonating because people are losing their listings, at least until they make those changes, but they could be losing thousands of dollars in revenue for no reason. I mean, they couldn’t just fix the listing now and avoided that whole headache. But then of course, if you’re doing like supplements, you’re making unsubstantiated health claims, right. Listings are being flagged for all kinds of reasons. So we just, we work on way more ASIN level appeals now than we did, I would say 12 months ago. That’s one big change.

Bradley Sutton:

Okay. Can we talk a little bit about some of those? Like I’ve never– knock on wood. I have not been ASIN levels of spending for anything. So, what are the three most common ASIN level things that people are getting suspended for?

Chris:

It could be listing compliance. We’ll start with that one violations of the style guide. Sometimes people are not putting compatible with in their title. They’re using other terms. So, non-compliant language in titles and in detailed page bullets, sometimes it’s image violations, but it’s just generally not understanding what goes on in detail page and what doesn’t, which if you’re an established brand, or if you’re looking to be an established brand on Amazon, you have to kind of study those listing rules backwards and forwards. I would say before you even get started. Otherwise what happens nowadays is you get warnings, right? Even if your listing doesn’t come down, you get a warning. They say you still have to appeal it, even if it’s not suspended, but they want you to appeal. And your account health takes a hit, right? People are much more conscious now with the visual display of their account being at risk if it’s in that yellow zone. Even if it’s still green, I think people are taking it seriously and worried that they’re going to suddenly be at risk if they get one more warning or one more performance notification that says, Hey, you haven’t listed these right. There’s product detail, page abuse, present here. You’re putting content in the wrong place. If you’re hiring out a company to do this for you, I mean, keep a close eye on what they’re doing and make sure they know what they’re doing, right. Maybe test them first, or have them explain back to you what’s compliant and what isn’t, when it comes to listing product on Amazon, because that’s kind of a silly reason to get flagged I think. If it happens often enough, if it’s chronic enough, people just get suspended, their whole account gets suspended. And that’s like a really kind of crazy reason to get suspended because it’s not as bad really as having buyers complain about item conditioner, item quality, it’s not as bad as a brand saying you stole their design and hitting you with an IP complaint. It’s not as bad as having late shipment metrics that are out of range or any kind of performance problem that leads to an account health call where they say, I mean, these are preventable. So, sometimes I’m surprised I get emails from people saying we got flagged for this. And then I’ll say, well, what is your listing compliance process? And they just say, well, we don’t really have one. We just kind of look at what other sellers do and we copy it.

Bradley Sutton:

Interesting. Okay. Now, let’s get back to some of the common things that people are getting suspended for. But one thing I definitely wanted to talk about, which we haven’t talked at all on the show about– it’s been happening for about three months now, but a lot of people are celebrating the streets as they see Amazon finally cracking down on some of these huge sellers out there who have just been blatant, I guess. People say that they’ve been blatant violators of Amazon terms of service and they are no longer, it seems above the law. Like, I don’t know how much, something like almost a billion dollars worth of annual sales of sellers were removed. But since we’ve never talked about that on the show, can you just give people a summary of what’s happened over the last three, four months? And just maybe, I don’t know if you have any unique insights into it.

Chris:

Yeah, I mean, I would say for three, four years, we’ve been fighting that war reporting abuse to Amazon in the last three or four months, they’ve shown a lot more interest in actually doing something about it. Brand abuse, having your page taken down, that’s totally different from reviews abuse, not totally different, but it’s different from reviews abuse, which is what got those large Chinese accounts suspended.

Bradley Sutton:

What kinds of things were they doing with the reviews that happened?

Chris:

It was the data breach to the hack is the only reason that a lot of their messaging directly through Black hat services or directly with buyers that they paid off to leave five star reviews. That’s the only reason those accounts came to light. And it kind of forced Amazon’s hand because that was a public data breach, right? I mean, I read the safety detectives article first and then a day or two later, it was everywhere. Amazon had absolutely no choice.

Bradley Sutton:

Correct me if I’m wrong. But one of the things that they were doing some of those sellers we’re sending out like a insert cards that says, Hey, we’ll give you a $30 gift certificate if you prove to us, they leave us a positive reviewer or things like that. Right?

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, the review manipulation, product review abuse universe has become one story, which is Amazon has their feet in the fire. The media is all over them. At least in the US, the government’s all over them a little bit in Europe, too, for trying to police reviews, making them accurate on the site, making sure that you don’t have 50% or more fake reviews because that affects consumers. Amazon’s supposed to be all about the best buyer experience, right? You can have the best buyer experience at 40, 50, 60% of the reviews that buyers are looking at aren’t legitimate. And it exposed this side practice by Black hat services and by companies paying them, boosting their reviews, artificially companies that haven’t even been around that long getting 20, 30, 40,000, 5 star reviews. I mean, it was out of control for the last few years, and it was absurd artificially boosting their positive reviews by incentivizing with gift cards, giveaways, rebates a hundred percent, well, that’s a giveaway, I guess, a hundred percent, but just incentivizing reviews that were positive and of course discouraging any negatives.

Bradley Sutton:

Okay. All right. Let’s go back to just the average Joe seller you and the kind of things that they need to be aware of because people are getting slapped on the wrist or even worse. We talked about ASIN level suspensions. What else are you seeing?

Chris:

Well, it’s maybe worth talking about competitor abuse for another moment, because people are getting attacked by competitors who believe they’re going to continue to game the system and that Amazon isn’t going to protect the person that they’re targeting. We’ve gotten a lot better, e-commerce Chris, my company in terms of reporting abuse, the right ways to the right places and making sure that Amazon follows through with action. They don’t always do it right away, but if you start seeing funky stuff on your listings, backend keyword abuse is very popular and kind of a famous way that people get attacked. They don’t realize that somebody overwrites their ASIN contributions and puts in illicit keywords that of course get the bots to flag that listing right away and take it down. Get a category listing report, take a look at that. Look at your flat files, see what people have put in there, because if they put words, like Coronavirus or illegal drug terms or pesticides, sometimes they just put the word pesticide so that they can get the pesticide bots to take your listing down before you even have a chance to figure out what’s going on. So for the regular, everyday average Joe seller, there might be abuses that are extremely common in the black hat world and in the competitor attack world that you’re not familiar with yet, because you haven’t sold enough units of that ASIN to attract competitors who are adept at those types of attacks yet but be ready.

Bradley Sutton:

Are those like people with vendor central accounts? How are they even like getting into other people’s backends and stuff?

Chris:

Overriding their flat files. There are loopholes. I mean, it happens with A-plus content as well. The vendor side was a loophole that was more common last year in the year before. If you’re in brand registry, shouldn’t that mean you have the highest level of control over ASIN contributions? Why in God’s name is somebody who’s not your brand who’s probably a competitor who found a way to attack you. Why are they able to overwrite your ASIN contributions and get your listing suspended? I mean, I would say we’ve done maybe 750 cases like that now in the last year. Why is it even possible? Why can’t you just be the exclusive, highest ASIN contributor and no one else, as long as you’re in brand registry, let’s say, why isn’t that enough to protect you from having somebody overwrite your backend keywords? Somebody must’ve leaked two black hats that that was possible. It’s not the type of loophole that I think people would have just tried everything, experimenting, and just stumbled upon it. I think it came from somebody that knew it was a gap in Amazon’s tools or systems. Unfortunately, it’s still being exploited.

Bradley Sutton:

So, let’s say that that happens. I mean, like let’s say, the Project X, our account, somebody goes in and puts formaldehyde pesticide lover in my backend search terms. And obviously I get suspended. Like what’s the process I can take. I know eventually, like it might get to the point where I might need to hire somebody like you, but I know, I think some of these things, you can actually work out with seller central before it gets to that.

Chris:

Most people try and they can’t get it done because the changes don’t take, or as soon as they fix it, they still don’t get the ASIN reinstated. Like they don’t understand. It’s a multi-part process where they have to work with catalog to get those keywords removed. They don’t always know that they need to a catalog listing report to see what the keywords are so that they can name them and help catalog find them and delete them. We started doing hybrid cases where we would report abuse to the abuse prevention teams who wouldn’t necessarily be the ones to reinstate the listing. So, we’d still do ASIN level appeals, but at the same time, we’d go to abuse teams and say, by the way, we appealed for reinstatement, but we were obviously under attack. There’s a competitor who’s trying to exploit some ASIN contribution loopholes, and we need you to find out who attacked us and take action on them. I recommend that people do both. You kind of a hybrid approach of keep reporting the abuse, because in case they do take action against your attacker, maybe that dissuades them or discourages them from attacking you a second time. Otherwise they keep coming back, right. They see that you get it fixed. They see the ASINs back up. What do they do? They hit you with a fake copyright complaint. You come back with a DMCA counter notice you fix that. Maybe not right away, but you eventually do. They come back with something else. You have to push your attackers back because a lot of savvy abuse, abuse educated brands, or attackers understand how to hit you about seven or eight different ways. That’s the bad news. The good news is Amazon is 10 times more intelligent now about understanding what’s happening to you. Nowadays, they know what’s happening. They know that your competitor is attacking you. They messed with your ASIN contributions and they understand better how to help you fix it quicker.

Bradley Sutton:

Okay. All right. Is there any other proactive things, like what’s a checklist of stuff that even if you don’t think guys that you’re in a super competitive nation, by the way that that’s a strategy in itself like Kevin King’s talked about for a long time, and I have that? We really haven’t had, in our Amazon businesses have never had to deal with this kind of thing, because we kind of like to fly under the radar. We don’t go for these niches where all the top players are like 500 units a day selling or a thousand units a day instead of 500 units a day out of one ASIN, I’m going to do 50 units a day or something out of 10. And then usually these black hat sellers are not paying attention to, to the lower volume, but let’s just say, regardless of the situation, like, what are the steps I can do?

Chris:

I have a suggestion. I think any brand out there now should be asking whoever you know at Amazon, you should be talking to your account manager. If you have one, you should be talking to the category manager. If you’re a big player in that category. And you’ve got a relationship with the category managers or really others as well. I mean, maybe you’re connected with managers or VPs on my former teams and the seller performance, the marketplace enforcement world, whoever you’ve met, asked them about brand exclusivity and there’s different terms for it. Some people call it priority. I’ve heard it’s a tool or a program, something you can’t necessarily apply for it, but it’s a way of protecting you so that you don’t have to worry about loading, sinking up to Amazon’s API and loading your flat files every few hours or every 20 minutes. That’s what people are doing right now, as ridiculous as it sounds, they’re overwriting their own stuff to make sure that no one’s jumping in and messing with their flat files or their–

Bradley Sutton:

Interesting.

Chris:

Yeah, that’s the only suggestion I have right now is the constant maintenance approach, but brand exclusivity. That’s the term that I heard from an Amazonian. Of course, nobody tells you how you can get it, but that’s what you need because brand registry isn’t enough. Brand registry is a nice start and you can’t really exist as a brand in any functional way on Amazon without brand registry, because then you just get hijacked all day and people control your images and your detailed page bullets and so forth. So, a brand registry is like very, very low level. I mean, Amazon has to get people into a program where essentially it’s like listing gating, right? Maybe they don’t get the listing from other sellers, but they certainly gate the listing from anybody else, changing images, keywords, bullets, people are hiring us who say, all of our images are changed. All of our bullets are changed or the page is just gone, right? Some people just say my ASIN was manually yanked. I have no idea why they said there were too many changes to our page and they didn’t make the changes. Somebody else did, right. It’s like Amazon struggling to control their own catalog. I know that sounds alarming. And it kind of is, but you can kind of keep pressuring them to fix things when they break. And if you keep coming back with not only did I need this, ASIN reinstated, I’m under attack. What are your teams doing to protect me from attacks from other brands? Or maybe it’s a service or another party out there has a bullseye on my back simply because I’m successfully selling this product.

Chris:

Like you said, you’re not in necessarily categories that are the hot ones, right. Where people are trying to pull thousands of units a day. That’s one approach, but some people are already in a category up to their eyeballs and they can’t change gears so quickly. So they just have to get ready to scratch and claw and fight a little bit, not just clawing back their competitors who are messing with them, but push Amazon to do a little bit more for you. Sometimes Amazon won’t– the squeaky wheel gets the grease. They won’t listen to you unless you make a little noise, right. In the sense when people hire us to do escalations for them, this is part of what they need us for. How do I make noise the right way versus the wrong way, writing endless emails to Jeff at Amazon, or whatever kind of random stuff is on Facebook groups and on the forums. Yeah, of course. That’s the wrong kind of noise. Of course, you’re wasting your time. There’s a smart, effective way, which is presenting factual information, giving them bulleted lists of how many times you were attacked. Try to give the date and time that you were attacked. If we can narrow it down to the time that’s even better.

Bradley Sutton:

All right, ASIN level suspensions, we’ve got suspensions that come up from people hijacking the back ends of your listing and putting in some crazy keywords. What else are you seeing out there?

Chris:

The account level stuff in terms of reviews abuse suspensions, when people tell me they’re still using pet packaging inserts, I just say, look, take a screenshot and show it to me. And I’ll tell you quickly if it’s good or bad or what. All it takes is a competitor to buy from you and report you for an insert that breaks the rules or a many chat sequence that breaks the rules or any kind of sales funnel, really that makes it look–

Bradley Sutton:

Not all inserts are obvious for me personally, what I tell people like say, I’m like, Hey, no, there’s nothing wrong necessarily with insert cards, but it’s just that the majority of people are using it to incentivize reviews that Amazon absolutely hates, or trying to promote something else that Amazon doesn’t want you to do. And yeah, you’re right. Amazon has been known to just go in and after reports, they’ll go in and they’ve got all your inventory there in FBA, because it takes them to open up your box and see that you’re offering something for review, but what is the things that people are getting in trouble for when they leverage Many Chat?

Chris:

It’s techniques that are a couple of years old, and they’re just there. They’re listening to people that haven’t adapted, having caught up with the times. You’re not supposed to say, if you love the product, leave me a review. If you have a problem with the product, here’s our customer service channel. You can’t do that. That’s the messaging to get the people in trouble. And a lot of us know this, I realized, but I still hear from people I’m still shocked kind of every week where I look at the inserts that I’m like, this is crazy. Of course, you got caught or ManyChats sequence. Nowadays, they’re looking at any sort of artificial boost of traffic or sales, rank manipulation, because you’ve got friendly buyer accounts buying from you, or you’ve got some sort of discount deal or giveaway deal. And even if you’re not asking for reviews, you’re still getting a bunch of positive reviews because you’ve given the product away. A lot of people think they’re okay and they’re safe if they just don’t ask for a review. It actually doesn’t matter anymore from Amazon’s perspective. If you’re netting, hundreds or thousands of five-star reviews, even though you don’t ask for one, but you’re giving product away that breaks the rule that gets you suspended. And then there’s also still people trickling in, I mean, not so many anymore, but well, I only asked for an honest review, or I only asked for an unbiased review. I mean, these are 2018, 2019 concepts that have no place in the 2021 world.

Bradley Sutton:

Yeah, absolutely.

Chris:

I think they’re just walking all marketing videos. I’m not sure what they’re doing.

Bradley Sutton:

Old YouTube videos, right.

Chris:

Old YouTube videos.

Bradley Sutton:

All right. So, speak along those lines. I think that there’s just stuff that’s absolutely blatant, like, yeah, duh, you can’t offer a gift card for a review or, or, you know, there’s just stuff that I think anybody understands that these are against the rules. But for me, one of the hardest ones sometimes to predict are in just the, like people who still use automated emails, which I personally do, obviously, Helium 10 has that. And I haven’t run into issues because I’m very, very careful with what I say, but it’s funny. Like sometimes people are like, Hey, I got the 30 day ban from sending message proactive messages or whatever it’s called. And then I look at them, they’re like, I there’s a hundred percent, I didn’t say anything wrong. And I look, and it’s like something as subtle as the opening of their email says, Hey, we hope you had a great experience. And then they go on, we’re dedicated to customer service or whatever. And at the end, it’s like, please leave an honest review, but what’s happening in my opinion, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but they look at that opening sentence of, we hope you had a great experience. And then they’re asking for the review, it’s kind of like an Amazon’s eyes. It’s like, you’re telling them to leave a review, but only if they have– even though you’re not really blatantly saying that like something that small Amazon is choosing to ban you. So, a lot of sellers are just like, you know what? I’m just going to use the Amazon request review button and not send customer review.

Chris:

I agree with you. And I guess some sellers don’t understand that they’re interpreting the policy in a favorable way for what their own strategy is. They don’t understand all the heat that Amazon is under on this topic. They would much rather suspend thousands of accounts and show the world. Look, we take this seriously. We just suspended 7,500 sellers. They’d much rather do that than let it slide and have tons of public criticism. And the other thing is a lot of sellers who are considered re-offenders are having a terrible time appealing for reinstatement. Because Amazon says, we didn’t believe that you implemented your first plan of action. We gave you a second chance. You were on your second chance. You’re asking for a third chance for the same offense. I’m hearing from people are not getting back up. So, that’s something to consider, like, if you’re already on your second chance you got to fly, right. And keep it clean.

Bradley Sutton:

There’s been some things I don’t know too much about, but I’ve just seen in social media, like people saying they’re getting a lot more messaging about, like upcoming compliance changes, like, especially in the health and household, like if people are doing supplements, they’ll get these emails. And like, Hey, as of this day, you’re going to need to do this, or this might happen. Can you educate us a little bit about what you see going on as far as that goes?

Chris:

Yeah. For, September 1, the product liability insurance deadline. So, a lot of people grappling with that right now, because a lot of sellers don’t have product liability insurance. They’re going to need it very quickly. And product compliance documentation in terms of testing, certified by labs, testing done by labs that are certified ISO certified, a lot of sellers in earlier 2021 and 2020 didn’t have that. And Amazon started pressing them for that. S,o some people had to scramble. I mean, I would just make sure you’ve got your documentation together, no matter what it is, even if you’ve got a private label brand and you’re being accused of fake or counterfeit product, make sure your invoices are legible and complete and together, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Even if you think you won’t need things like that, or you think you won’t need to provide a link to your manufacturer’s website or your supplier’s website, you always need those things. Now, if you’ve got one thing that’s not there, your appeal can be brilliantly written and perfect. If they don’t like your supply chain documentation, you could easily get declined on appeal. And that’s one of the scary things kind of heading into Q4 as we see so many denials of appeals.

Bradley Sutton:

Okay. What’s your predictions, as far as this– after September 1st, like, I didn’t get my insurance, do you think they’re going to be like, just all of a sudden temporarily suspending everybody, or it’s going to be like a gradual thing if they just happen to check your account, or what’s the severity of that?

Chris:

Last year’s product compliance initiatives, especially like you said, for the supplements, they seem to do it all at once. It wasn’t so gradual. I mean, usually, they give you like six weeks, eight weeks. This is kind of September 1st is sort of an abrupt deadline for August of 2021. But I don’t know, last year they did a lot of account suspensions that I didn’t expect in Q4. Usually, Q4 is kind of light in terms of enforcement, for obvious reasons. It’s the peak. They suspend a lot of accounts for relations. You probably remember that last year, for relations to previously closed accounts. Now they seem to be focused on compliance and shutting down listings, quicker, making you document, whatever compliance procedures they want you to have in place. Anything that’s safety related. They seem to want proof of that before they let you back on. So, they might make certain people wait to get reinstated. And it’s not just about writing a plan of action. So, I would be as prepared as possible for that. I mean, I know a couple of insurance companies are in this game. Some of them used to offer suspension insurance, but they don’t anymore, but they do offer product liability insurance. So, there are people out there that can probably get you started.

Bradley Sutton:

Good to know. Good to know. What else you got on your agenda today to talk about that you want to make sure everybody out there is aware of?

Chris:

And I want people not to panic. I know that my former teams, the performance evaluation policy enforcement guys, I know they’re not responding. They’re taking forever to answer. Sometimes they don’t answer it all. Don’t panic. When there’s silence, it may mean something is actually being reviewed and it’s just taking a little longer, or you could be denied and declined. And they’re just not messaging you and telling you I’ve been encouraging people to follow up with the account health teams and account health reps to find out, Hey, has it been denied? What are the denial notes? What’s annotated on my account? And I completely understand some people say, well, some of the reps say, we can’t tell you what’s annotated on your account. Great. That’s fine. We get it. You can paraphrase it. But tell me, has it been reviewed? Has it been denied? Give me something I can use to revise my appeal if it’s been rejected so I can send in something stronger, better, more solid. And if they don’t know, or if they’re scrambling and putting you on hold and they say, well, I’m going to go talk to solid performance and come back, stay, keep the pressure on, stay on them, make sure they give you data, factual information, not conjecture like, oh, I looked at your POA and I think your appeal needs this, this or this. Make sure that’s not based on their opinion because a lot of them are poorly trained or aren’t looking at real data when they’re giving you that opinion. They’re just kind of thinking back to a call they had earlier in the day or something. I’m not sure what, but the account health reps are extremely inconsistent. So, stay on them for factual info. If they can’t give it to you, you know, hang up and try somebody else. Or you can always write a new appeal and escalate it and say, look, I tried to figure out why you guys are denying me on appeal. I called account health and I’ve appealed a couple of times, all I’m getting is can generic messaging back or I’m getting silenced. And really mid-level management or even VP level Amazonians who understand how much, how many appeals are being ignored, and how much silence sellers are hearing should take that seriously and should start auditing the quality of the work of their direct reports, because I don’t think that’s happening enough and maybe it’s not even happening at all right now.

Bradley Sutton:

Okay. Good to know. Good to know. I said I don’t like predictions. What do you think, have you– but sometimes when we talk about the compliance world with Amazon, sometimes things just come completely out of the blue obviously, but there are some things where you can almost predict because there’s steps that are being taken and signs and media reports, and things like that, where you can be like, you know what, there’s this big expose on fake reviews, I can pretty much guarantee that Amazon is about to crack down or something and sure enough, it happens. Are there any signs that you’re seeing about something that might lead you to believe that there might be a crackdown on something, or a shift in policy, et cetera?

Chris:

Shift in policy? I mean, I think they are going to have to take more measures and devote more resources to preventing abuse.

Bradley Sutton:

Going back to what you do, you know, like, especially you’re kind of sometimes a last resort for people who are suspended or trying to get reinstated or something like that. As we’ve talked about today, the reasons that people are getting suspended or account put on hold or whatever. Sometimes, that differs and that changes year over year. But I’m just curious, is your success rate now any different than one year ago than two years ago? Like on average, you’re successful most of the time, or do you see Amazon pushing back more or what?

Chris:

You wouldn’t be bringing somebody like me in unless we had high nineties percent success rates across the board, obviously, there’s higher or lower success rates, depending on what you’re suspended for how many times I don’t do a lot of apples and oranges comparisons, but a lot of people appeal it themselves numerous times. And then they come to us expecting us to rescue them. Your odds are my odds of helping you, let’s say. I’ll put it on me and not you, my odds of helping you after you’ve appealed 10 times. And you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve been final worded, rejected, whatever. My odds of helping you are drastically reduced. I’m at the point now where I’m starting to tell people, like, I don’t think I can help you, and maybe I’m not the right fit or the right consultant. If you’re looking for me to give you a pie in the sky assessment, I can’t. You’ve appealed it too many times. I don’t know why they’ve done it so many times when they’ve failed so many times that better to hand it off after two failures than six, but maybe some people just think this is my baby. This is my business. I’m holding on pretty tight for a good reason, and I can’t let it go. But that’s the real problem now. I’m hearing from more people that are beyond help. Our success rate depends on what they’ve done and how much mess or damage they’ve created before they get to us. But in most cases, yes, we are able to successfully reinstate people. There are code of conduct suspensions that are– you’ve been a bad player. You’ve been attacking your competitors. You’ve been doing bad things. You’ve been filing false IP claims against competitors. You’ve been abusing reviews. If you’re caught for re-offending, let me put it that way. If you’re caught a second time and you’ve re-offended, don’t expect to be in the game anymore. And don’t expect that somebody like me, even with dozen years of experience with this stuff that I can come in and rescue you.

Bradley Sutton:

Yeah, yeah. Okay. Now, that just reminded me of a couple of other things I was going to ask you, but for example, there’s been, I still been telling people, you need to go get approval. It’s safest to get approval to have like another account. So, there was people a while back saying, oh no, no, no, Amazon changes policies. And don’t even need to ask them, just sign yourself up, for five different accounts, easy to on the same computer, this and that. But I swear, I’ve still heard people still getting messages from Amazon. No, you can’t have. This is a related account or something like that, or what’s your experience with that?

Chris:

Yeah, it’s tough to answer that briefly. The devil’s in the details. Usually, they come to me and they’re like, I don’t know what this account is. I called account health and they mentioned a name of something I’ve never heard of it before, but if they do a little research, do some digging, they find a former employee who had an account that suspended and they were using the same laptop to sign in or something like that. They find a family member that they’ve forgot had an account. So, sometimes it’s like closer than they think, and they do a little research and they figure it out. Sometimes they haven’t really discussed best practices with the service provider and their service provider was kind of signing into everything under the sun using the same address like an address relation is actually considered a strong relation in Amazon’s tools. Even if it’s incidental, like, you’re using like a warehouse, you sharing a warehouse for returns or something. I saw that happen. I don’t know, maybe 75 times last year. The address was considered strong, not weak, and it’s not the same as just having a lone IP hit or a data point, like a single data point that connects you to another business.

Chris:

Amazon isn’t supposed to suspend for related for like a lone IP hit. That is a coincidence that happens to link you to one other business one other account. They’re looking at addresses names, shared financial information. Yeah. I mean, people who are not understanding those concepts and what Amazon’s tools actually measure are still getting into trouble for that sort of thing. Multiple accounts is different. Multiple accounts, you are left on your own to decide if you’re breaking that policy or not. It’s similar to kind of like drop shipping. You don’t get prior approval for drop shipping. They just post a policy and you’re either following it or you’re not. Multiple accounts, yeah. Obviously the basic stuff, different tax ID, different EIN, different LLC. But you have to make sure that you’re not creating a competitive advantage when you create that second account. You’re not selling the same stuff on a second account. You jumping on the same listings. I mean, that’s really what that’s about the multiple account policies there to prevent competitive advantage.

Bradley Sutton:

Now, back in the day, I remember how it used to be where if you got suspended or a policy violation or something, and you’d have to do an appeal like a lot of times you’re a thousand percent sure that nothing– you didn’t do what they say or they might’ve made a mistake. But in my experience, the only way to be considered for reinstatement is you have to say that you did, even though you’re like are positive, you didn’t do it. You have to like almost come up with a story back in the day to like say, oh yeah, I did do this. And this is why it led to this. Is that still the case now? Or like, even if you don’t know what you did, do you have to basically admit it or what’s going on?

Chris:

I was never a believer in that. I was never an advocate of admit to something you didn’t do. I’ve seen people admit to selling counterfeit when they hadn’t. I’ve seen people admit to competitive abuse when they didn’t do it. Nope. You can appeal things as an error. I understand most sellers that appeal it as an arrogant rejected. If it’s really a false positive, I mean, some people are just taken down by automation, by a bot. You don’t cop to something just because you think it’s going to get you reinstated faster. I understand when you’re suspended and you’re not selling anything and it’s November, you’re desperate. You’re willing to say almost anything. But we’re not believers in Amazon’s twisting your arm and forcing you to admit to something you didn’t do. There are sellers who contact us who say, well, we never did this. And then we have a conversation and we find out, well, they weren’t quite following the policy and they did do what they were suspended for. So that’s my caveat answer. But for anyone who truly hasn’t done anything, even remotely around what they’ve been accused of doing. We do not recommend that you cop to it. I’ve had some sellers accused of reviews abuse, their competitor created an entirely new Facebook page in their name, create an entirely new website in their name, tried to fake that that seller was offering like a hundred bucks for a five star, whatever it was some ridiculous thing. They hadn’t done any of it. And so I said, no, you’re not going to admit that you created that Facebook page. Some black hat did that. We’re going to go to abuse prevention teams and say, there’s no history. We didn’t do any of this. There’s a history here of a competitor attacking this brand, these ASINs left right and center. That’s when you can get a little pushy and forceful in ways where you can back up. I mean, if there’s a history of abuse, especially you can point to that and say, look, this is just another competitor abusive attack. At this point, those teams are well aware that this is going on and it shouldn’t fall on deaf ears. If it does, you should go to a different team and complain that you’re not being taken seriously.

Bradley Sutton:

Yeah. Okay. Well, let’s knock on wood and hope that people do not need your services, but if, unfortunately, they do, how can they find you on the interwebs out there?

Chris:

Right. So, my site’s e-commerce Chris. I also want to mention the seller velocity conference that we’re doing here in Boston on the 23rd of September. It’s an all day event, wide variety of speakers, not necessarily the average everyday speakers you see at Amazon events. It’s a brand conference. So, hopefully you don’t need me for a suspension service. But we do have the conference here in Boston and it’s a great place to hopefully come in person. There’s also virtual tickets, but sellervelocityconference.com is one place where we’re trying to give people resources so that they can meet experts. I’m not an expert in everything, by the way. I’m not the one-stop shopping agency where I know everything. There’s lots of stuff I don’t know, plenty of humility here. If they are suspended, if they lose their top selling ASIN, e-commerce Chris, and my email is [email protected] So Q4, I am very easy to find.

Bradley Sutton:

Cool. All right, Chris, thank you so much for joining us, and let’s catch up again next year in 2022 and see what new things that people are getting in trouble.

Chris:

Oh, and I have a discount code for your listeners too.

Bradley Sutton:

Oh yeah. Well, what is that?

Chris:

Sorry. For the conference, heliumrocks. All one word, rocks.

Bradley Sutton:

I like it. Heliumrocks. All right, thanks a lot, Chris. And we’ll see you next year.

Chris:

Thanks a lot.


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