#151 – How to Keep Your Amazon Listing from Being Suspended – Insights from a Risk Assessment Specialist
Updated on: October 6, 2020
There’s probably nothing that’s as frightening to an Amazon seller as the thought of suspension. When it happens, the first thought is often, “What was Amazon thinking?”
Today on the Serious Sellers Podcast, Helium 10’s Director of Training and Chief Brand Evangelist, Bradley Sutton welcomes a former Amazonian who because of his prior work with Amazon, has an inside track on the way that Amazon, “thinks.”
Chris McCabe worked for Amazon’s Performance and Policy Enforcement Team and now is on the other side of the table. He founded a company to help Amazon sellers evaluate their cases, and if necessary, compose the appeals. Chris offers sellers a clearer picture of what they can expect and how to move forward. He also knows what the guys on the other side of the table are thinking; after all he’s been there.
Who doesn’t want a peak behind the curtain?
In episode 151 of the Serious Sellers Podcast, Bradley and Chris discuss:
- 01:30 – Keeping Amazon Happy
- 04:15 – What to Do with Troublesome Buyers
- 06:10 – The Only Former Amazonian Who’s Been on Both sides
- 09:00 – Does Being Nice Really Work?
- 11:15 – Avoiding “Work-Arounds”
- 14:00 – What’s the “Fair Pricing Policy?”
- 16:30 – The Top Three Reasons Your Amazon Listing Might Get Suspended
- 19:20 – Product Inserts are Low Hanging Fruit for Enforcement
- 22:50 – Your Entire Sales Funnel Might Be Monitored
- 24:40 – Amazon Now Wants More Details
- 28:00 – Prepopulated Five Star Reviews are No-Bueno
- 30:30 – Surviving 30-Day Messaging Suspensions
- 31:50 – Correctly Creating ASIN Variations
- 34:30 – You Need to Supply Amazon with the “Root” Cause
- 37:00 – Protecting Your OWN Listings from Bad-Actors
- 40:10 – No Need to Contact “Jeff”
- 40:50 – How to Contact Chris
Enjoy this episode? Be sure to check out our previous episodes for even more content to propel you to Amazon FBA Seller success! And don’t forget to “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you listen to our podcast.
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Bradley Sutton: This Amazon risk assessment expert has been on both sides of the contest, having worked for Amazon and policy enforcement, and now helping sellers stay on the right side of Amazon rules and regulations. How cool is that? Pretty cool, I think.
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 e-commerce world. And something that is very serious that every seller should definitely know about is the kind of things that are getting other sellers in trouble, the kind of things that could get you in trouble, the kind of things you need to avoid. We brought in none other than Chris McCabe back with us after a little over a year to talk about that. Now, Chris, right off the bat, something newer I’m doing on my podcast is I want to start off with a bang. Right off the bat, if it takes you one minute, it takes you two minutes, whatever this is, don’t be confused with our 30 second thing that we do at the end, but what is the number one piece of strategy or warning or whatever that you have for our sellers today?
Chris McCabe: Appealing and account suspension is more nightmarish now than at any other time that I’ve seen. Make sure you do everything you possibly can to avoid being suspended. It’s fixable. If you’re suspended in a lot of cases, the details matter, but long story short, Amazon’s making life very difficult for anyone who does get suspended, who doesn’t give them exactly what they’re looking for exactly the way they want. It submitted even down to the point of where they want it submitted. attention to detail, but even beyond that attention to holistic strategy, let’s call it or attention to where things are submitted to what people you’re submitting them. Do not expect to dash something off, put it in front of an Amazon rep or even get on the phone with an account health services rep and expect to be home free at that point, have a strategy that’s well thought out before you can begin.
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. And you know what, let’s dig into that a little bit. I actually have something that came up for me this weekend. I used to run a wholesale account that I would have for cashflow purposes. And when I started working at Helium 10, I kind of just turned it over to my family to run. And there is a wholesale product on there that got suspended this weekend. What it was it was like some kind of supplement. And I guess for whatever reason, I think that the customers is BS…ing, but they had made a complaint that it didn’t have the seal on it. Amazon suspended just that ASIN and said to make a plan of action.. I was like, let me just throw something together. I haven’t seen this new appeal form where it actually had like little categories where I could put what caused the problem.
Chris McCabe: Like a survey.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. It’s like a survey thing. I just, I just was pretty straight to the point. I was like, okay, Hey, I learned long ago that even if you didn’t make a mistake, you still just kind of admit it because Amazon, so that’s what they want to hear. I said, Hey I really think that the customer might have gotten confused on this, but it could be that there was a unit that didn’t have a seal, not all units have seals, so I could see how this could cause some customer confusion. our SLPs now here, aren’t going to be changed so that every single one that we ship out, we only ship out the ones that have, it can be verified that it has a full seal so that no customer will complain about this.
Bradley Sutton: And yeah, what I did to fix this one problem, (I’m just saying what I said in the survey) was that a customer who complained about this, we provided a replacement model. And I was like, okay, I answered their questions and they denied it now it’s not a big deal. I haven’t really even taken a time to redo it. But yeah, well, what did I do wrong in there? And what should I have done? Because now they’re asking for all a bunch more information, like kinds of voices and things like that. I’m like, Oh my God, this is just a simple SKU here, but what should I have done from the first and what could I do right now? Yeah.
Chris McCabe: Those safety surveys are a little bit different. They were the last couple of years, they were taking people’s listings down, suspending them in, forcing everyone to submit a full plan of action on those.
Chris McCabe: But then they got to the point where there were so many, they were erring on the side of caution with so many safety complaints that they had to create a different, somewhat unique process. And that’s where that survey fill out thing came from, that you did. And a lot of sellers fill those out and they can’t get the listing back up. Not every time as you saw your plan of action. I mean, I guess one recommendation is you can send it to me and put it in front of me and I’ll take a look at it. If they want a full blown POA, then it has to have certain things in it. You don’t have to admit to things that aren’t true, but it is true that you could have sent an item that had a broken seal.
Chris McCabe: I mean, even if it’s just damaged in transit or an outlier, an edge case, a one off product that didn’t have the seal. I mean, it is possible. it’s not about admitting that you’re guilty to something that never happened. It’s about considering the possibilities of what might have happened. And it sounds like you did somewhat addressed that by saying the buyer might have misunderstood whether or not the, the seal belonged there. I mean, sometimes buyers complain, Hey, the item wasn’t sealed and it’s an item that’s not supposed to be sealed. Right. There’s that type of thing too. But they want to, they want a plan of action from you to get the listing reinstated. And even if you don’t plan to sell that item again, and I would say this to anybody, you want to keep clean and keep your account health up to snuff, then appeal everything. I mean, you can always decide later if you don’t want to sell the item, but getting the listing reinstated just to keep your account health clear.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Makes sense. All right. Real quick. I didn’t mention this at the beginning. And I’m just assuming that everybody heard your original episode where we went into your backstory, but for all the new listeners that we have, why should we be listening to Chris McCabe? What’s your unique background that actually not a lot of people can boast of.
Chris McCabe: Yeah. I mean the only former Amazonian who’s been on both sides of the equation in terms of having worked on those teams and seller performance, as they’re commonly known at Amazon performance evaluation, policy enforcement, obviously account suspensions and account reinstatements. While I was at Amazon, I would read POAs decided if it was acceptable or not reinstate accounts or push them back and you need that kind of internal team knowledge to understand strategy. As I mentioned at the beginning and also how to escalate things, if they get stuck, which these days they get, I would say, you’d have to escalate more often than you don’t because of the way things get stuck in the pipeline and the performance cues. Um, and we’ve been doing this for five and a half, six years. This is my sixth year now. I’ve been consulting at this point. I’ve been consulting almost as long as I was at Amazon.
Bradley Sutton: Wow. You would actually be one of the ones to read some of these POAs?
Chris McCabe: Yes. Decide what was missing, decide what to send back. I mean, these days it’s all slapped together so quickly. I mean, we had to worry about our metrics and our investigation numbers per hour, or but not nothing like today where they’re really just skimming taking a quick look at it, grabbing a message and automated type message to send back to you. It looks like it’s automated, but it is chosen by a human. It just doesn’t feel that way because Amazon is trying to standardize their communication with sellers to the point that almost nothing’s unique and almost nothing’s customized at this point. And of course that means there communication has less value to you than it could or should.
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. Now. Yeah. Let me just ask you a quick question. Since you were one of the ones reading some of these things now, something I’ve been teaching lately and in blogs and just in general on social media, right. Especially since I have more insights since I’ve been in charge of the customer success department here at Helium 10 for a while. And, and then I can see when there are bent out of shape customers who start yelling at the employee or cussing them out and stuff, as opposed to the ones who are like super polite to me, my philosophy always has been, and I know it’s so hard when we’re on the customer side. If we feel that that’s somebody being unfair to us, we lash out to them.
Bradley Sutton: Now me personally, what I do in, whenever I message Amazon customer support, it doesn’t have to be the suspension department or whatever. But yeah, even if it’s an absolute asinine thing that Amazon has done and I’m super, super incensed, I’m just kind of like overly nice. And I’m like, Oh, like lately I’ve been to, I appreciate your hard work that you’re doing during COVID-19. And I really appreciate this. And just for me, it might be in my head. Well, for me, like I seem to have better success with getting my things handled when I just come across as polite and super nice. Yeah. As opposed to me, like, just rightfully you know, because I’m maybe I’m right. Like ripping them a new one. Well, what about you personally, when you were an Amazon, was there any difference or did you treat everything the same? Like regardless of somebody’s cussing you out, why did you freaking suspend me? You idiot Amazon or somebody who’s like, Oh, I’m so sorry about this. What do you think?
Chris McCabe: Uh, I would say it depended on the individual investigator looking at the account or the appeal, but in my particular case, I would say if somebody was upset, but they had a legitimate reason to be upset, then I wouldn’t necessarily discount their appealer or hold that against them. I’m not sure if that’s everyone’s initial reaction, but if I think you had the right or it made sense that you were that upset because an investigator before me made a mistake, then I would empathize with that.
Chris McCabe: Now these days they don’t have much time. They don’t have a lot of bandwidth. Everyone’s kind of pressed in terms of the stress of the job and the amount of time they have on an appeal. it’s a bad move on your side to waste space and waste the occasion venting. If they think you’re venting, they’re going to throw it away. They’re not going to sit there thinking about whether or not you have the right, or if your venting is justified, there’s no time for that. There’s no bandwidth for it. if you feel better venting, and this is a therapeutic exercise, go ahead and vent, but don’t expect there to be a positive result. I mean, you’re what you’re getting out of that is you got to vent in an email or in a phone call.
Chris McCabe: If you’re on a call with account health services, you’re probably going to vent there because that’s an example of a team that’s extremely inefficient, lots of incompetence and extremely difficult to communicate with. And in writing of course, seller performance would be the best example of a team that you’re writing to, but don’t expect to get the desired result from doing that.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. All right. Good to know. Let’s talk about some things. I mean, the first quarter, now into Q2, one of the top things that’s on everybody’s minds is, the different things that have changed because of COVID-19 or coronavirus. And let’s talk just briefly about the kind of ban is it, or is it that Amazon now doesn’t want anybody selling new hand, sanitizers are new and 95 masks are, they like suspending ASINs who try and do that, or what’s going on with that?
Chris McCabe: They’re suspending people who try to create work arounds. Yeah. There are people who try to tuck those types of items into other categories and they don’t like the evasion style techniques. Don’t create your own work around. Amazon’s got a program for applying to sell to hospitals and healthcare centers and so forth. I mean, there are, if you have those kinds of products, there is a means of at least applying. Yeah. Now a lot of sellers have told me that they never heard back. I’m sure they’re waiting in a queue. I mean, when it comes to COVID related items, most of the suspension like accounts suspension cases I’ve seen are related to the fair pricing policy and sellers, not first of all, not understanding what the fair pricing policy is, but also not all not understanding what price gouging is in terms of the law, whether it’s in their home state or in other States.
Chris McCabe: That’s the pricing policy is something you need to think about anytime you’re selling essential items or COVID related items, that should be your first concern, availability, whether or not they want you to sell it on Amazon versus Walmart or some other site. You have to think in terms of how discombobulated FBA is right now you might ship something in, it might not be processed right away. It might not be available for sale right away. There’s a lot of confusion and chaos in the fulfillment centers. that’s a secondary consideration, but first year considered considering your account health. And if you sell risky items like that, and you haven’t sold anything like it in the past, you’ve only sold electronics or used books or textbooks or whatever. And all of a sudden you’re selling a bunch of face masks or those types of products, whether you think they’re borderline or not, you can expect more scrutiny from the policy enforcement guys.
Bradley Sutton: Now would that just get your ASINs suspended or possibly your whole account suspended?
Chris McCabe: Well we’ve seen all outcomes really. We’ve seen some people who just have their funds held for a really long time and they struggled to get their money from the sales of those ASINs. Some people have suddenly, okay, huge spikes in sales, but it’s all from COVID related items. And they never had spikes like that. all of a sudden they get messages from Amazon saying, well, you need way more feedback for these, for your sales of these items to support the, the amount of orders you’ve had. Otherwise we can’t disperse funds, or we have to shut your, your account while we review it temporarily. Some people just have those particular ASINs that are suspended until you can show that you’ve got legitimate supply chain documentation, and a legitimate sourcing of the items from a supplier they can verify. we’ve seen pretty much every version of that. Some people have just suspended outright until they can demonstrate that they’ve got the products that they’re listing and trying to sell that are COVID.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. You mentioned a little bit ago when you were talking about this or answering this about the fair pricing policy. Can you go over that? It’s just a little bit, I’m sure there’s a lot of our listeners who don’t know what that is or how it’s enforced.
Chris McCabe: Yeah. Be very careful how you price any essential items across the board or COVID related items, if you are. Yeah. Remotely unsure what the fair pricing policy is, how, how to apply it. Even if you sold these types of items in the past, whether it’s grocery, or like I said, face masks or hand sanitizer gloves, whatever. Don’t just assume that because you see people live on the site, selling certain things that you can do exactly what they’re doing exactly the way they’re doing it. And it won’t come back to haunt you in a particular way. I mean, it’s not just about your shipping costs. It’s not just about the cost of the item. Does MSR RP come into play for some of the products that you’re selling? Yeah, of course. I mean, you want to see what those types of items are selling for, for that exact item in one ASIN, as an example is selling for on Walmart or eBay or online, elsewhere off Amazon.
Chris McCabe: I mean, these things all get factored in, but consider the amount of markup you’re doing to the percentage of markup. I’m still seeing people suspended who are marking things up 80%, a hundred percent ridiculously inflated percentages were, I mean, most of the states where I’ve seen the price gouging laws, they seem to draw the line at having a 10% markup. I mean, that seems to be ballpark, but they’re using, sometimes it’s 50 15%, but you have to research this stuff. I mean, at least start with your home state where your business is based and where your seller central account address is. Whichever state that is learn what the price gouging laws are. The last thing you need is for. The attorney general of the state that your business is based in sending a letter to Amazon saying, okay, who were the price gougers in our state? We want to send letters to all of them, because as we’ve seen with comparable past instances, Amazon will just hand the information over. I mean, if they think you’re price gouging, or if the state is asking for this, they’re just going to hand it over. before you make a move, understand where you’re prices fall in. I mean, I can’t say this item yet $13.99, you’re safe. And this item $16.99, it doesn’t work that way. You have to be constantly monitoring price levels. Okay,
Bradley Sutton: Good to know. Now, obviously this might be a reason that people are getting suspended, but. Where does this rank among other reasons, or just in general, what’s the top three things like let’s say here in 2020 that you have seen as reason of suspension in your experience?
Chris McCabe: Yeah. this would definitely be in that list of top three and it’s not going anywhere. Usually it’s a seasonal thing. Like the hurricanes people who were selling bottled water way too high would get suspended in August, September. This is becoming a normal thing, like a regular commonplace, okay. Price, policy, adjustment that we expect to be semi-permanent. this isn’t something that’s just going to come and go in a month. The second is we’ve seen a lot of people getting busted for the nature of their product inserts. For years, people thought that they could put whatever they wanted into an insert, as long as it didn’t say leave me a five star review. Okay. They thought they were being crafty with how they were getting reviews by not asking for a five star. But a lot of the inserts we’ve seen that got people suspended weren’t really that aggressive, but they did ask for review and they were still doing it in a way and using an insert in it, promotional marketing way that Amazon didn’t like.
Chris McCabe: We see a lot of people suspended for inserts now that we’re not getting suspended as often, the last time that you, you and I spoke.. And chat bots too. The ManyChat, the sales funnels that we’ve seen a lot, the messaging on Facebook Messenger style back and forth. You know, if you give me an answer like this, I respond back, Hey, we’ll refund you. Hey, we’ll give you some better customer service. Oh, you’re happy with everything. Here’s the link to leave a review for me, people are still using those sequences. I’m not sure why, I guess they were not really cracking down on those for a long time, but whether it’s the inserts or the chat bots, Amazon’s definitely 10 times more interested in that than they were in suspending people for that than they were this time last year. I can kind of go into a bit more detail on that if you want.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. Let’s take this one at a time.
Chris McCabe: Yeah. I have a third. I can throw out real, real quick if you want. Yeah. Listing compliance, ASINs and variations abuse. ASIN merges to try to harvest reviews from other unrelated listings or products, actually, any kind of listing compliance, whether it’s detailed page manipulation, duplicate listings, that would be my third, most common suspension type for 2020. They seem to really come out of the gate in January thinking we’re going to suspend anybody that doesn’t, it’s either looking to intentionally manipulate. Listing rules or even unintentionally abusing policies like ASIN and variations simply because they don’t know any better. Those would be my top three for this year.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Now let’s, let’s go one by one. Let’s start with the first one on the inserts. yeah. first of all, how has Amazon even finding out about this? Or is it only when somebody complains or they’re opening boxes to take a look or what’s going on there?
Chris McCabe: It doesn’t take them much to open a box and take a look. Typically buyers or competitors or whoever, actually, it doesn’t matter who it is. If it’s a valid complaint, it’s a valid complaint. They send a picture, they send an email into the abuse cues. Actually there’s any number of ways you can report it now. But the point is they get it into policy, team hands, and they highlight the fact that the insert is noncompliant. It’s a soliciting review in and not doing it. I’m doing it in a leading manner, encouraging positives and discouraging negatives, and or simply highlighting that they can get. You can get a free bottle or free box of something at the seller’s website basic mistakes like that. All it takes is one report or two reports of that for somebody to size you up for an account suspension.
Chris McCabe: And most of the sellers I’ve spoken to just tell me, like, everybody’s doing it, or I’ve been doing this for a long time. Nobody ever sent me a warning. It turns out when I work with some of these people on their appeals, they were warned for it and they just didn’t take it seriously. Or they’ve been suspended for this before. And they didn’t take it seriously. I mean, I understand everybody needs reviews to survive and get eyes on their products. I totally get that. But we’re living in a world where you can just be ratted out by a buyer or a competitor very easily who shows off that insert in a quick smartphone photo. doesn’t seem like a viable strategy to me if that’s the case.
Bradley Sutton: Then the main thing for product inserts is number one trying to manipulate the review process, obviously, which is kind of a universal thing with Amazon that they’re sensitive about. But yeah, but also just in general, sending people to get something free, even if it has nothing to do with reviews, like have you ever seen somebody suspended for just having an insert that that brings somebody to a sales funnel or to somebody’s website?
Chris McCabe: I’ve seen a lot of people suspended for having language on their website that included links to Amazon reviews pages after offering a free bottle. For sure. And also just giveaways. If you have giveaways that result in a spike of five star reviews, I mean, if you give something away and it results in a positive review, that’s breaking the rules. Even if you don’t ask for it necessarily, that’s what people are missing. You’re not going to get a lot of negative reviews by giving things away. Amazon knows that that buyer is predisposed to leaving you a nicer review if they got it for free and they don’t want people heavily discounting product or giving it away and soliciting reviews through buyer seller messaging. I mean, we’ve all known that for a while, but clearly they’re willing to go deeper. They’re willing to go into many chat sequences.
Chris McCabe: They’re willing to look at websites. I mean, they were not doing that nearly as often, 12 months ago. And now it seems like they’re willing to look everywhere or sellers are just getting better and more sophisticated at how they report you. if you’re doing something, if you’re a competitor of mine, but you’re doing something outside the rules and I go through your whole sales funnel and I block it out one step at a time, and then I present that in a quick one, pager to Amazon, it’s not going to take a policy team investigator long to agree with me that you’re doing something outside of the rules. You’re giving things away. You’re getting chunks of reviews that are positive, maybe on a particular day for a particular week. They can look for those data clusters and, and find those chunks of positives. And they’ll agree with me that you’re breaking the rules and there’ll be that much more willing to suspend you.
Bradley Sutton: Have you heard specifically that Amazon is saying we have gone into your many chat flow as a test? Like that just seems like next level of Amazon is doing that now. Like, or are we just assuming that that’s the only way they could have known about?
Chris McCabe: No, I mean, sometimes I’m, I’m working with a seller and I go through every possible thing they might be doing. And that’s the only thing that could be abrasive by Amazon standards. And so I kind of by process of elimination, deduce it, but other times we’re getting messaging back again, whether I’m sitting in on account health services calls with people or emailing escalation queues directly and so forth. We’re getting information back. Yeah. This is what you were doing. You’re manipulating reviews because you’re dissuading in as many ways as you can find anyone who’s unhappy with your product or anyone who hasn’t been incentivized by something else, you’re just waiting them from a review until you do give them something or you do make sure and confirm that they’re going to leave you a four or five, four and a half or five star review. And that’s creating the imbalance and the review system and undermining everyone’s feeling that you, these are legitimate product reviews. There are people who think it’s 12 to 30% of reviews aren’t reliable, or aren’t genuine on the site. And that’s not something Amazon wants the public to believe.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. then in those situations, does a seller admit that they were doing that and plead ignorance that I didn’t know. And then Amazon says, okay as long as you don’t do it again, you’re unsuspended.
Chris McCabe: Well, no, I mean, you need a good plan of action that has the three core pieces that they’re looking for. The root causes, the initial steps to resolve past policy violations is the second part. Third part is convince us, you’ve prevented this from happening again in the future. A lot of people don’t understand that a plan of action has to be credible. It has to be convincing. It’s not just, they often ask for details, give us more details. We want more specifics, but they don’t just want random specifics, like promises without how you’re going to execute it. It has to be believable. It has to be credible. If they think you’re grabbing copying and pasting from a template or something. Well, you’re telling them that you’re not credible. You’re telling them that it’s not believable because you haven’t put any work into it.
Chris McCabe: You haven’t given them any. If you’re not even going to take the time to give them unique custom content, why should they take you seriously? Why should they even read it? When it comes to reviews, abuse, they’re worried that they can’t trust their buyers. They can’t trust you around their buyers. part of the POA for this particular kind of suspension is demonstrating to them and proving to them that you can’t, they can trust you around their buyers. being forthright about what you were doing in the past is the first step to convincing them that you’re ready to be open and honest about that.
Bradley Sutton: Okay, going back to both of these.
Chris McCabe: Both
Bradley Sutton: Product inserts and chat bot flows, right? You have never seen a suspension that came from just somebody trying to send somebody to a website or get them in one of their email lists almost all have been kind of review related.
Chris McCabe: I would say I’m seeing, it’s kind of the contrary to what you were saying. I’ve seen an increase in those kinds of suspensions because over time people have stopped doing the more obvious violations that would get people suspended. I mean, back in the day, they were first just suspending people who asked for five star reviews or people who said, if you’re leaving us a review, if you’re happy with the product, are you happy with our service, leave us a review. If you’re not contact us and we’ll give you some better customer service and give you a refund and help you out. Those were like the old style mistakes from a year or two ago. they’re not suspending people for the old outdated versions of that. I practice so much anymore. They seem to be much more interested. And following through the sales funnel, looking at the inserts and going through your mini chat sequence to see what you’re doing in there.
Chris McCabe: Because I mean, from what I’ve seen from a lot of marketing content out there, there’s no compliance interest. There’s no compliance chunk of a service or, or a program that’s being sold. You’re sort of on your own. They’ll sell you, Oh, a means of getting more reviews and then say, well, figure out if it’s compliant or not. I’m not going to do that work for you. You talked to a risk manager, risk assessment type like me, I’m going to say, well, do you want to be high risk, high reward? Do you want to be conservative about this? Is this a nice to have business? Is this a need to have business? If it’s a need to have, and Amazon sales are your lifeline, you probably need to play it’s conservatively and not be so wild West, just because you happen to know other, other competitors or other sellers who are using those techniques. I mean, it’s all a question of what you’re willing to lose. Right.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. In general I think a lot of people last year kind of figure it out. It was over a year ago, we talked about this, but how, it’s not the smartest thing to be sending people, regardless of if it’s chat bot or anywhere through flows, where if they’re not satisfied, then we kind of funnel them to seller feedback because we know we can get that removed and stuff, but you know, something new where that’s come up and people have asked us to do this. And we’ve said, no, we don’t want to give you guys that URL functionality within our follow up tool is asking for a link that it takes them to the review page, but it automatically populates a five star review. are we correct? And probably saying, Hey, no, we don’t want to give that link because that could get you in trouble.
Chris McCabe: Right. You can ask for a review, right? No one’s saying that I’ve never said that. Yeah. What I’ve said is you can’t ask for a certain kind of review because Amazon knows, everyone knows it’s only logical. If you ask a certain way, you’re going to get a certain result. And that’s why the credibility of Amazon’s entire product reviews system has been so picked apart not just by people in the seller community, Amazon sellers, I mean the media, the government, there are a lot of interested parties focused on this laser, focused on it to the point where Amazon has had to change their tune in terms of how enforcement works. yeah, I mean, is some of this PR window dressing activity by Amazon, that’s designed to get low hanging fruit where they can just show that they’re being aggressive and show they’re enforcing policy in a very, a heavy handed way.
Chris McCabe: Yes, it is. I mean, Amazon’s is worried about public perception has any business, perhaps more, but from your point is, point of view is a strategy manager for your brand or your account on Amazon. You have to, I understand those tectonic plates are moving under your feet and make decisions accordingly. Otherwise, like I said, if you want to do high risk, high reward, try all these things and see how far you get. But just don’t be surprised when it results in an account suspension. And at that point you have to roll it all back. You have to give them the reviews. Amazon wants to see, not just which , many chat sequence you were using or which insert. They want to know reviews. They need to delete that’s part of the reinstatement process. And we’ve always included those lists.
Bradley Sutton: Okay.
Chris McCabe: Yeah.
Bradley Sutton: All right. Speaking of asking for reviews and follow up we see a lot more people, they’re not getting their accounts suspended or ASINs suspended, but they get hit with that 30 day buyer seller message that you can’t send any, you can’t initiate any contact because yeah. You abuse. whenever we look into that it’s and we start looking at their flows, what they did it’s yeah. It’s usually they’ve asked twice for a review instead of once or there’s like even the slightest hint of kind of trying to market in that message that they’re sending to the customers. Is there anything that can be done if somebody is hit with that 30 day? Like, have you ever seen somebody get back on get that suspension removed before 30 days or you must pretty much just have to grin and bear it.
Chris McCabe: I’m glad you asked because I have been interacting with those teams on some level this year or the last couple of months. And I’ve got a good answer. That’s very if clear if you’ve survived the 30 days and I’m sure there were people who had multiple 30 days messaging suspensions in 2019, and before at this point as of a month or so ago, if you have had the 30 days, you came out the other side, you’re on your last chance, there’s no appeals process. There’s nothing to discuss. You’re either going to never hear from that team again and never get another warning, or they’re going to take away your ability to proactively message buyers. I’ve heard from a couple of sellers who told me that they had seen an additional warning. It might’ve been automated, not so much an investigator looking at their account. It might’ve been an automated message. I’ve heard from a couple of people who told me that they had a second 30-day suspension, but as far as I know, those stopped earlier this year, and they’re not going to take anyone into another 30-day ban. They’re just going to make it permanent.
Bradley Sutton: Wow. Okay. It’s good to know what haven’t we talked about today that may be is new in the last year. Since the last time you came on the show mean I already like 75% of what we’ve talked about today is different than the last time, because it was obvious that the main topics often yeah. The main topics change. what haven’t I asked about that you see as trending in the world of Amazon suspensions and things?
Chris McCabe: Oh, I just want to make sure people are designing, creating ASINs and variations properly because I would say 90 something to a hundred percent of the cases that we’ve worked on, where the account’s been suspended. Those sellers tell us that they’re doing it correctly. They either explain it to us or show us their flat files and they’re not doing it correctly. that’s not something you and I have talked about quite a bit in the past, but since 2020 appears to be the big listing compliance year make sure that you’re not just telling yourself how to do it. You’re actually getting expert eyes on it who understand variations. And I’ll be the first to tell you that in the, I guess, niche of consulting that I occupy in terms of listing and account suspensions, lots of consultants don’t know how to do this stuff either. They don’t understand the proper way to create ASIN and variations, or they don’t even understand how to appeal ASIN and variation abuse and a plan of action. don’t just take somebody’s word for it, make sure you double and triple check things. In fact, check your understanding of listing compliance. Because what I’m seeing is a lot of sellers who are favorably interpreting the rules that suit their listings and their products’ needs. And it’s not necessarily what Amazon considers the, a policy compliance. Okay.
Bradley Sutton: And just in general, obviously what gives somebody maybe the best chance at getting unsuspended or we’re dealing through this is hiring a professional such as yourself, but no, there are many sellers who are newer, or maybe they just can’t afford it at this time. well, they’re going to have a less of a chance to get done. I mean, there still is a chance they could fix it on their own. what’s just a good rule of some general rules of thumb with, with how you create your, your POA or how you attack this matter that that could maybe increase somebody’s chances from 10% or 30% or something.
Chris McCabe: And no, I understand that there are newer sellers out there that aren’t necessarily interested in latching onto my services right away. I mean, this is one reason we created the membership, right? We understood that some people want to DIY and we wanted to get the right tools and ideas into their hands so that they could at least make an attempt at building a plan of action. But in terms of having a listing, go down your top selling ASIN or your account goes down, make sure when you’re writing root causes, you’re not just parroting back to Amazon, why you were suspended or what the complaints were on your products. They already have that. They know that that’s why they suspended you. That’s a cause you want to give them root causes. You want to give them some evidence of a diagnostic run-through on the how and the why your ASINs are your products that created bad buyer experiences or somehow, and why behind why you weren’t compliant with policy.
Chris McCabe: If it’s a policy violating suspension, because otherwise I still see a lot of sellers, especially newer ones who say, Oh, root cause I’m just telling Amazon why they suspended me and what happened. And they start writing a story or they even do a couple short bullet points, but it’s just, like I said, kind of copying and pasting back to Amazon, why they suspended you. That’s not what they’re looking for. And a lot of investigators won’t even continue reading your POA if you don’t nail the root causes part. Right. And then maybe the second point would be your prevention steps. Because like I said before, they’re really looking for concrete specifics that are credible. You’re showing some evidence that you’ve already started doing those things, or you’ve completed those actions, not just that you’ve completed actions and not just a list of promises with no details, give them the specific methodology you’re using, show them that you’re not just throwing a bunch of words at them and saying, these are my details.
Chris McCabe: You’re giving them credible convincing details and we’ll be effective to solve that particular problem. if it’s policy compliance, well, you’ve got an auditing system in place to make sure that all of your staff are staying or monitoring policy pages, getting weekly training, whatever it might be. If it’s item condition, item, quality related, your quality control is improved with a, B and C, but you’re also backtracking and making sure that those are effective quality control improvements, as opposed to just saying, we’re going to try this and we’re going to try that. And it just seems on paper, like it’s going to be better. You have to show them that you’re executing these steps.
Bradley Sutton: Okay.
Chris McCabe: Most new sellers. I mean, any seller can really get that POA in a much better shape if they focus a bit more intently on those two areas.
Bradley Sutton: All right. Good to know. Now for the last question I have for you is just flipping the script a little bit. You know, we’ve been talking about how though this whole entire thing and rightfully so this is what may mainly people are concerned about is being kind of like on the, the bad end of it from Amazon’s getting suspended, but yeah. What can sellers do who are on the bad end from another seller? Like there’s a hijacker there’s somebody who’s using right. Images there’s somebody who’s sending fake reviews to their listing. Like in the past, we’ve always said Amazon pretty much doesn’t care about most of that stuff. Like it’s really hard to get reviews removed, but in the last year, have you seen any changes? You kind of briefly mentioned how some people are reporting bad players. If a seller knows a competitor is doing black hat things, what’s available, that’s working now to try and help get Amazon to stop these people.
Chris McCabe: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot that this is kind of almost its own podcast, unfortunately, but there’s a lot that is working. It doesn’t seem that way to the public because if they just report things through seller central, they never hear back. And we all know that that gets ignored. If they just email into a certain abuse queue, they don’t see any signs or evidence. I mean, don’t worry so much about whether or not you get a response from Amazon, make sure that they actually took some action that there’s evidence of it live on the site, or if there’s a bad behavior that was negatively impacting your account, your business that behavior has stopped. You don’t necessarily need a response from Amazon, but you can see evidence that, that it did work. The problem is you have to do a lot of this through reporting things to management level.
Chris McCabe: Some of it is back channel reporting in terms of emailing directly to people, not necessarily an email queue, it’s unfortunate that Amazon hasn’t created new cues that everyone can use. And everyone can know about to report bad behavior because black hat tactics have spiked a fraudulent behavior. Anti-competitive behavior between sellers is I would say higher now than it’s ever been in the last 17, 18 years. It’s unfortunate that Amazon hasn’t had more public steps that they could make available. I think they’re afraid of being overrun with too many content context, too much reporting. And that’s why they haven’t said, this is the cue. This is the team. This is who runs it. A lot of times it ends up being up to somebody like me to figure out who’s in charge of it, how to best get their attention., One trick, I guess, that I can provide today in is make it worth their while to show them an example of something that might be happening all over a category or to numerous sellers across categories and phrase it, or present it as an excellent example that they should study for.
Chris McCabe: That’s probably happening to hundreds, if not thousands of other sellers. And if they can learn from your example, it won’t just help you and resolve your problem. It’ll make their lives easier. Their jobs easier, maybe even something they can share. Yeah. With other teams that are trying to reduce abuse and black-hat tactics. I just had one other thing. I forgot to mention one thing with fair pricing policy, whoever can hear this. I’ve talked to some of the teams or going through examples and use cases and trying to figure out why there are so many false positives. If you have false positives, I’m not saying everybody send me an email at once with those, but there is a team that is trying to figure that out, whether it’s technical teams working with account management, but people inside Amazon are aware that there are lots of false positives and warnings for inflated prices. When the prices haven’t even changed and they are working on the algorithm, they are tweaking things and they are trying to improve it. if you have some good use cases, you can send them on to me.
Bradley Sutton: Cool. we’re skipping the search warrant game, but we’re the one thing I always want to do is the TST 30-second tip. A lot of these things you’ve been given are great strategies, but what is something that maybe we haven’t mentioned too much today, but that you could say in 30 seconds or less that’s okay. Really actionable for preventative measures or whatever other measures, right?
Chris McCabe: Stop escalating prematurely to Jeff at Amazon email, AKA executive seller relations. People have started sending stuff to Jeff as a knee jerk reaction without thinking of what they’re sending or if it’s even time to send it. Those investigators aren’t spending as much time on those escalations as they had been in the past, especially when I was working on ESR type cases. Don’t expect that to be a cure, all be all end. All I know that’s everyone’s default setting is right to Jeff. You’re not hearing back right. Stop doing all that. You’re kind of spinning your wheels and wasting your time devote that time and strategy into some more nuanced approaches because that’s going to pay off better.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Awesome. Well, Chris, if people have more questions, how can they find you on the interwebs?
Chris McCabe: Yes. e-commerce chris.com. I’ve got a nice bright orange button there. Contact form. You can send me some information or you can email me Chris C H R I S at e-commerce chris.com.
Bradley Sutton: All right. Well, thank you very much for joining us. And when we have you back on the show next year, it’s going to be quite interesting to see what other changes we have seen, because it’s obvious that within a year’s time, there are so much that changes on Amazon. it’s really important to stay up to date with all these changes. thank you for coming on Chris, and we’ll see you on the next episode.