Amazon Account Reinstatement and Suspension Prevention

Does Amazon Realize It Is Q4?

Does Amazon Realize It Is Q4?


The past few weeks have seen a flurry of Amazon changes that are making the seller community run in circles….right before Q4.  From brand restrictions to linked accounts to new suspension reasons to its continuing crack down on product review programs, Amazon is vigorously cleaning house. Our volume of suspensions has been increasing.  What is going on?!? Does Amazon even realize it is Q4? All these changes come at a really tough time for sellers who are suddenly afraid to ramp up for the holidays.

[vc_custom_heading text="WHY CAN’T I SEND IN FBA SHIPMENTS?" use_theme_fonts="yes"]

If you have never sold on the platform using Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program, you are now blocked from sending in FBA shipments until after December 19, 2016. We found out about this last Friday and were able to warn our clients, but many new or all-Merchant Fulfilled (MF) sellers are finding out the hard way this week.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done at this point to sell FBA. Sellers can still merchant fulfill.

[vc_custom_heading text="WHAT’S THE LATEST WITH RETAIL ARBITRAGE?
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We announced last month that Amazon was going to stop accepting receipts as proof of authenticity which we speculated meant the end of retail arbitrage on the platform as we knew it. So far, sellers in good standing can still use receipts to answer inauthentic complaints and – sometimes – even to get ungated in a brand (NOT a category, however). That’s the good news.

Sellers with accounts in poorer condition or who have previously been suspended are required to provide invoices. New sellers of a brand – even if their accounts are in good condition – generally need invoices and must pay a fee.
So the retail arbitrage party isn’t over yet, but the banners are hanging above the entrance so to speak.

Another sign of change: Earlier this week, a seller was suspended specifically for retail arbitrage. They were told they are no longer allowed to sell items they bought retail as NEW on the platform. They can still sell them as USED of course but that severely limits the kind of inventory they can buy since many products like toys and clothing can only be sold NEW. In their case, they also need to recall their inventory and re-sticker it – thousands of SKUs.

This suspension really surprised us because so many people inside of Amazon don’t even know what retail arbitrage IS, and because we have never seen a suspension that specifically said you could not buy in retail stores and sell as NEW. We’ve been telling our clients this for years that Amazon felt this way, but we never thought Amazon would put it in writing.

Right now this is one case. We are waiting to see what unfolds.

[vc_custom_heading text="EVERYONE GETS THE TRACE FOR LINKED ACCOUNTS
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This has been in the works for a while. Anyone who has heard me talk in the past month knows that normally Amazon doesn’t put the “trace” on you for linked accounts until you are suspended. We were told last month that was changing and, as of 10/3/16, it looks like the trace is on:

Dear Seller,

Our records indicate that you may own multiple seller accounts. Amazon’s policies strictly prohibit operating or maintaining multiple accounts. Exceptions are granted on a case-by-case basis based on each seller’s circumstances.

If you currently have multiple seller accounts, have operated or maintained more than one seller account in the past, or if any members of your household (besides yourself) have operated or maintained a seller account, please reply to this email with the following information:
– The email address(es) associated with each account you own
– The email address(es) associated with each account owned by members of your household other than yourself
– The reason(s) why you need to operate each account

Failure to disclosure your accounts may result in a loss of selling privileges.

If you only own one account, have never owned more than one account in the past, and no one else in your household has or has had an account, please disregard this notice.

Best regards,
Seller Performance

Is Amazon going crazy?

Click to tweet

This is an odd warning from Seller Performance and came by email rather than a performance notification. It looks like a fishing expedition more than a warning BUT you have to assume it is the only warning you will get before you are suspended. One client who received it has never had another account or another account in his family so we don’t know what to think. Another client had a brother who opened an account and never did anything with it.

We are advising our clients to answer even if the answer is “I only own one account and have never owned more than one account in the past.”

If you have family members with accounts be sure to explain all the relationships to Amazon and why they should not be considered part of your account.

I hesitate to use the word “amnesty” here, but Amazon is clearly giving sellers a chance to come clean before dropping the hammer. This is your chance to fix things and either get proper permission or close down your additional account(s).

If you’ve not gotten this notice yet you may be OK, or it may be that they are rolling this out in waves. For those of you who just broke out into a cold sweat because you KNOW you have multiple accounts or because you have family members with their own accounts, now is the time to confess.

If you have deliberately set up multiple accounts for yourself as a “plan b,” you will now get to see if your measures are good enough. Many of our clients who have a plan b account were previously suspended, so one could conclude that their efforts were good enough to thwart the trace. We will see now for sure. For these sellers there is no upside to confessing. They are already violating policy and will not be allowed to keep their account(s).

For those sellers who have never been suspended but who set up a second account “just in case,” you have reason to sweat. You don’t know if your measures will hold up against Amazon’s relentless algorithm. Should you confess? Should you roll the dice? Your decision. The safest move is to confess and close down an account. I realize it may be more complicated than that.

One seller was stating on Facebook that he’ll be fine because Amazon never said anything about his second account before. Please hear me. They didn’t catch you because they weren’t looking. They are looking now.

If you want to chat about your particular situation, sign up here for a one-hour consultation.

[vc_custom_heading text="NO MORE PRODUCT REVIEW PROGRAMS?" use_theme_fonts="yes"]

As part of Amazon’s ongoing efforts to build and maintain buyer trust, it has been cracking down on product review companies and sellers who use or abuse them. We have seen sellers suspended for using facebook groups and small private review clubs as well as big names like AMZ Tracker (by name).

ReviewMeta recently put together a data analysis that proved definitively just how advantageous review programs were to brands. While this policy change by Amazon has been in the works for a while, we imagine its implementation was hastened by all the negative press.

When asked, I always state that the only “approved” product review program is Amazon’s Vine program. Now Amazon has made it mandatory. Sellers can ONLY use Vine for product giveaways in exchange for reviews. Currently only 1P sellers – those selling to Amazon directly – can use the Vine program. Within our company we have speculated that Amazon may be getting ready to allow 3P sellers access to the program. I hope so. They’ve cut off most other avenues.

As of Oct 3, Amazon released new rules about product review programs. In the Q&A it was very specific that no other program besides Vine will be allowed. Reviewers will no longer state that they received product in exchange for an honest review because that will no longer be allowed.

Here are the questions we are hoping to get definitively answered for the community:
  • What happens to the reviews we already have on the platform that came from review sites and programs?
  • Is there any kind of grace period? There are reviewers out there who just received product from us and will probably post a review in the next week or two.
  • Is it still OK to giveaway product as long as we don’t ask for a review?
    What if we ask for reviews on other platforms like facebook or through bloggers? Is that OK?
  • Is Amazon planning to offer Vine to 3P sellers in the future?
  • Can we still ask buyers for a product review through the buyer/seller email platform as long as we only ask once and as long as we are not specifically targeting buyers who got our product at a discount or free?
  • Will Amazon’s algorithm even the playing field such that new products and brands have a chance to compete with established brands with thousands of reviews?

We know that Amazon sellers are among the most creative business people on the planet so we expect there will still be loopholes to exploit. Try to resist the temptation.

I already see problems with question number three with a kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge that could happen among sellers and reviewers. “You are not obligated to leave an Amazon review” says one vendor after another but…everyone knows that’s what we want, right? Vendors can’t kick a reviewer out of their program for not leaving an Amazon review any more, but….will they find more subtle ways to encourage Amazon reviews? Probably.

Already Facebook is abuzz with sellers trying to get around the new rules. So far they’ve failed. Sellers have had THOUSANDS of reviews taken down from their listings overnight. I have clients in the UK who are still using review programs. Please hear me, this is coming your way very soon. Stop using product review programs NONE of them are compliant.

Amazon is playing whack-a-mole with its sellers. Every time someone comes up with a way to game the system, they whack the seller on the head. Don’t be that seller. Amazon owns the hammer.

We’ve had clients hire writers to create false accounts – by the hundreds – and go post reviews. Amazon closed that loophole by requiring all accounts to have purchased $50 worth of products before leaving their first review. They can match a reviewer to a purchase. They know when a reviewer posts a review before getting product, they know when the reviewer comes to them from a review company website.

So what is going to happen with all these product review vendors? Many of them will convert to velocity driver sites, offering deals to drive purchases. As long as the majority of your sales are not at a deep discount, this is probably fine. Amazon loves deals and sales. If nearly all your sales are at X price, however, they may conclude that X is the actual correct price for your product.

The biggest question we are getting this week is “What CAN I do?” See my previous blog post on safe reviews for that answer. While some of that post is now obsolete, traditional marketing tactics still work.

[vc_custom_heading text="CATEGORY UNGATING STICKER SHOCK
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Some sellers have found themselves needing to apply to the Beauty category again and are having sticker shock as Amazon is asking them to pay $3,000 if they are accepted. This is the price sellers will have to pay from now on for selling topicals on the platform, basically.

The reason for this is because the liability for Amazon is so much higher for products that are ingested or that are absorbed by the skin. Lotions, shampoos, soaps, mud masks…you get the idea. These products can cause real harm if not properly controlled. Private label sellers are under particular scrutiny.

[vc_custom_heading text="WHERE IN THE WORLD IS THE TEAM TRAVELING TO NOW?
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September was an exciting whirlwind of conferences and meeting our clients, partners and friends of the company in China, Nashville, LA, Las Vegas and Dallas! October is just as exciting. We look forward this month to meeting our international clients in London and our Midwest sellers in Chicago – please join us!

eCom Chicago – Cynthia will be talking about the latest policy changes and suspensions at Amazon. You don’t want to be late to this conference! Chris Green, former Amazonian Peter Kearns, Cordelia Blake, John Lawson, Jason T. Smith, Eddie Levine and Nadene Shearstone and Jeff Cohen are among the all-star speakers at this year’s event.

UK Seller Conference — Lesley and Cynthia are co-hosting an Amazon seller conference in London on Oct. 26-27 with SellerLabs and MerchantWords. The conference will cover two tracks for both newer sellers and high volume sellers. Topics will cover compliance issues, avoiding suspension, private label, product giveaways/reviews done right and more. Day 2 is for exclusive workshops with our company and Cascadia Seller Solutions.

Click here to sign up for the UK Seller Conference. Use code EGPOFF40 to save £40 ($51). The workshops on day 2 are filling up so sign up today!

[vc_custom_heading text="Your Turn."]

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Fresh and bold perspectives are appreciated.
– Cynthia Stine


13 Comments
  • best way for arbitrage - Page 2 - eBay Suspension & Paypal Limited Forums
    Posted at 14:26h, 14 October Reply

    […] Re: best way for arbitrage Topical Has Amazon Forgotten it is Q4?!? […]

  • L
    Posted at 20:18h, 14 October Reply

    If you have a different account (and email) for UK Amazon (or Amazon Canada) than your Amazon US account, does AZ consider that as two accounts? In years past, it was considered OK.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 20:38h, 20 November Reply

      It’s OK. They know it is still you. Lots of sellers in the same boat because they signed up before the unified accounts.

  • Alex Smith
    Posted at 19:51h, 15 October Reply

    I have a question about the suspension for retail arbitrage. Was it clear how amazon discover that the products the seller was listing on amazon for sale being purchased at retail? Did customers or brand owner complain to amazon about the products they were selling? Or did Amazon issue the suspension without the seller having any issues with customers or brands?

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 20:37h, 20 November Reply

      Amazon’s algorithm is a big black box that we don’t get to see inside of. That being said, I can usually tell within a couple of minutes of looking at a client’s account what kind of seller they are: arbitrage, liquidation, drop-ship, wholesale, PL… I imagine Amazon can, too.

    • John
      Posted at 23:49h, 23 November Reply

      Hello Cynthia,

      Our seller account was suspended because of relation. But we do have only this account.

      How to appeal to Amazon?

      Thanks

      John

  • Cheryl
    Posted at 23:42h, 16 October Reply

    What is your opinion on shipping some of your own orders for Q4?

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 20:36h, 20 November Reply

      You better make sure you are perfect at doing it. You don’t want to get your account shut down for late orders, cancellations, improper tracking numbers, etc.

  • Stephen Sherman
    Posted at 06:14h, 19 October Reply

    Great and timely information Cynthia. I’m new to the getting product reviews part of Amazon, so I am failing to understand some of the terminology you’ve used. What is the Vine Program and where can I find out more about it?

    Next, what is a 1P seller? And, what is a 3P seller?

    Next question, I’m getting to the point where I intend to get into self-publishing using Amazon as a platform. How is that area different than the physical product area? For example, does the Vine Program apply to self publishing?

    Mainly, where do you suggest I look to find accurate information pertaining to getting reviews for self published products through Amazon?

    Again, I’m sorry for seeming so confused; but, I am new to this area. And, some of the so-called gurus have been promoting ways to get reviews for Books self-published through Amazon that, from your article, appear to be in direct violation of what Amazon is now allowing. So, I’m looking for some guidance on where to locate accurate information about this.

    Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 20:35h, 20 November Reply

      1P sellers sell directly to Amazon which sells the product on the platform as Amazon. 3P are sellers like us who are sellers on the platform. Amazon’s Vine program is currently only available to 1P sellers but my understanding is that it will be available in the future to third-party sellers. Look it up under Seller Central Help. It does not apply to books unless they are from a major publishing house. CreateSpace doesn’t count.

      You are allowed to send your books out for free to book reviewers who will hopefully write articles and blogs about your book. You can’t ask them to review your book on Amazon. You can’t send to your friends, family, colleagues, etc., because they are NOT ALLOWED to leave you a review. It is OK for a reviewer to say on his blog that the book is available on Amazon. It is not allowed for them to use an affiliate link to link to the book on Amazon. You cannot pay for a review, ever.

      I hope this helps.

  • Penny
    Posted at 14:23h, 23 October Reply

    So now what do I do? I read your book and was so pumped to get started for this Christmas season and now I don’t know if this is a business I should even bother to try to start. Sounds like Amazon doesn’t want any more sellers or competition to THEIR sales! What do you suggest? Go ahead on December 19 with a small sample and wait to see what happens?? And what about still doing toys and clothing? Should these be avoided? Is retail arbitrage with Amazon a thing of the past????

    • Cynthia Stine
      Posted at 20:29h, 20 November Reply

      Penny,

      Retail arbitrage is now a risky model and I no longer recommend it as a way to get started selling on Amazon. I would look at used books, wholesale, private label and bundling (from wholesale sources, not arbitrage).

      Sincerely,
      Cynthia

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