Amazon Account Reinstatement and Suspension Prevention

Author: Cynthia Stine

Amazon is measuring its sellers against yet another yardstick…its Code of Conduct.  Never heard of it before?  You are not alone.  The Code is technically “published” but it sure as heck isn’t promoted to the seller community.  You have to search deep into Seller Central Help to find it.

We wouldn’t have gone looking ourselves except we suddenly got several clients who were suspended for Code of Conduct and we thought “what the….?”  Amazon did not even tell them what part of the code they violated, it was just a “Code of Conduct Violation.”

Let’s rip off the band-aid here and start by saying if you are suspended for Code of Conduct violation/abuse you are in serious trouble.

Our clients who are banned for Code of Conduct are believed by Amazon to have harmed other sellers by their actions.  As we’ve seen it play out so far, that means they filed malicious, fishy or outright fraudulent infringement cases against other sellers.  Or they may have filed a real case but not represented the actual brand owner.  According to Amazon’s code, these folks used infringement cases as a tactic to get rid of or harm the competition.

Some of them ran side businesses helping other sellers file infringement cases against other sellers.  If you currently help sellers file infringement cases and you are not an attorney, you should be very concerned right now.

As a seller who has seen how damaging, expensive and painful bogus infringement cases can be, I applaud Amazon for taking steps to remove bad actors from the platform.

We’ve seen bad actors extort money from our clients (“pay $X and we’ll let Amazon know we’ve resolved the issue”), refuse to talk to our clients, refuse to retract even when the case was resolved and much, much more.  I hope Amazon kicks those kind of bad actors off the platform forever.

As an advocate for my clients, however, I would urge Amazon to consider warning sellers before taking such final action.  We have one client that we believe to be innocent, for example.  They have the right to file the claims that they have filed and they worked with sellers to resolve the issues. Right now, it is unclear who is handling this inside of Amazon.  It does not seem to be seller performance which is not good for possible innocent fish caught in the Code of Conduct net.

Some of our clients received letters from high up Amazonians informing them of the violation and that there was no appeal.  Others had the appeal button.  We should know more in a week or so.

WHAT IS AMAZON’S SELLER CODE OF CONDUCT?

Straight from the source:

Amazon enables you to reach hundreds of millions of customers. We strive to ensure a fair and trustworthy buyer and seller experience. At Amazon, we expect you to adhere to the code of conduct principles outlined below. Violation of the code of conduct principles may result in the loss of your selling privileges and removal from Amazon Marketplace.

Seller Code of Conduct Principles:

  • Adhere to all applicable laws and abide by all Amazon policies.
  • Maintain current account information.
  • Never misrepresent yourself.
  • Always act in a manner that ensures a trustworthy experience for Amazon customers.
  • Never list products that may cause harm to Amazon customers.
  • Never engage in any misleading, inappropriate or offensive behavior. This applies to all your activities, including but not limited to:
  • Information provided on your account
  • Information provided in listings, content or images
  • Communication between you and Amazon or you and our customers
  • Act fairly at all times. Unfair behavior includes but is not limited to the following:
  • Behavior that could be deemed as manipulation or “gaming” of any part of the buying or selling experience
  • Actions that could be perceived as manipulating customer reviews, including by directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content
  • Activities that could be perceived as attempting to manipulate Amazon’s search results or sales rankings
  • Actions that intentionally damage another seller, their listings or their ratings

I highlighted the ones that are causing sellers problems right now. Most of these show up as regular seller performance issues for review manipulation, buyer-seller platform manipulation, manipulation of sales rank, account verification, linked accounts…etc.

The last point is what we think has gotten our clients for Code of Conduct recently because they were all involved in filing infringement cases against other sellers.

Be aware that Amazon can hold on to your money and your inventory if you violate their code of conduct. Sellers who are selling counterfeit, perpetrating fraud on the platform, not addressing embezzlement, hiding behind someone else to sell…all these sellers forfeit their money and inventory when caught.

Yes, that’s a lot of reading but my clients get in trouble every day because they did not realize Amazon was holding them accountable for knowing all that information.

I’M AFRAID I MAY HAVE VIOLATED THE CODE OF CONDUCT – NOW WHAT?

  • Stop it.
  • Fix – If you’ve not been caught by Amazon yet, take the opportunity to clean up your act.  At least that way if Amazon comes to you later upset about something you did, you can show that it was in the past and that you realized the error of your ways.
  • Confess – Some issues require Amazon’s help to fix.  If you have multiple accounts, for example, or you used UPC codes inappropriately, you’re going to need Amazon to help you fix it.  Try to get Seller Support, the Catalog Team or the FBA Team to help you if possible.  Confess your mistake and tell Amazon how you plan to fix it with their help.  You don’t always have to confess to fix a problem, but if you have to be sure to also say you are sorry.
  • Repent – You ARE sorry, right?  Say so.  Sellers who make mistakes, fix them and apologize are the kind of partner Amazon wants.  You don’t have to grovel or wear a hair shirt, but be sincere and have a plan to make things better.  Think about how you would want a partner to treat YOU.  Do you want them to be defensive and hiding behind a lawyer or do you want them to be direct with you and focused on fixing the problem?
  • Repeat – Amazon’s capabilities and rules change often.  Try to keep on top of changes.  If you miss something or make a mistake, then follow the steps above to get back on track.  We are always aware when Amazon is focusing on an issue or has a new rule because our clients get suspended for it.  Learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to go through this.

GET HELP

If you get a Code of Conduct violation, they probably won’t tell you what you did, exactly. You will need to take a long hard look at your practices to find the cause. We can help assess your account and your practices before you get in trouble.  Just click HERE for more information.  It is $500 for an assessment and consultation.

WANT TO MEET IN PERSON?

 

We are traveling in the US, UK and possibly China and the Philippines this year.  We’d love to meet you on the road for a drink or dinner.  Please find us at an upcoming meet-up or conference!

ORLANDO – The Un-Conference (it has no name so…) by Kelly Loach and Elisabeth Thompson Feb 23-26.  Last call to join Cynthia for brunch at Hash-A-G0-Go on the 26th if you are in town!

NASHVILLECatalyst March 6-8. Cynthia will be attending. Come say hi during one of the conference happy hours!

LAS VEGAS – ASD and PROSPER March 18-24. Cynthia and Peter are hosting a special meet and greet for our clients, colleagues and friends on Monday the 20th at the W Resort bar:  The Living Room from 5:00-7:00 PM.  For those of you going to other parties, join us for your first drink of the night!

ATLANTAResonate May 2-3.  We will host a meet and greet before or after the conference.  Peter, Cynthia and Lissa will all be there. Check back!

FORT LAUDERDALEMay 18-20. Steve Chou’s private label conference Seller’s Summit.  Stay tuned for dinner plans while Cynthia is in town.

DENVERJune 2-3. Rocky Mountain Reseller Conference.  We had a big turnout last year so we’re meeting at a bigger, better place this year for dinner.  Cynthia and Peter will both be there. More to come!

CHICAGOJune 6-9 IRCE. Details TBD. Probably dinner downtown. Cynthia will be attending.

Cynthia Stine is the founder and partner of eGrowth Partners, the industry’s leading firm dedicated to helping Amazon sellers resolve problems with Amazon and grow on the platform.  She can be reached at:  http://egrowthpartners.com or hello@egrowthpartners.com or 972-432-6398.

 

Despite many warnings and policy changes by Amazon regarding product review programs, there seems to be a lot of confusion among sellers about what they are and aren’t allowed to do to get more product reviews.

To recap, we are not allowed to use any product review service except Amazon Vine.  This has caused sellers to turn towards sales driving products like Snagshout and others – which Amazon likes.  They like sales just fine.

However, we’ve seen sellers try to skirt Amazon’s review manipulation rules through follow up emails.  Lately several sellers have been taken down by Amazon for using sales generators in conjunction with improper emails.  This last part is key because sellers are getting suspended not only for review manipulation but ALSO for manipulation of the buyer/seller system.  This is important because it is a new capability of Amazon’s mighty algorithm and because if you don’t address this violation in your appeal you won’t get back.  Like so many things that have been against policy for a long time, Amazon did not have an automated way to enforce the rules.  Very few people ever got suspended for buyer/seller platform abuse.  We believe this is about to change.  Amazon is now looking.

What exactly is abuse of the buyer/seller message system?

This includes things like sending sales messages or communications with other sellers through the platform.  It includes spamming buyers with multiple emails.  It includes trying to sell or upsell a buyer through email.  It includes marketing messages and – most relevant for today’s blog – improperly asking for positive reviews, discouraging negative reviews or some combination of the two.  The latest suspensions we’ve seen for review manipulation ALL had inappropriate language in the emails the seller was sending out.  In some cases, this email copy had been given to the seller by their vendor. Anyone who uses one of the sales generating tools AND who has used email copy from them, needs to examine it very carefully.  Really, everyone should examine their buyer emails in light of these new developments.

Here’s what sellers need to know:

  • Don’t ask for a review if the product was purchased at a discount or with a coupon.
  • Don’t ask buyers for a positive review.
  • Don’t tell buyers what to write, give them examples or hound them to leave a review.
  • Don’t ask buyers who leave you positive seller reviews for a product review. (That’s called selecting your reviewer)
  • Don’t keep sending sellers emails when they’ve asked to be removed.
  • Don’t ask friends or family to leave you reviews (it is still happening!).
  • Don’t pay for bloggers or other off-platform reviewers (Amazon will suspend you).

 

In short, you can only ask buyers for a product review ONCE and you must be very careful how you ask.  If you are using a sales generating program/campaign, then you need to exclude all those sales from your email campaigns.

Feedback Genius has an advanced setting you can click to automatically exclude products bought at a discount from getting an email.  Be sure that setting is on.  In addition, you can add buyers who complain about spam or too many emails to a “black list” so they aren’t emailed again.   If you have a difficult buyer situation, be sure to remove them from future emails.  Simple acts like this can help reduce negative feedback and are compliant with Amazon policy.

Some of the violations we’ve seen these past few weeks have been outrageous.  Some sellers gave buyers a review script to follow!  Another client gave buyers one link for a positive review (to leave a review) and another if they weren’t happy (back to customer service).  This may seem like a smart strategy, but in fact they were discouraging negative reviews and encouraging positives.  It is no longer allowed.

So how can you safely ask for product reviews?

Assuming your email is being sent to a buyer who paid full price for your product, here are some ideas to comply with Amazon requirements.  I suggest putting the “Handling Problems” links in the email you send to the buyer the day the product is due to be delivered.  To be on the safe side, your feedback email should ONLY ask for feedback:

Handling Problems

  • If you have any questions about our product or if your experience with us was less than perfect in any way, please contact us immediately at [insert link] so we can make it right for you!
  • We hope you love your new [insert product name]! If you have any questions or if your experience was less than perfect in any way, please let us know so we can make it right [insert link].
  • Sometimes when a product is delivered by mail it gets damaged in shipping. Or maybe it’s not quite what you wanted. It may not fit right. You may have changed your mind. We understand and we are here to help!  Click [here] for easy returns with Amazon or click [here] if you have a question.  We want to make it right for you.

Asking for Feedback

  • Please take a moment and share your experience with others! [insert link]

We use customer feedback like yours to continuously improve our products.  Other customers on Amazon rely on reviews to make informed decisions.  Thanks for helping to make Amazon a better place to shop!

  • It has been a few days since your [insert product name] was delivered and we hope you are enjoying our product.  As a small business, feedback from our customers means the world to us.  We rely on people like you to let us know what we are doing right and where we could improve.  Would you mind sharing your experience with others? [insert link] Thank you!

 

These are just a few ideas, we would love to see what other sellers are using to drive product reviews without violating policy!

The bottom line?  If you send emails to your buyers, today would be a good day to check them for compliance. The rules have changed and you don’t want to be suspended for something that used to be OK but isn’t now.

 

Where is the eGrowth team now?

We love meeting with our clients and readers when we travel!  Like last year we will be hosting get-togethers when we are in town and hope that you can join us.  Here’s a few of our upcoming conferences and trade shows where we will be speaking/attending:

ORLANDO – The Un-Conference (it has no name so…) by Kelly Loach and Elisabeth Thompson Feb 23-26.  Please join Cynthia for brunch at Hash-A-G0-Go on the 26th if you are in town!

NASHVILLECatalyst March 6-8. Cynthia will be attending. Come say hi during one of the event happy hours!

PHILADELPHIA (CANCELLED) – The Seller’s Conference (formerly SCOE) March 7-10. Lesley Hensell will be speaking again.  Dinner will be at the Panorama Wine Bar again. Last year’s was THE BOMB and Lesley hopes to see many of you there!

LAS VEGAS – ASD and PROSPER March 18-24. Cynthia, Peter and Lesley are hosting a special meet and greet for our clients, colleagues and friends on Monday the 20th at the W Resort bar:  The Living Room from 5:00-7:00 PM.  For those of you going to other parties, join us for your first drink of the night!

FORT LAUDERDALEMay 18-20. Steve Chou’s private label conference Seller’s Summit.  Stay tuned for dinner plans while Cynthia is in town.

Cynthia Stine is the founder and partner of eGrowth Partners, the industry’s leading firm dedicated to helping Amazon sellers resolve problems with Amazon and grow on the platform.  She can be reached at:  http://egrowthpartners.com or hello@egrowthpartners.com or 972-432-6398.

Amazon continues to accelerate the pace of change for its sellers. With the rollout of its new dashboard many sellers were told they were in immediate danger of suspension…even though most of them weren’t.  Talk about the Amazon glitch that stole Christmas!  Client after client asks us “Why is Amazon Doing This in Q4?”

grinchyWhat’s Up with Amazon Being Such a Grinch?

My friends, it is only going to get worse. Our sources have indicated that a lot more changes are in the works over the next few months due to the following issues that the company is dealing with. Please note that the following is my OPINION and is speculation based on what I’ve heard and my experience working with Amazon.  The company has announced NONE of these things:

  • Counterfeit – It is a huge problem for Amazon that they take very seriously.  This is why you see them coming down so hard on claims and being less forgiving for receipts and buying from middle men.  They want to see a year’s worth of invoices because some sellers mix counterfeit goods with legitimate goods to cut down on their cost per unit, for example.
  • Inauthentic – Stolen goods are the big issue here.  The products are legit but basically stolen or possibly stolen.  It is only a matter of time before Amazon refuses all receipts, all online invoices and starts to verify invoices by phone.  They do it sometimes now, but I predict it will be standard very soon which will mean it will take a lot longer to get an answer back from Seller Performance.  In addition, more and more of our clients are having to provide Amazon with a list of their NEW, authentic sources before they can sell again. I suspect one day that all sellers may have to provide that list to Amazon…and stick to it.
  • Multiple accounts – There’s a reason you only get one selling account and that is RISK.  Sellers with multiple accounts are trying to mitigate their risk, but Amazon sees it as they are trying to get away with things…which increases their risk.  Some sellers want to buy from liquidators, counterfeiters, inauthentic sources and then still sell when Amazon does a takedown of their account.  In this Amazon is usually correct.  Most of my clients with multiple accounts get in trouble a lot – more than other clients who only have one account.  It is job security for me, but not good news for Amazon.  The latest algorithm update that looks for linked accounts is only the beginning.  They will be looking much more closely at sellers in the future.  My clients are already getting tripped up by things like sending inventory for one account to the address and name of the other account and stuff like that. It is hard to maintain a lie and Amazon is looking for deceit.
  • Account verification – This is already a reality in Europe because of EU anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist laws. My speculation is that we will see Amazon start to require a lengthy verification process for all its sellers. They may shut down the platform to new sellers and make it much harder to sell.
  • Rapid listings – Bogus, misleading, infringing and duplicate listings are being uploaded at an incredible speed. It is currently taking too long for Amazon to find them and take them down.  Even when they do, a new listing will be up within hours.  All of you out there who have been complaining about this very thing…believe me, Amazon knows. They are playing whack-a-mole and losing.  My guess is we will see Amazon make it harder to become a seller and to add new listings.  They will require more verification from new and existing sellers before they are allowed on the platform. They may shut down new applications for a while (they do this in China already). They may require a significant fee just to sell on the platform (already in place in China).  Already they are removing listing privileges from some sellers who abuse parent/child rules, create duplicate listings, don’t understand variations, etc.  I believe this will only increase. They are tinkering with the algorithm already.
  • Dirty seller tricks – They see rampant abuse of the platform by sellers against sellers.  Recently we saw them change how they handle copyright infringement cases because they realized many of the cases WERE bogus.  Changing a picture or description to mess with your competition, they are aware of that loophole.  I expect we will see it closed in the future and offenders more severely punished.  Right now, if they are caught messing with a listing they get a warning.

dontpanicThe Glitch

Many sellers have seen the new dashboard and were freaked to see that their accounts were apparently in danger of suspension.  Even more alarming, the complaints were ones from months ago that they had never seen before.  To a community working frantic hours for Q4 and on edge from previous policy changes…it was the last straw for some.  We realized it must be a glitch of sorts and immediately made Amazon aware.  For many of our clients we resolved the issue this way, but for the broader community the dashboard glitch stays on their account unless they do something about it.

What can you do?

  1. Don’t panic.  Very few sellers are actually getting suspended and they have other problems in their accounts.  Amazon is aware of the problem.
  2. Respond.  I was hoping to get the problem fixed holistically but until then, respond.
  3. Be patient.  Amazon is very busy right now. It is taking longer to hear back from them.  We are getting a lot more “punts” where they simply send a form letter back stating they need “more information.”  It is a stall tactic. You will need to be persistent as well.
  4. Try this.  Sometimes just noting the glitch is enough for it to be removed:

“Hello,

We have recently seen on our new Seller Central dashboard that we have a X claim and yet we never received a performance notification at the time. We looked closely through all our performance notifications to confirm this.  Is this a real notification or a glitch from this new system rollout?

Just in case, here is our plan for Y safety complaint. [alternatively:  here are our invoices/receipts.]

Thank you for your help.”

Safety Complaints

These are not real safety concerns on Amazon’s part.  Most of these are product quality issues.  Just like McDonald’s putting “Caution: Coffee is Hot” on their cups, Amazon wants us to reduce returns and complaints by making buyers aware that they might be sensitive to some of the ingredients and what to do (stop using the product, don’t drink hot coffee, etc). In other cases, they want us to better explain to the buyers how to use our products.  If you are getting safety complaints, read through your product reviews, seller reviews, returns reasons and buyer messages to see if you can figure out what the problem is and fix it.  Sending your sheet with your latest ingredients test isn’t what they want and it won’t get your listing turned back on.

Need Help?

We are helping our clients deal with the glitch for $500.  For the holidays we are also offering expedited services for suspensions.  Please note it is a higher charge for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s.  Sign up at the expedited link and we’ll be notified immediately by text.

Hopefully you won’t ever need us.