Amazon Account Reinstatement and Suspension Prevention

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August 25, 2016

UPDATE: Why You Need Amazon Brand Approval Now

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Let me state upfront that a lot is going on at Amazon and there are questions I’m trying to find out for all of us about all these restricted brands.  Some of this is official (i.e. from Amazon PR) and some isn’t (other sources, our clients’ experiences, etc.).  It is intended to provide more food for thought as you deal with the changes going on in the platform:

WHY IS AMAZON SUDDENLY GATING CERTAIN BRANDS?

This goes back to the issue of inauthentic that I talked about last week.

Amazon’s focus is on building and maintaining buyer trust. Anything that disrupts that trust is a problem that must be addressed.  This is why we have seen so many suspensions for product review manipulation, for example.

In the past there has been a rush of new sellers to the platform from all over.  With that rush has come bad actors which have increased the frequency of inauthentic events on the platform.  What we see this week is part of an ongoing process by Amazon to stamp our counterfeit and build buyer trust.

Building buyer trust is in the best interest of ALL sellers.

WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK?

There are many brands where you now need to get approved in order to sell them.

  • Must have invoices or a letter from the manufacturer to get approved
  • Some brands also require a fee ranging from $500-$5000 in order to sell
  • For some brands you now need: 1) category ungating, 2) brand ungating and 3) permission for specific ASINs.  So, if you’ve sold a particular item in the past with no troubles you may easily get permission to sell the ASIN, but you will still need to get permission to sell the brand.

The brand gatings are across the platform and represent hundreds of brands.  The brands initially gated are ones that already have a proven mid-to-high risk of counterfeit.

These also tend to be the most popular and desirable brands on the platform which is causing angst among the sellers who buy retail.

IS AMAZON TARGETING RA/OA SELLERS WITH THIS MOVE?

No.  Amazon isn’t even aware of what kind of seller you are. They don’t track us by sourcing model.  They welcome all sellers who can provide an excellent buyer experience.  This is part of what I said last week in that if your account is clean and there are no buyer complaints, Amazon’s not going to come after you and you can afford more risk. They are targeting the bad actors who destroy buyer trust and provide a bad experience.

In talks with several Amazonians this past week we learned that many do not even know what RA is.  We are just sellers to them.

WILL AMAZON GRANDFATHER IN SELLERS WHO HAVE INVENTORY AT THE WAREHOUSE?

We have been told that there will be no grandfathering.  This means if you have inventory already at the warehouse, you still have to get approved to sell.

Sellers have until 8/30 to either get approved or remove their inventory from the platform.

If you don’t have invoices to get approved, you are not able to sell.  This is very limiting for RA/OA/Drop-ship sellers.   Liquidators’ invoices are already not accepted by Amazon.

IS THIS MOVE AIMED AT THE CHINESE?

No.  This is aimed at bad actors.  They have counterfeiters and gray market sellers from all walks of life and all geographic locations.

HOW COME SOME SELLERS CAN STILL SELL ON THESE BRANDS BUT NOT OTHERS?

Until very recently, Amazon tended to view and weight all sellers equally.  That is changing now to where sellers will be grouped more according to their history on the platform.  They will start to take into consideration your tenure and your excellent metrics.

I don’t know if this is why some sellers can sell on these brands and others can’t but it seems to fit what is happening.

WHY IS THAT SOME ASINS UNDER A BRAND CAN STILL BE SOLD BUT NOT OTHERS?

This would relate to the risk of counterfeit.  This doesn’t mean they won’t gate those other ASINs in the future.

ARE THERE MORE BRAND SHUT-DOWNS COMING?

In discouraging bad actors by requiring invoices and charging fees, it is likely the fakers will move to other brands. There is nothing specific I could find out, but in general it seems we can expect this to not be a one-time event with Amazon but rather ongoing.

While this first round was about high risk brands and products, it seems likely to me that we can expect Amazon to spiral in tighter and tighter to brands where there is less of a problem with counterfeit or even pre-emptively (i.e. something is incredibly easy to create a knock-off). This would be in line with the total quality management principles practiced at Amazon as a company. I mentioned this in my book.

WILL PRIVATE LABEL SELLERS BE ABLE TO CONTROL WHO LISTS ON THEIR BRANDS IN THE FUTURE?

Sellers will have greater control. Amazon is offering Brand Protection Services to its sellers as well as its vendors.  They want Amazon to be a platform that helps build brands and helps brands expand globally.
We heard about the exclusives program at the Women’s Conference earlier this month. That is one step in this process. I don’t know what other services will be offered at this time.

WHAT IF I NEED MORE TIME TO GET APPROVAL OR REMOVE MY INVENTORY?

Many people got a letter from Amazon this week stating that if they didn’t get approved or remove their inventory by 8/30 it would be removed for them.  It seems likely that sellers in better standing will be able to ask for someone to review their case and possibly grant more time.  We’ve been told to start with Seller Support which may send it over to Seller Performance.  We’ve not tried it yet but would be very interested to know what other sellers’ experiences are.

WHAT WILL AMAZON DO WITH THE FEES?

The fees charged when you are approved to sell a brand go towards activity Amazon uses to manage risk and investigate counterfeit.  Among other things, this might involve laboratory testing, the use of expensive equipment, etc., to make sure products are not counterfeit.

IS AMAZON COMING OUT WITH AN OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT?

New language in SellerCentral Help and possible webinars are expected to help sellers sometime in the next few weeks…possibly.  No one was able to say when for sure.

International Events in China and UK

Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, China

Cynthia will be in China at the end of August speaking at a huge Amazon seller summit on Monday, August 29 at the Futian Sheraton in ShenZhen and at a special Amazon sellers’ meet-up in Hong Kong on August 31.

Register to attend this free conference now – seats are filling up. An all-star lineup of speakers includes WorldFirst, Wal-Mart, Jet.com, SlickDeals, Anker, SellerLabs, Marketplace Ignition, MerchantWords and much more!: Cross Border Trade eCommerce Seller Summit

Sign up for the meet-up here: Hong Kong Private Label Sourcing and Amazon FBA Sellinglux_660x280_london_HousesofParliament

Lesley and Cynthia are co-hosting an Amazon seller conference in London on Oct. 26 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. Early bird special is running now! Click here to sign up for the UK Seller Conference.

Let’s Meet!

In addition to these awesome conferences, you will find us traveling the US over the next two months:

  • SCOE Banner 2 (002)SeattleSCOE. Lesley is speaking on the latest suspensions from Amazon. Use code CYNTHIA for $175 off! Join Lesley for dinner at the exciting Crow restaurant downtown. RSVP required.
  • Nashville – CES IV. Cynthia is talking about risk management in your Amazon business. Join her and Lesley both for dinner at Flyte restaurant downtown on the strip! RSVP here. Space limited to 20.
  • Los Angeles – Feedvisor conference. Cynthia is talking about the latest challenges facing high-volume sellers with Amazon suspensions. Sign up here for a $75 discount! (First 20 signups only. Expires 8/28/16) Use CODE LAVFC75.
  • Las Vegas – Retail Global conference. Sign up for $100 discount with code: STINE100. We will be co-hosting a meet and greet happy hour and dinner Thursday night Sept. 22 with the ScannerMonkey group. Register here – it’s free!

retail global

May 22, 2016

More Confusion About Using UPC Codes on Amazon.com

Last week’s blog post was full of bad news. Used media sellers can get suspended for inauthentic claims, UPC codes that don’t match the brand will be flagged for inauthentic – a huge source of heartburn for those who make product bundles or who use their own UPC codes for branded products that seemingly don’t have UPC codes. This week I tried to get some clarification from Amazon and other sources. Here’s my answers to your questions.

Q. Does Amazon Want us to Buy Our UPC Codes from GS1?

Yes. They recommend it. But, to be clear, these are UPC codes for YOUR BRANDED PRODUCTS. In other words, if you are selling Cynthia’s Amazing Birthday Boxes which has toys and candies in it, you should register your brand and then buy a GS1 UPC code for it. If you are selling a FROZEN® bundle of beauty products, then you CAN’T do that. You are not Disney and you do not have the right to license their products or bundle them without permission.

brickMortarStore-1In this way, we are different from most retailers. A brick and mortar store can easily take a bunch of branded items and put them into a cute container and sell them to you as a special deal (buy a towel, get a free washcloth and rubber ducky!). If they need a code for the check-out kid to scan, they use an internal code system. The GS1 is a huge database that uniquely identifies your brand in the global supply chain. If you don’t own a brand, you don’t use their codes. It is as simple as that.

If you are a private label seller, then getting a GS1 extension definitely makes sense – although it is not required – because it will be easier for Amazon to help you defend your listings for those who might create bundles or offer for sale your products in some unauthorized way. You can prove you own the GS1 for your brand and Amazon can easily confirm it.

Q. What if I Already Have UPC Codes from Somewhere Else?

frozen-glam-setThose UPC codes should still be OK as long as you are using them for your own unique bundles and NOT someone else’s brand. What Amazon is doing is checking all UPC codes against the GS1 database. Their concern is for brands. So if you are selling a Disney bundle without a Disney UPC extension and/or code, then they will shut you down because your code is invalid. If you are selling your own brand using a UPC code purchased elsewhere, that’s OK.


Q. What is the GS1? Does it Give Us Authorized UPC Codes?

Not exactly. GS1 is three things: 1) a huge database of branded product extensions (the unique digits that identify each brand) that you can search; 2) a system that helps you generate and manage your own UPC codes; and 3) an annual subscription for as long as you want your brands in their database.

UPC AnatomyThink about it this way, if you want to be able to generate and manage 100-100,000 UPC codes (like many apparel companies with all their size and color variations for example), you don’t want to buy someone else’s UPC codes, you want to manage your own. You can make the numbers actually mean something internally rather than being random. You can tell immediately what the item is just from the numbers in the UPC code. In addition, you can track where it came from and when – critical to food manufacturers who have to be able to instantly recall tainted food or drug manufacturers with tampering scares. The GS1 also provides proof of brand ownership and makes it easy to tell if someone has added their own UPC code to your brand…which is what Amazon is doing now.

Q. If I’m Able to Buy a UPC Code with the Same Extension as the Brand I Want Is That OK?

Absolutely not! It is not only illegal, Amazon would likely ban you from the platform without an appeal. Then you would have to deal with the brand’s lawyers. And to the person who asked me how Amazon would find out (c’mon! really?!), you need to know that the big brands have given Amazon a full list of their UPC codes and continue to do so as they add new products. Amazon is not just checking their extensions. See answer below for many of these brands (not necessarily comprehensive).

Q. Does This Mean We Can’t Create Bundles from Others’ Branded Products?

Princess-ShowerYes…and not exactly. If you read one part of SellerCentral, it makes it sound like it is fine to create bundles and use your own UPC codes. If you read another part, it indicates that your bundles may be closed by Amazon as inauthentic. Here is the difference. You can create bundles, but NOT branded bundles (unless you own that brand). So if you want to put together some cute Disney bath items you can, BUT you can’t call it a Disney bundle. It would be: Bundle: Shampoo, Conditioner, Bath Poof, Princess-themed. In the DESCRIPTION for the bundle you can mention that it is Disney Princess® Shampoo, conditioner, etc. But not in the title. In addition, you would NOT put Disney as the manufacturer. You are the manufacturer. Put your brand: Cynthia’s Amazing Bathing Supplies. Attach your UPC code that you bought from GS1.

Q. Can We Get an Exemption from Needing a UPC Code?

Yes. You can get exemptions in certain situations. If your bundle is eligible for an exemption, then you don’t need a UPC code. The trick is to get the exemption first before making a bundle or listing a product. PS. A GTIN is a Global Trade Item Number which includes UPCs, ISBN, EAN and other product identification numbers (because UPC wasn’t enough of an acronym…).

Eligible cases for GTIN exemption

  • Brand, manufacturer or publisher does not provide a GTIN for the products. For example, private label products, or hand-made products
  • Non-branded products that do not have GTINs. For example, wholesale products
  • Parts do not have a GTIN. For example, some automotive parts do not have a GTIN
  • Bundles that do not have a GTIN. For example, customized bundles may not have a GTIN. So if your bundle has a customized element like a person’s name, then you can possibly get an exemption. To create bundles correctly, see Product Bundling Policy before requesting for a GTIN Exemption

Q. How Do I Get an Exemption?

You need to prepare your case for Amazon. You will need:

  1. A support letter from the brand owner, manufacturer or publisher to prove that they do not provide a GTIN for the products or a list of sample products for Amazon to review. The letter has to have the issuer’s name and contact information and state explicitly that they do not provide a GTIN for all the products that you sell. It must include your physical address, phone number, email or website address. It must be in English or the marketplace’s local language.
  2. A website link to view the products. If there is no website, upload pictures to an online image service or Snagit or Google Docs with a link.

Here’s a link to a template Amazon recommends for the support letter: http://screencast.com/t/zJ4GNZuVaY

If you can’t get a support letter, you should submit a list of sample products for them to review using this template. Please note that if your bundles consist of products from the same brand, then use this template. If they are non-branded products, use this template:

Then you apply here.

We’re saved! Bundles galore! Oh wait, it surely isn’t that easy is it? Nope. Because some brands require a GTIN to list. No exemptions. Any ASIN that belongs to any of these brands and does not have a GTIN will be suppressed.

Q. Does Amazon Give us the List of Branded Products that Require UPC Codes?

Yes. Glad you asked! If you desire a UPC exemption in a category, make sure the brand of the item is not included in one of the following lists of major brands that require a UPC. My assumption is that these are the brands that have given Amazon their complete lists of UPC codes, BUT I would not rely on it to be comprehensive. I’m sure new brands are being added every day:

Q. Disney is One of the Brands That Requires UPC Codes. Does This Mean I Can’t Create a Bundle with Disney Products?

You can create a bundle but you can’t list Disney as the manufacturer and you can’t mention them in the title. Preferably you would have your own brand of gift bundles and list it under that. See my answer above.

In food it is clear. I can create a box of goodies from a mixture of brands and brand/label the product as mine (Cynthia’s Excellent Nibblies). If I want to create a multipack of Jelly Belly’s, I can’t. Only the manufacturer can. If I want to private label the Jelly Belly’s and take a 10lb bag and break it out into 10 1-lb bags I can as long as it is follows the health laws and is a private label product. If I want a 3-pack of three different kinds of retail box Jelly Belly’s I can do that. Wait, did I say food was clear? Sigh.

You’ll notice that none of the lists Amazon gave us includes food. I suspect this is because their rules were already set a year ago under grocery category restrictions. You can create food gift boxes with branded items to your heart’s desire as long as the bundle is under your brand.

Q. I Have Lots of Bundled Products on Amazon. What Should I Do Now?

  1. Change the titles. Take out the name of the brands.
    Instead of “Disney Cars® Conditioner and Shampoo Bundle,” call it “Boys Conditioner and Shampoo Bundle.
  2. You can still name the brands in the listing details or keywords
  3. Change the brand name/manufacturer to your brand
  4. Brand your bundle. Cynthia’s Boys Bathtime Fun Pack ¬– Conditioner and Shampoo Bundle
  5. Or, take your listings down if you are worried about getting caught with an invalid UPC code.

Q. What if I Can’t Change the Listing?

If the listing was created by the brand and you just listed against it, you are fine. If this is a listing you created yourself, you can change it. If this is a listing created by another seller, you should be able to change it unless they brand registered it. In that case, they need to change it. You can check the UPC against the GS1 to see if it matches the brand. If it doesn’t, you may want to close your listing until things get sorted out or until you can create your own listing that complies with the new reality. Obviously, if the listing is already compliant you don’t need to worry about it.

Q. If I Can’t Use the Brand Name in My Listing, It Won’t Sell!

Not exactly a question, but my answer is to put the brands in your description or keywords and make sure you have awesome pictures that follow Amazon style guidelines. In this way, your picture will hopefully be enticing enough for a buyer to open your listing and see the details on your bundle. If your items have a particular scent or flavor, you may be able to use that in your title even if you can’t use the brand. Neutrogena Rainbath Pear and Green Tea Shower and Bath Gel is trademarked but “Bundle – Shower and Bath Gel plus Shampoo and Body Lotion in Pear and Green Tea Scent” isn’t. You’ll have Neutrogena in the description or keywords and the picture. It should sell. Naturally if someone else has a similar bundle and they have not converted their listing to comply they may be higher on the search page than you because their bundle is more relevant.

Only you can decide how much risk you can live with. Amazon WILL get around to every bundle eventually.

Q. Is There Some Way Around This so Amazon Won’t Catch Me?

Gaming the system will make it worse for everyone by forcing Amazon to crack down on the brand registry to make it harder to cheat. Stop thinking this way. Focus on how you can comply vs how to get around the rules.

Q. What are the Disadvantages to Creating Branded Bundles on Amazon?

  • You don’t own the bundle. If the Brand decides to sell on Amazon as a seller, they will automatically have control of YOUR listing. They can change it or take it down at will. Once brands realize this, many will become “sellers” on Amazon so they can take over listings they don’t like. Think about that. If Neutrogena starts to sell on Amazon? Say bye-bye to your bundle.
  • Amazon will catch you if the UPC code is invalid.

Q. Is There a Safe Way to Create Bundles on Amazon?

I can never use the word “safe” with Amazon, but it seems like you can protect yourself if you follow these rules:

  1. Don’t put brands in your titles unless you own the brand
  2. Create your own branded bundle: Cynthia’s Bathtime Fun Pack vs. Disney Cars® Conditioner & Shampoo Bundle
  3. Create a FREE bonus or FREE gift. i.e. Disney Cars Shampoo + FREE Conditioner. This allows you to use the manufacturer’s UPC for the shampoo and yet create a bundle. It is one way to avoid the issues with UPC codes. This loophole will probably be shut down eventually.

Q. Amazon Hasn’t Sent Me Any Notifications. Does That Mean My Bundles Are OK?

No. It just means it will take Amazon a while to catch everyone. I expect this to be a long process.

Q. Will Amazon Grant Amnesty to Sellers?

Hah ha ha ha ha ha ha! Thanks for the laugh. Probably not. They only do that when they feel that something is their fault. They never feel that.

Q. What About Bundles That Are Already Up There? Are They OK?

Not if they are using an inauthentic UPC code. It is just a matter of time. I strongly urge sellers to fix their bundle listings NOW. Let’s put it this way, this next week is your amnesty. Use it wisely.

Q. What if Amazon Suspends Me for My Bundles?

Call us. 972-432-6398. Http://onlinesalesstepbystep.com/reinstatementfaq. While it is no comfort to you today, your experience will help other sellers.

Last Word About UPC Codes…For Now

Use your common sense. If you are looking at a familiar brand and want to create a bundle with it, it is probably registered with the GS1. If it isn’t, you are OK for now…but what about tomorrow when that brand registers? It is safer to not use brand names in your bundles. You can check the GS1 database if you really want to, OR create bundles that don’t list the brand as the manufacturer and that aren’t listed in the title.

More About USED Items with Inauthentic Claims

Q. Is Amazon Requiring that we Prove Authenticity for ALL Items Whether NEW or USED?

Technically, they only require we prove authenticity for items where there has been an accusation of counterfeit or inauthenticity…which means, YES. If you can’t prove authenticity when they ask you, you’re in trouble. You can recover from it once (assuming you don’t have a lot of problems with authenticity already in your NEW items), but that’s it. After that, you can’t afford one more claim where you can’t prove where you bought it. Counterfeit is counterfeit, stolen is stolen.

Q. Will They Actually Suspend You for Inauthentic USED Media?

Yes. My client sold a USED CD that got him shut down. I know I already answered both these questions last time, but many sellers are staggering around like deer in a headlight right now and I’ve been asked several times if it is really true.

Q. I Have a Lot of USED Inventory at Amazon That I Bought at Book and Estate Sales. What Should I Do?

So do I. My client had to remove all of his. Some of it he is selling on eBay, etc. This is a risk assessment you have to take for yourself. You can sell out of what you have and don’t buy any more where you can’t get a detailed, printed receipt (no hand-written ones), you can get rid of everything, or you can play the odds. CDs, DVDs and video games are much more likely to be counterfeit/bootleg. There are also counterfeit textbooks.

Q. What About Collectibles Like Collectible Games and Toys?

SDCC-2015-DC-Collectibles-Arkham-Saturday-001I’ve not seen anyone suspended yet for inauthentic collectibles…but it could happen. As Amazon said to us “counterfeit is counterfeit, stolen is stolen.” If they have a reason to believe that your rare game from the 1950’s is a fake, you’re in trouble if you bought it at an estate sale. This is very upsetting to me. I have a LOT of collectible games and puzzles on Amazon that I bought at estate sales for cash. I’m leaving mine up there for now but I won’t buy any new ones.

Also, one thing I’ve seen with collectible games/toys that is already against policy but which I think will really get sellers in trouble now is when they substitute parts for games that are missing pieces. If you can’t find the original piece, DON’T substitute something similar from another game. That is against Amazon policy AND very likely to lead to claims of fake, inauthentic, missing pieces, incomplete, etc.

Q. What About Refurbs?

If you bought your refurbished item (here I am referencing factory refurbs, not YOU re-conditioning an item) from a legit source, you should have an invoice or receipt and be OK. If you didn’t buy from a retail store or direct from the manufacturer with a factory warranty, then you can’t list it as a refurb in the first place. It’s used but not a refurb. Secondly, if you can’t provide an invoice or receipt, you will be in trouble if it is questioned as inauthentic.

Last Word on USED Media…For Now

We’ve not gotten my client reinstated yet. This part of the story is still unknown. Amazon is dead set that the CD was a bootleg which means that it should have been obvious to my client when he bought it that this was not a legitimate CD. Possibly it was recorded in secret (a “Live!” performance). I don’t know. Counterfeit and Inauthentic claims are mostly about perception. The buyer thinks there is something wrong for a reason. Fix the reason and you’ll stop getting complaints. In the case of USED media buyers, we need to be very careful about what we buy that it looks legit and put stuff down that seems a bit “off” for any reason. Sometimes the claims come from the rights holder. They KNOW it is a fake but the seller may have been fooled. In the case of this CD, it is possible that the symphony KNOWS they never made a CD so it has to be counterfeit. In either case, you can’t argue with Amazon, you can only confess and repent. Put together a plan that tells Amazon how you will ensure it never happens again.

Reserve Cut

Springtime in New York…

My business partner Lesley Hensell and I will be in New York next week. I’m speaking at the Feedvisor conference, we’re working with some of our clients and we’re hosting a special event Wednesday night for our clients and friends of the company at the Reserve Cut Kosher restaurant in lower Manhattan – one of the best steakhouses in the city with fabulous atmosphere and great reviews. We are very excited to eat something extraordinary while in the Big Apple. If you are in the area I hope that you will join us! Please sign up now, we have to give the restaurant our final numbers by the end of the day Monday.

May 12, 2016

The 411 on UPC Codes and Inauthentic Claims for USED Media at Amazon

Peering inside Amazon’s black box algorithm is a Kabuki play – full of style, drama and mystery. This week I interpret several new moves in Amazon’s ponderous fan dance including enforcement of UPC codes, inauthentic claims for USED products and a new pricing tool from Amazon.

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Amazon sellers who create bundles and multi-packs are worried. Amazon seems to be saying that they suddenly need a very expensive UPC code and that they have to have permission from the manufacturer/rights holder in order to do it.

People who are using their own UPC codes for multipacks and some bundles are losing their listing privileges. And to further make you unhappy, Amazon’s ability to check UPCs against the GS1 database has a huge impact on inauthentic claims – which are bringing down a lot of sellers of items that do not currently print UPCs on their items.

What Amazon is doing now is automatically checking Product IDs against the GS1 database. So if you are selling a product where you have added a UPC code that you purchased from eBay or some online dealer, basically, it won’t show up in the GS1 database as belonging to you or any other brand. IF this product is YOURS – a private label or manufacturer – you’re fine because you can register these with Amazon or even ask for an exception to have a barcode. In fact, they will give you a universal number for your unique products through the brand registry so you can sell them worldwide on Amazon’s platforms under that one number.

If the product is owned by someone else, then they have their own “product ID” [as Amazon calls the collection of UPC, ISBN, EANs (Europe) and JANs (Japan)] and you need to use that. Again, this is fine if you are selling solo items, but what if you have a multi-pack? You need a separate UPC code for that and if the manufacturer doesn’t have a multipack UPC code…then you can’t create one.

What Amazon says about Multi-Packs:

UPC Anatomy FINALFor most products listed on Amazon.com, a multi-pack listing is only allowed for a manufacturer-created pack with its own unique UPC. You must enter an Item Package Quantity (IPQ) for these products.

EXCEPTIONS: HEALTH & PERSONAL CARE MULTI-PACKS: One of the few cases where you can use 1 UPC code for all multi-packs.

Health and Personal Care Multi-packs — If you are selling more than one of the same product with the same UPC in “packs” (e. g. “Pack of 2”), enter the number of items in the pack into the “Count” field of the HPC template. Please note that you will need to upload your multi-packs in a flat-file.

Basic Bundling Rules:

There are a lot of rules about product bundling and you can read them in SellerCentral. I’m going to focus on the rules regarding Product ID numbers.

  • The bundle must have its own standard product identifier or manufacturer part number. The identifier of any individual product in the bundle may not serve as the identifier for the bundle. Using a UPC from any single product in the bundle to identify the entire bundle may lead to immediate removal of the listing. You are responsible for obtaining a UPC for each bundle you create.
  • Do NOT bundle branded products with generic products. This may mislead customers into thinking that the generic product belongs to the same brand.

If you read the basic bundling rules on Amazon, it would seem to be OK to use your own UPC code…as it has always been in the past. However, we see problems on the horizon.

Here’s the phrase that is causing so much angst:

“The use of false product identification information, including product IDs, is prohibited and can result in your ASIN creation privileges being removed. Product IDs will be confirmed against the GS1 database.”

Clear as mud, right? What is going on?

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. This rule is not new, but Amazon hasn’t enforced it until recently
  2. This is designed to stop sellers from creating derivative products from branded items
  3. It is designed to protect rights holders – a good thing if you are the rights holder
  4. It makes it easier for Amazon to verify authenticity of the products being sold on its platform
  5. It will encourage more sellers to go the Private Label route and….
  6. Yes, sellers will get suspended for not following the rules

We have two clients who are currently unable to create new listings because they lost their privileges.

Amazon started this last year about this time in Grocery. Food sellers were told they could no longer create multi-packs unless the manufacturer was selling a multi-pack (think Sam’s Club® or Costco® bulk purchases or wholesale bags/boxes) and commodity foods needed to be branded.

The interpretive dance at that time around this topic was a) what was a commodity food? And 2) would current listings be grandfathered in? Many current listings WERE grandfathered in. This doesn’t mean that Amazon won’t shut them down one day, but when the rules went into effect, they stopped sellers from creating new listings that broke the rules, but didn’t take down all the old ones necessarily (some came down).

Nobody got suspended at that time that we know of, but I have since seen warnings to sellers who are trying to sell commodity goods without properly branding and packaging their products. Under the new rules there is no piggy-backing on someone else’s listing for a commodity product unless they are buying it retail or wholesale, basically – like Hershey Bars®.

If I want to sell one-pound bags of certain kinds of candy, for example, I need professional equipment to take a 20-pound bag and place it into 20 bags with my brand on them – even it if it is a branded candy like M&Ms®. Someone else selling a 1-pound bag of M&Ms can sell the retail package or create their own brand and packaging. Confusing? You bet. Same with sunflower seeds, coffee or any other commodity. Simply putting it into a polybag or food-grade box won’t work anymore. If you want to make money on bulk food these days, you need to be in the food packaging business, basically.

People who sell bras, shoes and apparel need to particularly keep the GS1 database in mind. Often there is no manufacturer UPC code when you are buying the product at Marshalls® (for example) but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a UPC code for that item somewhere.

In the case of multi-packs, don’t buy a UPC code and use it unless you are SURE there is no UPC number for the item. Just because you can’t find it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That’s why you may need to check the GS1 database yourself if you are selling a branded product where you can’t find the UPC code. Contact the manufacturer first and then check the database. The GS1 database doesn’t tell you every single UPC code out there, but it tells you if your brand has an extension registered with them. This greatly enhances the likelihood that there is a UPC code for that item and that you need to find and use that rather than using your own.

An extension is like the first few digits of a credit card. They tell Amazon and others who owns the codes that follow that extension. For example, if brand X uses 1234 xxx xxx xxx for product ID codes, you know that ANY UPC code starting 1234 belongs to brand X. You don’t need to check all the digits. That is what Amazon is doing when it checks the GS1 database. If your UPC code doesn’t start with 1234 for that brand? You’ll eventually be flagged.

Now don’t even start. I can hear it now. “How long before they flag us?” We don’t know. I just know it will happen because now it is automated. That means Amazon’s searchbots are at work. Resistance is futile. Assimilation is inevitable.

Q. Do I have to buy my UPC codes from the GS1 Now? They’re expensive!

spongebob gift setI don’t know. If you are a manufacturer or private label, I’d suggest you do. When you put your bundles together now, really think through the issues first. As long as your bundles avoid being associated with any one brand, you should be OK – think Cynthia’s Fabulous Gift Boxes vs. SpongeBob Squarepants® Bundle for 8-Year-Old Boys. You probably don’t have the right to sell SpongeBob bundles, but you can sell gift boxes. Semantics? Yes, but think about how the Amazon robots work. They use key words, titles, UPC codes.

Cordelia Blake in the ScannerMonkey group is conducting an experiment with her own GS1 code. Check it out if you are interested.

Q. Why is Amazon Picking on Us?

It is all about cleaning up the catalog. There are too many duplicate pages and too many improper listings. In addition, it is hard to test the authenticity of a product if the UPC in the catalog is wrong. Many major brands (really big brands like Disney and Sony) have provided Amazon with their UPC codes. This means when you list a Disney product that doesn’t match their list of UPC codes, you’re in trouble.

We had one client who used her own UPC code for everything she sold on Amazon.  It was a nightmare cleaning up that situation.  She thought Amazon was like eBay. It wasn’t deliberate, but you can see why Amazon takes a hard line with that kind of behavior. It leads to lots of duplicate listings.

Q. What Bundles CAN I Sell?

productbundleIf you’ve created a bundle of, say, Disney Princess plates, napkins and cups for a party pack, is that OK to sell? Maybe. 99% of those items are licensed rather than direct from the brand. If you buy them from the rights holder (licensee) AND you have permission to re-sell them on Amazon, then you probably can create a bundle. What if you buy them at Target and create a bundle? Probably not. I say that from experience. I’ve been kicked off of listings by Amazon because I didn’t have the right to re-sell part or all of the bundle on Amazon even though I bought them retail at Target.

What if you are selling a gift bundle and it is full of candy and toys? If all the items are branded, you are probably OK. You can have a Hershey’s bar with a package of Minions Mike ‘N Ike® with a SpongeBob toy and a Cars® coloring book with Crayola® Crayons. That’s how I read the rules. In the title you would call it a bundle and not list any of the brands until the description bullets: Bundle: 8-Year-Old Boy Special “Feel Better” Gift Box by Cynthia’s Fabulous Gift Boxes for Special People™.

Last Word on UPCs…For Today

I’ll write more about this topic as I find out more. Currently I’ve not been able to reinstate my clients’ ability to create new listings once they’ve lost that ability. I’m not giving up, however. This enforcement is new which means mistakes will be made and Amazon will improve the process as time goes on.

Bottom line, I predict there will be suspensions and sellers will need to prove to Amazon that their bundle or multi-pack follows policy. It may be that sellers will need to provide invoices for every item in a bundle. If your bundle consists of a bunch of dollar store items, you may have a harder time proving authenticity unless the invoices are detailed and you are buying wholesale from the Dollar Tree® or Dollar Store® vs. retail.

Is Amazon Changing its Policies for USED Products?

Recently I’ve seen inauthentic claims that surprised and worried me as someone who sells used books and media on the platform. My understanding has been that Amazon does not seek authentic sources for used items. They know we are buying this stuff at book sales and thrift stores, etc. – all places that have lousy receipts. In fact, most of my receipts are hand written (disallowed as proof by Amazon). Many of my books were bought in large lots. I used to find CDs and DVDs the same way.

However, three times now I’ve seen Amazon go after a seller (including me) for inauthentic for used media. In previous cases I basically said, “Used media is not subject to the same authenticity scrutiny as new items” and it was OK. My Carl Sagan Cosmos book was allowed.

Last week we got a different response back from Amazon that said, “counterfeit is against policy whether new or used.” OK, but seriously? This was some obscure classical music CD my client bought at an estate sale. I felt a chill down my spine. If this is truly new policy, the implications are horrifying. Nearly all used, collectible and possibly refurbished items on the platform would vanish overnight if sellers had to provide detailed invoices.

What is Going On Here?

We escalated this issue with Amazon to see if we can get a clear answer on policy from Jeff Bezos’ team or someone senior. Rachel Greer and her team at Cascadia Seller Solutions helped us with our research. After a flurry of emails, a member of the senior executive team reviewed the case and told my client, “counterfeit is counterfeit,” and they still want to see invoices.

Here’s the problem. Counterfeit sellers are selling their products as used to circumvent the Product Quality team (who focus on New) so now they’re having to review Used products as well. Category gating has made it harder to list items of uncertain provenance as new, but it’s still simple to list as used. To combat these black hat tactics, used products no longer seem to be exempted from the automated algorithms. And as Rachel noted to me, “You know they’re not brilliant at separating the wheat from the chaff.”

She’s a master at understatement.

We were also told that it was not likely to be a regular thing (even though I’ve now seen three).  Amazon knows that we won’t be able to provide receipts/invoices so how many inauthentic/counterfeit strikes do we get before we’re suspended? Three in six months, five in a year are the numbers I’ve heard before.  I can’t confirm with Amazon, but seems right based on our experience.

Will They Actually Suspend a Seller for Inauthentic Who is Selling Used Media?

Yes.  We have a case currently. It upsets me a lot. If you are selling counterfeit as “used” to avoid inauthentic claims? Your days are numbered. If you are an honest used media and collectibles seller? Those dishonest bastards just ruined it for the rest of us.

What Should I Do if I’m a Used Media or Collectibles Seller?

Assess your situation. 

  1. Do you already have inauthentic claims against you that you couldn’t disprove?
  2. Are you engaging in other violations like listing DVDs in the “Everything Else” category, selling poor quality product, etc?
  3. Do you sell collectibles, DVDs or CDs? They are at higher risk for claims.
  4. Are you buying from sources with poor receipts or invoices?

Determine your risk comfort level and act.

  1. If you don’t have any claims against you now, take a wait and see approach. Going forward, buy from authentic sources. (see my blog post on the Gray Market for more on “what is authentic?”)
  2. If you have product quality, inauthentic and counterfeit claims on your account already, get rid of the high risk items in your inventory and sell them somewhere else or destroy them. Going forward, only list on Amazon products that you would believe to be authentic yourself, as this is really a customer experience/perception issue more than reality.
  3. If you’ve already been suspended for inauthentic claims in the past, time to clear out your inventory. You can’t afford another claim.

New Automate Repricing Tool by Amazon?

In case you missed it, Amazon soft launched in beta its new repricing tool…maybe. I have predicted for some time that Amazon’s insistence that we enter our high-low range for our inventory was the precursor to a repricing tool. Check out these two videos: Amazon beta launch; analysis from Stephen Smotherman and this article from eCommerce Bytes to learn more.

My friends at Feedvisor pointed out to me that this is a rules-based program rather than algorithm based which means it is focused on getting you the lowest price rather than the Buy Box per se. This is the problem with most repricing tools. It isn’t their fault, but generally that’s how it works. They race you to the bottom even if you decide not to go below the lowest price.

Right now you have to be invited to beta test the program. My prediction is that when they launch it officially, many sellers who are currently using rules-based programs will switch. Amazon’s is MUCH simpler and – as near as I can tell – will be free. It will be an awesome tool for smaller sellers and I’m excited to see Amazon offer it. For the high-volume and private label sellers, I think they are still going to want an algorithmicly based tool that allows them to compare their sales against their competition’s.

[Full disclosure: I am a Feedvisor customer. I’m biased…but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.]

May Travels

Atlanta Olympic ParkI’m heading to Atlanta next week for SellerLab’s RESONATE conference. In addition to being one of the experts at the conference, I’m hosting a dinner on Wednesday night (May 18) after the conference ends. Space is limited to 15-17 people. If you are in the Atlanta/Buckhead area, please join us!

The following week both my business partner Lesley Hensell and myself will be in New York City for the Feedvisor Seller Summit. I’ve been allowed to offer a handful of free tickets to this by-invitation-only event to my clients whose volume meets or exceeds $1.5 M annually (100K+ per month). The Miami Beach conference earlier this year was outstanding in terms of content and no sales pitches.

Please sign up HERE for the May 24 Feedvisor conference in Manhattan’s Meat-Packing District. You will be contacted by Feedvisor if you meet the criteria. RSVP cut-off is early next week. I am so delighted to offer this opportunity to my high-volume clients.

brooklyn bridgeIn addition to meeting our clients at the conference, we will be having dinner with our local clients while we are in town. Please check your in-boxes on Friday for an invitation to this very special private party at the Reserve Cut in lower Manhattan. It’s Kosher and supposed to be one of the best steakhouses in New York City. I can’t wait! If you don’t see your invitation by Monday, contact my assistant Lissa at: Lissa@onlinesalesstepbystep.com.

January 24, 2016

Amazon Seller Questions About Policy

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to a large group of sellers at the Feedvisor conference in Miami Beach. Most of these sellers are $1.5M+ a year and higher and they are understandably concerned about losing their seller privileges. Feedvisor also shared a survey of 1,500 Amazon sellers with us and I was startled to see that 63% of sellers count fear of suspension as one of their biggest worries. Be sure to check out the full report, it was fascinating. Here are some questions and scenarios that came up that I thought would be of interest to you, my faithful reader:

Q. My Mom and I both have seller accounts. They are separate accounts but I’m worried that our accounts might be linked and if one of us goes down, we both go down. I’ve logged into her account to help her out sometimes. What should we do?

Your accounts are definitely linked. They know you are related. While you are both in good standing, you need to address the issue with Seller Performance. Follow the process for operating multiple seller accounts. Even though you are simply wanting an annotation on your account rather than owning two accounts per se. Here’s the process:

Operating multiple seller accounts: Operating and maintaining multiple Seller Central accounts is prohibited. If you have a legitimate business need for a second account, you can apply for an exception to this policy. From the bottom of any page in your seller account, click Contact Seller Support. Select Your account, then select Other account issues.

In your request, provide an explanation of the legitimate business need for a second account. To be considered for approval, you must have the following:

  • An account in good standing with excellent Customer Metrics
  • A separate email address and bank account for the new account
  • No intention to sell the same products or services in both accounts
  • Intention to sell in entirely different categories
  • The inventory sold in each account must be different

You’ll receive a response to your request within 2 to 3 business days.

Provide the information above for both accounts and explain that you are separate businesses and want to remain that way. You are concerned that your accounts are linked and if one account should be suspended the other one will be also. Explain your product mix and how each of you sources your products to sell on Amazon. Ask for an account annotation on both accounts stating that the accounts are operating legitimately.

Lastly, be aware that a seller should NEVER go inside another seller’s account without precautions. We have a client right now that used to help other sellers set up their accounts. She is linked to many seller accounts right now and we suspect that is why she is not getting reinstated. Once we un-link her, we hope she will be back.

The gray market isn’t just in China, of course, but this is a good chart of how it works. Where does your supplier fit in this cycle? Are you sure your items are legit?

Q. How does Amazon perceive the gray market and why is it cracking down on it?

Gray market inventory consists of legal, non-counterfeited goods sold outside normal distribution channels by entities (us third-party sellers) which may have no relationship with the producer of the goods. That’s the basic Wikipedia definition. In practice, this means that products don’t qualify for the manufacturer’s warranty and were never intended to be sold to you for resale. It also means the items could be stolen or could be inappropriately imported from another country that does not meet all of the U.S. regulations. It could also be slightly different from the version sold in the U.S. Or it could be forbidden for sale online.

An example that I see a lot in Beauty is sellers who also own a brick and mortar salon. They order designer hair product through their salon that their contract specifically forbids being sold online. They sell it on Amazon under a different store name. A competitor or the manufacturer complains (or else Amazon already has that brand in their list of restricted products) and the seller’s listing or account is suspended.

Another recent client was selling products from MLMs. She bought from Herbalife and Creative Memories distributors and then sold on Amazon.  While this seller is not violating a contract with the manufacturer, their hand-written receipts won’t hold up with Amazon who knows these are inauthentic goods. Why did Amazon allow them to be sold in the first place? I wish I knew. You would think they’d have made it impossible to list certain goods that are clearly inauthentic.

Why does inauthentic matter if the product is not counterfeit? Here is what Amazon says in its policies:

We take product authenticity very seriously. It is each seller’s responsibility to source and sell only authentic products. If you sell counterfeit goods, we may immediately suspend or terminate your selling privileges and destroy inventory in our fulfillment centers without reimbursement. In addition, if we determine that a seller account has been used to engage in fraud or other illegal activity, remittances and payments may be withheld or forfeited. The sale of counterfeit goods can also lead to legal action by rights holders and civil and criminal penalties.

We are constantly innovating on behalf of our customers and working with manufacturers, content owners, vendors, and sellers to improve the ways we detect and prevent counterfeit products from reaching our marketplace. We work hard on this issue every day because we know that our customers trust that they are buying authentic products when they shop on Amazon.com. This is why we stand behind the products sold on our site with our A-to-Z Guarantee. We also encourage anyone who has a product authenticity concern to notify us, and we will investigate it thoroughly and take any appropriate actions.

In the first place, it is related to counterfeit in that it is much more likely that you might be buying and selling counterfeit goods if you are buying from an unauthorized source. You might also be selling stolen goods. That is certainly one way to find inexpensive goods to sell on Amazon. You may not have stolen the goods yourself but you are equally responsible under the law and with Amazon. That is why it is so important to check out your suppliers to make sure they are authorized to sell goods to you for resale online. They may only have permission to sell to brick and mortar stores or they may be unauthorized to sell those products at all. Notice how Amazon says they are working with manufacturers, content owners, vendors and sellers? You can take that to the bank. I’m confident that a number of my client’s inauthentic claims came directly from the manufacturers. Amazon MUST take their claims seriously. So if you are screwing your supplier and violating your agreement….more fool you.

Wall St. Journal points out that gray market vendors for top luxury brands remained high despite Alibaba’s efforts to purge them. This is what Amazon is fighting.

Inauthentic claims abound in all categories and it is really hard to get some sellers back on the platform – particularly if they’ve been reinstated previously for this and didn’t change their ways.

I know other sellers who make up invoices, lie about their sources or refuse to reveal their source. Amazon is rigid on this topic. Confess, cough up the real invoices, throw yourself on Amazon’s mercy, and stop buying on the gray market. It is your only hope.

One seller said in all seriousness, “what will I sell then?” That summarizes the issue nicely. Sellers need to find product cheaply and don’t really care where it comes from as long as it isn’t counterfeit. Amazon cares and will kick you off forever if you can’t prove the authenticity of your goods. Remember, you signed a contract that said you would source and sell only authentic products. The burden of proof is on you.

Q. I’m confident that my goods are genuine. Are you saying I need to get proof from my supplier all the way back to the manufacturer/brand owner?

Yes.  If the supplier can’t prove they are an authorized reseller, or that they bought from an authorized reseller (or direct from the manufacturer), then you are buying gray market goods.  You can no longer afford to make assumptions.  It is your responsibility to verify authenticity.  And remember, if it seems too good to be true…it is.

Q. If I tell Amazon I bought from a gray market source, will they tell the manufacturer or legitimate supplier?

I don’t know for sure. I’ve seen no evidence of it. What I know for sure is that they won’t reinstate you unless you do. They don’t work for the manufacturers so my guess is no. This is about Amazon protecting its platform and reputation as well as possible legal repercussions. They have to show that they have policies in place to eliminate counterfeit from the platform or else they could be legally liable for counterfeit and stolen goods sold on their platform. This is why inauthentic and counterfeit are among the toughest claims to get reinstated. They have no tolerance for invoice fakers and repeaters who don’t learn their lesson the first time.

Q. I sell high-end luxury goods and I get a lot of inauthentic claims from Amazon and it is such a hassle to get my listings reinstated. Is there any way to make this faster or to make them stop?

Michael Kors is rabid about kicking sellers off the platform. The others are also diligent. If you sell these brands, you can expect to be questioned by Amazon and to have to produce invoices or receipts.

No. Your best offense is a good defense in this case. Make sure that for every product you sell you can immediately produce the invoices and trace the product directly back to the brand/rights holder. The shorter the distance between you and the manufacturer, the better. For each middle man you will need to provide information to demonstrate that they bought their product from a legitimate source. The best time to ask your supplier for a letter or other form of verification of their inventory source is at the time of purchase. Get it, file it. If they are unwilling to share their source, you may have a problem. A client of mine recently proved the purchase trail of her inventory all the way back to Versace in Italy. What a hassle!

Luxury goods sellers be aware that Amazon knows the legitimate distribution channels for these high end brands. If you come up with an unknown name for a supplier, it will come under intense scrutiny. Another reason not to fake your invoices. Also, some brand owners do not allow their items to be sold online. This is why it is important for you to determine if your supplier has the right to sell product to you for resale on Amazon – not just if they are an authorized reseller of that brand.

Q. Is there a specific number of inauthentic claims I get before being suspended?

Amazon doesn’t share that information. If you regularly get inauthentic claims but are able to prove you bought from legitimate sources, you should be OK. If you get caught buying from the gray market, you must stop selling all gray market goods immediately. You risk your entire account. If you get a bunch of inauthentic claims in a short time that is more damaging to your account than one here and there. If you repeatedly get inauthentic claims for the same brand and/or the same ASIN, that is more damaging than random claims for different items in your inventory.

If you are selling gray market goods now, I strongly urge you to find new sources for your inventory.  Amazon has an uncanny ability to ferret out gray market goods.

Q. What about items I buy new from thrift stores, garage sales, charities, etc.? Are those gray market?

Yes. There is no way to know if they are genuine. Do NOT sell them as New on Amazon’s platform. Two Miracle Max 1of our recent clients were able to get reinstated by getting a letter from the charity stating where they had received the merchandise initially (it was a large donation from the brand owner). They were LUCKY. You probably won’t be. Don’t do it. It took days-to-weeks to get these letters. It is a big hassle. Our clients lost a lot of money.

Another client had the brand owner accuse him of selling stolen goods and he has no recourse because he bought them at a garage sale and doesn’t even have a receipt let alone an invoice.  We got him reinstated but it was a “Miracle Max” miracle.  When he was filling his bags with cheap inventory he was thrilled and thought he’d found a bargain.  Now in hindsight he feels badly for being so naive and not questioning where the goods were coming from.

Q. Is there anything I can do if Amazon thinks my invoices are fake?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?  We have several clients who Amazon flat out doesn’t believe them – most for good reason.  I can’t emphasize enough how good Amazon is at spotting fake invoices and how seriously they take this issue.  It is better to throw yourself on their mercy and confess than to send in fake invoices.  I have a client right now who is sending in genuine invoices BUT they won’t believe them because they had previously sent in fake invoices.  I’m trying to figure out a way to fix this but for now it could be an account-ending mistake.

If our clients can’t put their hands on the invoices immediately, we know we have a problem on our hands. Friends, it should not take you hours to days to get us an invoice.

Q. Why does Amazon want to see invoices for 180 days of sales?

One trick some sellers use is to mix authentic goods with gray market goods to improve their profitability. By asking for invoices that show six months of sales, Amazon is looking for sellers playing these games.

Q. Why does Amazon keep rejecting my invoices when I know they are legit?

There’s a lot of possibilities.  They may know more than you do about your supplier/distributor.  You may have sent your goods to an unknown address – a trick used by sellers trying to fool customs (really, the things you learn in this job!).  We had  that happen recently with a client.  The address wasn’t a trick, but they had moved a year previously and not updated their Amazon profile.  That flagged their invoices and we had to prove the move and legitimacy of their current address where the goods had been sent.

Your product may also be one that is known to have counterfeits/knockoffs.  I have many clients that sell luxury brands which puts them under Amazon scrutiny to begin with.  If they are also buying from the gray market – importing from Europe to sell in the US, for example – it can be a problem.  Most luxury brands have very specific distribution channels in each country and don’t authorize goods from one country to be sold in another even if they are the same.  We have a sunglasses seller who ran into this problem when he brought in inventory from Europe to sell in the U.S.

Q. How can I avoid getting inauthentic claims?

Make sure your product is perfect and well packed. If you are selling a luxury item, make sure it is a satisfying experience for the buyer to open.  Gift boxes, tissues, seals, luxury labels — all make a difference.

We had one watch seller who was getting inauthentic and counterfeit claims for a luxury watch band.  He received them in a bulk package and then put them in a poly bag. Buyers thought they were fake. We suggested he call the brand and see if they could send him seals and/or official labels or tags – which they were happy to do.  Now his watchbands are better packaged and they look official to the buyer.  He eliminated the root cause of the complaints. Optics are very important when selling expensive products. Always keep the buyer experience in mind.  The more expensive your product, the more they expect.

This won’t necessarily protect you if the manufacturer is making the complaint, but it will help to show that your buyers are satisfied.  If you also had a lot of complaining buyers….that would be bad.  In the case of my client, he buys his watchbands directly from the manufacturer so there was no problem getting his ASIN reinstated once he fixed the buyer complaints.

Q. I bought gray market goods without realizing it. Will Amazon let me sell again?

Usually yes.  Are you a repeat offender?  Have they asked you to provide authentic invoices for the same product over and over again?  You need to stop selling those.  If Amazon lets you back, you need to clean up your inventory and get rid of inauthentic goods.  For all of those reading this with a pit in your stomach (and who haven’t been suspended or asked to provide invoices) I suggest selling out your current supply and making sure you are clean going forward.  If you are already in the cycle with Amazon trying to get a listing or your account reinstated, start your clean out now.

I know this is a very expensive proposition that will make a lot of sellers angry.  All I can say is that you need to decide the level of risk you can live with.  Getting back on after inauthentic claims is very hard…or maybe it just seems hard to me because so many of my clients have fake invoices I have to explain.  Regardless, forewarned is forearmed.

Time to Get Clean with Amazon!

For the past few months we have been developing and refining a new service for sellers that allows them to see the “hidden metrics” on their accounts and take action before Amazon suspends their listing or – worse – their account!  Called Get Clean Stay Clean™, our service provides a weekly “Canary Report” that gives early warning of product quality and performance issues that can bring your account to a halt.

For $250 a month, you can have the peace of mind knowing that you are addressing problems before they become big. You will also have access to us if issues come up that require more intensive attention like ASIN reinstatements.  LEARN MORE….

 

Skyline of downtown Salt Lake City with the Towering Wasatch Mountain range in the background
Skyline of downtown Salt Lake City with the Towering Wasatch Mountain range in the background

On the Road Again!

My next stop in my travels is beautiful, chilly, Salt Lake City for the Prosper show February 7-9. My business partner Lesley Hensell and our colleague Nate McCallister will be joining me as we anticipate quite a few of our clients will be attending. We are hosting a special client appreciation happy hour on Monday night the 8th – check your email for an email from us! I sent it on Sunday. If you are going to the show, please be sure to say hello!

You can see my speaking engagements and travel schedule on my Suspension Prevention website which I keep updated.

Suspension Prevention BookJan 22 16 ranking

Want to learn more about suspensions and reinstatements on Amazon.com? Be sure to get your copy of my new book Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect Your Amazon Seller Account.  The softcover is on Amazon and the Kindle, Nook and PDF versions are available from me.

Already we are hearing stories of sellers who were able to reinstate themselves after reading the book – music to our ears!

January 28, 2015

She Who Hesitates…Overcome 10 Common FBA Seller Anxieties

quotes-courage-is_14280-2One of the most frequent questions I get in my classes, my blog and online is a variation of “How do I know this is a good deal?” With new sellers in particular there is a natural fear of the unknown. You read up on Amazon FBA and it all sounds great but there is this voice at the back of your head saying “yeah…but…” because it seems almost too good to be true. Before you put down your hard-earned dollars, you want to know that it is going to be worth it, that you are going to get your money back out. While I’ve covered this topic in the past, the fact is there are so many more resources today than when I got started. It is time for an update.

Early on in my Amazon selling career I would find myself standing in front of a shelf somewhat anxious. I was looking at a book or toy and wondering if it was a good deal. I didn’t have anyone to call for a reality check or to think out loud with. So what happened? Sometimes I bought the item sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes it was wonderful and sometimes it was a huge mistake. Through these experiences I learned a lot. I tried really hard to learn each lesson just once…but sometimes I’m a slow learner. Hopefully that is NOT the case with you!

Why are you hesitating?

When I stopped to pick apart my anxieties later I found that there were 10 common reasons why I would hesitate:

  1. Amazon is selling it for less
  2. Rank is higher than I sold at before
  3. It has no rank or, perhaps, wasn’t even in the catalog
  4. I don’t know how to price it
  5. Item is oversize
  6. Item cost “a lot” and is, thus, riskier for me
  7. Condition is iffy – slight box or cover damage. Can I sell it as new?
  8. There are a lot of other FBA offers
  9. There are penny sellers (in the case of a book)
  10. Analysis paralysis

Today I have a lot fewer anxious moments not just because of experience and good tools, but also because of personal rules I’ve made for myself over time. I will say up front that if you disagree with my rules or have different rules of your own based on experience, we are probably both right. Personal rules are about comfort and about streamlining the decision process for yourself. I offer mine up as a helpful insight, but NOT as a commandment. Only use what works for you:

dilbert_strategy

Amazon is selling it for less

This is not always a deal killer which is why I hesitate. I sell a brand of shower gel, lotions and soaps that is very popular. Amazon sells them for $8-$9 a bottle/bar and I sell them for $13.99-$14.99. I buy them for $3.99. I know from experience that Amazon regularly sells out of this brand and that mine will sell quickly when they do. How did I learn this? I naively bought a bunch and sent them in thinking that Amazon didn’t sell it (this was before tools like CamelCamelCamel – see below). I sold a few units a day and then it stopped because Amazon was back in stock. I waited Amazon out and I sold the rest of my inventory. Today I can see the sales history for an item and know that Amazon sells out regularly. If I’m OK with selling it in bursts every month or so, then great. This strategy works best on low ranked items, obviously.

Sometimes Amazon will have a sale to compete against another retail offer or it is a seasonal thing like when they discount all their calendars in January (don’t worry, it is only for a couple of weeks!). Back in the day, it was a much bigger risk to buy something that Amazon was selling for less. Today I have tools to help me and so I don’t dither. I can see Amazon’s normal price and decide if it is OK for me. I can see how often they have run out in the past. Read on to learn more.

Rank is higher than I sold at before

Sellers who take my live classes get a fairly conservative range of sales rank from me. I want to make sure that the stuff they buy on our trip will sell relatively quickly and that they realize success. New sellers usually have limited dollars for inventory and need to build up before they take on a lot of “long-tail” deals. If your whole inventory is long-tail payoff, you will not be able to pay your bills today, basically. For that reason I’ve usually given them category ranks in the 1%-5% range.

Peter Valley wrote a guest blog for me once about sales rank where he included a chart of suggested ranks that many sellers have found useful, but PLEASE don’t write me and tell me it is outdated. It was outdated the second I published it because new items are constantly being added to the catalog. My suggestion is to use this as a guideline when you are getting started and to update it yourself from time to time. It is easy enough to figure out the top 1%, 5%, 15%, etc., in a category. One last PS to this chart, I rarely buy books over 1 million in rank any more. This is my rule for me. Other book sellers may feel differently.

OK, Cynthia, but what about when you see something with a high rank that you just know is adorable and should sell? Or maybe it is a seasonal item like a textbook or a pool toy or Halloween costume? This is where the anxiety drift begins. Also, if you decide “I’m not selling books above 1 million” and then you find a high-value book for 1,100,000….what then? My first step when I see something with a high return that is outside of my normal comfort zone rank-wise is to check CamelCamelCamel. ScanPower, FBAScan, ProfitBandit and other scanning tools provide direct access to CamelCamelCamel (CCC) from your view screen. You can also type in www.camelcamelcamel.com in to your phone’s browser if you are using a tool that doesn’t have direct access to CCC.

If you’re not familiar with CCC, it keeps track of Amazon product rank and prices over time. To me CCC is like a miracle drug. I’m totally addicted to the data. Yesterday I sold a textbook for $35 that I bought last year for $4.79. When I bought it in September I was fairly confident that it would sell either by the end of September or in January because textbooks are seasonal. But let’s pretend I had no idea and I was totally new to books. I would have still bought this book if I’d checked with CCC first.

CCC price

CCC shows you first off price history data for your item. It will default to Amazon (green) unless Amazon doesn’t sell it. Then you will see 3rd Party New (blue) or 3rd Party Used (Red) checked. Otherwise you will have to check them yourself. In this case, my book is used-very good so I clicked the red price type. What I note immediately is that Amazon is selling it for $165 and has been selling it around that price since last August. This is good news for me – lots of room to undersell them.

CCC Price changes used

Third-party used has been all over the place. I am not discouraged by the $1.97 price because that is Merchant Fulfilled and I’m going to be FBA fulfilled. When I bought these books (I bought two), there were no FBA sellers at all which meant my offer was the most attractive with free 2-day shipping. I priced both of them at $35 even though one is used-very good and one is good. My customer is impatient.

Why doesn’t my $35 price show up under “Last 5 Price Changes?” My price has not changed, for one thing. It is not the lowest for another. You can see there is at least one MF seller racing to the bottom over the past week. This heavy textbook is going to cost him his shirt. I don’t get it. Why doesn’t my price show up in “Current?” Because it is not the lowest and it is not in the Buy Box. I was never in the Buy Box at the price I was offering because it is used and the Buy Box is for new items (as of this writing). This is one of the ways books are very different from toys or other categories. The Buy Box is not as important. Someone who wants a used book and/or who wants Prime shipping will search by that and not by the Buy Box. I aimed my offer at the impatient Prime buyer not the tight-waddy student willing to wait two weeks to save a few bucks.

sales rank

Now here’s the money shot! This is the sales rank over the past year for this product. Each spike represents a sale. Some sales are so close together that it looks like a thick green line. Green for money, my friends! Right now the rank on this textbook is around 10,000. History shows us it is likely to drop as low as 5,000 over the next week or two. There are some book sellers who won’t buy a book over 500,000 in sales rank. If they scanned this book on December 2 on 2014, they would have missed out on a really great deal.

CCC is really helpful if you are buying out-of-season items at a huge sale price like I recommend.  You’ll be able to see when the peak sales are. It also helps if there is a high ranked item that is out-of-stock. It might be that the rank is so high because there are no units for sale or it might be that it is so high because no one likes it very much. CCC can help you see what a normal sales rank might be.

There is no rank and/or it is not in Amazon’s catalog

CCC isn’t much help if there is no Amazon history. When I’m teaching a class, I’ll usually tell my students to put down an item that has no rank and to look for something else. Again, I’m conservative and I want them to be successful. I’m clear that I do add items to the catalog, but I don’t recommend it for brand-new sellers. The reason for this is that it can take a while for sales to pick up on a new item in the Amazon catalog. Skip McGrath told me once that it usually takes a month to six weeks to see the first sale on a new item that he adds – and he is highly experienced with launching new products on Amazon. Also, there is no guarantee that an item will sell at all. Take the risk when you have some money you can afford to lose.

If an item has no rank, it has never sold a unit on Amazon except for all the exceptions. For example, electronics (CE) is riddled with exceptions where they won’t show you the sales rank or you can only find the sales rank in the sub-category, not in the overall category. Why does Amazon do this? I have no idea. I’ve sat at my computer and looked at the top 100 sellers on Amazon in CE and found all kinds of items that showed no sales rank. Crazy! Usually if you do a CCC search on that item, it will show you the rank unless it is too new to have a history.  In that case, I might look at a similar item from the year before for an idea of its potential popularity (think about Dre headsets or a Bose speaker). If you are looking at a name brand electronic item and it shows no rank on Amazon but has offers, dig deeper. I’ve heard that apparel can be like that too.

Maybe the reason no one is selling it on Amazon yet is because it is brand new. When Inkoos were a hotinkoos toy, I bought a bunch of different kinds of Inkoos and added them to the Amazon catalog. My other Inkoos were selling well and I was confident that these other versions would sell well, too. And they did. The great thing about adding an item to the catalog is that you are the only seller for a while and so I sold most of my Inkoos before other sellers jumped in with their units.

Another tool that I use from my scanner is eBay completed auctions. This helps me answer the “I wonder if anyone will buy it from me if I put it up there?” question sometimes. If the item has been sold on eBay recently that tells me that there are buyers out there. Pricing on eBay for me is a starting point. Often eBay listings are cheaper than I can price it for on Amazon.

You can also do a Google search on your phone’s browser (or from the scanner) to see the other online sites where it is for sale and what they are charging. If the product is nowhere to be found online, then you have to decide if you think it will sell and if you are willing to take the risk. If you are hesitating, then maybe you should keep looking for a deal that has already proven to sell on Amazon.

I don’t know how to price it

Maybe you are hesitating not because you are worried about selling the item, but because you don’t know what to charge and/or if you’ll be able to get the price you need to make it profitable. I’ve done that before with rare and discontinued items that are hard to find. They were sold out on Amazon and this was before CCC so I couldn’t consult with price history. What I did in that case was I checked eBay sold and Google.

eBay sold

This particular item wasn’t anywhere. It was discontinued and sold out. It was a major brand and I took a chance at $35 each. I started selling at $150 and my first one sold the day it reached the warehouse. I raised my price to $175. Eventually I was selling this Harley Davidson comforter set for $250 each. Each time I found more, they sold instantly. I thought about selling them higher but I felt shy about it. I’m over that now. If I had the same deal today, I’d start at $499 and test my price from there. At the time, I didn’t understand the value of what I had. People really wanted these comforter sets and they were nowhere to be found.

Other times I’ve done my searches and found that it was selling on eBay and other sites. I had to assume that Amazon might come back into stock and decide what I wanted to do. Could I compete close to the prices I was finding online? If not, it was probably too risky.

Item is oversized

I’m not afraid of oversized items, but there’s oversized and then there’s OVERSIZED if you know what mean. The problem isn’t whether or not I’ll make money off it – my scanning tool gives me an accurate net price – but how much it will cost me to ship it to Amazon.com. Will it need a special box? If it is oversized I already know it is going to a special warehouse and that I won’t be able to combine it with smaller items. With all the changes in Amazon’s fees, it is less and less profitable to send in big items.

FBA sellers used to sell large-screen TVs and dishwashers on Amazon just to give you an idea of how things have changed over the past few years. Now the determining factor for me is often whether or not it will fit in one of my boxes. I buy 24 X 12 X 12, 20 X 20 X 20 and 22 X 22 X 22 boxes regularly (along with book boxes). These sizes cover bedding, grocery, appliances, and collectible games. Amazon also sends me a huge supply of smaller boxes that I break down and keep for smaller orders (if they are still in good condition). If I don’t think it will fit one of my boxes, I usually put it down. The cost and hassle factor go up a lot at this point.

Bedding and appliances are well worth the extra costs for shipping and boxes (usually one bed kit fills a box by itself to give you an idea) because my ROI is so high. This is not always true of oversized toys and groceries. I often carry a tape measure with me so I can measure before I bring home an item. If you don’t have one with you, sometimes a store manager can scare one up. My friend Lynn refuses to buy anything that won’t fit in a Walmart moving box. That’s her rule. I buy from Uline and I have more choices, but I also have a minimum number I have to buy to get a reasonable price. Plus the warehouse is at least 30 minutes away. Know your boxes.

Item costs “a lot”

This one is perhaps the hardest one to overcome because it is an emotional rather than analytical response. It comes from a place of fear. What is “a lot” to me is different from someone else. It is purely subjective. You are naturally afraid of losing your investment. It might feel a bit like gambling in the beginning even with all the tools. What I can tell you is that nearly every seller I’ve ever talked to about this topic has told me “I wish I’d started buying more expensive items sooner.” I feel the same way. That is usually where the best profits are to be made. You can buy a $1 item and flip it for $7 and make a few bucks, but for the same amount of time and effort, you can buy a $25 item and sell it for $130, which is way more exciting and makes you money faster.

Johann-Wolfgang-Von-Goeth

Here is my suggestion for you. If this is during your first six months of selling and you feel nervous about an item because it costs a lot, put it down. Buy smaller deals that you are comfortable with and get experience selling. It is more work for you to process a lot of lower cost items but you’ll still make money. After you’ve been selling for a few months, make some rules for yourself like, “I will spend up to $25 per item if the rank is X.” I suggest that X be a fairly low rank in the top 1% of Amazon sellers. After you’ve tried a few of these and learned from them, then you should feel more comfortable upping your game. Having a game plan takes a lot of the worry and hesitation out of your shopping trip so you can focus instead on the good deals.

The good news about our business is that there will always be good deals out there. I find that there is more opportunity than I can afford to buy. Don’t feel bad if you miss out on an occasional good deal – another one is right around the corner.

Maybe “a lot” isn’t about the per-unit cost but about the number of units. There are 30 units of what seems like a good deal but I’m hesitating to spend $750 on it. If I don’t buy them all and they turn out to be good sellers – someone else will have probably bought them all in the meantime and I’ll be kicking myself. In most cases I’ll usually buy the items but I won’t send them all in at once. If I send a few up there and they stagnate or a bunch of low-ballers come in and undercut me, then I can easily return the ones that are in my house and use the money for something else. The rule in this case may be “if I don’t sell a unit in two weeks from receiving at the warehouse, I’m returning the rest,” or whatever time frame feels right to you. Obviously this only works in stores with a generous return policy.

Condition is iffy – slight box or cover damage. Can I sell it as new?

damaged_box2If you are asking the question, you already know the answer. Probably not. In Amazon’s world, new is new. Anything else is used or “Open Box” or “Collectible.” Have I covered up small tears in shrink wrap with a sticker? Yes I have. Is a Big Wheels box different than My Little Pony? Yes it is. Large Big Wheels (and other large toys) boxes are meant to be shipping boxes as well as descriptive boxes. A slightly crushed corner is normal. The bottom line for me is if the person receiving it would consider it new, then it is new. If they would think it is dirty, old or slightly damaged put it down. If a Barbie collector would have a fit, put it down. They are only going to send it back. It’s not worth the negative feedback and possibly unhappy customer. Don’t spend too much time with these iffy’s, they’ll give you heartburn.

There are a lot of other FBA offers

My general rule is to put something down if there are “too many” other FBA sellers. How much is “too many?” It varies depending on rank and category. The higher the rank, the fewer competitors I want to see. I have a great repricer in Feedvisor so I feel pretty confident about my ability to compete with other sellers of new items BUT the single biggest problem with seeing a lot of sellers on an item is the race to the bottom. The price might look OK today, but it is like an avalanche. One scared snowflake/seller starts the race and everyone else tumbles down the hill after him.

In books, most other sellers have one or two units at the most. In almost any other category they might have dozens to hundreds of units each. I have some candy that I bought for $1 that was low ranked and only had one other seller besides me and my shopping partner. Unfortunately, this guy didn’t run out for more than four months and he was selling his candy at a stupidly low price. He’s finally out this week and my friend and I are selling our units, but if I’d realized ahead of time just how many units he had, I gp2would have never bought this candy. My mistake. I could have found out before I bought several hundred units but I didn’t. I thought “One seller! No problem!” In this case, a lot was just 1 guy (curse you, Red Baron!). In other cases, I can successfully compete against 4-5 sellers without much concern. I see this in Baby a lot and I think it is because most of us have limited quantities (we are all buying from the same closeout stores) and I have a dynamic repricer which keeps me in the Buy Box a significant percentage of every day.

It is OK to buy items that have other sellers. It helps to have a rule of thumb for yourself about how many is too many.  If I see five other sellers at a price lower than I want to sell, I usually put it back down.

There are penny sellers (in the case of a book)

penny bookIn the past I would look at a book and if there were one or two penny sellers I might still consider the book. Sometimes I might even buy their books and resell them. My thought was that they would sell out and mine would sell at a higher price. It doesn’t work that way as much as I’d like and I don’t sell penny books any more. A penny book is one where the merchant fulfilled price is 1 penny plus shipping. That means an FBA seller could sell that book for $4…right? Nope. Remember that panicked snowflake? I’ve seen FBA sellers sell penny books for $1. They are losing a lot of money on each one and I don’t get it. A repricer gone crazy? Someone who doesn’t understand the business? Maybe. I’m following Nathan Holmquist’s advice on book selling now and I’m much happier about my book sales. I want the MF price to be at least 49 cents and then I’ll look at the FBA offers. He taught me that if the MF is lower than that, there will likely be a lot of FBA sellers. Check out my blog post if you want to learn more about Nathan’s approach and rules around books.

Analysis paralysis

The dark side of having so much data and having such powerful scanning tools is that sellers can get bogged down by analysis paralysis. Using scanning tools, having personal rules, all these things are designed to make your decision-making process easier and more efficient. During my classes I will often see students spending a minute or more per scan. I see this particularly in the programs where you are required to enter your cost in order to get a net price. This is not how scanning is supposed to work. Scanning is all about getting to the “maybe.” The data you immediately pull up on your phone should be enough for you to say “No” in most cases. And in most cases the answer will be no.

If you are using a Scanfob or other Bluetooth scanner then it should be a quick “no, no, no, no [lots more no’s]…maybe.” That maybe is the one that you’ll check out in more detail. If it looks good on my phone, I’ll usually click through to CCC and to see all the FBA listings on Amazon. This way I don’t find out later that there are a ton of other sellers and I get a feel for how quickly it might sell and at what price. After I do that, the answer may still be no. That’s why it is important to scan a lot – hundreds of items in a typical shopping trip – and to have a way to quickly eliminate the many, many deals that don’t fit your profile. If you find yourself spending a lot of time analyzing each scan, check your personal rules and check your tools.  You need to streamline your process.

Florida Trip in Februaryflorida

I’ve set my dates! I’ll be in Southern Florida/Fort Lauderdale area on Friday and Saturday February 27th and 28th. I’m tentatively planning on two sourcing classes but can schedule another one on Monday March 2 if there is sufficient interest. My classes are limited to 10 people. I’d rather have two smaller classes than one too-large one. I have gotten emails from 10 people thus far indicating interest so don’t delay. Click HERE to reserve your spot now! I have a special early-bird gift for those who sign up by Sunday.

January 15, 2015

January is the cruelest month…

8-ways-to-beat-january-blues-1024x707_1With all due respect to T.S. Elliot, January is the cruelest month for an online seller. There is the post Q4-let down to deal with, the slower sales, the fact that you owe sales tax to every #$%@X state of the union, meetings with your CPA, reporting, 1099 and w-2 forms to get out, new year’s resolutions…I mean, could life be any less fun?

Oh yeah, and don’t forget that Amazon will impose long-term storage fees in a few weeks and it is raising its FBA fees. And the weather has been unusually cold and my dog is refusing to use the doggie door. In short, I’m out of sorts, tired of cleaning up pet deposits, and maybe you are too.

Staying in a funk is not a good idea for long-term success, so what’s a seller to do? This is my fourth FBA January and here are a few strategies that help me slog through:

  1. Plan – Prioritize – Focus
  2. Your heart’s desire
  3. Something new
  4. Take time for yourself

Plan-Prioritize-Focus

It’s a new year and you are filled with goals and resolutions for your business…right? (umm…sure) If you are like me, thinking of new ideas and ways to improve is fun, getting it done is less so. Plus, I tend to be overly ambitious thinking I can handle six impossible things before breakfast every day.

What helps me is to start from a very high level. I write down the top 3 things I wantMagritte to accomplish by the end of the year. This things MUST excite me. Something like “improve my understanding of technology I need for my business”…YAWN! This is an incidental side benefit of something way more exciting like “Increase my sales enough to where I can leave my day job.” These juicy goals are my “big rocks” for the year (if you are not familiar with Steven Covey’s analogy, click here). Remember these are big things, not steps, not pieces. In pursuit of your juicy goals you will likely accomplish many other goals, too.

Next, I commit to these big things. They are in my head now and I’m going to get them done. This is why I don’t recommend more than three. You can always add more juicy goals later if you are successful enough to finish early.

Don’t make my mistake and try to do everything at once. It is a recipe for half-finished projects, despair and chaos. I strongly suggest prioritizing your big rocks. Which one is first, second and third? That means that in January you are only pursuing one goal. This is tough for you overachievers out there, I realize, but hear me out.

You are now going to focus like crazy. First, figure out the steps that need to be done to reach that goal. You can be as macro or micro as you like, just so you know what is next and how to get there. I’m a macro girl. Then, every morning before you do anything else, take steps towards your goal. If it is an hour a day, it is an hour a day. It is your time. The important thing is to accomplish something every day towards reaching your juicy goal. Then, no matter how bad a day you have, you will have accomplished something important. I recommend doing this before checking email and getting distracted – but I realize that you may need to check your email first.

If you focus on one thing at a time, you will progress faster.

Why only one thing at a time? Because you can get a lot more done if you are focused. That is one thing that Covey’s story doesn’t quite get right. He seems to imply that if you do the big rocks first you can actually get everything done, the small rocks, the sand, etc. That’s not really true. The big rocks take a lot of space. You WILL have to give something up, so make sure the goal is juicy AND de-clutter your other activities. What are you spending time on today that is keeping you from getting to your big goals? See how many of them you can eliminate or reduce. This alone will make you happier in the cruelest month.

Your Heart’s Desiretom-cheney-we-can-t-find-a-compromise-between-a-life-of-quiet-desperation-and-life-i-new-yorker-cartoon

Ennui sets in when you lose your spark for your life. I was talking previously about business-related goals, but even the most exciting goal can seem dim and pale if your personal life is suffering. There is joy in work, of course, but you need joy in life to be sustained. It is so easy to get into a routine with kids, making dinner, driving kids and homework….I’m putting myself to sleep here.

The solution is to reach for your heart’s desire. What energizes you? Makes you happy? For me it is travel and vacations with my family. I like to plan them far in advance not only because I’m a planner, but also because it is fun and it keeps me excited for months before the trip. My Amazon business has allowed me to go to San Francisco and the wine country, Tahoe, Disney, the Outer Banks and other fun vacations with my family.

During the short term, I like to have lunch with friends, go to movies and read books. Sometimes I just take a day off to be by myself. I like yoga. When I find myself in the doldrums the first thing I ask myself is “what am I doing for me this week?”

FocusWhat does this have to do with selling on Amazon? Everything! It is NOT about the money, it is about what the money will let you do or get. If your only goal is pay your bills; it is not enough! It won’t keep you humming along with a song in your heart. If you are finding yourself feeling the January mopes right now, make yourself a quick list of what your Amazon money is for – make sure at least one thing on that list is fun and exciting – maybe even a bit crazy.

Something New

After the excitement of Q4, January can seem really dull. All those responsible, necessary tasks…bleh. Time to mix things up a bit. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to check out, learn, try…do it now. I’ve got a couple of software solutions to check out and some books to read to make my business better. I put them off because of Q4 and now I’m excited to finally get to them. This week I’m in a class learning how to better use my Infusionsoft software. Sounds dull, but it isn’t (really!). I’ve been wanting to figure out how to better connect with my readers and be smarter about that side of my business for a long time. I’ve learned so much already that I’m itching to put into practice.

Since last Fall I’ve been getting myself approved in gated categories and now I’m excited to learn about clothing and jewelry. I’ve also got two exclusive agreements with a jewelry designer and a food manufacturer. As the sole seller of these brands, I’m working towards my bigger goal of having a portfolio of unique and/or exclusive products to sell on Amazon. I know I’ll learn a lot this year and I’m excited.

Take Time for Yourself

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. You can’t give from a deficit. If your energy tank is low, your business will suffer, too. Your best bet for getting your sales to hum along is to take care of yourself. Sleep at least eight hours a night. Eat regularly. Take a walk. Groom. Catch up on your laundry. Clean off your desk. Call a friend. All these things will make you feel better.

JoyQuoteIt may be that more is needed to take care of yourself. It may require a change of life, geography, relationships, spirituality, emotions or behaviors. Get outside help if you feel overwhelmed. You are worth the effort. The time you spend understanding yourself is some of the best time you can spend. It pays the most dividends.

OK, if you are reading all this and thinking “WTF is wrong with her? I’m happy as a clam in January!” please contact me. I’m looking for some guest posts on interesting topics and from diverse seller voices.

Just a quick reminder that Amazon’s fees are going up and it will be imposing long-term storage fees in February. Time to clear out your inventory. You’ve got a few weeks to reprice and sell.

What strategies do you employ to pull yourself out of the doldrums? Please comment below!

September 28, 2014

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner!

Nobody puts Baby in a cornerThere are those among us who were very difficult children to raise. If mom and dad said “no,” you wanted it fiercely bad. In this case, Amazon is dad with all its restricted categories where we just KNOW we could make a fortune if we could sell in there. We love our dad but inside our seller chests our heart says “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!!”

For all of you who know this stubborn passion, this blog post is for you. If you don’t understand that reference, you are young my friend and should rent Dirty Dancing immediately.

Recently, the fun folks at ScannerMonkey hosted a live spreecast about how to get approval in the restricted categories. I took notes.

Cordelia Blake and I collaborated on this post and she graciously made the hour-long spreecast available for free to everyone – even if you are not a ScannerMonkey member. Normally, spreecasts are only free during the live broadcasts and you have to be a member to go through the archives – so check it out! It is at the end of this post.

Basically, Amazon restricts categories in order to ensure the customer experience is excellent. In categories like apparel, there are a lot more things to consider like size, color and return policies that are not as relevant or difficult for an appliance or a book. In order to make sure that you will treat its customers as well as Amazon would, big daddy makes you jump through some hoops. These hoops include a questionnaire. Often you also have to provide pictures and a flat file. In some categories like food or health & beauty, you now need invoices. Lastly, you need a track record with Amazon. Unless you are the manufacturer of this gated item, they want to see that you are a good seller first.

All of this paperwork and fiddly rules are quite do-able they just take some work and attention on your part. In most categories when they ask you for something, you need to provide it within a few days. For this reason, Cordelia recommended that you apply for restricted categories in batches – while you are in the application zone doing your pictures and flat files.

In our notes below you will find details for each of the restricted categories discussed. This chart is also available as a downloadable PDF from my free FBA Library. Click to register. or Click here to go directly to the file if you already have your password. The PDF has live hyperlinks so you can jump directly to Amazon’s page about that category.

Restricted Category Chart v2_001

 

Please note that some of this information may seem contradictory. That is because approvals are done by people. Some Amazon approvers are sticklers for the rules, some are more lenient. To be successful, you need to plan for the sticklers. Cordelia, rebel that she is, didn’t always follow the rules and still got accepted but your experience may not be the same.

Before you dive in, one cautionary note: Don’t be evil! Be sure to use your new freedoms for good and follow the rules. This weekEvil-Monkey, a friend of mine had an FBA seller change the category of some food she was selling from Grocery to Apparel. The guy even had the nerve to put the word “Men’s” in the title. For a kiddie snack! We were both incensed.

This kind of behavior is forbidden by Amazon. She totally ratted him out and Amazon fixed the listing back on the spot. It was such a blatant attempt by the other seller to kick her off the listing I hope he got a spanking. Remember kids, this is not the right way to compete with other sellers. If your product legitimately fits in another category (like costumes which are often found in apparel and toys), then you can make your case for a NEW listing being in a gated category, but probably not for an established listing. See our notes in clothing, below.

Seven Steps of Approval Success in the Restricted Category

  1. Be clear about your own motivations and how you plan to use that category. Don’t be evil.
  2. Set aside some time to do this as it will be a busy week or two of paperwork and phone calls with Amazon.
  3. Read all the guidelines!
  4. Follow the rules. Most FBA sellers are approved if they follow the rules.
  5. Have good seller metrics. It is harder for a brand new seller to get approved because you don’t have good seller metrics yet.
  6. Be available. Amazon will phone you during more complicated approvals.
  7. Keep your application simple. Avoid restricted brands even if you have permission from the manufacturer. Get permission in the category first, then provide them proof of your ability to sell that particular brand.

Grocery, Health & Beauty

You need three invoices with very specific information (see online). You also need three separate orders purchased in three separate days and shipped on separate days.  If you are ordering online for resale, you must show the packing slip to prove you received the goods as well.  Walmart, Walgreens did NOT have all the required info.  Drugstore.com had the info needed.  There’s an eBate of 4% cash back for drugstore.com. BJ’s Wholesale Club also works. Submit a scanned PDF of your packing slips to Amazon along with online form.

Clothing/Apparel

Many sellers want to join because of sports cross-overs like backpacks that are sometimes in sports, sometimes in clothing, sometimes in toys.  Costumes are often in clothing, sometimes in toys. Sign up online. They ask if you are the manufacturer. Otherwise they prefer that you buy directly from the manufacturer (fewer problems with counterfeit). Then they ask for the brands, a history of your business and five images that meet Amazon requirements. Make sure they match requirements exactly. These can be of products already for sale on Amazon.

  1. Photos – Read the style guide before you submit. Angle of clothing and positioning is dictated by Amazon. Ironically, 24 of the pictures they rejected of hers were actually taken from the Amazon catalog!  It was a lesson learned. See links to the style guides below.
  2. Cross-browsing items – They went through her listings and found several cross-browsing items (like a backpack in toys that she wanted to list in clothing) that they rejected.
  3. Specific rules about parent/child listings – Parent=style, child=colors/sizes. Karin had one hat in three different colors for this requirement.
  4. Timing – You only have 2 days between steps.  When they give you the flat file (spreadsheet) to fill out, you have two days to return it or they will cancel your application. Cordelia got an extension by talking to them.

BISS

BISS=Business, Industrial, and Scientific Supplies Your flat file requires five images and 40 items in the flat file.  One of the spreecast participants mentioned she is planning to sell those Legos that are in BISS (robotics, etc.).

Handbags

If you are approved, you automatically can sell shoes and sunglasses. Avoid anything that could be considered luggage. Go very small! A lot of ladies handbags are considered luggage. Caution: beware of restricted brands. No invoices required. Amazon requires at least a minimum of five products with at least one Parent/Child. [Note: Cordelia submitted hers with no Parent/Child and it was accepted].

Luggage

Very easy. One seller just did totes and got approved easily. Images of handbags that are considered “luggage” can be used too. Check Amazon website to see what category they consider the bag to be. No invoices required. Amazon requires at least a minimum of five products with at least one Parent/Child relationship (which can be a size or size/color variation). [Note: Cordelia submitted hers with no parent/child and it was still accepted.]

Watches

All you need is five images. Easy. But Amazon is fussy about the images.

Jewelry

Currently closed for an extensive audit. While we don’t yet know what the requirements will be for new sellers, one seems fairly certain – you have to be authorized by the manufacturer. They are stamping down hard on knock-offs and counterfeiters. It seems unlikely that we will be able to do retail arbitrage for jewelry.

Automotive

Give examples. State that you are not interested in creating new listings but in accessories, like Chilton manuals. Emphasize your good metrics and seller statistics. If you truly want to create listings and/or sell more extensively in automotive, then you will likely need permission from the manufacturers you want to represent.

adultimagemedSexual Wellness

Need five images, no flat file.  One of the chat room attendees said “Follow the guidelines or you’ll be sending in dildo pictures until the cows some home.” If you want to join these brave sellers in the contest for the most embarrassing shopping basket…this is your category. You should see the pictures they post online!

Collectible Books (Cynthia’s experience)

Very easy if you are already a bookseller on Amazon.com and have a good history. I filled out an online form and was approved in a day. If you are already a rare book dealer, then it is a snap. Basically, collectible books are first editions, those signed by the author and those extremely rare. They have a different lingo and condition requirements. Collectible book buyers are just as fussy as any Black Label Barbie collector. You’ll want to protect your collectible books in bubble wrap and/or poly bags, describe them in detail (maybe even an added picture) and be patient. I only got into the category because some of the used books I sent in were gated as collectible only. You have to read all the rules and agree to them, basically. I sold a very much used first edition Julia Child cookbook for a fantastic price even though it was in the lowest condition. There’s no accounting for what a collector wants, but be sure to take care of it the best you can.

Miscellaneous Tips and Resources

  1. When sending in your flat file, it needs to be an Excel file even though they specifically say “tab delimited” in their directions.
  2. If you are afraid of spreadsheets, get someone to help you so you learn it – you’ll use it a lot with Amazon.
  3. The items in the flat file do NOT have to be items you have for sale right now. The flat file does NOT create listings for you. This is simply to give Amazon an idea of the types of products you want to sell.
  4. Get your flat file templates here.
  5. ASINtoUPC.com – will tell you the correct UPC code for anything in the Amazon catalog – helpful in doing your flat files.
  6. You can use your Amazon storefront for wholesalers wanting to see your site and Amazon when it requests to see your storefront. Cordelia has a URL with a permanent redirect to her storefront for use with wholesalers.
  7. Once you are in the category you can sell anything in the category. You are not required to sell the items you submit.
  8. Keep your application simple. Avoid restricted brands even if you have permission from the manufacturer. Get permission in the category first, then provide them proof of your ability to sell the product.
  9. Go to these links for photo style guides:
  10. Go here to learn more about creating parent/child relationships.
  • Parent: [Brand] + [department/(and Special Size if applicable] + [product name] (e.g. “Anne Klein Women’s Petite Glen Plaid Blazer”)
  • Children: [Brand] + [department/(and Special Size if applicable] + [product name] + [size] + [color] (e.g. “Anne Klein Women’s Petite Glen Plaid Blazer Small Black”)

Don’t let Amazon put you in a corner! You now have the tools to get into many of the restricted categories. Do a sexy dance with your sweetie in the living room!Dirty-Dancing-dirty-dancing

You’ll notice I didn’t list wine and a few of the more obscure restricted categories. That is largely because they are highly regulated categories. If you are a winery, you are well familiar with these legal restrictions. Most of the rest of us can’t apply.

Still got some questions? ScannerMonkey had some lively discussions HERE and HERE if you are a member. Otherwise, ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!

I’m a member of ScannerMonkey exactly because of these kinds of topics which they cover regularly and the highly active facebook discussions. If you are not familiar with them, come join them on a free Thursday night spreecast and see what you think. You can click HERE to learn more about the group or go directly to http://www.scannermonkey.com without an affiliate link.  I only recommend products, services and groups that I have personally investigated or use myself.

Spreecast is the social video platform that connects people.

Check out Gated Category Approval on Spreecast.

August 14, 2014

List That, Amazon!

Just a quick reminder for those FBA sellers approaching their first long-term storage fee assessment…be sure to sell, dispose or remove by end of the day Friday or else you will have to pay extra fees. If you are willing to pay, that’s OK, just make sure you know what you are paying for. Check out my blog post on long-term storage fees from last year if you need help dealing with your inventory.

Amazon is an amazing platform that has made my family’s life easier…AND they drive me crazy sometimes. Do you ever feel that way? They are constantly working on their platform which is good and bad. I tend to work out my frustrations through writing so I thought I’d tackle those damn listing errors. You know what I’m talking about here. Total crazy making. I had a client who was recently concerned that her sales had come to a standstill. When I looked at her inventory, over 80% of it had listing errors – no wonder! Once we fixed those, her sales picked up again.

What’s with all the listing errors?

First of all, it happens to everyone. Don’t assume you’ve made a mistake. It is just as likely to have been Amazon or the internet. You just want to be able to fix them when they happen. If you are a newcomer, you may not yet realize that your items will show redline errors in SellerCentral until they are properly shipped in to Amazon. If you are taking a few days to prepare a shipment (which I often do in the case of books), then don’t worry if you see listing errors for products that are not yet at the warehouse. Those will correct themselves once you ship them in.

This also explains why you may have listing errors for products you never actually sent in. Perhaps you listed it in ScanPower or InventoryLab, looked at it, decided you didn’t want to sell it after all and deleted it from your shipment. I’ll do this with books. Sometimes I’ll get home and decide that I’ve changed my mind about a book I bought. Maybe it is in worse condition than I thought or suddenly there are a ton of bottom feeder sellers. I donate it instead.  I’ve also had new merchandise where by the time I’ve priced it, I see that Amazon is now selling it for a low price. I decide to return the item, but the partially created listing is at SellerCentral.

A similar situation for me is that I buy something, go home, scan it into my software and then decide it is a better eBay item. I have a collectible Pinocchio Game right now where I did that. I deleted it from the shipment I was creating, but the partially created listing stayed at SellerCentral.

The fix for these listing errors is easy – archive them and don’t worry about them anymore.

The listing errors I’m talking about are the ones that occur with products that are already at the warehouse – products that should be selling and aren’t. These are the ones that drive good sellers mad….

There are three main reasons for listing errors:

  1. A problem with using your third-party software provider
  2. A feed issue (could be either end)
  3. Something at Amazon’s end

Knowing this helps you figure out how to fix your errors and preserve your sanity.

Third-Party Software Provider

If you use InventoryLab, ScanPower or one of the other listing programs you are basically creating your listing inside of Amazon in real-time with the help of the software that makes it faster, easier and more efficient. What you also get with an outside software provider is the ability to more easily correct your mistakes and make changes to your shipment up to the last minute…and there’s the rub. What ScanPower and InventoryLab do – and I assume the same for the others – is send the final, complete feed at the very end when you press “Finish Shipment (SP)” or “Send Products Feeds (IL).”

If you don’t press that button and instead go directly to the shipping queue to process your boxes, then your entire shipment will have listing errors. This is perplexing because the shipment looks normal when you go through the Shipping Queue…but it is not complete. The system is confused because the shipment is still considered open. If you’ve done this – don’t despair! The fix is easy. Simply go into ScanPower (InventoryLab, whatever system you are using) and close out your shipments officially and properly. This should fix those errors within a few minutes. Be sure to refresh your SellerCentral browser so you can see if they all got fixed.

finish shipment button rev

This is from InventoryLab’s support page:

Note: Your product listing feeds have not sent to Amazon until you do the following: Choose “Send Products Feeds” once your batch is complete (this is going to take your batch to the Send Products Page where you can edit, add, or delete the contents before submitting the batch). Once you have reviewed the batch and are ready to send it choose “Submit” (you will be prompted to confirm that you wish to complete the batch, and for FBA shipments you will check the box next to Create FBA Shipment in the pop up screen) and hit “OK”.  Now your product listings have sent and you can continue to create your shipments. 

The private workflow has many advantages, but it’s important to understand that you will not have a product listing until you tell InventoryLab to upload them. Therefore, since you are labeling items as you go, but you have not uploaded any product listings,  all inventory will be listed with a redline error until you complete your batch and send the product listing feeds. 

I imagine that the other listing programs are similar to Scan Power and InventoryLab since this is an Amazon requirement (how the feeds are sent).

A Feed Issue

This is a problem between your software provider and Amazon. It could be from either side. It could be a glitch in the internet (“glitch” is the official term for “we can’t explain it.”) If most of your shipment has no listing errors but there are one or two items that do have listing errors, then there are three fixes for you:

1) re-send the feed from your software program;

2) re-list the product on Amazon’s Seller Central; or

3) talk to Amazon. I’m going to talk about how to re-list (#2) under the next heading.

To re-send the feed from ScanPower, you need to go under “Settings,” “List” and then scroll to the very bottom of the page. There you will see a long list of your most recent shipments. Click on the shipment that had the errors and the feed will be re-sent. This should fix most feed-related errors. Wait about a minute or so and then go to SellerCentral and refresh your browser. If the problem is not fixed, then it is something at Amazon’s end.

old shipments

I don’t know how it is done with all the other software, but there should be an easy way to re-send feed if you ask or look at the company’s FAQs.

If that doesn’t work, the problem may be either that you are somehow restricted from selling that product or it needs to be re-listed through Seller Central (see below). Product restrictions are varied and something you sold before may now be off limits. It may be, for example, that you are no longer allowed to sell in that category. That happened to some folks with grocery recently. Amazon changed the rules and this is how they tell you.

If you look at your “Stranded Inventory” report on the “All Inventory View” page of SellerCentral, it will show you items that have inventory at the warehouse but are not selling. If you know you’ve sold these items in the past, then it is possible that the product manufacturer convinced Amazon to restrict third-party sellers. This can happen at any time and the effect is immediate.

In the case where you just don’t know what is going on, you will need to talk to Amazon. You can either have them call you or you can send them an email to find out what is up. I prefer phone myself although my assistant does a lot of corrections for me by email. Either works. To get Amazon to call you, go to “Help” in SellerCentral and look for the “contact us” button about half-way down the right-hand side of the page. Follow the instructions for sending an email and fill in the details of your problem. At the bottom of the form is an option for Amazon to call you. Fill in your phone number and they will call you within seconds. They will explain and walk you through the fix or at least tell you how to remove/destroy the product if that’s the answer. I first learned how to re-list products from a friendly FBA support person.

Something at Amazon’s End

There are several reasons that things may have gotten messed up on Amazon’s end – usually while your shipment is being processed, although I’ve had listing errors pop up from products I’ve been selling for a while. Rather than trying to figure it out, I fix it. If relisting doesn’t work, then I have two options – 1) ask Amazon to fix the listing for me through email or 2) call them to find out what is going on.

When I went to create my Step-by-Step I learned that Amazon had changed the way you relist products which was really annoying because I had just learned how to do it the other way. Basically what you are doing is completely recreating your listing on Amazon.com. When you do that, you have to be mindful that you use the exact same merchant SKU, condition, etc. that you did before or your problems will multiply.

Gardening listing error 2

I created a Step-by-Step for Listing Errors HERE in my FBA Library which is free to all my readers. In addition, you can click Listing error troubleshooting for a copy of Amazon’s instructions.  Mine has more pictures.

If you are like my friend Lynn who says, I don’t want to learn one more damn thing! then I suggest using the Easy Button and send your problem listings in batches of three to an email to Amazon. They will fix them for you.staple-easybutton Be sure to give them all the information you want in the new listing including price, condition, MSKU, etc.

What usually happens when they are recreating listings is they give them weird prices like $999 or $500 so you have to go back later and reprice. They’ll send you an email to let you know when they’ve fixed your problem.

Another option is to turn over the whole mess to your virtual assistant and say “make it so.” This is my preferred option because I don’t have to worry about follow up or repricing later. Shem takes care of it all for me.

What To Do

Here’s my suggested approach to listing errors:

  1. Remember, a huge percentage of listing errors are feed errors. Try re-sending the feed first.
  2. For the errors that remain, check to see if you ever sent those products in. If not, archive.
  3. For the errors that remain, either recreate the listing or send to Amazon.com to fix in batches of 3 per email.
  4. Repeat.

It is up to you as to how often you deal with your listing errors, but I suggest looking at them regularly. The last thing you want is a bunch of inventory at the warehouse that is not selling for you. The first time may take a while, but if you do it regularly, it won’t take long at all. Since the majority of errors are feed errors, you can fix those in a snap. My free Inventory Listing Errors Step-by-Step has more pictures with arrows and instructions to help you figure out why your inventory is languishing. If the above link doesn’t work, just login to the FBA Library and look under “Bonuses” for the Step-by-Step page.

PS. If you’ve not noticed, I’m trying to offer more live classes in and out of Texas to help people prepare for the Christmas selling season. I’ve got my Texas classes posted and am working on three classes in Chicago (it is such a big area) at the end of September/early October. I also try to leave time for at least one or two face-to-face private sessions in each city as well.

I was recently in Atlanta and Wilmington, NC. Want me to come visit your town? Let me know! To make the trip I need at least 8 students per class since I will have travel expenses. We have just over 100 days until Black Friday…are you ready?

May 21, 2014

Worried about Amazon Pantry or Amazon Supply?

pantryAmazon is constantly coming up with new innovations in its quest for world domination…er customer service perfection. These create mixed feelings in the FBA seller community because change is scary and because Amazon doesn’t always act in our best interests. In this concern we are not alone. I imagine all of Amazon’s partners have these moments. Two innovations that have recently been launched are the Amazon Pantry and Amazon Supply. Supply has actually been in beta for about two years. I’ll tell you later why you’ve not heard of it before.

The Pantry is more likely to impact our businesses. What Amazon is doing is allowing busy consumers to order what it calls “pantry” supplies for a good shipping price. It will provide all kinds of conveniences:

  • Easy ordering of your favorite non-perishables – limited choices=faster shopping
  • Ability to remember orders/brands for faster re-order
  • Fast payment through 1-click, etc.
  • Separate website from Amazon.com
  • Fill a large box for $5.99 and get it delivered in 2 days
  • Buy individual items rather than large multi-packs of your most frequently used goods
  • The Pantry keeps track of your order and lets you know when your box is full so you can decide to fill another box or not
  • Can buy Tide, cereal and other heavy or large-size items and get a flat shipping rate
  • Good prices on pantry items – not jacked up
  • You are buying directly from Amazon – no third-party sellers

I don’t know if they are sending out reminders to keep the pantry stocked, but I bet they will. Having represented a grocery chain in the past, I can tell you the Pantry is worrisome. They are not only fighting off Wal-Mart, now they have to seriously compete with Amazon.com. To some degree the “3-mile” rule will still hold true and the convenience of dropping in day or night for some ingredient or wine will keep people in the stores, BUT consumers don’t like to go grocery shopping.

Many of the more profitable shoppers will now drift over to Amazon for the very goods that make up the foundation of a grocer’s bottom line. It’s the Tide®, not the eggs that make them money. This is both good and bad for us as sellers. More people will be buying online which is good, but our sources for inventory will be closing over time which is bad. Rather than fiddle while Rome burns, let’s make some money!

What does this mean to us?

Pros

  • We will probably like the Pantry as consumers
  • The Pantry is currently limited – basic supplies like salt, pepper, soap and Tide – not the fancy stuff like chickpea spice
  • If Amazon is out of something, Pantry customers will have to go to Amazon.com to get it
  • Most of the items Amazon is selling in the Pantry never were good opportunities for us since Amazon sold them already at a price we couldn’t beat
  • If people don’t have a full box of goods they want to buy, they may choose to buy off of Amazon.com instead
  • People may not want to pay an extra $5.99 shipping (remember, Prime members are spoiled!)
  • For the short-term, our bundles and multi-packs should still sell as the Pantry is so new most consumers don’t know about it
  • Amazon Pantry is a separate website which some consumers won’t like
  • If someone wants to buy a mix of pantry and other goods or only a few pantry goods, they may decide to buy off of Amazon.com and get free shipping

Cons

  • We are now excluded from selling single items that are in the Pantry. Period. No solos on Amazon.com either.
  • Pantry customers will not see their other choices. If they want six “Singles to Go” drink mixes, they will likely buy six individual boxes from the Pantry rather than a multi-pack from one of us
  • The Pantry will expand over time
  • Once Amazon adds an item to the pantry, it will probably no longer be a good seller or as good a seller on Amazon.com in any form/bundle/multi-pack
  • Pantry goods show up on Amazon.com which will help consumers find the Pantry

For those of us who are currently selling items that Amazon has added to the Pantry, we will probably not be replenishing those goods once they sell out. I’m going to wait and see on that. I do have several multi-packs up there that Amazon added to the Pantry as solos. We’ll see.

From a competitive perspective, my approach is going to change a bit as I focus on items that are not in the Pantry. When I was scanning earlier this week, I would look at multiple offers for my desired products and I saw several where the department said “Pantry” instead of “Grocery.” So the good news there is we can find out if something is a Pantry item before we buy it.

Suggestions

  • If you pick up something and see on your scanner that it is sold as a solo item, check the offer to see if it is a Pantry item
  • Look for unusual items that are not in most people’s pantries and/or are harder to find – exotic spices, mixes, smelly tinned fish, ethnic ingredients…that kind of thing
  • Look for regional goods that are unlikely to be added to the Pantry
  • Consider more bundles rather than multi-packs
  • Just like discontinued toys, discontinued foods still offer us an opportunity (check those expiration dates closely!)
  • There are brands that Amazon does not sell (the manufacturers don’t want to work with Amazon) which are opportunities for FBA sellers

Lastly, don’t panic! With the changes in category restrictions last week, there was a lot of panic and speculation that turned out to be nothing for most of us – a real tempest in a teapot. The Amazon Pantry does mean change for us, but we still have opportunities. Competition is a fact of life in sales and we compete every day against Amazon, other FBA sellers, MF sellers…we can handle this!

Amazon Supplyamazon supply logo

Amazon has been very quiet about this program. It won’t affect most of us, but it is sending waves of panic through the distribution community. If, for example, you provide electrical supplies to electricians or medical supplies to hospitals…you are very unhappy.

This is Amazon’s business-to-business site that will one day be the Amazon.com of B2B. They already provide over 2.25 million items compared to the average small distributor that offers around 50,000 SKUs. You may know that most contractors don’t buy their supplies from Home Depot, but do you know where they actually go? Small mom and pop distributors are usually in cheap industrial areas with no frills. They tend to specialize and run deep rather than broad. Their prices are better than a retailer because their costs are lower. Many of them are also selling online with the offer of in-store pick up or on-site delivery. Amazon can’t offer that, but with their ability to drive down prices and offer depth along with free 2-day shipping….they are going to be a huge profit source for Amazon one day.

Since most of us shop retail arbitrage, this won’t impact us. Like the Pantry, only Amazon sells on Supply. Unlike the Pantry, I found many items that were on both the Supply and the Amazon.com site. So while we can’t sell on Supply, we can offer our competing goods on Amazon.com – assuming we are approved for that category.

If you sell a lot of office supplies, you may want to check out Amazon Supply to see if you are competing with Amazon, but even so these are industrial office supplies in larger quantities rather than a box of paperclips. I doubt many FBA’ers sell reams of paper. Amazon Prime members get free 2-day shipping on about 100,000 items on Supply. In addition, Amazon Supply offers free 2-day shipping on orders over $50.

As a business owner, you may want to look at Supply as a source for your printer ink/toner, tape, packing paper, Dymo compatible labels or to have reams of paper delivered to your office. Amazon Supply also sells cardboard boxes for good prices and free shipping over $50…a great deal if you don’t live near an Uline.com. If you’ve always wanted to own an industrial kitchen sink or a 3-D printer…Amazon Supply sells it.

As a FBA seller, it is good to be aware that it is out there. If you have a line on new specialty hardware that you think would sell great to a business, check to see if it is already on Amazon Supply. Much like the Pantry, Amazon Supply is somewhat limited in its suppliers. In other words, it is not working with all the medical suppliers on the planet, just the big ones. If you have something that is special and not being sold on Supply, it might be sellable on Amazon.com – check with them before you drop a few thousand dollars. Depending on the item, you may not be able to sell it on Amazon.com because some B2B items are tracked and monitored. Sometimes it is required that the buyer prove they have permission to buy. On Amazon Supply, Amazon can handle this function as well as take line of credit payments, allow businesses to designate authorized buyers, fill orders by phone, offer certificates of conformance (for raw materials) and other services that some businesses require.

Amazon Supply can and does ship HazMat items that we can’t, which is another reason you may see something on Supply and not Amazon.com. Amazon Supply has been up and quietly running for about two years in beta. This means any impact from items being pulled to Supply has already happened. If you see a good rank on a Supply type item on Amazon.com, it is safe to assume that is going to stay that way. Unlike Pantry which shares the same buying audience as Amazon.com, Amazon Supply’s audience is truly different. They are unlikely to cross-shop for their businesses. They have accounts and purchase authorizations with Amazon Supply that they don’t with Amazon.com.

This is why I wanted to write this post – to reassure people that Amazon Supply is not something to worry about right now unless you are a mom and pop distributor. It might be a useful supplier for our businesses and won’t stop us from selling competing items on Amazon.com.

Did I overlook something important about the Pantry or Supply?  Please leave me a comment below!