Amazon Account Reinstatement and Suspension Prevention

Feedback Genius Tag

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what sellers need to know:

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

 

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

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

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

So how can you safely ask for product reviews?

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

Handling Problems

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

Asking for Feedback

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Where is the eGrowth team now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunk my battleshipI am still unpacking the many inspiring ideas and conversations I had at Jim Cockrum’s CES II conference earlier this fall. For example, I was talking to two booksellers who told me that they shrink wrap or polybag every book they send in. I must have gasped and I know my eyes got big and googley because my eyeballs felt stretched. “That’s a lot of work to avoid negative feedback!” I said thinking of the hundreds, sometimes a thousand or more books a month I send in. And she said, “We don’t do it to avoid negative feedback, we do it to get positive feedback.” Maybe that doesn’t sound especially profound to you, but it rang my bell because getting positive feedback on Amazon is hard. Unlike eBay, a lot of Amazon shoppers never bother to leave feedback…but when they are unhappy – watch out!

Later during CES, Skip McGrath talked about news he had from an inside source at Amazon. He shared that our seller metrics are going to be even more important to our ability to sell going forward. Sellers with better metrics will get the buy box more and will be able to charge more and still be in the buy box. This was exhilarating to hear since my metrics were great at the time and I had a 100% with Amazon and a lifetime customer satisfaction rate of 97%. Of course things change fast and my customer satisfaction/feedback just dropped below 90% this week – OMG!!! Am I panicked? Worried? Freaked? I am not.

This is for two reasons: 1) I have a strategy that works to remove negative feedback and 2) I have a solution to increase positive feedback that doesn’t require me poly-bagging all my books (just the New and Like New ones).

Before I get into these points, I want to stress how important feedback really is to you as a seller. I have a private client right nowstats-happy who lost selling privileges because her company wasn’t paying attention to seller metrics (how fast they responded to inquiries, on-time shipping) and negative feedback. Four negatives in one day and they lost it all. This is because not only is it the number of negatives you have over a period of time, it is also the frequency within a short amount of time. In the case of my client she didn’t have very many positives because she was a relatively new seller and four negatives sunk her. We got her reinstated and we are dealing with her customer feedback problems.

Even though she has the absolute lowest price for her items on Amazon, she can’t get the buy box. Amazon is also throttling her orders as well so she can’t get them out the door as quickly as she likes (she is MF). She has to prove herself over time. Getting her approved in a gated category will be impossible until she fixes this problem and she has cases of health and beauty items she can only sell on eBay right now.

Another colleague of mine who does this part-time on top of a busy day job, lost track of his feedback and was informed for the Evil-Monkeyfirst time in years of selling that he can’t sell toys this season because of his seller metrics. He was floored. He is an FBA seller exclusively, but he had one bad listing problem where someone changed the listing on him (sound familiar?) without him noticing and all of a sudden his products were not as advertised. Everyone was pissed and gave him a bunch of 1s and 2s in a week period. We are resolving the issues with his customers and I am very hopeful he will recover his toy selling privileges in time, but what a hassle! The moral of these stories is to pay attention! It only takes a few unhappy customers to tank your metrics. Oh, and Don’t Be Evil! ASIN tricks hurt other sellers: it is not funny, fair or ethical. Amazon frowns on this behavior.

OK, everyone good and scared now? Here comes the good news. You can get negative feedback removed with a bit of work – even after 60 days – and you can significantly increase positive feedback with the right tools. I met the Feedback Genius guys at CES II also. They had a free month trial and boy was I amazed! I got 10 positive feedbacks in the first week which is way beyond my usual. To give you an idea, after four years of selling, I have less than 900 feedbacks total. While my lifetime positive feedback is a respectable 97%, I can’t help but think it would be better if I had more positives. There are some sellers on Amazon with thousands of feedbacks and I’ve always wondered how they do it. Now I have a pretty good idea.

What makes Feedback Genius different from other similar services like FeedbackFive (which didn’t do much for me) is theirtweet feedback approach to feedback. They are tightly integrated with Amazon so this is a fully automated process for you. My system is set up so that when a new product is scheduled to be delivered, my buyer gets an email telling them the product is due that day. It asks them to let me know if it arrives in anything less than perfect condition and it gives them a way to contact me – did you catch that? Me, instead of Amazon first. [This is an optional setting.]

In addition, if they are happy, it gives them a link to give me immediate 5-star feedback. 22% of my positive responders respond on that first day. Another 60% or so respond before or immediately after I send my next email four days later asking for feedback. I know this because Feedback Genius gives me awesome analytics that I can use to tweak my campaigns.

My letters are branded with my logo and they are customized for each customer’s order. I not only remind them of what they ordered, but where it is being shipped, by which carrier and the tracking number. All of this is acceptable with Amazon’s policies as is the follow up. It also pleases me to be sending an email that is valuable and not spam-ish.

There are other cool features that I’ve not even implemented yet. If you have a product that you sell consistently, you can send customers who buy that ASIN a PDF attachment along with a note. As long as the attachment isn’t selling something or taking customers away from Amazon, you have a lot of latitude. I’m currently selling a special product for the holidays and I’m considering sending an attachment with best celebrity recipes (from the public domain). It will be a pleasant surprise for everyone who gets it and I bet it will increase positive feedback. I’m planning to sell hundreds of these items in the next two months.

Even though I sell a lot of used books and collectibles, my strategy is to use Feedback Genius for new items only. This increases positive feedbackmy chances of getting positive reviews. I get negative feedback on books more than any other category and it is usually for the same reason. I said it was one condition, the buyer disagreed. The book and collectible game buyers have to make an extra special effort to give me negative feedback so when they do, I know they are really pissed and I jump on it right away.

Once I tweaked my letters with Feedback Genius, I was done. It runs itself and is awesome! I was so excited with my results that I contacted the guys there and asked them to do something special for my readers. In addition to a free month trial, you will get an additional 500 emails added to your subscription (each time I send an email to a customer counts so they can add up fast if you send two emails per new customer).

Also, I collaborated with the team at Feedback Genius to create an 8-page report/mini-eBook on how to remove negative feedback. This report incorporates several of my actual letters successfully used for different unhappy customer situations. It is free and exclusive to my readers for the next few weeks. You don’t even have to sign up for the free trial, just click the Free eBook button and download it.

As you will learn in the report, the secret to turning that frown upside down for unhappy customers is sympathy and empathy. Don’t get defensive, be their friend. You are there to help and you are really sorry about their troubles. Depending on the problem, a letter isn’t always going to be enough. I’ve given refunds, partial refunds and gift cards to unhappy customers. Not as bribes, but as compensation. The gift is never dependent on them removing the feedback. I always thank my customers for giving me the chance to make it right. In short, we have to treat our customers the way Amazon does – with respect, kindness and helpfulness.

For my new customers, they are most likely to be unhappy about shipping or a defective product. Shipping is Amazon’s problem and they will remove negative feedback relating to delivery. If the seller is complaining about the product, that is a product review which can also be removed by Amazon. So the issues that will require most of your attention are those relating to your performance as a seller. I got dinged yesterday because the product received did not match the listing. It did when I sent the product in, but another seller changed the listing. All I can do is make it right for the customer (curse the evil seller) and have my product suspended until I work it out.

In the situation I mentioned earlier with a client where the date had passed for the buyers to remove their feedback (you have a 60-day window), what I did was tell the unhappy customers that if their problem was now resolved to please tell me by email so I could forward it to Amazon. Three out of four did it. I called Amazon and got the feedback removed. I made it super easy for them and they responded. Most angry customers are decent people with a sense of fairness. They want to be heard. If you approach them with respect and compassion, the anger will often pass. They will see that you are a person who made a mistake and is sorry – not some faceless “them” who doesn’t care about their problems. If you try to make it right for them, most will respond positively.

Bill-Gates_2012907bAnother thing to remember is that usually an unhappy customer is a sign that something is wrong. Sure, sometimes it is because they didn’t read the description or whatever, but a lot of the time, they are telling you something you need to hear – you should be grateful for that alone. I remember when my book manufacturer made mistakes trimming my book; all the pages at the back were missing part of the page. I had sent about 20 in FBA without examining them. I mean, they were new! I had no reason to suspect they were faulty. I was horrified, but because my customers told me about it, I was able to make it right for everyone and remove the misprinted books from the site before I got a ton of negative feedback.

When I first started FBA, I loved that Amazon was my customer service representative and I was not interested in getting my customers to contact me before Amazon. That has changed over time. Now I would prefer that unhappy customers give me a chance to make it right before leaving me negative feedback. That’s one of the reasons I like Feedback Genius. But, if they leave me negative feedback anyway, Feedback Genius sends me a text and an email immediately. I can jump in and respond to the customer fast which cuts down on a lot of customer frustration immediately. I can give them a refund through Amazon (if they’ve not gotten one already) and I can sincerely apologize. It goes a long way.

So, no, I’m not freaked out. I have a strategy and a tool. I know I can help my unhappy customers and I can make it easy for my happy_customerhappy customers to give me feedback. Both my clients I mentioned above are using Feedback Genius right now to get their sales back on track. Don’t wait until you are in dire straights – get on top of your feedback now! We are heading in to the biggest sales time of the year and you have an opportunity to propel your positive feedback to a whole new level just in time.

By the way, if you are a small seller and prefer a DIY approach rather than a program, be aware that Amazon will send out an email about two weeks after an order as a reminder to leave feedback.  In addition, you can always send your buyers emails through the Amazon platform by clicking on their hyper-linked names on the order page or through the feedback center. When I was doing this myself, I focused on buyers who had used expedited shipping. That way I had an idea of when the product was due to arrive and I knew the chances of them being happier was greater.

PS. If you are interested in learning more about the Amazon Buy Box, Feedback Genius or Feedvisor (see my previous review on them), check out next weeks’ free webinar on the Buy Box hosted by the two companies.  Sign up now to reserve your seat.

I occasionally talk about products on my blog that I believe to be useful to the FBA seller community. I don’t write about products I don’t like and only rarely do I talk about a product I don’t use myself. I use my modest affiliate income to help compensate me for the hours I spend on my blog each week. If you click on the links above and become a Feedback Genius customer after your free month, I will make a very small commission. If you would prefer to check it out without an affiliate link, you can go to www.feedbackgenius.com directly.