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The hardest thing about communications is the sheer repetitiveness.  I find myself saying certain things over and over again.  It’s the nature of the ever-changing, ever-constant chaos created by Amazon.  Longstanding and new sellers alike face the same quandary.

This week I thought I’d do a mix of Public Service Announcements and Amazon news to help get the word out, so please forgive me if parts of this are repetitive to some of you..

Amazon Has New Weapon in War Against Bad Actors - Your Face

As part of its verification process, Amazon is now screening sellers through video calls.  While privacy advocates will not like this at all, I’m hopeful because it will add the human element to verification.  On the video call sellers will not only be live verified, but Amazon can also talk to them about any problems with their verification documents and help them through the process.

It will make it “more difficult for fraudsters to hide,” says the company. Umm…yeah.  We’ll see how that goes.  One thing they did not talk about is what they are going to do with this video of our faces.  They also aren’t sharing the “hundreds of different data points to identify potential risk,” that their system uses during verification. 

I will now step into the world of wild-ass speculation and suggest that perhaps they will use this technology to:

  • Test your face against government identity and criminal databases.
  • Record and assess micro expressions for signs of lying.
  • Compare your face to all the faces they gather in their database to check for linked accounts
  • See if you have a fever (Just kidding – that’s only in their warehouses).
  • Set up face identity as a 2-step verification option in the future for logging into your seller account and buying stuff on their website.
  • Coordinate their face database with the Ring doorbell and personal security system to report criminals to law enforcement. In case you think that’s my craziest idea, read this story about Ring.

If you acted in the play 1984 in high school and thought “this could never really happen in the United States…” boy were we wrong!

"Big Brother is watching, and his name is Jeff Bezos."

Cynthia Stine, Amazon Expert Tweet

Amazon’s New Platform for First Responders Goes Live

A couple of weeks ago Amazon announced it was setting up a special platform for First Responders where they could buy PPE and other medical/health supplies.  Amazon’s not charging sellers any fees.  This is a pro bono service to the First Responder community and the sellers providing the goods.

We believe it is because of this program that so many sellers on the .com site are having their listings taken down for PPE products.  If you are selling goods that support first responders and can sustain volume sales, check out these links:

PSA - Don't Incentivize Your Workers

Wha??  Here’s the problem with incentives.  Unless they are set up properly, there can be unintended consequences – consequences that can affect your account.  For example, I think about all the sellers who were suspended because they hired a service company to get them into restricted categories or brands.  They were guaranteed a sure thing and didn’t want to know the details.

At the time, no one wanted to hire us to help them with category/brand approvals because 1) we didn’t guarantee success and 2) we insisted they use real invoices.

Many of those sellers who used the service company were permanently banned for forged/manipulated documents and there was nothing we could do about it afterwards.  Nothing.  Their service provider was forging Apple and Microsoft invoices for Pete’s sake and ignorance is no excuse.

On the reimbursement side we’ve had sellers taken down because their workers were lazy and instead of taking pictures of every wrong return (i.e. someone put a brick or an earlier model of the product they were selling into the return box), they just used the same old pictures over and over again. Faster reimbursements = more $ for them.  The seller lost the ability to apply for reimbursements.  They are lucky it wasn’t worse.  Eventually they got their privileges back, but they lost a lot of money.

Amazon is scanning for repeat pictures.  Amazon audits reimbursements if they detect an unusual pattern.  Amazon has software to detect forged or manipulated documents.  Don’t do it…and don’t let your workers do it either.  It’s up to you to make sure your workers/vendors are following the rules.

Or we’ve seen sellers whose workers faked invoices as part of a shipment reconciliation claim.  They thought they were being “helpful” (and that Amazon was apparently stupid), but it also meant they could collect more money faster.

My advice is to pay your VAs and workers a living wage and take them off commission.

Is it really worth losing your account over a couple of hundred bucks a month? Then, give them a bonus from time to time for perfect paperwork. That’s the kind of thing you want to reward.

As my CFO is fond of saying to me, “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

So many accounts are lost because of greed.

PSA - Watch Your Problem ASINs Every Week

This is kind of like washing your hands to avoid Covid-19. It seems simple so it can’t possibly be effective, right?  Wrong.  Watching your ASINs and reading buyer complaints/returns every week can help you spot problems before they come to Amazon’s attention.  You can fix the problem and keep the listing up.  It is the cornerstone of our account management services, and we’ve helped sellers avoid tens of thousands of potential suspensions over the years.

Consider it good account hygiene and do it every week.  Is it a 100% solution?  No.  Neither is hand-washing.  There are some suspensions that aren’t about product quality or performance.  Nonetheless, our disciplined clients have far fewer problems with Amazon than those who ignore good habits until a listing or their account is suspended.

PSA - Profiteering Claims Still Happening to A Lot of Sellers

I’ve written about this before. Whether you call it profiteering, price gouging, or “Violations of Amazon’s Fair Pricing Policy,” ASIN and account takedowns are happening like crazy right now.  Part of this is because the algorithm is too sensitive.  There are a lot of false positives.

Part of it is because sellers either:

  • Don’t realize they are selling an “essential product” or
  • Erroneously think they are OK because they are the lowest offer on the listing, or
  • Don’t understand what the states consider price gouging.

The good news is Amazon knows there are a lot of false positives.  They recognize that prices might have gone up because of increased supply chain costs.  Their prices have gone up for those reasons too, after all.  The bad news is sellers are freaking out because they are getting a lot of them, so they are worried about having their accounts suspended.

Here are some rules of thumb to help you reduce profiteering takedowns:

  • Don’t sell your item for more than 10% above pre-COVID retail prices.
  • If your costs have gone up a lot for these items (like having to air-ship masks from China), be prepared to defend your prices.  Keep records.
  • Use some common sense.  We all know that $70 for a $1 bottle of hand sanitizer is bad.  But what about $10? Is that bad?  It depends on a lot of factors including what other sellers (including the brand) are selling it for, what it is selling for on other platforms besides Amazon, and how much you had to pay to get these supplies to the warehouse and/or to the buyer if you are merchant-fulfilling.
  • When in doubt about your pricing either reduce it or remove the product from your inventory.
  • Adjust your repricer “ceiling” so your prices won’t go above 10% of normal when you are the only seller on a product.
  • Follow the state’s guidelines as to what is considered an essential product or service.  This is a general list.  Some states may have additional items:
    • Emergency supplies (water, batteries, flashlights, radios, candles, blankets, soaps, diapers, tape, toiletries, plywood, nails, hammers, etc.)
    • Medical supplies (medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, antibacterial products, cannabis-varies by state)
    • Food and drink (including pet food)
    • Home goods (i.e. heating oil, building materials, lumber, tools, windows, gasoline)

A Familiar Story About Price Gouging

I can’t always be specific in my blogs about what we are seeing with our clients because of confidentiality.  This story, however, is very similar to what some of our clients were experiencing in April, and I thought you would find it interesting (this is not our client):  IQAir Misses Out on Huge Opportunity Due to Amazon’s Algorithm and Disregard for Sellers.  That’s my title, by the way.  The publication was more diplomatic.

PSA – You Still Need a Compelling Reason to Open a Second Account

I wrote a blog post about Amazon’s new policy where you no longer need permission to open a second account, and a lot of people apparently stopped reading after the first sentence.  Just because Amazon is no longer requiring you to get permission, it doesn’t mean you can just open an account on a whim.

As predicted, we are seeing a lot of sellers taken down for linked accounts, improper accounts, failed verifications and falsifying documents.

This is serious business folks!!!!  You could lose your main account if you get this wrong.  You must have a compelling reason to open a second account and “backup account,” is not good enough.  You will have to pass verification, and your paperwork must be perfect BEFORE you open your new account.  You also want to make sure you have your intellectual property in place before you open up (you can use Amazon’s new service if you are in a hurry to get your trademarks for Brand Registry).

And please, get help if you are not sure.  I see so many sellers get messed up for simple mistakes.

FBA a Hot Mess

While Amazon has opened up more products which can be shipped in to FBA, things are in no way back to normal or even close.  In fact, it’s a real cluster.  Allowable inventory levels of high-volume products are set at the 1-2 week supply level for many sellers who are constantly having to send in replenishments, except they have to wait to mostly sell out before they can do that. 

Many sellers are forced to keep their MF listings open simply because they cannot successfully keep their items in stock for FBA.  Amazon has been allowing buyers to keep things in their shopping carts seemingly forever (although it looks like it is 7 days now), and that inventory counts against the inventory allowed in the warehouse. 

Even if a buyer orders a product, it can be weeks before it is actually shipped to the buyer which also affects how much inventory is allowed to be sent to Amazon.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the number of units you can send in and it’s very frustrating.  For all of you who are wondering what can be done about it, the answer is, “nothing.”

Basically, we have to lump it.  Hopefully things will get better over time.  Sigh.

Merch by Amazon Returns

Amazon closed this for a while.  Now it is partially back.  They are basically only opening up to their big sellers.  No surprise there.  If you’ve been wanting a new T-shirt to wipe off your feverish brow, now’s your chance.  I bet there will be some doozies in the Coronavirus category.

Amazon is Stranding Inventory; Making Sellers Get Re-approved

Amazon strands inventory for all kinds of odd reasons.  One of the new reasons is it wants sellers to get re-approved to sell in sub-categories of categories they already sell in.  They delete all the parent listings which strands the children.

Coincidentally, stranded children cause the algorithm to suspend sellers for variation abuse.

This makes no sense. Right?  It makes no sense.  Some sellers have been selling these products for years and now are scrambling to get approved in the sub-category and to re-parent their stranded children before they get suspended.

Amazon Waives Long-Term Storage Fees for May; Extends Returns Deadlines

Amazon is acknowledging that all our inventory trapped in the warehouses and not selling is not our fault.  They won’t charge us.  For MF sellers they are extending the time you have to process returned items and refund customers to 14 calendar days.  This extension will last through May 31 and then go back to two calendar days.

Sellers Discover They are Bad at Customer Service

With many sellers fulfilling by merchant now, I hear a LOT of complaining about buyers.  For the first time in years, FBA sellers are having to deal with customer service, and they do not like it, Sam I am.  They do not like it in a boat, they do not like it with a goat, they do not like it here or there, they do not like it anywhere…

Ok, this isn’t exactly news, but sellers have been posting some of the craziest inquiries they get, and it makes me laugh. 

If you are ripping out your hair because yet another buyer is complaining they didn’t get their package, and you want to escape the unending emails, let’s talk

Our High Touch Smiles team handles customer service for sellers across all their platforms and websites, not just Amazon.

Congress Catches Amazon in a Lie

This is about when Amazon told Congress they don’t use data from specific sellers to create their own private label products.  I can’t decide if I’m more surprised that THIS is the thing Congress wants to talk to Jeff Bezos about, or that they ever believed Amazon in the first place.

Sellers have been complaining for years that Amazon was using their data to create competing products.  No one in the seller community was surprised by the Wall St. Journal story last week.

So why do I care about this story?  Because it looks like Congress might (hold your breath) hold Amazon accountable for lying.  Having Amazon held accountable for anything is astonishing.  Beyond that, it might make things better for sellers. Amazon will voluntarily make changes to avoid compulsory regulation.

While this is a serious issue, most sellers would much rather see Amazon held accountable for how it treats its 3P sellers and the ruthless control it has over their livelihoods.  Sellers have zero rights and zero voice.  If you’d like to see how Congress spanks CEOs behaving badly, check out their letter to Jeff Bezos where they state:

“Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary.”

They also complain that Amazon never sent them all the discovery documents they asked for last summer.  Shocker.  Get your popcorn popper ready.  This will be must-see TV for Amazon sellers.