Little Green Carts to Connect to Amazon Checkout       

In a time when people want to get in and out of stores as fast (and human free) as possible, Amazon has launched its black and green cart – Amazon Dash – to regular retailers.  The carts allow for quick scans and basket fill ups that are then charged to your Amazon account.  You can walk out the door with no need to stand in line or self-checkout.  Rather than having stores retrofit with scanners and cameras all over the store, they just need the carts with the built-in scanners, sensors, and computer vision algorithms.  It’s the Kindle of grocery and department stores near you.

Why does this matter to Amazon sellers you ask?  It’s tied to Alexa. 

You can create your lists with Alexa and zip through the store.  One assumes you will be offered things based on previous Alexa orders and whatever Amazon thinks you might like – much like Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods offerings today.  There’s talk of creating route maps for your store so you can shop more efficiently.

Your spouse walks by and mentions, “We’re low on hand soap.” You tell Alexa and later grab it at the store from your Alexa-prepared list. You avoid lanes you don’t need…and maybe a few impulse buys as well.  For seller-brands whose goods are also at retail stores, this is an opportunity to tie their Amazon/Alexa advertising strategy to in-store shopping.

There’s the added benefit that Alexa orders weigh more heavily in Amazon ranking than goods placed in Amazon’s online cart from the website.  A brand with a lot of Alexa orders is more likely to get the “Amazon’s Choice” badge and get the “Best Seller” badge even if many or most of the sales are off-line.

This is just one more move by Amazon to make its Alexa more ubiquitous in buyer’s daily lives.  Any brand selling on the platform needs an Alexa strategy at some point. If the brand sells in retail stores as well, then they may need it sooner rather than later.

In a related note, Alexa just got an upgrade to be more emotional.  This is part of Amazon’s push to make Alexa more friendly and accepted by households around the world.

Alexa just got an upgrade to be more emotional.  This is part of Amazon’s push to make Alexa more friendly and accepted by households around the world.

Cynthia Stine, Amazon Consultant Tweet

Amazon Warns Sellers of Ongoing COVID-19 Challenges

Amazon recently gave sellers a heads up that it may still have logistical problems for the rest of the year.  In addition, the company has reinstated inventory restrictions, added more restricted categories, reduced 1P purchases and changed the IPI (Inventory Performance Index) minimum threshold to 500.   My friend Eddie wrote a detailed post on what this means to sellers and I encourage you to read it.

Pay close attention to his analysis of what sellers should do based on their current Amazon IPI score.  I agree with his assessment and the IPI question has been coming up a lot among our clients.

The announcement about free warehouse removals after July 14 means they are trying to clean up their inventory.  If you have poor sellers sitting in a warehouse, pull them out now.  Not only will this help your IPI and free up more storage space for your winners, but it will save you money.

Like Eddie, I raised my skeptical eyebrow at their claim that “most sellers will have enough space for three month’s sales” during Q4. 

Finally, one thing they didn’t mention in their announcement – they never do – is that they will be increasing ASIN and account suspensions over the next two months.  They do this every year before Prime Day and well before Black Friday.  They are cleaning house.  They want to make sure that buyers have a good experience.  If you’ve not done these activities recently, make time to do them soon:

  • Review your returns reports for the past 90 days and look for product quality and performance issues. There are a lot of USN and performance takedowns going on right now. Remember that every return costs you money and eats into your profits.  Are you building those losses into your profit model?
  • Check your winners and losers – some products may not be worth keeping in the warehouse
  • Make sure your products are profitable. Seems obvious, but we see cases every month where the seller is literally losing money on every sale because they did not factor in advertising costs or storage or returns…you get the idea.
  • Create your A+ pages and storefronts now. Not only do these things take time to set-up initially; but optimizing and tweaking takes time.  You don’t want to be adjusting your pages or listings during the busiest sales time of the year if you can help it.
  • Clean up your listings. Many sellers have old and non-compliant listings in their inventory.  While you are not suspended is the best time to review your listings for compliance and update accordingly.  Look at parent/child relationships, title standards, restricted/forbidden products and more.  Just because you haven’t gotten caught yet or just because you have been selling something forever doesn’t mean you won’t get caught at the worst possible time.
  • Tweak your “review asks.” Brands are responsible for keeping up with Amazon’s changing rules about how to get positive reviews. Check your emails, product inserts and off-platform marketing efforts to make sure you are compliant.  Zero in on any warranty, rebate, or discount programs you offer.  If you are directing buyers to buy on Amazon, you need to be compliant with their rules, even off-platform.  Most of our clients who were caught by Amazon either were not aware that the program they were using was non-compliant or were turned in by a competitor.  Know your risks.
  • **Read the Amazon Affiliates contract.  Amazon updated its Affiliate Program on April 21, 2020.  If you are an affiliate and you’ve not read it lately, make sure you are still compliant.  The biggest changes I saw were fees.  I was happy to see that Amazon has removed its restrictions on third-party sellers promoting their own products on their websites – but make sure you are compliant in how you advertise your site (lots of rules).  Please be aware, also, that you can’t ask friends and family to use your affiliate links for shopping.  That is still a no-no.
  • Get your bookkeeping in order. Often Amazon asks for a year’s worth of invoices when you have an ASIN or account taken down.  I can’t tell you how many of my clients struggle with this.  The invoices must be pristine – no notes, arrows, circles, checkmarks…you get the idea.  If you’re a bad organizer, hire someone to do this for you.  There are also great online programs that allow you to search all documents for keywords or organize your invoices by ASIN, etc.  It’s fancy.  Whatever your method, you want to be able to put your hands on your invoices ASAP during a suspension.
  • Read Amazon’s contract and policies. It’s a long contract and the policies basically consist of everything inside Seller Central, but you need to be aware of what’s changed and how your inventory is affected. If you sell in multiple countries, you need to be aware of the differences.  Many of our clients who get into trouble in the EU or UK do so because they are not aware of the product restrictions those countries (not Amazon) impose on sellers. They send in inventory that is disallowed in that country and get in trouble for it.  One client had to take down nearly 200,000 listings in the EU recently because he was unaware of these restrictions (he sells food).  You don’t want to find that out in the middle of Q4.  It took weeks to get him reinstated in every single country.
  • Look for bad actor activity. This is vague, I know, but if you’ve been targeted in the past or are seeing suspicious returns or reviews on your listings, investigate now. Bad actors often wait until right before the big day (Prime Day) or the middle of the season (second week in December) to take out their competition.  They want your sales and they are strategic in their timing.  If you are in the top 5 in your category for a product or a top seller on a hot product, you are a target.  Your risk is much higher for bad behavior.  Start a log, report what you can and be vigilant.

Brexit Affects Amazon Sellers in EU January 1

As of January 1, 2021, sellers who use a UK fulfillment center will no longer have access to the EU marketplace due to Brexit.  Sellers will need to send their inventory to the UK and to an EU fulfillment center to serve the entire marketplace.  Check out Amazon’s help pages either through Seller Central Help or:

Amazon’s Brexit Guidance

UK government website

European Commission website

This will make it more challenging to manage your inventory and replenishments. We are encouraging our clients to review historical data to see how much their products are selling in the different countries and send their FBA shipments accordingly for Q4.  One assumes, for example, that there will be some leftover inventory from Christmas. If you’ve already been sending your inventory into two fulfillment centers, then you won’t have the situation of a lot of inventory in the UK and no inventory in Germany on January 1.

Amazon Prime Day First Week of October

I was reading my coffee grounds today and they told me Prime Day will be the first week of October.  Just kidding.  Amazon told sellers in an email to use the week of October 5th as a “placeholder date” for Prime Day.  This time I believe them simply because if they push it out any further, they’ll have to call it Black Friday.  There are all the caveats attached to this: Amazon has not announced official dates, they could change their mind, etc.

As Amazon consultants, we are helping our clients prepare for Prime Day by cleaning up their accounts, getting sellers to review their inventory, sending in inventory early enough – there have been delays of 1-4 weeks getting some items checked into a warehouse recently – reviewing and updating their listings, creating A+ pages and storefronts, creating videos for their listings and signing up for Amazon advertising deals that make sense. 

For our brand clients we are also helping enforce their intellectual property rights on the platform and getting unauthorized and counterfeit sellers off their listings. 

We have two months and it seems like a long time until you start creating your to-do list.

Need help getting your account ready for Prime Day and Q4?

Send us a message now!

Amazon Hears Seller’s Cries for Control of Inventory Returns. Sort of.

In a long-needed, long-desired, long bitched about (in) decision, Amazon announced last week that it is launching a new automated return processing feature.  You can now choose to exclude products from automated returns processing…if you’re merchant fulfilled.  I hear the deflation in your voice.

For MF sellers, this allows them to cherry pick which items buyers can get refunds for that they don’t have to return.  This makes a lot of sense for items like food or topicals or underwear that can’t be resold anyway.  For high-dollar items, however, most MF sellers would like the opportunity to make the decision themselves.  The convenience of automatic refunds/automated returns is outweighed by the losses from the high-dollar items.

This is great news for MF sellers, but Amazon FBA sellers are still crying out for this kind of inventory control because of how often Amazon gets it wrong in the warehouse.  Obviously used products are taped back up and re-sold to buyers all the time, and it is the seller who pays for it with unhappy buyers, bad reviews and listing or account suspensions.  And you can’t turn this feature off. Amazon will repackage your returns and – often – decide for themselves whether the buyer needs to return it. Please Amazon, give FBA sellers this control!

Corruption at Amazon?

With the rising cases of COVID-19 and all the other huge news going on right now, you might have missed this very important story.  Amazon paid one of the top anti-trust experts in the country – one of the people writing how to hold tech companies accountable for anti-trust policies – to advise them on how to navigate their upcoming anti-trust investigations.

Fiona Scott Morton claims that she only works with companies that she’s comfortable are not breaking the law.  Uh-huh.  And that’s why her lack of disclosure in recent papers about antitrust in the tech industry wasn’t “an issue.”  Uh huh.  Tell me more.  So, she’s advising anti-trust action against Facebook and Google, but not Amazon.

As Amazon sellers we care because…

1) A lot of Amazon suspension appeals are written when Amazon enforces federal policies for truth-in-advertising among other things.  We must comply, but they are protected? Maybe.  Considering a story like this it makes you wonder if rules for themselves are different than for the rest of us.

2) Amazon DOES compete unfairly with its sellers using their data to create new private label products. We covered that in a recent blog.

3) Amazon data is sold regularly and every day to third-party sellers by black market list brokers giving the law breaker a HUGE competitive advantage over other sellers, and Amazon has been ineffective at stopping this practice.  So, we know some of their employees are corrupt. Is it part of the company culture?

In a related story in The Verge, the EU is continuing to investigate Amazon for antitrust behavior.  Currently they are concerned about how Alexa and Amazon’s smart home products are building a monopoly for Amazon.  Amazon’s recent Amazon Dash announcement won’t help.  The data collected by all these smart devices is going somewhere and the EU suspects it is being abused.  The results of the EU’s investigation will be reported in Spring 2021.  It’s not corruption, but it might be illegal.

Harvard Business Review Offers Advice to 3P Sellers

 

I never thought I’d see the day that the HBR focused on Amazon sellers.  It’s a badge of legitimacy that recognizes the millions of small and large businesses that rely on the Amazon model.  Their advice is somewhat simplistic but worth hearing again when thinking about your selling strategy on the platform.

Amazon Offers PPE to Schools

Through its Amazon Business program, school districts can now order N95 masks and other protective gear for their employees, teachers, and the occasional forgetful student who left their mask at home.  For 3P sellers be aware that you need to be approved by Amazon to sell PPE on this site just like on the First Responder’s site (it’s really the same site with different interfaces).  I’m personally thrilled by this expansion of Amazon’s First Responder offerings to include school districts.  I wish that teachers could order for themselves since many do not have N95 masks, but if their school district wants to, it can make the PPE available to teachers (the school district has to pay for it, but there’s nothing that says teachers couldn’t buy from the school district) along with gloves, clear shields, antiseptic wipes, you name it.  As a seller, you could choose different bulk pricing for schools if you wanted to make them more affordable per unit, but you’ll want to act quickly as most schools are gearing up right now to start school in August.

Amazon Patents Process to Identify Shady Messages Between Buyers and Sellers

According to a recent eCommerce Bytes story, Amazon has filed a patent that will help it ferret out shady messages between buyers and sellers. It is a continuation of their first patent in 2014 to identify and block disallowed content in messages like phone numbers and email addresses.

This patent is focused specifically on fraudulent emails. I assume some of this will focus on those phishing emails that are designed to capture seller logins – hooray for that! And the article specifically mentioned outsiders/other sellers gaining unauthorized access to seller accounts to impersonate the sellers. We’ve seen this happen several times to our clients where funds were transferred to unknown bank accounts and sellers were locked out of their own accounts by…themselves, according to Amazon.

It will also help Amazon fight buyers who submit orders without providing valid payment.  I’m not sure how that will work through the buyer-seller messaging platform, but it sounds like a good idea.

Last, but not least for Amazon sellers, it will help Amazon detect attempts to move communications off the marketplace to avoid Amazon’s fees and other nefarious acts.  Even though the patent was just filed, I assume Amazon has been beta testing and refining the invention/product for some time.  Thus, I don’t expect a rash of new suspensions to come from this announcement.

The patent references being able to take automatic actions when it finds “inappropriate content,” including blocking message delivery or modifying message content.  No surprise there.

For all you patent nerds out there, here’s the filing.

UPCOMING EVENT

Brand Mastery Summit

Virtual Learning Summit for Ecommerce Sellers

July 28-30, 2020

Build a Lasting Ecommerce Brand and Profitably Grow Your Sales (on and off Amazon)
Thurs, 7/30

On Thursday, July 30th at 2:30pm Eastern time, I will speak on how brand-sellers can protect their accounts from suspensions, bad actors, and IP theft. 

It’s free and because it is virtual, you can watch speakers at your own pace. It’s an all-star cast of speakers, check it out!  PS. It will not be free after the conference dates so get your ticket now.

 

**Since this blog was first published, I corrected a typo. It is “truth in advertising” not “truth in lending” that Amazon enforces on. Oops. Sorry about that.  

In addition, I modified and added an extra bullet about Amazon’s Affiliate Program. A sharp-eyed reader pointed out that Amazon’s program was updated on April 21, 2020 and some of the rules have changed. I updated my blog accordingly.  

I apologize for giving outdated information to the community. I do my best to keep on top of all changes at Amazon, but sometimes I miss something. I am so grateful to all my readers for caring so much about their fellow sellers!!!

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