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.
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.
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?
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 of 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….
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 Book
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!