Originally published 14 November 2019
In the middle of Q4 madness, why in the world am I writing about Verification which only affects sellers who are opening new accounts?
For one thing, we are seeing a lot of failed verifications. For another, the sellers who are failing the most are not new sellers who have never sold on the platform, but current sellers who are trying to launch new brands or who have acquired another Amazon business.
Additionally, it is my belief that Amazon will eventually require all accounts to be verified. We’ve already had clients who have been selling for years get suspended for something else and then be asked for verification documents in order to be reinstated. For all of you who were grandfathered in without verification, getting your ducks in a row would be a good Q1 activity.
I'll be brief. Q4 is kicking our asses, too.
Here’s what sellers who don’t have time to read need to know:
- Just because you are an experienced seller doesn’t mean you will pass verification
- The reasons sellers fail verification are complex
- Verification is Amazon’s first line of defense against bad actors
- You can’t just try again if you have been denied
- Sellers need to get it right the first time
- Even if you are an established seller, Amazon can ask for verification documents at any time
- While I’m mostly talking about US seller accounts, the rules apply worldwide
- eGrowth Partners is no longer accepting cases of failed verifications
Why Do Sellers Fail Verification?
The answer to this question is simple and complex at the same time. Sellers fail because they:
- Have documents that do not match exactly in every way. Is it Company Inc., Company LTD, Company LLC? Make sure you are consistent on all documents including IRS forms, incorporation, bank account…etc.
- Don’t understand what Amazon wants
- Don’t have invoices for their inventory
- Don’t take it seriously. This is one of Amazon’s most successful moves against bad actors. They take it very seriously and you get one chance to get it right
- Think they can fool Amazon
- Don’t plan, they just react – this should be prepared for long before applying
- Don’t have a utility bill/can’t prove their physical address (not everyone needs this anymore, FYI, but if you do…)
- Are foreign-owned and their documents are in another language that Amazon can’t or won’t translate
- Don’t have permission and their account is linked to another account
- Have an old, shut-down seller account in their past somewhere – even if they only sold their used textbooks and CDs in college
- Are trying a tricky offshore tax strategy with multiple shell corporations and their documents are confusing
- Are trying to get around Amazon’s disallowed country rules where the company is owned by a US citizen but the entire business will be run out of Nigeria or Iraq. Please note, many of these are US sanction laws, not Amazon’s. I won’t tell you how they know, but they know what you are trying to do
- Don’t have their IP secured first
- Try to open a new account in another country rather than extending their current account to the new marketplace. I see this a lot with multi-national companies with worldwide offices who want to use their UK HQ for their EU account or their Australian office for their Australia account. You don’t need a new account to do that and Amazon will gladly help you open new marketplaces
A question I often get is whether the country you live in matters? Yes, it does. Even if it is an allowed country, some countries get greater scrutiny than others.
What Do You Need to Know to Succeed?
The number one thing sellers can do to increase their chances of success is to be a serious business. When I started selling in 2010, anybody could open an Amazon seller account and if your credit card worked and your IRS tax ID matched with you as a person or with a business, you were in. I started out as a “lifestyle” seller like many sellers. I wanted extra income on the side at first, and then I converted over to full-time.
Today Amazon wants to work with sellers that are full-time, serious businesses from day one. These sellers have business bank accounts, business credit cards, EIN numbers, utility bills in the name of the business and a real physical location. They are incorporated and have sales tax certificates for their states. They are wholesalers or brands. This is not to say that you won’t succeed as an RA/OA, liquidation or drop-ship seller, but the more your business can fit into the Amazon model, the fewer problems you will have with verification and just about everything else.
If you’ve opened a new account because you want to sell a new brand but you don’t have your IP secured or brand registry yet…it could be a problem. Amazon created its IP Accelerator program for someone like you. It allows you to set up brand registry even if your trademark was just submitted to the USPTO. If you don’t have a seller account yet, do a google search for the IP Acceleration program and work with one of Amazon’s vetted IP law firms.
In addition, if you are a current seller on Amazon, you must have PERMISSION from Amazon to open another account. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to see sellers get rejected because they didn’t take this step – sellers that otherwise surely would have been accepted.
Next, the documents. Here are the top 10 reasons sellers’ documents are rejected:
- Too many different addresses, names. Who owns this business? If Amazon can’t tell, they’ll reject the application
- Addresses/names on the documents are not in the seller account. Seems obvious but it is often overlooked. It’s OK to have multiple official addresses, just make sure to add them to your account so Amazon can match them against your documents
- Bank account is in the name of one entity, seller account in the name of another
- Sending in a cell phone bill for utility. You need electric, gas, water, landline phone (not VOIP) or internet (please note, recent verifications are no longer asking for this, but just in case they start again)
- Incorporated in one state or country, the owner lives in another, the business office/warehouse is in another. It’s a red flag for fraud
- Sellers black out their account information on their bank statements, credit card etc. Verification means Amazon will confirm all the data you give them, often by phone. You can’t black out anything
- Not sending in the entire bank, credit card or utility statement. All that blah-blah fine print and sales offers on pages 2 and 3 that you ignore every month? Amazon needs the entire bill.
- Using a secondary credit card. If you have a corporate AMEX, for example, with employee cards. You must use the main card holder’s card for verification. This is because AMEX will not verify employee cards – only the primary account holder. Same with Visa, MC, etc. You can always change your credit card later.
- Using the same bank account, credit card, or utility bill as with your current seller business. You CAN be in the same physical location (like sharing a warehouse), but you must be set up as a separate business. Seems obvious, but you can’t share financial, tax or utility resources even if you have permission from Amazon to have a second account. Yes, that means you need a separate internet or electric bill.
- They can’t read them. If your documents are in another language, hire a professional translator and include the translation with the original documents. Have the translator notarize his/her work and have the original and translated document stamped by the notary. Make sure your scan is clear and easy to read. I’ve seen some terrible scans.
You’ll notice that in all these circumstances I’m talking about honest sellers making mistakes. We also get black hat clients who want to fool Amazon. Please don’t hire us for that. We won’t help you. If we realize that’s what you are doing, we’ll fire you as a client and keep your money for our time.
I’ve said this in the past, but it bears repeating considering all the bad actor behavior on the platform lately: We are your compliance team. Come to us if you want to follow Amazon’s rules and avoid suspension.
What Can You Do If You've Failed?
Amazon’s rules say you get one chance. [Anguished wails from the community]
However, there are certain circumstances where you can stil sell your products after rejection. We have investors, consultants, agencies and brand owner clients who can sell their products on the platform compliantly even after failing their first verification.
Why is eGP No Longer Helping with Failed Verifications?
To be clear, we help with verifications.
What we are no longer doing is helping with failed verifications. This is where Amazon has told a seller they can no longer add documents and/or that they have failed verification.
Usually by the time a seller hires someone like us, they’ve submitted many conflicting or wrong documents. They’ve used up all their chances. In the past if Amazon was still allowing the seller to upload documents, we could usually fix or explain the issues to them and get our clients approved. That was then. Now our chances of success are much lower. Amazon is less forgiving, and we don’t like to take anyone’s money unless we think we can succeed for them.
From our experience and observation, you get two chances and that’s it. If you also have a linked account issue, it is extremely difficult.
Our new policy is we will take on verification reinstatement cases where the client has not actually submitted verification documents yet. We will also provide document reviews and private consultations for rejected verifications where we will tell sellers what we think might be the problem and provide advice on how to fix it.
This approach saves sellers money because we are not charging for a reinstatement, just a consultation. If the client has failed verification, we can’t help. That opportunity has passed.
We can, however, explain your compliance options to still sell your products on the platform.
We are also still taking on linked accounts. If your failed verification for a second account has taken your main account down with it because of linked accounts, we can probably get your main account back – but not your failed verification account. We are one of the leading companies for linked accounts. Multiple competitors refer these cases to us. Despite the volume of these we do every year, they are tough cases.
I know this sounds confusing with rejected vs. failed. Rejected is when they say, “we could not verify your bank statement, please re-submit within 30 days.” We can help there, and I strongly suggest you get help before re-submitting because this will likely be your last chance.
Failed is you are denied, or you’ve already submitted documents 2-3 times. In those cases, we will consult on your options but won’t be able to take on an appeal.
Other Seller News for Q4
Obviously, I’m not publishing as often in Q4. Amazon is suspending a lot of sellers right now and my focus is there. But there is some news that you should know:
- Latest scam from black hats – spoofing retractions. You take them down for counterfeit or trademark. They are back in a day or two. How is that possible? Some of them have figured out how to successfully spoof your email address and send in their own retractions to Amazon. You take them down again. They report to Amazon that you are harassing them. You get suspended and then try to explain to Amazon that you never sent a retraction in the first place even though they can see the retraction in their system. The first time it happened I thought it was a fluke. It’s a tactic. We’re seeing it a lot more now.
- New email problems for sellers – If you have a link in your feedback/review emails, any link, you may find your account’s ability to accept reviews suspended. You get a warning (vague and not helpful) and then your listings are unable to accept reviews for 10 days. If you don’t fix the problem (the one you don’t know how to solve because they don’t tell you), the next review suspension is 30 days. Whereas you used to be able to include a link to where buyers could leave their reviews on Amazon, you can’t anymore. No links. I keep thinking Amazon is going to tweak this a bit because they used to allow you to use these links, but so far…no. Take all your links out of your emails. So far, we have been unable to get Amazon to lift the restriction for our clients even after they fix everything. Fix your emails NOW.
- Continuing email problems for sellers – Many, many sellers still have improper review ask emails where they say something to the effect of: “Please leave us a review. If you need help, contact us.” You CANNOT do that. People are getting suspended for this. Fix your emails NOW. If you need help or want another set of eyes on your revised emails, contact us.
- Inserts – You can’t ask for a positive review in your inserts or on your packaging. You can’t imply a positive review with an image of five stars, for example. C’mon guys. You know better. Amazon has suspended sellers for this. Proceed at your own risk. 1) Amazon is checking and 2) your competitors are turning you in.
- Nike is leaving Amazon: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-11-13/nike-will-end-its-pilot-project-selling-products-on-amazon-site This matters because Amazon will still want Nike’s inventory on the platform. This is an opportunity for 3P sellers who sell Nike to make more sales. Nike left, partially, because Amazon could not stop the counterfeit issues so you can also expect Amazon to be militant about your invoices.
- The Wall St. Journal put out an article that states that Amazon’s heavy recruitment of Chinese sellers puts consumers at risk: https://apple.news/AssO408T-QIuR-ZDzNhDGug You can expect to see Amazon take action here…but probably not in the favor of honest sellers. We are finding it excruciatingly hard to get our clients back from improper counterfeit complaints.
- Amazon is offering its own training for 3P sellers to compete with the dishonest, black hat gurus out there: https://www.geekwire.com/2019/amazon-unveils-small-business-academy-help-third-party-sellers-bolster-e-commerce-presence I highly recommend that sellers take these courses first before getting advanced training from someone else. You’ll understand Amazon’s rules better and avoid mistakes that could get you suspended. It will help you put outside training in context and raise red flags in your mind if you see something that doesn’t seem compliant. Amazon is suing fraudulent gurus, but it is not fast enough.
- Sellers are still being targeted by California for outrageous back taxes claims: https://www.inquirer.com/business/california-sales-tax-amazon-seller-philadelphia-business-20191105.html. Despite the changes in the law which require Amazon to collect sales tax in California, that is not stopping the revenue department from seeking back taxes from sellers in other states. My friend Brian Freifelder got a ridiculous $1.6M tax bill. We should all watch Brian’s case because it could have huge implications for sellers. Paul Rafelson of the Online Merchant’s Guild is working hard on Brian’s case and for all sellers. I strongly encourage the community to support OMG’s efforts. They were instrumental in getting the change made to the California sales tax law and in fighting unfair sales taxes nationwide. We’re rooting for you, Brian!
- Black hat sellers are now using ManyChat and other chatbots to solicit positive, incentivized reviews: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nicolenguyen/amazon-sellers-facebook-chatbots-fake-reviews Guys, do you really think Amazon doesn’t already know about this? We report these tactics to Amazon on behalf of our clients regularly. I expect we’ll see a crackdown soon just like when sellers were using PayPal to send gift cards and Fivrr workers to write fake reviews. Amazon has sued THOUSANDS of sellers and service providers for these tactics. Don’t be next.
- FTC is investigating Amazon – based on their recent slap on the wrist to Sunday Riley, I’m not expecting these investigations to have any teeth to them whatsoever. #totallydisgustedFTC
- Amazon is acting on Black Hats – it is not fast enough and it doesn’t seem nearly enough, but we’ve seen more takedowns and applaud their efforts on this. Recently, we’ve seen some reversals of previous reinstatements – not with our clients, but with sellers who worked with black hats who were able to “flip the switch” on their suspensions in a few hours because they had inside contacts they were paying. At least, this seems to be a possible common denominator. This is a developing story, as they say. I put this at the end because it is speculative on my part, and I need more information to be definitive. It could be a coincidence. I thought it was important for the seller community to think about, though.
Amazon does audit suspensions (this is definitive, we’ve known this for some time) and if they reverse themselves it is unlikely you will get back. What is different in these cases is that the reasons for the takedowns are not clear cut like “Code of Conduct.” Sellers might think they can get back, not realizing they are suspended because of a reversal.
We won’t help sellers who we know are deliberately violating TOS like forging documents or bribing Amazon employees to reinstate them. Why are we even hearing about these cases, then? Because their previous source can no longer help them.
I’m well aware why otherwise honest sellers would want to push the “easy button.” Amazon is infuriating in the way it treats its sellers. Time is money and Amazon will take days to weeks to approve an appeal. Amazon is also giving priority to sellers who pay for their own strategic account manager at $1,600+ a month. This is unfair and a clear conflict of interest for Amazon to profit from a suspension they themselves create. I’ve been tracking it among my clients who have the same takedown, and it is usually 2 days faster to get reinstated if you have a SAM. No one should have to pay $20K or more a year just to get Amazon to read an appeal faster, and many sellers can’t afford it. Nor is this service available to all sellers (despite all the booths at trade shows – Amazon chooses who it works with).
They will deny it and say that their SAMs are intended to help you grow and can’t help with suspensions, but they do. They submit them for you, and you get an answer faster than by using Seller Central to respond. Sometimes they can provide greater insight on your suspension so you can address the real problem. They can’t see your account annotations, but they sometimes reach out to internal contacts to find out more.
They won’t write the appeal, but just that little bit of help – basic help that should be available to all sellers in my opinion – makes a difference. Amazon will say that you can talk to the Account Health team who will help you. Don’t make me laugh. Those guys can only give you generic advice and can only tell you stuff like “Amazon received your appeal” or “that last response was to your appeal sent on XYZ date.” They always swear the appeal was read, which it wasn’t. It’s enough to make my head explode to listen to an Account Health representative tell my clients their POAs need to be “proactive.” For Pete’s sake! This is not our first rodeo! The POA is proactive! It’s a good thing these are not video calls.
Amazon makes it hard to do things the right way. They don’t care much about sellers. They could make things better and they don’t. Sellers make mistakes, but most of them are honest sellers who deserve a second chance and who want to be compliant. Amazon should at least respond to those sellers in a timely way and provide real help instead of bullshit templates that often have very little to do with the actual suspension. These templates are merely sent because the Amazonian didn’t have time to read the appeal so they push the problem off on someone else.
Despite all this, I strongly urge sellers to follow Amazon’s path and be compliant. This is your livelihood, and you only get one account. Even those who have permission for multiple accounts can lose all of them if the account is not reinstated. It is still just one account.