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Seven Things Amazon Gets Right For Sellers

Cynthia Stine

Cynthia is the #1 authority in Amazon Reinstatement. Cynthia has been an Amazon seller since 2010...

Cynthia is the #1 authority in Amazon Reinstatement. Cynthia has been an Amazon seller since 2010...

Feb 28 17 minutes read

Seven Things Amazon Gets Right For Sellers

In my job I see a lot of things go wrong between Amazon and its sellers.  It’s easy to get frustrated and to complain about Amazon suspensions, mysterious new polices that spring up like mushrooms after a rain (translate after some kind of clusterf*ck at Amazon), confusing communications and the general black hole that Amazon puts between itself and its sellers.  Like the IRS, Amazon often treats us as guilty until proven innocent and the method for resolving issues is awful.  Nevertheless, we keep plugging away because we don’t ever forget what a tremendous wealth creating machine Amazon has created and allowed us to share in.  This week I wanted to look at what is going RIGHT for sellers. In addition, there are two pieces of exciting news from Amazon at the bottom of this blog.

Buyer Trust

If you understand nothing else about Amazon, understand that the buyer experience is number one for the company.  Its first principle is “Customer Obsession” and building trust with buyers matters more than anything including profits, short-term gains, relationships with partners/sellers, etc.  This intense focus benefits sellers tremendously.  Amazon is one of the most trusted brands in the world and the number one online site in the US because buyers trust Amazon.  They know they are going to have a good experience, and that Amazon will take care of them if they don’t.

The reflected glory of Amazon’s obsession makes the platform a tremendous wealth building opportunity for us.  eGrowth Partners clients who focus on buyer trust in their businesses have the fewest problems with their accounts because they intuitively know what to do when a problem occurs – take care of the buyer.

Category Approvals And Safety Complaints

When I started selling on Amazon, it was easy to get category approvals. I could pretty much throw anything into a box and send it to Amazon to sell.  The crazy wild-west days of 2010.  Today it is much harder because sellers need to get approved for nearly anything they want to sell, particularly in the riskier categories of topicals, supplements, medical devices, OTC drugs, baby, electronics, jewelry and food.

Even if they were approved previously in beauty, for example, now sellers must get approved in “topicals” to keep selling their profitable lotions, soaps, makeup and shampoos.  While very frustrating for the seller community (“The rules keep changing! Arrg!”), this is something Amazon has gotten right.

Amazon wants to make sure that when someone buys a product from its platform, it won’t hurt them. Pretty simple. If you are a private label seller, they expect you to behave like a large company and constantly test your products.  If you are a wholesaler, they expect you to vet your sources and make sure your products come from the brand owner/manufacturer.  If you do not do these things, YOU will be liable even if you did not create the original product.

We at eGrowth Partners have seen the most appalling abuses of Amazon’s previous laissez-faire policies.  Not only did our clients sell used or counterfeit as new, a few products were downright dangerous.

Some of the problems we’ve handled are giggle-worthy like “should vibrators be sold in beauty or sexual wellness?” But sellers with electronics that spontaneously caught on fire or babies that choked or toxic chemicals in shampoo or dangerous levels of unregulated herbal substances that were sending people to the hospital?  Not funny.  Not good.

Everyone in the community should support Amazon in its efforts to promote safe products on the platform. It is better for the buyer; it is better for us.

Everyone in the community should support Amazon in its efforts to promote safe products on the platform. It is better for the buyer; it is better for us.

Brand Registry 2.0

There are plenty of problems with Brand Registry 2.0 (I’ll save that for another blog) because it is still new and undergoing improvements.  What is right, however, is outstanding and exciting.  For one thing, a brand owner no longer needs to be a seller on the platform and can be separate and distinct from the seller platform (even if they ARE a seller on the platform).

This is important because private label sellers will always have control of their listings and brand on the platform whether or not they are active sellers.  If, God forbid, sellers are suspended or permanently banned from the platform, they can still sell their products on Amazon through Amazon’s vendor program (direct to Amazon) or as a wholesaler to other sellers.

BR 2.0 also gives brand owners a better way to enforce trademark and copyright infringement problems on the platform. In addition, they have better support from Amazon for patent or counterfeit claims because they have proven to Amazon’s satisfaction that they are the rights holder by getting registered.

For wholesale sellers, BR 2.0 provides an opportunity to provide value to their supplier partners and brands that make the seller stand out from the tons of Amazon sellers who are scanning products in their booth.  Many companies are ignorant of how Amazon works and want help.  You can be that resource for them.

Brand owners will also benefit from the enhanced brand content, advertising and marketing programs Amazon is making available in BR 2.0.  If you are an agent for a brand, you can run these programs for your brand.  Even if you aren’t, your brand will start to perform better once other brand owners start using these tools.  BR 2.0 is a win for all sellers if used properly and strategically.

Continuous Improvement

It is one of Amazon’s principles that the company will launch new initiatives, policies, etc., that are about 80% ready.  Called “Bias for Action,” this principle allows them to get new things launched faster and then fix problems as they go.  Amazon believes that waiting for something to be perfect is a waste of time and resources.

Every time there is a new policy or initiative like last year’s Brand Registry 2.0, I know it is going to be a cluster for a while. Mistakes will be made.  Amazon acknowledges and expects that, but what happens over time is that the false positives are reduced to nearly zero. The process gets better and simpler.  Amazon’s efforts are focused on the things that are going wrong.  Operations are more efficient following this process.  While this causes some pain in the beginning (OK, sometimes LOTS of pain!), they do improve.

Whenever a seller tells me Amazon is wrong about a complaint or policy that has been in place for more than three months, I’m skeptical.  Amazon is nearly always right…at least in their world.  I understand that my clients disagree!  That’s why the first thing we do for a suspended seller is an account assessment.  We get a more comprehensive view of their account and see it through the Amazon lens. This helps us write appeals that Amazon will accept.

Like Amazon, we believe in continuous improvement and work to help our clients avoid making mistakes in the future. We will warn them of other things we see in their accounts that might become problems and talk to them about changes that will help them avoid needing us again.  Because we can usually see why Amazon believes they have violated a policy or have product quality problems, we can teach our clients how to do it for themselves going forward.

Forgiveness

As seller advocates and fellow sellers, we celebrate every time we get a client back on the platform. We even have a special Slack® channel for our celebrations and virtual high fives. Internally, we’ve acknowledged that we probably should not have been successful in some cases because our clients were not only guilty as charged, but they knew they were doing wrong when they did it. However, if they are willing to change, we are willing to fight for them.  Despite how harsh Amazon can be, the company has also decided that sellers deserve second chances if they show that they are going to change their behavior.

This policy/philosophy is quite extraordinary when you think about it.  It would be cheaper and easier for Amazon to say, “off with their heads!” and not let potential bad actors back on the platform.  That’s what the Merch seller performance division is currently doing.  You can’t even appeal.  Yet for most issues on Seller Central, Amazon will let us continue selling if changes are made.

The cynical among us might point out that Amazon needs third-party sellers for its own profitability reasons, but I disagree when it comes to seller forgiveness.  Amazon’s reputation and buyer experience are far more important to it than any seller on its platform.  I’ve seen them permanently take down huge brands and sellers for violating its policies.  No one is too big to fail.

Logistics

Amazon’s FBA program is amazing.  It allows sellers to run large selling operations without managing their own fulfillment in countries around the world.  In countries like Germany, we recommend all sellers use FBA unless they are shipping from Germany – that’s how often sellers get it wrong when they try to fulfill themselves.  We sometimes take FBA for granted as sellers and forget how it transforms our ability to scale and operate globally…from our laptops.  Most sellers are not good logisticians.  Now we don’t have to be.

Amazon has added Prime benefits/badges for MF sellers so there is no longer the Prime advantage of FBA over MF, but for many products it is still better to do FBA when you compare the cost of handling your own fulfillment and the penalties Amazon will impose if you do a poor job.

You won’t get this kind of leverage and scale from any other platform.

Documentation And Training

Amazon is constantly adding new information and training to its Seller Central platform.  I recommend that all sellers start with the contract they’ve signed with Amazon – there’s lots of information in there that Amazon expects you to know.  I printed mine out and put it in a 3-ring binder with tabs, so I could find things easier and review it from time to time.  Next, you want to read the restrictions for what can’t be sold on the platform.  We see several suspensions a year that could have been avoided if the client had realized that product was forbidden on Amazon.  Next, read the rules and restrictions for your categories. All items that can be eaten or put on your body must have an expiration date, for example, and you need to remove products well before that expiration date.

Lastly, move your way up to policies.  From product reviews to product safety, Amazon has policies on everything and they can all be found in Seller Central Help.

Amazon has online training for new sellers that is very helpful for understanding how FBA works and much, much more.  If you have a question about selling on Amazon, the answer is probably waiting for you in Seller Central Help.

Good News From Amazon!

Two exciting pieces of news for sellers:

Bad Actors Thwarted On Vendor Express

Other sellers can no longer screw with your listings through Vendor Express.  FINALLY, our complaints were heard, and Amazon has closed this loophole that was allowing competitors to make changes to existing listings that weren’t theirs.

For all our clients who have suffered from bad actors sabotaging their listings on the platform, I say THANK YOU AMAZON!

If you are in Vendor Express, you can no longer add any product to your account that already has an offer on it (whether a 3P seller or Amazon itself).  To add a new product, you must be brand registered in 2.0 and you can only add YOUR products to Vendor Express.  I’m not sure yet if this is the same on Vendor Central, but since VC is by invitation only and the sellers are vetted, my assumption has always been that it was Vendor Express that was causing all the problems

Manufacturers Offer Support Directly To Buyers

How many times have private label sellers/manufacturers wished that buyers could call them directly if they had product problems?  How many times have FBA sellers asked Amazon to let buyers return items to US instead of to Amazon?  Soon this will be a reality.

Amazon has started a feature where manufacturers and brand owners can offer support to buyers from the Amazon order page.  This is awesome news because: 1) the support button is highlighted and promoted above the reviews button which encourages people to get help before they complain; 2) buyers go directly to your tech support and webpage and it isn’t a violation of Amazon TOS and; 3) the transactions don’t count as returns, refunds or exchanges on your Amazon seller metrics.

This example from Plantronics shows how it works:

For manufacturers/PL sellers this means fewer returns and negative feedback. If products are returned, they can come directly to you instead of Amazon.  In the example above, I was able to get a new Plantronics charging case but there was no refund, no return and no blemish on Plantronics’ sales metrics.

I can immediately think of dozens of our clients who will benefit from this. These are clients who sell “imperfect products” that sometimes require additional support for the buyer to have a good experience. These imperfect products may be complicated or generally subject to misuse or misunderstanding by buyers–products that require installation or set-up of any kind, basically.

Sellers have told me “if I can just get on the phone with the buyer, I can usually fix the problem without a return.”  While we help our clients clarify their products through their listings and encourage buyers to contact them directly for support (usually through product inserts), it doesn’t always work.  Too many buyers end up returning perfectly good products and complaining.

In the new feature, not only will Amazon give them your phone number and support hours, they will also be given a link to your site!  Imagine that!  You can send buyers directly to the support section of your site where you might have videos, drawings, downloads, pictures and instructions to help them.  This is huge!

I know you are all wondering when you can make this happen for your account.  Me too.  It’s rolling out, obviously.  My assumption is it will be a feature of Brand Registry 2.0 although it could be Vendor Central.  Keep an eye out, folks, and let me know.  I’m reaching out to Amazon to find out more for us.

Brand Registry 2.0 Services

eGrowth Partners offers a range of support for manufacturers, brand owners and authorized brand agents.  These include:

Brand Registry 2.0set up for those who want to make sure they are set up properly.

Trademark filing with the USPTO and other agencies worldwide.  Our IP attorney partner, Jeffrey Breloski, reviews your trademarks for potential rejection issues which makes your wait time shorter for approval.

File-Your-Own Trademark class for people who want to save hundreds in legal fees by filing themselves.  If you are prepared to file, this class takes you through the entire process and you can complete your first filing during the class.

Enhanced brand listings make sure your products shine on the platform.  Make sure yours are compliant as well as selling savvy. Contact us for a custom quote.

Infringement takedowns for sellers who want to make sure they are compliant with BR 2.0 rules.  We advise our clients on how to prepare for and handle takedowns. Contact us for a custom quote.

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