Retailers generally make 60% of their annual revenue during Q4. It is the happiest time of year for all of us. Like the ghost of Christmas Present, however, the threat of an Amazon seller suspension hovers nearby causing anxiety. We hear “Amazon closed my account!” every day. This week I look at concrete steps Amazon sellers can take to avoid the most common reasons for account suspensions: Product Quality, Performance, Inauthentic/Counterfeit, and Infringement.
Product quality is about the condition of your product. Is it dirty, dusty, dented, faded, or torn? Is the product your buyers receive different from what they saw in the listing? Is it missing parts, broken or plagued with safety issues? Is the sizing off? How do you know if a product is in trouble?
HERE ARE THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO REDUCE PRODUCT QUALITY ISSUES:
- Review your returns reports, buyer-seller messages, seller feedback and product reviews at least once a week – more often for high volume sellers. Sort your returns report by ASIN and scrutinize the ones that have high returns.
- Look for words that trigger the Amazon suspension algorithm:
- Used Sold as New
- Not as Described
- Missing Parts
- Wrong item sent
- Check your listings every time you replenish or make a new listing for accuracy.
- Understand your defect range.
- Close listings where you are getting a lot of returns until you can fix the problem.
For most sellers, the range of acceptable defects/returns is under 2%. Certain categories like apparel and electronics have higher acceptable ranges of less than 12% and less than 6% respectively. Amazon knows that when clients buytwo pairs of shoes and return the one that they were testing for the right size. However, if the reasons for the returns are consistently about sizing (“runs small”) or the quality of the product (used, dirty, not as described, shoddy, etc.) then you have a problem.
If you see a product with high returns for product quality reasons, close the listing until you’ve had a chance to investigate the problem and fix it. Sometimes the fix is easy – a better description, more pictures. Sometimes it is harder – inherent product problems that need to be fixed at the manufacturer level.
If your product is getting beaten up on its way to the buyer, you may need to invest in better protection, so it can withstand the rigors of the warehouse and shipping. While you may feel this is Amazon’s job, Amazon considers it your problem. Amazon sellers are responsible to make sure their packages are properly protected for shipment all the way to the end user.
Ask yourself, “If Amazon threw this in a bubble envelope or simply slapped a label on the box, would it get to the buyer in perfect condition? If your answer is “No freakin’ way!” then you need more packaging.
Amazon’s algorithm looks at returns, product reviews, seller reviews and buyer emails for trigger words. It is a pattern beast so if your returns suddenly soar or you get the same negative return reason 3+ times (varies by size of the seller) in a short period of time, their “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” alarm goes off and your ASIN is suspended. If you have multiple listings triggering the alarm or have a poor history with Amazon, they may suspend your account.
Prevention is your friend here. We have helped many of our clients virtually eliminate PQ issues with Amazon by checking their accounts for them every week.
These suspensions affect mainly merchant-fulfilled (MF) sellers although I have seen some sellers shut down for performance issues relating to shipments to Amazon that don’t have an accurate number of units. For MF sellers the issues are usually things like marking something as shipped that hasn’t actually been scanned yet by the carrier, order cancellation, too many A-Z claims, 24+ hours to respond to buyers, no tracking number (a real problem for our small and light sellers), late shipments, lost packages etc.
HERE ARE 5 CONCRETE STEPS TO TAKE TO PREVENT THESE ASIN AND AMAZON SUSPENSIONS:
- Watch your dashboard daily. If your metrics dip, you need a lot of perfect orders to balance them out.
- Get your products to buyers on time.
- Answer your buyers in under 4 hours.
- Respond to A-Z claims with an immediate refund AND an appeal.
- Don’t cancel orders.
Of these, #2 can be the hardest for MF sellers. The carrier has some role to play in timely delivery. However, Amazon does not accept finger-pointing. If you are having trouble with the USPS or Royal Mail delivering on time (most sellers do during the holidays), then you MUST switch to a more reliable carrier or to the USPS’ expedited delivery. If you can’t make any money on your products using UPS or expedited services, then raise your prices or stop selling it. Really, it’s that important to your account.
If you are drop-shipping and your supplier isn’t performing…drop them. Keep a close, close eye on whether your customers are getting their products on time and stop selling products from unreliable partners.
For A-Z claims, Amazon won’t count them against you if they agree with your appeal. If you responded to your buyer in under 4 hours, you have a good case for an impatient buyer or if they never contacted you at all, you should be able to get the claim removed from your ledger. Sometimes buyers complain because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly or your customer service was brusque, or you argued with the buyer. In those cases, Amazon will side with the buyer. Good customer service means fast refunds and friendly service. If your internal team does not have written templates with customer friendly messages for commonly asked questions, you are asking for trouble. Consistency is key. I could write an entire post on the appalling things sellers have said to buyers through Amazon’s buyer-seller messages – don’t be a case study in my next book. Please.
Lastly, don’t cancel orders. If the buyer cancels the order that’s fine. If you are canceling the orders, Amazon thinks you are not managing your stock properly and they’ll shut you down fast. Make sure you have proof that they wanted to cancel it. If the product has already shipped, tell the buyer they can mark it “refused” and hand it to the carrier for return. In this way, you will refund them without charging fees. You may think you are doing the buyer a favor by canceling an order but most the time you are doing yourself a disservice. If you actually do run out of stock with orders pouring in, you need to 1) turn off the listing; 2) fill them from other sources and 3) get yourself a better inventory management system.
This is by far the most consistent reason Amazon sellers get shut down. They can’t prove the provenance of their goods to Amazon’s satisfaction.
If you are still selling items on the platform that you bought at a thrift store, garage sale, from dollar stores (with no details on the receipts), grocery liquidation stores, liquidators, eBay, Alibaba or from Amazon itself, you are at a high risk for suspension.
If you are selling refurbished items as “new,” if you are buying from other online retailers (or Amazon) and drop-shipping to Amazon’s buyers if you are selling an item manufactured to another country’s specifications – even if new – you are risking suspension.
HERE’S THE BEST WAY TO REDUCE INAUTHENTIC COMPLAINTS AND TO RESOLVE THEM QUICKLY IF YOU DO GET THEM:
- Keep all your receipts and invoices. Be organized.
- Make sure your receipts and invoices are detailed with a clear product description.
- Use the credit card you have on file with Amazon to make purchases.
- If you are using gift cards to buy inventory, be sure at least part of the purchase is paid with your credit card.
- Make sure you have invoices from authorized distributors/wholesalers only. Can you prove that they buy directly from the manufacturer/brand owner?
- Get invoices, not pro forma, not packing slips, not shipping statements.
- Do not buy from eBay, Alibaba (it has multiple websites, know all of them), online discounters (Drugstore.com is specifically disallowed by Amazon, for example), liquidators who buy from retailers, other Amazon sellers, etc.
- Drop-ship directly from the manufacturer, authorized licensee or brand owner.
- Make sure your products are in pristine condition when they get to the buyer. Many inauthentic claims are due to buyer complaints about the products they received. It looks trashed when they get it, so they think it is counterfeit.
Amazon is working hard to get rid of stolen goods and counterfeits. They have to deal with a lot of dishonest sellers who fake invoices…as do we. Don’t ever fake an invoice or receipt for any reason. Amazon always knows. Recently they have started to ban sellers from the platform specifically for providing fake information.
Recently we’ve had sellers suspended who used a service to get them approved in Amazon Topicals or for a particular brand. They were caught providing fake invoices and suspended for it. Read that carefully. They weren’t just rejected for approval, they were suspended.
Considering that the service provider never asked for invoices from the seller, it should have been obvious that something fishy was going on. If you are going to hire someone to get your brand or category approved, ask questions. It’s your account that is on the line.
If you think it is OK to sneak past the Amazon hall monitor, then shame on you. Amazon Topical approval is as much about buyer safety as it is about authenticity. Do you really want to be the guy selling toxic shampoos to consumers? See my recent blog post on Topicals.
My advice here depends on the kind of seller you are. Arbitrage sellers, liquidators and drop-shippers get a lot more infringement claims on average than wholesalers. They are often selling products that the brand neither intended to be sold on Amazon nor gave its permission to Amazon to use its brand, logo and copyrighted materials to create a listing. Arbitrage sellers may be listed under someone else’s ASIN and have no idea whether it is violating trademark or not. Private label sellers are not immune to infringement claims if a brand thinks that their patent, trademark or copyright are being abused.
TO AVOID INFRINGEMENT:
- Make sure your products are authentically sourced and that you can prove it.
- Don’t create new listings on the platform unless you know you have the brand’s permission.
- Don’t use another brand’s name or trademarks in your description, keywords or listing. Velcro® took down a lot of listings that improperly used the word “Velcro” to describe a fastening on a product, for example.
- Respond immediately to all IP claims and resolve them.
- Use the correct UPC code from the manufacturer, not your own.
- Get permission to use product artwork and copy or create your own.
- PL sellers should make sure you are brand registered in 2.0.
- PL sellers should hire an attorney early in the process to test for patent and other possible infringements.
- PL sellers need to make sure all their products are properly tested and labeled for all applicable safety/regulatory standards in the country where the product will be sold.
Evil Seller Trick!
If you have not registered your trademarks and brand with the USPTO, do it NOW! We’ve seen several cases where a competitor registered a seller’s brand and trademarks with the USPTO. Once they were set up with Brand Registry 2.0, they used their ownership to eliminate the competition from the platform. If you are serious about designing your own products, spend the money to protect your intellectual property. Sellers who aren’t willing to do that are considered “generics” by Amazon and not supported in their claims.
Through our legal partner and IP attorney Jeffrey Breloski, we offer a full range of intellectual property services including registering trademarks, negotiating with rights holders and more.
In conclusion, good habits make for good accounts. I’ve seen some beautiful high-volume accounts that rarely have any issues with Amazon. It is possible. In studying these clients’ accounts, I see that they are aware, proactive and consistent. Like Amazon, they focus on the buyer experience. They follow the rules and don’t try to game the system. You can join the ranks of the lovely account. I would love to say to you one day, as I did to a recent client, “There’s nothing on your account to talk about. Do you have other questions for me?”
Happy Q4, Y’all!
Where’s eGrowth Partners Next?
Cynthia is traveling to Atlanta January 9-12 to participate in the Scanner Society workshop intensive. Check it out here! She will also be arranging a dinner on Wednesday night of that week. Stay tuned for details!
Did You See Us in the News?
“5 Questions about Amazon Account Suspension Prevention” with Jeff Cohen of Seller Labs and Cynthia Stine
Is Amazon the Grinch Stealing Your Christmas?
When you need an Amazon account specialist, we are just a phone call, email or website away. Let us help you get your valuable listing/ASIN back on your account. With our expedited services, we can turn your plan around in less than 24 hours and get you back even faster. I worked two expedites this weekend for inauthentic claims and both were back to selling the next day.