It’s Q4 and ain’t nobody got time for that, right? Except, I hope you do because there’s news you need to know. I’ll talk fast.
Email Rules Change Again
Amazon has tightened its policies on reviews again, as of this week. EVERYONE needs to check their email templates NOW or lose the ability to send emails to buyers altogether.
Amazon is applying restrictions on sellers for 30 days where they cannot send any emails to buyers. That gives you time to fix your emails. So far, we have been unable to lift the restriction for anyone even after fixing their emails, but we did learn that if you DON’T fix your emails, they’ll extend the restriction to even longer.
Here’s the new rules. They are clearer, but there are still a lot of questions. Here’s what we are experiencing from actual seller suspensions. You:
- Can only send 1 email asking for a review
- Can only send 1 email, period if you are FBA. Don’t send emails asking if they got their order or offering help. MF sellers can send more IF it is needed to complete the order like “when will someone be available to accept the furniture delivery?”
- Can’t send more than one email a day unless you are helping a buyer with their order.
- Can’t use the words “Important” or “Your Attention Required” in the subject line. People are abusing this to get around Amazon’s opt-out. If you are doing this, just know that sellers are getting suspended for it.
- Can’t ask the unhappy buyer to contact you for help, if you are FBA. Amazon will take care of them. This is HUGE for a lot of my clients who use this email to provide tech support to buyers or send free replacements.
- No PDFs, attachments, etc., unless it is necessary to fulfill an order. No helpful recipe’s, tips, troubleshooting…none.
- Can’t include links in your email, including Amazon links to a buyer’s order, or where to leave a review. None. NO LINKS. You must type up any instructions in your review ask email. Just because your email software allows it does not mean it is compliant. Not anymore.
- Cannot influence the buyer towards a positive review in ANY way including asking them to contact you if they are not happy or need help. Don’t get clever with images that have 5 stars of any kind – you already knew that was against TOS – and be careful with sad stories about how you are a small business in Scranton that needs their help. If Amazon thinks it is misleading, manipulative or biased they’ll take it down.
- Can’t link your logo to your website. If the logo is in the email – which is allowed — it must be a static image. Dudes, why are some of you still doing this?
- No images at all except for a product picture and your static logo.
- Can’t use codes, discounts or upsells of any kind.
- Can’t include an opt-out link. People have been abusing this to divert buyers. If you are FBA and/or sending messages through the buyer-seller message platform (like you are supposed to), Amazon already provides them with an opt-out link.
- Can’t ask leading or directing questions like “Can you tell me what excites you most about our product?” or “what do you think about the quality?” I would be careful of offering effusive praise or effusive anything like “I want to congratulate you on making a great decision!”
- Can’t get mad at your email service provider. This is new and YOU are responsible for your emails. Some of these guys have been giving their buyers templates that are against TOS for years and you still use them. Others change their templates every time Amazon changes the rules, but the sellers don’t update them. This is on you.
- Can’t request a buyer remove or update an existing product review or seller feedback. This is confusing because Amazon’s own template tells a buyer how to remove/update an existing product review or seller feedback. Some of my clients are using Amazon’s language exactly in their request (after they’ve solved the buyer’s problem) and I think they will be OK, but we just don’t know yet.
What Amazon says in their template is: If you want to edit or remove….and then they give directions. That’s it. They don’t ask the buyer to remove or update their review/feedback. They just tell them how to do it. In my mind, it should probably be OK to say that. Just don’t ask them to do it.
- Possibly can still use email software programs that don’t send an email to buyers who demanded refunds. This is gray area. The policy says we cannot only ask customers who had a positive experience with the product. My belief is that sellers are asking plenty of buyers who had a negative experience with the product for reviews even when you remove those who returned the product. They may have returned the product after the email went out or they might have been unhappy, but not unhappy enough to return the product. You could also argue that it is good customer service not to further irritate a clearly unhappy buyer with a review request. But we don’t know for sure yet so if you are risk adverse, turn that feature off. To date, the clients we’ve had suspensions with for this reason were doing things like inviting those who left positive seller feedback to leave a product review. That’s the kind of cherry picking we KNOW Amazon does not like.
- Can’t imply a positive review in product inserts in ANY way. We’ve had clients suspended who had a neutral “ask” but the image on the insert had 5 stars. C’mon guys. If Amazon doesn’t do a bin check on you, your competitors will turn you in. And YES! I know that Anker and other big brands are huge violators of this rule and seem to get away with it. My point is that YOU will not get away with it.
- Can still provide warranty cards. Some people worried that the “or any other future benefits” meant things like a lifetime warranty. As long as you are not making the warranty contingent on leaving a review, you are fine. Warranty cards are allowed inserts if you are the brand owner. You can also provide information about your technical support and give buyers your links to helpful videos on your website – the whole nine yards. Brands can do this. Just watch out for the review stuff.
- Can’t ask for positive reviews in your marketing/Facebook/website. This we’ve observed consistently. If they catch you asking for positive reviews on Amazon in your ManyChat, FB ads, on your website, etc., they’ll take you down. But if you are asking for positive reviews on FB or with Trustpilot or some other off-platform credibility platform, that’s none of their damn business.
- Can’t pay influencers to write blogs that link to Amazon or where they leave videos or reviews on Amazon. They’ll catch you eventually. Giving influencers money or free product in exchange for a review – even if you don’t ask for it to be positive – can be a problem if they link to the product on Amazon (and most of them do – most of them are Amazon affiliate members) or leave a review on Amazon. And yes, I know that publishers give out thousands of free books to reviewers every year and that’s different. Sorry. They can sniff out a biased campaign and publishers get away with it. Please stop arguing with me about publishers. I can’t help it Amazon is unfair and applies its policies this way.
- Can’t use private deal/review groups. They’ll find you. They are working closely with FB and other social media platforms to take these groups down, identify the seller/brand, and punish them. Yes, there are legitimate deal platforms like Groupon, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the “you buy from me and leave a review and I’ll buy from you” or groups like this one reported on recently. The woman in the article said, “I definitely feel like I have to keep [the reviewing] a secret from people who have strong morals.” Wow.
In my opinion, Amazon is eventually going to take away our ability to send our own emails through an outside service provider. They are pushing people to only send emails – their templates, their approved language – through seller central manually.
For those of you who use service providers to deliver your emails, I strongly suggest that you check your templates, NOW. I’ve seen many sellers tripped up by this lately where they are using older templates or using features that are no longer allowed by Amazon and then they either get their accounts suspended or the lose the right to send emails for 10 to 30 days. Act now.
For a long time I’ve told sellers to have their first email check in with the buyer and offer to help them if they need it; and the second email is a neutral ask with NO REFERENCE as to how to reach out if they need help. This is all changed now. One email only for FBA sellers, the neutral review or seller feedback ask.
If your buyer reaches out to you through Buyer-Seller messages, of course you can help them, and it may take several emails to resolve the issue for them. This is different than what I’m talking about.
I rarely do this, either, but here’s a currently compliant template with the caveat that Amazon could change things tomorrow. Nonetheless, it’s compliant as of today:
Subject: Your opinion matters!
Hi Buyer Name,
Thank you for your recent purchase of [insert product title/picture here – no links]
Would you mind taking a few seconds to share your experience with other Amazon customers? It is honest feedback from buyers like you that make Amazon such a great place to shop and it helps us constantly improve our products and create new offerings.
You can write a review simply following the 3 steps below.
- Select “Your Amazon” on the upper right-hand side of your screen.
- Click on “Your Orders” to find this order
- Select “Product Review”.
That’s it! Thank you for your purchase and your time – we really appreciate it!
Many of you will want to be creative and put your own stamp on it. If you are concerned that you might be pushing the envelope, contact us. We do compliance reviews all the time on emails, product inserts, packaging and marketing campaigns.
GS1 UPC Codes Required for New Listings
Current listings are unaffected for now, but new listings will get rejected if they are not using GS1 UPC codes. Amazon has told us for years, but it is here now, in the middle of Q4. Not only do brands have to register with GS1, it doesn’t always work the way it is supposed to. We have several clients right now who are registered, but the data is not pulling properly from GS1.
Amazon says go to GS1, GS1 says go to Amazon. Grr. We have a contact at Amazon we are working with on these now and can get the problem fixed within a day or two once we can prove that GS1 is working properly. Do I need to even say that working with Seller Support is useless on this? No. I didn’t think so.
We’ve also been helping our clients add their new GS1 codes to older products. It’s working fine; it’s just not what sellers want to be doing in Q4. Flat files. They’re what’s for dinner around here…
To be clear, you MUST have GS1 UPC codes or an exemption. All other UPC codes from all other providers will be eradicated from the platform over time. If you have an older listing with an inauthentic UPC code (yep, that’s what Amazon calls them) and are making changes to it, you might also get the message that you need a GS1 code for the changes to go through.
And, yes, this is Amazon everywhere. All platforms. GS1 is the worldwide standard just like ICANN is the worldwide registry for internet URLs regardless of where you buy them.
Having GS1 issues? Give us a call!
Product Title Suspensions
I wrote about Product Title changes last summer right before Prime Day, and it looks like Amazon is at it again. This time, rather than just suppressing the buy box, they are suspending the ASINs. Please be aware that if you sell in apparel, the character limit for titles is 80 characters, not 200. Check your category to make sure you know the limits. For most titles it is 200 characters BUT you need to have your product in the first 50. If it is an “umbrella” don’t stick it at the end. It needs to be within the first 50 characters no matter how many characters your category allows you.
New Phone Number For Amazon Seller Support
We were all really irritated when Amazon refused to let sellers call in to the company anymore. This was particularly devasting for sellers who were blocked from their accounts. We recently were able to crack the code and get through to Seller Support – and not just once but several times. As you will see, it is not a direct route:
Amazon Seller Support Number: 1-800-372-8066
(Call done November 22, 2019 5:30 PM EST)
Thanks for calling Amazon associate program.
For questions about your account or becoming an affiliate Press 1,
for something else Press 2.
Or stay on the line and someone will assist you shortly.
Thank you for calling Amazon, this call can be recorded for quality assurance.
To continue we need to confirm your account. We can send you a text message with a link to do this. Message and data rate my apply . Press 1 if its okay to send you a text message now
otherwise Press #. (I press #)
Are you calling about an order, about your prime membership or is it about something else. ( I press 4)
Go ahead and discribe your issue with a few words. You can say things like: Problem with my order, a kindle book, or charge for a video. (I said Book)
Thank you for calling Amazon Seller Support in order to better assist you please select the following options:
For questions about fulfillment by Amazon. Press 1
Updating a product detail page. Press 2
Uploading inventory. Press 3
For all other seller related concerns. Press 4 (I press 4)
If you are a customer of Amazon. Press 5
If you have questions about your Payments or Orders. Press 1
Inventory Issues. Press 2
For assistance or questions about configuring shipping options. Press 3
Questions about promotions or text settings. Press 4
For all other issues. Press 5 (I press 5)
Music…. ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫ ♫
Then a Seller Support representative will come in.
He will ask you for your Amazon seller central email.
I imagine they’ll take this away from us, too, at some point, so use it while you can.
We’ve been seeing more of these takedowns from Amazon. It is mostly affecting those whose inventory tends to be older – selling liquidation, returns or overstocks – and/or who have products that have expired items inside them. One client recently had a takedown because of a coffee maker. They did not realize or think about the fact that the coffee maker came with a starter pack of coffee pods. Or a medical test kit that came with starter test strips that had an expiration date. It is important if you are selling older goods that they have at least six months of life in them. If you are selling baby formula/food, it needs to be at least a year because new moms are very protective, and they complain if they don’t have a year.
For a while now Amazon has demanded proof of safety when it comes to topicals or ingestibles of all kinds. We’ve helped many clients test their products and get COAs. What’s new lately is they are pushing product manufacturers/PL sellers to monitor their ingredients on LegitScript and prove legitimacy that way. This is for products ranging from personal lubricants to those containing CBD. The account is free. The lookups cost. Amazon is integrated into LegitScript. Click here to see where to go on the site.
Man, has this been a pain for our clients. While we join you in being incensed at all the bogus, flat-out liar brands out there, our job is to get you back. So here goes:
- Get retractions from rights owners. Every time.
- Submit invoices/receipts to Amazon for every “Suspected Infringement”
- Think hard about how you can eliminate these complaints and do it.
Easy, right? Of course not. But what you need to know is Amazon is even worse than usual to work with right now on these complaints. If you’ve not been diligently getting retractions, you have a problem waiting to take you down. If you’ve not been sending Amazon invoices for the suspected infringements, you are making the problem worse.
We have clients right now with 20-30+ infringements in their accounts that they did not handle properly. They thought they were OK if they just deleted the listings. NO!
A lot of times our clients are vulnerable because of where they get their inventory. RA/OA sellers, liquidators and drop-shippers get a lot more complaints than PL or all-wholesale sellers.
Multi-pack sellers are getting slaughtered if they don’t have a manufacturer’s GS1 UPC code for that multi-pack. This is not allowed by Amazon any longer. The brand knows your product is not authorized and they can easily take you down for trademark.
Older goods that are expired or close to expiration are good targets for “materially different” claims by brands. They know exactly how old your stuff is and can ding you for trademark and safety and expired if they really want to get you. Make sure your items have plenty of time left on them. It would help if you could track and prove this.
As someone who has written a LOT of Plans of Action lately, I can assure you there are things you can do to reduce these complaints, they just aren’t fast or easy.
Getting retractions can be hard if you are dealing with a stubborn brand, but what’s really infuriating is when you get the retraction and Amazon doesn’t accept it. A lot of times that is because the brand is making mistakes when filing the retraction. We provide a retraction template to the brand (all filled out) so all they must do is cut and paste. It helps.
Amazon does understand that some brands won’t retract, but that’s why you must try hard with each one. They need to see that you are diligently getting retractions so they can believe you when you say the brand won’t work with you.
We help a lot of sellers with these. Everyone needs to understand that it is not always fast because you do need to try and work with the rights owners and the guys at [email protected] are seemingly asleep at the switch. They are terrible about getting back to our clients and very demanding about the POA.
Activity on this front has accelerated and Amazon doesn’t want to hear about your bad actor, no matter how true. We’ve taken to giving cases to the media for review/listing abuse and brand registry abuse. Amazon still listens to reporters. But even with them pressuring Amazon we still see cases where the bad actor is back up in a day or two with no real consequences. It is frustrating.
One new trick we’ve seen is spoofed emails. Bad actors are now filing their own retractions from legit rights owners. These are damn good spoofs to fool Amazon, and I don’t know how they are doing it. I just know that they ARE doing it, and it is wreaking havoc for some of my clients.
The Petition and its Implications
Many of you have seen the Change.org petition – maybe even signed it. I am glad to see the community uniting on something, and I hope it will now extend to sellers stepping up and sharing their stories with the media. I have reporters ask me for sources often, and I try to get my clients to tell their stories on the record, but they usually won’t. Occasionally someone will talk anonymously, but reporters need more than that. Anonymous is good for confirmation, but not for a story.
Frankly, we’re all just bitching to ourselves unless sellers tell their stories openly about black hat tactics, brands behaving badly, review manipulation, corruption inside Amazon, extortion by Amazon employees, illegal data dealers and more.
I’ve reached out to Elizabeth Warren’s people, but it is the same problem. They need stories of real business owners getting screwed because of Amazon’s policies and inability to control bad actors on the platform. Politics needs people stories. Remember “Joe the Plumber” from the McCain presidential campaign? Whether you like Warren or not, she is persistent about wanting to make change at Amazon.
And I get it, I really do, about not wanting to draw Amazon’s attention. With the media watching, however, Amazon is less likely to take retribution. but of course, I can’t promise that. Amazon absolutely will not grant immunity to whistleblowers if they’ve done something wrong themselves. I’ve tried.
I was pleased to see several sellers step up to tell their stories about brands behaving badly recently. The reporter has several sources to call on now, and I’m excited to see the final story. Other sellers have shared proof of “brushing” and other actions being taken on their accounts without their permission. It helps!
There are other reporters wanting to write about possible corruption inside Amazon, steps Amazon may or may not be taking behind the scenes to get rid of corruption, and how the “trick” works on several black hat fronts. There’s also interest in corruption among consultants and service providers in our industry. Black hat teachers/gurus/masterminds. Lawsuits that show how the tricks are done. Amazon working with the FBI. They are all rumors without evidence, however. If you can provide proof of any of these things (your name blacked out on papers is fine), I can run with it. Contact my assistant Angel and she’ll set a time for us or take your information and give it to the right reporter.
We need Amazon to generate more stories where they are taking action and less PR bullshit about how they love their sellers.
Did you see this story about how Amazon is threatening sellers with suspension if they don’t use its logistics (FBA)? We all know this is a true story. MF sellers are often forced to use FBA or lose their selling privileges. MF sellers are held to a higher standard than Amazon holds itself.
This case was a subtle case of coercion. I have sellers I talked to last week who were told explicitly on the phone by Amazon Retail that if they did not sell direct to Amazon and remained 3P, Amazon Retail would suspend them. It was flatly stated, not implied. They have received follow up threatening emails that subtly refer back to that conversation. That’s extortion! And it’s not new. If you’ve had that conversation with Amazon Retail too and are willing to talk about it, please let me know. So far, no one will.
I will keep asking. I hope you will step up.
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Upcoming speaking engagements and conferences for Cynthia Stine include:
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Session Title: Seller Performance / Product Compliance Panel – What are the Latest Amazon Enforcement Issues We All Need to Understand
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OTHER NOTABLE NEWS
- Underhand businesses still tout for fake reviews on Amazon. From Tamebay: “Amazon removes a ton of fake reviews on Amazon marketplaces, but that still doesn’t appear to deter unscrupulous merchants from attempting to buy reviews to boost the popularity and ranking of their products. We’ve heard from users who are still receiving requests to buy reviews in return for free products, or rather a refund after they’ve left a review. These requests for fake reviews on Amazon often take place in hidden Facebook groups but are now being spotted as un-solicited sponsored messages. Products are being advertised with items pimped with 50% or 100% off and as soon as you click a chatbot opens offering a full refund via PayPal but only after you’ve purchased on Amazon and left a ‘good’ review”. Read the full article HERE
- Sellers must respond to return requests within 48 hours. This is for MF sellers as most buyers go to Amazon for returns and it’s automated. If you don’t and the buyer files an A-Z claim, you will automatically lose the dispute.
- Amazon publishes list of more than 1K private label suppliers The list provides the address and name of each supplier and a map published by the company shows China accounts for roughly 500 of the e-tailer’s supplier locations.
- Amazon sues e-commerce ‘coaches,’ alleging they taught underhanded tactics to sellers. From GeekWire: “Amazon is accusing two California men of swindling aspiring third-party sellers with promises of learning the secrets of making a “passive income” on the tech giant’s e-commerce platform. In a new lawsuit, Amazon accuses Michael Gazzola, Matthew Behdjou and several related companies of perpetrating a scheme that includes chains of fake reviews, dishonest marketing, infringement of Amazon’s trademarks and more. Amazon has aggressively sought to stamp out fraud on its platform, and this case contains many of the elements the tech giant is trying to control”. Read the full story HERE
- For those of you in the DFW area, Amazon just opened a 4-star store in Frisco’s Stonebriar. Go see the future of retail, my friends. It’s exciting.
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