I woke this morning to the collective thunk of several million jaws hitting the floor. Amazon’s announcement that all seller business information was now going to be public caught sellers by surprise. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
They’ve been doing this for years in some countries like Mexico where it is the law, but only recently have they been implementing this policy on other platforms. Some sellers are upset. Others are nonchalant. Here’s why sellers should embrace this change:
- Bad actors will no longer be able to hide behind their storefront address. Brands and other sellers can serve them with cease & desist notices, lawsuits, etc.
- Visibility=Accountability. Sellers are less likely to do shady things if they know they can be held accountable. It should reduce some of the bad behavior on the platform.
- Fewer IP suspensions. Brands won’t need to use the platform to enforce their distribution channel rights. There will be fewer bogus IP takedowns.
- Sellers can publish their phone numbers and websites so buyers can find them off-platform for support, etc.
- More interaction/visibility with the buyer means greater opportunities to make that buyer your customer, not just Amazon’s. Lead magnets on your website, free product demo videos, etc. are just two of the ways your business website can help convert Amazon visitors to prospects.
- Buyer trust=more sales. If buyers are confident they can reach a real person, they are more likely to buy from you even if you are merchant fulfilled.
For most honest sellers, this is a positive announcement with no impact on their daily lives. The reasons some sellers are upset include:
- Privacy – They don’t want their home or business address available to potential whackos. They don’t want to be on thousands of mailing lists. They don’t want visitors with an ax to grind.
- Suspensions – Updating or changing their address may trigger a verification and temporary suspension.
- Lawsuits/cease & desists/retaliatory action by brands – Brands will be able to enforce their IP rights directly without going through Amazon. This could mean piles of legal notices for sellers to deal with.
- Cost/hassle – Some sellers will now need to get a mailbox or other permanent address. They may need to change their incorporation papers, update bank records, etc., to pass verification.
Check Your Official Business Address
For most sellers there is little to do:
- Inside Seller Central, go to your account settings to view the Seller Account information page.
- In the Business Information section – for most of you – there are 2 links you need to review: “Registered Business Address” and “Business Address.”
- Under business address you will see a list of addresses that Amazon has already associated with your account. If your desired business address is listed, simply select it as your official business address on this page and press submit. You are done.
- If it is not there, you can add it and select it as your official business address.
- For those of you with older accounts, you may only see one “Business Address” link. Make sure that address is the one you want or add your new one. You are done.
- This would also be a good time to make sure your tax address is also accurate. If it is outdated (as in you’ve moved – no need to update if it is your home address), update it and take the tax interview again. You are required to keep your addresses up to date and Amazon gets very frowny with sellers when the IRS tells them their records don’t match Amazon’s. I’ve been there, just saying.
If you are adding a NEW address, you may also want to change it with your bank, your state of incorporation and the IRS. This is not an Amazon requirement, but if you are forced into verification by Amazon, then your documents need to match. I suggest getting all your ducks in a row first and then adding the new address last, just in case.
You have until September 1 before this change takes effect.
Verification is why a virtual mailbox or fake address won’t work. [Yes, I see you chatting on the boards and groups about fake addresses.] We don’t know yet if changing your official business address will trigger verification. My working theory is that it will for some sellers.
Older accounts that have never been verified may be triggered to verify if they are changing their address. As I discussed in previous blog posts in November and March, Amazon is now verifying previously grandfathered accounts. It is a rollout over time and not a matter of “if” but “when.”
I can hear the screams of anguish now. What?!? Verification?!? Yep. If you are telling Amazon that your official address is PO BOX 1234, then it should be official with the IRS, your bank, and your state of incorporation. It needs to be a real address, or you will be in a world of hurt when Amazon decides to verify you.
By the way, Amazon recently announced that verification will be an ongoing process for sellers worldwide. Just because you’ve passed verification in the past doesn’t mean they won’t ask you to do it again.
- Do I have to change my utilities as well?
No. If they match your home address or another official address your utility bill should be fine.
- Do I have to change my credit card, too?
Amazon requires a statement from either your bank statement or your business credit card. We recommend your bank account because it is more credible.
- How can I show proof that my official address is changed with the IRS?
Due to COVID-19, the IRS is not processing change of address forms. They recommend on their website that you change it on your tax filing. If you’ve already filed, send in an amendment with the address change. Eventually, the IRS will send you a notification that your address has been changed, but you’ll be lucky if you get it before the next tax season. In the meantime, you can submit a copy of your tax filing or amendment to Amazon if requested. Never volunteer something for which Amazon has not specifically asked.
- What does my bank need from me to change my official address?
The bank will want a copy of your official corporate minutes codifying the change.
- How do I change my official address with the state?
You will need to check the official Secretary of State website. In Texas, for example, you can conduct most business online. You may also need to file your address change with the State workforce commission if you have employees.
- What if I receive inventory at my home or another location?
Amazon knows and assumes that most sellers have more than one location, and they already have this address attached to your account. For the purposes of today’s change, they want your OFFICIAL business name and address and will only be publishing that address.
- Are you sure that changing my address will trigger verification?
No. It is just likely. We won’t know for sure until many people have changed their addresses. The criteria for a verification may be more nuanced than simply changing your address.
- If I’m an older account, will I need to go through full verification?
I’m not sure. Recent clients who have been asked for verification documents only had to provide a driver’s license for each of the owners, and a bank statement. But in those cases, there was no address change.
- Will Amazon ask to videotape me?
As far as I know, Amazon is/was only asking that of new sellers. With the current environment of protests against police, it seems like they’ve suspended that requirement again. Among other things they’ve promised not to sell their face recognition software to police departments for a year.
- Are you sure that Amazon will want proof of my change of address with the IRS?
No. It’s a possibility based on previous verifications like this. I’m making recommendations based on the worst-case scenario so you will be prepared and not suffer a long suspension while getting your documents in order. Verification requirements for established sellers are different than for brand new sellers. It’s nuanced, and we don’t always know why Amazon requires form X from one seller and form Y from another.
Questions about Verification?
We review your documents before they are submitted in order to increase your chances of success the first time around.
Plus, we support you through the entire process!
Marketing to Amazon’s Buyers
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that sellers violate Amazon’s terms of service by marketing to its buyers through the platform or luring them off the platform to your site. What I’m saying is that if a buyer comes to YOU for help, videos, discounts they saw on Facebook, etc., and they give you their contact information, then they are now your customer as well.
You cannot scrape their data off Amazon and send them mail to their home or call them on the phone (unless they ask you to in the case of tech support). You cannot send them marketing emails through the Buyer-Seller Messaging platform. Once they do call you, email you or visit your website, then you can make them your customer.
Some sellers capture buyers who go to their website because they have compelling offers (Sign up now for 25% off your next order!), attractive videos or useful information (Download our free whitepaper!). Others have Facebook groups and off-platform marketing campaigns, and they get prospects that way. All of this is compliant.
This is a two-edged sword for sellers. For sellers who are brands, this is HUGE news. They currently spend a lot of money enforcing their rights on Amazon and other platforms. Much of that time and money is spent trying to figure out just who the heck “Catchmeifyoucan” seller storefront actually is.
Today if they want to know who a seller is and how to reach them, they must subpoena Amazon for that information, which is expensive and takes time. Once this change is in force, they’ll be able to reach out directly and immediately.
It is huge for Amazon, too, because they no longer act as the middleman between brands and infringing sellers. They hate being in that position, and now they are out of it. They will save a ton on legal fees and Pepto Bismol® (registered trademark of The Proctor & Gamble Company).
For wholesale/RA/dropship/liquidation sellers, this is understandably anxiety producing. They are already experiencing takedowns on the platform from brands making bogus claims and enforcing their rights improperly. Will this change exacerbate the problem? Maybe. Time will tell.
On the plus side, if a brand is sending you a cease & desist to your office, they are also providing contact information so you can talk to a human – that’s tough with the current system where a brand can choose to ignore you.
- Does this mean that brands will no longer need outside enforcement support?
No. They still will need lawyers and tools like eGrowth Partners’ Brand Enforcer™. But it will reduce costs and save them time. Just because a brand can reach a seller directly doesn’t mean they should until they have taken steps to try and verify that seller’s source of inventory. Sellers are winning lawsuits against brands who are behaving like trademark bullies and making false claims. Smart brands will follow the law and not their impulses.
- Does this mean brands will no longer use Brand Registry to enforce their rights?
No, they absolutely will for copyright and counterfeit. But they will now be able to compare business names to their database of authorized sellers which will reduce some nuisance takedowns. Additionally, because sellers know the brand can track them down, they are more likely to reply when they get the email through the buyer-seller messaging platform which means questions and problems can get resolved without things escalating to lawsuits. There is greater incentive for the brands to enforce properly and to not take draconian shortcuts. A quick phone call or a few emails is much more efficient and economical than a lawsuit or submitting dozens of retractions and admitting fault.
Brand Mastery Summit
July 28-30, 2020
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