Originally published on August 7, 2018, updated October 30, 2019
In this guest post, Chris McCabe of eCommerceChris discusses why conducting regular account reviews should be a part of your process as an Amazon seller. He also expanded on this topic in a recent video interview with eComEngine's Liz Fickenscher and his business partner, Leah McHugh, which you can watch below.
Regular account reviews can make the difference between successfully selling on the Amazon marketplace or losing sales due to blocked listings, or worse, an account suspension. Yet somehow, even advanced sellers don’t take the time to do them, or they look in the wrong places to protect their account.
Yes, seller metrics are important, but they don’t give you the full picture.
You need to look at your account the way Amazon.com, Inc. ("Amazon") does. Do you know how Amazon views you?
How do you make sure that you look like the kind of seller Amazon wants?
The two most important things you can do to protect your Amazon account are:
An account review is your chance to look at your account the way Amazon does. You need to assess your operations with customer experience in mind and decide what could be improved. Better to address the issue now, rather than have Amazon address it for you with a blocked listing, or suspended account.
As often as you can, run reports that will show you what the return reasons are for your products. You’ll probably want to focus on your top-selling ASINs to make sure you identify any patterns of trouble before Amazon flags the product for review. The sooner you catch a systemic problem on an important ASIN, the faster you can move to pull some inventory and inspect them.
Have buyers mostly commented that the items don’t match the site description? Perhaps you can edit the detail page to reduce misunderstandings around how to use the product, or at least clarify what’s included, if that’s the issue. Do buyers keep saying the items are damaged in transit? Perhaps you need to improve the quality of your packing materials, or secure the items inside the packaging before shipment to lower the odds that the order arrives damaged. Consistent attention to recurring themes in your Return Reasons may prove the difference between a listing you deactivate temporarily to troubleshoot and a crucial ASIN taken away from you later in Q4.
First, some questions for you. Are you countering each performance notification when Amazon restricts your ability to sell? If so, what sorts of appeals do you send, and are they successful on your first or second try? Or does it take you five attempts at a Plan of Actin (POA) to address everything necessary? If you never resolve the problem, do you wonder if it’ll come back to haunt you at some later date?
ASIN-level suspensions may not alarm you if you’re not planning to list or sell those products again, but consider what little we can confirm about Amazon’s algorithms. Enough unresolved listing blocks over an unspecified period of time result in a manual account review, and more often than not, investigators need to justify their time with an action.
Why are suspensions so common? For the most part, those actions stem from sellers who fail to understand where to look for the true causes of the complaints that surface on their account. Amazon knows where to look because they have the order numbers and the text of complaints from brands, or buyers right there in front of them. You as the seller need to dig deeply into why one particular ASIN may attract high return rates with “not as described,” “not as advertised” or “inauthentic” type complaints.
It goes without saying that buyer feedback represents the most crucial indicator of a successful buyer experience with a seller. Every seller pays close attention to feedback and does their best to make buyers happy if there’s a problem.
But offering solid customer service and refunds after the fact registers little to Amazon Product Quality investigators. If negative feedback comes in against the account with any hint that buyers believe items are “Not As Described” or “Materially Different/ Not as Advertised” let alone not authentic, you would be in trouble quickly. Be sure to tackle that kind of complaint swiftly and thoroughly.
If Amazon questions the legitimacy of your products after a buyer does, you’ll want to have all supply chain documentation ready to defend product authenticity, including a letter from your supplier proving it. If the condition of your items is the complaint cause, pull inventory for inspection while reexamining all Quality Control measures you currently have have in place. Could these measures be improved and if so, how?
In the best case, you’re consistently asking yourself these questions and creating solutions to item quality problems in advance, to prevent such feedback from arising in the first place.
Remember, you can’t hide from poor metrics or policy teams sending notifications when Amazon flags product comments for further review. Get ahead of the problem, investigate internally and prepare to message Amazon and counter a notification by getting the account annotated. Tell Amazon that you fixed the problem, and demonstrate how with POA-style content.
When buyers report problem orders to you or want to return something, you need to be responsive. That means answering them over weekends, holidays, not just during normal 9-to-5 working hours. Amazon is not a weekday-only marketplace.
Buyers may want attention from you day or night, Saturday or Wednesday. Be prepared to look into their concerns right away because trouble-shooting a direct buyer complaint today could prevent a complaint sent Amazon’s way tomorrow. Or you may stop them before they leave bad feedback, file a claim, post a negative review or write any number of bad comments when asked why they are returning the item. Ugly reports of item quality, item safety and especially item authenticity trigger Amazon investigations that you will worry about a lot less if you jump on them right away. Happy and helped buyers are less likely to create problems for you that lead straight to my former colleagues. (I previously worked on Amazon's performance and policy enforcement teams.)
Make sure you anticipate some of the buyer’s potential actions to complain, as well. Just in case you don’t perfectly respond, or you miss replying fast enough (certainly within a few hours is best but no more than 24 hours later) and they complain to Amazon anyway, think about the kinds of damage their complaint could do.
Soft block messaging sent by Amazon points you in the direction of items you can re-list yourself. But at the same time, Amazon shares with you the higher-than-acceptable return rates and buyer complaints tied to specific orders. You may not get the order numbers, but you get quotes from buyers who didn’t like the product and why. Amazon sends you these comments as clues to what might be going wrong with your inventory. Consider this a warning shot to get your attention and motivate you to prevent future instances where buyers return or complain about the products.
Ask yourself, should I change our supplier or drop this ASIN from my account? Do we need to inspect these products more before they ship? Is there something I need to change on the detail page to enhance buyer understanding of the item? Study the problem from all sides and determine what actions are required, because if those issues persist, an actual performance notification comes next.
Don’t ignore these! And don’t just pass over them. Review them closely and analyze what Amazon wants from you. Are they asking for invoices and verifiable supplier information due to an authenticity complaint? Did they cite a few ASINs and indicate buyers complained that the products didn’t exactly match the descriptions on the product detail page? Pursue an internal review and clear up what could be going wrong, because where Amazon gets a complaint or two on one ASIN, more could follow if you don’t fix it.
Even if you don’t care about those ASINs, look for trends in what your buyers report to Amazon and develop a response. If nothing else, you need to get your account annotated, to reflect that you’ve researched the problem and implemented solid remedies. Otherwise, the next time you queue up for an investigation, Seller Performance finds assorted unresolved notifications that fit into a pattern of difficulty that you never countered.
Understand where the complaints came from, whether from brands or buyers or any other source. Investigators who find messaging from you that indicates you’ve taken seriously ASIN-level warnings will recognize that you don’t swat away notifications like flies. You run down answers and do your utmost to resolve any issues fully. This is the best way to protect your Amazon account. It shows Amazon that you are a proactive seller, intent on creating the best possible buyer experience. This means a lot when they size you up for a suspension, as opposed to seeing meager listing deletions or even worse, complete silence.
Originally published on August 7, 2018, updated October 30, 2019
This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.