Big Changes Coming to How Amazon Handles Account Suspensions

by Chris McCabe

Chris McCabe, former Amazonian and founder of ecommerceChris, shares his take on the recently proposed changes to Amazon's account suspension process.

By now most Amazon sellers have seen this CNBC article or heard the news about Amazon’s proposed changes to their account suspension processes. It looks like Amazon WILL respond to public pressure when they’re approached privately and discussed publicly. I understand that most of what we discuss ahead of this roll out will be based on theory, and not practice, between now and next month. But we do have some past experience to judge by and some new factors to base near term conclusions on. Amazon will make the final determination regarding exactly how the potentially seismic changes will be implemented. But for now, several pieces to the puzzle appear in front of us, requiring expert analysis and interpretation.  

Starting August 16, less than a month from now, most sellers should expect a bit more breathing room when it comes to a potential incoming suspension. Rather than missing an unscheduled call from Account Health services telling you that your account will go down soon, you’ll soon have a 30 day window to research account faults and present operational improvements. The principle remains the same in that you’ll get a “heads up” to provide solutions to past problems that Amazon considers worthy of an account suspension, and either Account Health Services or a different team will give you time to address them properly.  

Is Amazon really serious about progress or do they just get out in front of things using PR to stem the tide of more antitrust? 

What’s the Good News? 

  1. Sellers can now expect to have more time to problem solve and find the right solutions. Instead of battling hard for 24 hours, or even 72 hours, to get the right kind of Plan of Action (POA) to Amazon. You’re not targeting a reply within 3 days but within 30. Presumably you can still get suspended with a bad proactive POA. Naturally, a weak POA won’t be accepted. But you’d have more time to revise a POA and submit one closer to the target, as opposed to sending one in and waiting endlessly for them to review it. 
  2. There may be more transparency around WHO is reviewing the POA, and WHEN you’ll hear back. We don’t know this for sure, but Amazon won’t have a workable system to review and accept or reject appeals if they take weeks simply to get back to you. They will (finally) need to organize who is responsible for replying to which seller, and within what time frame.
  3. Amazon appears to be more motivated to clarify WHY the account was suspended to avoid the kinds of public complaints that have landed them at the center of antitrust investigations, like the ones in Germany that are rumored to be coming here in the US next. More details on complaints should be available anyway, if they want to try to reduce the number of contacts they will receive from sellers and improve their reply times, and if they’re going to ask you to provide a detailed POA and make significant changes to your account performance, or policy compliance.
  4. A pre-suspension warning that you have one month left unless you reconfigure how you operate on Amazon will provide a great motivation for sellers who refuse to change unless they’re suspended. Fortunately, this encourages sellers to monitor their accounts and not to ignore things that could put them at risk for suspension. 
  5. Hopefully, this means sellers will focus on long-term fixes. Quality control and due diligence fixes are the core of what every Amazon investigator seeks in a POA. If you’re facing performance shortcomings, they want to hear how your operations have been permanently improved and if they keep warning you for policy violations, they want to see a compliance emphasis. But which sellers will maintain a clean house unless they get prompted to do it? 

Is There Any Bad News?

Well, yes. You can’t blame Amazon for making it all up anymore!  There is still a lot of unknown about how this news will affect Amazon sellers. For instance: 

  • If an Amazon rep pinpoints why they are suspending you, and cite examples of problem orders or ASIN-level data that demonstrate chronic complaints around certain products, then sellers won’t be able to blame Amazon for murkiness anymore. They’ll need to address what went wrong in very specific terms, instead of bemoaning the need to “make something up.” Will sellers be able to own up to their past deficiencies? 
  • Sellers still need to know what to do. Sellers must know how to solve problems the right way, and present those solutions accordingly, to avoid the suspension after 30 days of grace period. 
  • Full transparency from Amazon is elusive when the messages are vague or unprofessionally written. The messaging is still vague and Amazon teams are notorious for not talking to each other and then passing the buck by transferring the contacts.
  • Are the right tools and teams in place to handle this? Managerial oversight is lacking and VP level personnel may get more involved, given all the scrutiny. But will they know what to do, in terms of team or tool replacement? Are they good because they’re higher up?
  • How specific will the new messaging be, if it’s improved? Are they going to tell you HOW you violated a policy? Is Amazon willing to vet buyer or brand complaints better or will they continue to assume that each one is valid, from the outset? Will they cite ASINs or know how to improve the messages to make suspension notifications informative, at all? 
  • Some sellers only take real action or make painful choices when they are actually suspended. A warning that they MAY be suspended may not be enough motivation if they are accustomed to making excuses, or blaming Amazon or competitors.

There are a lot of questions here, and we still don’t know if the same or different teams will be responsible for executing these changes. Will the right people be in charge? Will they know how to fix things properly, and in a time sensitive way? Consider that account investigations are still done quickly, and rushed work is often low quality. They are still using outdated queues and ticketing systems. Some sellers have their cases stuck in a ticket and are left to rot. Will that be changing, too? Time will tell.

Originally published on July 24, 2019, updated August 19, 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.

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