Originally published on February 2, 2016, updated July 29, 2020
Chris McCabe, eCommerce expert and former member of the Amazon merchant assessment team, sat down with eComEngine’s Colleen Quattlebaum. They discussed Amazon suspension prevention for third-party sellers.
Not everything Chris discusses is obvious grounds for suspension. In fact, there are things some merchants might be doing unknowingly that violate Amazon marketplace policies. Chris offers expert advice that is well informed by his time at Amazon, as well as his current position as an eCommerce thought leader and third-party merchant consultant.
You can watch the webinar above or check out the show notes below for the recap and a full transcript.
Staying in Amazon's good graces should be a top priority for every merchant. Although you try to play by the rules, you may unknowingly be violating a policy.
The goal of the Amazon Product Quality team is to protect the marketplace, said McCabe, who worked for many years as an Amazon Investigation Specialist. This means that buyer complaints frequently drive a number of the automated warnings that sellers receive. Some common product quality issues include:
If you receive an automated warning, McCabe said that one of the most important things you can do is to take action to fix the issue. Any issues you’re having will only lead to more opportunities and subsequent warnings that could ultimately lead to suspension of your Amazon account.
Is your supplier an authorized reseller or the manufacturer of a product you’re selling? Do they have a positive track record with other sellers? Can they provide professional invoices to help you prove legitimacy if there is an issue with a product? McCabe pointed out that it’s important to understand your supplier in addition to maintaining detailed and accurate records to help verify product information in case a problem is reported.
It’s often better to sticker or label what you send to FBA. McCabe noted that a common issue is that when a customer orders an item from you and a warehouse closer to your buyer has that item in stock, the closer warehouse item will be sent to that buyer. If there’s a counterfeit complaint or other issue, you receive the warning because it’s your item…even though the item sent was not yours. It’s especially important to keep detailed records on high-risk items, such as consumer electronics.
Product safety and compliance is also an important concern, which is why expired inventory is returned to you within 60 days of the expiration date. Don’t expect the site to keep track for you; the best you’ll get is a notice at the 90-day mark. According to McCabe, a number of sellers have received warnings or suspensions for issues related to expired inventory. He suggests using an inventory management tool like RestockPro to help keep track of expiration dates to avoid these types of issues.
Colleen: And Chris has worked at Amazon with the performance and policy teams for several years, so he truly has the inside scoop on suspensions because he has been on the other side. And hopefully, you'll find his tips to be helpful for you and your business. Looks like we still have a few more people joining us. So that's great. And actually, I'll just start back over again. So it looks like we had quite a few people just join in the last minute. So just I'll introduce myself again. Thanks again to everyone for joining us today for our presentation on suspension prevention, where we're going to share some best practices on how to reduce your risk for suspension.
Colleen: My name is Colleen Quattlebaum, and joining me today is Chris McCabe, who is our featured guest, and he's the owner of ecommercechris.com. And he worked at Amazon with the performance and policy teams for several years. So, like I said, he is very knowledgeable about suspensions and the processes that go on behind the scenes since he's been on the other side. So hopefully, you'll find his tips very useful for you and your business. All right, so most of you joining us today are current eComEngine customers, but some of you are not. So I'm just going to start out the presentation briefly by sharing a quick overview of who eComEngine is and how our tools can help you, and then I'll turn it over to Chris where he will dive into the nitty gritty of the presentation and talking all about the details of suspension.
Colleen: Some of the items that he will be covering today include the definition of product quality and the response time from the product quality team at Amazon. He's going to share some tips on addressing warnings or policy deficiencies on your account, as well as the importance of understanding your supplier and the details that you include on your invoice. He's going to share with you a little bit about the risks of commingled FBA inventory. We know that's a concern for many of you, as well as expired inventory and resellable or returned items, and he's going to talk about what you can do to keep an eye on the competition, as well as some tips to communicate with Amazon. And then finally, how to protect yourself from the risk of suspension. I sent out a form a few days ago to most of you requesting questions.
Colleen: So thank you for those of you who did submit questions ahead of time. We have compiled those questions and we'll be sure to address those at the end of the presentation if they are not already addressed in the material that Chris presents. And then we do have a few special offers at the end of the webinar, so please stick around so we can share those with you. And I am recording this webinar, so I'll be sure to send out a followup email with a link to the webinar, so you can watch it again or feel free to share it with anyone else. And that email will also include Chris's contact information and the details of the special offers.
Colleen: So who is eComEngine? For anyone who's not familiar, we are a software engineering firm headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, and we've been providing software to Amazon sellers for about 10 years now. And we specialize in cloud-based easy to use Amazon-centric tools, and we work with small, medium and large Amazon merchants all over the world.
Colleen: Specifically, our tools help Amazon sellers to manage their feedback, restock their stores, and decide what products to sell. And thousands of merchants, including many of you who are on this webinar, know us as the inventor of feedback management for Amazon merchants through our flagship product that has been serving Amazon sellers since 2009, and that is FeedbackFive. FeedbackFive provides personalized automated feedback requests with numerous options for targeting and excluding orders from email solicitations. You can create SKU-specific email campaigns to solicit seller feedback and product reviews.
Colleen: And FeedbackFive just really helps you to open up the lines of communication with the buyer before they leave you negative feedback. But if you do receive negative feedback, then FeedbackFive will alert you by email or text so you can respond to the buyer immediately. And FeedbackFive just really simplifies the process for the buyer to remove that negative feedback with just two quick clicks. And FeedbackFive has always offered feedback management, but we're excited to share with you that in the next few weeks, we are releasing a new feature that will allow you to manage product reviews.
Colleen: This feature will help you to monitor product reviews, whether you're already selling an item or maybe you're considering selling an item, and you can determine if it's a product you want to sell or maybe you want to potentially avoid selling that product if you see a lot of negative product reviews related to the item quality, then you might want to consider that risk and reward of selling that item. And as Chris will tell you, it's not necessarily the volume of negative feedback that gets you suspended, but it's the type of negative feedback that you receive that can put you at risk for suspension. And FeedbackFive offers a very easy to use dashboard that makes it easy to read through your seller feedback comments and identify those.
Colleen: In addition to FeedbackFive, eComEngine also offers RestockPro, which is an inventory management system for FBA sellers, and it provides suggestions for what to restock and when based on your sales velocity. And we have a new box contents upload feature that lets you specify which SKUs are in which box, and then our system will upload that data to Amazon. So as you ship your items, you'll be able to tell Amazon which items are in which box. And you can ensure that your boxes are in compliance with the new rules that kick in at the beginning of the year in January, 2016. If you're not familiar, Amazon does have a promotion going on right now in regards to box contents and you can earn pick and pack credits. So if you have not registered or taken a look at that, the registration deadline is November 16th. And we do have a blog post on restockpro.com that references that if you want some more details, but just wanted to throw that out there that if you haven't registered, do that this week so you can take advantage of that.
Colleen: But with RestockPro's new box content feature, I also just wanted to mention that you can include expiration dates. So even when expiration dates vary by box, you can include expiration dates for each box. And Chris will share in his presentation that expired products can lead to suspension. So it's important to keep track of those expiration dates on your FBA items, and RestockPro just makes it very easy to do that.
Colleen: And then the last tool I want to mention is eComSpy. This tool provides insight intelligence on the FBA market. So if you are considering adding more items to your inventory or maybe you're looking to make a large purchase and you want to do some research before you buy, this is a great tool to use to evaluate those items before making that buying decision. And it's super simple. You just upload a list of ASINs and you'll instantly receive a report that includes product ranking, number of FBA sellers, lowest FBA price, your potential profit and a lot more.
Colleen: So Chris is also going to share with you why the more details that you know or as long as you do your homework and you know all about your products, then you're less likely to get into a situation where you're at risk for a suspension. So, again, Chris will talk to you all about why it's important and what you need to know about the products that you're selling. So now what I'd like to do is go ahead and introduce you to Chris and get into the heart of the webinar on suspension prevention. So I will turn it over to Chris, our former Amazonian, who has all the inside scoop, and he'll provide you with some great pointers and he'll also answer the questions that many of you submitted to us ahead of time. So I'll go ahead and change the presenter, the slides here to Chris. So just bear with us just a minute while we swap presentation mode.
Chris: I'm here.
Colleen: All right.
Chris: All right. Well, thanks, Colleen. I appreciate that and the introduction. Yes, I'm Chris McCabe, I'm an Amazon merchant consultant. I created a consultancy for sellers who needed help dealing with some of the teams I used to work with and work on, the performance and policy teams. So I started helping sellers I guess a bit over a year ago. They were having trouble communicating with Amazon when they were suspended or even before getting suspended when they received certain policy warnings and notifications, sometimes for things that they had not heard about before. They hadn't had warnings for those kinds of policy violations and they wonder where they were coming from. And a lot of that has to do with some teams I'm going to explore today.
Chris: I review people's accounts. I try to help them preempt suspensions. I give them recommendations and suggestions. I identify trouble spots, and I'll just get to the specialties of what we do and how we do it. We definitely go over people's accounts in terms of their risk for suspension, help them understand the policies that they may have violated, help them understand why they got the violation to begin with, and also what it means, and certainly, managing their communication, hopefully, all of their communication with Amazon when it comes to these issues, any disciplinary or punitive actions they've faced and helps to keep them out of trouble, sorry, because that's what everyone's worried about these days.
Chris: Suspensions are way up this year and now we're in peak holiday season. So for people already suspended before they get to us, we help them identify what might've gone wrong, problem orders they might've had, ASINs that are causing them problems. You have to identify these causes when you submit a plan of action. So we help them identify the problems, of course, the root causes of the suspension, and then we get at the solutions or how they're fixing those deficiencies in their account. And then lastly, also just trying to help them deal with the appeals process, which can be very labyrinthine or frustrating or difficult. It requires a lot of patience, sometimes a lot of time, and we help them with that as well.
Chris: So as far as the product quality team, they're driving a lot of the suspensions this year. Most of what I'm dealing with suspension-related, has to do with this particular policy teams that are taking action on accounts that they perceive are breaking rules. What they are basically tasked with doing is protecting the marketplace and making sure buyers feel comfortable buying from third party sellers. Getting the bad actors out of there and punishing rule breakers. And if people need education, they help understanding what they did wrong with their seller account, sending the warning and getting them to the point where they are reviewing their own operations, what they might've done wrong and what they can improve for the future to reduce future buyer complaints. And the buyer complaints are what's driving a lot of the automated warnings that sellers get.
Chris: A lot of sellers that contact me are letting me know that they sell only new items, they were accused of selling something used, for example. They have no idea why they got this warning while a buyer complained about one of the items that they received. One of their orders. Product quality is basically using algorithm, which takes these buyer complaints and putting them together and deciding if they need to do a manual review, a manual investigation of the account. And you don't want it to get to that point basically because that's when you might need to look at your suspension risk, you might need to have a plan of action ready to address any failings on your account because they are going to take the buyer more or less of their word, unless they there's an obvious false positive present. They're going to investigate it. It's in their interest to be better safe than sorry. It's a risk investigation from their standpoint. So this is what they're tasked with doing.
Chris: It's a lot of responsibility and they're suspending a lot of accounts these days to make sure that they don't miss somebody who might be out there causing a bad buyer experience for Amazon customers. As far as these warnings themselves, these are some good questions to ask yourself when you get them. A lot of sellers that I talk to, the knee jerk reaction is to say, "Well, I think the buyer wants to complain about the item simply because they want to return it and they don't want to pay the return shipping."
Chris: Well, certainly that's happening sometimes, but you're also looking for patterns, either multiple buyers that are complaining about the same item quality issues in respect to certain products or certain ASINs that you sell. So is your listing matching 100% to the item that you're sending to buyers? Because if it's not, you'll wind up with different item complaints and they will be legitimate.
Chris: Also look at listing comments. Make sure you're following the Amazon condition guidelines and not listing an item is new, for example, and then putting in the comments something like minor shelfware or indicating the packaging might not be 100% pristine. These are good ways of inviting trouble basically. You don't want to do that. You want to make sure your listing comments abide by all relevant policies and you don't want to be writing content in there indicating that the items are in fact different.
Chris: Certainly, non-branded generic items do not belong listed against brands. These are basic common sense, but I still see some of this stuff going on. Sometimes it's really just down to the packaging of an item. If you're getting a lot of item condition complaints, think about how sturdy your packaging is. You might have some delicate items in there that are being damaged on their way to FBA or damaged on the way if you're self-fulfilling... Damaged on the way to the client, I'm sorry, the customer, and you want to make sure that you've improved your packaging if that's the main driver of these buyer complaints that are turning into automated policy warnings. That can go a long way to keeping you out of trouble. That's something basic again, that some people just take for granted. It's a good thing to think about, especially this time of year when you're sending so much products out.
Chris: And then lastly, definitely ask yourself, is there any chance that I've ever received an inauthentic item complaint? Is there any chance that there's some truth to that? Do I know 100% what I'm getting from my supplier? Have I done random quality control checks of some of those items, especially the ones that may have showed up in warnings in the past? If I'm drop shipping and I have no contact with my product, is that potential for problems for me because I don't really know what's going out?
Chris: There are a lot of pitfalls there and you basically just want to keep on top of everything as much as possible because any gaps or any failings in your own operations just lead to more opportunities for complaints and for warnings to come out of those complaints. I wanted to talk about suppliers specifically because I've noticed in a lot of work with my clients that once again, I think they take certain things for granted when it comes to a supplier that they've worked with for a long time, for instance, or even if it's a new supplier.
Chris: You want to ask important questions about what other Amazon sellers they've got that they working with. Do they have a good track record with those? Are they listed on a manufacturer's website as an authorized reseller for an item or are they the manufacturer themselves? What is the quality of the item that you're sending to the buyers is kind of the long and short of it, what I'm driving at. And what kind of invoices can they give you that you can show to Amazon in order to prove legitimacy of items if this is ever questioned? Because this becomes very important, especially these days when they're asking you after suspending your listing for a certain ASIN, they're asking you to present a plan of action just to reinstate that ASIN, but also for some supply chain information. Some information about your supplier, some invoices.
Chris: And I'm getting to invoices in a moment here in another slide, but basically, how good do your invoices look? And are they professional? Are they clean and easy to read? If there are additional buyer complaints against those ASINs, are you going to have good documentation to back up that you have the legal right to list those items of course, but also that you're sending buyers what you've listed on Amazon?
Chris: As far as the invoices themselves, I've got some criteria here on this slide. You want recent invoices. You want invoices that have more or less all the information other than pricing, which you can redact all the information that you would imagine Amazon would want to look at to verify legitimacy of the items. You want them to be as close to a commercial invoice as you can get, with dates, with the fact that you paid for the items, quantities listed on Amazon are matching quantities that you have on the invoice.
Chris: And as far as the how long ago you bought the items, they're spending a lot more energy looking at ages of items. That's part of the unspoken criteria to item quality. How long have you had it? Not just consumables, all kinds of items really, because that can become a major issue in determining the quality of the product that you're sending out. Maybe there are other sellers selling the same items that you're sending, but they've got invoices showing that they purchased them much more recently. They were manufactured much more recently than yours were. So that's something to think about too.
Chris: And also one more tip to keep in mind, the people looking at your invoices are looking at them all day long and they've seen a lot of them. They've seen good ones, they've seen bad ones. Don't make them hunt around for information. Make sure that these are easy to read, make sure they're in English, make sure they have all the relevant information accessible so that somebody will not think that it is a faked or fabricated invoice. I've heard a variety of things from investigators at Amazon that it's sort of trendy for them to reject invoices right now.
Chris: Sometimes the invoices are simply incomplete, but they're considered, at least when they annotate the account, they're considered fake or fabricated as if the seller was trying to manufacture something in order to prove that the items were legitimate. I think a few sellers did that. It could be a few bad apples spoiling the bunch at this point, but you want to just make sure you have as much information on there as possible to make sure your invoices are accepted and not rejected. As far as what Colleen referred to, the FBA commingled inventory risk, this is something I learned about maybe a year ago, did some research into it. And at the time, I didn't realize that this was such a major issue, but it certainly is.
Chris: Make sure... I think everyone knows a bit about this by now, but make sure everything is stickered or labeled that you're sending the FBA. They're scanning everything you've got. The problem becomes if the item is supposed to be identical to yours, if the item that another seller sent into FBA is closer to your buyer, they will send that item to the buyer. If it ends up coming back as a counterfeit complaint, fake item, that sort of thing, ultimately, you're the one who gets... It's your order. You're the one who's warned for it.
Chris: Make sure your everything's labeled so that you can request a bin check if this becomes a chronic problem. If it's a high risk item, especially high risk category items, that seems to be happening quite a bit. Consumer electronics, that sort of thing. You want to be able to prove that you have compliant products. You can send them invoices, you can probably get your listing reinstated once you show all your documentation. The problem is sometimes that takes some time and you're missing out on all those sales. So make sure things are labeled. If you need to, request a bin check. Those are time consuming and costly, so they may or may not do one for you.
Chris: Make sure that they can do some research on their side to trace the product back to the relevant FBA warehouse and you can prove that your items are legitimate because otherwise, you're risking suspension for counterfeit or fake items in some cases. I also want to talk about another FBA issue that I've learned quite a bit about recently, this notion of I've heard it called resellable inventory, or it's also known as FBA repackaging programs. If you're having problems with a lot of used sold as new item condition warnings and you know everything that you've sourced is new, look into this because this could be one of the major causes.
Chris: What's happening is the first buyer receives your item, they might open it or at least break the seal on it and then return it to FBA. Sometimes they've actually tried it or used it and then sent it back to FBA. And unfortunately, a second buyer is getting the repackaged item. It's still considered new. Unfortunately, the buyer doesn't consider it new when they receive it, the second buyer, and they will complain about those. Amazon buyers in a sense are almost at this point, trained to complain in certain ways, and this is one of them. If they think they've bought something new from a third-party seller and it shows up with a broken seal or obvious use of any kind really, they're going to complain to Amazon about it and you will get a warning for that. If you get enough of those, your account will be reviewed.
Chris: And of course, anytime there's a manual investigation, you've got a chance of a suspension there. So make sure you're contacting seller support or opening up a ticket to learn how to opt out of this FBA repackaging feature if this is a major problem for you, because that might be a big and important way of reducing those kinds of complaints and it can dramatically reduce your risk of being suspended for having a different item or different items condition items sold on the site. And then as Colleen was referring to this earlier, expired inventory has become a hot topic this year. I don't remember hearing tons about it last year, but I know they're paying much more attention now to product safety, restricted products, product safety, anything involving compliance and especially items like consumables that involve potential health problems or health issues. So they're certainly going to be keeping track of this for you.
Chris: The RestockPro feature that helps you track expiration dates that eComEngine has is an excellent way for you to keep track of it yourself, because you certainly don't want to count on Amazon keeping track of the expiration dates on all your inventory. They're just going to let you know when you're close to the expiration date on some of your items at the 90 day mark, I believe. Once you get anywhere near 60 days, of course, they're at the point where they're sending your products back to you because they don't want anything that's about to expire being sold on the site.
Chris: But I'm still seeing a lot of sellers getting warned for this. I've seen a few gets suspended for this. And then you need a pretty strong, solid part of your POA, your plan of action, to address the steps you've taken and specific measures you've implemented in order to prevent expired product from showing up anywhere in your inventory that goes to Amazon. They're paying a lot more attention to this and you should too. I guess the answer would be to source items from suppliers who give you product with very distant expiration dates, depending on what it is, of course, but that's something that's going to be up to you and you want to keep your eye on that for sure.
Chris: Now I want to talk a little bit about, well, if you get suspended, which is not what you... You're doing everything you can to prevent the suspension, but if you get suspended and you're not sure what to do and you write an appeal, you want to take your time and make sure it's a solid plan of action. The problem here is the response times of those teams getting back to you once you've submitted the appeal. When you hit the appeal button or you write an email into some of these queues and attach your invoices, they might tell you that they're going to review your account and get back to you within 48 hours. You hit the appeal button, it might be 24 hours if they tell you.
Chris: But they're measuring response times in weeks, not in days right now. And this is a terrible time of year for, instead of selling quite a bit, you're just waiting quite a bit for a response from one of these teams. Sometimes when you get the response, it doesn't really even fit or match up with your situation, or it might just be the same response that you got the last time you sent in a plan of action. They might ask you for additional information, but without specifying what information is missing, it might simply be a regurgitation of the suspension notification that you received saying that all those categories need to be addressed again.
Chris: And that becomes an issue because you need to have another plan of action ready. Another avenue to appeal. Another way to escalate. And that's why I created this slide for people who sent in the POA and didn't get the reply, or they got the reply and it had nothing to do with their account suspension, or perhaps in some ways, it indicates that your plan wasn't read to begin with. So, certainly, if you do something like escalate to Jeff, it's important to keep in mind a few rules here. When I was working at Amazon, I've worked a lot of Bezos escalations, so I have an idea of what I wanted to see and what I didn't want to see when these came in.
Chris: You want to keep emotion out of it. You want to stick to the details, stick to the facts, and not even necessarily facts associated with your performance if you haven't been suspended for performance. If it's a policy suspension, as I've concentrated on today, you don't want to talk about your years on the site and your wonderful metrics so much. You want to talk about what went wrong with your account, the fact that you've already fixed it, and that you've composed a plan of the solutions to those problems, you've submitted the plan, but you did not get an answer or you got a very unsatisfactory answer. And you want to mention that that is a poor seller experience on the site whenever you're writing to one of Bezos' teams.
Chris: Now, if you're getting sort of the same email over and over from policy teams, you definitely want to point out the fact that you've submitted everything they asked you for and they haven't really processed it properly. And perhaps a mistake was made and you need another pair of eyes on it. That's what you're getting. When you appeal to these other teams, you're getting somebody outside of that team. Of course, they delegate the response to them at a certain point, but there's a lot more visibility into these than simply emailing policy teams with the same information over and over. And as I was saying a moment ago, have the revised POA ready because a lot of times, the answer that comes back will be, "Jeff read your reply. He wanted me to respond on his behalf. We still need a little bit more information. Please supply this, this and this."
Chris: If you have the revised POA ready to go, you'll be a lot better off. You can respond a lot faster. And then just in general, some tips for now and also not just the holiday season, how to protect yourself from one of these suspensions. Having a good sense of your quality assurance processes is the best way to go because any failings or deficiencies on your part could become magnified if several buyers complain about the same kinds of problems all at once. You definitely want to communicate with Amazon, and especially with these policy teams, if you get one of these warnings. Send a reply, tell them that you did a detailed, comprehensive review, even of that one ASIN.
Chris: You may even be able to determine which order or orders were tied to that ASIN that were the problems to begin with. Maybe you've been in touch with those buyers. Maybe you've been able to not only resolve their problems, but also determine the systemic failure that led to some of those complaints. So part of the correspondence that you're writing to them is identifying the problem, but also presenting a solution. And whichever way you can, indicate to them that this won't be happening again, because they want to see a reduction of complaints for the same kinds of problems once they hear from you. And if you're suspended, when you send the POA, you're telling them that the problems have been solved, they won't be coming up again.
Chris: Hopefully, you've implemented your new strategy and taking steps to improve your account performance and your compliance of policy so that you will not face those problems again in the future. You're not just saying it in the plan trying to tell them what they want to hear. Certainly, all product detail pages, just 100%, make sure that everything's matching. And not even just that you've intentionally tried to mislead anyone in a listing, make sure that everything's accurate. That there's no potential for misunderstanding or a lack of clarity that would lead a buyer to think that they've received a different item than what you were advertising.
Chris: So clarity and listing comments, definitely clarity in titles. Anything that you've got on there has to match 100% to the item that you send to the buyer. I can't emphasize that enough. If you do get... Keep an eye on buyer messages. Look at your customer response metric. Are you getting everything within 24 hours? Probably better to get to them as soon as possible within seven to 10 hours, even on the weekends. Make sure you've addressed any of those buyer concerns about their order, especially where item quality comes into it, because if you don't, the longer you wait, I would say the more likely they are to complain to Amazon.
Chris: And of course, those complaints turn into automated warnings, enough automated warnings of generating an account review. That's what you're trying to stay away from. So I would just stay upright, on top of all your metrics, keep on top of the policy notifications and maintain an active correspondence chain with those policy teams. Specify that you'd like your account annotated with the information that you've provided, indicating that you understood what went wrong, you've taken action to investigate it yourself, you've conducted an internal review, you've resolved it and you're ready to move forward without having that problem come up again.
Chris: And I believe we're getting into the questions part now. I just wanted to quickly run through an offer that I have going with eComEngine. I offer a free to do list account checklist if you sign up via my email list and also I'm going to be drawing one lucky winner from that group. I'll announce it on Friday and I'll send out an email indicating who the winner is. And now I believe we're moving over to the questions. So I will switch over to Colleen. There we go. There you go.
Chris: If you've got questions...
Colleen: All right, well, thank you Chris.
Colleen: In addition to Chris's offer, eComEngine is also offering some coupon codes for extended free trials. So for Feedback Five and RestockPro, we're offering a 30 day free trial, which is an extension from the standard 14 day free trial. And then for eComSpy, you can typically get 100 free credits and each credit is worth spying on one item or doing research on one item. But with the coupon code you see here highlighted in orange, you will be able to spy on 150 items for free. So again, these offers will be in the followup email, but we really wanted to customize this presentation as much as possible based on the questions that all of you have. So that's why we submitted the request for questions ahead of time. So we thank everyone who submitted questions. And Chris will go ahead and address some of those now. And if for some reason we don't get to one of your questions that you submitted, again, we'll make sure that you have Chris's contact information in my followup email so that you can ask him some more details.
Colleen: But we think we covered most of them here. So the first question for Chris is what are some of the main causes of suspension? Specifically, does too many returns cause suspension, late delivery, not keeping to the style guide, like putting exclamation points in the title of the listing?
Chris: Yeah, that's kind of funny. How many exclamation points were planned, I guess would be like the answer. No, I wouldn't put too many exclamation points in the title. I wouldn't get away from the style guide. Sometimes people ask me questions that I guess it seems like they're looking for ways around policies to get a little bit more attention. Stick to the style guide, stick to the policies. Don't draw a extra unwanted attention to yourself or your listings. Know what these rules are and then abide by them is what I'd start with there.
Chris: In terms of late delivery, it's more a late shipment issue. You want to make sure you're not shipping late, especially this time of year. That's something that if it becomes a chronic problem, it can certainly lead to a suspension. Returns, more to me, it's about return reasons. Buyers return items all the time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they just buy it and it was an accidental order or they don't want it anymore. Those return reasons aren't going to count against you the way somebody's returning it because it's defective, someone returning it because it's broken, or somebody returning it because it's not as you had described or advertised on the site. That's what you want to keep your eye on, the return reasons. It's a good idea to be vigilant with those as regularly as you can.
Colleen: Okay, any other main causes that you want to highlight here?
Chris: Oh, there's so many... I covered a lot of the policy ones in my slides. Actually, one more comment on the late delivery part. A lot of what happens with sellers who are having trouble fulfilling orders on their own that get suspended, it's very trendy and common for Amazon to come back to you and say, "Well, if you're willing to do 100% FBA and you agree to that now, then we'll let you back on the site."
Chris: That's kind of hard for some smaller sellers to do or some people who don't have the resources to do 100% FBA for all their items, but Amazon prompts you to do that if you're having any trouble fulfilling your orders or shipping them on time. So that's one other point I wanted to make there. In terms of causes of suspensions, there's so many kind of policy pitfalls, and I covered most of them. Maybe it's almost easier when people tell me the specifics of what might've gone wrong with their account in terms of a policy violation that they didn't understand and I help them diagnose what the problem might've been on their side if they can't identify the operational problem that led to it. So you're just staying on top of everything all the time. I know that's a bit general of an answer, but...
Colleen: Okay, and can you get suspended for receiving too much negative seller feedback?
Chris: Yeah, if you're getting a lot of negative feedback, you kind of alluded to this earlier, but if you're getting a lot of feedback that says items are late, that's one thing if it's a couple of days late. If you're getting the nature of the feedback states that the items aren't the way you described them, if somebody is reviewing your account for item quality issues, if product qualities drilling down and trying to figure out where you went wrong or whether or not you're safe to keep on the site or not, if they can look easily at your feedback and see that there's a lot of comments about items being different than what you said you were selling, you listed new items and they keep saying that this looks very used or this is very worn, you can have a lot of problems. It's not just about the metrics at that point in the percentages of negative feedback that you've got, it's also about the kinds of phrases in the keyword searches that they can do in that feedback to determine if you're actually sending out what you said you were selling on the site.
Colleen: Okay, thanks. That kind of leads us into this next question, which is what percent of customer complaints will trigger a suspension?
Chris: All right, again, not a hard number. Part of the reason why there are manual investigations and manual account reviews is because sellers are selling different things and sellers have been on the site for a variety of months or years. You really kind of case by case at that point, it's not really a percentage, it's the nature of the complaints against you.
Chris: If you're selling 20 million and you've got complaints of counterfeit on thousands of orders a day, the real problem is that you've got complaints of counterfeit. It's not so much about numbers at that point. If there's evidence and backing up a pattern that you may be sourcing from a bad supplier or you have consistently bad product in a certain category on the site, that will trigger a suspension because they need to make sure... They're better safe than sorry. They can always suspend you and prompt you to send in documentation verifying the legitimacy of those items. They would rather do that than to let you go and then have problems again with you shortly thereafter.
Colleen: Okay, thank you Chris. And is there a limit to the number of times that you can request to have an appeal for a suspension?
Chris: There's, again, no specific number. It also depends on where you are in the appeals process. If they've sent you a reply asking you for more information and then you send them information that they don't necessarily like, you might get a general denial back if they don't want to ask you for more information or they might, once again, ask you for subsequent information. If you're just getting the general denial right out of the gate, then each subsequent appeal might get less time in front of an investigator.
Chris: So what you want to do is just make sure that your appeals are strong from the outset and not piecemeal and not send them too many different emails or different messages, because what can also happen is people can consolidate these and say, "Oh, this has already been looked at. There's no new information here." And then the odds of them looking at the next appeal diminish with each subsequent one. You can keep submitting the information, the odds of it being well received on the other end might be going down over time.
Colleen: Okay. And let's see, next question. How severe are the consequences?
Chris: Of a suspension? Well, there are different kinds of suspensions. Some you'll never come back from, of course. That's the greatest severity would be you would find yourself permanently sealed off from the site to keep up positive spin on it. If you're doing your homework, if you're keeping track of your operations, if you're making your account as Amazon friendly as possible, I hate to say it that way, but maintaining buyer experience across the board, keeping an eye on all your metrics, keeping an eye on all your policy notifications, then you're giving yourself the best chance to avoid this worst case scenario, which is making it appear to them that you haven't been on top of it, you haven't followed any of this, and you've been getting emails from buyers.
Chris: You've been ignoring those. There have been indications that your product wasn't 100% as you had advertise it. You didn't really take any concrete, specific steps to address that. And then when you were suspended, you didn't take the time to put a great plan together that identified the root causes of the suspension and also some solutions and how you're going to fix those and resolve them. So consequences could be getting the dreaded final word response, which is when Amazon tells you they're not going to engage in any more correspondence over the issue. They've warned you, they've suspended you, they didn't like your plan, or they don't even want to your plan and they don't want to continue the conversation. So that's the worst case scenario. You want to stay away from that as much as possible.
Colleen: Okay. And so how do we contact Amazon directly when it comes to our suspension? You mentioned like the Bezos escalation process-
Chris: Yeah, this is an interesting question.
Colleen: And either going through a queue or sending an email. So what are some of the ways to contact them?
Chris: This is a really good question because there are some misconceptions out there about who to contact. Some people start calling into seller support. Seller support is not going to do anything, but refer you to seller performance. If you've been suspended by product quality teams and you're writing in to seller performance, then they're just transferring it over to the queues, which is fine, but that's not the team that took the action on your account. You need to get into the policy people's hands as soon as possible because, as I mentioned earlier, if they're replying in weeks, not days, you can't afford to lose that time just having them transfer these emails around.
Chris: The Bezos emails, I used to have as the kind of last resort ones, because you wanted to do everything in your power to get the right information into the right hands, have it responsibly reviewed and get your account reinstated. That's really your objective. It's not to complain higher up the ladder. The Bezos emails have become much more common now because people weren't being heard by the teams that took action on their accounts. So they needed the extra impetus and the extra motivation internally to have a re-review of their account, especially if there was a mistake made or if it was hastily handled. They have an extreme email backlog right now. And a certain percentage of mistakes are going to be made. I have some email addresses that I have people write into and there are commonly known ones. You basically just want to reply where they tell you to reply. If that's not working, identify a concrete escalation path.
Colleen: Okay, thanks. And here's a scenario of someone who had their account suspended a few years ago and no details were provided as to why. So how would you suggest that they appeal the suspension and what are the odds of getting their account back now that it's been a few years?
Chris: Right, in my experience, the odds of getting your account back to start with the end first, are longer if it's been a while, because it makes, at least in their mind, it makes you look a little bit less serious about selling on Amazon. Even if at the time, you weren't sure if you wanted to sell again or maybe you weren't sure why you were suspended and you weren't sure what changes you had to make, it always looks better if you make an effort to contact them and get some of that information sooner rather than later. And so the odds might be a little bit harder than... As far as appealing, it's sort of the same as the previous question. You want to figure out why you were suspended and which team suspended you and you want to contact them finding out what additional information you can get, but also give them information about what's happened since then.
Chris: Have you made changes to your business? Are you selling 10 times more on eBay than you were when Amazon closed you down? Or other multichannel sales that you're doing. Have information ready about your business and how it's expanded and how it's improved since you ended your business with Amazon because if they prompt you to give them more information, you'll have it ready to go. Whether it's invoices, whether it's information about your eBay account or your jet.com, whatever you've got going, show it to them because that's their way of doing a risk assessment and figuring out if you're a good bet to get back on the site.
Colleen: Okay. We have time for a few more questions here. What reports or metrics should we take a look at to avoid trouble?
Chris: Right, and there's a lot of talk... People talk a lot about the imperfect order report. I tend to... Well, certainly I tell people to keep an eye on everything. An example was the customer response metric doesn't always come up in terms of getting warned for not responding to buyers within seven hours versus 17 hours. But there are unseen mechanisms going on that you want to keep an eye on. Emailing buyers back quickly means that they're less likely to complain to Amazon. I've seen that in several client cases that I've worked on. So fast response is good.
Chris: You also want to keep an eye on things like, well, you've resolved, you got negative feedback, you resolve the problem with the buyer, but still there was a problem to begin with, right? So you want to make sure that you're doing everything to preempt problems that you can. Not just resolving them once they come up and getting a buyer to agree that you've done a good job fixing it and having them remove the negative feedback, but doing everything you can ahead of the curve to make sure that your items are listed properly and that your metrics are solid because even having good metrics doesn't mean you'll be out of trouble with the policy teams. Almost every client I've worked with has excellent, excellent performance metrics. It doesn't mean that everything is a 100% okay with their account. And that's sort of the education angle that I've been doing.
Colleen: Okay, and does Amazon have a system in place that helps to curb automatic computer suspension for accounts, again, with like the high metrics or high volume? I think you've already addressed this, but...
Chris: Yeah. Well, there aren't as many automatic computer suspensions as people think. There are more manual investigations that culminate in a suspension of the account than people realize. Long story short, I've worked with people who do millions and millions a month on the site. They don't necessarily get any different treatment than somebody who's a lot smaller. And we could go into a long discussion about the value of having an account manager and how that can help you. Is that a buffer between policy teams and your account?
Chris: That's a longer conversation, but you have to keep in mind that if there are very grave serious complaints against your account, it doesn't really matter how big you are or how long you've sold on the site. They need to make sure that they're protecting buyer experience in the marketplace. They can't have sellers out there who are undermining faith in the third party marketplace, and they have to take, they're forced to take significant steps against you if enough buyers are complaining about enough significant, serious problems. So, longevity counts in your favor, but take it with a grain of salt.
Colleen: And here's another scenario. We got suspended in the past because we received emails from buyers with received damage or defective item and Amazon suspended us because we were selling supposedly used items as new. How can we prevent these emails? And of course, customers are motivated to send these emails because they don't want to pay return shipping sometimes.
Chris: Right, and sometimes, that is the reason, but the amount of times I hear that as the entire reason why somebody has been suspended because buyers don't want to pay for return shipping. Their investigators are aware of those situations and they know about those. The difference is if they detect a pattern where your item quality comes into question because there are certain kinds of complaints that are coming in consistently. And it really wouldn't make sense if they got several of these, that every single buyer that you have is just out to avoid return shipping charges.
Chris: So if you're getting any complaints as far as people receiving things that are damaged and defective, I would the first step, look operationally what you can correct. Maybe you've got some weak packaging, maybe the items are being damaged because the packaging could be improved and you can work with your supplier to improve packaging of delicate items. Defective items, you want to look at the quality of the items themselves. If you're buying new, you're sourcing new items from your supplier, everything's supposed to be new, fully functional and perfect and they're repeatedly coming back to defective, even if it's what you consider to be a small percentage of orders against that ASIN, it's significant that people are getting chargers that are dead on arrival or items that have defective or dead batteries in them and you get consistent complaints about that, it means that you have to take some steps to improve things and make some changes. Perhaps stop listing the items completely if there's consistent problems with them or change your supplier. Everything should be on the table at that point.
Colleen: Okay. And another question here kind of related to metrics, but are there any tools or metrics that can help identify if a specific SKU has a high defect ratio?
Chris: Well, Amazon has tools to-
Colleen: Yup, go ahead.
Chris: Yeah, Amazon has great internal tools to determine if specific ones are claimed defects. As far as... I'm sorry, I'm skipping ahead to the bottom of that question, but-
Colleen: Oops, sorry.
Chris: That's okay. In terms of how do you know when you should stop selling something? Well, if you get consistent complaints on a certain ASIN, that's a pretty good tip that you should take it down and that you shouldn't sell it. At least don't sell it on Amazon. You can sell things in other places that have maybe a policy or a product quality team that's not as aggressive. But in the case of Amazon, these guys aren't fooling around. And if they have the sense that what you're selling has a consistently high ODR, order defect rate associated with it, they're going to take your listing down and prompt you not to relist it until you identify the problem, or they'll take it out completely and say, "We've simply had too many complaints against this item." So you want to be looking on the ASIN level in Seller Central as much as you can and looking very closely at your return reasons too to determine if you've got a problem with that product.
Chris: If it's one of your top sellers and you don't want to delete it, I understand that, but you also have to consider the risk versus reward. If this is putting your account in peril, is it really worth continuing to list that one item? All right. Okay, and in terms of trademark violations, this is something that you want to really become an expert in. And if you're not an expert in... There's brand registries, learn about those. If you're getting complaints about trademark violations or you're receiving warnings about notices of infringement, these are things that you have to take care of on your own. Amazon's not going to intervene. They will receive documentation from the rights owner saying that something's being violated and they will warn you for it and take your listing down.
Chris: It's not so much about Amazon processes at that point. It's more of a legal issue between you and another seller or you and a rights owner. And you want to know, first of all, you need to know if you have the legal right to list and sell an item on Amazon before you do it. That's just due diligence. And secondly, yes, if you get enough of these warnings and violations, you will get suspended because at that point, it's not really... First of all, Amazon is not intervening in any legal matters to mitigate them or to settle those disputes. They're prompting you to contact the complaining party. Enough of those and you will get suspended. It's not really worth their while to have you on the site if they're going to have to consistently act on notice or trademark violations against your account.
Colleen: Okay. And finally, how can we be safe from false claims from other sellers?
Chris: False claims, so that sounds like notices of infringement to me. Claims of infringement. How can you be safe? The best way to be safe, well, a couple of ways. Have all your ducks in a row. Make sure you're not listing anything you don't have the legal right to list. You can also consult trademark and intellectual property attorneys because often, when you have a dispute with another seller, once you realize that Amazon is not going to intervene to help you out, you're going to need to get some professional advice in terms of resolving that dispute with the seller because Amazon won't listen until they've received contact from the rights owner saying we've resolved the issue with so and so and they can feel free to list the item again, or however it's resolved, but that's when attorneys get involved. If you're not an expert in this area, you might have to talk to somebody who is because it's not so much about dealing directly with Amazon anymore.
Chris: There's three of you in that equation and you have to make sure that you're drafting a properly written legal letter, sending it to the rights owner and resolving it with them before you start thinking about the POA that you're going to send in if you've been suspended for notice violations. So safety is just covering all your bases, talking to experts and interacting with rights owners who have submitted notices of infringement violations against you, communicating with them and resolving the issues with them as quickly as possible.
Colleen: Well, thank you Chris. And thank you to everybody who joined with us today. That was the last question that we have time for. So like I said, I'll be sure to send out a followup email that includes a link to the recording of this webinar in case you missed any of it, and I'll also include Chris's contact information, as well as the details of these exclusive offers. But again, go to Chris's website there, ecommercechris.com/ecomengine/, to download his step-by-step self-audit checklist, as well as having a chance to win a full account review by Chris. And he's doing the drawing later this week. So we'll send that out on Friday, who the winner is. So make sure to download that checklist today or tomorrow to be included for a chance to win. And then eComEngine's coupon codes are listed there as well. But on behalf of eComEngine and Chris McCabe, we thank you for joining us today and we wish you great success with your business. Thanks a lot.
Originally published on February 2, 2016, updated July 29, 2020
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.