Originally published on May 3, 2019, updated April 30, 2020
More and more sellers are getting in trouble for breaking Amazon's terms of service when asking for product reviews and in other areas of their business. Amazon's Terms of Service are explicit about what you are and are not allowed to do, but sellers continue to bend, and even break, the rules. Learn about black hat tactics some sellers are doing, why you shouldn't play their game, how to write a great product review request, and more. Our special guest is Chris McCabe, founder of eCommerceChris and an expert on Amazon's terms of service and reasons sellers get suspended.
Topics covered include:
You can watch the webinar above or check out the show notes below for the recap and a full transcript.
In this information-packed webinar, eComEngine’s Liz Fickenscher and Chris McCabe of eCommerceChris cover Amazon Seller Terms of Service (TOS), reviews on Amazon, common reasons for Amazon suspension, and so much more.
You’ll gain valuable insight about why ASIN manipulation is a huge problem, and why engaging in black hat practices is never a good idea. Here’s a short recap of some of the highlights!
There have been an alarming number of suspensions recently, which has caused many Amazon merchants to be concerned for their business. While a lot of rumors are circulating across social media and message boards, the reality is that suspensions tend to fall into one of the following categories:
Right now, it’s a dangerous time to be taking risks with your Amazon business. Even a small mistake could land you in trouble. Get familiar with the rules and stick to them. As Fickenscher explains, “There is a high alert at Amazon right now to weed out bad actors, and you can be interpreted as a bad actor if you don’t understand and follow the Terms of Service.”
Believe it or not, there are agencies and individuals who are really trying to hurt other sellers. If you have been targeted by any of the following, you probably already know how much this can impact your business:
What should you do if you suspect that bad actors are trying to cripple your business? “Identify what’s going on and try to identify who’s doing it to you,” advises McCabe. “It’s not easy to do, but this is a good place to start.”
Gather as much information as you can — including timestamps, what they’ve been doing and possible culprits — and send a complaint to Amazon. The teams are overwhelmed and have very limited time to investigate the issues. Keep it concise, include bullets and don’t get emotional.
Having a healthy number of positive reviews on Amazon is great for your business, but they can’t come from just anywhere. All of the reviews on your product pages must be legitimate and compliant with Amazon Seller Terms of Service. That means you need to avoid the following:
“You can offer great customer service, but you can’t dissuade people from leaving a negative review or encouraging them to leave a review only if it’s going to be positive,” warns McCabe. This will land you in hot water.
Also, as Fickenscher mentions, “You can discounts, you can run promos, but be careful how you do that and be careful about the reviews you solicit from the people who got the deepest discount.” It could be construed as an incentivized review.
Even if you think your product review solicitation strategy is compliant, it’s important to review the Amazon TOS for any updates that you might have missed or misread. For example, the webinar covers the standard “if/when” verbiage commonly used in email solicitation. “They are looking for that and it’s not okay anymore,” warns Fickenscher. Here’s an example of what you need to avoid:
If you love the hat and want to tell the world, then leave a review!
This wording suggests that you only want the customer to leave a review if they are happy with their purchase, which violates Amazon's Terms of Service. You might disagree with this, but it’s not worth going up against Amazon.
“Amazon is under a ton of pressure from buyers, sellers, the media, from people within Amazon. These teams are overloaded with pressure and stress over this,” explains Chris. “Don’t risk it. If you’re playing games with wording… why wing it? There are people who get suspended twice for this and never come back.”
If you’re feeling a little nervous, chances are that you’re not alone. Many Amazon merchants are rethinking some of their business practices right now, including email solicitation. You know that you need reviews, but how should you go about getting them? Here are some tips:
When crafting a message, the goal is to get your name out there, include great information about your product and stand out by providing good value to your customers. Get creative and include helpful tips about the purchase, but always be mindful of remaining compliant!
As a busy Amazon merchant, you already have a lot on your shoulders. You might be wondering if an automation tool can help you solicit feedback without breaking the rules. The answer, of course, is yes.
FeedbackFive offers TOS-compliant template settings as well as the ability to send messages with the system behind Amazon's Request a Review button. Get the reviews you need while minimizing the risk to your account. It’s important to note, however, that you are ultimately responsible for the content in your emails and the action you take — don’t break the rules!
Liz: In just a few moments, we'll be getting started.
Liz: I have confirmation from our internal team that you guys can hear me, you can see me, you can see the slides. That's exciting. Without further ado, we're going to get started.
Liz: Again, my name is Liz Fickenscher. I am the industry liaison for eComEngine. I've got Chris McCabe with me today and we are going to be talking about all the crazy stuff that's been going on in the Amazon seller space. We're going to talk about recent suspensions. We're going to talk about Amazon TOS, how it's interpreted, how it's misinterpreted. The stuff that's going on that are pain points for you guys and we're going to talk about the proper way to submit a product review request because that seems to be something that people still need to learn.
Liz: That is the name of our webinar.
Liz: This is me and Chris with our professional headshots.
Liz: A little bit about eComEngine, before we get started. We are pretty old in e-commerce years. FeedbackFive was our first tool. It was developed in about 2007. It was the first feedback automation tool in the e-commerce. We've had lots of years to learn the ropes, see all the changes in TOS, and work with sellers on the best up to date best practices and to hone our tools so it can be the best and most helpful feedback and product review automation software.
Liz: But we're not here to pitch software to you today. We're here to talk about the fact that people are breaking the rules. People are not breaking the rules but they're getting in trouble. That's what we're here to talk about today is TOS, what it means to you, what's going on, and how to protect yourself in an increasingly complicated space.
Liz: I am super, super glad to have my friend, Chris McCabe, with me today. Chris is so knowledgeable about all this stuff. Chris, first tell everybody a little bit about ecommerce, Chris, just in case they don't know who you are, and what you've been up to lately.
Chris: Yeah. Since we're covering hopefully almost everything you need to know about TOS. Covering all of it would take a few years or months but I'll make it quick. ecommerceChris is the consultancy I created when I left my job at Amazon which was reviewing seller accounts all day long, dealing with account suspension, sending warnings, canceling listings, all the wonderful things we'll be talking about today. I'm former Amazon six years in. I've been doing this for about five years now, going on five pretty soon. I'm happy to be here just as much as you are.
Liz: Chris and I have been doing a little bit of a complaint series too and things pop up. Things come across his desk all the time. He does screen statements and helps people keep safe. We did have a question. I said Amazon TOS. TOS means Terms of Service, just in case you're not familiar with that term. Amazon's got rules for sellers. They've got Terms of Service that you agree to when you sign up for a seller account and if you don't follow them, you can get in big, big trouble.
Chris: Policies. We can just say Amazon policies if you want. We can use a different phrase.
Liz: And a short way to say it is TOS. We have some special offers today. You can get extended free trials on eComEngine's tools and Chris's offerings, which is super generous of him, a free performance notification reviews. Chris will talk more about that but if you get a performance notification ding, he'll look out for you without charging you which is awesome.
Chris: I can give some quick feedback on what it means, what they're after, what you need to provide that sort of thing. If they're asking for a POA usually they tell you lots of things they want, but I can help you interpret that.
Liz: POA is plan of action.
Chris: Plan of action, yes.
Liz: We don't want to be those people that throw around acronyms and don't actually talk about what they mean.
Chris: If I ever say seller performance investigator SOPs, I mean, standard operating procedures.
Liz: Standard operating procedures.
Chris: The guidelines they're using to perform their investigations on your seller account and to do their jobs.
Liz: All right. Let's dive in to the content. We've got a lot of it today. Seller pain points, what the heck is going on? There's a lot going on. You guys have seen the Facebook threads and the LinkedIn threads and Chris has been working 14 to 16-hour days just dealing with what's going on in the seller space today.
Liz: There have been a lot of suspensions. The suspensions are related to a number of things. So let's look at our list. There are lack.
Chris: It's getting increasingly difficult to interpret why a suspension happens and what they actually want back, just as a quick aside.
Liz: Awesome. Okay. I've vetted this list with Chris before I put it in the slide deck because he knows obviously what people are talking to him about and emailing him and saying, "OMG, you have to save me. I don't care that it's midnight. Please, please save my Amazon account." Because that's what happens to him all the time.
Liz: There are a few things that are going on. There are black hat practices that are impacting sellers and we're going to talk about that more in depth on the next slide.
Liz: There are ASIN manipulation suspensions and that was the big hit that just happened between Thursday and Monday. A big, big, big mess. And then there's review abuse suspension which is my personal soapbox. Basically, because there are bad actors and because there are sellers that are not following the rules, maybe because they don't know the rules, we just did a webinar with Leah and Chris about ASIN manipulations. It was pretty timely, wasn't it.
Liz: You might not even know that you've broken the rules. You've just got to understand the rules well enough that you don't break them but there's a high alert at Amazon right now to weed out bad actors and you can be interpreted as a bad actor if you don't understand Terms of Service and if you don't follow Terms of Service.
Liz: Let's hit on the black hat stuff. I found a picture of a black hat to use for this because visuals are very useful to you guys.
Chris: It's very helpful.
Liz: Useful to me. Yeah. We all saw that BuzzFeed article that went out.
Chris: A few weeks ago, yeah.
Liz: Yeah and it went out to the general public which was so comforting. Wasn't it guys? Because how often does a regular news outlet or a popular news outlet talk about the plight of the Amazon seller. It's not very often. I still talk to people every day where I tell them what I do for a living and they're like, "Wait, people sell on Amazon?" And I'm like, "Yeah, they do a lot. A whole lot of them..
Chris: Yeah, more than 10.
Liz: Way more than 10.
Chris: Way more than 10.
Liz: I was going to animate this part but then I'll totally space out and just click a whole lot and that's just not a good part. There are fake reviews and I put that twice because it's happening a lot. Brushing, hijacking, listing, keyword manipulation, bribes, nasty letters going out that look like cease-desist letters and they're not. Chris talked a little bit about what's going on and what sellers can do to protect themselves from these agencies and individuals who are really trying to hurt other sellers.
Chris: Yeah, I guess the first step is... And this is a huge topic so I'll try to condense and grab from a couple of the things you have on your list here. Identify what's going on and try to identify who's doing it to you. That's the first step. I know this is not easy to do. I know it's not straightforward. It won't be the same exact series of steps in each case with each account within each category but this is a good place to start.
Chris: Do you know which seller it is? Because if you can identify the seller, if you have a rough idea of their tactics, you can identify some of what they're doing, when they're doing it, what time of day, date and timestamps can sometimes be helpful when you're reporting it to Amazon abuse teams. So who's doing it? What they're doing? We can talk maybe a little bit later about where.
Chris: Everyone starts the conversation with me, "Where do I complain about this, this and this?" I have to back them up. "What are you sending? Are you sending them the phone book?" Eighteen-page documents, they will never read this. Are you totally unsure of who's attacking you? Whether it's a service, whether it's a seller who's hired a service. You are just guessing. You're asking Amazon to fill in those blanks. "Hey, we think it's this." "It might be that." "We need you to do that." They'll never take all day to research this. You have to come in with that information.
Chris: Once in a blue moon, you might be able to point them in a direction and then they actually look and you give them a credible reason to believe that they're going to find something pertinent or damaging when they get there and they identify it just as you hoped they would and they take action. That's not the norm. That's a low under 5%, under 10% of the times from what we see.
Chris: What works is you write it well, you condense it, you make it a page or two, you bullet it, you don't go on long rants or emotional diatribes about your enemies, you give them something they can use, they can review it, they know where to look within their tools. You shouldn't have to know where to point them within their tools but based on what you tell them, they at least have an idea where to look so it saves them a lot of time and then they also have an idea of what kind of action they need to take which can be a variety of outcomes. If the attacking seller who's hitting you has an account manager, maybe they go to that party first, run it by them, maybe that person slaps their wrist variety of outcomes.
Chris: But the bottom line is you get the conversation started, you get the ball rolling. You've identified what's happening to you, maybe who's doing it, and then, like I said, later on, we can talk about where you send some of these reports. There's a variety of places to start email queues where you can start reporting these things. Obviously, a lot of people are trying that and not getting anywhere. We'll have to talk about how to escalate those and what kind of team do you have to bug for their managers to review these.
Chris: But just going back to your list. Listing sabotage, most people in the seller community know this is going on, just about everyone who matters for these issues within Amazon knows this is going on. Some of them maybe are helping a seller commit some of it which is a big problem. It's hard for you to unravel what somebody inside the company might be doing to you but you need that information. You need to figure out what team might be making changes to your listings. Is it a maybe a vendor central manager or a vendor central loophole who's doing this? They've exploited their access to ASIN contributions. This is something [inaudible 00:11:40] talked about a lot.
Liz: Actually, somebody just commented and said, "They use Vendor Central access to change listing and pictures. In one case, they change the picture entirely to something else and the bullet points they wrote expletive products..
Chris: Listing sabotage.
Liz: "Unbelievable stuff," the guy says.
Chris: Images... Backing up for a moment for those who aren't following what the Vendor Central piece or any of the how the listings get changed for these private label brands. You're supposed to have majority ASIN contributions or control over your listing if you're the brand registered private label brand owner. In theory, that's... Maybe you're even in the transparency program and you're supposed to have control over listing content, who can sell your products and so forth. But the sabotage still happens.
Chris: Well, how does that happen? Obviously, people are manipulating catalog teams or vendor central related ASIN contribution access to change images, to change your titles. This is a very well-known problem. There aren't any ready fixes for it. I wish I could come to this webinar with solid answers on exactly how to do these. How do we get this work done? Long story short, lots of pressure, lots of followups, lots of escalations to typically multiple teams not just one. If you report just to the abuse teams or just through brand registry, that might have worked six months ago. That typically isn't enough to do it now. You have to apply pressure elsewhere.
Liz: That same attendee said that he is brand registered and it didn't help. What do you do in those situations.
Chris: Six months ago, opening tickets, support tickets, or even escalations within brand registry would either solve it or get you on the right path. That's not working nearly as effectively now. What we're doing with our clients is escalating it through obviously brand registry but other policy teams, sometimes to Seller Performance. The [inaudible 00:13:31] female executive seller relations is always out there if you need to use it and then beyond that, sometimes directly to policy team managers and people like that because that's the only way to get this done. Otherwise, you will scream into the wind for eternity and these teams are overloaded.
Chris: A lot of them are... The investigations aren't competently executed. They don't know what to do themselves. Maybe they haven't been... Maybe their SOPs need a little brushing up, their standard operating procedures. They have a very limited amount of time to go through what you've sent them. And then beyond that, maybe you're not sending them actionable info.
Chris: Most people that contact me, "Give me like a sample template that they're using or an example of the report they sent through Seller Central or even the Seller Performance," it depends on where they sent it. I read through it and if I can barely make heads or tails of what you've written, then that means Amazon will spend two seconds looking at it and they'll toss it.
Chris: They don't have time to... I understand this complexity that it's inherent to this type of problem but if you can't present it, if you don't have your best writer working on it or you haven't formatted it into bullets are something that's easy to read and consume and understand, they're not going to bother. They're going to move on to the next one. They've got thousands of these coming in continually.
Chris: If you give them excuse... It's the same as an account suspension, you write a plan of action, a POA, if it's all over the place, all over the map, some of it is useful the rest of it is extraneous or not on topic, they toss it. They can't read. They don't have time for it. They've got thousands of appeals to read, not every individual investigator, but everybody else on their team, they all have thousands of these to do.
Chris: Liz mentioned last weekend alone they suspended thousands of accounts, what? Friday overnight into Saturday. That was one day, less than one day.
Liz: I'm going to pause real quick. We've got a lot of questions. If you asked a question, we are going to answer it but we might answer it in a different order so just stick with us. We're going to answer the questions regarding this slide and then you guys have asked some really good questions that we're going to get to later. So be patient with us.
Liz: We did have, one of my favorite people ever, ask, "What is brushing? Isn't that when people get a bunch of stuff that they didn't order. What is brushing?" [inaudible 00:15:48].
Chris: Brushing was outed. Some of that was just the orders that were shipped off into nowheresville. It's related to product reviews.
Liz: Isn't it all at the end of the day.
Chris: I don't hear much about that anymore. I don't know if that is still a tactic.
Liz: Yeah, I think it is.
Chris: Really? Okay. What you're talking about is people were getting orders for stuff, getting items, and they hadn't made the orders. That's people misusing previous buyer order information to make it look like they've shipped something new to you and you've left them a five star review.
Chris: There's a lot of fake review nonsense going on. There's people are inflating positive reviews on their account by hiring a black hat service to use buyer accounts connected to their operation that have no connection to them, no connection to you. Give you a bunch of five star or four and a half star reviews if that's less likely to be detected.
Chris: There's lots of fake positive reviews on the site that we know and there's a lot of people getting hit with fake negative reviews. Safety concerns. Using a lot of buzzwords. This is something I wanted to mention. We have fake reviews here but people mentioning safety issues. "This sent my kid to the hospital." "This burned my hand off." "This burned my face off..
Liz: Ambulance, emergency room and hospital, bleeding.
Chris: Right. Children. You have to mention pets that are injured, children that are injured. There's lots of safety stuff. Amazon tools have no way of sorting the real from the imaginary with that. They're assuming automatically that most of it's flagged for a reason. It's worth sending a warning for, maybe taking your favorite top selling ASIN down for and then obviously counterfeit, inauthentic, any comments around fake. You could be selling just your private label brand. We've seen a huge increase in people who only manufacture and sell their own products of who are being accused of selling fake versions of their own products. It's all nonsense. They're just trying to manipulate the algorithms.
Chris: Some of the people behind the black hat services have friends, contacts inside Amazon who coached them on this stuff and who make this information available to them. I've seen SOPs... sorry to use that acronym again. I've seen Seller Performance investigator SOPs floating around in public. That should be internal documents that only investigators use.
Chris: That wasn't that recent but just to give you an idea of all of this information is being leaked, almost all of it. Search data... We've all seen the articles in the press. You mentioned the press. Tons of information is out there. Most of it's accurate. If I've heard about it or seen it, I can tell that yeah, this is stuff that came from the company. These are screenshots from internal tools.
Chris: In terms of... We can get off the slide and we can get a black hat because we could talk about that for an hour. But in terms of.
Liz: A couple more questions, if that's okay. One person said that keyword manipulation worries him because he knows SEO and he's trying to do it legitimately. If we can share any SEO related best practices with him, that would be really great and then.
Chris: I would need to know more about what he's doing. I don't have a quick answer to that one.
Liz: It's email@example.com. Also, we had a question. He's an international seller. Is this happening in the international space on other marketplaces, too? Is it predominantly dot com.
Chris: It's logical dot com would have the most of this because it's the most lucrative marketplace. Most people who have a business of any size are selling in dot com. It happens in Europe, of course, too, E.U. marketplaces. I don't hear about it as much in Japan. I'm sure things go on and then Australia, I haven't dealt as much with the Australian market place as late but predominantly, it's U.S.
Chris: I hasten to add that we're not just talking about mainland China sellers who sell on dot com. Most people just assume that's what we're talking about. I've seen just as much bad behavior in U.S. based sellers who are using U.S. based black hat services than I have anything in China or they're working together in some way. A lot of U.S. based consultancies are now cooperating using Chinese tactics and techniques.
Chris: I think this is mostly known by the wider public at this point because a lot of the people selling these services have tried to grab as many seller and customers as possible and they've been pretty brazen about it. But some of them also masquerade as white hat consultants and I guess sellers still believe that they're white hat or they think they're mostly white hat. To me, there's no mostly white hat. You're either following the rules, not breaking laws, following TOS, or you're on the other side. That's how I view it.
Liz: No gray hats allowed. All right. We have a lot of questions, a lot of stories, a lot of anecdotal stuff. Can you guys see each other's questions out there in webinar land because if you can that's.
Chris: I'll take a look.
Liz: Kind of cool. No, I think actually the attendees might be able because somebody just tagged somebody in something else. If you guys can, is that cool with you guys? Because I think that's pretty neat. We're going to move on but we're going to come back to this at the end for Q&A. Just be patient with us.
Chris: Let's do questions at the end if we can.
Liz: We've got ASIN manipulation. This was the big hot ticket discussion Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Chris, take us through some of this and you guys, submit your questions and we will definitely get to them. No worries.
Chris: Cynthia and I did a video about this yesterday because we were appalled at how Amazon handled this which was vague messaging, no ASIN cited, very generic message about ASIN creation policy abuse or violations. No explanation was there really as far as I'm concerned and people who appealed right away and got denied had no information in the denial.
Liz: That is in fact one question. I think that we need to answer this before we get into the nitty gritty. Somebody asked, "What reasoning, if any, does Amazon have for not telling us the reasons for suspension?" The question is why are they so obtuse? They're not giving a lot of detail. Do you know why there was no real communication around which ASIN it was and all that kind of stuff.
Chris: Generally speaking, the messaging is vague on purpose. It's by design. They don't want you to be quoting them back to them and focused on specific words and specific wording like it's a court case and your lawyer and you're quoting a law back to a judge or something like that. They don't want to play that game when it comes to Seller Performance [inaudible 00:22:31].
Chris: This particular case, that's just true in general. The messaging is going to stay vague. A lot of it has to be cleared before it even gets sent out publicly and the teams that are reviewing it, whether it's Amazon legal or somebody else in compliance are looking for vague ways of stating some of these things that don't necessarily meet the goals of the account investigators. I know that's a little bit behind the scenes, hard to understand why that would happen but to them it's a legitimate excuse for it.
Chris: In this particular case, I think they rolled it out way too quickly. They didn't have a plan for... They weren't just canceling a bunch of listings and sending out emails that cited ASINs were canceled with an explanation. That might be vague but just you created these ASINs wrong. That would make at least a little bit of sense to us. They didn't do that.
Chris: A couple of reasons... We know it was a fast rollout because they had typos. Did you read the message where it said, "You have one more violations," they meant one or more violations. They didn't even have the word or in there. It was incorrect grammar in their own message that went out to thousands of people. Quickly dashed off. Nobody proved the messaging. Just very sloppy, disorganized work on their side number one, and unprofessional messaging.
Chris: Number two, not everyone... It wasn't one shoe fits every foot in this case. What you see on your screen... What went wrong? We spent pretty much the entire holiday weekend digging through people's accounts and their flat files. We found a variety of errors in the listings. Now, some of those error's just sitting there before and nobody noticed, nobody cared, yes, of course. The seller hadn't noticed that Amazon hadn't noticed. Those weren't necessarily what triggered the suspension but they were suspect. They could have been why the account was suspended.
Chris: Most of those errors and mistakes fell into these five categories. People creating duplicates, whether intentionally or not, ASIN variation misuse, wrong variation themes. People may make a variety of ASIN variation creation mistakes as it is, generally speaking. We had to assume that some of them were being suspended for that and that had somehow been folded into this larger action against catalog abuse. I don't know how we want to call this blanket, thousands of sellers' suspended action that was taken Friday into Saturday. Let's just say it was a catalog cleanup or it was a listing violation action, if you want to say that.
Chris: People are listing in the wrong category. Tons of people still are using resold new PCs. They're piggybacking the resellers. They're piggybacking on listings with UPCs that do not match what's in the GS1 database. No one's checking that. It's a listing that tons of other people are on. They assume it's fine. They assume Amazon will never cancel that listing and force everyone to start using some other listing with no sellers on it who remains on it. I can understand why they think that but that's not forward thinking. That's like maybe you'll get to the end of today or this month or this week thinking that way.
Chris: If there's some catalog purge in the future and all your listings are gone because you're on all these listings with a UPC doesn't match the GS1 database you know why and that's because you weren't doing it today. You weren't switching it today.
Chris: Those are the four or five main reasons. There might be a couple others that people brought up in the forums but the forums had lots of speculation, lots of misinformation. I didn't really spend much time in there.
Liz: Somebody has a question about codes. "The big issue is when our suppliers use from companies like Leading Edge. I've two suppliers that do that. How do you handle this?" I guess that's not...
Chris: I'm sorry, what was it? I didn't...
Liz: Leading Edge. Can you clarify, my friend.
Chris: Those are resell barcodes.
Liz: Are those resell barcodes.
Chris: First step is take your UPC and match what it says in the GS1 database. Some people are doing their own products.
Liz: They sold products.
Chris: Yeah. It sounds like Leading Edge is a resold. What are the other companies? There's one of them that has USA or something in the name but...
Liz: If your supplier does that, then you just check it against the GS1 database and then if it's not right, then what do you do.
Chris: At this point... And I know people have been saying this for a couple of years without really getting too often slapped on the wrist for mismatched detail pages. At this point, before you list or sell anything on Amazon, I would take that UPC. If you're a reseller, jumping on an established listing, take the UPC and look it up in the GS1 database. If it's not going to match, don't buy or don't list that product.
Chris: Whether or not you see tons of people... Everyone, the first thing they say is, "Tons of other people are doing this." "Tons of other people are getting away with it." That's what's creating these group mass suspensions is a bunch of people are following each other down that rabbit hole and that's why instead of 75 sellers getting suspended last weekend, there were 1275 or something like that. It's because we're all piggybacking on each other's mistakes.
Chris: We're all looking and seeing what somebody else is doing and saying, "They're live on the site. They're active. Why can't I do what they're doing?" That doesn't mean that there isn't an enforcement action coming. We'll hit that seller and every other seller on that listing. That just means that 2:15 PM on Thursday, May 30th, you happen to look on the site and see a bunch of people were doing a particular something.
Chris: To me, you can't base a business on what a seller is doing at 2:15 to 2:20 PM on May 30th. That's all that's happening right now. You don't know if it's going to be like that next month, next year. Most sellers are in it for the long haul not for a short term score. You can't depend on what other people are doing.
Chris: It's a topic that comes up a lot with infringements, too. If the brand reports six out of 18 sellers for a notice claim of infringement for trademark violation, copyright, whatever, you can't go to Amazon and say, "What about those other 12 resellers that weren't mentioned in the notice claim that are alive on the site selling right now?" Amazon doesn't care about those 12.
Chris: They care about the six that the brand flagged in their notice claim and you have to compare yourself against you. Your account history, your violations, your prior reinstatements, whatever you want to say, your own self. You can't compare yourself against other sellers when you write a plan of action to Amazon. If you start doing that they'll stop reading.
Chris: Is there another question tied to...
Liz: Yes. Someone has asked, "How do you check if the UPC matches GS1?" And another attendee said, "The GS1 website provides the UPC tool..
Chris: Some expertise on this. We talked to Leah McHugh quite a bit. She's the leading expert on the UPC/GS1 issue. She knows more about it than I do and she's contacted and spoken directly to GS1 herself so she can probably answer some of these questions. You can send them to me and I'll send them along to her. Time permitting, I'm sure she can take a look because this can be complex but in a certain way, it's simple. If you have a bunch of resold barcodes that don't match the GS1 database at some point, if those listings are gone, you can't be that surprised. That's all.
Liz: Thanks to JD, he just posted a link.
Chris: Okay, thank you.
Liz: I'll put that in the chat for everybody if I can figure out how to do that with so many little windows open. We're going to talk about.
Chris: He can follow up as well.
Liz: We're going to talk about product reviews in just a second but I think that it's important to go ahead and tackle some of these other questions first just because they're relevant to what we've been talking about so far and then phase two can be product reviews.
Liz: Going back to the beginning. We have a couple questions about TOS compliance with product reviews and that kind of stuff. We'll tackle those in a minute.
Chris: We'll talk about that in a minute. Yeah.
Liz: Back to black hat because we did have a lot of questions about black hat. What type of issues are you seeing that are due to a hacker? Is it mostly images? Is it stealing the Buy Box? Is it mostly ASIN? What is it mostly.
Chris: Yeah, there are sellers who are brand new, who are all of a sudden winning the Buy Box, who... Some of that's because they're attacking their competitors in such a way that their competitors are sent reeling and getting fewer sales and the new seller is black hat and they know how to manipulate sales rank. They've packed some positive reviews on their listings that haven't been deleted even if they've been reported.
Chris: When it comes to... There's a variety of black hat attacks. Some of it's... People just complained to me, "Well, I had a couple of negatives and there were crazy amounts of upvotes that came in on those overnight. How do I report upvotes?" Obviously, you have to report that to the product review abuse team. We've talked in the past about how that's sometimes effective, sometimes not that effective, often not that effective.
Chris: There's listing manipulation that involves anything from images changing, to bullet content changing, titles change, sometimes the brand name is changed. I had somebody hire me, I don't know, however many months ago, because the brand name was different. It wasn't their brand anymore. The brand was misspelled. Again, private label, trademark registered, brand registered seller wake up one day, your brand has a different spelling.
Chris: Some of it's just meant to sabotage you, to disrupt you. It's not necessarily meant to get you suspended. There's other kinds of black hat activity. If you're pounding your competitor with fake reviews that say the products aren't safe and it's fake, they're trying to get you off the platform. They're tying to get you suspended.
Liz: Or if they're pounding you with five star reviews over and over on the same day from similar language then they're going to get you accused of review manipulators. It's sneaky and awful which brings us to a really good question. How would you go about identifying an attacker? How do you find them? You said earlier that the best way to combat this is to research it, try to find out who's doing it, and then tell Amazon. How do you find out who's doing it.
Chris: Any way you can. There's a variety of ways we've used. Again, there's no one set of steps that we go through. Sometimes, I'm working with a client who has a marketplace growth manager and that person is able to figure out that the attacker has a marketplace growth manager and you compare them off and have them have a conversation about it. Is that the normal thing that happens? No, but that's what we do in some of those instances.
Chris: Other times, it's just obvious who's attacking you. You only have one competitor in a particular niche and maybe they have a history of buying from you and you knew by the address. You can look at the buyer address to see, "Well, yeah, it looks like they're using somebody in their company." There's a lot of sloppy things that sellers do when they're trying to do this themselves.
Chris: Some of the black hat services I've heard are charging thousands and thousands of dollars that not everyone has for this. Not everyone is a huge, huge seller who wants to use black hat. Some of them are lower mid-range sellers but they still want to try black hat attacks against their competitors so they try to mimic them based on what they read and what they hear and tips they get. This or that illicit Facebook group or maybe they go to an in person event where you have to pay to go in and listen to a black hat guru. I hear those are increasing in popularity.
Chris: Some people try it themselves that really disorganized and bad and sloppy about it. You can trace the orders that you're getting easily back to the company, the address, things like that but you're really just going for any bit of information you can get. Who's buying from you? What kinds of comments are they using? Are they using similar negative review comments on you and other people within the category on the same or similar items? You have to do some sleuthing.
Chris: That's not something you can teach overnight. I'm still learning how to do... I have to move with the adjusted tactics that these guys are using too. So I'm learning this continually myself. It's not that I came in... I have a fraud investigation background from my years at Amazon but as everyone knows about fraud prevention, you have to move when they move, when they sit, you have to sit next to them and stay with them and shadow them as much as you can.
Chris: There's different permutations of their behavior which means you have to dedicate a certain amount of your time and your day to following up on what they're trying, what they're doing, upvotes, buying from you, changes to listings. Do they have a vendor central account or are they just third party? You have to do some research and investigation. I wish I had a more concise answer but that's a big question.
Liz: How about for listings with UPCs that don't match the GS1 database? What's the best way to fix that? The question is, "What are the best way to get around that?" I don't think you can get around that anymore.
Chris: People have talked to me about catalog exceptions or exemptions and again, that's a question that Leah might have a bit more to say about. But you can contact the catalog teams, explain the situation and try to get some feedback from them on. "Listen, everyone's on this listing. That's the wrong UPC. I want to be on the listing. That's correct. Do you have steps for me to create that? Are you working on another active ticket to get that created?.
Chris: It's going to be a mess. Whenever they do this, I assume it'll be gradual. And it'll happen over time but it's going to be a mess no matter what because there will be a series of people contacting catalog teams and captive teams asking questions about, "How do I migrate from this listing with the wrong UPC that everyone's on to a correct one that matches the GS1 database?.
Liz: This person's saying when they use the GS1 verified UPC the ASIN is flagged as a duplicate.
Chris: Yeah, well, that's because everyone's on the incorrect UPC. You can start by reporting the fact that the UPC that's being used isn't accurate.
Liz: Okay, that's good.
Chris: Which they won't want to do if they're on that listing, they won't have the motivation or the incentive to do it but it does mean that at some point, all sellers on the wrong listing are going to get one of those... This isn't unheard of. We've seen this many times when people got that message that said, "You have incorrect information on your Detail page..
Chris: A lot of those are people piggybacking, resellers jumping on listings that had maybe not this but other kinds of inaccuracies and they all had their listings deleted because that Detail page error, let's say, your mistake was reported. Somebody was reporting it. It came to Amazon. Amazon doesn't have tools. They just scrapes pages all day long and finds these and automated actions clean this up. Sometimes it has to be reported by a seller or by somebody else but once it's reported, unless they ignore it, they have means of moving everyone off that listing and maybe in the future, what they'll do is they'll just send you a link to the correct listing. That's what I would do if I were working on this stuff.
Chris: It's going to be a mess. Amazon's not known for good tools, good communication, good standard operating procedures for investigators who have to implement giant changes like this. I think that's part of what happened last weekend with all the suspensions.
Liz: Yeah. I think so too.
Chris: Somebody had a great idea. I don't think it was just a glitch, just a technical problem. I think they were pursuing legitimate catalog cleanup there and they just had no good way to implement it. If that's not what they were doing and if it was more of a technical issue, they will eventually rotate around to this and have to do this catalog cleanup anyway so why get suspended for that later, why not clean it up now.
Chris: You want to switch over to product reviews.
Liz: I do. We do have some other questions but let's... You guys keep them coming in and we will do more Q&A at the end. But let's get through this next bit just to make sure you guys are safe with your product review request and to answer the questions you already have about Terms of Service in regards to product reviews.
Liz: What is Terms of Service say in terms of product reviews? You're not allowed to ask for reviews from friends and family. So many sellers do this. It's hard to understand why that's not okay. If your friend buys your product and legitimately likes it, why isn't it okay for them to leave your review but it's gotten to the point now with review manipulation that two people who post reviews from the same IP address, those reviews are going to go away.
Liz: Sometimes there are instances where sellers have suspected that because they were connected to the buyer on Facebook, they review got deleted. They're watching really close. Amazon is gun shy. There's so much manipulation that's taking place that if Amazon can link any seller to any buyer who left a review it's suspect. Just don't do that part. Writing review for your own product. Obviously, you can't do that.
Liz: Lowering your prices drastically or offering lots of promotions and discounts. You can discount. Sure. You can run promos. You can run social promos. But be careful about how you do that and be careful about how many reviews you solicit from the people who got the deepest discounts I guess is the best way I can word that. There is nothing specific in TOS that says don't ask someone who got a discount to leave a product review. However, if they've got something for 80% off and then they left a product review that could be construed by an internal reviewer as incentivized. It's a red flag and the algorithm's picking out certain things and those are things that get linked together for bad news.
Liz: Don't use third party services. Somebody mentioned when we're talking black hat before that people can join groups and get free stuff and then get paid to leave reviews. I actually had an email from a guy saying he was doing that and I wondered if it was like a trap or something, but I told him [inaudible 00:40:20].
Chris: It was.
Liz: Those groups do still exist. A lot of them got shut down when Amazon said, "Hey, no more incentivized reviews." Because it used to be those groups who are on the up and up. You join a Facebook group, you agree to review that grill thermometer, you agree to be honest about it, and life goes on. I know people who had whole years of Christmas presents because of the stuff that they reviewed for free on Amazon but it's just not allowed anymore. Using a third party service that's black hat that is against the rules is just going to get you suspended. It's not worth it.
Liz: You can't encourage only positive reviews and we're going to get into the language behind that in a minute, and then you can't try to get the email through buyer-seller messaging using the word important. Now when buyer opt out first happened if you had important in brackets in an email that was order sensitive or order critical, that's how you were able to get an email to an opted out buyer.
Liz: We found in the requests world that people were doing that to try to get their product reviews request through or trying to get any emails through buyer-seller messaging. We made it so you just couldn't put that in the subject line. It just won't save your template but people are being.
Chris: It was being abused.
Liz: It is. Yeah. When we don't want people to use our tool to do that.
Chris: Honestly, some of these things changed from being allowable to not allowable because they are being abused. If people hadn't been so greedy with it and surge all their efforts in this one's face, then you could still use some of this. But they're being abused like crazy and the only way Amazon responds to abuse is we're going to shut this whole thing down.
Chris: Amazon's the best example in the world of a few bad apples will spoil a bunch. That will continue to be true for a long time because... I didn't mean to slow your roll there.
Liz: No, it's cool. You know I could pick that roll up anytime. I live in that roll.
Chris: You and I agree a lot. The friends and family stuff maybe I disagree with you a little bit because I don't think you should be... You're likely to get a friendly, favorable positive review from a friend or a family member unless they hate your guts.
Liz: Right. You probably wouldn't ask them. You wouldn't ask the uncle that hates you the most to buy your stuff.
Chris: Anything positive only reviews would result from... Any behavior inducement where you're discouraging... I know your next slide is going to talk about this but you're discouraging a negative review. There's a problem with the product, problem with the order contact us. We've seen all the product inserts that one side says, "Is there something bad going on? Can you tell us? Here's our phone number." The flip side says, "Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Can you leave us a review?" Those aren't people even asking for positive reviews.
Chris: Obviously, at this point, if you ask for a positive review, you're asking for trouble. I think everyone knows that. You can't do this either. You can't say, "Is there a problem?" Again, I'm not trying to steal your thunder from the next slide but people are still doing this. I created the whole service around, "Show me your messaging before you make it live or before you make changes to it. Let me look at it." I still see this on a weekly basis.
Chris: You can offer great customer service. You can't dissuade people from leaving a negative review and only encouraging or influencing them to leave a review if it's going to be positive.
Liz: Right. This is a slide... This is taken directly from Seller Central. This is the... "Can I offer a voucher or a free gift? Can I send something..." Somebody else asked early on, "Can I send a free insert in my package?" Yeah, if you want to but you can't ask for a review on that insert. You can't ask for a review anywhere in your packaging. If you're giving them something for free and there's discussion that you really shouldn't ask for review on a packing slip either but that's an ongoing argument in the industry.
Liz: Chris, "No, that's much." I've got other industry folks that say, "Yeah, it's fine. As long as you're TOS compliant when you ask for it." Leah says, "Just don't do it. It's not worth it..
Chris: Because some people still believe, "Oh, I'm only asking for an honest review. So I can give them something for free. All I have to do is change or say in the wording, 'Can you leave us an honest review for this product?' And it doesn't matter if I'm offering a huge discount or if I'm giving free products out." That's not true. They still do that.
Chris: And then other people believe like I said a moment ago and I've heard this from industry experts, "As long as you don't ask for a positive review, you're okay. You can give a discount or you can give a free product and give a link to your site and say to your reviews page and say, 'Can you leave us a review?" That's not sure. Lots of people are getting suspended simply because they're using what we've decided to call the if-when messages. If you have.
Liz: Speaking of which.
Chris: If you're happy, leave a review. There you go.
Liz: This used to be fine. This used to be standard template language. "We hope you liked it. If you have any questions, please tell us but if you love it, leave a review or if you like it, leave a review." Or whatever. Or "If you're happy with it, leave a review..
Chris: Not anymore.
Liz: What's in red that if then they're looking for that and it's not okay anymore. It's just not okay. This is.
Chris: [crosstalk 00:45:46].
Liz: Go ahead.
Chris: One quick comment. Since they're under such intense pressure... I want to preface the product review discussion. Amazon's under a ton of pressure from buyers, from sellers, from the media, from people within Amazon. These teams are overloaded with contacts and overloaded with pressure and stress over this. Don't risk it. Because if you think you're interpreting the policy in a way that suits you but might not suit them, you're already upping the risk to overall the account.
Chris: If you're playing games with wording, like I said, you can show it to me if you want, some of it might fly, but why wing it? There are people who get suspended twice for this. They don't go back. They're done. It's getting tougher and tougher to get suspended twice for product review abuse and to even have them willing to read your reviews or your appeal.
Liz: This is an exhaustive list of the kind of questions you get when you get dinged for a product review request violation and for sure, this was me and I think it's fascinating because it is way more involved than what is actually stated in Terms of Service. Somebody asked, "Where is Terms of Service?" It's everywhere. We've got a product review, compliance checklist and a feedback... Compliance checklist that I'll share with you guys in the followup email to this webinar and Chris also will look at your stuff for you too.
Chris: Quick disclaimer on this list. Some of my clients had legitimate reviews deleted last fall during the purge or they had been accused of leaving fake positives and they hadn't done so and so forth. This was a list I was going back and forth with some policy managers and product reviews people. I was giving this list to my clients for the questions that they need answered to either restore your previously deleted reviews that were legitimate or assess whether or not you're abusing reviews. That's where this came from.
Liz: I think it's fascinating.
Chris: Yeah, it's an exhaustive list for a reason.
Liz: Yeah. Let's talk about the right way and we do have a ton of questions. We're going to answer as many as we can but do know that if you've got particular questions about some shady stuff that's happening to you, contact Chris because he will help you. That's what he does. And if you've got particular questions about TOS compliance with product review request and product review strategy for your brand, contact me or contact Chris.
Liz: Or contact either of us because we both have great ideas. Most of the time, our ideas are really, really similar. Asking for reviews the right way do include your brand name because that's important, that builds brand trust, it gets your name out there. Do be polite, of course, because if you're a jerk there only be a bad review to spite you. Be helpful. You can include great information about your product.
Liz: I have one customer who has a product that is packaged a certain way and he was afraid that when it was taken out of the packaging, it would tear so he made a quick little GIF of how to open it and just embedded that in his email and boom, that really cuts down on returns and, "Hey, you do bad things..
Liz: Any answer to my friend who just said, "Can you explain what was wrong with the wrong way slide?" Let's just pop back to that real quick.
Liz: "If you have any questions, then reply to this email. But if you like it, then leave a review." That's only asking people who have had a good experience to leave you a review. That's how it's interpreted by Amazon now. Chris is actually seeing people get.
Liz: He's seen people get in trouble for this language, right.
Chris: Well, the reason if he or she is asking what's the reason that this is a problem which a lot of people do ask that and it's a legitimate question, it's because from Amazon's perspective this is likely to skew how many positives you get. Because if somebody was thinking of leaving a negative which would have been an honest, clean, legitimate review, you're steering them to contact you directly now they're less likely to leave a negative at all or they're more likely to leave a positive.
Chris: It's not considered a 100% or even 90 something percent objective review system at that point if you're allowed to push them down certain channels that will be more favorable to you. Because by definition, like I said a moment ago about honest or not, is it honest? It may be honest, but it's going to be less honest if you give somebody a product for free. By definition, they're biased in how they leave that review and that's why heavily discounted items that were showing up in promotions, when was that two weeks ago. We watched people suspended. They were contacting me, "I'm using the service..." I saw it in the Q&A by the way, a couple times. A couple people asked this question.
Chris: "Why was I suspended for using this company, this service, the software. This tool?" It was mainly because you had a spike in reviews that Amazon, however they did it, associated with heavily discounted items or giveaways and that's been grounds for suspension dating back into 2018. I understand that a lot of people are saying, "No, we were just getting our brand name out there. We just wanted to sell more product and that's why we're heavily discounting it..
Chris: The problem is. are you actually tracking which of those led to four and a half to five star reviews at the same time because if you have a spike... Number one, if a competitor reports you for that spike, it gives Amazon something to sink their teeth into when they get the report or B, their machine learning, their AI is getting better and better all the time with this stuff. If they flag you for a spike in positive reviews and they see you're participating in some of these discounts or promotions, I know I'll draw some heat and some flak for this but obviously it gives them a starting point for an enforcement action.
Chris: Given the feeling that PRA, product review abuse teams are so trigger happy with reviews, you have to ask yourself before you involve yourself in that type of thing. Can you risk it when you know how trigger happy they are.
Liz: That's great. Hopefully that answered that question. We're getting a lot of questions about people's actual language and we'll get to that as much of that as possible. One thing I will say, my friend, Shannon from marketplace Seller Report told me one time, "You're not in the email business. You're in the subject line business because nobody's going to leave you a product review based on your email for [inaudible 00:52:26] isn't great..
Liz: Luckily, at eComEngine, we've got a crack team of awesome people who not only will review your account to make sure it's TOS compliant, but they will also help you set up great subject line, setup subject line A/B testing. They'll help you understand open rates and analytics and stuff like that. I can help you get in touch with them if you just ask me.
Chris: At ecommerceChris, we have a crack team of me reviewing your messaging. Right now, I'm doing it all myself at least. I work with former Amazonians that I work with Amazon. But right now it's me. Liz is giving you my direct email because I'm the one who's going to be reviewing your messaging because the turn of a phrase can mean every difference in the world.
Liz: Chris just doesn't sleep.
Chris: I'm not sleeping anyway. Don't call me in the middle of the night to read it to me over the phone. I won't pick up, but I'll probably see the email. I'll write back to you at two or 3:00 in the morning.
Liz: Which is always fun.
Chris: That was my one joke for today.
Liz: Ba dum bum.
Liz: Don't violate TOS. What we'll do in the followup email to is in addition to sending you the resources that I promise you will also link to the relevant pages in Amazon. Bookmark those. In Seller Central, bookmark the pages that deal with community guidelines, that deal with feedback, that deal with product review questions. In Requests, bookmark all those pages, check them often because they will change occasionally which is super exciting and fun.
Liz: Yes, we're going to send you those and then the one of the biggest questions I still get is how many emails can I send? Can I send a thank you email and then a feedback email and a product review email and then a followup... No, don't. Don't do it. You don't want to bother your customers actually. In addition to Amazon probably getting grumpy about that, I don't want to get five emails on the same Amazon order. I already get emails from Amazon. I haven't opted out because I've got a soft spot and I like to leave reviews and I think seller feedback is important. But I don't want to get multiple emails per order. I just don't.
Liz: You can't get someone to change your review. Now, somebody asked earlier, "Why is Amazon so stubborn about removing a review that's obviously wrong, that's obviously..." That's one thing. But there are people that also ask, "This review is damaging my reputation. Can I get Amazon to remove that?" Or "Can I ask that customer to remove their review if I fix their problem?" No, you can't.
Chris: You cannot. I have one suspension case I'm working on now which is solely based on that activity and then I had somebody... I don't know if he's listening now. Somebody contacted me last night and wanted to see if we could help them and that's what he was doing. He wrote it very matter of factly in the email. "Well, all I was doing was helping people sort out their problems then asking them to change their reviews." So that wasn't all he was doing. That's everything. You can't risk that sort of thing.
Chris: I'm sure a lot of people will say it's hard to know the rules. It's hard to follow them. I understand that it's murky in a lot of ways and Amazon isn't 100% clear even when they suspend you exactly what they think you were doing and why they suspended you, but they think that's okay. Because you should know what you were doing and you should be able to represent it to them when you give them your root causes of the suspension. You shouldn't be ignorant about what you were doing because you could have negatively impacted their customers, their buyers, out of your ignorance. They think that's the price you need to pay in terms of the appeals process.
Liz: Someone asked, "Can we ask the customer to leave another review rather than change the original review?.
Chris: I would not do that.
Liz: I wouldn't.
Chris: [inaudible 00:56:32]. Again, we're not splitting hairs here. Amazon isn't splitting hairs. If they think that you're trying to color outside the lines, they're not going to have a conversation with you about it. They may not even send you a warning. All the suspensions Friday night into Saturday, none of those people that I talked to had been warned for ASIN creation policy. They were just suspended.
Chris: They might not even... At some point with product review abuse, they might stop sending warnings and you're either doing it or you're not. They either catch you or they don't. They either suspend you or they don't.
Liz: I talked to a seller on Friday and he was telling me that he had this one negative review. It's not even a true story. It's totally fabricated, totally fake. He's contacted Amazon. Amazon said, "It does not violate TOS." Somebody asked earlier today like, "We had a competitor who clearly ordered something from us, left us a one star review, it shipped to their address." They were dumb enough to ship it to their address.
Chris: That's what I was talking about. That's something we could use.
Liz: Yeah, you know that, report it. If that doesn't work because Amazon said it doesn't violate TOS, open another case. Keep opening cases. Escalate it. Chris can walk you through what that looks like if you want to and somebody asks, "What's Chris's email again?" It's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris: C-H-R-I-S at ecommerchris.com. You don't even need me to do this stuff for you some of the time even when it's an escalation. I used to handle escalations, the so-called Bezos escalation. So I understand the escalation's process better than most people out there but a lot of these you can actually start at least begin escalating yourself if you understand the value of the material and the information you have to show them and you haven't written it in some crazy way and you've got it clean and easy to review and bulleted.
Chris: You can at least start escalating it like Liz was saying a moment ago. That one particular seller had great information. You have an address, you have information that leads to that seller... If they're going to shut you down or they're going to just not respond to you, you have other policy cues, other teams you can take to get for recourse on that. Because there's no way you should be attacked by a competitor that's sloppy and not be able to do something about it.
Liz: Even if Amazon said the first time that doesn't violate our TOS, it does. It does. You're not allowed to leave a negative on a competitor's item. You're not allowed to do that. Keep trying. In terms of escalation emails, people have asked some questions about other than the standard. Chris, I'm sure you've got some information out there somewhere about where to escalate and all that kind of stuff so we'll point them to that content in our followup email.
Chris: I'm weary of comparing apples to oranges and giving a blanket description of, "If you have this, do this every time." "If you have that, do this every time." You have to tailor it to the particular situation which is why suspended people who use generic copy and paste templates never get anyone to read those or care. It has to be unique, customized content, unique to your situation.
Chris: If they smell generic content... It's not just an account reinstatement appeal, anything, if they smell, copy and paste, you borrowed something from a seller form of public Facebook group chat, whatever, they're like, "Great. I get credit for an investigation. I don't have to read this. I can throw it away and move on to the next one. This is going to be great for my investigation metrics. Because I've been sent something that this person did no homework on, no research on, didn't write themselves, didn't care enough to put any research or time into it. That means I don't have to spend any real time on it." That's the way they view it.
Liz: Someone has asked, "How do you respond to a negative and positive reviews?" You do it right in line on the page itself. Chris, what are the rules about saying, "Hey, contact me so I can make this right," to a reviewer. Are you allowed to put in an email address or phone number into that public response.
Chris: That may do. Right now, this is like the UPC/GS1 conversation. Right now, there are 800 numbers on inserts. I saw in our Q&A there's somebody asking, "Can you have an insert in a package?" Obviously, it depends on what the insert.
Liz: This is on a public response to a product.
Chris: I know.
Liz: All right.
Chris: Email addresses. The party line is you're supposed to respond using Amazon's messaging system to anyone's concerns. Are you supposed to be getting them off that communication system into your email inbox? Not really. Are you supposed to have 800 numbers in various places? You're not technically supposed to be encouraging Amazon buyers to call you so much because Amazon has no control over the content of that conversation.
Chris: Way back in the early 2000s when I started working at Amazon, I was working on A to Z guarantee claims and lots of people were saying, "I called him and he screamed at me." I couldn't see it. It wasn't an email and it wasn't anything in Amazon's messaging system. It was a phone call. So I couldn't see what... There was no transcript of that phone call. People can say and do all kinds of weird things in phone calls. That's why Amazon doesn't really encourage that sort of thing.
Chris: But do they enforce it to the point where you give an 800 number for customer service, "You don't know how to use the product you need some help with it, give me a call." Lots of people have that on their packaging. Some of them have it on their inserts, and some of them have it on publicly posted messages. Obviously, not all of the sellers are suspended for that.
Liz: Right. Somebody just asked, "It's so hard to get in touch with most reviewers. Lots of times they have usernames and I can't look their orders up. Is there something I'm missing?" Unfortunately, no. If they choose not to comment as themselves that they use an alias or there's no legit way to find out who they are, you can respond to the review itself in a polite completely TOS compliant way and hope that they see it and hope that something good will happen. But unfortunately, the lockdown is real.
Liz: Someone else asked, "Is there a way to show up as a seller besides using the main account and responding to reviews?" I don't think so. Is that correct, Chris? You don't have a seller badge.
Chris: [crosstalk 01:02:42].
Liz: Yeah. You don't have a badge or something that says, "I'm a seller.'
Chris: Don't stop people and don't track them down to the far ends of the earth for this. I'd have to see an example of what they were referring to. I'm not sure 100% I understand, but yeah. The general guidelines are there for reason. Amazon doesn't want people chasing each other all over the internet or all over the world trying to figure out why they left them a negative review, a bad review.
Chris: Obviously, if you got bad reviews and you think there's a competitor behind it, you have a reason for believing that it's not just comforting to think that it's not a legitimate review then, of course, I'm going to say, "Do some investigation, do some research," but be careful about the messaging you sent in the context. Just in case you're wrong and it was a legitimate review, don't start attacking people and threatening them please.
Liz: The same seller actually clarified and said, "If a secondary user tries to respond to review, it does not show up as seller." I guess if you're the first response then it does, but if you're not, then it's not. Try to be first, I guess.
Liz: Somebody else asked, "Do reviewers get notified when sellers respond?" Not that I know of. I don't think so. I think that's actually in [inaudible 01:03:57]. They don't get notified when you respond.
Chris: We should do a compliance video with a reviewer at some point and ask them some questions. I'd like to pursue that at some future date.
Liz: Yeah, let's do that. Let's do that next. I do suggest that you monitor your reviews and you can monitor your competitors' reviews too. That's all complete... You can look at them and FeedbackFive helps you do that without having to scroll through pages and pages and pages of ASINs but I'm not here to sell my software.
Liz: Somebody did ask me though, "Are FeedbackFives templates Terms of Service compliant?" Yes, they are, of course. If you have been through an account review with one of our people... Even if you've got custom language, our people know Terms of Service and your email is TOS compliant as of the most recent TOS.
Liz: But people have asked if other tools are compliant and all that kind of stuff. There was one question about a tool that I'm not sure I would ask them. One of the first people that asked the question, you asked if a particular tool is TOS compliant? I would ask them.
Chris: Don't hand the keys to... That's like giving the keys to your car to a stranger that you see on the street and saying, "You can drive my car for as long as you want just bring it back in one piece." Don't hand the keys to your account when it comes to compliance at least to somebody who may not know what they're doing or may not be as TOS savvy as somebody like Liz at eComEngine is.
Liz: TOS obsessed.
Chris: There are going to be differences of opinion. Not everyone agrees with what I have to say and that's fine and the same goes for you. But make sure you make your own independent informed decision based on what they tell you and based on your own reading of the policy pages. Make sure they square if you can... If you've got an account manager, if you have an Amazonian who isn't from another part of the company, but who actually deals with policy issues that you can ask, ask that person as well. Get a reading from them and come to your own decision. Don't just put the fate of your business in somebody else's hands unless you just don't care what happens to your seller account.
Liz: What about manufacturers rebates? Is that an issue with asking for a product review? Should you ask for a product review from someone who's been provided a manufacturer rebate.
Chris: Actually, the meetup in Boston that I think [inaudible 01:06:27] when you were here as a speaker we talked about this a lot. People said.
Liz: I did. I spoke.
Chris: I'm asking... You spoke and you talked about the warranty... Telling them about a warranty. I haven't seen a lot of people getting suspended for, "Here's some warranty information. By the way, can you leave us a review?.
Liz: No, this is rebate where you get money back.
Chris: Okay. What my reading of that is up until this point in time is you can expect to get a positive review if at any point in the communication chain, and a lot of people are doing this on Facebook Messenger and other things like that, if you're hinting that there's something at the back end. "You don't have to leave us a positive review, a five-star review. But don't forget there's a rebate coming..
Chris: Right now, that's a gray area. I haven't been hearing... There were some people who got suspended who... I saw their messaging. They were offering rebates at the end of the sequence and they got hit for that.
Liz: You guys have inspired us to talk to some product review people. We're going to try to get some of those. We're going to try to clear up some of the gray areas into not gray anymore.
Chris: And everyone rushes into it. If it's like, "Oh, but rebates are okay." Then everyone does that. Then it draws more scrutiny then it draws more abuse. That's been the pattern so far. And then Amazon starts saying, "We don't know what the policy said about rebates in the past, but everyone's abusing it and people are coloring outside the lines so we're just going to shut this down and we're going to make it part of the..." Look what happened with the product inserts. There's no better example out there than the product inserts.
Chris: There was no messaging that had any reference to product inserts as far as I know in any way.
Liz: There is now.
Chris: What's that.
Liz: There is now though right.
Chris: Well now... Where did that line... I wish I had it in front of me and I can quote it to you.
Liz: it says, "No marketing materials are allowed as product inserts." I memorized it. That's the gist of it. Because Leah sent it to me.
Chris: Before the product review situation became so awful that was nowhere to be found. That was added later because everyone decided, "Oh, forget the messaging. Don't send anyone any messages. Just put it in the packaging." Everybody did that.
Chris: This even came up when I was at a meetup in Thailand about a year and a half ago. People were saying "Product inserts, product inserts. Just put it in there." And they were asking for positive reviews. That was obviously a loophole that Amazon quickly closed. That was understood globally to be something everyone should try. Everyone in the world tried it. It wasn't just in the U.S. marketplace. It was in E.U., all marketplaces. So guess what? They cracked down on it. Logical. But anyway, I'll stop talking. You have other questions.
Liz: We've got so many questions and I don't think we're going to be.
Chris: We got about 10 minutes.
Liz: Yeah. We've got a lot of people that are still hanging out with us. Thanks for that. I did extend the little Zoom time so it didn't just cut us off for an extra couple minutes.
Chris: I have a few more minutes. I could go about 10 more if you can do that.
Liz: He's got a call with somebody who needs help.
Chris: Somebody who needs help.
Liz: We've been talking about third party tools. I work for a company that makes third party tools. People ask, "Do you have TOS compliant templates?" Yes, we do. "Does that mean that as long as you use FeedbackFive, you're TOS compliant?" No, it doesn't because if you go and put a whole bunch of noncompliant language into your template, you're going to... Just using a particular tool that tries to keep you safe isn't good enough. You have to actually know the rules, follow the rules at all times because you're responsible for the content of your emails. Don't be a cowboy. Just follow the rules.
Liz: I'll leave this up for just a second. His email will be in the followup email. Please feel free to use that coupon code for a free trial on any of our tools or contact me. If you are a FeedbackFive user and you would like an account review from one of our FeedbackFive account review geniuses, contact me and I will help you get set up with that. There's a link I can share with you.
Chris: Hopefully, you can help me square the free performance notification with whoever attended this webinar.
Liz: I will do that. Just in case somebody says, they shout it from the rooftops "Hey, Chris McCabe's giving something for free..
Chris: Let's not share that globally just yet.
Liz: No, no, no. We've had a lot of questions about what... I think we're going to wrap here. You guys have been the best audience ever. But a lot of people are talking about like, "What do you do when you know that there's a company that is manipulating reviews? What do you do when you know there's a seller that's manipulating reviews?" Just like we said, how do you find your attackers? Do your research, gather as much information as possible and report it. If that doesn't work, report it again.
Chris: Like you just said. You just said shout it from the rooftops in a different context when it comes.
Liz: Amazon wants you to report bad actors, right, Chris.
Chris: Yes and no. They don't want to get spammed with it with thousands of contacts an hour because they can't handle that flow. They might say they can but I know they can't. Shout it from the rooftops means don't just... Part of the reason a lot of abuse reports are not actioned is because the abuse prevention team knows that sellers don't know what to say, don't know where to go. A lot of it goes to seller support and they report it through Seller Central. That's fine for the first five minutes that you're reporting something. After that, don't take that path again. After you send the initial email to community help teams, you've done that once you're not sending the same thing 75 times to them.
Chris: Shout it from the rooftops to me when it comes to abuse means you've got a seller that you're reporting. You should start reporting black hat services that the sellers are using not just the sellers and I can tell you from experience that Amazon's more receptive to that now than they were last year because they know some of the services... Some of them they already know them. Some of the people behind the services, they already know them and they're looking for examples. Don't just report sellers anymore. Report services and sellers if you have both.
Chris: If you just report the service, there's a particular way that I would say you should do that. That's a relatively newer phenomenon. Maybe I can help you out with that. But the bottom line is go escalate to policy teams, maybe try seller performance policy teams. It's the same as a notice claim of infringement. If you're being attacked and you have to keep disputing notice claims because you're being hit with fraudulent fake infringement claims and you keep going to notice teams that are overwhelmed and not very well organized and they're not doing anything about it, don't just keep going to notice teams.
Chris: Same concept here. Don't just keep going to sell performance. Don't just keep going to MPA, which is marketplace abuse, or PRA, which is the product review abuse teams, and only contacting them. What you should do, which I promised I would give more of an explanation before we close, is keep going up the ladder, keep going up the food chain and saying, "I did contact the teams you wanted me to contact. Don't redirect me to PRA. I've been there. Don't redirect me to MPA. I've been there. I've heard this from people who are manager level or higher at Amazon, You have to report this to the team responsible for it..
Chris: I said, "We did that. We're coming to you because those teams didn't do anything and those teams refused to respond or those teams sent a generic message and there was no sign of action. Maybe we're not 100% sure but we're reasonably certain that we're correct with this report and we're pretty sure you should be looking at it if not actually doing something about it and quickly..
Chris: Don't settle for the redirect approach that Amazon has which is they're overwhelmed. "I'm overwhelmed. Don't bring this to my doorstep. I've got a lot to do today." You can go to other email queues. You can go to executive seller relations. Yeah, go ahead.
Liz: No, no, go ahead.
Chris: Jump in.
Liz: This is important. Finish.
Chris: I'm open to ideas. There's no cookie cutter way of doing this which I know everyone sort of wants a template or you can use this in all cases. The bottom line is... Maybe this can be a new theme, scream it from the rooftops. Because there are people at Amazon willing to listen if you come to them the right way and you follow up with them the right way and you don't just barrage them with the same message over and over.
Liz: I think that people are a little confused about the path of escalation. You start where they tell you to start but how do you know where to go next? Is it explicit.
Chris: It's not explicit. I've given a couple just in conversation here today.
Liz: You've also been asked to provide a glossary of acronyms.
Chris: I've also been asked to... Well, I've spelled out what the acronyms stand for but the bottom line is.
Liz: You should probably put a little screen up.
Chris: I should if I had time. There's a ton of teams... They're very siloed. They're not good at communicating with each other. You as a seller... That's Amazon's problems and you have to navigate a very complex web of networks between teams. I understand that,
Liz: That's so true.
Chris: Your job as a seller is not to waste your time trying to get somebody on the phone to talk to you about this. You can try seller support if you want. If the first one or two times doesn't get you to a team that matters for what you're reporting, stop wasting your time. Put things in writing. Email things to... I'll give a list some of the email cues to try. There are many more teams. There are many more queues. I'm not going to publish them all on my website and say, "Go ahead and spam these all day long," because [crosstalk 01:16:16].
Liz: Then you get in trouble.
Chris: I'll get in trouble with Amazon. I'll get in trouble with a lot of people who like me up to this point because I haven't done things like that. So I want to keep it that way. But the bottom line is you don't have to stay silent just because you opened one seller support case or sent one email to product reviews and they didn't do anything about it and then you throw up your hands and said, "What do I do next? Nobody tells me what to do..
Chris: You have to educate yourself. You have to research some of the different teams that are involved in following up on escalations that other teams can't handle. Seller Performance, they get thousands of contacts a day. I don't even know how many they get an hour or a day anymore. Assume it's thousands. Even though they've got hundreds of investigators globally, they're going to make mistakes. They're going to miss things. They're going to miss supply policy. They're going to misread things you give them. It's only human. It's only logical that that would happen.
Chris: So what do you do? Don't spend all day bashing Seller Performance for their ineptitude. Take it somewhere else and say, "We went through proper protocol. We went through the channels that you gave us to report it. Don't tell us to go back to those channels. We've tried them. We need to talk to you about it." There you go.
Liz: Awesome. Chris, it's always a pleasure. Everybody, thank you for coming, for hanging in there with us. There's still more than 100 of you here.
Chris: I know. Are we that interesting.
Liz: I don't know. I mean I'm so.
Chris: Are we that pretty or that interesting? You are, but.
Liz: Oh, come on.
Chris: You are, but me, I don't know I'm kind of in the middle ground.
Liz: All right, so stay tuned. We're going to be doing short compliance videos. Take a look at eComEngine's YouTube channel. We've got a couple of compliance videos up there. We're going to be continuing to produce content together. We're going to do a followup to this. This recording will be sent to you guys once it renders and I find it on my computer in that panic moment like, "Oh no, it's gone forever," because that happens every single time. My email address is email@example.com. Somebody asked for that but that will be the email address that this recap comes from or this recording comes from. Thank you, Chris. You off. Go take your call and save the world.
Liz: We'll talk to you all soon. Thanks.
Chris: Yep. See you later.
Originally published on May 3, 2019, updated April 30, 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.