Chris McCabe is a former Amazonian who saw a need to help Marketplace sellers. While working at Amazon in Seller Performance, Chris noticed that when sellers got suspended due to missed metrics targets or policy violations, they went about reinstatement appeals all wrong. Some sellers never sold again on Amazon despite ultimately fixable problems. If they had the right guidance and responded to Amazon in the correct way, they would have appealed properly and returned to selling after a reasonable amount of time.
Shortly after leaving Amazon, Chris started ecommerceChris to help sellers get their accounts reinstated and selling as quickly as possible and today shares his knowledge of how to avoid an Amazon seller account suspension. If you’re unfortunate to have already been suspended, then read Chris’ previous article on How to escalate an Amazon Account Reinstatement Appeal.
Protect Your Amazon business with an Account Review
Do you know the most important thing that can make or break your Amazon success? The longer you ignore upkeep on crucial areas of your Amazon business, the more likely you are to face blocked listings or an account suspensions. Anyone who assumes that it won’t happen to them, or that they can remedy an account suspension quickly, fools themselves into believing Amazon will listen clearly when the time comes. They may not, and it’s best to avoid those situations by any means necessary.
Having seen the financial duress of thousands of ASIN and account suspensions over the past ten years, I’ve witnessed the ruins of a previously solid business first-hand. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you to steer performance evaluation and policy enforcement teams far away from your account, as much as you possibly can.
Think like an investigator! Don’t Take a Subjective view on your Account Review
First things first. If you need to email essential information in an appeal to Seller Performance, do you know how to communicate effectively and within a short amount of space?
In my experience, most sellers don’t.
The good news is, this skill can be learned and when written with the right tools, appeals do succeed. You must demonstrate your proactive efforts to identify problems and fix them before Amazon flags them for you. Once Seller Performance sees that you know what to do, and know how to demonstrate it to them, they appreciate the information enough to reinstate and properly annotate, in most cases.
Learning a solid “DIY” account review process is your opportunity to scrutinize metrics misses, policy violation warnings, item quality complaints or anything else that could draw negative Amazon attention your way. Amazon has shown time and time again that ignoring signs of trouble forces them to step in and take action. Once they get involved, they make you pay for all the times you chose to look the other way.
Great, I Got It. So How Do I Review My Account?
When it comes to performance metrics, my directions are straight forward.
#1 Keep Performance Evaluations to a Minimum
Make sure you meet your target metrics as often as possible, at all costs. We see Amazon as an utterly humorless company when it comes to regular and even in some cases occasional metrics misses. They created those performance targets because they believe all sellers should be able to meet them, across all marketplaces. Don’t expect them to accept excuses.
Amazon won’t listen to stories or explanations that involve warehousing issues, suppliers you relied upon who did not deliver, nor anything else that leads to late shipments, cancelled orders, and an overall bad buyer experience. Metrics exist to be met, and nothing more. For example, imagine if you faced having to cancel a string of orders due to a low- priced product error or technical glitch in your fulfillment software. Keep in mind that your choice between fulfilling batches of orders at a loss versus cancelling the orders and hoping for the best isn’t really a choice. A spike in cancelled orders will trigger at minimum an investigator review and likely an automated suspension, depending on the severity.
Don’t just look at bad buyer feedback or fret that you may have an A-Z claim go the wrong way against you from buyers unwilling to pay for return shipment costs. Amazon knows already that buyers may come up with an excuse to complain about the quality of your products to avoid burning cash shipping it back. They hold everyone to the same performance quality metrics knowing full well what outlier buyers may say. If they detect a pattern of problems, they will not accept those explanations, excuses, stories, or accusations, even if it looks like it did happen in a few cases.
#2 Keep Seller Performance teams and Product Quality investigator Eyes Far Away from You
When it comes to Best Practices around keeping policy teams off your back, things get complicated quickly. Look anywhere and everywhere you can in Seller Central to ensure they would come away happy if they go into your account. As many sellers have learned the hard way, policy team and product quality investigators sometimes take aggressive action on accounts in order to justify the time spent reviewing them. Suspensions result more often than not from investigator over-eagerness to attack problems with one comprehensive action, as opposed to sending single warnings a seller may ignore. In the investigations auditing process, those warnings might look like missed opportunities to stop a seller who had been trending downward and who created bad buyer experiences. To Amazon, it represents their own investigator’s fault to have missed an earlier chance to take you off the site.
Watch your ASINs — Closely!
Look for consistent issues with particular ASINs whether or not they are your top sellers. All too frequently, sellers disregard problems on ASINs they don’t care too much about, usually because they don’t represent high revenue earners. The issue with that approach is that Seller Performance won’t always look at your account the way you do. They’ll identify problematic ASINs and fail to see your attempts to troubleshoot. It undermines their confidence that you’ll know what to do to prevent future complaints and it leads to full account reviews for other potential problem ASINs.
What to do when you receive buyer complaints about item quality?
A. Pull inventory and inspect it for defects, or signs that the product detail page may not match it 100% in all respects.
B. Check out the Return reasons to see what buyers complain about. Identify any patterns of trouble before Amazon flags the product for review.
C. Prepare to email Seller Performance with a Plan of Action, in order to get blocked listings reinstated. Present a solid POA with, as applicable, any documentation they’ve requested to review your appeal.
If it takes you five attempts to address Seller Performance concerns with a viable POA, then you are doing something wrong. Worse, it may wreak havoc later on, if Amazon investigators scroll through dozens of annotations showing how many chances you had to get it right.
Correspondence with Seller Performance needs to be tight, direct, and concise, with format and space considerations taken into account. Make sure you know the right way to write a plan of action.
#3 Check Out All Blocked Listings for Valid Item Quality complaints
Are you replying to performance notifications and if so, what sorts of appeals do you send? Do you receive positive replies, or do you get frustrated with Amazon taking you in circles, asking for the same info over and over, or simply denying you reinstatement? Are you left scratching your head, and wondering what to do next? If your warnings remain unresolved or you fail to reinstate blocked ASINs, it’ll usually come back to haunt you later on down the line.
Enough unresolved listing blocks over an unspecified period of time will result in a manual account review. More often than not, investigators need to justify their time with a restrictive action.
Why are suspensions so common? For the most part, those actions stem from sellers who fail to understand where to look for the true causes of the item quality complaints that surface on their account. Amazon knows where to look for data because they have the order numbers and the text of complaints from brands or buyers right there in front of them. You as the seller need to dig deeply into why one particular ASIN may attract high return rates with “not as described,” “not as advertised” or “inauthentic” type complaints.
Have buyers mostly commented that the items don’t match the site description? Make edits to the detail page to reduce confusion over how the product is used. At least consider how to clarify what’s included with the items in case “missing items” or “not as advertised” complaints trace back to detail page gaps and misinformation. Do buyers keep saying the items are damaged in transit? Improve the quality of your packaging or secure the items inside the box better before they are shipped to make sure the order arrives undamaged.
#4 What kind of negative feedback should I investigate?
Examine the nature of the feedback you get. Many sellers read negatives about product quality and instantly tell themselves, “Amazon needs to remove this! The buyer is just reviewing the product!”
When I look at many of the same comments on reviews or feedback, I mentally circle possible item quality complaints. Given what Amazon wants from you, I recommend that you do the same. Remember, offering solid customer service and refunds after the fact registers little to Amazon Product Quality investigators. If anything, they are expected afterthoughts. When negative feedback comes in against your account with any hint that buyers believe items are “Not As Described” or “Materially Different/ Not as Advertised” let alone inauthentic, you’ll be in trouble if you don’t know how to handle them. Be sure to tackle that kind of complaint swiftly and thoroughly with a developed strategy for how you can prevent future like reports.
If Amazon questions the legitimacy of your products after one or two buyers do, you’ll need to have all supply chain documentation ready to defend product authenticity, including a letter from your supplier proving it. It makes the most sense to have all of this ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Ideally you’re consistently asking yourself these questions and fixing item quality problems in advance, to prevent such feedback in the first place. You can’t hide from poor metrics or policy teams who send notifications when Amazon flags product comments for further review. Get ahead of the problem, investigate internally and prepare to message Amazon to get the account annotated. Tell Amazon that you fixed the problem, and demonstrate how with a POA.
#5 Answer Buyers Sooner Rather than Later — That Means Weekends, too!
Does your biggest account concern revolve more how quickly you reply to buyers? Keep in mind that the more often you miss replying within 24 hours, the less serious you look as an Amazon seller. The quicker and more thoroughly you reply, the more likely you are to avoid having that same buyer impatiently shoot a complaint off to Amazon directly about you.
You need to be responsive when buyers look to you for quick help with a problem order. Your account management staff cannot take weekends off in a world where Amazon expects replies within 24 hours, at the latest! Anyone unhappy with an order could come to you as soon as they feel that bad buyer experience coming on. That could be any hour, of any day. Have staff ready to reply and troubleshoot as needed, within a small handful of hours. It sounds extreme but aggressive regulation of your incoming buyer messages and return requests could mean avoiding complaints directly to Amazon, ugly buyer feedback, A-Z claims, bad reviews or worse.
#6 Dealing with “Soft” blocked listings versus hard Performance Notifications
Soft block listing deletions simply mean that Amazon sends a warning about a problem listing that you can re-list yourself. For these, you don’t need to appeal to Seller Performance teams for ASIN reinstatement. Usually, they provide the percentage of high Return Rates and give you some examples of bad order comments. Amazon sends you these comments as clues to what might be going wrong with your inventory. Consider this a warning shot to get your attention and motivate you to prevent future instances where buyers may return or complain about the products.
You can’t simply relist and forget, rinse, wash, and repeat. That is not the kind of marketplace seller Amazon seeks.
Ask yourself some pertinent questions first. Should you inspect these products more before they ship, or is anyone really inspecting them? Is there something you need to change on the detail page to enhance buyer understanding of the item?
Study the problem from all sides and determine what actions are required, because if those issues persist, an actual performance notification comes next.
Hard blocked listings that appear on your account as Performance Notifications need to be addressed. Sellers push them out of their minds for all kinds of reasons, in my experience. Some simply tell me they are not sure what to say in response. “We only sell brand new items, sourced from a good supplier. How can it be inauthentic? How can it be Used (sold as new)”? The answer may be as simple as one or two buyer complaints, but you must take action on them, even if you don’t plan to list and sell those items again.
What’s the best means of resolving these account problems, to decrease the overall risk of a suspension? Getting the ASINs reinstated with a complete and viable Plan of Action, of course. What’s the worst way to handle it? Hoping and praying it goes away on its own, because you can’t stand to think of what may happen if you appeal and nobody accepts it.
At minimum, show some action steps in a POA-styled email to Seller Performance where you cite FBA Removal orders and deleted listings, asking for them to annotate your account. But I caution you from thinking that you can take this path every time. If they think you take this approach each time your listings, inventory, or supply chain problems create bad buyer experiences, you’ll queue up for full account investigation. That puts the fate of your Amazon account into an investigator’s hands, and nobody wants that.
#7 Dealing with Notice Claims of Infringement
Whether you sell Private Label or you resell, have you received Notice claims of infringement? Assuming it’s not a fake Notice claim submitted just to disrupt things (which would lead you straight to contesting it to Notice-Dispute teams), did you reach out to the rights owner asking for their terms to resolve it? Did they not reply? Again, please, no running and hiding on these. Deleting the listings and pulling inventory won’t be enough, not from Amazon’s perspective.
They need to see that you’ve taken care of these, one way or another. Resellers may not be allowed by the brand to sell the items again in the future, but they must at least try to get a retraction to reduce the risk of a suspension. If brands let you sell the products, then great, that also means they retracted the claim directly with Amazon. If they refuse to do anything, don’t get stuck. Figure out how to get an attorney to help you retract it and then figure out how to avoid these problems in the future, by avoiding valid rights ownership claims.
Take real steps to resolve the matter, one way or another. If you’re legally infringing on another party’s rights, take it seriously.
#8 Don’t Run and Hide! Don’t Fear “Poking the Dragon”
Don’t ignore big blinking warning signs! Review them closely and analyze what Amazon wants from you. Are they asking for invoices and verifiable supplier information due to an authenticity complaint? They typically flag a few ASINs and indicate buyers complained that the products didn’t exactly match the descriptions on the product detail page. Pursue an internal review and clear up what could be going wrong because when Amazon gets a complaint or two on one ASIN, more could follow if you don’t patch things up fast.
Don’t leave unresolved performance notifications sitting in your Account Health metrics. If an investigator lands on you and needs to start digging, he or she looks for data clusters or patterns regarding buyer complaints across multiple ASINs. If you don’t plan to sell the items again and already sold out of or removed the inventory, then great. Compose an email to Seller Performance indicating these actions, and get your account annotated. If you let it all slide past you, then your next investigation may uncover a batch of unresolved item quality complaints that you failed to act upon.
This is the best way to protect your Amazon account. Be proactive and look like the kind of seller Amazon wants! Amazon prizes buyer experience above all else. Don’t give them an opportunity to suspend you simply because when notifications rolled in, you checked out. Read, interpret, respond and get your ASINs reinstated. Anything less means increased risk heading into a Q4 that you’ll want to spend selling, not suffering.