Documenting relationships is a crucial step when selling on Amazon that too many sellers skip. In this episode, Chris and Leah discuss how sellers can find themselves suspended for being associated with a suspended account and explore the importance of reinstatement through proper documentation. From business partners and third-party services to agencies and past connections, it is essential to have comprehensive contracts that accurately document these relationships.
[00:00:07] Leah: Hello Amazon Sellers, welcome to the Seller Performance Solutions Podcast. I am Leah McHugh, and with me as always is Mr.ecommerceChris, Chris McCabe.
[00:00:18] Chris: Hello.
[00:00:19] Leah: Hello. So, today we wanted to talk about documenting your relationships, which is something that I feel like I touch on in pretty much every podcast that we record, but I don't think we've ever actually done a full episode on it.
I don't think we have. We should probably clarify what we mean by relationships in terms of do we mean relationships with your business partners or with third party services, or with agencies who are managing your brand and so forth.
I mean, all of those things. So the reason we were discussing this before we started recording, a lot of times we see sellers get suspended for being related to a suspended account and really the only way to get reinstated from that is to either get the original account reinstated that you may or may not be related to or document to Amazon.
Why they would maybe think that you are related, but how you are actually a completely separate business that maybe just has some point of relation at some point in your time as a seller.
[00:01:21] Chris: Typically there's Appeal this as an error so you'd essentially be taking that choice, documenting this is a mistake, it only looks like we're related, but we're not actually related, here's why.
[00:01:33] Leah: Yeah. And so normally we see related accounts come up because of a mutual employee or a past business partner, a service provider, sometimes we even see it where , a third party warehouse causes a relation between sellers and so really that's where having documentation as to the nature of your relationship comes in very important because that is the easiest way to document to Amazon. Like, we are not the same business. This is why you think we're related, we aren't actually related. So what does that look like? That looks like things like contracts, which in general you should probably have anyway with, with anybody that you are working with.
[00:02:12] Chris: No handshake agreements. No I sent you an email when we started and no one sent an email when we stopped working together. We mean contracts, written contracts.
Dates and signatures, and not sending Amazon something that's dated today. That should have been from 2020 or 2019.
[00:02:31] Leah: Yeah. And so the contract would differ based on the nature of the relationship. You would have employment contracts with your employees, you would have service contracts with service providers, like a third party warehouse you would have some sort of service contract. But the main thing to keep in mind is that at this point, most people that are working with this in this industry have probably worked on another Amazon account at some point. And most likely will work on other ones in the future. So you need to have that documentation as to the nature of your relationship, because you don't wanna be held responsible for something that they may have done in the past, made you in the future, or even just somebody who they may work with in the past or the future who did some bad stuff that could cause relation.
[00:03:13] Chris: As soon as that relationship ends, remove those permissions. Save the date, get the documentation ready, which would be sending a termination letter and also just generally speaking, as a quick sidebar, not everyone under the sun needs access to your Amazon account is just to look at stuff, just to look at things.
We can't tell you how many people every day, every other day are trying to give us access to their account, they send us their credentials, really not the way to go. Not best practices, design SOPs that are hey, access to our account is need to know only. Unless they're really managing the entire account for you.
There's a lot of services that don't need to go into Seller Central and poke around just for the sake of it.
[00:04:01] Leah: Yeah, and so in our case, we only really do account access for our monthly clients. We don't for any of the project clients, we don't access their account because honestly, we don't need account access.
You can usually get the information you need either by asking for it or doing a quick screen share where you see the information needed, unless somebody is regularly working on things in your account. There really is no need for account access, and it's also worth regularly auditing who has account access.
Like Chris says we see accounts sometimes where there's like 40 users on the account and it's like, who even are these people, half of them, that don't even work there anymore or aren't people that you work with.
[00:04:38] Chris: That's the thing. A lot of these brands we work with have former employees that go off and start seller accounts.
Sometimes they were using their own computer, so the IP address is the same. They go off, they create an account that gets suspended. It's the same IP address that previously signed in during their job. Amazon doesn't always have visibility into these things. They don't always know exactly what happened.
And as we all know, sometimes they are likely to suspend first, ask questions later, and that's when the appeals process comes in.
[00:05:07] Leah: Yeah, absolutely and further to documenting your relationships, it's also worthwhile having documentation that shows your relationship with your suppliers or whether you are getting a manufacturer to make your products or you are buying products from a brand and reselling them.
It's worth having that documentation that shows either your wholesale agreement or your manufacturing agreement handy in case there is ever any issues around authenticity, or again, related accounts. We are seeing, not necessarily related accounts, but we are seeing a number of sellers who are using the same suppliers all getting action taken against them at the same time. So again, worth having proper documentation that shows that relationship on top of your regular invoices and proof of authenticity.
[00:05:55] Chris: Sometimes the factory or manufacturer goes into business for themselves, right? Lots of brands have complained. Oh, now we have a competitor. And it's the factory we used to use or the manufacturer, and then they get suspended because they probably don't know that much about Amazon. They just know that you're selling your brand really well on there and then there's a relationship already there.
So if you're not working with these guys anymore, get that in writing. Don't have phone calls. Phone calls aren't paper trails that won't help you. Don't have random emails. Something that is in writing, if it has to be translated. Get it in writing, get that translated very quickly. So that you have it ready to go in case Amazon ever questions the nature of that relationship.
[00:06:35] Leah: And then the other area that we're seeing this more so in the last few years as there's been more buying and selling of businesses within the Amazon space, is documenting when the business entity changes, whether that is a change in partnership or complete change in ownership.
You need to have that very well documented. You need to update the information on the account as soon as possible because we have been seeing a lot of sellers run into issues where Amazon wants to re-verify a previous owner of the account who they now have no contact with because they haven't owned that account in few years.
So having that documentation that this account or this business was sold to you on X date, that other person has absolutely nothing to do with the business anymore, will help you get around those issues instead of trying to find somebody that you bought a business from however many years ago, to do a call with Amazon to verify their identity.
[00:07:26] Chris: We've had a lot of people contact us recently for sure who said that they could not reach the other party. Amazon said, this isn't sufficient documentation, they couldn't even reach or find or locate this other party, that person was gone. Sometimes they even disappear before they transfer all the assets like they're supposed to and then you're stuck. And if you're being asked for documented proof and you don't have it, You might stay stuck. And that's a terrible thing, especially after money has already changed hands.
[00:07:59] Leah: Well, and sometimes it's years later. So how are you supposed to track down a person that you no longer have a business relationship with from years ago?
[00:08:07] Chris: Well, Amazon's re-verifying accounts. They're redoing some of the video verifications. I think what happened in some of the cases, based on my conversations this month, last month, what happened was the seller did one video verification that passed initially, and then they part ways. And they don't know where those people are.
And then Amazon says, by the way, we went over this again, and it's like six months later they wanna re-verify and that person can't contribute, can't show up for the video verification call. And they consider that a fail, right? And if they think you failed these verifications, they move you from active to deactivated and in a way that you can't necessarily recover.
[00:08:46] Leah: So change in ownership, change in company structure is kind of a twofold one, because you do run the risk of being related to somebody that used to earn the account or you used to be a business partner with and then you also have potentially verification issues.
Again, very important to document those changes to update the account. As soon as possible. And also revoke their access to your account. It's actually kind of amazing to me how many people have had business partners who they parted ways with years ago, who they still have as a user on their seller account, that that should be part of the offboarding process, is that they should not have any access to your account. Just in general, again, legally, you probably want to document the change in business ownership but from an Amazon standpoint as well, you need this very, very carefully and specifically documented so you don't run into these issues.
[00:09:34] Chris: A dissolution of a partnership, you're documenting that legally already, so this isn't necessarily something that different or new in terms of what if your former partner ends up suing you? You've got like the agreement all spelled out. You need it for that, and in case they go start an Amazon account, that gets suspended, right? So this isn't really that groundbreaking, hopefully.
[00:09:59] Leah: And then just a final note, if you do ever have to get your account sanitized, if there is any sort of security breach, make sure you check that business information hasn't been reverted back to previous ownership, because that is also something that we have seen where they just didn't check after an account was sanitized and then Amazon started asking them about previous business information that was from years ago.
[00:10:19] Chris: And in some cases, Amazon changed it back to that info themselves. The seller performance guys had done that.
[00:10:26] Leah: Right, that's what I mean. If they sanitize the account, they changed that information, they could change that information back.
If there's any account compromise where your account needs to be sanitized, just make sure you are double checking, not just your bank account, because you should be checking that if there's any account compromise anyway. But also check the business information and the user permissions just to make sure that nothing has been added back that shouldn't be there.
[00:10:49] Chris: Also what I was referring to is sometimes when they sanitize an account, they don't take the step of getting rid of the fake business info. They leave it in there and give you instructions to restore your password access so double checking it for that because we have had people call us and say, Oh, randomly this happened three weeks ago and I happened to look in my settings and find all sorts of crazy bogus info. Assuming that Amazon's going to remove that for you, bad idea.
[00:11:18] Leah: Yeah, exactly. And same with user permissions, they don't always necessarily restore the correct user permissions, so worth checking if the account does get sanitized for any reason.
[00:11:28] Chris: I do not miss spending hours of my life in individual days sanitizing accounts and sending password reset instructions to sellers. That's one of the things about my time at Amazon I will never miss.
[00:11:41] Leah: Everything else you miss all the time?
[00:11:44] Chris: Repetitive emails to sellers who had sent in really weak or subpar appeals or plans of action. Not the greatest, but over and over, going through an entire bucket of account compromises repeatedly for hours, not enjoyable.
[00:12:00] Leah: And so this is just kind of an extension of what I feel like I've been saying for years now, which is document everything. Everything that you do on your account should have some sort of legally binding or can hold up legally documentation as proof. Again, not just for Amazon, but also because this is a very competitive space and we are seeing a lot more legal action being taken against sellers, brands, whomever. So worth having that documentation to protect yourself legally and also protect yourself against Amazon making mistakes.
[00:12:34] Chris: And hopefully the days are coming to a close soon where sellers say, well, we kind of didn't do that right, hopefully it'll never come back to bite us or if we ever do have a problem, we'll just email Amazon, explain it, and everything will be sorted out.
You can't assume any of that stuff because sometimes Amazon just says, I don't know what you did. You don't seem able to explain it. Why should we spend time on it if you haven't taken these steps the way an established proper business should. So you can't really just say, well, we're new, we made mistakes, we didn't know. They really don't care about those stories.
[00:13:08] Leah: Right. And that's also where it becomes a lot more important to have very clear documentation. So rather than having 10 different documents that, this connects to this, connects to this, connects to this, having that one document that shows how everything was connected or is connected and how it is no longer the case, makes it a lot easier for you to keep track of and also makes it much more likely that the investigator will actually read it and review it.
[00:13:34] Chris: Yeah. If the whole thing's a jigsaw puzzle, they're not gonna spend the time on it, they're not going to understand it. They might put it on you to re-explain it again, but how many of them are willing to sit there and read through all of that?
[00:13:45] Leah: Right. If you can send one document instead of ten, always do that.
[00:13:50] Chris: Yes, always do that. Well, thanks for listening everybody. We understand there could be a lot of questions on this type of problem, so shoot them over to us, let us know and thanks again.