Seller Performance Solutions
New Year, New You: Amazon Seller Edition
January 5, 2023
As we kick off the new year, it's the perfect time to review and assess your account. In this episode, Chris and Leah discuss the importance of regularly evaluating your account to identify and address any potential issues, as well as how to anticipate and prepare for challenges that may come up as you navigate the ever-changing landscape of selling on Amazon.
[00:00:07] Chris: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our illustrious podcast here at ecommerceChris. I'm Chris McCabe with Leah McHugh. Happy 2023 to you. 

[00:00:17] Leah: Yeah. Happy 2023 chris and fellow Amazon Sellers who are listening.

[00:00:21] Chris: Hopefully you're ready to talk about all the annoying intricacies of the appeals universe and brand registry, compliance issues, ASIN reinstatements, account suspensions and so forth. I know we are every year here

[00:00:34] Leah: But today I actually wanted to talk about avoiding those issues in the first place.

[00:00:39] Chris: Right? This time is a bit more upbeat, which is a great way to start the year in terms of assessing your account for potential pitfalls, problems that could result in trouble, but getting to it first. Reviewing your account properly, listing issues, going through performance notifications, making sure before you decide to act or decide to ignore them, that you put them in the right bucket. You understand what's going on. Your diagnosis is correct. But just generally speaking, anticipating what we even saw in the first couple days of this year, which was you sold as new complaints inauthentic complaints, things that could impact any brand owner out there.

[00:01:20] Leah: Yeah. And I just think this is a good time for people to start preparing for the year ahead. I mean, you're already preparing your marketing plans for the year ahead, your financial plans for the year ahead, most likely your inventory plans for the year ahead.

 I think this is a really good time to start planning your plan Bs. Do you know what you're going to do if something goes wrong? And how can you be prepared for those situations? So, I mean it's complex because it's not the same for every single type of product and it's not the same for every single type of seller.

 But I mean, first place I would start with is do you have all of your documentation? And what that documentation is looks different for different sellers, but pretty much every seller should have some documentation. Your insurance , for example, should be something that every seller has. Invoices. Your invoices, invoices that will pass, or your licensing agreements, your trademark information, your copyright information, your patent information, compliance documentation and testing, depending on your kind of product, not just have it, but have it organized and somewhere that you can pull from quickly and easily if you need it for any reason with Amazon.

That would be where I am starting in terms of preparing for the year ahead.

[00:02:36] Chris: And being ready for Amazon to ask you for really anything spur of the moment or to reject anything with invoices. A lot of sellers were just like, all I know is I need to have them, which is a great start. If you don't have invoices, you're in trouble.

But they don't understand, based on what we saw in 2022, at least, why Amazon's rejecting them as non-verifiable documents, why they're rejecting suppliers. People are still sending in, for example, invoices that have pro forma across the top.

[00:03:07] Leah: Right. So that was what I was gonna actually go into next is, is not just getting that information together, but also start reviewing all of your processes. So you know, what is your onboarding process with your suppliers? Are your suppliers sending you the documentation that meets Amazon's requirements? For example, does your supplier have a website? Are there invoices providing all of the information that Amazon needs to verify them.

 And then also like your processes around listings and your processes around quality control, who's in charge of it? Who's checking it? Because there shouldn't just be one person who everything hinges on them doing it accurately. There should be checks and balances. Also, if you're automating things, there should be somebody manually checking and what happens if that person is sick?

What are your plans in that situation? Or if you know your warehouse can't fill orders in time or you run out of inventory. You should have a plan B ready to go for all of these situations, and you should be reviewing your plans to make sure that they are meeting Amazon's requirements. 

[00:04:12] Chris: And regular listeners of this podcast, of course, hear us talk a lot about having contingency plans for appeals like Q4, peak holiday, we talk about, hey, have an appeal drafted or ready to go in case your top selling ASIN goes down for different kinds of reasons, have a draft or at least the blueprint of a draft ready to go, not a template for sure, but anticipate the problems you might see if buyers complain if you get attacked by a competitor.

This is kind of the same conversation about, have a contingency plan, but in terms of preemptive, right? Instead of just you get attacked and you're ready to go, you know, drop of the hat, now you've got all these processes and SOPs in place because whether January's slow or not, you know you're going to need this stuff because Amazon typically rolls out that, oh, now we're gonna do the You sold as new stuff again.

Now we're gonna do the inauthentic item complaint stuff again. Now we're gonna have a whole new wave of everything you mentioned: patent design, copyright, trademark disputes, which may or may not be valid, by the way. 

[00:05:14] Leah: Right. And I think also part of that planning process should be planning your own professional network, so you may not need help from people like us or maybe help from an attorney right now. But there's a pretty good chance you may need that help in the future. So why not start reaching out to them now and establishing that relationship so that can be part of your SOPs. If this happens, contact this person and, and get them up to speed rather than rushing to find the right person.

Maybe not vetting them as well as you would because you're suddenly panicked and in a rush and then accidentally hiring the wrong person. Like, it's much better to know who you want to work with before you need to work with them. Are then hiring the first person you come across because you've panicked and you're in an emergency.

[00:05:59] Chris: So this time you've given me the great segway, so I got you back for that. Because that's a great point for what I've been seeing lately, which was some people didn't get the sales in Q4 that they wanted, and they cast about reading a bunch of generic posts on Facebook or LinkedIn for a service to help them up their sales without vetting them, without understanding their level of expertise and without knowing whether or not their listings are compliant anymore. In terms of, you know, well, whatever we gotta do, we gotta just get some more revenue, more sales. Lots of people are out there pushing services that say that they'll help you rank higher, they'll help you get better sales. They know how to do SEO, but we're also seeing people hiring services that did what? One of them just created a whole new ASIN. The listing was actually suspended, most likely because of non-compliant practices and methodologies. And then I think the service just created the new, Hey, we'll get your listing back up. And they just made a new one.

[00:06:55] Leah: And that's something that I've been seeing a lot lately where they're like, they got it reinstated, but we don't have any of our sales history or reviews. And we had to put a different UPC on it. It's like, that wasn't reinstated, that was just a new listing created. Which one, yeah, you're gonna lose all of your sales history and reviews, and two, you're putting the entire account at risk at that point because Amazon doesn't want you to just make a duplicate listing because they didn't want to reinstate your original one.

But I also mean to make these plans across even proactive services in terms of like advertising and things like that, because a lot of the good firms, ours included, can sometimes have wait times because a lot of people wanna work with them because they're good at what they do. So if you have plans to start, say running your ads in a certain month, and then you contact your provider of choice and they're like, oh, we have a six month wait list, that's gonna put a wrench in your plan. So it's better to contact them preemptively, find out how they work, find out what the process is, and so you know that when needed, whatever service, agency, consultant, whatever is, is ready to go when you need them.

[00:07:57] Chris: Yeah, well in that case that we were just talking about, I think the agency or the service told the seller, Hey, we know how to solve this problem. And they positioned it as, Hey, we got your listing reinstated and there was no reinstatement and there was certainly no discussion about, you're not supposed to create another ASIN and try to just merge the reviews, or in a lot of cases you can't even accomplish that.

Or Amazon catches you trying to merge reviews with a suspended a and they figure the whole thing out. Which is a policy violation across the whole account. So that's the type of thing I'm anticipating, at least for January, maybe for the entire entirety of Q1, if people are trying to sell more now because they didn't sell as much because of the economy, because of marketing or ads reasons, because of any other reasons.

They're trying to recoup some of those lost sales and they're willing to do some of this reaching. So I'm kind of hoping that we don't hear from more people like that. But since the year is only a few days in, it's a little disconcerting that we've seen people using less than best practices.

[00:08:58] Leah: Yeah, I mean, maybe I'm just jaded cause I see that every day. 

[00:09:02] Chris: I mean, you see it all the time because you're the listing compliance and the brand registry. And just to kind of conclude this episode, amazon's aware that there's a lot of trial and error going on out there, and Amazon's aware that they don't necessarily give you the right info.

I mean, whether they acknowledge it or not. We know and they know that seller support reps give you all kinds of advice. Some of it's not even compliant with policy. They expect you reasonably or not to read those tea leaves and to understand that you're getting bad advice from the Amazon reps or even from account health reps who don't know what to say and just make something up. And they still punish you for it. Bottom line. So, your interpretation of a policy, Amazon's interpretation of a policy probably won't be the same. And then if you end up using a service or somebody that you hired to do this for you and they don't understand it either, they're not gonna go for the finger pointing like, well, we didn't know because we hired somebody to deal with it for us. If you have compliance questions, again, you don't have to necessarily jump right into hiring us to solve every problem you've ever had with compliance. But make sure you do understand the issues at play before you start appealing. You know, my usual mantra, I always hope this will be year. 

[00:10:13] Leah: Well with compliance you're dealing with legal requirements as well.

[00:10:16] Chris: I always hope we're in a year where people won't appeal knee jerk, jump the gun, send in three or four, and then like, you know, garbage and garbage out. You give Amazon garbage, they're gonna start messaging you back this generic stuff, which is either the wrong template or they don't know what you're talking about and they send you something and you don't know what they're talking about and just spins around and around and around and yeah, it's great when we find this out early and jump in and say, okay. Pencils down, everybody stop, stop calling people, stop emailing people. Just hang on, then we can fix it. But the tendency is for people to say, we're gonna try it this way. We're gonna try following what Amazon says. I mean, take what they say with a grain of salt. Because part of the communication bubble with these guys is just like, you're telling them, one, you're talking past each other, right?

[00:11:04] Leah: Yeah. And some of the teams I think have actually gotten worse unfortunately when it comes to communication. There have definitely been some gains. I will say that that catalog have been a lot more helpful in the past six to 12 months. So good job catalog. Some of the other teams, they don't seem to have the same access to tools that they used to, and so they just send nonsensical answers that don't even necessarily apply. 

[00:11:28] Chris: Which would be executive seller relations, what we've seen so far in 2023, and also brand registry. But we've seen that for a while. 

[00:11:37] Leah: I just expect that from them at this point. 

[00:11:39] Chris: Yeah. Before we even started this podcast, we were saying that brand registry was improving or doing better or was good at the beginning, but they've gone way downhill. Executive seller relations, which don't forget how many people love to write to Jeff, even though Jeff is in space or Jeff is in France, or he's on a giant yacht, whatever's doing.

But the bottom line is executive seller relations. I mean, we, we've been saying, Hey, it's not what it used to be like back when I was working at Amazon and the few years since that time, but now it's really a shell of its former self. So these, these messages to Jeff, you could really wind up reading anything under the sun.

 And the reason we're going down this side road for the moment is because I know that a lot of brand owners are basing their decisions and basing their next appeal and basing their strategy on what the language in that message says. And not a lot of people are thinking about whether or not it coincides with the actual situation. Because it might be a random response by somebody who's like, ah, we gotta get a bunch of these outta the queues.

[00:12:40] Leah: Yeah and we see them send messages saying that like, something is impossible. And , I mean, for us it's like, well, we've already done three of these this week, so we do know that it's possible. But thank you very much for your message. 

[00:12:55] Chris: That's the example we're thinking of, which we can't share more details on that. That's a client case that we're doing now. We had executive seller relations put something out there that was completely wrong to the client. 

[00:13:06] Leah: Well and it's not just them, we've also, you know, we've had the ads team say that the ad will never be re-reviewed and you can never advertise that product again. And then one escalation all of a sudden, oh, there's nothing wrong with this and it's been reinstated. 

[00:13:17] Chris: Right. The final word messaging. This decision is final. You know, you can see a fist being banged, and with one appeal, we fix it. People do take that seriously, when they put the final word messaging at the bottom of almost every message, it, it used to only be on one or two or three different blurbs back when I was working there. Now it's at the bottom of almost, we may not respond to further messages. They love putting it on almost everything because they wanna reserve the right to ignore you, right? This is how they handle sellers. But the idea that they're gonna put that at the bottom of a message. And then, you know how many times we've seen it, that one appeal goes in after that?

[00:13:54] Leah: Well, that's the thing. It's an almost immediate reversal, which is kind of hilarious. I mean, not hilarious if you're dealing with it, but after the fact you're like, what was that? 

Right. We'll do, we'll do a future non humorous comedy episode perhaps on all the crazy stuff we've seen them say, this is a decision's final, we won't be answering you anymore. And then, the sky's clear and the sun comes out and, oh yeah. Sometimes we err on the side of caution. We made a mistake. Anyway, that's what we've got for our initial 2023 episode.

Any questions on the wide ranging topics we covered today, let me know. Let Leah know. and thanks for listening. We will catch you soon.