One of the pressing concerns for sellers in the Amazon ecosystem is the nuanced policy enforcement trends, especially in a peak selling season like Q4.
In this episode, Chris and Leah McHugh dive deep into the convoluted world of Amazon policy enforcement, shedding light on strategies for effectively navigating the murky waters of Amazon compliance requirements.
[00:00:00] Chris: Hey everybody, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our illustrious podcast here at eCommerce Chris. I'm Chris and Leah McHugh is with me talking today about a lot of interesting policy enforcement trends we've identified on an ASIN level and account level suspension. So this is big stuff. Heavy material. It's Q4, people are heading into that six week peak or maybe already in it, and they're getting cut down because of a variety of policy violations. But it's not just listing violations, like the type of stuff that you see, and it's not just reviews abuse, which I think a lot of people, when they hear code of conduct, think,
"oh, that's for people who are inflating their reviews artificially", or they hired some idiot company so that's not me. It's showing up in a wide variety of ways, but the most important piece we want to confront today is that Amazon just continually says you need to successfully dispute this with examples that you never did anything wrong, or we're not even going to read the appeal. We're not going to talk to you.
So are you seeing that on the compliance side when it comes to brand registry abuse, which I know you're in the thick of that. To the eyeballs so much that you don't even have time to tell me some of these things. That's the great thing about this podcast, sometimes I get to learn new stuff from you.
[00:01:20] Leah: So product compliance. No, I'm not seeing that messaging. I am seeing it on ASIN misuse cases. And I am not really seeing it on brand registry. Brand registry still doesn't really give any kind of appeal path. The appeal form is just where you resubmit documentation that shows that you're the trademark owner.
So still not really seeing it on the brand registry side. They just like to send your abusive messaging rather than asking for anything. But I have been seeing it on the listing compliance side of things, which is seller performance, so that makes sense that I would be seeing it there.
[00:01:53] Chris: People are getting that you've engaged in illicit, fraudulent, or abusive behavior, but they still have to appeal it. They still have to submit something. Amazon must understand that they're going to keep calling in, and keep submitting things. So, in terms of disputing the illicit or fraudulent behavior, what do they tell you they're doing since that message, of course, tells you nothing. Probably by design.
[00:02:18] Leah: You mean the brand registry?
[00:02:19] Chris: For brand registry, there are some people who have abused IP reporting tools and they have those pulled away. We see less of that now.
[00:02:27] Leah: I see more of just the entire account being removed, or the entire brand registry account being removed.
But they still aren't giving a proper appeal path. You're given one form to fill out, that is your appeal path, and that's it. The only way that we've been able to successfully appeal these is through escalations. There is no appeal process outside of that form for brand registry.
[00:02:49] Chris: Right, but the appeal process mandates that they prove they never violated any policies, correct?
I'm doing the account suspension stuff where it's not just the brand registry revoked, the entire account is gone. Clearly there's a memo circulating, or they've been retrained to tell everybody you can never sell again. And of course you can poke holes in that because they are reinstating some people who do violate policies.
[00:03:15] Leah: Well, and we still, we always have and we still do get the, this account has been marked as do not reinstate and then we get it reinstated. So it's same as abusive. They love to say that you're abusive.
[00:03:26] Chris: Yeah. If you failed a video verification call, you're abusive. If you have a documentation snafu that you can later correct, that's considered abusive.
If you have a suspended account in another marketplace that you don't even use simply because of failed verification, that's abusive.
[00:03:42] Leah: Right.
[00:03:42] Chris: So Amazon's creating confusion and misunderstandings by overusing these terms out of context. But what else is new, right? They've been doing that the whole time we've been consulting.
So the real question becomes for what types of offenses. Is it just code of conduct where they say you have to dispute it successfully by proving you never did something wrong, or is it most types of policy violations, or is it you've been warned for this in the past, you continued to do it, now we're suspending you, and the only path forward is to successfully dispute it.
They never tell you what a dispute looks like, by the way. All they tell you is... Give us examples that you never violated this policy. That's their favorite line.
[00:04:27] Leah: How do you give examples of something that never happened? That reminds me of that meme where somebody never received their package and customer service asked them for proof, so they just sent them a picture of their hands being empty.
Yeah. Like, how do you prove that something never happened?
[00:04:39] Chris: That's funnier than what I was going to say. The example I liked from the past was how do you prove you've never been to Kentucky?
[00:04:47] Leah: Right.
[00:04:47] Chris: Do you just show documented proof of which state you were in every day of your life and show there's no evidence that I was ever in Kentucky and all of this information. It's a ridiculous thing to say. Maybe some of them know it's ridiculous, but I think the clumsy point they're trying to make is that you need to successfully dispute this to our satisfaction. And the point I wanted to make about that is that I've seen a lot of people appealing it with non dispute material. So, sometimes they're just blaming a service.
Like, we're not guilty. We didn't do this. We hired somebody who did this for us.
[00:05:28] Leah: Yeah or my employee did it without my knowledge.
[00:05:30] Chris: Right.
[00:05:31] Leah: Never worked before. Probably not gonna work now.
[00:05:34] Chris: I've seen tons of these, and this is the wrong approach. I don't know who's peddling this. I don't know if it says this on the forums, I don't know where this comes from. Or they say that and then they attach the document. Finally, people got the message on show documentation that you've terminated a service or terminated an employee. That word finally penetrated, but that's not enough. That's like a starting point showing that you fired an employee.
[00:06:00] Leah: That's effective if you're showing that your accounts aren't related to each other. But I mean, just because you fired somebody doesn't dispute the fact that they did, on your behalf, break these policies.
[00:06:13] Chris: Right, right. The policy violation did occur, and you can't throw employees under the bus.
I think account health reps are also confusing sellers even more by saying, document the termination of the employee or the service and use that as the basis for your dispute that you violated the policy. That's not what a dispute is. A dispute is you've been falsely accused of violating somebody's trademark and you can prove that you didn't.
[00:06:38] Leah: Well, so I guess my question to you is if they did violate the policy, what do you suggest that they do?
[00:06:44] Chris: Yeah. People are still getting reinstated that have been suspended for policy violations. The first step is to determine if you violated what they consider to fall under their code of conduct or not.
Code of conduct suspensions are treated much more harshly than minor league policy violations or listing violations. Don't start blaming the service that you hired. I think people got into this knee jerk, I have to dispute it by blaming someone, which is the opposite of what we used to tell them when writing a plan of action.
And also people are writing and submitting plans of action when they haven't been asked for. Either disputing things that way or admitting guilt that way.
[00:07:26] Leah: Yeah, I've seen people submit plans of action through support for brand registry revocation and that's just not going to work. And I also see it for compliance, like compliance, aren't looking for a plan of action. They very literally just want to see if the product is compliant or not. They don't need your five step plan to ensure that it will be compliant.
[00:07:45] Chris: There's an over POA trend. That's creating still more confusion. I think it's also, not just seller created. I think some agencies and consultants are telling people that because they really have no strategy and they have no ideas and they have no idea what to do, but they've been paid to help. So they say let's write a POA. You know, they have no other solution.
[00:08:05] Leah: Well, I mean, for compliance, if somebody's telling you to write a POA, then the person writing your appeal doesn't probably know that it's a different team than Seller Performance.
[00:08:13] Chris: Right. So your cases, the compliance stuff, that's a, that's a red flag when they see a plan of action, come back to them.
It means that they've hired somebody that doesn't even understand compliance any more than they do.
[00:08:25] Leah: Right.
[00:08:26] Chris: But, we're still hashing out some of the strategies in terms of escalations around, you know, what you admit to doing. The problem is, if you start out front by admitting to something, it's going to be ten times harder to then dispute it.
[00:08:43] Leah: Right.
[00:08:43] Chris: And that was one of the big points I wanted to make today because I'm seeing three, four, five appeals that typically they write a couple themselves, they hire somebody to write a couple others. Some of them admit it, some of them dispute it. When seller performance teams, when my former teams see these, they can look in the account annotations. They can see your prior appeals. They can see that you're changing your mind every five minutes. It undermines their faith. Number one, that you're telling them anything accurate, which you probably need to provide accurate info to get reinstated anyway. But you're not telling the truth. You're shifting your weight from your left foot to your right. You're just digging, you know, grab a shovel, you're just digging a deeper hole. So you have to decide and build that strategy out before you begin. This is something we've preached for a long time, haven't we?
[00:09:36] Leah: Yeah, and just a side note on this as well, because I think a lot of sellers have gotten into the habit of if the appeal is just a couple of check boxes, they just check them off and don't really read it and don't really think about it.
Some of those checkboxes, you're admitting to violating that policy, and you're also acknowledging that Amazon will not reinstate your ASIN. So you need to make sure you actually read what those checkboxes say before you check them off. Sometimes it is just checking it off to acknowledge, sometimes it's saying that you won't get that ASIN reinstated. So make sure you read those, because I've seen a few sellers check those off, not realizing that they're, one, admitting fault, and two, giving away that ASIN forever.
[00:10:13] Chris: This concept circulated that writing a POA or appealing in general means you have to admit fault because they won't do anything. They won't listen until you admit fault.
You don't admit something that didn't happen just to get the issue resolved. I understand the appeals process is painful. It sucks. You get stuck. It's terrible. That doesn't mean that you get tired of it and you start making bad decisions by just admitting to stuff and checking the boxes. And by the way, we're not saying don't dispute it because it doesn't work. We're saying dispute it with evidence, with proof, with a strategy. Because if they don't see the strategy and they see you guessing, what are the odds? I mean, how many people do we hear from who, we used to hear from a few people that would say, "I don't know, I put something together, I was just kind of making it up and it sailed through and I got reinstated."
We don't hear that anymore.
[00:11:06] Leah: I still occasionally hear it and it always annoys me. Like we put so much work into crafting proper appeals and then somebody just doesn't review one properly and it gets put through.
[00:11:17] Chris: I started referring to that as a streetcar named desire strategy, which is, we depended on the kindness of strangers.
That's essentially what that was. Or you depended on the laziness of a seller performance investigator who took a quick look at it. You know, looked at your appeal, looked at their watch. It's two minutes to lunchtime. They said, what the hell? They read through it. You seem like a nice guy or woman. I'll give you another chance. Let's reinstate.
That doesn't really happen anymore. You can tell with the rejection reasons. I understand a lot of sellers still say Amazon won't tell us why we got rejected. If you dig deep enough and If you get to the account health reps or the right kinds of reps and push them a little bit, they will tell you.
[00:12:03] Leah: Assuming there are actually notes as to the request.
[00:12:06] Chris: The caveat is sometimes it's blank and they're making stuff up because there's nothing there because there probably was no investigation or appeal review to begin with. But all other things being equal, they will tell you this was too weak and here's where you were weak. And also I think in terms of credibility, I sort of wanted to do another whole podcast on, is this even believable?
You know, you have to convince somebody. It's not just like, say all the right, nice things.
[00:12:34] Leah: Yeah. Well, my favorite are the POAs that are submitted, less than six hours after the suspension occurred. And according to the plan of action, they have like re- hauled the entire business and everything now functions completely differently than it did six hours ago.
So yeah, it needs to be believable. These investigators do look at these all day, every day. They've got a pretty good sense of it.
[00:12:55] Chris: We'll save that for next, for the next one. We won't go into the credibility factor, but you have to be convincing. One good way to not convince anyone is you sound like you're making stuff up.
You sound like you're just throwing people under the bus, either at your company or the service you hired. They definitely want info. They seem to be really interested in the services you hire, and that's still yet another podcast about trading info in order to get reinstated. Because Amazon seems intent on creating confidential informants out of the sellers they suspend. But, to get info on the services, a lot of times it seems like they're more interested in the service you hired than in you. But you know, that's not the basis of a dispute.
It's not, we didn't do something because we hired somebody. That still reflects on you, right? The key piece here being anticipate that you might have to dispute or relate a suspension for an ASIN or an account. Anticipate that in advance. I know people don't like to think about avoiding suspensions in advance, but anticipate that and have your reasoning for why you hired that service ready.
[00:14:05] Leah: Yeah.
[00:14:05] Chris: Before you even do business with them.
[00:14:07] Leah: Right.
[00:14:08] Chris: Otherwise, I mean, who takes the fall for a third party service screwing you over? You take the fall. They only take the fall if there's a mass number of suspensions from a mass number of sellers falling for those gimmicks.
And then Amazon becomes interested in all of these sellers hired the same people. What the hell is going on here?
[00:14:28] Leah: Then we get the Fiverr lawsuit scenario again.
[00:14:32] Chris: Right. But I mean, don't you see this on the compliance side too, where the same name names keep coming up? Well, obviously they weren't compliant at all.
[00:14:41] Leah: We really don't cause it generally doesn't come down to hiring the wrong service. In my experience.
[00:14:47] Chris: So the brand owners are just making their own independent decisions that result in a suspension. Let's for listing policy, talk about listing optimization.
Aren't there listing optimization strategies that get people, get their ASIN suspended?
[00:15:02] Leah: Oh, yeah. I mean, that one all the time. I mean, we've talked about that before, I've been repeating myself for the last five years that you need to know the policy yourself and you need to know what's happening on your account.
And then similarly with the compliance, you need to know the laws yourself.
[00:15:16] Chris: Well, that's why I mentioned both listing compliance and product and safety compliance. Because on the product and safety side, we've heard from and worked with some people who hadn't hired like an FDA attorney before they went ahead and did what they did, right?
[00:15:29] Leah: Yeah. And also something to keep in mind if you're importing regulated products is if you're the importer of record, you are the one that is legally liable for those products in this country. So, that's also something where I've seen people maybe not buying from the most scrupulous manufacturers overseas who don't have the compliance in this country.
Sometimes they know that they don't have the compliance in this country. And they're still selling it to people to import into the United States. Which again, just ultimately comes down to you need to know this stuff yourself. You can't assume that whoever you're working with is doing the right thing.
[00:16:06] Chris: I've seen people try to appeal blaming their manufacturer. I have seen that as part of an appeal that is a dispute.
[00:16:13] Leah: Just one quick note on the brand registry thing, since we are talking about disputing. Even though they don't give you the opportunity to really dispute it, we are still seeing a lot of false or incorrect brand registry restrictions. I'm certainly seeing a lot more correct ones, too. So we're seeing a lot just in general, but I'm still seeing a good number of accounts that there's just no legitimate reason as to why it is being rejected. And when we push, we do eventually get to that point.
But it seems like there's a lot of confusion internally as well, because when you push, we tend to get back the, "yeah, we don't really know why this was rejected. We're going to have to dig into this," and then eventually it comes back. So we are still seeing a good number of false positives, but also a good number of people breaking policy.
[00:17:04] Chris: Right. If you're accused of illicit, fraudulent, deceptive activity, don't admit that right out of the gate. If none of that's true and if Amazon is wrong, dispute it. You know, not to go back into the don't write a POA that doesn't belong, but some people sent me appeals where they said, " these are the things we may have done wrong that may have gotten you thinking that we may have done something illicit or fraudulent or deceptive."
No, a lot of those people weren't doing anything. Amazon messed up. So in conclusion, I understand that a lot of this low quality material or information is floating around in the forums, or I don't know if I still use Facebook, maybe I would see some of it on Facebook, but you get the idea. Don't have kind of this copy and paste mentality of, I want to get this over with, I want to just tell them what they want to hear.
Because that's not what this is. You're just digging a deeper hole. If you're going to dispute it, have grounds, have proof. And if you're apologizing and accepting responsibility and writing misguided POAs just hoping that admitting something will get you through it, consider the nature of the violation. Does it fall under seller code of conduct? Are there other issues at play? Other policy enforcement actions that were left unresolved? I see a lot of that too. Run it by me, and run it by Leah. We're happy to talk to you 24/7, midnight, 1am, during Q4
[00:18:36] Leah: I will not make that promise, but you can message Chris at 2 am.
[00:18:39] Chris: 2 am European time, Central European time. We will be available.
[00:18:43] Leah: Sure, yes.
[00:18:45] Chris: Okay. Thanks for listening everybody. We know it's a tough time of year, busy time of year. But also hectic and a little scary with some of these suspension trends going around. Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you soon.