Seller Performance Solutions
AI vs The People
March 14, 2024
As online marketplaces evolve, the reliance on automated systems for compliance and product listing management has grown exponentially. Yet, this technological advance brings its own set of challenges. Sellers find themselves at the mercy of algorithms that, while efficient, can sometimes miss the mark. In this episode, Chris & Leah dive into the strategies that successful sellers are employing to not just cope with but thrive amidst these unprecedented challenges.
[00:00:00] Chris: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, or welcome for the first time. If this is your first time listening to our podcast, I'm Chris McCabe with Leah McHugh. We're fresh off the Prosper Show, or one of us is. You stayed at home to work compliance cases, and appeals, and escalations non stop, so I spared you the flight to a hotel in Vegas this time.

[00:00:22] Leah: Yeah, while Chris was partying, I was writing appeals. 

[00:00:24] Chris: Oh, I would not use that word. I would not use that word, but it's funny because right before we started recording this, I was just thinking how seven, or eight years into prosper I think it is. I'm still getting people like sending me these messages. Have a great time in Vegas. Don't party too hard in Vegas. What are you gonna see? What are you gonna do? I was in Mandalay Bay, I think for two and a half days straight without going outside. 

[00:00:51] Leah: No, you went to Topgolf, right?

[00:00:53] Chris: I did go to Topgolf and that was sort of like going outside, but I got a ride there from the casino. So, like, I was dropped, I mean, I went up the steps. 

[00:01:01] Leah: So, you just didn't see the sun for two and a half days. 

[00:01:04] Chris: No, I saw the sun through a window. Like through the hotel room window, or through the window by the, is that the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, I guess? 

[00:01:12] Leah: So, for those who have not been to Prosper, Prosper is a full day show for multiple days, and then every single night there are multiple parties.

[00:01:21] Chris: Three days. 

[00:01:22] Leah: So you are non stop for three whole days in Vegas. 

[00:01:28] Chris: For those of you not listening. 

[00:01:29] Leah: It is quite a lot. Intense. 

[00:01:31] Chris: For those of you not listening who are looking at a video, I'm holding up three fingers. It's three days. And yeah, I did go outside. By the way this whole podcast won't be about this. I did go outside at night. So I did not go out in the daytime for almost the entire time I was in Vegas. I did go to one of those famous Frank Sinatra, you know, restaurants. That was at night, and I went to Topgolf at night. So there you go. And I went to the ice bar party. Yes. Thank you to Smartscout, and to Jed Ross, and The Piranha who sponsored the ice bar party. I did go to that. That was very cool and interesting. 

[00:02:10] Leah: And Brandon Young data dive topgolf party. 

[00:02:12] Chris: Yeah. Brandon Young did the Topgolf party. He does that every year. So if you haven't been to that go next year. That's kind of a who's who of who knows what to do with Amazon selling, and brand management. I spent all three days in the think tanks. Not entirely. It was kind of chunks of each day. But the think tanks are like workshops at Prosper. I'm pretty sure they went well, and they'll get good feedback on them. I'm pretty sure they'll do it next year. 

[00:02:40] Leah: Well it's a change up from the other, cause most of the talks at Prosper are mostly, you know, presentation based. They have panels. And they do you know, sort of interview style. But the think tanks are really the main piece where it's interactive, and the sellers get to speak to each other, get to speak to the moderator. Which is Chris for many of them today. I think Liz LaVallee was a moderator of one of them. 

[00:03:02] Chris: Liz LaVallee, josh Cowan was there. He used to work at Amazon. Oh, Silvio of Quartile was one of the moderators. There were several. There were different people every day. Oh, Josh Hadley was there. I think he's the only other one that did every single day. So I did three. One group was kind of like newer seven figure brands. I think they called it zero to six years of selling. I mean forget the years because, it's more like how big the account is and how rapidly they grow, right? That's kind of one observation I took away, because I also did another day with established brands who were, you know, either past six years or let's say past 6 million in sales, probably 10 or more million. And it was just a good mix of questions. I really hope they bring it back next year. It was a good chance for me to interact with people one on one, or six on one. I think there were six per table. And then the tables would rotate, right? I would go to a different table. 

[00:03:55] Leah: Right. 

[00:03:55] Chris: And the questions would be different every table. 

[00:03:58] Leah: Well, and this is a very big reason why we structure the Seller Velocity Conference the way we do. So there isn't really just, you know, sitting and being talked at.

[00:04:06] Chris: Right. 

[00:04:06] Leah: You are having the interaction. You're getting to ask questions. You're getting to riff with the other sellers in the room.

[00:04:11] Chris: Right. 

[00:04:11] Leah: And you're really getting to network at the same. 

[00:04:13] Chris: And they did. And there were a few brand owners that were sitting in a row. Three women were sitting in a row, and they were like talking to each other, and networking with each other kind of before I was talking to them. And after, I saw them and they were answering each other's questions because they were seasoned vet brand owners, but also maybe they had experienced some of the same things. Which again is what's great about, not to shift the conversation to our conference so quickly, but that's what we're doing too. We're getting seasoned veteran, high strategy seeking brand owners together so that they can talk to each other. Not just to talk to us. 

[00:04:46] Leah: Right. Well, I mean everybody always says the best biggest thing they get out of conferences is their relationships, and so why not combine the content with the relationship building together, and utilize the expertise in the room rather than just the expert in front of everybody. 

[00:05:02] Chris: Yeah, and why i'm jazzed up about this today isn't just two the two, three cups of coffee I've had, it's because I think this is a fundamental shift in Amazon / Ecommerce conferences with Maybe the slides. I mean, for stuff that's really nuanced or complex where you need the visuals, yes, of course there's going to be a handful of slides. But maybe the 45 minute PowerPoint slide deck we talk about this all the time, maybe that's finally receding into the background. And quite honestly, when I've given those talks six or seven times at Prosper, there's a line of 12, 15 people who queue up to ask you questions. 

[00:05:39] Leah: Yep. 

[00:05:40] Chris: Which is not ideal. 

[00:05:41] Leah: Well and then everybody doesn't benefit from the questions and the answers, because they have to come to you after the fact.

[00:05:46] Chris: Not only that, and I put a lot of thought into this again, because I did the think tank tanks every single day. And it really just pounded home the message to me, not to, you know, attendees as much, that this is a fundamental shift and it's better. Because when a dozen people are queuing up, I mean, we used to do the workshops together at Prosper2. So if you're in a room with us for three hours, of course you're around us long enough to get your questions answered. But when I do talks for 45 minutes, and then there's a dozen people who queue up at the mic, time would run out on some of those, some of them would lose interest, some of them would peel off, and they would maybe never find me later at the conference, or maybe it would be up to me to find them during the lunch, and it's just not the best way to do it. With the think tanks, some of those attendees came back on multiple days. So if they didn't ask me something day one, they saw me on day two. Everyone got their questions answered and everyone knew where to find me, whether it was within Prosper or afterwards. So I'm definitely a believer in the workshop model, and the interpersonal connection because I had a chance to tell them stuff. They told me their stories, but there is also time for Q and A. 

[00:06:58] Leah: Well, and it kind of goes back to what we talk about in terms of the consulting. There's a big benefit to having a wide range of experience and, you know, we're lucky enough to get that because we're working on lots of people's accounts all of the time, but if you can extend that to the experience of all of the people in the room, I mean, why wouldn't you do that? There's so much value to be had there and it's so much more easy to integrate when that is the format. 

[00:07:24] Chris: Yeah. So, we can do kind of a part two episode with examples of some of the questions that we were going through. I'm still kind of sifting. 

[00:07:32] Leah: I think this is part two. That would be part three.

[00:07:35] Chris: We'll do it. We'll do a sequel to this because I have a lot of notes. Another great thing about the think tanks, by the way, you're writing everything down as you go. It's kind of hard as a moderator because I'm asking questions while writing. So you have to walk and chew gum, you know, times a thousand.

But, I have tons of notes afterwards. So that's another thing, that this doesn't fade into the ether. Like I have the notes on those flip boards. I don't know what you call those things. That like butcher paper stuff that you're writing on. 

[00:08:05] Leah: Flipboard, I think. 

[00:08:06] Chris: Right. And they say that they're going to email all that out. They're going to take pictures of all of it. I took pictures of all of it so I can share it too. But it means I remember people's questions, and I probably wrote something indicative of my own answer to their question. So you know, enough promo about the think tanks. I'm sure they'll bring those back. A lot of brand owners I spoke to are catching up to the idea that their ASIN flags and takedowns are a mixture of automation, and human error. And the biggest takeaway I had, I'll let, you know, some attendees kind of chime in and speak for themselves, but was how the appeals process has changed. Has kind of gotten past a few of these brand owners that were checking boxes without knowing what they were checking. We talked about that before. Some of them are still hooked into what account health reps are hooked into. Which is this plan of action, plan of action. And that's the old days. That's not really now. So some of them are kind of living in the past, but they're catching up to that.

[00:09:06] Leah: They do still ask for a plan of action for a couple of things, but it's very specific scenarios that they're asking for that. 

[00:09:12] Chris: And we talked about that. We talked about that. We talked about, look, they still do say, you know, give us a plan of action in legitimate circumstances when they do need one, but that's when it's in the performance notification that says if you fouled something up, long story short, if you're accepting responsibility for whatever the problem is in the ASIN could be a bunch of things, then we're going to need a plan of action. If you're disputing it. Dispute it. The problem is there's a lot of false flags. There's a lot of automation errors. Sometimes the automation isn't even that incorrect per se. It's just an understandable automation error, but there's a human error that compounds it. And so we spent a lot of time talking about that because for the first day, day and a half, especially with the newer brands, newer sellers, I was talking to, they were just confused. Like you're flagging this. It's obvious that this is a mistake. It's like, yeah, I know it's a drag. You have to spell out to Amazon why their automation sucks, or why it's a mistake. But that's the dispute. I mean, at least now they give you that. 

[00:10:11] Leah: That's true. At least they give you the option. They kind of hide it down the bottom of the page, but they do at least give you that option. I think what is confusing, and I believe I maybe mentioned this in last week's episode, is that sometimes when you send in the dispute, if they reject your dispute, the rejection letter says to provide greater details on your plan of action, which then further confuses sellers as to what they are supposed to provide.

[00:10:30] Chris: And we talked about that, or they, for whatever reason, they just get the generic message that doesn't say greater details. But they think, okay, the dispute was rejected. Now I got to switch to sending in a plan of action. And then they just start spinning. And then it's worse that, and I had a conversation with somebody last night who said they called in account health and they talked to several reps, according to this person. All of them were in the U.S., none of them were in India. They all said, provide a plan of action. What are we doing with them today? We're doing a dispute. I'm about to sit down and write it. Why am I doing that? Because they never should have been asked for a plan of action. 

[00:11:05] Leah: Well, right. If they didn't do the thing that they're accused of, then a plan of action doesn't make any sense. I'm also doing that for a client currently. 

[00:11:11] Chris: Today. Yeah. And it's preposterous. It's one product review by a product reviewer who's left ridiculous reviews on all kinds of pages, and accounts, or ASINs. And, you know, it's, it's one single one off it's ridiculous. 

[00:11:26] Leah: Yeah. The one thing I've been asking myself lately is, is the automation getting worse, or is the automation just getting more prevalent? So like, were things just more manually checked before, and so it just seemed like the automation worked better? 

[00:11:40] Chris: I mean, I have a good answer, though. I think it doesn't matter. I think we can just safely assume the automation might get worse. The appeals strategy and approach is going to be similar to a dispute. 

[00:11:52] Leah: Oh, I mean, in terms of just, I mean, across the board. So in terms of it being flagged and in terms of the review, I mean, at least on my side, more and more of my stuff appears to be being automatically reviewed. 

[00:12:02] Chris: Compliance is getting worse on the... Sorry for stepping on what you're saying. Compliance flags, I think are getting, I mean, you're doing that 90 percent more than me. But it looks like those are getting worse. And I think I mentioned to you a couple of examples from my think tanks, where people were selling, there was somebody who's selling rope, but not climbing rope, and they kept hounding him for, you know, these are the climbing rope. I mean, it's another kind of rope. Right. And there were so many examples of that. That made such an impression on me that it kept recurring over and over for three days, all these false flags. Well, some of them have account managers. I mean, some of them, like I said, on day two or was it day three, there were the larger established brands who had been doing it, you know, six or more years, they were mostly eight figure sellers, so they knew what they were doing. They had account managers. 

[00:12:55] Leah: Managers don't always, you know, have the ability to resolve these either. 

[00:12:58] Chris: Well, it was, sometimes they were eventually fixing it. It was just taking so long. Really long time. But some of them weren't relying on their account managers. They were trying to do it themselves, or talking to account health, and they realized, you know, there's, there's a mixture of compounded errors in the system. Some of it's automated, some of it's human. There doesn't seem to be a lot of quality assurance on either side. I don't think they're tweaking the bots or the algorithms in terms of which they want to grab.

[00:13:26] Leah: For me on the compliance side of things It just seems like they give you the option to dispute, but they don't seem to give the people reviewing it instructions on how to review a dispute. Because very rarely do they accept a dispute. Usually you just get the same response back asking for the same nonsensical information, but that doesn't apply to your product. So if you're going to have the option to dispute that something applies to your product, you need to have the people reviewing it knowledgeable enough to be able to understand the dispute, because consistently we have to escalate disputes in order to get them reviewed properly. Whereas if it were just they have the option, but they didn't do the training, it seems like. 

[00:14:12] Chris: I mean, I think what scares me the most is the compound nature. It's like, one error is hard enough to resolve when you're dealing with one. It's kind of like fighting a two front war when you're trying to reinstate a really important ASIN, you're trying to clean up your account health, and you could be doing most of it right on your side. And it's frustrating to have Amazonians getting in your way or tools getting in your way. I know that's kind of an old story, but what worries me for 2024 is that, you know, two, or three hurdles versus one is a different equation, and it's going to be harder to strategize that. 

[00:14:50] Leah: And what worries me, and I know we talked about this on LinkedIn. I'm not entirely sure if we talked about this on the podcast before, if we did, and I'm repeating myself, I'm sorry. But a lot of times sellers give up, they just are like, I just won't sell this product anymore. It's not worth it. And they don't bother getting it cleared from their account health dashboard because they get stuck in this nonsensical loop.

And then we're seeing people getting their accounts suspended for having unresolved restricted products. 

[00:15:16] Chris: Or lower account health scores as a result. Yes. 

[00:15:19] Leah: Well, so restricted products have no impact on account health until it suspends your account. But I think that's why people do leave them. They get stuck in this loop, and then they're just like, It's not worth selling this product. I'm just not going to sell this product anymore. The account health dashboard says this has no impact on my account health, so I'm just going to leave it and give up. And then they get an account suspension, and then they have to deal with that all over again. 

[00:15:43] Chris: Right. I'm not even talking about restrictions, I'm talking about other types of things that would hurt your account health. Simply because they don't care about that ASIN or they don't want to worry about it right now. And they don't resolve it, because the performance notifications they get, versus what account health says, versus what they try to put in the appeal, the cycle, and the back and forth. 

[00:16:03] Leah: Right. It would be one thing if you submitted a good dispute or a good appeal and then Amazon was like, yep, sorted. But you often end up in this like loop forever where you're like, I just gave you that information that you were asking me for again, like what is happening here? And I understand why sellers would be giving up. It's frustrating and they have better things to do. 

[00:16:21] Chris: Right. So to avoid going over long this week, I'd say we'll talk again or talk next week about some of my insights from those think tanks, from those brand conversations. Most of it was worthwhile and valuable for other people to hear. I kept thinking, you know, if only we had 200 people in the room, or listening to this conversation. Maybe those can be recorded in the future. I don't know. But thanks to Prosper for doing the think tanks because that was an extremely good idea.

It was a good experience as a moderator. And I am hopefully going to get some feedback from attendees and from Prosper.