Amazon finally put measures into place in the past several months and executed the kinds of things you’d expect them to, in order to sure a safe buyer experience. Leah and I have worked on numerous cases with sellers who didn’t understand these new processes nor Amazon’s compliance document expectations. In this episode, we discuss the nuances of effective communication with Amazon teams and what missteps to avoid.
[00:00:01] Chris: Hi, everybody. Welcome to Seller Performance Solutions. This is Chris McCabe. I'm here again with Leah McHugh. Leah, Hello.
[00:00:13] Leah: Hello.
[00:00:14] Chris: How are you?
[00:00:14 Leah: Good. How are you?
[00:00:15] Chris: Good. Always in a good mood when we talk about in this case product compliance and ASIN suspensions.
[00:00:22] Leah: You see these bags under my eyes? These are from working on product compliance account issues.
[00:00:28] Chris: Documentation, requests for compliance info. What we've seen is number one: private label brands being asked for documentation that they probably already should have had and in some cases, haven't had or haven't been asked for in the past. Whether that's a COA or lab results or obviously it depends on what you're selling.
[00:00:47] Leah: Depends on the product, yeah.
[00:00:49] Chris: Yeah. I mean it could be FDA compliance information, and we'll talk about that in a moment because that's the FDA, obviously is paying a lot more attention to what's being sold on Amazon, and it's a very hot topic around Amazon on policy enforcement teams.
[00:01:00] Leah: Yeah, I actually - I was looking at some FDA letters because I know how to have fun, [Chris laughs] and a lot of them actually specifically cited product detail pages on Amazon in relation to their complaint against the brand, which is interesting because they were not doing that before.
[00:01:18] Chris: Let's start with that because they weren't doing that until, what, November, December? When did this start?
[00:01:23] Leah: Last year. Covid.
[00:01:25] Chris: Right. Yes. Okay. And for years - I would say it's safe to say three or four years at least - we've been getting queries from lots of parties interested in the Amazon space. About what kinds of documentation did Amazon ask for? Were consumables different from electronics? I mean, there were the electronic specifications and testing requirements, but for consumables especially like vitamins and supplements, and then also for topical items like topical ointments. When do you think they started feeling the heat in terms of buyers complaining, “Hey, this created a rash or this irritated my skin Or I consumed this item and it gave me a stomachache, headache” I mean, they were doing safety complaints a few years ago.
[00:02:08] Leah: Well, I think that's the shift. It's gone from Amazon asking you for documentation when somebody complained, to Amazon now asking eventually all supplement sellers for documentation as well as all toy sellers for documentation. And we're seeing a lot more people being asked for documentation based on claims that they make on the product detail page, which we were not seeing really, until last year.
[00:02:33] Chris: Right And the development recently is that this has been information they've been requesting from resellers, not just the brands, but sellers who resell the items.
[00:02:43] Leah: Yeah, they're just not differentiating. It's anybody that sells this product needs to have this documentation, whatever that documentation may be depending on the product. Which is not good news for people who are selling arbitrage certainly, but also people who are sort of further down the supply chain. I mean, if you're buying directly from a brand and you have a relationship with them, there's a pretty good chance you can get the documentation you need from them. But if you're buying from a distributor’s close-out partner back of the truck, then getting that documentation will be a lot more difficult.
[00:03:19] Chris: Yeah, I mean it's not just back of the truck or arbitrage sellers, though. I mean some sellers that have a relationship with the brand, would they be able to get, like, the safety and compliance documentation. Maybe if they're an authorized distributor?
[00:03:33] Leah: Well, that’s what I'm saying: if they have a good relationship with the brand, and I mean that's something we've talked about in terms of other documentation to prove authenticity. It's becoming more and more important than if you're a reseller, that you have a very close relationship with the brands that you're selling because otherwise, you won't be able to get this information. Unless, of course, it's public information. You know, like 401k's you can look up. I'm sorry, 501k. 401k is a different thing.
[00:03:59] Chris: 401k is a little bit different. [Leah laughs] Yeah, If you're worried about your retirement, then maybe don't. Well, maybe don't sell a brand - resell a brand unless you know you have access to this type of documentation.
[00:04:11] Leah: Yeah, and I mean, you know, in terms of smaller private label brands, if you're not really that up on FDA requirements, now would be the time to do that research.
[00:04:20] Chris: Well, and some of the tests take a while to - they’re expensive, one number. Number two, they take a while to perform them and execute them. And don't forget there's a bunch of other sellers trying to get all of this done at the same time you are. So there might be a waiting list at an accredited lab. That's another issue I found the other day is that some people do have testing documentation. They send it in and it gets rejected because it's not from a lab that they’ll accept.
[00:04:46] Leah: Yeah, it has to be ISO accredited, which really - you probably shouldn't be using a non-ISO accredited lab anyway. But, yeah, you need to make sure it's an accredited lab. And also you need to make sure that the documentation is laid out in the Amazon way. So you have to have certain things matching exactly what it says on the listing. Otherwise, they will say that this isn't the right documentation and reject it, even if it is the right documentation. You just maybe used a different word somewhere.
[00:05:15] Chris: Right. And, of course, there might be some confusion over what documentation they're looking for. There are some people who are being asked for things that don't seem to correlate to the product, right? We’ve seen that in a few cases.
[00:05:26] Leah: I've noticed it's getting better. It seems that the product compliance team is slowly getting trained up in the things that they're looking at.
[00:05:34] Chris: Mhmm. As they go. As they go.
[00:05:36] Leah: Yeah, the first couple of times are a little bit more touch and go. They seem to be doing better now. But, yeah, we are seeing people being asked for tests that don't really make sense in terms of the product that they're selling. In which case you then have to try to explain to Amazon that “no, this product is not what you think it is. It's actually this and this is why it doesn't need that documentation.”
[00:05:57] Chris: and would it even really help to open a case with Seller Support in a situation like this. I mean, Account Health Services has been called many times by sellers asking for help. They refuse to help in these cases.
[00:06:08] Leah: Account Health Services don't have access to the Product Compliance team. So, unfortunately, you do have to go through Seller Support and/or the dashboard in Account Health. If that is where you're being asked for the documentation. But, yeah, the only way to access product compliance right now is through Seller Support, even emailing them directly, they just tell you to open a case in Seller Support. So.
[00:06:30] Chris: that case might get a wacky answer that doesn't correspond with the situation or you might not get a response and they might close it. That's what I'm hearing from people.
[00:06:37] Leah: I haven't seen so many just closed cases. Certainly, people are getting just like the original notification as a response to what they sent in. Unfortunately, yeah, you have to - you gotta keep sending it in.
[00:06:50] Chris: Well I mean, the other issue, I think that doesn't maybe get a lot of coverage is, are there a lot of well-known compliance agencies out there to help people with product compliance so that they do it step-by-step and they have the documentation ready? And they do use the right kinds of labs, and they do submit documentation to Amazon that is acceptable?”
[00:07:07] Leah: I think any reputable manufacturer would be able to point you in the right direction. In terms of those resources, I mean, most particularly like cosmetics or supplement manufacturers. They're having to do lab tests all the time, so they should be able to point you in the direction. There are so many products that require different things. So it's really difficult to point people in the direction of just a resource for this, which is why we often don't talk about this because it's so different for every product and every country even, because, obviously Amazon is not just America. So you know, if you sell a product in the U.S. and Canada, those are two different documentation requirements. And again, if it's a slightly different product in one country, that could have different requirements again. So that's why we tend not to really talk about this topic, because a lot of it is like, “it depends.”
[00:07:58] Chris: One main reason I wanted to talk about it today was because we hadn't seen resellers being asked for this kind of documentation anytime in the past, that’s earth-shattering, potentially groundbreaking stuff.
[00:08:09] Leah: Well, again, if you're just buying something from like, Walmart and listing that on Amazon, I don't know how you would even go about getting this sort of documentation
[00:08:17] Chris: you'd be calling some 800 number looking for - I mean, that sounds just very, very difficult to do. But there's so many different kinds of resellers, right? I mean, it might even be hard for an authorized distributor to get that in a timely manner.
[00:08:30] Leah: And like you said, a lot of these tests take time. So if it takes eight weeks for that test to get completed and Amazon is giving you 90 days before they destroy your inventory, right, that can be an issue, which is something that a lot of sellers we're talking to are facing. And also, just like a lot of these tests do cost thousands of dollars.
[00:08:51] Chris: Yeah, expect them to cost thousands of dollars at the inside, I would say. What other product Compliance tips would you - I mean, you've been doing this day and night. So what have you come across that you wanted to share?
[00:09:01] Leah: Make sure that your packaging complies with the FDA requirements for your industry and also that you're not making any claims about your product that you're not supposed to. We're seeing Amazon rejecting appeals if you've had to change the packaging, if you've had to change the packaging to comply with this, they are now expecting you to create a brand new ASIN for that product. They're considering that materially different.
[00:09:25] Chris: Well, aren't they also telling people to change like “oh, your label didn't have the right info or not enough info? So you have to change the labels, which means the cost of pulling all your inventory out of FDA and re-labeling.”
[00:09:37] Leah: Right, like the cost of making the label is a big deal. But also, if you have to change the label, they specifically say in a lot of their notifications now that if this information or misinformation is on the product label, there may not be a path to reinstatement, and we've been seeing them keeping their word in terms of that. But also things like having your manufacturer's address on your packaging is a requirement by the FDA, which I know not all supplement sellers are meeting.
[00:10:04] Chris: Yeah, the marketing claims that's come to the fore because people had those types of things on the label or on their listing itself. So you've done a lot of work with people to amend a listing. But of course, if it's something that you can't fix and show them, I mean, are you just re-submitting a flat-file saying, Here's my new copy for the content.
[00:10:21] Leah: So again, if it's just a matter of content on the product detail page, you do have to update it by a flat file. You can't do it manually while you're listing is blocked. But then you also need to actually call Seller Support and have them put you through to the Feeds department or the Catalog department or the Captive team. And actually make sure that those changes are reflecting on the back end. Because the Product Compliance team aren't looking at your Seller Central. They're looking at the listing information on their back end. So if those changes aren't reflecting where they're looking, they'll just automatically reject your appeal.
[00:10:55] Chris: Well, there's been a lot of chicken and egg stories that we've heard from sellers, right, who don't understand the dynamic appeal process for this type of problem.
[00:11:04] Leah: Yeah, it's also - it's a work in progress in terms of their SOP’s. For some people, all they have to do is amend the listing, and the product gets reinstated automatically. Other people, they're requiring you to email in an appeal and then again, like I said, if the issue is something on the product packaging, they've been fairly consistently not accepting your appeal. In that case.
[00:11:27] Chris: Right. I've seen some messages back from Amazon where they said, “oh, the problem is you have to change blank” and it's like empty brackets or it says, quote or comment or has some generic word in there, right? So, like they're obviously racing through this work, doing it quickly, not necessarily doing it accurately. So if you get a situation like that.
[00:11:47] Leah: yeah, and it can also be in - if you can look in the Product Detail page. Also, your A plus content, which is something that people tend to forget when they're doing this. And so you know, it'll keep getting pushed back, saying, there's something on the listing, but you've removed everything from the listing. But it's actually in the A plus content right or it's in the images - images are another one that we've seen people kind of miss when they're looking at their listening to try to fix it. But a lot of these are just automated flags, so it may not even necessarily be a disease claim. It may just be a certain word that flagged it, so it really depends - you really have to comb through your listing with a fine-tooth comb. We're also seeing sellers abuse this system by putting in keywords in other people's listings that they know will get that listing flagged and taken down. You should download your category listing report and go through everything with a fine-tooth comb before you send in an appeal asking for your listing back.
[00:12:45] Chris: We're saving back-end keyword abuse for another podcast episode.
[00:12:49] Leah: And, yeah, please look at the FDA requirements.
[00:12:52] Chris: Cool. So review FDA requirements. Make sure you've got access to the supporting documentation you need when Amazon asks for it. Whether you're not - you're reselling another brand or selling your own stuff and understand that there's a bit of a chicken and egg part of the appeals process here, where you have to try to show them that you've corrected the listing content before you request reinstatement. It's a bit of a change from 2020. Thanks again, Leah, for discussing this with me today.
[00:13:18] Leah: Yeah, thanks, Chris.