We're in the peak of Q4 which means Amazon sellers need to discover and fix problems with their account before Amazon does. In this episode Chris and Leah go through how to identify potential threats and the steps you need to be taking to make sure your account is healthy this holiday season.
[00:00:07] Leah: Hey Amazon Sellers. Welcome to the Seller Performance Solution podcast. I am Leah McHugh from ecommerceChris, here with Mr. ecommerceChris, Chris McCabe.
[00:00:18] Chris: How are you? Good.
[00:00:20] Leah: How are you?
[00:00:21] Chris: I'm good. Hello. From the other side of the world.
[00:00:24] Leah: Just In case you guys haven't noticed, we sound a little bit run down because it's peak Q4 and we're dealing with a lot of suspensions and a lot of attacks.
[00:00:32] Chris: And fortunately here talking about preventing those things, right?
[00:00:37] Leah: Yes.
[00:00:37] Chris: Proper ways of reviewing accounts. The account health rating is still a hot topic. We're getting lots of messages from sellers saying, this is my score. What does it mean? Am I at risk? How do I fix it? We've had a lot of those conversations and I'm actually looking forward to what you have to say in a couple of these, because I know there's been a lot of intellectual property reporting issues from people you've talked to lately. Do you wanna start us off with metrics? Are those metrics misses? How would you , quantify or qualify those?
[00:01:10] Leah: Well I mean it's interesting because we've been seeing actually quite a number of suspensions regarding potential IP infringement where there isn't even a complaint made against you. It's just information on the product detail page that's leading to an account suspension. So that's certainly something that I've been telling sellers for years that you can't put other people's trademarks anywhere in the product detail page. Granted a lot of these are cases where they didn't realize that it was a trademark because I assume everybody's not checking every single word that they put in a detail page with the USTPO but places where we see a lot of sellers not realize that they can't put trademark terms are the hidden keywords. Those also get flagged as potential IP and also in your images and that's one that I don't think most sellers I speak to even realize that's a thing. So if you have lifestyle images on your product detail page, and those lifestyle images have other products in them, none of those other products, trademarks can be visible in those images or that could also get flagged as potential IP.
Or the brand could also make it a complaint, but particularly for potential IP infringement, those are the two places that I'm seeing a lot of sellers get into trouble because they don't realize that those are places that Amazon's looking.
[00:02:27] Chris: That's a lesser known one that a lot of brands I'm sure don't recognize right away. In terms of backend keywords, also for compliance reasons, right? People are leaving certain terms and backend keywords and getting flagged and they're like, where is this on the detail page? But they don't even look in their backend keywords.
[00:02:45] Leah: Oh, you mean like for like disease claims and things like that?
[00:02:48] Chris: Disease claims, right?
[00:02:50] Leah: Yeah. So for those sorts of compliant flags, those are for the most part, fully automated at this point. Amazon just has their spiders crawling through the detail page information and flagging any keywords. So it doesn't matter if it's visible on the front end, if it's in the system, those spiders can pick it up because, once again, even if you don't explicitly say this is your product treats a specific disease, if people search for that disease on Amazon and your product comes up, then that is an implied disease claim. So Amazon's algorithms do pick up any of those terms.
Also, we see a lot of people, particularly in the supplement space, mention drug names in the hidden keywords and that also is something that can get picked up by Amazon's bots and get your listing flagged as being non-compliant. But I mean, that's a specific example of keywords that can be flagged, but really anything right, that's not compliant or even misrepresents your product.
More recently we've been seeing people get flagged for their product being a restricted product when their product actually isn't that kind of product, but because of wording that they used in the hidden keywords because they thought it would improve their search results they're listing got flagged as a product that it isn't, but then now you have to convince Amazon that that is wrong, even though you are the one that put that word in your listing in the first place.
[00:04:15] Chris: Well, that's probably a driver for all the food and safety complaint warnings that we've seen sellers getting, they're trying to resolve that they either get a complaint and some of those items aren't even food.
[00:04:29] Leah: Yeah, a lot of time it is keyword based. I mean, sometimes this time of year it is also just somebody attacking. That is an area as well where because there are a lot of tools that show you if somebody's searching for this, they're also searching for this word. So people put that word right into their backend keywords. But yeah, that can get you into trouble if it makes the algorithm think that your product is something else than it is. Also in terms of Amazon could try to change the product category if your product is being misrepresented in the details. So that's also something to keep in mind when you're adding sort of erroneous keywords into your listing to try to improve search.
[00:05:06] Chris: Well, and we've said this before, and I won't dwell on it now, but when you're hiring out for listing optimization services, make sure they've got a compliance arm, or let's just say an interest in compliance because if you're just letting them do whatever and they're just trying to surface your product and make it more searchable, with all these little tricks and gimmicks and workarounds that can bite you back and Amazon will not want to hear, they won't wanna see you pointing fingers at someone else who's not the account owner because you're the seller of record and they don't wanna hear those as excuses because the buck stops with you. That's why we harp on it so much on this podcast because ultimately who gets punished, who pays the ultimate price? It's the seller. It's never the third party service.
[00:05:51] Leah: Right. And Amazon's also sort of inconsistent with their enforcement of this. Sometimes it's just a matter of removing that word from the listing, sometimes it's like no your product's been classified as this and we're never going to reinstate it. So it is worth taking a look at things that you're putting in your listing that may imply that you're product is something other than it is because you don't want that to just be permanently removed from the marketplace because Amazon doesn't want that kind of product on their marketplace anymore.
[00:06:17] Chris: Right. And that's kind of another semi scandalous thing going on, people are reclassifying their products just to avoid having to submit compliance documentation.
[00:06:25] Leah: Yeah, that's the other side of this. Don't just like remove words from your listing to try to hide what your product actually is. That's just asking for an account suspension.
I know you can pay to have that done but that is just asking for an account suspension if Amazon thinks you're trying to skirt their processes by misrepresenting your product, which is something we've talked about previously on the podcast.
[00:06:49] Chris: It's worth emphasizing though, because a lot of people, I think, are focused on metrics and they are focused on the policy warnings that they've received, not ones they might receive, right? This whole episode is about preventing this. Well, one good way to prevent it is to not break the rules or not hire some crazy people to do this for you who have no idea what they're doing, or don't care what the guidelines and the policies are, because a policy violation could easily be interpreted as a code of conduct issue. Well, once you're in the code of conduct minefield, you could lose the account at any time. The entire account all for one listing, right?
[00:07:27] Leah: Yeah. And you're actually much more likely to have the account suspended if Amazon thinks that you've tried to hide the fact that you are listing a restricted product than if you actually just list a restricted product.
If Amazon flags your product as restricted because of keywords, usually they just restrict that listing. If they believe that you've tried to hide what your product actually is, they're much more likely to suspend the account. And we do get a lot of those cases coming through the contact form where they're like, oh, it's actually this, but I didn't use any of those words and now my account suspended.
And then so particularly when there's like safety concerns because then there's a reason that those products are in fact restricted from the marketplace. But if Amazon thinks that you're trying to hide what you're actually selling, then yeah, you are much more likely to get suspended, which actually brings me to my next point in terms of avoiding an account suspension, which is know what's going on.
Like if you're listening to this podcast, chances are probably are keeping up to date with what's happening in the Amazon world. But make sure that you are aware of what's happening on Amazon it's very easy to just get sucked into what's going on in your own account. But I think one of the most useful things about having people like Chris and myself and other consultants in the space is that we see a lot of accounts. We're seeing what's going on at the big picture level. Whereas if you're just working on your account, all you're seeing is what's going on inside of your account. So it's difficult for you to predict trends in terms of Amazon enforcement, what Amazon is concerned about if you're just looking at what's going on inside your account, chances are you're not going to see issues until Amazon flags them.
[00:09:09] Chris: And enforcement trends take some time to form as well. Unfortunately, I sometimes see LinkedIn posts or Facebook group posts that are interpreting what's going on a little bit too quickly or just a little bit too generally.
[00:09:27] Leah: Oh, I see the opposite. Where someone's like this new thing is happening and it's like, that's been happening for 12 months but it's new for you.
[00:09:32] Chris: Yeah. Well, if it's new for that person, they're going to say, this is new because they haven't seen it before but enforcement trends are really important to monitor without just jumping on the forums occasionally to see if one person posted one thing that might be similar to your case.
It's a much bigger issue than that. It's a bigger marketplace. There are things going on across several categories. Sometimes it's not across several categories, it might just be in your category and that's worth knowing for the appeals process and for identifying what you might be facing if you have to do an appeal in the near future.
[00:10:11] Leah: Well, yeah. And it helps you get in front of things before it's actually flagged on your account.
[00:10:15] Chris: I know this a time of year that some people are postponing making certain improvements or changes because they're just trying to ride things out until they get through Q4. But as we've seen with the account health rating calls, account health reps have been calling saying, Hey, you're at risk, or, Hey, things aren't looking so great in your account health dashboard. They're doing that. All month this month, November into December, like they would any other month of the year. Amazon isn't taking a vacation from enforcement. And I think we've talked to a few sellers who maybe don't understand that they're just trying to ride things out.
Amazon's not riding anything out. They're doing what they normally do. And if it's fifth week versus two weeks from now, it's all the same to them. They're not the ones losing the revenue.
[00:11:02] Leah: And that actually brings me to my next point, which is to prepare for the worst. So if in case you do get suspended or again, to try to avert a suspension. Make sure you have backup plans for things, particularly if you're doing your own shipping. Make sure you have backup plans. The last thing you want is an automated suspension because of a late ship rate. Make sure you have backup plans for customer service.
Make sure you have backup plans for anything that could go wrong in Q4, and then further up with that, having a backup plan. If you do get suspended, make sure you already have all of your documentation. In order ready to go, like chances are you probably already have the documentation, make sure you have it organized.
Make sure you have it easy to access. Maybe make sure you have it easy to pull together. If you need invoices, if you need letters of authorization, if you need compliance documentation, make sure you have all of that somewhere where it's easy to grab if needed, so you can quickly appeal things that require that documentation. Don't wait until you're suspended to then request something from your supplier or to request that from a different department. Whatever the case may be, make sure you have that ready to go so you can appeal well as quickly as possible. If something does get taken down during Q4.
[00:12:15] Chris: I mean, I'll do you one better on that. Have an appeal.
[00:12:19] Leah: Sure.
[00:12:19] Chris: Like pieces of an appeal, almost ready to go or something that you start, especially if there are signs of trouble already and there's rumblings around, Hey, you might be at risk for suspensions for let's say IP infringement, IP complaints, safety complaints, authenticity, whatever it might be.
Typically there are some warning signs. So many lightning strikes that we hear about from so many people contacting us. That gives you an opportunity to start, you know, come up with a kind of blueprint of, well, we need some root causes. Start chipping away at those start lining up lists of preventative solutions, it'll make writing the appeal quicker, easier, and not such a steep mountain to climb if you've been chipping away at it because you saw this coming three weeks out.
If you're putting your head in the sand and trying to pray and hope that it goes away it's going to make it extra painful when it's time to submit a finalized appeal to teams. That, let's be honest, air on the side of caution and first and second appeals pretty routinely.
[00:13:23] Leah: Well, and the other side of that is if you do have problematic ASINs that you can see are potentially going to cause issues, what is the risk versus reward?
Is it better to actually just remove those ASINs from sales during this period if you're potentially risking your entire account over selling those ASINs? No one ever liked the risk versus reward conversation, but throw that out there.
[00:13:49] Chris: Cost benefit analysis. and we know it sounds somewhat crazy to be saying, oh yeah, take your top selling ASIN off. It could get the whole account suspended when we're in the thick of November Crush. But, that's a risk assessment and a decision you have to make .
[00:14:05] Leah: And that's always often not the best selling ASIN anyway. A lot of times we see people getting into trouble over something that they barely even sell or aren't even selling anymore they just haven't removed it from their catalog.
[00:14:16] Chris: True.
[00:14:17] Leah: Remove things from your catalog if you aren't selling them. Don't keep it in your catalog to get in trouble for something that you aren't even selling.
[00:14:23] Chris: Right. Or a product that's your lesser used, lesser sold product because again, everything is algorithmic with Amazon.
They don't care if it's an ASIN you care about or not, right? They don't call you up in advance of a suspension and say, well, we were thinking of doing this, but do you wanna just pull whatever units are left and dump this ASIN? And in which case we don't have to? No, it's all numbers and data.
Everybody, any questions on this or all of the other worthwhile subjects during the holiday peak, get in touch with us. Thanks again for listening. Leah and I want to hear your questions or comments, so feel free to weigh in on what we've talked about today and on any other episode. Thanks leah.
[00:15:08] Leah: Thanks Chris.