Easy to Avoid, or difficult to predict?
I recently spoke with Amazon listing expert Leah McHugh about the many kinds of listing compliance suspensions we’ve seen in the last several weeks. During May and June, we noticed Amazon policy and compliance teams cracking down on blatant attempts to manipulate the catalog, but also on seller listing errors. Then on Memorial Day weekend, thousands of accounts went down, all at once, for uncited violations of the “ASIN Creation Policy.” While Amazon ended up blaming their tendency to “Err on the side of caution” for the temporary purge, sellers lost 5 days of selling and millions in revenue. Leah scoured many accounts and flat files to determine what caused the mass action. What did she find? A lot, and we made sure to invite her to speak at the Seller Velocity Conference this year in Seattle to share her experiences in the listing violation and policy abuse trenches.
I caught up with her to talk about what sellers need to focus on to prevent an account suspension during peak sales periods (or anytime, really.)
What Are Sellers Doing Wrong with ASIN Variations?
Apparently, a lot of things and most of it breaks Amazon’s listing policies, based on the recent account suspensions we’ve seen. They often appear to be using the wrong theme. Some sellers need to vary items by size but then present color variations. Others are creating duplicate listings using UPCs that don’t match manufacturer information in the GS1 database. For whatever reason, we’ve seen numerous sellers tell us that Amazon made a mistake, that they’re getting flagged in error for listing violations. If they’re suspended, they take Amazon up on the option to appeal for an error in Amazon’s suspension action.
Unfortunately, if you’re mistaken about Amazon erring when they suspended you, you’ve burned through one appeal AND shown Amazon that you didn’t realize what problems existed in past creation of variations. It may even make it harder to convince them you know what you’re doing now when you reverse course and correct your POA.
I asked Leah why she thinks sellers usually get these wrong, but often believe they’ve done them correctly. She answered, “Sellers see other sellers creating listings, and assume that if it’s in the catalog, it must be ok. In reality, I see more incorrect listings in Amazon’s catalog, than correct.”
What about duplicates, are sellers creating those in error using poor uploads or do you think they’re deliberately trying to max out the number of chances they have to sell?
Leah: I have no doubt that some sellers are creating duplicate listings and offers, to try to game the system. But the majority of duplicates I see were created by accident.
It’s pretty easy to create a duplicate ASIN if you’re not checking the UPC against the GS1 database. If you’re creating listings for your own products, make sure you’re only using UPCs purchased directly from GS1. And USE the tools GS1 gives you to keep track of which codes you have used for which product. If you’re reselling items, make sure you check the code against the GS1 database before listing on an ASIN in the Amazon catalog.
As for duplicate offers, it’s a matter of having oversight and checks in place, in case of human error. Maybe you have more than one employee making listing contributions. Maybe you made your original offer 5 years ago, and forgot about it.
You should be regularly checking your listings for accuracy anyway, so make this part of your standard operating procedures.
What factors do sellers need to consider when it comes to bundles? Either bundles of their own products that they make, or bundles that include other brands?
Leah: Bundles have their own listing policies which need to be followed. As well as the bundling policies, each item within the bundle still has the same policies applied to them if they were standalone ASINS. Don’t use bundles as a way of listing products that you otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to list. Only bundle products that you have approval to sell. Make sure you have all the documentation to prove authenticity for each product in a bundle. Don’t try to fit bundles into variation families when the variation theme doesn’t 100% fit.
Why do you think there is so much confusion when it comes to product detail pages?
Leah: Amazon intentionally makes their policy vague, and I think a lot of sellers interpret it more in their favor than it actually is. The policy is spread over multiple policy pages, and it’s easy to miss key information.
But I think the 2 biggest reasons for the confusion are:
- Enforcement of the policies hasn’t been consistent
- You’re held responsible for any ASIN you’re piggybacking on, even if you didn’t add the incorrect information
Almost every variation misuse case I work on, the seller either tells me this is how they have always done it or points me to other listings and/or other sellers doing the same thing they were, in order to justify their incorrect listing. The catalog is rife with ASIN variation misuse, so you can’t go off of what other people are doing, or what you were able to get away with previously. You need to make sure that you’re familiar with the policy and that your listings comply with it.
Unfortunately, if another seller makes an incorrect contribution to an ASIN that you are on, Amazon will still hold you, and any seller on that listing, responsible for the incorrect information. That’s why it’s so important to have an auditing procedure, to regularly check your listings.
I recommend to all our clients to use flat files, so they have a paper trail of how they have created and updated their listings. If they’re the brand owner, I recommend signing up for Brand Registry, so they have the highest level of contribution to their listings. It’s much easier to correct detail pages this way. And create a procedure so you’re constantly monitoring your catalog.
What do sellers fail to do in terms of early detection on any of the listing errors you see that lead to account suspensions? What can sellers do to maintain compliance and ensure they won’t fail to notice rule changes? Does Amazon need to emphasize training more to sellers?
Leah: Don’t ignore policy warnings! If Amazon tells you that one or more of your ASINs is violating their policies, use that as a chance to check and correct all of your listings. Don’t think of your catalog as a set it and forget it part of your business. You should have auditing processes in place for checking your catalog.
Honestly, the listing policies themselves don’t change that often. It’s the enforcement that changes. So familiarize yourself with the policy, train your staff, and create SOPs to check for listing changes, and human error.