Season 1, Episode 91

Changes to Compliance

Recently we have noticed an increase in issues with products being incorrectly identified and rejected by Amazon’s compliance teams. In this episode Chris and Leah deep dive into the current state of compliance enforcement to shed light on the upcoming challenges for sellers on Amazon.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:07] Chris: Welcome back to another wonderful episode of Seller Performance Solutions. I’m Chris McCabe with E-Commerce. Chris, I’m here with Leah McHugh. Leah, how are you?

[00:00:15] Leah: Good, thanks. How are you, Chris? 

[00:00:17] Chris: Good. Ready for another exciting chat about the wild world of Amazon and today talking about compliance enforcement, right? You’ve seen some interesting, troubling as well cases and I guess today’s main topic is what’s going on with the compliance teams. They’ve shifted a bit in terms of who’s responsible for what, but also how they handle documentation requests, how they deal with what content is listed on a product detail page is that a fair place start? 

[00:00:48] Leah: Yeah, it’s interesting because I feel like we were kind of trending in a good direction before and then now it seems to have gone back to some of the issues that we had maybe like a year ago or a year and a half ago, where I’m seeing a lot more products being incorrectly identified as a different kind of product or Amazon identifying the wrong regulatory body for different products and then rejecting your appeal when you sent in the correct information. 

[00:01:16] Chris: Well, that was happening before. I mean, you’re right. 

[00:01:18] Leah: It was trending in the right direction though. It was getting better and then in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing it more than I have in the last six months.

[00:01:27] Chris: Right. So starting early 2023, maybe compliance is somewhat reverting back to its infancy, which is a scary thing to think because there’s been a change at the top in terms of management and who’s in charge of this stuff. From my perspective, I don’t work on these every day the way you do, but I get exposed to them and see the messages and so forth.

 It seems like they’re trying to handle compliance now. The way they handle account suspension appeals and inauthentic ASIN suspensions and things that are dealt with in a much different way. It seems like because the same people are in charge of the executive level of how this is going to be managed, they’re handling it with the same approach and that is worrying because these are just more intricate and complex.

Yeah, I mean they’re asking for the wrong documentation, like you said. Sometimes it just seems like they’re flagging the wrong products, which I’ll get into the causes of that in a minute. But what else are you seeing? 

[00:02:22] Leah: Well, they’re also sending the wrong templates. So when they do reject the documentation, their reason for rejection or the reason that account health or somebody else gives you for the listing being flagged is also just completely incorrect.

Which again, is something that I saw maybe a year ago, but that again, had started trending in the better direction as things were getting fixed and now we seem to be back where we started in terms of you can’t even trust what Amazon is telling you as to why a product is flagged or even on the safety side, we’ve seen they send a safety questionnaire, the safety questionnaire is answered, and then they send you a different safety questionnaire asking for this, like for the same issue, asking for totally different information or one of them even mentioned a POA, which makes no sense.

[00:03:10] Chris: That’s a new thing from, I spent pretty much all last weekend going back and forth on a product safety complaint appeal, and they were, they were changing up the survey questions or the templates almost on every response.

And then that was interesting that yesterday we saw them say, your POA hasn’t been reviewed yet. No plan of action was ever requested. Obviously the person who had that message delegated to them or transferred to them didn’t even understand the process entirely. Which means what? You go back to square one, you send them all this stuff again.

It’s so confusing when they either don’t respond at all or when they respond with this generic gibberish because you are left questioning, do we roll this back to the beginning and just send everything again? Or are they going to say, well now you’ve sent us several submissions and that’s gonna take even longer to review and get back to you? What’s the initial strategy there?

[00:04:01] Leah: I mean, the good news is that compliance doesn’t seem to treat multiple submissions the way performance does. You don’t really get ignored after you’ve submitted so many times. I think the issue here is that, you’re often being rejected for not providing the correct information because Amazon didn’t ask you for the correct information.

 So how are you supposed to know that that’s what they’re looking for when you’ve been told something completely differently or what I think is very concerning, at least I would be concerned if I received this notification. They send you a rejection email saying that your product has been identified as an illegal drug when it has absolutely nothing to do with drugs or anything illegal.

[00:04:41] Chris: I think I understand that we’ve seen so many of those brand registry responses where they say you’ve been found to engage in illegal or deceptive or fraudulent activity because it’s the only template they have handy or available. I think this is kind of a parallel to that.

[00:04:56] Leah: But they definitely have a restricted products template. I’ve seen it multiple times. They’re choosing to send the illegal drug template. And I honestly, I mean, this is a theory, so I’m not saying that this is definite, but I think that it might be being sent to try to scare people off. Like, stop submitting information. You’re selling illegal stuff go away. 

[00:05:15] Chris: It could just be that, like we said, there’s new management in charge of compliance, which is only maybe 60 to 90 days old from what I heard and they’re handling compliance the way they handle basic account reinstatement or basic plan of action appeals and this, that’s maybe the core of this problem.

Like those people, that’s what they know, they’re not necessarily trained in compliance. Right. They also, we’ve had a couple cases where they assumed we knew things that weren’t even listed anywhere in the site. Well, of course this is a band ingredient. Oh, really? Where’s that? And then they’re like, oh, I guess we don’t have it posted anywhere.

Yeah. How many times have we seen that? 

[00:05:53] Leah: Well, so Teethers, I actually noticed this week they didn’t finally update the teething restricted product policy we saw those products being removed from the platform six months ago. So it took them six months to publicly put in the policy that’s that those products aren’t available after they already started removing them and telling people that they had listed restricted products.

 So how are you supposed to know what you are and aren’t allowed to list on Amazon if they don’t update the policy pages for six months, if at all. 

[00:06:20] Chris: Yeah, that’s a great example. Can you go into just for parallel purposes and a quick background on, yeah, it was about six months ago. 

[00:06:29] Leah: It was, I checked. I checked my emails.

[00:06:32] Chris: ] I can’t believe that was six months ago. I’m in my Amazon time warp all the time. But the interesting thing, and you can kind of take it from there, but my takeaway from that case was once we complained to, I think it was account health management about all the mis- messaging, misinformation. The client got a call, remember? Within 24 hours of that escalation email that they sent, and that person actually went back through, you know, weeks later and told them things that were never in the messaging things that we would’ve never known and then the question becamedid they finally do their homework after months of this, or are they just making this up on the fly?

[00:07:17] Leah: Well, right, and if it’s not a public policy and you’re still seeing those sorts of products listed on the site because I’ve yet to see them actually remove all of a certain product from the website. How are you supposed to know that anything that they say is correct when you’ve already been told 10 different answers as to what’s wrong?

[00:07:33] Chris: Or your competitors are still listing and selling the same exact stuff you were taken down for, and there’s no explanation for that.

[00:07:42] Leah: I mean that goes back to my Amazon is inconsistent.

[00:07:46] Chris: Yeah, but I’m saying they don’t justify the inconsistency with, Hey, we’ve got a new program. Hey, we we’re rolling out a few new things. We’re gonna iron out some kinks. There’ll be some bumps along the way, but we’re trending in the right direction and steadily you’re going to see all these types of products removed.

None of that’s communicated from what I can tell internally to themselves, let alone externally to us. 

[00:08:09] Leah: Right, and so again, when they tell you that we’ve just decided that these sorts of products can’t be listed on the marketplace anymore. How are you supposed to know what that message is saying is correct when you’ve already been given so many different answers as to what the problem is?

You know, because we were previous to that message, getting other responses, asking for other information or saying that something was missing in order to get it reinstated and then it turns out none of that was true and they had just banned those products on the platform.

[00:08:38] Chris: The way that people find out is they only learn some of these details after they start the appeals process, which is crazy because that’s creating more work for Amazon. More work for the seller, more work for people like us, of course but really by escalating it like that seems to be how people get real answers. And unfortunately for Amazon, they don’t have enough communication skill or experience communicating these types of things to prevent people from having to escalate in order to get those answers, which is extremely inefficient.

[00:09:14] Leah: Well, and again, it’s hard to believe their answers. I’ve been given incorrect information from executive seller relations. I’ve been given incorrect information by account health. So how are you supposed to even know that is really true? Or if they’re just saying something to get you to leave them alone. Particularly like in this case where it took another six months for them to actually publish the policy change. 

[00:09:40] Chris: We should probably talk about this just for a couple of minutes. The people who send you messages or the account health rep on the phone, or you’re talking to your account manager, whoever it might be that you’re interacting with at Amazon, they may sound confident in their answers. Make sure you double check and fact check and verify. Either doing the whole thing again and getting the same answer again, or however you can examine and scrutinize and confirm the info you’ve been given because just because they say it assertively or confidently doesn’t make it so. We’ve talked to a lot of brand owners and sellers who are like, I’ve got important news. Like they just called me, I just got a message and they think it’s straight from the horse’s mouth just because somebody at Amazon told them something like, oh, I got the answer. Now we can pivot and change what we’re doing in the appeals. What do we find out 48 hours later? 

[00:10:32] Leah: That It’s like completely incorrect. 

[00:10:33] Chris: Right. Right. Take everything with it. We have to have a grain of salt episode just about don’t believe everything you hear. Take it all with a grain of salt. That person might be a. regurgitating something they said to somebody else about a different issue, and they’re just comparing and contrasting with you inappropriately.

b. They could just be making something up because they don’t wanna be spinning their wheels. I mean, Amazonians don’t enjoy sounding or looking ignorant or untrained. And I think what’s happening in a lot of the compliance cases that you’re looking at is the message goes out from the Amazonian to the the brand, and they’re using the wrong template or asking for the wrong test results or documentation because they don’t have.

That training because there has been a change of leadership. Do you know what I mean? 

[00:11:19] Leah: Well, and so often, actually more often than not, you’re not emailing with compliance directly. It’s going through support. So you’re messaging support who passed your message onto compliance. Compliance then tells support what to tell you.

So there’s this weird telephone game that that may or may not be accurate] and also, interestingly, generally account health can’t see compliance notes, so anything account health says about compliance might just be their opinion. 

[00:11:54] Chris: That’s what scares me. I’ve heard account health reps, sometimes they do the right thing and say we have no visibility into this. But other times we hear them saying, oh, this is about invoices. Like they’re just making stuff up. They’re just winging it. 

[00:12:06] Leah: Right. Like, oh, well, have you tried explaining to them what this document is? And it’s like, you mean the document that they asked for? No, I haven’t tried explaining to them what it is. 

[00:12:14] Chris: Well, my favorite was, I was jumping in on one of the calls with a client and account health reps, and they kept harping on this, you need a letter of authorization. They just kept repeating it over and over like a Pavlovian response. They’re so robotic and the training is so inefficient and subpar. And the lack of interest in training is appalling that they were just like, the problem is you don’t have a letter of– No, I’m the brand owner, and they were just going back and forth about it. And I have to like jump in and be like, look, you know, we’re going in circles and this isn’t a good use of anyone’s time.

So the bottom line is expect that these things are gonna be thrown at you. Be able to diagnose when you’re getting bad info. And also wouldn’t you argue that if you’ve got an attorney who specializes in, let’s say, FDA matters, I mean, you’re running by them, Hey, they’re asking me for these docs.

Is this the documentation I should be asked for because hopefully that lawyer, that’s their area of expertise, right? 

[00:13:15] Leah: Yeah. Well, I’ve mean assuming it’s a product that’s regulated by the FDA, Yeah. Or the EPA. Yeah, I think so. Just some general, like communicating with the compliance team tips. First of all, like I said, you’re not emailing compliance directly, even if you are submitting it via the appeal button so your first sentence for everything that you send in should be, please transfer this case to the product compliance team. If you get an immediate response, it hasn’t been transferred to the compliance team, support just replied to you with something. 

So if you get an immediate response, send everything again, all of the attachments, all of the texts that you just sent, send it again. It should take a couple of days. 

[00:13:53] Chris: Yeah. And keep in mind, Amazon’s in a transition period, with new people are in charge of at least compliance escalations, if not farther down the food chain of the the compliance investigation teams. But if they’re still sorting things out themselves in terms of how to communicate with each other, what’s required, what kind of messaging to send, that’s gonna take time, like months to iron itself out just on the internal side, let alone dealing with like a brand owner that might not have the required documentation. Right? 

[00:14:24] Leah: Also, if they ask you for additional information, don’t just send that one piece of additional information. You need to provide them with all of the requested information that you’ve already sent, because chances are it’s not the same person reviewing it and they’re not gonna look back at the case. So you need to submit all required documents. All of your explanation every single time, even if they only ask for one piece of it or one additional piece, you also need to make sure that it is, generally speaking, the less text you provide, the better.

 If your not submitting a plan of action, you’re purely submitting the documentation or your explanation as to why the documentation that they’re requesting doesn’t apply to your product, and don’t just say something like, I don’t think it applies to my product. You need to cite the actual law per regulation number, blah, whatever this product is considered a blah, blah, blah by the F FDA, the EPA, CPSE, whatever the body is, you need to cite that law. In your text, you need to say, please see the attachments, list the attachments, that’s it. There should be no other information because they’re not looking for that, not looking for a plan of action. They’re not looking for future prevention. They don’t need you to reference Amazon policies.

They’re just looking at the legal compliance of the product. 

[00:15:41] Chris: And just a quick footnote for our listeners. The reason Leah sounds extra passionate on that one particular note is because she’s currently working on a case for a client who had been working with somebody different previous to us, who for some unknown reason, had them writing POAs plans of action and having them submit those simply because was better to have more information, even if it was extraneous, the logic behind that mystifies us or it doesn’t exist. We’re gonna do another episode on Don’t be Sending in POAs when none has been requested.

[00:16:11] Leah: And on the extraneous information point, don’t send in extraneous documentation. You’re just sending in wire documentation that applies to the question. Don’t start sending in utility bills or your trademark or any other information that they’re not asking for. You’re just providing the information that has been asked for.

[00:16:28] Chris: And maybe we can just wrap on this one last question I had, which I’m still kind of mulling over myself, but want to hear what you have to say about it in terms of what are people supposed to do when it’s straightforward like they just keep getting asked for the same documents and they keep attaching them and they just over and over. Are you supposed to just say, you’ve asked us this six times. We’ve sent it six times. Here are the dates, why? Why are these being misrouted? Are they still in the queue? I mean, are you supposed to go that way with it or are you supposed to just say, look, Here’s everything again, here’s a list of everything we’ve attached. This is what you’ve asked for. This is the last time we’re sending it. We’re going to escalate this outside, somewhere else. So that we’re not going to get the same message over and over or should it be a combination of those two things?

[00:17:15] Leah: Well, so again, if you’re getting an immediate response, it hasn’t been transferred to the right team. I think that’s what a lot of sellers do. They just get stuck going back and forth with seller support, not realizing that it’s never actually going to the compliance team, right? So, first of all, make sure it’s taking a few days to get a response so it’s actually gone to the right team. Second of all, if you’re submitting the documentation that Amazon asked for and they’re rejecting it, then, that should be a point where you escalate, if you are sending in different information than they ask for, because Amazon has incorrectly identified what documentation is needed for your product , then I actually, I usually do this before I send any information in. You need to check the listing. There could be information in the listing that is causing it to be flagged and if as long as that information is in the listing, Amazon’s not gonna change their mind on how your product should be regulated.

So you need to check that information, not just in your own backend, but with the catalog team because quite often I’ve inherited quite a few cases where people have appealed and appealed and appealed, and Amazon rejected and rejected and rejected. I removed one word from their listing and all of a sudden problem solved.

[00:18:19] Chris: Yeah. Well that’s again, fodder for another episode. Some of the agencies we see doing stuff are moonlighting as experts in this area, and they don’t have the expertise. And I think that’s why a lot of people send in 10 appeals and nothing happens. And then we do one and it goes through, but we’ll pat ourselves in the back for that some other day.

[00:18:38] Leah: But again, if everything’s checked, you know, escalate. If everything’s been checked and you’re still getting nonsensical answers, escalate. Give ’em hell. 

[00:18:47] Chris: Right. I mean, if it’s been properly checked, because ] I’m sure there are brands and different agencies out there who have conversations about, are we sure we did the right thing?

Are we sure we went through it all and Oh yeah, yeah, we did. You know, we had our best people on it. And I mean, a lot of these agencies. Again, story for another time, but a lot of these agencies don’t have a compliance arm who are familiar with these things, so, thanks again for listening. We know this is a complex topic. You will hear us throughout 2023 returning to this because it’s going to keep coming up. We’re going to keep getting examples from sellers and brand owners showing us messaging that doesn’t make sense, documentation requests that don’t add up. If you’re experiencing this yourself, Excellent opportunity to reach out to Leah directly and to keep me outta it because I cannot look at more emails with 17 attachments, leah@ecommercechris.com is an excellent place to go with these questions and examples. Thank you again. Talk to you soon. 

[00:19:43] Leah: Thanks. Bye.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh

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