At this point, the Coronavirus significantly impacts everyone’s life in the USA and the EU. If you’re selling on Amazon as well, you’re conscious of more than just a few changes to everyday life and how to protect those you care about from harm. You’re also thinking about protecting the business that sustains them, and your ability to keep your staff employed. If Amazon represents the main source of your livelihood, you’re hopefully paying close attention to Amazon’s enforcement trends whenever national or global crises occur.
You’re watching the unfolding epidemic with the rest of the world. So why ignore the implications of poor business decisions based on sales of Coronavirus-related inventory? Or even to all household staples, given that Amazon is now clearly defining those for sellers? Sellers cannot sell in a vacuum without adapting when necessary.
Amazon ups the ante on warnings, listing deletions and account suspensions during periods of crisis for reasons that you must understand if you want to continue selling.
Aiming for a quick score during moments of low supply and high demand may appeal to some as a shrewd business move, but it can also lead to an immediate account suspension.
Amazon’s Fair Pricing Policy doesn’t just prevent sellers from boosting prices to maintain fairness in their marketplace. It prevents abuse of buyers during times of dire need. Oh, and by the way, it also mirrors state and federal laws against price gouging. Amazon isn’t any more interested in hosting price gouging sales than you should be interested in making them, if you expect to maintain an account and avoid punitive actions.
The media and Facebook groups are abuzz with stories about profiteering, and listings for hand sanitizer priced at $299 or facial masks for $125 a pop. Why are sellers still trying to sell big on risky items at moments like this? Prior nightmarish suspensions related to price gouging (Hurricane Dorian, 2019) cautioned everyone against such practices, or so we thought. Most sellers now understand what the “third rail” fair pricing policies are all about. Yet we continue to hear from warned, suspended, deactivated and banned sellers who failed to heed the right kind of advice early enough. Here’s what sellers can do to avoid losing their selling privileges.
#1. Turn off automated repricers!
Keep prices where they were before the outbreak, to play it safe, and don’t let repricers run wild! Many sellers receive a sudden call from Account Health Services informing them of an inbound suspension within 72 hours, if they can’t provide a viable Plan of Action. Switching off your repricers and staying away from a “Set it up and let it go” approach are what AHS reps want to hear. Seller Performance, in turn, needs to hear how you’ll avert price gouging errors by monitoring any automated software during these periods. And how do you audit if your manual monitoring of automated tools is working? Give details.
Note, if you are using an Amazon repricer to automate your prices then you need to ensure you set realistic max prices for your products to avoid a price-gouging suspension.
#2. If manually adjusting prices, develop a process to identify which products are considered household staples.
Don’t guess. Make a definitive list, and stay away from listing or selling those items if you can’t guarantee that your prices won’t rise to preposterous levels due to shortages. Amazon isn’t always going to warn you in advance. And they are known to take drastic actions at times of crisis. They need to show buyers they’re protecting them from profiteering and demonstrate to the media (and the government) that they’re able to control the platform’s mechanisms for stopping price gouging. Overall, Amazon must reassure everyone that the proper tools and teams are in place.
It’s up to you to do this manually if you’re not using any automation that can be easily reset or turned off. If you have thousands of SKUs and no manual system for this, you’re looking at an uphill fight in terms of controlling it all.
Amazon currently defines the products in the list below as household staples. Reconcile this list with what your research shows using state and local government websites.
Most of the products we are accepting at this time are in the below categories:
Health & Household
Beauty & Personal Care (including personal care appliances)
Industrial & Scientific
Listing products in an inaccurate category is a violation of our listing policies and may result in account suspension.
#3. Remove any unsubstantiated claims!
We understand that sellers and services love to employ tricks to get the right buzzwords into a listing and attract more eyeballs to your products, but know where that line is drawn. If you’re making any health claims on your product listings, or are joining listings that make claims of cures for illnesses, diseases, viruses or conditions, check them all again. FDA approval guidelines are clear for such claims. Don’t risk it.
#4. Learn the laws!
You’re not just breaking policy, you’re facing possible legal ramifications for extremely unpopular and illegal manipulations of prices during a crisis. Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.
#5. Get Ready to Compose a POA/ Plan of Action.
Some sellers come to us after getting hit with warnings for their prices on orders from months ago, and for items they don’t even have now. Ignoring performance notifications, as always, carries a tremendous amount of risk. It’s much safer to delist particular items if they fall into the “household staples” category or even to delete them altogether if you think it’ll prevent a possible account suspension.
Amazon doesn’t always seem to care if you have inventory for the item or not, or how old the listings are. But, be ready to defend against any mistaken Amazon investigations flagging you for rule or lawbreaking with a solid POA. And have your story straight from the beginning, don’t keep changing it based on what you think they want you to say!
Don’t risk an account suspension or even get stuck with mountains of products that American consumers need access to in stores. Stay away from any “quick fix” attempts to score big off healthcare crises like the Coronavirus.