Season 1, Episode 141

Don’t let products you don’t sell get you in trouble

Amazon sellers constantly strive to maintain a competitive edge while adhering to the platform’s rigorous compliance standards. One prevalent issue in this dynamic environment is the misuse and abuse of product variations. There’s been an alarming trend where some sellers are tempted to copy their competitors’ misuse of variations to stay competitive. In this episode, Chris and Leah discuss the impact of these practices and provide  advice on how to handle these challenges without compromising your compliance.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:00] Chris: Hey, everybody. This is Chris McCabe. We’re back with Seller Performance Solutions. I’m back with Leah McHugh. We had a, I think, a couple weeks hiatus while we were doing the Billion Dollar Seller Summit stuff in Hawaii.

[00:00:12] Leah: Was that a hiatus? It didn’t feel like a hiatus.

[00:00:15] Chris: Didn’t feel like a hiatus. Yeah. Those are some long conference days, but we did manage to go diving a couple of times. So we got a couple of fun days in, right? Saw some colorful fish and, back at it this week with more variations, misuse slash abuse. Still a hot topic. We’ve become a bit alarmed. We talked to some sellers who are thinking of copying their competition, people who are getting away with variations, misuse or abuse.

I understand that some brands are losing money because their competitors are getting away with it. We’ve worked with some sellers who are reporting it and reporting it well, and we do recommend that people do report any variations, misuse or abuse, but do not copy your competition just because they’re outranking you or outselling you temporarily.

So I thought that was a good place to start. And my question to you is, are you still getting people sending you flat files and category listing reports saying we’re doing this all right. We shouldn’t be getting punished by Amazon. We shouldn’t be getting flagged, but they are getting flagged.

[00:01:12] Leah: I mean, yeah, a little bit, maybe it’s with a little bit less conviction than before, but yeah, I still have that conversation where these are essentially the same product, but they still differ by more than the variation theme, or they differ by something other than the variation theme, and so that is an invalid variation still.

[00:01:28] Chris: And some of the people I talked to at BDSS, Billion Dollar Seller Summit, thanks to Kevin King, by the way, for putting that event on. Some of the people I talked to told me that they had to get creative because their products didn’t naturally fit into variation themes and compliant schemes. So I guess that the place to start?

[00:01:51] Leah: I mean, let’s start with that and just don’t do that. I mean, that’s pretty simple.

[00:01:55] Chris: Okay, I’ll rephrase my question. Are they forced to be creative because Amazon’s scheme or system doesn’t allow for a natural fit for their particular kind of product?

[00:02:05] Leah: When Amazon doesn’t allow for a natural fit for their particular kind of product is because Amazon doesn’t want that product in a variation.

[00:02:12] Chris: Okay. Fair enough. We also talked to a lot of people who have problems with they don’t sell in international marketplaces, their product has been listed in an international marketplace, and maybe there’s improperly created or inaccurate detail page in that marketplace, and maybe there’s even violations on that detail page that involves their brand.

Right? So, for starters, what do you do to prevent that from from happening to you if you don’t sell? In the UK or in Singapore or in Europe or whatever.

[00:02:44] Leah: Oh, I think we’re talking about two different issues, but I mean, yeah, that’s something as well.

[00:02:48] Chris: Let’s start with that one.

[00:02:49] Leah: Sure. I mean, you do need to be conscious of your listings and international marketplaces, particularly because incorrect information on an international marketplace can trickle over into your main marketplace, which is usually the US for our clients. What we used to see many years ago and now I’m starting to see again is that that was actually an abuse tactic. So if you have brand registry in the US but you don’t have brand registry in the UK, it’s a lot easier to make incorrect changes to your listing in the UK and then wait for that to trickle through or to add abusive content to try to get your listing taken down in the US, that’s something we saw a lot a few years ago and now I’m starting to see a little bit more of it again, I still don’t really know why that loophole exists. I guess, you know, build international listings is probably why they need to have that functionality available.

But so it is important to keep an eye on all international marketplaces when it comes to your products, not just the ones that you’re actively selling in. But the thing that we had discussed before we started recording was People accidentally listing products in international marketplaces because build international listings is turned on and even though they aren’t actively selling in those marketplaces, those listings are still in those catalogs in their seller central. And the issue that we’re seeing with a lot of people is because they don’t sell in those marketplaces, they’re not really looking in that seller central, so they’re not realizing that they’re listing products that aren’t allowed to be sold in those countries within their seller central and so those accounts are then being suspended for listing restricted products, even though they never actively sold. Amazon will still hold it against you if it’s in your catalog in seller central. So they’re getting their international marketplaces suspended for listing restricted products, but they didn’t realize that they had even listed those products there in the first place.

So make sure you’re checking your build international listing settings and make sure you’re checking all of your international marketplaces to make sure that you have an accidentally listed products that aren’t supposed to be listed in that country. And also make sure that you don’t have any performance notifications in those marketplaces because what we see a lot of the time is that an international marketplace goes down, then brand registry goes down, and then their main marketplace goes down for being related to the suspended account overseas.

[00:05:04] Chris: You stole my thunder. That was my follow up comment. So yeah, in the advent of global selling and in the 2024 age of marketplace management, it looks like there’s much higher likelihood that an international marketplace being suspended can impact your US account.

That’s what we’re hearing for the most part, we do hear from Europeans, of course, who have problems between different countries and regions there, but most of the people contacting us now are either seeing their us account suspended because of these things or threatened with suspension. And that’s what’s scaring everyone.

Definitely that deserves its own episode. So it’s kind of my fault for weaving these two topics together. Usually we stick to one core topic, but I did want to hit both of these because last week in Kauai and in Hawaii, we talked to a lot of brands who are having these two types of problems. And with the case of that particular event, just like with our Seller Velocity Conference, most of the sellers attending are high seven figure, low eight, low to mid eight figure.

There’s a lot of money at stake. And even with one ASIN going down for a restricted product flag, even if it’s an erroneous flag, Or you mistakenly created some variations. You might’ve broken a couple of listing policies. It just seems like that gets the dominoes to start falling a little bit differently than it would have been in the last year or so, is that fair to say?

[00:06:29] Leah: Yeah, and we’ve mentioned before that they’re not handling the restricted products appeals the same way that they used to. So if the account is suspended for restricted products, you have to dispute that you ever listed a restricted product, is the path that Amazon gives for that particular kind of reinstatement and what we’re seeing in the international marketplaces is that it is a restricted product in that country. It’s just was never intended to be listed there in the first place.

[00:06:52] Chris: Another problem we’re seeing is sellers have been caught multiple times making mistakes in their listing creation process, which leads to restricted product violations.

And if these start piling up, not only does it negatively affect your account health, but I’m starting to hear, I don’t know if you have from brands who are suspended once. Maybe they have an account manager. Maybe they sort it out. Maybe they write an appeal. Maybe they acknowledge the previous violation, but they get caught doing it twice.

They make the same mistakes with ASIN variation creation. We see a lot of people repeating the same mistakes. Those people get placed in the re-offender bucket. So it’s not as easy to dispute it because you’ve already been caught twice.

[00:07:36] Leah: Well, and that’s not even necessarily multiple account suspensions.

I’ve talked to far too many sellers who are suspended for variation misuse, and then they showed me their previous warnings. And so they go into account health. They acknowledge the warning to get it removed from the account health dashboard and then they recreate the variations that Amazon just told them were incorrect in the first place.

So now to appeal, you not only have to show that you’re never going to do it again, but you also have to explain why you already did it again after Amazon already told you not to do that, and at the account suspension level, if you’re suspended twice for this right now, I mean, I would not want to be taking that case personally.

[00:08:13] Chris: Right? No, it’s finally gotten to the point where, which I’ve only seen with product reviews, abuse suspensions in the past, or for flagrant violating policies repeatedly, whether you’re warned or suspended or not, we’re getting to the point with Things like variations misuse, other policy violations, where if you reoffend, if you’re caught twice, you should not expect, not just leniency, you shouldn’t really expect to get the business back on, and it’s becoming fewer and farther in between people who say, yeah, we were caught twice. We were suspended twice. We worked with our account manager, we finessed it and we got reinstated. Without too much pain, you know, both times. I mean, those stories are becoming fewer.

[00:08:53] Leah: I think what’s concerning to me is that I’ve had a lot of conversations with sellers lately where they’re either their account manager or a business development person are actually the ones that are pushing them to make the listings this way or pushing them to do things like just to do things that are like against Amazon policy.

And the concerning thing I think for me is that some of these people are suspended and then are able to get reinstated because of that, but then there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of like, Oh, well, we better not do that again type of conversations after that.

[00:09:30] Chris: No, There’sone, there’s none of that. I was going to suggest we do a separate episode.

So maybe we can do that next week on, can you do a successful dispute based on Amazon told me to do the wrong thing? Historically, you haven’t been able to.

[00:09:41] Leah: Well, I still don’t think you could with support, but I think when it’s an account manager, it’s for some reason being treated differently.

[00:09:48] Chris: Yeah. Yeah. That’ll be our next should be our next episode , if your account manager is telling you to do something that breaks listing policies and it gets you into trouble, the first time they may be able to go to bat for you and get, get you back on if they don’t understand.

[00:10:05] Leah: Make sure you get their suggestions and writing if, if you’re going to be doing that.

[00:10:10] Chris: Okay. That’s a good point that I didn’t even think to make. Make sure you have this documented in email so you can quote from the email.

[00:10:16] Leah: Not just like a phone call that they told you to do something, make sure it’s in writing.

[00:10:21] Chris: Not a monthly call with your SAS core. Excellent point. But secondarily, if they get it resolved because we’ve spoken to sellers, whether it was at the Hawaii conference or not, who had been suspended briefly because they had followed their account manager’s advice or someone else at Amazon, not seller support, or just another member of the catalog team or so forth.

Make sure you don’t do the same thing a second time just because the person who advised you to do it a certain way doesn’t know the rules doesn’t mean you can get away with it twice because you don’t want to have to appeal right after that a second time saying, oops, it looks like an Amazonian misled us again.

But some of these Amazonians were just people who were wandering around the Accelerate conference, at least in one case, and who just gave out some bad advice because this isn’t even what they do for their job for Amazon, and they directly led to the account suspension.

Was it fixed? Yes. Is it sortable? Resolvable, yes, but we don’t even, I don’t even have enough use cases to tell you what the percentages are in terms of how many appeals it might be, what kind of trouble you could get into, who do you listen to, who do you not listen to, all Leah and I can tell you right now is take it with a grain of salt the way you do anytime you talk to support or account health and don’t just blindly follow, make sure you have a conversation slash email thread where you show them the policy and you say, look, you’re advising me to do ABC, When I read this policy page, I see X, Y, Z, is this going to be a problem?

Have that conversation before you do it.

[00:11:58] Leah: I mean, I think that is the problem is that the seller doesn’t know the policy. So when the account manager or whoever says to do it, they’re like, cool. But yes, learn the policies.

[00:12:08] Chris: But you don’t even initially need to know the policy, you just have to ask the question before we do this. Mr. Amazon account manager, can you show me the policy, what you’re saying we can do legitimately? I want to review it and make sure that we’re doing everything we’re supposed to. You can make it sound like you’re internally reviewing their advice, just to make sure that you have it straight, but make sure that you’re talking about rule compliance and listing guidelines, because I don’t think they’re going to be that offended if you’re like, Hey, we just want to make sure on our side, we’ve got our game tight and we understand this backwards and forwards before we implement what you’re recommending we do. It’s a good way and do it by email so that you can show if you need it down the road. You can show that you ask them questions before you did it. To make sure those listings are valid and compliant.

[00:13:02] Leah: Yeah. My favorite is still the one that suggested adding names of diseases to the back of a supplements listing. It’s like, that is legal, but thank you for that advice.

[00:13:12] Chris: That’ll that’ll stay your favorite for a while. I think I was sitting with you and you discovered that. Anyway, I realized we wandered a bit off topic this time.

We’re a bit over time. Thanks for listening. We’ll come back at you next week with some Seller Performance Solutions brilliance and expertise. And thanks, Leah. I’ll talk to you soon.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe

 

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