Season 1, Episode 73



Don’t Misrepresent your Products

Many sellers are adding popular keywords or content, trying to make their listing easier to find on Amazon. But sometimes these additions are a distortion of what the product is and it’s uses. In this episode Leah & Chris discuss the many flaws with this marketing strategy and how it can get you into hot water not only with Amazon, but also with regulatory agencies and the law.

Show Notes


[00:00:07] Chris: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions. We’ve got a hot and relevant topic today. It’s gonna come up a lot in Q4, I’m here with Leah McHugh and I’m Chris McCabe. We are trying to make sure that everyone has listings that are compliant and also accurate.

So Leah, maybe you can give a quick rundown of some of the rather alarming trends we’ve seen of late.

[00:00:29] Leah: Yeah. Well, so today I specifically wanted to talk about misrepresenting your products because we’ve been having a lot of conversations, to be fair, this is a conversation I’ve been having for a while. But it seems to be coming up more often lately of I sell a product that Amazon considers to be restricted. What if I just remove these words? So Amazon doesn’t realize that it’s that kind of a product, will that be okay? and I think part of the reason we’re hearing about this more is because some of these listing restrictions, Amazon is just saying, remove the restricted content and will reinstate your listing.

But what they are saying there is specifically restricted content, not if this product’s restricted and you make it look like it’s a different product, Then you can re-list it.

[00:01:15] Chris: And of course, some people are adding certain keywords or content, so that it’ll be easier to search and find on Amazon.

And they’re kind of getting into hot water simply because they’re reaching for more sales without understanding compliance.

[00:01:29] Leah: 
Well, and that’s the larger conversation and the larger conversation, which I guess I probably should have started with, is that how you market your product matters.

Not just in terms of sales, not just in terms of ranking, but in terms of how your product is regulated. So a lot of things you can sell the exact same product, like structurally, ingredient wise, whatever, it’s the exact same thing, but depending on how you market it and what you say about the product on the packaging, in your marketing, on your website, that’s what actually decides how your product is classified to whoever the regulating body may be.

So an example that I use a lot. It’s something that everybody is somewhat familiar with now because of COVID is alcohol wipes. If I sell 90% alcohol wipes and I market them as being to clean the lenses on your glasses, those aren’t regulated by the FDA or the EPA. Those are just a regular consumer product.

If I say that those cleansing wipes, 80% alcohol are to sanitize your hands, now that product is under the FDA’s jurisdiction and considered a medical product. If I say those same wipes are to disinfect surfaces, now that product is regulated by the EPA. So it’s the exact same product. The only difference is the words that I used to describe that product and to market it to people.

And I don’t think people understand that if you say that your product is something that can have a legal consequence.

[00:03:06] Chris: They don’t understand it. And I think also the tricky part is sometimes they’re hiring services that don’t have compliance processes and they don’t understand it either. And they think they’re just using these terms or phrases to generate additional sales, without even considering this huge elephant in the room, which results often in a listing take down, ASIN suspension, which is how we sometimes first hear about it from that particular brand or seller. So something bad that already happened that was preventable. Right?

[00:03:38] Leah: Right. But the thing is at that point, you’ve already said it. So possibly. If you remove that verbiage, Amazon will reinstate the listing, but they could also come back and say, well, you said, this is this kind of product. Therefore we need to have all of this certification, whatever is needed for that product to prove that you’re allowed to sell this. Another good example of this is supplements. If you start making disease claims, now you’re in unregulated drug territory, even though the ingredients are the same.

All that’s changed is what you have said. So yes, sometimes it is just a mistake and you did just put something on your listing that you shouldn’t have put there, but it’s not just Amazon being a hard ass, a lot of the times there are legal requirements.

[00:04:19] Chris: Well, they’re holding you to it. They’re taking you at your own definition for your own products. They’re not commissioning an independent study to open up your inventory and FBA and study it all themselves and decide. For Amazon’s self what your product is, they’re taking you at your word. So you don’t wanna start saying well, we said it’s this, we said it’s that. But we can’t back any of that up because we were just using that for our marketing purposes. They’ll hold it against you if you do that.

[00:04:48] Leah: And so another question that I often get is, well, can I just put that in the hidden keywords? And that’s still part of your marketing. You’re still, even though the front end buyer, can’t see those words, it’s still bringing up your listing when people search those terms.

So yes, that will still get your listing potentially flagged for whatever it is that you’re claiming if you’re not allowed to make that claim. So then the other side which is what Chris had started with, was people who are trying to sell products that have been like that are restricted products by Amazon. I’m trying to think of a good one that everybody knows this is a restricted product.

[00:05:20] Chris:  You’re misrepresenting the product. That’s what we’re focused on today, right?

[00:05:24] Leah: Well, yeah, but there are services and we’ve had people who have come to us at those after those services have failed to get their listing reinstated. Who are basically saying, well, yeah, this is a restricted product, but we’re just going to make it look like it’s a different product that isn’t restricted on Amazon. And so they’ll reinstate your listing. And the issue you run into there is Amazon might reinstate your listing if you’re, I guess, call that lucky, but you’re still misrepresenting your product. So potentially you’re looking at, I mean, it depends on the product, but potentially you’re looking at consumer fraud as one of the worst case scenarios. And again, you’re looking at you’re running into different regulatory bodies, depending on what the product actually is.

If you’re not meeting the requirements for that product, because you’re trying to hide the fact that it is that product in the first place.

[00:06:16] Chris:
 And we live in a day and age where competitors are typically watching their competition on Amazon. You’re handing them ammunition to fire back at you when you make these mistakes, or if it’s not a mistake and it’s deliberate, you’re deliberately deciding to hand a gift to your competitors who in this day and age, I think a lot of them know how to report abuse or fraud. Some of them might get the information over to the FTC, generate a complaint number that they can put in front of Amazon to show how serious they are about preventing you from misleading customers and from breaking laws around consumer fraud.

So you’re taking a giant risk for maybe a little or a lot of additional sales, but that’s all short term gain. Most of the sellers we work with are in this Amazon thing for the long haul. And they’re not looking for a quick score just to cash out after Q4 and have a nice day, we’re gonna do something else with our lives.

So if you’re taking your business seriously at all, or you take risk seriously ,risk assessment at all, you don’t just dive into this stuff saying everybody’s doing it, amazon hasn’t caught it today, what if Amazon catches it tomorrow and not today?

[00:07:26] Leah: 
Well, and then, even further than that, what if somebody hurts themselves? Because they don’t fully understand the nature of your product because you misrepresented it or you didn’t provide proper instructions in order to hide what your product actually is. I mean, there are genuine safety concerns with a lot of these products because a lot of the restricted products on Amazon are restricted because they are illegal or unsafe.

They’ve restricted them because they have decided that it’s not worth the risk for them to have these types of products on their marketplace. So if you’re misrepresenting your product and you’re not providing a proper explanation of what it’s for and how it should be used, you’re increasing that risk of injury or misuse of the product, because you’re trying to hide what it actually is.

[00:08:10] Chris: How about this buyer complaints simply because it’s not the product you said it was. I mean, buyers love to tell Amazon that. You know, this is not a skateboard, this is a hoverboard. Well, we weren’t able to sell hoverboards on Amazon. So we called everything a skateboard. That’s great for the near term sale, if you’re just looking to deceive buyers and make money out of it, do you think a company that has the buyer experience as their prime directive, will be happy that you are misleading their buyers?

It is after all their buyer at the end of the day. Pretty sure lots of sellers get suspended for misleading buyers about their products.

[00:08:46] Leah: Right. And even a less extreme version of that. Is people putting their own brand, like listing on Amazon under their own brand when the product itself is another brand’s product and what the customer is receiving is under that other brand. So your listing says it’s your branded product and what the customer receives is a totally other brand product. Again, not quite as a extreme case, but again, if you’re selling regulated products, none of the required documentation is going to match the information you’ve put on Amazon.

If you’re incorrectly saying it’s your product that you make when somebody else is making it under a totally different brand.

[00:09:25] Chris: Sellers manipulating listings to add their own name as the brand when they’re not, or to say that they’re the manufacturer when they’re not, drives me crazy because that results in so many counterfeit complaints from buyers.

[00:09:37] Leah: So I actually thought that that had not had gone down in the amount of sellers that are doing that up until recently when I’ve seen just a bunch of it.

[00:09:45] Chris: Because this is a fad and this is a gimmick and it’s not just among sellers and seller groups, it’s among third party services that are saying, Hey, we can surface your product a lot more easily and get you more sales with a couple of tricks. And if those tricks are no longer useful, we’ll come up with new parallel tricks. No one at a company like that’s ever going to tell you that they’re risking your entire account or business.

[00:10:09] Leah: Well, not just that, if you’re saying somebody else’s product is your branded product, you’re potentially looking at a lawsuit from that initial brand.

[00:10:16] Chris: The legal part, the legal part is almost a separate can of worms that we can either address another time.

We don’t have enough hours in the day to have one podcast include all angles of this problem, but this should also be very logical stuff that any business owner that has even a rudimentary understanding of the law or a fraud should understand. And oh, by the way, we’re talking about Amazon, Amazon loves to bring the sledgehammer down on people who they think are skirting the rules, let alone breaking laws.

[00:10:44] Leah: That’s another thing. If Amazon understands that you are trying to misrepresent any of your information to them, that’s an excellent reason for them to suspend your account. They don’t want that kind of seller on their platform anymore. Some could argue that at certain point they didn’t care, but at this point they don’t want that kind of seller on their platform.

[00:11:03] Chris: And I think the sellers that employ some of these tricks don’t understand that for certain things that surface in the media or public complaints, memes, anything that that really goes viral. Amazon wears as a badge of honor how many sellers they take out and suspend or how many listings they take down to show they’re serious about buyer safety and buyer experience.

So you’re playing straight into their hands because it makes them look good that they’re suspending lots of people. Well, why make yourself one of those easy targets when you can clean it up, fix it now before a competitor reports you, before Amazon comes up with an online tool that catches you, educate yourself today, not down the road when there’s a sweep and they get everybody.

[00:11:45] Leah: Right. And don’t try to change your listing to make it look like something else. If you’re trying to change it to make it actually correct. Oftentimes, you will have to create a new listing because there are certain attributes that if you change, then Amazon considers that to be an entirely different product because you know, it kind of is at that point.

[00:12:07] Chris: Yeah. Any questions on this? Direct them to Leah. No, I’m just kidding. I’ll field a few of these as well. But this is a big Q4 theme and Amazon’s serious about this stuff. Don’t mess around. Let us know if you have any questions and thanks again for listening. We look forward to speaking with you again.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh



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