Season 1, Episode 133

How to Dispute Restricted Products with Seller Performance

Compliance on Amazon has always been a challenge. But lately, sellers are facing a new trend: restricted product suspensions morphing into full-blown account suspensions, leaving many sellers wondering, what’s the deal with these sudden shifts in Amazon’s enforcement tactics? In this episode, Chris and Leah dissect the intricacies of product restrictions and the uphill battle of disputing them.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:00] Chris: Hey everybody, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, or welcome if it’s your first time. This is Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris. I’m here with Leah McHugh, also of ecommerceChris talking about restricted product. This is a kind of a boom time, if that’s the right phrase, for restricted product suspensions that are now turning into account level suspensions.

[00:00:24] Chris: And I guess I’ll apologize to you personally in advance that my former team seems to be spearheading the review, and resolution, and decision on those account level suspensions. So I don’t know why that’s happening because these are compliance in nature, and my former teams don’t work on these things typically and don’t seem to know what to do with them. But my first question to you would be When do you remember starting to see that restricted product listing ASIN level suspensions have turned into account level suspensions? I don’t remember that being a 2023 thing.

[00:01:01] Leah: I mean, it’s always something that we would see outlier cases of, but I never really saw like a large amount of account suspensions for restricted products. And incidentally, when you have a restricted product warning on your account health dashboard, it says that there is no impact to your account health.

[00:01:20] Chris: Yes.

[00:01:20] Leah: So what’s interesting is that we’re seeing some accounts being suspended because they’ve had a number of products being flagged as restricted, but we’re also seeing some accounts being suspended for one product being flagged as restricted. You know, cause I’ve reviewed the products and one, it’s often misclassified as a restricted product, and two, the products that seem to be one and done aren’t necessarily things that would be more unsafe to people. So I’m not entirely sure what criteria they’re using to decide which accounts get suspended and who just gets a restricted products warning.

[00:01:56] Chris: Well, that’s one reason I want to talk about it today. I don’t think they’ve fully formed the criteria yet, number one. I think they’re feeling their way in the dark. But, it’s alarming that they’re doing that on an account basis, account level basis, instead of ASIN level, which is historically what we’ve seen. And I think I know why, and I’ll share that in a moment. But yes, the number one comment we’re getting from people is, why am I getting this account health message that this will have no impact on my account health? Oh, by the way, your whole account’s been taken down. No one can make sense of that first piece, right?

[00:02:30] Leah: No. And you know, you’ve seen a lot of these cases where the products are just incorrectly flagged as restricted products. I think every seller at this point has had at least one thing flagged as a restricted product, which isn’t a restricted product.

I mean certainly pesticides are one that we see incorrectly flagged all the time. Medical devices, things like that. And so all of the cases that I’m working on weren’t actually listing restricted products. They’ve been incorrectly flagged as restricted. But if the compliance team can’t do a good job of differentiating between restricted products and non restricted products, how is the seller performance team supposed to review this?

And they’re not asking for a plan of action. They’re asking for a dispute. So you have to prove to a team who doesn’t understand product compliance that your product is completely compliant, when the compliance team isn’t even good at reviewing this. So like, you’re explaining your innocence to someone who doesn’t understand.

[00:03:26] Chris: Yeah. Pardon my laugh. I’m not laughing because it’s funny. I’m laughing due to the absurdity of it. I think to answer your earlier point though, I understand why one instance, one ASIN, one flag is turning for restricted products is turning into an entire account suspension. They’ve married themselves to this notion since maybe about a year ago of this.

You have to dispute it, and prove to us you never did what we’re accusing you of and get reinstated, or that’s it. You don’t have a basis to appeal it. There is no request for a plan of action. And of course that rolled out very kind of in a sloppy disorganized fashion, so a lot of the account health reps, if you call in, will still tell you “oh, I’ll tell you how to put a plan of action together,” because they were trained on that. That’s their primary training two or three years ago. But that hasn’t kept up with this trend. No plan of action, only dispute or goodbye, get lost.

[00:04:29] Leah: Well, and we’re still seeing sellers send in plans of action when they’re not being asked for. So that’s the biggest thing to start with. You need to make sure that you’re reading what Amazon is asking from you. But the thing is, you know, I’ve seen accounts that have like 90 products flagged as restricted. And then I see accounts that have one product flagged as restricted. Both accounts are suspended, but like, you know, one product isn’t necessarily. I mean, I would understand if it was like, oh, well, this is clearly a worse restricted products to be listing, but it’s not. And so that’s why I’m just not really sure what their criteria is for just another warning versus suspending the entire account. I mean, I assume there’s some internal criteria, whether it’s being used correctly or not, but.

[00:05:16] Chris: Some people get the warning, but then they’re threatened with a full account suspension. And then they’re coming to us saying our account is about to be suspended, or by the way we got this warning. We’re not suspended, so don’t worry. We don’t need to appeal it. And we of course say, well, maybe you do have to appeal it. Let’s look at the details.

[00:05:36] Leah: Well, and I think that’s what’s getting a lot of people in trouble is that they get these notifications and it says that there’s no impact on their account. So for a lot of people, they’re just like, well this product isn’t worth it so I’m just not going to sell it anymore. And they just leave it to fester. And then eventually Amazon comes back and suspends the account. But once again, a lot of the cases that I am seeing, and a lot of the cases that I am working on, these are not restricted products. These are completely compliant products that have been misflagged or miscategorized. And so again, like I said, you’re now explaining product compliance to someone who doesn’t know the requirements and never will. Right. And in my experience with these teams, when they’re not sure their default is to deny reinstatement.

[00:06:26] Chris: Yes.

[00:06:26] Leah: So you’re expected to explain this to somebody who doesn’t understand it in a way that they will feel confident in reinstating your account. Meanwhile, you know, a lot of the times you’re having to refer to quite deep legal areas, and also complicated product testing. Things like that to a team who has no basis for understanding. And as far as they know, you could just be making it up.

[00:06:53] Chris: And you do have to read the fine print. There have been a variety of people contacting us. Some say, well, I got the message that it has no impact on my account health. Some aren’t sure if they’re supposed to appeal it or not. So you really have to read, you know, the messaging in detail. And unfortunately what you just said, some people are hiring like template mills. And a lot of the template companies, which seem to be multiplying by the month, their stock reserve of generic appeals are mostly POA’s. So they’re buying a POA with some copy and paste, fill in the blanks, and they’re sending the POA in, and Amazon’s replying, rejecting, saying, we’re not asking you for POA. Why did you send this, or this was being rejected. So they’re already guaranteeing a rejection on top of showing Amazon that they have no understanding of what’s being flagged, what’s being asked for. And then on top of that, they’re undercutting their ability to dispute it because the POA is an admission that something was missed, something has to be improved upon. So you’re painting yourself in a corner to boot. And that’s what I think is creating all these confused situations that we’re seeing now.

[00:08:12] Leah: I mean, there’s no way you can use a template for product compliance. Every product in every marketplace has different compliance requirements. Not to mention on top of the legal requirements, amazon has their own individual requirements for different products. So any sort of standard template is not going to work here. But what I’m saying is that even when you’re submitting the correct information and you are well disputing the claim. The people that are reviewing it don’t know if what you’re saying is correct or not.

[00:08:44] Chris: So they’re guessing. They’re guessing.

[00:08:46] Leah: Well, but like I said, they’re guessing, but they’re also guessing with a bias towards denial. Because they don’t want it to come back to them later that they reinstated somebody who shouldn’t have been reinstated.

[00:08:57] Chris: Yeah. Newsflash, they have a bias toward denial anyway, not just for this.

[00:09:02] Leah: Well, and I understand why sellers didn’t necessarily like appeal some of these individual restrictions, because you have the same loop with the compliance team where they ask you for testing that doesn’t exist, or documentation that doesn’t exist, or think your product is something completely different from what it is. And so after a few tries at that, if you don’t really want to sell the product again, I understand why sellers are just like, eh, it has no impact. I’ll just leave it and not sell this again.

[00:09:27] Chris: Right, but in the age of the account health dashboard and account health ratings scores.

[00:09:31] Leah: Right, but it has no impact on that.

[00:09:34] Chris: Right, so set that aside for the moment since we already kind of knocked that one down. In the age of account health monitoring, historically you couldn’t ignore demerits on your account, performance notifications. And we’ve always said just because it’s an ASIN you don’t care about doesn’t mean you don’t appeal it, deal with it, resolve it in some way.

[00:09:56] Leah: Right. I’m not saying that they should do this. I’m saying I understand why they have left them because it says that there’s no impact and appealing these, unless you’re like me doing it all day every day and going a little bit insane about it, it is not exactly a fun thing to waste your time on, when it’s something that you don’t even plan on selling again.

[00:10:14] Chris: We’ll take a step back. One reason Leah’s going so insane is because people are sending in so many POA’s from cookie cutter template mill companies that they hired, who only have POAs, who A, don’t understand compliance and really probably don’t intend to understand compliance, and B, you haven’t been asked for a POA.

So Leah has to unpack all of that. Burn down everything you’ve done up till that point. I mean, what would you say on average, the people we’re hearing from have sent in two or three of these things. So we have to reorient the entire conversation, if you want to call it a conversation, with compliance teams.

And also it’s just hurting your odds to admit to all these things in a situation where you’re supposed to be disputing it. And if you call account health, or if you talk to your account manager and a variety of people inside Amazon and outside of Amazon, they will tell you if it’s a dispute situation and you’ve got legitimate backing for that argument, dispute it first. For the love of God, do not send in POA’s without knowing why you’re doing it. And do not send in admission of guilt and confess to things just because you think Amazon wants a POA, when you should be disputing it, because you’re undercutting your ability later on to reverse course and dispute it and have them take it seriously. Is that fair to say?

[00:11:40] Leah: Yeah, I mean, with the compliance team, it’s sort of a different story, but I mean, performance is definitely that way.

[00:11:45] Chris: But that’s what they’re doing. They’re mixing and matching performance and compliance now. I mean, that’s what worries me the most. Because seller performance, people on my former teams, they are not going to know the nature of the product. Look at the packaging, imaging, look at the FDA rules, the EPA, right? I mean, that’s what you’re saying essentially is that that’s a possibility.

[00:12:11] Leah: Yeah. In the last week, I’ve had 3 separate cases where the seller has been asked for documentation that doesn’t exist. Like, they’ve been asked for things from the FDA that the FDA does not provide. Or testing for a product that is totally unrelated to the product that has been flagged. And so, and that’s from the compliance team. So if the compliance team is asking for stuff that doesn’t exist and has no legal basis for, how is the performance team supposed to navigate this particular area?

[00:12:44] Chris: Well, and how are you supposed to navigate reversing course and disputing something, and saying you’re asking me for testing that isn’t required. It doesn’t exist. When you’ve already sent in a plan of action saying, we’ll do a better job of monitoring this in the future. And all those copy and paste, you know. I mean, of course they reject that. They tend to reject anyway.

[00:13:04] Leah: Yes, I get it. Yeah. So yes, people shouldn’t send in POA templates. Right. Got it.

[00:13:09] Chris: Well, because Amazon had to create a message saying we don’t accept plans of action for this particular issue. They did that because sellers were blanketing them with templates for POA’s when they didn’t even ask for one. So it’s like, you’re kind of undercutting your respectability as a seller if you give them things that they don’t ask for. It kind of makes it look like you never read the messaging, right?

[00:13:35] Leah: Mm hmm.

[00:13:36] Chris: So read the messaging.

Anything else people need to know in terms of restricted products. We talked about how ASIN level suspensions are turning into account level suspensions. But in the vast world of compliance cases that you handle are there any other trends around RP that you think they need to pay attention to?

[00:14:00] Leah: Yeah. I mean in terms of the sorts of things that compliance are flagging, more and more of the trends within the internal enforcement is around keywords. So if you don’t want your products to be incorrectly flagged, you need to be very careful as to how you describe your product. And also quite importantly, you need to make sure that you’re not saying anything on the packaging that your type of product isn’t allowed to say. Not all of this, but a lot of this internally is automated. And the easiest way to automate restricted product warnings is to highlight keywords with an algorithm and flag listings based on that.

It also unfortunately makes it very rife for abuse for people putting keywords into listings in order to intentionally get them flagged, but that is the way that Amazon has decided to enforce these.

So be very careful about how you describe your product. Be very careful. Certainly words like children. We’re seeing more and more products if you mentioned kids in your listing being flagged as a children’s product that requires children’s product certificate and children’s product testing. You need to think about the words that you’re using in your listings with compliance in mind.

[00:15:11] Chris: And just as a footnote, one reason I kept mentioning don’t submit a plan of action is because often we end up escalating these. And that only hurts the cause when you’re trying to escalate these. I mean, don’t you handle most of these with escalations, because they’re denying them, because they don’t understand the nature of the material?

[00:15:31] Leah: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately the people that we’re escalating to usually don’t understand the material either, but they then eventually get it to somebody who does.

[00:15:40] Chris: But I just think creating additional background noise does not help the situation and kind of hobbles the effort.

[00:15:46] Leah: I mean, you certainly don’t want to give them an excuse. And saying that you listed a restricted product when you didn’t list a restricted product is giving them an excuse to stop looking at it.

[00:15:57] Chris: Couldn’t have ended this episode on a better, more concise note. Thank you very much for that.

[00:16:01] Leah: You’re welcome.

[00:16:02] Chris: And thank you for all of your continued patience on all of these compliance cases you’re working on. I don’t know how you do it, really. But somehow you found a way. Meditation, yoga, occasional trips to Thailand. Something is getting you through compliance work that I don’t fully understand. Fighting the good fight. Well, you’re also, contributing to product and safety compliance in general on the marketplace, which has been sorely needed for years.

And I think garbage in, garbage out. Confusing Amazon teams just makes them more likely to send you messaging back that confuses you, and it just drags the whole process out. So, anything we can do to shine a light on this for you? Let us know, feel free to ask us questions. We’ll be talking more compliance very, very soon. I’m sure. Thanks for listening. Thanks, Leah.

[00:16:53] Leah: Thanks, Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe

 

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