Season 1, Episode 136

How to Fix Variations Not Merging Reviews

Amazon sellers are constantly navigating through a maze of challenges to ensure their products stand out on the platform. One issue consistently resurfaces to perplex and frustrate sellers: ASIN variation families and their seemingly mysterious behaviors. In this episode, Chris McCabe & Leah McHugh delve into the perplexing issue of ASIN variation families not merging reviews as they should while also unpacking the nuanced difficulties sellers face— ranging from disappearing reviews to the mismanagement of variation families.

Show Notes


[00:00:00] Chris: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions. I’m Chris McCabe, once again, here with ASIN variation, listing policy expert, and other things, Leah McHugh. My head is still swimming with a lot of the questions and examples I saw in the Prosper Show workshops. Yes, I realized Prosper Show was a couple weeks ago, but we’re hearing a lot of these types of questions and comments from people about their ASIN variations, about reviews not showing appropriately, variation families being separated and re merged inappropriately. Is that fair to say? I mean, what would be the first, I know there’s more than one thing going on here, but if you had to break it down for somebody who walks up to you at an event, like our upcoming Seller Velocity Conference, and you’re one of our speakers, of course, they will be doing this just to prepare you. I mean, it’s a hot topic and it’s a big problem. What do you expect people to ask you when they’re like, Why aren’t my reviews showing up? Why aren’t these listings merging properly?

[00:00:57] Leah: Yeah. So that’s an issue that God, we’ve probably been hearing about for a few years at this point. I’m very bad at how time works. So possibly two years, possibly five years. I don’t know.

[00:01:09] Chris: But worsening in the past few months, isn’t that fair to say?

[00:01:12] Leah: No, it’s just something that’s come up again and I’m not sure why exactly. I mean, it could just be Amazon is making a lot of changes to the catalog lately. So people could just be seeing this more, because it is generally a catalog error. Or people are just paying attention to it again and they’d kind of stop paying attention to it for a while. So what Chris is talking about is when you have a ASIN variation family, generally speaking, the reviews for each of the children merge into a total number of reviews across the entire family. But occasionally, when you go to your ASIN variation family, it’ll still keep those reviews separate. So you’ll see, like, one child ASIN has 60 reviews, and another child variation has, like, a thousand reviews. Those should be merged, so the family shows 16. I’m sorry, 1, 060 reviews.

[00:01:59] Chris: Right.

[00:02:00] Leah: So it’s actually a fairly easy fix, but most sellers aren’t familiar with it. So what happens is they’ll call account health and account health don’t know anything about this.

[00:02:09] Chris: Or brand registry. I heard.

[00:02:10] Leah: Yeah, they’ll go to brand registry and brand registry will be like, here’s how you create a variation family. Which it’s like, yep, already did that. Thanks.

But it is actually pretty easy to fix. So first thing I recommend doing is downloading a category listing report, and taking a look at the product type and the item type keyword for all of the children and the parents within that variation family. Usually when we see this error, it’s because one of them doesn’t match.

So maybe the parent will be in a different product type, or you’ll see a different item type keyword on one of the children. That’s usually why the reviews aren’t emerging. So the first thing you need to do is update whatever isn’t matching. So everything within the variation family is in the same product type and in the same item type keyword. So you do that flat file upload and then wait 24 hours. And then if you still don’t see the reviews merging on the front end, that’s when you call the catalog with your batch ID from your flat file upload, and they can make sure that it’s pushing all the way through in their tools. Sometimes they call this a refresh. And then, usually within 24 hours of that, you will see the reviews merging across the variation family.

[00:03:22] Chris: So I have a comment and a question. The comment can maybe explain why I was furiously scribbling on the Prosper pad. And that’s what you saw when they said they were calling account health. I think a lot of sellers don’t know about calling catalog for this, or they try it and maybe they don’t execute it properly and there’s a problem. So many of them call support. Of course, most sellers begin with seller support, or failing that, they get a bad response or no real answer from support, then they do call account health. Not necessarily to get them to work on it or fix it, but just for guidance. Like what, based on your experience, what should I do next? And so that probably explains the account health services comment that you saw me scribble on that pad.

[00:04:09] Leah: Yeah. I mean, account health just doesn’t, this isn’t their purview. They don’t really have a lot to do with how the catalog works. And a lot of them don’t even fully understand how the catalog works. So getting them to troubleshoot this sort of issue, you are very likely to be sent down the wrong path.

[00:04:23] Chris: Right. Well, sometimes they try to help. But what they say is well, this isn’t in our area so what I’m going to do is create a ticket or ask a colleague, or I’m going to have somebody, this is their new thing, right the last year? I’m going to have somebody call you. And you don’t know when that call is going to come. You don’t know which team member it will be. So if you do get one of these random calls, make sure it’s not another account health rep calling you in that person’s stead.

[00:04:48] Leah: But I mean, also rather than waiting for account health, all you have to do is call support and ask to be transferred to the catalog team. One of the issues that sellers run into with this is that they’re used to making changes manually in seller central, rather than using flat files. And the issue with that is that there is no documentation. There’s no paper trail for the catalog team to follow. So they can’t actually see the changes that you’re making in Seller Central. If you give them a flat file with a batch ID, however, they can see when that was uploaded. They can see if there are any errors. They can see the batch processing report and they can help push those changes through the system. Flat files make your conversations with the catalog team a whole lot easier because they can actually see what you’re talking about.

[00:05:32] Chris: Yeah. And if you’re listening to my voice and not looking at me, I am wincing and cringing at the thought that anyone is not using flat files at this point and making their manual changes.

[00:05:45] Leah: I thought you were cringing at the thought of how much time I’ve spent on the phone with catalog.

[00:05:50] Chris: With catalog. That’s very cringy. When we’re coworking and I hear you on those calls, It helps me appreciate the value of the yoga and meditation that you must do.

[00:06:01] Leah: Well, and don’t get me wrong, I love the catalog team. The catalog team is probably one of the best teams that I deal with on a regular basis. I mean, there are obviously, you know, it’s a mixed bag, but generally speaking, they are the most well trained of the teams that I deal with on a daily basis.

[00:06:18] Chris: Still underscores the notion that you’re amazing at what you do. We say a lot, but maybe still not enough. The question I had was, do you think that this has become a bigger issue because there’s been so much abuse and, you know, mismatched listing merges and people taking zombie listings and merging them with a totally different product to harvest reviews, that kind of listing abuse, or just variations abuse of other kinds has stuck around for a millenia It seems like. Every kind of random WhatsApp group I’m in, and sometimes events you go to, and articles you read, you see all these kinds of tricks and hacks and recommendations about, you know, workarounds. I mean, do you think that’s why this has become more of an issue as opposed to just being a one to one straightforward problem solution?

[00:07:14] Leah: I mean, I think the matching issue is just a technical issue. But I mean, I think we see a lot more improper variations because variations merge reviews. And that is what the FTC sued Supplement Seller for last year. So I think that is why there is that kind of abuse. But I don’t think that this technical error is necessarily exacerbated because of the abuse.

[00:07:38] Chris: Right. But as you know, sellers often misconstrue or confuse what is a technical glitch and what’s an attack from a competitor. Since sometimes it’s hard to tell.

[00:07:49] Leah: I actually think that, I think we’re seeing an uptick in this less from competitor abuse and more because of catalog changes that Amazon has been making. They’ve definitely been playing around with automated, category changes internally. We’re seeing a lot of people’s products getting moved to a different category based on new rules that Amazon are applying to listings automatically. And so I think that’s where we’re seeing, more of this, less because of an abusive attack. I mean, you know, it will affect somebody because their reviews stop merging, but it’s not, you know, it’s not going to put your competitor out of business for a couple of days, you know. So if it is an abuse tactic, it’s not a very good one.

[00:08:28] Chris: I think sellers might interpret it as abuse because they’re aware of so much listing related abuse floating around in the entire ecosystem. I mean, they hear us talking about it quite a bit, but they’re seeing it and hearing it from events or, you know, other podcasts because other sellers are reporting and listing related abuse consistently. So maybe they’re jumping the gun?

[00:08:49] Leah: So usually when we see somebody. Being attacked either by keyword abuse or listing hijacking and more so on the listing hijacking side, what we’ll see is just a really small change made to like one attribute on the listing. And that’s usually the abuser, like testing it out.

See if you’ll notice, see if it’ll go through. And then we’ll start seeing bigger changes where they’re starting to change it to a totally different product. And so, you know, I would say this sort of issue as a standalone issue, probably not abuse. But if you see this in conjunction with other changes to your listings, then potentially, yes, there is an attack happening. It could just be that they just tried. I mean, cause you know, if somebody changes the product type on one ASIN in a variation family, unless you’re using listing alert software, you’re probably not going to notice that right away. But again, unless you’re seeing it in conjunction with other changes, I wouldn’t jump straight to abuse, and I definitely wouldn’t report it as abuse to amazon because that’s not enough information for them.

[00:09:47] Chris: No, it’s not. And I think sometimes account health reps are saying, you know, if the seller brings it up, which many more sellers each time are initiating this abuse conversation, based on other things they hear going on. I think sometimes the reps are saying, maybe, you know, do you think this is abuse? They might be saying like, well, maybe we’re not sure. Like they’re not sure. So they say that, and maybe that creates additional, Oh, maybe it is abuse, you know. And then people kind of go down that road.

[00:10:14] Leah: Right. And so this is another reason why it’s important to talk to the correct team. Cause the catalog team can actually see Where the contribution came from. So if they say, oh it was an automatic change by Amazon, then it likely wasn’t abuse. If they say it’s a retail contribution, possibly as abuse, because that usually means it came through the vendor program. And usually when we see weird contributions coming through the vendor program, it is in fact abuse.

[00:10:41] Chris: Great.

[00:10:41] Leah: So speak to the right team and you get the right information. They won’t tell you who it was, but they can tell you where it came from and whether it came from your account. Because also sometimes sellers just make this mistake themselves and don’t realize it until their reviews aren’t merging. So the catalog team can tell you. They won’t say specifically which seller, but they can tell you like, whether it came from another seller, or whether it came from retail, or whether it came from an Amazon internal team.

[00:11:07] Chris: So what other tips, tricks, any trends. Tips, tricks, and trends, do you think you see for this topic because it’s a vast topic and, you know, like I said, you’re going to be going into it in vivid detail at Seller Velocity in May, but for the time between now and May what should people be looking out for?

[00:11:28] Leah: I think the main thing, and I sort of mentioned this a little bit earlier in the episode, we still see a lot of variation misuse. And like I said, that is mostly brought on because of the review merging. And also, I guess, you know, you want people to see as many of your products on one page as possible, which I get. But we are, I think it’s Amazon sellers consider it as sort of a less important violation. They don’t really think that it’s going to put their account at risk. And we do still see account suspensions for variation misuse. And like I said, somebody was sued by the FTC because of variation misuse. So it isn’t just, you know, a little catalog technical thing that isn’t important. Amazon tend to go on a rampage of account suspensions for this. We won’t see it for a while, but then they’ll shut down tons of listings for variation misuse, particularly when they are getting negative press, or harassed by different government agencies. So I think it’s really important to understand what a correct variation family is. And obviously there’s different themes for each category in terms of variations. But the main thing to keep in mind is that Amazon considers their variation themes extremely literally. So if your product doesn’t 100 percent fit within that variation family, or it varies by anything other than that variation theme, that’s a non compliant variation family. And you know, best case scenario, they break up the family, worst case scenario, they suspend your account or you get sued by the FTC. So just keep it in mind when you’re creating your listings.

[00:13:10] Chris: Yeah. And, you know, like I said, you’re going to be talking about this with a lot of people in person very soon. And also by the way, it’s not just the government or the media triggering these, they do review these internally, and if they’re getting a lot of complaints and reports, they do initiate. I mean, as long as somebody like, you know, VP, or senior VP, or higher gets a lot of complaints about this, whether it’s from seller emails or from anywhere within Amazon or outside of Amazon, they do initiate these account suspension reviews themselves.

[00:13:38] Leah: Right. And I think also sometimes sellers get too focused on number of reviews and how many products they can have on a detail page. And they kind of forget about the buyer experience because I’ve also seen a number of these where I’m like, there’s no way that this improved their sales velocity. This is so confusing, having completely different products that you say vary by color, but they’re like a totally different thing. Like that is not a good buying experience. And I would be very surprised if that actually improved sales more than having listings that make sense to the buyer.

[00:14:10] Chris: You showed me one the other day and it was just very confusing. We won’t name the products or anything but, it was just confusing and I could see somebody being discouraged if that’s the word.

[00:14:20] Leah: Right. Or just you get bad reviews because they think they’re buying one thing and it’s actually a totally different product. I don’t think that the benefits outweigh the costs there when it comes to variation families. But it is important to understand Amazon’s rules. They are different than how you would maybe list things on your own website. So it is very important to understand the policies around variations. But like I said, when in doubt, the most literal meaning of the variation theme is what Amazon wants you to use.

[00:14:52] Chris: For sure. For sure. Well, as I mentioned, this is 1 of the many things Leah will be talking about at the Seller Velocity Conference, which is coming up in New York, May 1st and 2nd. Thank you so much for taking us through this. We’re going to revisit this topic again and again and again I am sure, throughout 2024. But we’re hoping that they don’t do one of these mass suspension purges.

[00:15:14] Leah: There has been an uptick, but I haven’t seen like a full on purge.

[00:15:17] Chris: Well, the reason they do those, and I know we’ve said this on between maybe a dozen to two dozen episodes so far over the last three years. The reason they do this is if they see something is a bad behavior trend, and they decide that doing the one at a time enforcement isn’t getting the message out, they think that a clean sweep is easier for them and convenient for them. And also will send the right message to the broad seller community all in one swoop. Because they know people will say, I got suspended for this, so did I, so did I. Maybe it’s on seller forums. Maybe it’s on Facebook, for those of you still using Facebook. Maybe it’s on TikTok, maybe it’s wherever. But the bottom line is they have a very easy way to push one button or two, and get communication blasted out to all these people because they’re saying, you’re either under review for an account suspension, or hey we are suspending you today. So that’s why it plays out the way it does all these years later. They’re definitely conscious of the, you know, appearance of suspending 5, 700 sellers all in one foul swoop, but they still do it.

[00:16:22] Leah: Yeah. And I would say don’t look at Amazon’s own listings to see what is compliant, cause they break their own policies on this all the time. And don’t look at other sellers because as I regularly say, I can find a policy violation in about two clicks from Amazon.Com. So you need to know the rules yourself.

[00:16:40] Chris: Excellent point to end on. This is why we are honored and privileged to have you as a speaker this year.

[00:16:45] Leah: Chris is in a very good mood today.

[00:16:48] Chris: No, I mean, you know your stuff and people need to know these things. And it’s you know, tectonic shifts sometimes under their feet that they’re not quite feeling at the time because they don’t think it’s a major violation. They are focused on other stuff and that kind of thing could happen to any business owner that takes their eye off the ball for a second. So it’s important stuff. All right. Thanks again for talking to me about this. And if anyone has questions about any of the content in today’s episode, or questions about Leah and what she’s talking about at Seller Velocity, please let us know.

We’re happy to answer those. Have a good one.

[00:17:21] Leah: Thanks, Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe





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