Season 1, Episode 127

Important Updates for 2024

As we begin 2024, we look back on the most popular topics discussed in the last year.

Amazon experts Leah McHugh and Chris McCabe provide important updates for sellers and predict what they can expect to see this year.

Show Notes

Transcript

Leah: [00:00:00] Hey, Amazon sellers. Welcome to the Seller Performance Solutions Podcast. I am Leah McHugh and I am here with Mr. ecommerceChris, Chris McCabe, who hates when I say that, but I’m saying it anyway.

Chris: I love when you say that.

Leah: Oh, you changed your tune. Okay.

Chris: New year, new me.

Leah: Ah, I see. Yeah. So we are in 2024 after a relatively wild ride of 2023. So we thought a good way to kick off 2024 would be to do some updates on some of the most popular topics that we talked about last year. So you can prepare for dealing with these things in the new year.

Chris: So maybe just a quick rundown of what we’re going to talk about today before we dive into it. Brand and competitor attacks. That was a popular episode because a lot of brands have experienced that. We’re going to talk about compliance issues, right? That’s your forte. We’re going to dig into some of your top experiences, I guess, with some of the cases you worked on.

Leah: Changes to compliance [00:01:00] as we head into the new year and what we’re expecting to see with because there has been a quite a lot of Action with government agencies and Amazon. So what we’re expecting to see there.

Chris: What we’re expecting to see in 2024 in terms of compliance issues, further explanation around what an escalation is and what it isn’t on Amazon. We want to talk about that for a little bit. And then I think we should also get into the extreme ASIN merging issues, as you called it, because we’re still seeing a lot of that from last year.

Leah: And correct listing content when you’re when your ASIN is blocked because some of that has changed a little bit as we headed to the new year. So let’s start with dealing with attacks because that’s something that is constantly changing as the attackers get more and more savvy.

So, you know, this last year we saw a good amount of fake negative reviews coming in for people, definitely fake safety complaints and intellectual property complaints. You work on these a lot more than I do. What have you been seeing lately in terms of [00:02:00] attacks?

Chris: The back end keyword abuse still happens three years later, which is kind of sad, but it is, which is somebody’s putting illicit words and illicit terms into vacant fields.

Leah: I’ve also seen it happening a lot more with internal fields, so you can’t even see it on your end. It’s only visible to Amazon’s catalog team, which is always fun to deal with.

Chris: Well, also, hold on. Also, wasn’t there more A plus content abuse in 2023 than 2022?

Leah: I didn’t see so much attacks through A plus content. I don’t think I saw people getting in trouble for what they put in their A plus content. But that’s more on the compliance side of things.

Chris: The biggest trend I saw last year, which continues now, was My images have changed, my title has changed,

texts on the detail page has changed. Things have happened that are bad and I don’t understand why. And when I contact Amazon teams, they either pretend they know why, and they [00:03:00] clearly don’t, or they don’t know why either. And that’s why this past year rang so many alarm bells within all the brands and all the agencies that we deal with, because when you’ve got those kinds of unknowns and question marks, you’re not sure how to strategize the solution.

Leah: Right. We’ve also seen a pretty good amount of listing hijacks. Most recently, and I think the biggest change there, which actually sort of leads into correcting listing content is that often it seems that a lot of the teams that used to be able to correct these issues no longer have access to the tools that allow them to do so. And often they don’t even know that they don’t have the ability to do so. So I’ve had. I’ve kind of had it go both ways. I’ve had emails back saying that they can’t fix it, but it’s been fixed. And then I’ve also had emails back saying it’s been fixed and nothing has changed on the front end. And I’ve spoken to a number of people in multiple Amazon teams who have said that they don’t have access to the same tools that they used to.

Chris: Right. They lack the [00:04:00] visibility and it’s set us up for some odd conversations and email threads where we’re informing them of things.

Leah: Right.

Chris: That they should be able to see.

Leah: Well, and it also means that a lot of these things need to be able to be fixed with the lower level teams now almost immediately require an escalation for anything to happen.

Chris: Well, why don’t we talk for a minute about listing restrictions and whether or not content has to be corrected by the brand, the user, or whether or not something illicit has come in and altered their brands registry or the content on the listing and created an ASIN suspension because you worked on a lot of that this year.

Leah: Well, so we’re still seeing a lot of abuse through vendor central. I still see a number of cases where a listing is flagged because of abusive contributions, but those contributions came from the retail team, which means that they came through vendor central, which even if you’re the brand owner can be more difficult to [00:05:00] correct.

And a lot of the times, like I said, the catalog team says that they are fixing it and to wait 24 hours and nothing actually updates, or they just straight up know that their tools can’t fix it. And they transfer it to another team, usually the brand registry team and the brand registry team comes back and explains to you how to use a flat file, which doesn’t really help because like, that’s what you’ve already tried, right?

Chris: And you have to escalate. I mean, those are escalation only cases, right?

Leah: Right. And I think I mentioned this the other week. I think Amazon is trying to make their support worse because I think they want you to leave them alone. And I could be wrong. I guess I should go back to my, like, assume incompetence rather than, than…

Chris: well, the intention is secondary. I mean, it’s a question of how do you fix this stuff? Because Amazon doesn’t seem to be that able or interested in fixing it themselves.

Leah: Well it’s just things that used to be a lot easier to fix are now a lot harder to fix, and things that used to take one touch [00:06:00] to get resolved now require multiple touches and often require you to sit on hold for 30 to 40 minutes to even reach somebody within account health or support.

So it’s a catch 22 where Amazon won’t reinstate without the corrections, but then often the corrections won’t go through because it’s blocked.

Chris: Hence the escalations

Leah: It just seems to be getting worse. And really the only way to resolve is through an escalation. Unfortunately.

Chris: Gives me a good segue to what is and isn’t an escalation because we’ve, I think from this year to now noticed an uptick in the number of sellers who I think the conversation gravitated from, I don’t know how to escalate. How do you do an escalation? Where do they go? To more sellers telling us I’ve already escalated it. I think that increased a lot in the last 12 months.

Leah: I do still see, and we’ll see and hear too much importance being placed on [00:07:00] where it should be sent and not enough importance on when and what should be sent. Because it doesn’t matter how many internal emails you have, if you’re sending a bad escalation or something that isn’t even an escalation, it’s not going to go anywhere.

Chris: The quality of an appeal has always been paramount, but more sellers are using the words.

Leah: Well and Amazon’s using the words more too, they talk about internal escalation a lot more.

Chris: Right, well that’s what I’m leading up to. Account health reps started sprinkling this in about a year ago. That they were going to escalate it on your behalf.

Leah: And support says it too now.

Chris: Support says it. I think part of it has to do with that announcement 16 months ago at Amazon Accelerate saying that there was going to be veteran escalations of support cases.

Leah: Which I’ve still seen. I’ve seen the escalation button on like maybe two accounts.

Chris: We’ve seen it. Yeah. Considering that was 15, 16 months ago, we probably should have seen that on more than a couple of accounts. But [00:08:00] the term is being used loosely by sellers, and by Amazon now. Typically people were asking us, you know, you’re the escalation experts, how do you do it? What does it mean? We still get those questions.

We always will. But there’s much more throw this term around without knowing how significant it is. Or a lot of our clients have account managers, right? They will use it too. I’ve escalated it internally. I’ve got an SAS core ticket open for you. That’s an internal escalation. Without defining what it is, what it’ll do, how quick will it be?

Because a lot of account managers create escalation tickets that don’t go anywhere for like seven to 14 days.

Leah: yeah, it’s interesting. Cause I’ve had that on a number of cases where there is a strategic account manager working on the account and they’re internally escalating. But they hit a brick wall and the external escalations don’t, which is, I always find kind of interesting.

I think a lot of it [00:09:00] again, which we’ve talked about before has to do with teams being siloed and their internal escalations don’t necessarily go to the people that have the ability to do things.

Chris: So one, one big update was sometimes these tickets are created and the account managers themselves don’t have visibility in the status. Where it is, what’s happening with it. So we’ve gone from telling a lot of clients to get an internal escalation opened with their account manager, first to see where that goes. And then we could try other things to saying, you know what, your account manager can kick it off with this type of ticket. But from that point beyond, unless it just pops back up fixed, you might have no understanding of where you are in that pipeline.

So we’ve kind of retreated from that. We don’t talk as much with account managers for the brands that we’re working with about those internal escalation tickets. We encourage them to escalate externally, a lot earlier, and I think we’ve seen a lot of success with that. So that was kind [00:10:00] of one of our big ticket news items for this year.

Do you want to get into some of the compliance issues in terms of trends and, I mean, we can talk about the extreme ASIN merging because I just love those three words being thrown together.

Leah: Yeah, let’s, let’s do the extreme ASIN merging and then we can finish off with compliance because it’s not at all a dry topic to end on.

Chris: Right, right. I mean, the compliance issues are going to be a great way to finish because we finished the year, December with so much.

Leah: Lots of compliance cases, yeah.

Chris: With so much and so many things that’ll, you know, that I think portend to what we’re looking at in 2024.

Leah: So, yeah, well, so the extreme ASIN merges, I mean, we still see it.

I feel like it has slowed down a little bit in terms of doing it for review purposes. Yeah the thing is, Amazon still allows it to be technically possible.

Chris: I don’t think it’s slowing down. That, that can be our big 2024 disagreement maybe.

Leah: Well, what’s [00:11:00] interesting is that I feel like a lot of the changes that Amazon has made to these things makes it more difficult to fix genuine issues. But does not seem to make it more difficult to abuse the system. So we do still see ASIN merges. I haven’t really talked to people as much about it. Certainly I get asked weekly, bi weekly about how to correct UPCs on listings. And a lot of people suggest ASIN merges as a way to correct that. Interestingly, this isn’t something that we do, but it does seem that the people that do do ASIN merges to correct listing attributes. It seems that they’re having a lot more trouble getting that done, which I find interesting because it doesn’t seem like it’s any harder for people to merge ASINs to hijack reviews.

Chris: Right, right. So you want to go into the FTC part because the FTCs clearly picked up on how consumers are [00:12:00] misled with improper ASIN merges and with the harvesting of reviews from one listing to another, reviews for totally different products. From abandoned listings, because obviously that’s very misleading to the public and Amazon just doesn’t seem to have an answer or a solution for that.

Leah: Well, so the FTC, it was the, the case, the suit that they, they made against the supplement seller last year. Some of it, I believe, was merging with old abandoned ASINs, but some of it was also just creating variation families of new products with old products that looked like they had more reviews. What I did find interesting is that I haven’t really seen a huge uptick in incorrect variation enforcement.

We see it in drips and drabs, but we haven’t seen like a very big surge of that in a while. I think part of it is that it’s hard for them to find.

Chris: Yeah, but that means they’re due. It always cycles around.

Leah: True, that, yeah, it could, and [00:13:00] I, you know, I see it. But it’s usually just a warning and it’s usually, it doesn’t really affect the account health that much. Occasionally I’ll see an account suspension for that. I guess I saw a few of those in Q4, but we haven’t really seen a large amount of those like we have previously where like thousands of accounts get suspended for that.

Chris: Those are due. The ASIN variation manipulations, reporting it in terms of abuse of conduct, some brands reporting another competitor and enforcement with listing suspensions, warnings, policy violation, messaging in Seller Central. I mean, that is going to cycle back around because it’s getting messier and messier.

Leah: Well, and I do think that we are going to see greater enforcement of that once the FTC finalizes its new proposed rules for reviews. I think that’s when we will start to see more action on Amazon side because the FTC will probably give them our time.

Chris: Right and when you have a better sense of what that timeline was, I know they had a public call for [00:14:00] comments.

Leah: Yeah I’m, not sure when it actually finalized

Chris: Is that like q1 q2 maybe? Okay.

Leah: I’m not sure. But I do expect to see more of that which actually leads me quite well into the compliance because there’s also a number of things happening with other government agencies that I think is going to affect sellers. Interestingly, the FDA made changes to homeopathic drug regulations actually at the end of 2022.

But we are starting to see more enforcement of that on Amazon’s side. So just to give a very, very, very concise background on this, homeopathic drugs used to have their own specific type of FDA registration, where they essentially didn’t have to go through the same scrutiny as regular drug products, but were still allowed to make drug claims as homeopathic drugs.

The end of 2022, the FDA changed their stance on that, and now homeopathic drugs need to meet the same requirements as any other type of drug [00:15:00] product. So we are seeing more homeopathic products being asked for their FDA registration information from Amazon, which they don’t have because their prior registration is no longer valid.

And many, if not most, or all homeopathic drugs won’t be able to meet the FDA requirements for regular drug products.

Chris: Well, I have a question. So, have you seen an increase, or has it stayed the same, of enforcement on health claims and non permissible language.

Leah: On homeopathic drugs r just across the board.

Chris: No, not just for homeopathic drugs. I’m seeing a lot of people, they’ve purged listings before. Are they doing that in waves? I mean, why are we still hearing from so many people getting enforcement around claims, product claims, health claims?

Leah: Yeah, well, so that is very much automated at this point, so we don’t really see it in purges, but we just see it all of the time. Their AI is getting [00:16:00] better in some regards where it does at least take context into consideration, most of the time. But yeah, I mean, that’s just been consistent throughout the year. People being flagged for making drug claims when they aren’t allowed to, or, you know, medical claims that they aren’t allowed to, or pesticide claims that they’re not allowed to.

Chris: But if they’re automating this to the extent that it’s, you know, bought, run, algorithmic to this degree at this point, why can’t they just stop you from listing it on the way in.

Leah: That is something that I have been asking about a number of things on Amazon for a while.

Chris: I’m asking not just you, but the listening public.

Leah: That’s the, that I have questioned for a while now. Because I do still have conversations with people that like, well, I’ve been saying this for 10 years and it was never flagged.

Chris: That’s why I brought it up. Yeah.

That’s why I brought it up. And that’s almost a great point to close on. We’ll revisit some of these issues, of course.

Leah: And I just have one more thing about the FDA. Amazon was just warned by the [00:17:00] FDA for selling a number of supplements and by Amazon selling, I mean, third party sellers selling a number of supplements that contained Viagra. So I expect to see a lot more enforcement around sexual wellness supplement products. I would expect to see a lot of re-verification of compliance documentation and that additional certificate of analysis that’s required for sexual wellness products which tests to prove that your products aren’t actually Viagra pretending to be herbal supplements.

Chris: That’s an excellent point to end on. Improper use of Viagra ingredients and supplements, and other sexual wellness products. I think we’re going to get revisit a lot of these issues throughout 2024. We wanted to kind of just take a grab bag of the, the biggest and most listened to episodes that we had this past year, but keep [00:18:00] in mind that while there are some fixes that are rumored to be coming in for some of these problems.

Most of what we talked about today, I think the solutions are months off. Perhaps 9 to 12 months out and maybe longer. So you have to strategize accordingly now for the year ahead considering that 2023 probably had a host of issues that, you know, we thought would have been resolved back in 2022. Right.

So questions on this, let us know. Otherwise we will see you next time at seller performance solutions. Another, another wonderful year of podcasts ahead. Right. Yeah. All right. Thanks. Bye bye.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe

 

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