Season 1, Episode 102
Just Because you Can Doesn’t Mean you Should
Chris: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another podcast episode of Seller Performance Solutions. I’m Chris McCabe. I’m here with Leah McHugh. We’re both of ecommerceChris, and we’re here today talking about, just because you can do something on Amazon doesn’t mean you should do something on Amazon. What does that mean? Very fun topic, what does that mean exactly? It means, long story short, we see loads and loads of people embracing loopholes, tricks, gaps in processes, tools left behind when they were created, that shouldn’t be happening. They’re definitely not compliant with policy. Leah’s seeing these examples all the time.
The point I wanted to make initially was, whether it’s something you see posted in some group somewhere, Hey, this works. You should try it or you’re actually hiring an agency or a service who says, oh, I have a solution for that. Pay us something so we can do this for you. Always ask yourself or ask that service or consultant, is this compliant with Amazon [00:01:00] policy?
Leah: Yeah. Also ask possibly another service or consultant if it’s compliant because a, a lot of times, They will say, yeah, it’s totally compliant when it’s not. Because I have had that conversation with sellers too where they were told that it was compliant and it definitely was not.
Chris: Right. Just because you’re told that something is compliant, whether this is by a representative of Amazon, which we’ve experienced unfortunately, members of seller support, members of account health. But also people that used to work at Amazon who go work at an agency, we’ve heard people say, oh, your listing got suspended, just make another one.
Leah: Or where they don’t tell them that they made another one and they’re just like, oh, I got your ASIN reinstated, it just doesn’t have any sales history or review history. And also it has a new UPC.
Chris: First of all, that’s not a reinstatement. That’s just creating a new listing. But the first thing you need to do then is merge those two listings together.
Leah: You can’t do that if one of them is blocked.
Chris: No, but harvesting the reviews, right? That’s one of the things that people have been asking us and [00:02:00] asking around for, hacks around. Well, I have another listing now I just need to get the reviews moved over there, right?
Leah: Yeah, right. Which yes, ASIN merges are possible, but they’re also under a fair amount of scrutiny, particularly when it is about harvesting the reviews, because the FTC recently sued a supplement seller for doing exactly that.
Chris: Well the cat’s out of the bag on this ASIN merge stuff, right? Clearly people were abusing it like crazy for years.
Leah: I will say I see less of that than I used to. I do recall a few years ago having to like beautiful mind create graphs of how people had merged ASINs together to try to figure out what exactly they did in order to get them reinstated. I don’t get that as much as we used to.
Chris: Was the chart beautiful?
Leah: It was not, I just looked insane.
Chris: I don’t think you see it as much anymore because people understand that they’re finally keeping an eye out for [00:03:00] it. And it’s true that there are trends where you can get away with murder for years, and that doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to get away with it. It also doesn’t mean it won’t be rolled back once Amazon finally wakes up and pays attention to something, I think that’s the part that’s forgotten. A short-term gain might first of all risk your whole account. Second of all, it might be rolled back anyway. So what good is it? I mean, are you just trying to sell through a few units or are you trying to sell an ASIN long term?
Leah: Yeah. Well, and I think that is where the disconnect tends to happen. There’s a very large focus on the short term improvement versus the the long term risk, and also potential drop when it does eventually go away. A lot of these hacks don’t really take into consideration that if something does get rolled back, you would essentially be starting from scratch. Where perhaps it’s a much better business decision to go for the slow burn in terms of growth because you are doing it [00:04:00] within TOS, but then you have long-term growth as opposed to having to start all over again when something gets taken down.
Chris: And what kind of sellers does Amazon want? They want long-term thinking sellers. They don’t want, oh, we’re just going to employ one trick, hack, loophole, exploitation after another until we sell a little bit more of this asin, a little bit more of that ASIN. If they’re consistently flagging your listings or reviewing your account, you’re making yourself into a pain in the neck or a headache to them, and this is why the conversation comes up.
Why is Amazon so punitive against sellers? Well some sellers, consistently jump up and down and say, Hey, look at me. I’m not interested in what the rules are or I hired an agency to do this for me and I never asked them if they understood what compliance was or if they even had a compliance person. I’m just looking for short term gaming the system.
I mean, do you think Amazon wants those types of headaches?
Leah: I think what I’m seeing more so [00:05:00] now is less gaming the system and more trying to fix things and things that Amazon don’t make easy to fix compliantly, but for whatever reason are quite easy to fix non- compliantly because they haven’t tightened up their tools.
That’s what I’m seeing more now, where a quick fix is actually a lot easier to do non-compliantly than it is compliantly, which is quite frustrating for me because I’m having to do it the hard way compliantly. And then I see other sellers come who are like, oh yeah, they just did this. And I’m like, well, that’s totally non-compliant, but glad it was done quickly I guess.
Chris: They do it quickly. We know that these case system reps and support whichever teams you’re dealing with, love to take you in a circle and that’s frustrating. You lose time, you lose money. The problem doesn’t initially get fixed. Consider as well, who else, aside from Amazon, has their eyes on you and your listing because if they think you employed, some illicit hack and their [00:06:00] competitors of yours, then that’s a valid abuse complaint that they can submit to Amazon internal teams.
Leah: Right, and we are getting a lot more people coming to us saying, hey, my competitors are making invalid variations, how can I report them? That is something that we’re seeing more and more. So your competitors are watching you, of course. And they are keeping track of these things because also if they can find a pattern in what you’re doing, that also makes it a lot easier for them to report you to Amazon. So yeah, I mean, everything that you’re doing, just keep in mind that it is somewhat public and I think I’ve mentioned on the podcast before, but one of my favorite FTC stories is when somebody bought something from Amazon and he worked for the FTC and he got an insert offering to incentivize reviews. People from the FTC buy from Amazon too.
Chris: Not just your competitors buying from you and by the way, you can’t just say this is abuse, this is a competitor, if it’s a completely valid report, right? Where it comes from doesn’t actually matter that much, and it doesn’t negate the fact that you were [00:07:00] violating a policy or depending on how misrepresented the product might be on the detail page, violating laws.
Leah and I have also seen cases that were flagged by product safety and compliance teams where the product itself has been misrepresented just to evade existing detection teams.
Leah: Just like removing the certain words that would actually identify it for what it is. Which is something that I actually see a lot of people pushing as a strategy and please, please don’t do that. That’s a terrible strategy. Again, short-term gains, but you’re putting your entire account at risk doing that, and also, you know, potentially committing fraud depending on what you’re doing.
Chris: Well, I’m not saying that brands don’t ask consultants or agencies, is this compliant with policy?
I think nowadays they ask that question more before some of these things happen, but study the answer that comes back. If the answer is, we’ve been doing this for nine months and nobody’s slapped our wrist yet, that’s not a satisfying answer. That just means maybe it [00:08:00] hasn’t been reported. Maybe Amazon didn’t catch it.
Guess what? Amazon doesn’t catch a lot of stuff and that’s why people employ these tricks. But, is that long term healthy for your brand or your business to use one of these hacks or tricks? I get that there’s conferences or people huddle in a room and share these ideas and maybe you’re not even planning on doing it forever, but do they ever talk about the consequences? That’s the issue.
Leah: Yeah, of course not. They’re just talking about those sweet, sweet revenues. Not actually mentioning profits ever. I would just like to add that, it is very important for you yourself to know the policies. I have had a few situations with the catalog team where I am trying to get them to do something compliantly and it’s actually easier for them to do it non- compliantly and their tools as well. So they try to start pushing us down that path, and I have to be the one to tell them to stop and not do that because it would put the entire account at risk. And ultimately, Amazon is not going to accept the fact that catalog did it for you [00:09:00] as a reason as to why you should be reinstated. So it’s important that you know the policies as well because Amazon’s own teams will often push you in the wrong direction. Particularly lately, I don’t know if they have a whole new batch of people in catalog who haven’t been trained as well or what, but lately I have just been getting so much bad information from them trying to send us in the wrong direction and so make sure that you, yourself know what can and cannot be done. Don’t just be like, well, support said it was fine and then they did it.
Chris: Right. Or you ask somebody who deals with compliance on a consistent basis, not somebody who dabbles in it once a year.
Leah: Yeah. I’m not even talking about compliance, I’m talking about like Amazon policy.
Chris: Reading the policy pages and double checking what they tell you, I think people don’t understand that you can’t take everything they say on these calls as gospel. Just because they work there doesn’t mean they understand their own policies. Leah and I have both [00:10:00] been on calls either with account health reps, catalog reps, different people, different teams of Amazon, and we’ve had to kind of say, go over the policy with me now I have it in front of me. Which part of what’s on this page reflects what you’re saying. And then they start to backpedal.
Leah: Right. Or, conversation I had recently where I was like, so what you’re saying is that Amazon will not take action against this clear infringement on our intellectual property.
And it’s your specific policy that it’s the other seller who’s infringing on us that has to correct it and suddenly they were backpedaling pretty quickly.
Chris: And also keep in mind, it’s a lot easier for Amazon instead of just send you warnings over and over into flag listings for review over and over.
It’s much easier these days for them to just shove it over to account health and say, you know what? We’re sizing these people up for a suspension, so give them their 24 hours, call them up, tell them that they have to address this now. Otherwise, we’re suspending the account. But take it from Amazon’s perspective for a second.
Is it easier for them to go into all this minutia [00:11:00] every other day? Delete listings, send you warnings, give you a chance to appeal them individually in Seller central and your account health dashboard, or is it just easier to drop the bomb and suspend the whole account? I mean, what’s feasible, what makes sense from their perspective?
Leah: Right, exactly. And like I said, they’re not going to go back and see if it was support’s fault or not. They’re holding you responsible unfortunately.
Chris: Yeah. In a bizarre way. They expect you to ignore half of what support says because they expect you to know that support doesn’t have the knowledge, the training, the ability to, to give you an accurate answer.
Same thing with the account health teams. Why do you get seven different answers when you talk to seven different account health reps? Some of them know what they’re talking about and some of them don’t and I think that’s understood Amazon wide.
Leah: And they have to tell you something because they’re stuck with you on the phone.
Chris: They’re stuck with you on the phone. So usually we talk to people with that, buyer’s remorse as it were. They hire a service, he does some of this stuff. They don’t double [00:12:00] check any of it. They’re looking for revenue boost. And what happens? They regret it afterwards once they get in trouble because the amount of money they’ve lost.
When their account is suspended or when other things happen that result in suspensions and lost revenue, that amount far exceeds whatever they would’ve made just by selling through the products. Any questions on this, let me know. Let Leah know. We’re happy to talk about this because we’re seeing it over and over.
We’re kind of alarmed at how often we’re seeing things that really didn’t make sense from the get-go, happening without the brand owner understanding what the risks and consequences were.
Leah: And I have been saying this for years, but I’m gonna say it again. Just because other sellers are doing it doesn’t mean that it’s okay. I can find policy violations in about three clicks if I go to amazon.com.
Chris: Maybe we should say that more often. You could throw a rock in the Amazon marketplace and hit two or three or four completely non-compliant listings. Easy to do ,what’s live on the site doesn’t make it right.
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