Season 1, Episode 116

 Navigating Amazon Misinformation & Understanding Policy Compliance

It’s essential for Amazon sellers to understand the risks of following misguided or outdated advice. In this episode Chris and Leah unravel the enigma of advice from various Amazon teams, dissect the disparity between policies and practice, and emphasize the crucial responsibility sellers have in understanding Amazon’s policies themselves

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:00] Chris: Hey, everybody, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our wonderful podcast. I’m Chris McCabe with Leah McHugh. Leah, how are you doing? You’re basking in the post prime day afterglow right now. I think we all are, it’s been an interesting week. We’ve got some ideas about future episodes that’ll be coming up lickety split. Today we wanted to focus on misinformation, interesting guidance we’ve seen from inside Amazon and we’re talking sometimes about account managers, paid account managers, SAS core. Sometimes we’re talking about account health. Which is one of our frequent go back to’s on this podcast, but also support.

[00:00:39] Chris: And what concerns us isn’t the teams, because we’ve seen misinformation coming out from different teams for years. It’s how widespread across how many topics, multiple account policy, ASIN and variation creation policy, sometimes even reviews abuse. That’s a hot topic again, right now. Whether or not you acknowledge that you’ve done something wrong or whether you have to dispute it in order to resolve it.

There’s lots of curious guidance and suggestions and advice coming out of account management and support and all of these other teams lately. You’ve got some examples. I’ve got some examples. Why don’t we start? With the the multiple account policy note that you saw.

[00:01:21] Leah: Yeah, so it’s just interesting with people internal to Amazon quoting a policy that changed, was it three years ago? I want to say it was three years ago that the multiple account policy changed.

[00:01:33] Chris: More recent than that.

[00:01:35] Leah: Well, when did the aggregators start about three years ago and that’s around when it changed.

So, you know, a conversation about how sellers aren’t allowed to have more than one account, which is not true. But interesting that something that has changed such a long time ago is something that was being quoted as a potential reason as to why the seller was dealing with a certain issue.

[00:02:02] Chris: I think multiple account got confusing a couple of years ago when a bunch of people blocked for being related to an account that they probably weren’t even actually related to.

When they called to complain or when they tried to appeal, all the messaging that came back and some account health reps would say this on calls, said, Oh, you violated our multiple account policy. So, their own internal people were mixing and matching between what a related account block is and what having multiple accounts and then within that, they didn’t understand the policy.

[00:02:34] Leah: I think that’s because when they did update the policy, they did actually put the related account policy is now part of that multiple account policy down the bottom. It says that, you know, you’re allowed to have multiple accounts as long as there is a legitimate business reason. However, if one of your accounts get suspended, all of them will get suspended for being related to that suspended account.

So I think that’s why it got confused internally because they decided to Jam those two things together in the messaging.

[00:03:01] Chris: Yeah, but those are two distinct concepts that all of these people, I guess the frightening thing is you would expect all these people to be trained or retrained on this before giving advice that could impact your appeal, impact your account structure, impact your relationship with your account manager. It could impact so many different things. And sellers did misunderstand the multiple account policy back then. And now this misinformation is creating more misunderstandings.

[00:03:31] Leah: Yeah. And I think, I mean, of a bigger concern to me than that sort of misinformation is misinformation that I’ve seen people get from account managers that would actually get the seller in trouble. So most sellers at this point know that Amazon has internal AI tools that SAM’s used to make recommendations to improve your listing optimization.

And I’ve seen multiple sellers get recommendations to add things to their listing that would absolutely get the listing flagged and suspended.

It doesn’t seem like Amazon’s internal tools took compliance into account when they started recommending things being added to the listing, but I’ve also heard from multiple sellers that if they don’t take the exact advice that their SAM gives them, then their SAM has A little bit of like a hissy fit of like, oh, well, then none of this will work. Nevermind. So if they don’t do exactly what they say, then the SAM no longer wants to help them, even though the advice that they’re giving them will actually get them into trouble.

[00:04:35] Chris: It could be grounds to kick them out of the program to something that they’re paying into. Maybe they can unplug.

Well so that’s the thing if your suspended you do lose access to your account manager so they’re recommending things that will get them into trouble. And then when they do get into trouble. They can’t help or won’t help. Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize, this could be another episode, a lot of people don’t realize if it’s code of conduct related, your account manager can just stop representing you and dump you out of the program even before your account gets suspended.

Usually that’s a sign that your suspension’s imminent. But a lot of sellers who are paying into that program are paying in for an additional layer of protection and we see so many people, very large accounts often as well, not just a smaller ones that are thrown out unceremoniously just based on the perception that they’re doing something wrong. It hasn’t even gotten to the suspension stage yet.

[00:05:31] Leah: Right? I also heard an account manager on a call that I was sitting in on recommend, well not recommend because they’re already in the process of enrolling their brand in brand registry but the account manager said that once they’re enrolled in brand registry, then they can start working on removing unauthorized sellers through brand registry.

And that is absolutely not what brand registry is for and will absolutely get you in trouble. So even just these Fairly basic concepts at this point in terms of Amazon, I’ve been seeing quite bad information and I think the problem is not so much that they’re giving bad information because there’s tons of bad information about Amazon, it’s the fact that these are considered managers and so sellers think, oh, well, if the manager said it’s fine, it must be fine and then they’re following this advice that again can potentially get them into trouble and it’s not like seller performance or the compliance team are going to be like, Oh, your manager said it was okay. Oh, okay.

[00:06:35] Chris: And review harvesting by merging listings. This is another one we’ve seen mostly support reps giving the advice. I mean, support over the years, we’ve become numb to this concept that support gives terrible advice and inaccurate advice almost all the time.

Right. Which is why it’s funny in a strange way to me when higher level Amazonians. Advise sellers in emails or on calls to, Oh, well, this issue go to support for that. I mean, they know support could give you advice that could get you suspended. Why do they, if they’re higher level at Amazon, they should know that steering you that way could get your whole account taken down.

[00:07:15] Leah: I hear it from account health too. I’ve had both account health and support tell sellers, Oh, your listing is blocked. Just make a new ASIN for that product. Right. It’s like, Oh, cool. So your entire account can get suspended.

[00:07:26] Chris: The old standby. I mean, we see service providers doing this as well, but the old standby, of course, being just make a new listing, anyone who can’t figure something out.

We saw a lot of people kind of like copycat appeal services who couldn’t figure out how to do a proper reinstatement appeal, just work on getting the listing back up, however, any means possible. And of course that’s a doubling down on the violation.

[00:07:54] Leah: Yeah, you’re actually making like multiple violations by doing that.

[00:07:59] Chris: So then you’re just multiplying the types of violations which could lead to an account wide review or an account wide deactivation or restrictions, not just these individual ASINs, but bad advice outside the company is different from bad advice coming from inside the company because people tend to take it as gospel and to follow it.

And then you and I have to spend time, here’s our selfish beef, we have to spend time telling people that they shouldn’t listen to internal teams because the information’s wrong. Puts us in an extremely awkward place and I don’t think we need to be there. I think this could be corrected.

[00:08:36] Leah: Well, I mean, at this point, it’s not just the lower level teams that I’m getting this from.

I’ve seen cases where Amazon’s legal team has completely misquoted an act that has zero relevance to the product. They’ve just quoted what compliance mentioned previously without actually reviewing the case. So it’s not even that it’s just these lower level teams. It’s going all the way up to the point where we’re literally having to fight in these email threads, being like, no, you haven’t reviewed this properly. That has absolutely nothing to do with what we are talking about here.

[00:09:13] Chris: Yeah. Especially with legal issues. Some people are making judgments on legal issues within Amazon that aren’t legally trained.

[00:09:22] Leah: Right. Well, the compliance team, for the most part, is not legally trained.

[00:09:27] Chris: And well, the compliance team we’ve been talking about. For two years, I guess, how they kind of slapped it together. It looks like they just grabbed whoever was available and threw them into compliance. And they didn’t have compliance training or experience. Isn’t that what you’ve more or less been telling brands for two years?

[00:09:45] Leah: So that was at least a few years ago, but then they’ve taken what already was a broken process and have tried to automate more of it. So now it’s just you get stuck in an automated Hell loop, where how can you automate a process that didn’t work in the first place? So now you’re just getting more ridiculousness because no one’s actually reviewing it.

So if they misidentify something, there is no way to get someone to actually be like, Oh yeah, that is not what this is. Unless you escalate it up the chain. And I think, you know, we see the same thing on documentation review as well. A lot of that is being automated too. And again, it was already an imperfect process that they’ve now tried to automate and have automated poorly.

[00:10:34] Chris: I think I figured some of this out because we have so many hundreds to thousands of examples over the years where. They kept telling the brand, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. Okay. We made a mistake on the 18th message maybe that makes them more willing to give bad or incorrect information early on because they consciously or not know in the back of their minds they can later say oh, I guess you were right Oh, I guess this is a mistake. Oh, I guess we didn’t quite understand the situation, here you go there’s your ASIN back because we see that so many times And so there’s no consequences for all of the incorrect decision making along the way.

[00:11:17] Leah: Right. We still only really see any indication that any of these teams internal metrics are about speed.

I still don’t really see any indication that anything to do with quality of the work is being reviewed or, again, like you said, when they do actually get called out for doing things incorrectly. We don’t really see any indication that there’s any consequences to it being done badly. And part of that is because we do this so often that I recognize some people’s names.

And some of them I’m like, Oh no, it’s this person. You get that feeling of dread. I mean, some people are great. Some people, I see the name and I’m like, awesome. But sometimes I see the name and it’s like, I have been having the exact same issue with this person over and over again. They’re still working these cases, they’re still making the same mistakes over and over again. But they do respond quickly.

[00:12:13] Chris: Because it’s just the institutional attitude is onto the next thing, right? There’s no, let’s take a moment to reflect and learn on why so and so has done the same mistake eight times in a row. And this is one reason why, I mean, I don’t hear people coming out of the Amazon accelerate conference in Seattle telling me that investigative auditing or quality is ever measured or ever comes up. Like if things like that were addressed, because they go on for years, not months, and they go on in different teams. So if things like that were addressed meaningfully, then I’d be in the first flight to Seattle for that. But those are the things that are convenient, that they’re very important.

They’re crucial to the operation of the marketplace, but they’re conveniently left out and it’s never mentioned why that’s not important.

[00:13:06] Leah: I don’t think it’s being tracked or measured. And Amazon is the kind of company that if it’s not being tracked or measured. It doesn’t exist.

[00:13:15] Chris: I don’t know. I think it’s being measured on some level.

[00:13:19] Leah: Speed is, but I’ve seen no indication that anybody is ever being checked for quality. The fact that you still can get a template that absolutely has nothing to do with anything you’ve been talking about through the entire thread. Indicates that nobody is reviewing quality and the fact that the templates have gotten worse.

I mean, half the time with support, it’s just a word salad and you have to find the sentence that actually applies to what it is you’re talking about. So clearly nobody is looking at the quality of that.

[00:13:48] Chris: Yeah. If they’re just mixing and matching blurbs and messages together, then you’re going to get that. What did you just say after reading five paragraphs?

[00:13:55] Leah: No, half the time I have to read it like three times to figure out what the hell they’re actually saying.

[00:14:00] Chris: Cause it’s convoluted and it doesn’t make sense, but you would think that for their own selfish reasons, they’d want to retrain, get everyone on the same page, learn from mistakes.

When I was working there, we would start our weekly meetings with like, here were a couple of things we could have done better. That has fallen away. Quality assurance, internal review. If it exists, and if they are doing it, the results aren’t changing. So that has to completely improve. Otherwise, sellers are going to have to keep getting this inconsistent, I mean, sometimes the advice is at best inconsistent, at worst inaccurate. And we’re the ones out there translating and interpreting. As the middleman of knowledge for teams and tools and policies that Amazon employees should have cold before they even talk to any seller. Right? Do they test them in the training process in any meaningful way?

Are they just checking a bunch of boxes? I don’t know, but that’s why we are so famous for saying take what Amazon tells you with a grain of salt. And sometimes you say big grain of salt. Because we can see the messaging, we can read the situation, and the two are not congruent.

[00:15:15] Leah: Well, and I think that just comes down to what I’ve been hammering for however many years.

And I know it’s not something that anybody wants to do, but you need to be familiar with the policies yourself, because you can’t trust looking at what other sellers are doing, because as I famously say, I can do two clicks on amazon. com and find a policy violation. So you can’t go off what other people are doing and you really can’t go off what Amazon tells you either.

So you are ultimately are the one that will be held responsible if anything goes wrong, which means that you need to be familiar with Amazon’s policies yourself, because like we’ve said, if somebody steers you the wrong way from inside of Amazon, you can’t use that as your defense later.

No one will care. There will be no backlash for the person that gave you the bad advice. You won’t get a get out of jail free card. Amazon will just hold you responsible for not knowing the policies yourself. So you need to know the policies yourself. You need to make sure your team knows the policies.

You need to make sure that you have manual checks. So whoever’s doing it is then being checked by somebody who is like a compliance expert on your team and making sure that nothing incorrect is happening on your account because the buck will stop with you as far as Amazon is concerned. Boring and annoying advice. I know.

[00:16:41] Chris: Especially from support because they already know that support. Everyone knows everyone with any stakeholder in this whole system knows support gives either vague advice or incomplete advice or inaccurate advice. Sometimes made up advice. Everyone inside and outside of Amazon knows this at this point.

So they would just quote the policy back to you and they would disregard whatever you said you were told in a case. I can’t tell you how many plans of action I’ve read. Where the root causes were all about, your team’s told us this, your team told us that. We believed it because your team’s told us.

Unfortunately, the people reading your appeal don’t appreciate that. And yet another episode we should do just on that. Because those never work for a reason.

[00:17:31] Leah: Well, and other sellers are doing it also never works for a reason. Because they’re so numb to that defense at this point. That they just immediately tune it out as soon as it’s mentioned.

[00:17:43] Chris: The problem is you’re right that you got the bad advice, but the seller performance people reading the appeal and making or compliance or policy people making the appeal for an ASIN or account read statement. They’re numb to that fact that support might give terrible advice, but they’re also never accepting that as an excuse. So, maybe that actually is the root cause of the problem. And maybe it was an acceptable excuse. The audience who makes the decision doesn’t care because to them that’s not relevant. I’m not saying I agree with that.

[00:18:17] Leah: Well, and that’s what I’m saying is that they consider you responsible for knowing the policy. If you were given bad advice, Amazon holds you responsible for not knowing better. So it really does come down to you knowing what you are and are not allowed to do. Which leads me to my final piece of advice on this, which is just because Amazon’s system will allow you to technically do something does not mean that it is within Amazon policy. Because that is another conversation that we regularly have, or I see in appeals, is that the catalog system let them do it, so it must be fine. Or they were able to do it in Seller Central, therefore it must be fine. Or people are offering it as a service, so it is technically possible to do, therefore it must be within policy.

And that’s just absolutely not true. Obviously, there’s always going to be loopholes that people find and try to exploit. That doesn’t mean that that is allowed, it just means somebody found a break in the system.

[00:19:18] Chris: Right? Like the review harvesting by merging listings happens every day, all the time, completely against policy, changing the brand attribute, definitely against policy, even though technically possible to get done in the system.

And we sometimes talk to sellers who think we don’t know what we’re talking about because they can see other people getting away with murder. Just because you can get away with murder doesn’t mean it’s policy compliant. And of course, you have to make your decision whether or not you want to break policies and whether you want to risk your whole account. That’s fine. That’s up to you. Most people we work with are in it for the long haul. And they are policy compliant because they want to stay selling on Amazon. It’s not rocket science. We give the advice we do because we’ve seen the consequences and the outcomes that those people don’t see yet because they see other people getting away with it, or perhaps they’ve gotten away with it themselves for a while, but today’s enforcement and tomorrow’s enforcement can be 2 totally different things.

Most of 2023 we’ve seen very few people getting suspended for reviews abuse practices now all of a sudden in September it came roaring back.

[00:20:27] Leah: Variations misuse, I haven’t seen account suspensions for that in ages and now they’re everywhere.

[00:20:33] Chris: That changes month to month, it’s a seasonal thing too, especially right on the cusp of Q4, now we’re in Q4, they didn’t want to suspend everyone right on Prime Day, they wanted to do it a month before Prime day.

[00:20:47] Leah: Again, some of these aren’t just Amazon policies, some of these are laws. That you’re potentially breaking and a conversation that I have way too often with sellers is, well, we’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’m like, well, you’ve been breaking the law for 10 years then. So, again, I get that. Some people are like, oh, it’s just an Amazon policy. It’s not that important. Some of these policies are based on laws. So keep that in mind that it’s not just Amazon that you could be upsetting with your behavior, you could be upsetting other people who now have grounds to sue you, or you could be upsetting other government bodies like the FDA or the FTC or the EPA.

So these are all things to keep in mind as you are navigating what you should be doing when you’re looking at other people’s behavior. So don’t look at other people’s behavior.

[00:21:33] Chris: Simple. We’ll close with that. Don’t agitate or upset federal agencies by breaking the law. Just in general. Good, good rule of thumb.

And definitely don’t break the law consistently for 10 years. That’s another good tidbit from that last comment. Or even five or even two.

[00:21:48] Leah: Just generally try to avoid that.

[00:21:51] Chris: So we’ll be talking about this and other wonderful topics throughout Q4. Any questions on it? Let us know.

Thanks again for listening to Seller Performance Solutions. Bye bye. Bye.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe

 

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