Season 1, Episode 139

Reinstating Variation Misuse Suspensions without a Plan of Action

Recent trends have shown a significant increase in suspensions for Amazon sellers due to ASIN creation abuse and variation misuse. This heightened scrutiny by Amazon aims to enforce compliance with its listing policies, which has become more rigorous than ever before.

In this episode, Chris and Leah discuss the impact of these policies and the need for sellers to maintain compliance across all marketplaces to prevent cross-regional account suspension and also touching on the common mistakes sellers make in their appeals, often resulting in further complications.

Show Notes


[00:00:00] Chris: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the seller performance, not seller velocity solutions podcast, but I’m glad I almost made that mistake. I’m wearing my, I love New York hat from our swag bags, right? It’s been two weeks and seller velocity.

So quick shout out to anyone listening who came. Thanks for coming. It was great. I think it’s fair to say it went even better than we hoped and expected. Thanks Leah for helping with so many facets of the conference while also being a speaker. I was a mere panelist, so I was not speaking this year, but, yeah, great two days in New York and, well, one day outside of the city, but, if you met anyone at the conference and you didn’t finish your conversation, if you had any questions for me, Leah, any of our speakers, for Janelle, our emcee for anyone, just let us know.

I think we’re still kind of digging through the comments from people, like, what was the biggest takeaway they got from the conference? We’re still going through that. So we’ll have a future podcast episode on it. Today, we are focusing on the rampant suspensions we’ve seen for ASIN creation abuse and variations misuse.

And there’s about six different ways of saying that. But where would you like to start? Because I want to start in one particular place where we were talking to somebody said, well, I’ll make some quick changes just to kind of slide through this initial review. And then I’ll go back to what I was doing.

I think the bottom line is they’ve caught on finally to all these, tricks, the bag of tricks. And there’s kind of a hundred percent intolerance of that now. And they’re just going to start shutting people down.

[00:01:40] Leah: Well they have started shutting people down.

[00:01:41] Chris: Well, they have, the reason I say starting to shut people down is that a lot of people are getting the, you are under review message or, I believe this morning, I saw the 72 hour message started popping back up. Like you have 72 hours to appeal this or to fix your broken variations or to prove that you understand the policy correctly and that you’re compliant. I think there’s still, I mean, you can maybe chime in on this point first, I think there’s still some doubt on whether or not they’re giving you 72 hours to fix everything and then appeal, and then you’re okay.

Or is it just 72 hours to appeal proving to them that you’ve been, you know, Following the policy the whole time.

[00:02:20] Leah: Well, and that’s the thing is that people, different people are getting different forms. So I think some people, they are giving the opportunity to correct it and then submit a plan of action.

Other people are only giving the option to dispute. I will say if you’re getting the 72 hour message that tends to be more often you’re getting the opportunity to correct it, because the form is asking for a plan of action. It tends to be more once the account is suspended. Now your only option is to prove to Amazon that you didn’t violate their policies, which all of the ones I’ve seen so far were violating Amazon’s policies.

So that’s hard to do when you were doing that.

[00:02:58] Chris: Leads me to my second point, which is whether it’s people creating bundles or people creating variations or people creating nuanced listings, anything that involves thorough understanding of listing creation policy, almost everyone says Amazon’s an error, I’m appealing this as an error, and they want to dispute it because they think they were doing it right.

Is that fair to say?

[00:03:20] Leah: I get more of a sense this time around that more sellers know that they weren’t fully following Amazon’s policies, but they were following the spirit of the policies, if not the actual policy. so it’s more of a, cause previously, yeah, that would be the conversation of, I’ve been doing this totally correct I don’t know what Amazon’s talking about, this time the conversation is a little bit different where They’re like, you know, they’re mostly correct or I see other sellers doing it and that’s fine. That’s usually where my conversation goes is other sellers doing it or Amazon is doing it, which would be my first piece of advice. Don’t use Amazon’s own brands listings as what you can and can’t do because that’s actually, I usually use their listings as my examples of policy violations when I give talks, because that way I know that brand won’t be in the room as I’m dissing them, but yeah, you can’t go off of what Amazon is doing and you can’t go off what other sellers are doing.

You need to know the policy yourself and follow it very literally. And this is something that I did actually speak about at the conference.

[00:04:19] Chris: I have been again, kind of waking up to the inbox of emails. These are all the other sellers doing what I’m doing. Here are all these examples that prove, or I see if they’ve appealed it in the past, I see it in the appeals that they’ve written,

[00:04:39] Leah: I mean it’s wasting everybody’s time. It’s wasting your time, it’s wasting our time, it’s wasting Amazon’s time by giving examples. It burns an appeal. As I like to say, I can go to Amazon. com and in about three clicks I can find a policy violation. So, just because there are other people doing it doesn’t mean that it’s okay. And I think what’s frustrating for me is that I’ve been telling people about correctly making variations for like five years now, and so now they’re coming and say like, Oh yeah, so I was suspended for that. And I’m like, yeah, that’s, yeah, this is what I was talking about guys.

[00:05:12] Chris: We have the luxury of sometimes we go back and email records and find like, Oh, you emailed us about this three months ago, and we pointed out like, yeah, don’t make your variations like that. And we didn’t hear back. And now there’s a suspension. There’s a reason for that, and Amazon’s late to the enforcement party, as they almost always are, but when they arrive, they make a splash, right? And that’s what’s happening right now.

[00:05:36] Leah: Well, and the current theory is that their AI is like so good now that it can pick up these discrepancies, which I’m sure AI has a part of it, but my theory as to why we’re suddenly seeing a lot more enforcement of this is because the FTC cares about it all of a sudden. And so once the FTC cares, Amazon wants the FTC to stop caring.

And the best way to do that is to start policing it better.

[00:06:00] Chris: It’s not even just the FTC. In my last Seattle trip, which was not long ago, I was talking to a reporter who was interested in the topic. And they were saying, uh, that Once they make the call or start asking around, Hey, what, to Amazon itself directly, what’s going on with this, there’s an uptick in enforcement or why isn’t there an uptick in enforcement?

That Usually means Amazon anticipates a story to be written about it. Could be an embarrassing story, and then they also find that interesting and start moving. The motivation to move comes from the outside instead of from the internal.

[00:06:36] Leah: Right, but we’ve been seeing this for months, not weeks. Usually if it’s in response to a story, it’s a Small, quick blip, and then it goes back to normal.

We are seeing more consistent enforcement on this than I have ever seen previously. We’ve always seen purges for variation misuse, where all of a sudden we’ll have tons of people contacting us about variation misuse issues, and then we never see it again for another six months to a year.

Yeah, of course. This has been The most consistent I’ve seen this enforcement for a longer period of time, for this particular area of policy, both on the variation misuse and on the bundle policy, or ASIN creation misuse. I’m also starting to see it across international marketplaces. So it’s not just the US and Canada, which is usually where we see these main purges. I’m also starting to see it on smaller marketplaces, such as Japan, which is not that small, but it is in terms of numbers of sellers. So we are starting to see it being enforced more internationally, which also indicates to me that this is more of a a long term enforcement strategy, rather than just a quick look, we did the thing guys. And then forgetting that it exists and that ever happens.

[00:07:41] Chris: It’s global, but more things are global now. We’re also hearing more from people who are like, I was suspended in a totally different regional marketplace and it’s impacting my us account.

[00:07:51] Leah: Well, and that’s a big thing to be aware of is that, is that your international marketplaces do impact all of your other accounts.

So if one account goes down, most likely your other accounts will go down for being related to that suspended account because I also regularly have the conversation of, well, we don’t really care that much about this marketplace. So we’ll just ignore this. You can’t ignore it and you can’t just close the account.

Once the account is suspended, you need to resolve that suspension before it impacts your other accounts.

[00:08:17] Chris: Also, we’ve had the conversation where people want to just delete a few listings and call it good and then appeal it as a dispute. I don’t think, The appeals process is well understood in terms of like, well, let’s make a cosmetic change. Then we’ll dispute this and give examples of other listings that were compliant.

And ignore the ones that weren’t compliant. I’ve seen people doing that in their appeals as well. And then the usual conversation over, Oh, somebody dashed off a plan of action for me, and I inserted some ASINs and some examples of correct listings, and I think that’s going to pass. And then they get rejected, right? We don’t have to go into the whole nuances of why a plan of action won’t be acceptable in this particular case right now.

[00:09:01] Leah: Well, some of them are being asked for plan of action. That’s the thing. I’ve seen three different forms for this. One is requesting a plan of action.

One is requesting documentation, like training documentation and assessments, to prove that when you put in your plan of action, that you’ve retrained all the people that you actually have. And there is real training there. In those cases, they’re not even asking for the plan of action. They’re just asking for the proof that retraining happened or assessments happened or that you hired An expert to take this over for you and then the other one that I’m seeing is just the straight dispute. So there is no appeal other than proving to Amazon that they wrongly identified you as violating their policies.

So it depends which form you get and I’m not necessarily seeing like, if it’s the 72 hours, you definitely get this form. I’ve seen all three forms across all three scenarios. So first of all, you really need to read the appeal form before you start writing anything up because they are asking for different information from different sellers.

[00:10:00] Chris: Read the forms. We still get people very frequently in our support inbox for ecommerceChris. And they’ll say, I appealed this a couple of times. I have to admit, I didn’t really read the form. I checked a bunch of boxes. That’s becoming a real problem. It’s been a problem, but now it’s a major problem because people are alternating from shifting their weight left foot to right foot. I’m disputing it. I’m doing a plan of action. I’m admitting it. I’m disputing it. I think you had a consult or a call like that just yesterday.

[00:10:31] Leah: Yeah and I mean, part of the issue is if you were violating the policies, how do you dispute it?

[00:10:37] Chris: Right. You can’t, you can’t.

[00:10:39] Leah: And also account health keep telling people to submit a plan of action when performance is not asking them for a plan of action. So there’s also that, which adds to the complication or seller performance sends you the wrong template and response asking you for greater details of the root causes when they never asked you for a plan of action in the first place.

[00:10:57] Chris: Oh, that’s just another way of saying you haven’t sent us sufficient information.

[00:11:02] Leah: Right, I understand that but we understand that because we’re seeing this all the time. If you’re a seller and you’re dealing with this, how are you supposed to know? Oh, they must’ve sent me the wrong template here. Especially when account health is supporting that incorrect template that you received.

[00:11:15] Chris: So, I mean, pay attention to the details. What else should people do in terms of their listing creation that we can talk about in the next couple of minutes that you’d guide people to do?

[00:11:24] Leah: Yeah, I mean, the best thing you can do is not get suspended for this. So I would be reviewing all of my listings. Currently, if you’re listing bundles, you need to make sure that you are correctly identifying the main product in the bundle. So Amazon’s bundling policy requires that the main product be the most expensive product in the bundle that then dictates what category your bundle goes into and it also dictates the brand attribute on that bundle. There is a very popular strategy of creating bundles where you get your own private label brand and you get some cheap little thing like a pen or something that you add to the bundle so then you can brand the bundle under your brand. When it’s like a pen that comes with a phone and you’re trying to tell Amazon that the pen is the main product in that listing, that is something we’re seeing a lot of enforcement around currently. So you need to make sure that you’re correctly following the bundling policy, particularly when it comes to the main product and the brand attribute. If you have incorrect bundles, you can’t change the brand attribute. So if you have incorrect bundles, you need to deleting those. On the variation side, like I said, Take the variation policy very literally. If you’re saying that your products vary by color, they can only vary by color. They can’t vary by color and something else. So that’s usually where I see sellers run into issues, where they have, say a color and size theme, but then some of them are two packs, and some of them are one packs, and some of them are Like a totally different style, but a similar type of product, the products can only vary by the variation theme that you’ve selected and those variation attributes.

So just using color again, as an example, if you’re saying that the products vary by color, the color attributes can only have a color in it. So it can only say black or white or pink. It can’t say pink velvet. Black polyester, you know, it needs, it needs to only have information about that specific attribute.

And, you need to read it literally, because this is the argument that I have with sellers all the time where they’re like, well, it’s basically the same product, but it’s not the same product. It can only vary by whatever you’re saying that it varies by. And that’s where people are being suspended because they are putting products together that shouldn’t be put together under a variation theme.

The other thing that I’ve seen a lot of, and this is what the FTC is more interested in, is taking new products or new versions of a product and then making it a variation of the old version of the product so you can merge the reviews together so your new product looks like it has lots of old products.

You can’t do that. That’s against Amazon’s policy. And like I said, this is something that the FTC is very interested in. So if you’re making a new version of a product that needs to be on its own listing or on its own variation family with the new versions, you can’t Put that together as a variation of the old version.

[00:14:14] Chris: Right. And maybe I’ll close with this, we’re aware, we’re not naive, we’re aware that the longer this enforcement lag has existed, the more that’s encouraged sellers to do whatever, when it comes to these.

[00:14:25] Leah: It doesn’t matter if you’ve had your listings like this for 10 years, you need to fix them now before you get suspended.

[00:14:30] Chris: They’re finally interested. I mean, when Amazon finally gets interested, when they’re finally interested in enforcing their own policies. Then you have to turn on a dime. You can’t say we’ve always done it this way. All these other sellers are doing it. They’ll just say, okay, well report all those other sellers if you want. And we’ll look at those, but that has nothing to do with you.

[00:14:52] Leah: Well, and they know other sellers are doing it. You’re not telling them anything they don’t know. Kind of like you’re not telling me anything I don’t know when I get told that other sellers are doing it. Everyone’s aware of that. It’s just, they know that they’re inconsistent with their enforcement, but that doesn’t affect how they enforce against you.

[00:15:08] Chris: So, we’ll leave on that note. Questions on this, make sure you send them all to Leah, all your slack files. None of that should go to me, because she is 100 percent handling all ASIN Creation, misuse, abuse. We’re going to have to come up with some new acronyms.

[00:15:22] Leah: For the past nine years.

[00:15:24] Chris: Next time I will not wear an I love New York hat. This is just an honor of our recent Seller Velocity Conference. And by the way, just want to point out, this is not like wearing a Yankees or a Mets hat where you’re saying you love them. This is about a city that we go to all the time and that we have a regular meetup in.

Questions on this, definitely let us know. This is going to be with us for a while, maybe for the whole summer. I don’t know how long Amazon will be hot and heavy on this before they lose interest as they typically do. So thanks, Leah. Talk to you soon.

[00:15:53] Leah: Thanks, Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe





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