Season 1, Episode 1

Seller Psychology: Amazon Teams are Inconsistent

Amazon is inconsistent in its enforcement of policies. Looking at other sellers’ behavior isn’t an accurate measure of what’s allowed, or what isn’t. Seller mindset is an important factor in what determines whether an account is successful, or gets into trouble for unknowingly breaking the rules. We discuss what you need to do to cultivate a winning seller’s mindset.

Show Notes


[00:00:07] Chris: welcome to Seller Performance Solutions. This is Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris. I’m here with Leah McHugh. I worked at Amazon for several years, obviously in Seller Performance the way some of you may already know. And Leah works with us consulting on listing compliance, policy enforcement issues, lots of interesting stuff.
We want to talk today about how sellers are looking at things that exist on the site, and they believe they can just copy it and do the same thing other people are doing.
Just because you see somebody else doing it doesn’t mean it’s compliant. So, Leah, what kinds of things have you seen with the people we’ve been talking about?
[00:00:41] Leah: I actually tend to have the same conversation with each of the clients that I work with. It usually starts with, “All of my competitors are doing this, and their listings aren’t blocked.” Sometimes it also includes, “Well, I’m doing this on 100 other listings, and they’re fine.” One that I haven’t heard as much lately, which is probably because I’m working with people after they’re already in trouble. But another one is, “well, I don’t know anybody that’s been affected by this so it can’t be a big deal.”
[00:01:08] Chris: Well, when you say I have other ASINs that I’m doing the same thing on, but they’re fine. You mean that some are suspended and others aren’t, right? Just to clarify.
[00:01:15] Leah: Right. So they’ll get like one ASIN suspended for a reason, and that reason is also on a bunch of their other listings. But their other listings aren’t suspended. And there’s this idea of, well, if this is only one suspension, then this must be a mistake. And I could just tell Amazon that all of these other listings they’re doing it and they’re fine, which is actually like the worst thing you could do because you don’t really want to bring to their attention, that you’re also violating policy on 100 of your other ASINs,
[00:01:43] Chris: Right. It’s a common piece, I think. After years of doing this and then working at Amazon before that, it’s like Seller Psychology 101. If other people are doing it, then that means Amazon’s allowing it, which means I can do it, too. That’s not the way we want you to think. And that’s not necessarily the case, because if time and experience have taught us anything, it’s that policy enforcement is incredibly inconsistent. And Amazon knows. At least I can tell you. Amazon knows it’s inconsistent. They just don’t know how to stop that from happening,
[00:02:12] Leah: I like to liken it to the Seven Stages of Grief, which is an article I’ve been meaning to write forever. But you know, the first stage is denial.
[00:02:21] Chris: You want to do things, you see competitors doing them. You think they’re getting an edge over you, so you want to catch up to them or do the same things they’re doing or you’re afraid of falling behind. Unfortunately, that’s not the right approach that just gets you into trouble that they should have been in. If you want to report them for breaking policies, there are ways of doing that,
[00:02:39] Leah: and I should say that the ones that I work with generally don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong. It’s not like they’re seeing other people doing things wrong, and they’re like, I’m going to do it wrong, too. It’s more that they assume that because other people are doing it, it’s okay and they don’t actually check the policies themselves to ensure that that is in fact allowed on the platform. So it’s generally not them intentionally trying to game the system, although I’m sure there are people who are intentionally trying to game the system. But it’s more just a don’t ask, don’t tell, it must be okay because they’re doing it kind of approach to running a business
[00:03:13] Chris: So just because Amazon’s disorganized or sloppy on how they enforce policy doesn’t mean it’s OK. You should not make that assumption. In fact, don’t make really any assumptions in the Amazon space because you might be temporarily taking advantage of something that works. And maybe you’re only looking for a short term solution. We tend to talk to sellers about long term solutions because they’re looking to be a long term player in the game. So we’re not really doing this podcast or talking today about people who are trying to create a quick workaround until something else comes along. You’ll develop a habit that you’ll have to break later if you do it that way.
[00:03:50] Leah: Yeah, and so a lot of the cases that we work on, really, that first step is changing the seller’s mindset because they can’t effectively do what they need to do to fix this until they change that around. So instead of, “everybody’s doing, it must be okay.” You need to switch that to you personally need to know what the policies are and what the rules are, and it doesn’t matter what other people are doing. In fact, maybe you could report those other people for doing those things. But what other people are doing shouldn’t really matter in terms of your understanding of policies. And it doesn’t matter what Amazon’s putting on their listings. None of that matters. You personally need to know the policies, the laws, the requirements that apply specifically to your products. And that also goes over to complaints. You know, a lot of times the mindset is, well, this must be a competitor, or this must be a fake complaint so they could get free return shipping. You have to switch that mindset to, “Is there something wrong? I’ve received a complaint, I should look into this.”
[00:04:50] Chris: Is Amazon going to –
[00:04:52]  Leah: Not just Amazon.  If someone’s complaining about your products, your first reaction should not be, “This must be fake.” The first reaction should be, “Let me check my product to make sure that it’s safe and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
[00:05:03] Chris: Well, I think another thing we see is that – apples and oranges, right? Somebody will show us something and say “I’m doing the same thing as this person take a look” and we look at it and we say, “you’re misinterpreting this. You’re not doing the same thing as what they’re doing. You just think you are.”
And then other times it isn’t apples and oranges. It is the same thing. But it doesn’t give you a free pass to do what somebody else is doing, and it’s not fair. We know it’s not fair. We don’t necessarily agree that it’s a great thing that Amazon’s so inconsistent with enforcement, the more standardized their enforcement would be. That’s kind of pie in the sky. Amazon isn’t good at organizing this stuff, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. That’s the main thing.
[00:05:42] Leah: I think that really is the first thing that sellers learn, is that Amazon is not consistent. So it’s almost like it just gets ignored when it suits you.  You already know that they’re not consistent.
[00:05:55] Chris: Everyone knows they’re not.
[00:05:56] Leah: it’s just remembering that and acting accordingly. And I think again, going back to mindset, another conversation that I regularly have is, well, if I do that, then I’m not going to make any sales.
[00:06:09] Chris: If you’re suspended, you’re not making any sales.
[00:06:11] Leah: If you’re suspended – right.  And we have the same conversation of, if I don’t have any reviews I won’t make any sales. But again like yeah, but if you’re suspended, you’re also not going to make any sales.
[00:06:20] Chris: I’m glad you brought up reviews because that’s a good kind of different example. With reviews, we still get suspended sellers who say that they were doing it because they saw other people doing it, and they assumed that meant it was okay. Whether it’s manipulating rebates, whether it’s offering 100% off giveaways and certain kinds of messaging on your website to direct people to your Amazon reviews page, whatever it might be, any time we hear from one person doing it, we know there are 10 or 100 people doing it. We know they’re in a group. We know they’re paying a service that’s all very well understood by Amazon. Amazon doesn’t care if you’re copying something that somebody else was doing that they haven’t punished yet, maybe they’ll eventually punish them, too, right? They just don’t necessarily have great detection systems. They don’t necessarily have a report about that seller abusing reviews. But that’s a good parallel example of the absolute wrong way to think, which is either, “I haven’t heard that this is a problem, so I’m going to do it.” That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, or “I see lots of other people getting away with this, which means that I could get away with it  too.” Look at all the different answers you get when you call seller support. You can call eight times and get eight totally different answers.
[00:07:29] Leah: Yeah, that’s another thing that we should maybe talk about is just because Seller Support said something was OK, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK. Again, I think you learn pretty quickly that seller support reps are – have different levels of training, and some of them know a little bit more and some of them know a bit less. But really, you got to do your own research on these things because you can’t trust what they tell you in terms of what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed.
[00:07:54] Chris: Right. You can’t. They won’t be punished for telling you the wrong thing. You will be punished.
[00:07:57] Leah: And even if you refer back to that, seller performance is not going to care that Seller Support said it was okay.
[00:08:03] Chris: goes in one ear out the other. They don’t care. They already know that Seller Support says the wrong thing most of the time and gets people suspended for following that advice. They don’t care. They should care. They should really care. But they don’t care.
[00:08:14] Leah: Right.
[00:08:14] Chris: Calling account health services is another team. Another example of a team you can talk to and get eight different answers. You call at different times to talk about your plan of action when your account is suspended. This is across Amazon. All enforcement, almost all enforcement, I would say, if not all enforcement is inconsistent with the company.
[00:08:31] Leah: I mean, even appeals, seller performance. You can send in the same appeal for two different ASIN’s and want to get accepted in one, doesn’t. Could be the exact same issue, but it depends on who looked at it or how they were feeling when they looked at it or how busy they were that day.
[00:08:46] Chris: So you’re listening to us now. You know going in how inconsistent it is. You know that the best strategy that we could tell you or anyone is to stay out of their crosshairs. Don’t invite them in. Don’t give them chances to punish you or send you warnings or slap your wrist or whatever it is, because that can only lead to a manual investigation of your account. Or account-wide reviews of your enforcement of policies and, of course, an account suspension, which that’s what seller performance is all about. It’s either about being suspended and trying to get reinstated as quickly as possible or avoiding a suspension entirely.
[00:09:21] Leah: Yeah, and I think the best thing you can do is look up things for yourself. No, the applicable laws, know the applicable policies. Don’t really go off what other people are doing or what somebody may have told you. And I realize that’s funny because you’re listening to a podcast where we’re telling you what to do. But, yeah, you need to know that information for yourself and not trust that other people know what they’re talking about. because there’s just so much misinformation in this space. Part of the reason we make so much of our own content is to try to dispel some of that misinformation because we just see it all the time. And we have people come to us who are in trouble because they followed somebody’s bad advice,
[00:09:59] Chris: Right. One reason we’re doing this podcast starting this year, of course, is because there’s just way too much misinformation in the seller performance space. Some of it is Amazon pages that don’t have enough information, and it’s on their side.  The rest of it’s on Facebook or on the forums. Or we see a lot of stuff that just gets people into trouble.
[00:10:16] Leah: Yeah, I say, as a general rule, if you’re unsure of something, think about it on a larger scale. Like, if you think you’ve found a loophole that’s going to get you above the competition, think about it as the marketplace. Like is this – If everybody on the marketplace did this, would this be good or bad for Amazon customers? Generally speaking, if you found a loophole that everybody found that loophole and did the same thing, that wouldn’t be a good thing for Amazon’s customers, and that’s how Amazon is ultimately looking at it. Is this good for our customers? Yes or no?
[00:10:47] Chris: Right? If it’s bad for Amazon buyers, that means it’s bad for Amazon. If it’s bad for Amazon and they catch you doing it, that means it’s bad for you. So by extension, you’re putting your account at risk. And also consider if you belong to some group and everyone’s doing this stuff, that means word leaks out quickly. That means Amazon catches on to it quickly. So it doesn’t last very long anyway. But if you try to interpret this stuff for yourself, you don’t necessarily rely on support teams and account health reps, and you’re still having trouble, feel free to reach out to us. Once again. I’m Chris McCabe and thank you, Leah McHugh, for joining me to talk to Sellers about this particular psychology. I love calling it seller psychology because you don’t want to talk yourself into something that will get you in trouble, right? Yeah. Thanks, guys. Talk to you next time.
[00:11:31] Leah: Thanks, Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh



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