Season 1, Episode 134

Takeways from Prosper 2024

The Prosper Show 2024 in Las Vegas served as a melting pot for Amazon sellers, brand owners, and industry experts, coming together to exchange knowledge, strategies, and experiences in navigating the Amazon marketplace. In this episode, Chris and Leah shed light on the pivotal conversations and think tank sessions that took place, focusing on the challenges and innovative solutions proposed by sellers and brand owners.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:00] Chris: Hey everybody. This is Chris McCabe coming to you from Las Vegas, Nevada, where the Prosper Show is happening. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions. I’m here with Leah McHugh, who is not in Las Vegas. How are you doing?

[00:00:14] Leah: I’m happily not in Las Vegas. Yeah. Happily.

[00:00:17] Chris: Leah is one of those anti-vegans. Is that the word?

[00:00:21] Leah: Anti-vegan? No, that is not the word.

[00:00:24] Chris: Anti los vegans is what I meant to say. Sorry about that. As you can imagine, lots of wonderful evening networking events last night. So I’m a little, a little slow right now. What was fast and furious yesterday were the think tank sessions, one of which I’m moderating. I’m doing another one today. And we talked with a lot of sellers. So the way the think tanks work at prosper, for those of you who aren’t familiar, we have one of those flip charts. So we write the best ideas from all the sellers, and brand owners. The top paying points, top problems, and then the best solutions, best practices during these kind of 10, 15 minute windows.

And then we switch, we rotate. So, I grabbed my flip chart and run to the next table and do it all again with another group. So, some of the ideas mimic what we’ve been talking about on this podcast this year so far in terms of restricted product, ASIN takedowns. Some sellers I spoke with yesterday, just to give you an example since you’re working with these types of things a lot, they had the claims unsubstantiated. Cure claims or health claims on the listing, which they successfully got deleted and they temporarily got the listing back up, which I thought was interesting, but the claims were still present on their packaging. So, I mean, this is something you see quite a bit, right?

[00:01:42] Leah: I mean, the compliance team failing to properly review the packaging. I mean, I guess. I usually see it the other way though, where there aren’t claims and they can’t tell that there aren’t claims. But yeah, unfortunately, when it’s on the packaging there is no path to reinstatement. You have to create a new ASIN for compliant packaging of the products.

[00:02:01] Chris: I mean, is this just people not doing due diligence before they get their packaging made, or are there other steps they can put into place? These were relatively new sellers at the one table that I did. And I think they thought they had done compliance reviews and research before they launched. But, you know, that’s a painful process to go through pulling all your items out of FBA after paying to ship them in.

 

[00:02:26] Leah: Yeah I will say, certainly the larger supplement companies do their due diligence and some smaller sellers do too, but I also speak to a lot of sellers who had pretty much no compliance review of their packaging before they started selling. They just went off whatever their manufacturer said was okay. Which I think I’ve talked about before but possibly at in person events rather than on the podcast. The trouble with taking your manufacturers advice is that your manufacturer is very much biased in that they want you to continue to buy their products. I’m not saying that they’re all like this, but I would take any sort of compliance information you get from your manufacturer with a grain of salt. You want to have your own separate compliance review, either done by an expert through party or you yourself learning the requirements. I would certainly recommend learning some of it yourself anyway, even if you are still hiring somebody else. Because, you need to be able to know enough to judge their work, if you’re hiring somebody else to do it.

[00:03:27] Chris: Words to live by, for sure. Part of, I think, the instructional sections of what we’re doing here at Prosper show is just to get people good info before anything bad happens. Many of them are appealing just through seller support cases. From what I learned yesterday, even the disputes, right? There was 1 seller who was selling certain kind of rope and then they got flagged for being like a mountaineering or a climbing rope.

[00:03:56] Leah: Mm hmm.

[00:03:57] Chris: And this happens a lot, false flags, right?

[00:04:00] Leah: Like half of my work.

[00:04:01] Chris: Half of what you do. Yes. But the problem is how they start the appeals process. And if they just stay stuck in like cases. You know, as you can imagine, events like this, everyone’s main complaint is how long their ASIN is down. And how they provided the info they needed to on the first pass, usually your second, and they just go in circles with seller support. I think part of the problem is it’s the nexus between seller support and compliance teams right? And the flags from automation. I mean, sellers are just kind of left to fend for themselves when it comes to appealing this stuff. And I was encouraging everyone. You know, you got an email from your primary to get this done.

[00:04:49] Leah: Yeah so unfortunately, if it’s not kind of clear cut, you do end up in a loop with the compliance team where they’re asking you for information that you have either already provided, or they’re asking you for documentation that doesn’t exist. Which is my personal favorite. When they’re asking for things that don’t exist or can’t exist. But yeah, if you get stuck in that loop where you are actually providing what they’re asking for, or you know, your product is not what they say it is, you do generally need to escalate it in order to get a response outside of just the generic template template asking you for what you’ve already provided. Unfortunately it seems to be trending downwards in terms of how often they are able to resolve it correctly in the case system, versus having to escalate it. And I’m also seeing a lot more wrong templates being sent recently. And that’s not just on the compliance side, I’ve been seeing on the performance side too. Where the original notification isn’t asking for a plan of action, it’s asking for a dispute. And then when you provide a dispute, they respond back saying you need to provide greater details of the root causes and the immediate actions. Which is, you know, already a confusing process made even more confusing by being told the wrong things.

[00:06:06] Chris: We talked about that a lot, too.

[00:06:08] Leah: I’m sure you did.

[00:06:09] Chris: They know what we do in terms of reinstatement strategies and appeals work and we talked about Disputes. I think part of the problem is, again one of my tables yesterday was newer brands, newer sellers, they dispute it once through the case system, they get one of those types of gibberish responses back, and then they start casting about, within groups or online, or seller forums, or whatnot for alternative solutions. Or maybe they even have an account manager that suggested, I don’t know. That’s when they start saying “It’s time to submit a POA”, you have to do a POA.

[00:06:47] Leah: And account health too, tends to encourage that. If you are legitimately disputing it, sending in a POA is like the worst thing.

[00:06:55] Chris: It’s the worst thing, and of course the account health reps say this solely because, you got rejected. They can’t seem to figure out why you’ve been rejected. There might be no annotations at all that indicate it was read at all. So instead of saying disputed again, or giving an alternative path, they’re just saying, well, that didn’t work, let’s try the other way. I mean that’s just fruitless and unproductive to do.

[00:07:22] Leah: To Account Health’s credit, I have had a number of Account Health reps who do understand that it’s a dispute being asked for, and who do know how to properly review that and to tell you what’s needed. Unfortunately what happens is, on the investigator’s side they then still reject it for another unrelated reason. We had one recently where it was rejected for being too similar to the previous dispute. But if you’re disputing something and you’re providing evidence, I mean, it’s not going to change that much. We were providing additional evidence, which was what we were told to provide. And then the investigator note said it was too similar to previous appeal.

So, It’s like half of the team has been trained on disputes, and then the other half of the team is still kind of stuck in the old POA system of it needs to be totally different if we projected it before.

[00:08:15] Chris: The old POA days. This is something, conversations and some of the networking sessions. A few people have commented on things we put on LinkedIn over the past month. About, you know, one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing. This has been going on for years.

[00:08:30] Leah: Yeah.

[00:08:30] Chris: And one of the conversations I had, this wasn’t in the think tanks, but they were just saying, you know, well, it’s been very public and very obvious that the training is lacking. Decision making doesn’t make sense. I mean, if all the complaining and all the exposure of this problem hasn’t changed much, what else can be tried? Is it just keeping the drum beat up and constantly referring to it? Or, is it the people inside Amazon that need to be like, look, it’s making our lives miserable to have account health run like this, and have the advice be this bad. You know.

[00:09:05] Leah: I don’t think anyone’s going to care if it’s making their lives miserable. I mean, I care. I don’t think Amazon will care. My hope is that somebody internal to Amazon will run the numbers and will say, Hey, these teams being this inefficient is costing us this much money every single day. Imagine if they were well trained and worked efficiently, we would save this many man hours and this many dollars every day, because ultimately that’s what they care about. And if I were a manager in Amazon, that’s what I would be doing.

[00:09:34] Chris: But they never did that for years within the seller performance teams, which was the best place to start doing things like that.

[00:09:42] Leah: Right? But we’re also seeing them cutting costs by sending jobs overseas, and by laying people off. Certainly, we’re seeing longer timeframes for responses from teams. And I think a large part of that is because they are on sort of a skeleton crew on some of these teams, at this point. And so I think that eventually, you can only cut costs in so many ways without looking at efficiency. I think eventually they’re going to have to look at efficiency, in terms of how this cost center could be fixed and less costly.

[00:10:13] Chris: And so I spent a lot of time at yesterday’s think tank encouraging sellers not to give up on disputes after 1 attempt, just because they get a generic denial. Also, some sellers at the other table I was working were in the SAS core system. Had an account manager. And I thought it was interesting that, you know they said, well we keep getting these flags. I mean, 1st of all what you said a moment ago, if it’s the same ASIN getting flagged inappropriately over and over, of course your appeals are similar. So that’s kind of ridiculous. But what’s kind of crazy to me is that some of these brand owners are paying 3k, 4k, 5k a month for an account manager. You would think they would just be able to report, Look, I got flagged again overnight. You know, can you open an internal case, take care of this? Sometimes that happens, but sometimes it takes days for that to play out.

[00:11:08] Leah: Well, so that’s what I find so interesting about the SAS core is that we talk to a lot of sellers who are handling things through their SAS manager. And, you know occasionally I will go through that if one of our clients wants to go that route. But in general, I find it takes so much longer to resolve having SAS open internal cases, than opening internal cases via other teams, or externally escalating. It’s like the time frames. You know, you’ll just get “still waiting to hear back from the team” for like 20 days from SAS core. And they don’t seem to have any way of like pushing that team to get a response within their KPI’s.

[00:11:49] Chris: Even if it’s not 20 days, they often get an answer that’s, well they needed more information from us. So can you grab two or three of the case IDs you create? Like they waste all this time asking for stuff they can easily find themselves. Case IDs or, you know, give us the key bulleted points of your appeal, I will create a ticket. I mean, it’s just all this busy work, that’s extra, that shouldn’t really be necessary. I mean, why do you have to provide your account manager all this new info, when it’s the same info as the last time you were flagged? And it’s just, look, the automation, the bots grabbed this listing again. They haven’t been tweaked or fixed.

[00:12:35] Leah: Right.

[00:12:36] Chris: We’ve been down this road before, and that’s one of the main pain points we talked about yesterday here at Prosper. Just why do we have to relive this nightmare over, and over, and over when you, as an account investigator, or compliance team member, whatever it might be, you can just look at what we did 30 days ago, or 15 days ago, and you can see like, oh, this is the same exact thing. We just put them through 2 weeks ago. Well, and from the compliance side, am i empowered to just check that box and be like, this is a rerun.

[00:13:07] Leah: I mean, honestly, I’m not even sure if they have access to the previous cases in the compliance team. But I can understand why, you know, on their side, on the compliance or the performance team, they’re measured on speed and are measured on, I mean mostly speed, but also I assume at least partly on some sort of correctness. Whereas the strategic account managers are mostly graded on how much you sell. So you would think it would be in their team’s interest. And I understand that they’re not really there to help with listing issues or seller performance or compliance, but it is within their interest to help you there, because if your listing is constantly being blocked, how are you supposed to effectively sell it.

[00:13:54] Chris: Yeah, we can get into that again in its own episode. There’s a line or two from an email, that I saw between an account manager and the client, the seller, that I thought just really hit the nail on the head to paraphrase it now. Hopefully we can put all this ugliness behind us and get back to what we’re discussing end of the year, beginning of the year, expanding your presence on Amazon and driving more revenue. I thought she put it just in really good, stark, simple terms, and I’m sure so many account managers feel that way. And a lot of the account managers, are frustrated by this.

[00:14:30] Leah: Of course. Yeah.

[00:14:32] Chris: It’s eating up all their, I mean I don’t think they have extra time. It’s eating up a lot of time that could be devoted to other things that they were hired to do.

[00:14:40] Leah: Mm hmm.

[00:14:40] Chris: Simply because, like you said, no one sat down and ran the numbers. How much is this inefficiency? And incompetence costing the company. Like just their own selfish goals of making money, not the brand owner losing it. We’ll set that aside for a moment.

[00:14:56] Leah: No, exactly. And what’s worrying to me is that I’ve had conversation with, you know, business development management within Amazon. And I basically said, you know, how are you expecting brands to invest all of this time and effort in growing their brand on Amazon, when there are constant issues. Often through no fault of the sellers that’s taking their listings down or making them unbuyable. And what’s concerning to me is that I’ve had a number of these conversations, and on more than one occasion the business development team members told me that they had no idea that sellers were dealing with stuff like that on such a regular basis. So I’m like, if they don’t even know that it’s happening, how is it ever going to actually get resolved? Which goes back to the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

[00:15:49] Chris: And just priorities. They just, they’ve never prioritized quality work on the teams I used to work on. They’ve just trended downhill steadily over the years. Not just because I left, but because many people left.

[00:16:01] Leah: Nope, it was just because you’re not there anymore.

[00:16:02] Chris: I know. Some of the SOPs deteriorated. And no one really took ownership for that. And people move on. People aren’t going to work in seller performance for ten years.

[00:16:13] Leah: No, it’s true. I mean, Michael still gets upset when they incorrectly do the related accounts SOP. I enjoy his little outburst every time that happens, because he was part of creating that, and it still drives him nuts when it’s used incorrectly.

[00:16:28] Chris: And just people sending the wrong template, you know. You violated our multiple accounts policy. That creates so much confusion just because they pick the wrong message. And you know, conferences like this, I’ll see what kind of tidbits come out of today’s Think Tank and we can, you know, talk about that next week. But, conferences like this, you really get to see the exasperation, not just the frustration, we all see that in spades. But people saying, you know, I just don’t understand why this is so hard to fix in every single way? Why you can’t work part of the problem, or just take the mountains of evidence that sellers have struggled to get their minds wrapped around. I mean, I think some of it is they just don’t understand it. Amazon often fails to understand how sellers operate and think, and what running a business is. I mean, that’s somewhat understood depending on how much experience you have selling but just the throwing up your hands of why is this so impossible for them to make inroads on?

[00:17:36] Leah: Well and what frustrates me the most on the compliance side is that it was getting better. Things were trending upward and then it’s like they did a complete reverse and it’s now worse than it’s ever been, in terms of things being flagged incorrectly, or evidence not being reviewed properly, or being asked for documentation that does not exist. That was getting better. And I mean, I’m sure there’s a podcast episode where I said more than once about how things had been so much better lately, and it’s just gone in the exact opposite direction. So it’s like, I know they can make it better because they did it before.

[00:18:19] Chris: But it’s I have good news for you. When I’m down in the exhibitor hall, I’m going to check in with some of the Amazon booths.

[00:18:26] Leah: I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.

[00:18:28] Chris: And find out what’s going on with compliance. Because I know that does drive you nuts, and unlike what we were dealing with where it’s kind of always been the same, you experienced a bump in positive direction and then it kind of reverted back to something else. So we will cover additional experiences, comments, and questions from sellers that we talked to at the think tanks, here at the Prosper show in Las Vegas. And yeah, it’s been interesting so far, so I’ll be taking some photos we can share on social, and I will talk to you again soon. Thanks for listening.

Hosts & Guests

Leah McHugh

Chris McCabe

 

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