Season 1, Episode 103

What You Need on Your Invoices

Invoice verification can be tricky business on Amazon. In this episode, Leah and Chris discuss the challenges faced by sellers when presenting invoices to Amazon and the mysterious knee-jerk rejections that leave them questioning if anyone is actually reviewing their documents. Are automation and poorly written AI to blame, or is there more to this puzzle?

Show Notes

Transcript

Chris: [00:00:00] Hey everybody, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions. This is Chris McCabe. I’m here with Leah McHugh. We’re talking today about all of the conversations we’ve had. Leah finds these particularly fascinating, around letters of authorization, supply chain documentation. I’m gonna go ahead and guess Unverifiable suppliers, right? Because we’ve had a couple cases where even when Amazon asked for the supplier’s supplier, we were actually able to provide that information and they still said no. So maybe that’s the best place to start.

Leah: Or you’re giving them the manufacturer information and they’re asking for the manufacturer’s supplier and it’s like they’re the manufacturer.

Chris: It is kind of crazy that they have such knee-jerk reactions. They just say No, kind of no matter what you send, which makes us think that they’re not bothering to take a look at any of this stuff.

Leah: They may be automating some of it. I know that they’re automating a lot of the compliance documentation review, so it could just be badly written AI.

Chris: I mean, we’re over assuming the AI is taking over, I [00:01:00] think Amazon will do that, but not yet.

Leah: I have it confirmed from Amazon employees that they are using automation to review client’s docs, so it’s not that much of a stretch to assume they’re using some sort of automation to review supply chain docs.

Chris: There’s still a person who’s responsible for reviewing the documentation and making a yay or nay decision. The problem is there’s no yay, it’s always nay. Well, why is that? Well, they’re either not looking at it or they’re trying to pick it apart and find an excuse not to have to read an appeal or look at other documents.

The excuse must be they either think the invoice has been massaged, edited, manipulated, fabricated, which I know they love to over accuse on that. But also sometimes they just say, well, the format doesn’t look right. And it’s just very vague and sellers have to try to call into account health to find out why this is, but a lot of the answers coming back are not a lot of annotations here that explain why they didn’t like it.

When there’s a dearth of information like that they obviously didn’t take the time to look at that [00:02:00] documentation, especially like you said, when it’s from the manufacturer and they just say, we couldn’t verify your supplier. Oh, that’s interesting. Those are the people who make the stuff for us.

Leah: Right, here’s their website. Here’s a direct contact person, their phone number, what wasn’t verifiable? I think what I find most interesting about this is Amazon is pretty inconsistent just across the board, but I feel like in this area in particular, all of these conspiracy theories abound around the seller community of like, oh, well, if you send it as a pdf, it won’t be accepted. You have to take a picture of the invoice on a surface and then it’ll get accepted. Like there are all these urban legends around invoice verification. And so that’s why I find it interesting because like I said, Amazon’s inconsistent across the board, but I feel like this is the one that sellers really have a whole theory around what to do to get it accepted and what not to do. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong. But I find it really interesting because I guess this is one of the areas where all sellers are likely [00:03:00] going to be required to present some of this information at some point. So I enjoy the conspiracy theories.

Chris: We’re looking at a universe where they’re going to ask every type of seller to justify with documentation just about everything they source, just about anywhere. Private label reseller, buying from authorized distributors, not buying from authorized distributors. A lot of this is about to blur together with the increases in KYC scrutiny.

We’ve got the INFORM Consumers Act coming our way, but this is probably the first of many procedures because the days of hey just create a detail page and throw it up there, and maybe you’ve got an invoice, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have info in your supplier, maybe you don’t.

Those days they’re over. Everyone should recognize that if they haven’t ended for them in particular, they will soon.

Leah: Yeah. Well, if you are sourcing in a way that doesn’t give you the right documentation, you just have to know that it is a risky business model. And at any point, Amazon could ask you for a documentation that you don’t have, [00:04:00] and when you don’t have it, they’re not gonna let you sell that again.

So as long as you go into it knowing that, which unfortunately, I feel like a lot of new sellers in particular go into not knowing that because a course or something tells them that they could just buy stuff at CVS and list it on Amazon. As long as you know what you’re getting into.

Just keep in mind it’s not a great long-term business strategy on Amazon. But I did wanna talk about what you should have on your invoices because that is something that we still have people come to us saying Amazon keeps rejecting documentation and then we take a look at it and it’s slack and that’s why.

Chris: Written on a napkin invoice?

Leah: Right, Excel invoicesaren’t great either. Word docs. Also, I still see a lot of people submitting commercial invoices or pro forma invoices. Those will not be accepted by Amazon. It needs to be an actual invoice where the inventory has been fulfilled to you and payment has been made, or is at least like net 30, [00:05:00] whatever the case may be.

They won’t accept a commercial invoice, which is really for shipping purposes or pro forma invoice, which is essentially just your ordering the inventory doesn’t actually confirm that you actually got the inventory from that person.

Chris: Right. It’s like a pre invoice. And of course we’ve heard from a lot of sellers who said, well, there are services out there that will make an invoice for you. This is still happening.

Leah: That’s another thing that I wanted to talk about because I see a lot of them marketing it as like it’s a real invoice for somebody, we’re just making it so it’s made out to you. That’s not a real invoice. It was a real invoice for whoever purchased the actual product.

Chris: At one time it was a real invoice.

Leah: It was, but once they changed the information on it to reflect something that didn’t happen, it is no longer a real invoice and it is fraudulent documentation. And at that point you are risking permanent deactivation if Amazon catches you doing that. So yeah, that’s something to keep in mind because there are still a lot of services that we see, or people come to us saying that they got a real invoice [00:06:00] from a service and it is not a real invoice. So make sure your invoices are real and you know that they’re real if you are purchasing those products from the people that the invoices says that it’s from. If you’re not purchasing the products from the person that’s issuing the invoice, that is not a real invoice.

Chris: You probably didn’t buy all those items from a supplier and forget that you bought those items and then you hired a service to help you remember it. These are extremely dated tactics that probably didn’t work that well in the first place, but it’s no very amateur level stuff. I understand that desperate times breed desperate measures. But, Amazon’s hip to all this stuff, they’ve been going through this crap for years. So think about that before you start saying, well, I don’t have a letter of authorization so actually I really had no choice but to manipulate or fabricate documentation. Well, the choice was not to do it in the first place. I understand that there are a lot of low value courses out there that don’t address this [00:07:00] stuff. And when you’re new, you just kind of glom onto what they’ve suggested that you do, but fact check that stuff and question the source.

Leah: Yeah. And then a second area that I regularly see sellers running into issues with is their invoices being made out to a company or to an address that doesn’t exactly match the information that they have in their Seller Central. You need to make sure that the invoice is made out to the right person, to the right company, and has all of the same information as your account. Otherwise, Amazon’s not going to try to connect the dots for you. They’re just going to reject that invoice. And then of course, on top of that, you wanna have the contact information for your supplier. Ideally you are including contact information for a specific person, not just like their regular support, phone number or email address, website address. And then ideally you wanna have product identifiers.

I prefer GTINS, so UPCs or EANs generally in this country. JANs you’re in Japan. just [00:08:00] because those are universal identifiers, whereas an ASIN is just an Amazon specific identifier that those GTINs will be on the listing. So again, it just makes it that much easier for the investigator to match your documents to the products in question.

A lot of Chinese invoices just have pictures of the products, that’s not enough. You need the actual identifier on there. And we are actually seeing more and more that the invoice is being rejected because it doesn’t have a product identifier, it just has like the name or description. Make it easy for the investigator, make sure it has the identifier, and this is all stuff that your supplier shouldn’t have any issue with adding to the invoices. Don’t add this information to the invoices yourself. Go back to your supplier and say, I need these invoices updated to reflect this information, by the actual supplier. You don’t wanna me make those changes.

Chris: And we understand, by the way, the insanity of some of the requests from Amazon. There was somebody the other day that said, oh, your invoice was rejected because [00:09:00] the ASIN wasn’t on it. I think that person actually expected the Amazon ASIN to appear on the invoice.

Leah: Yeah, but that was somebody in account health. So like, Eh.

Chris: But the account health reps are sometimes reviewing account annotations and passing along some of that info, and I could totally see that being a reason for rejection.

There are nonsensical gibberish reasons, even when you drill down into what was annotated on this ASIN on my account, you will see some crazy stuff. We’re not saying that if you follow every thing that we tell you, you’ll never get a rejection for no apparent reason, an insane illogical rejection because we hear and see those all the time.

We’re trying to get you to the point where the reduces the likelihood that that will happen because some people go 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 rounds with these guys. Even calling into account health each time it gets rejected and account health reps, when you’re on the phone with these people, hopefully you’re only talking to US reps, you can tell in their voice sometimes that [00:10:00] they see how idiotic some of this is, and how nonsensical it is.

Leah: I actually appreciate when you can hear in their voice that they’re just like, *sigh* it says this. You know that they’re just like, oh, this is stupid. and I feel stupid saying this.

Chris: Or they just say well, this is what I found, there’s mannerisms they use. You can tell that they basically agree with you but they have zero authority to fix something absolutely ridiculous that never should have happened in the first place.

But you need that information because for all you know, you’re basing your next escalation on. By the way, account health told me, insert nonsensical phrase here. that’s gonna keep happening. There’s gonna be more of that. So prepare mentally for it. Don’t let it frustrate you, but also understand that sometimes those mistakes, and they are plentiful and they’re regular on the Amazon side, could become the fruit of your next escalation.

Leah: Yeah. And then I just wanna talk really quickly about your relationship with your supplier, because [00:11:00] ultimately you want to be as close to the brand owner as possible. You either want to be the brand owner. If you are the brand owner though, and you are manufacturing the products yourself, you need to have a separate entity from your selling account for the manufacturing, and you need to invoice your selling entity for those products because Amazon won’t accept self issued invoices so you need to have those two separate businesses to show that supply chain for the products that you manufacture yourself. If you are a reseller, ideally you are buying directly from the brand. If not directly from the brand, you want to be buying from an authorized distributor. Because again, as a reseller, one Amazon might ask for a letter of authorization.

And if you’re buying the products very far down the supply chain, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to get a letter of authorization from the brand owner and also Amazon might ask for your supplier’s supplier. And again, if you’re too far down the chain, one your supplier is unlikely to wanna give you [00:12:00] that information.

And even if you give your supplier’s supplier information, if that’s someone that has no real apparent relationship to the brand, Amazon still won’t accept that. So you want to be as close to the brand owner as possible when it comes to the supply chain information that you have. And you wanna be able to make sure that you can verify it all the way up to the brand owner and that you can get those letters of authorization if requested.

Chris: Well said. And on that note. We both had some long winded passages on this one.

Leah: We’ve been doing this for a long time.

Chris: It’s good when it comes to supply chain documentation because sometimes even to our surprise, we’re still getting some questions that aren’t from new sellers about, I don’t understand why they rejected this invoice.

I completely get that. You can submit an invoice, which is identical to something they accepted 17 times in the past, and they’re suddenly rejecting it now. But that’s just Amazon being fickle. And Amazon changing their mind from one month to the next on what they wanna accept. We’re not justifying that, but it’s not [00:13:00] unusual.

Amazon likes to change their minds a lot about what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s also very dependent on the eyeballs that are looking at that invoice. There might be somebody else that will accept it.

Leah: But I mean, beyond the outliers, I think the general requirements that Amazon has for the documentation really hasn’t changed that much in the last few years and so again, when you’re figuring out your sourcing, keep these in mind. Have a checklist for when you’re bringing on a new supplier for does their invoice match all of the required information? If not, are they willing to include that in the invoices to you?

If they’re not, you shouldn’t be purchasing from them. And also again, are you able to verify the supply chain from your supplier all the way up to the brand owner. Again, if not, Move on to another supplier.

Chris: Even for your own knowledge. It’s not even just to show Amazon because we’ve had people coming to us saying they’ve been accused by Amazon of selling stolen inventory.

All they did was look at some inventory at a warehouse. [00:14:00] They didn’t really know where it came from. So this is where that can bite you as well. That’s not just Amazon being pushy about invoices. You need to know this for your own knowledge because your entire business could be at stake.

Leah: Yeah. And it’s not just stolen, could unknowingly be purchasing counterfeit items or gray market items that maybe aren’t even approved to be sold in the country that you’re selling them in for whatever compliance reasons, labeling, whatever. So for your own business and for your own peace of mind and for your own legal protection, it’s good to have this information yourself, not just in case Amazon asks, but also in case Amazon asks.

Chris: And in terms of the ultimate, why? Why are they doing this? I mean, there’s a lot of reasons. Their KYC procedures are tightening across the board, and this is one of them. The other reason why is, generally speaking, Amazon’s just not interested in hosting sales of arbitrage sellers, people buying from liquidators, people buying gray market that might have thrived six, seven years ago.

That’s not the world we live in today. Amazon doesn’t really care if those reseller accounts, especially liquidations, where you’re buying [00:15:00] pallets, you’re getting no line item invoices. I mean, basic, basic stuff where you know before you even buy the product, you know they’re not gonna take the invoice.

I mean, why put yourself in that position in the first place, right?

Leah: Yeah, exactly. Again, you’re not just risking that listing, you’re potentially risking your entire account. So risk versus reward analysis, that’s up to you guys.

Chris: Well, thanks for listening everybody. The wind is picking up a little bit here, so this outdoor podcast experiment will come to an end for today.

Feel free to ask us any questions about this. This is something that comes up constantly. Sometimes Amazon investigators ask for letters of authorization out of the blue to brand owners, private label brand owners. So there’s interesting stuff going on all the time around this topic. Listen again to Seller Performance Solutions and have a nice day.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh

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