By Chris McCabe, Founder of ecommerceChris
Last month Amazon announced that they would be updating their suspension policy, giving sellers more notice before suspending their account. We don’t 100% know how Amazon will implement the policy changes announced to begin August 16, but in a sense, this doesn’t represent unfamiliar territory. Amazon’s approach to the account suspension process changed long ago to give some sellers a chance to appeal their suspension before their account is shut down, with 24-72 hours to submit their appeal, with the help of Account Health Services.
“We may terminate your use of any Services or terminate this Agreement for convenience with 30 days’ advance notice. We may suspend or terminate your use of any Services immediately if we determine that (a) you have materially breached the Agreement and failed to cure within 7 days of a cure notice unless your breach exposes us to liability toward a third party, in which case we are entitled to reduce, or waive, the aforementioned cure period at our reasonable discretion; (b) your account has been, or our controls identify that it may be used for deceptive or fraudulent, or illegal activity; or (c) your use of the Services has harmed, or our controls identify that it might harm, other sellers, customers, or Amazon’s legitimate interests. We will promptly notify you of any such termination or suspension via email or similar means including Seller Central, indicating the reason and any options to appeal, except where we have reason to believe that providing this information will hinder the investigation or prevention of deceptive, fraudulent, or illegal activity, or will enable you to circumvent our safeguards.”
I’m cautiously optimistic about this newest change to TOS, but at the same time, I grasp that it may be a temporary move to placate the critics out there. Either way, we’ll know starting this coming Friday if Amazon’s decision lacks substance in the execution.
Amazon will tell you that you have 30 days to present a POA and avert a suspension. But what else will they tell you? Hopefully, we can now expect better messaging along with more transparency, and more detail! Amazon has kept their outbound communication intentionally vague for so long that I believe they’re accustomed to withholding the kinds of ASIN-level or policy violation details that are necessary for an appeal. Will that change this time?
Or is Amazon simply responding to public pressure? The antitrust case in Germany progressed to the point where Amazon would have to explain each suspension much more clearly in that marketplace. It makes little sense to restrict offering accurate information or clarified details in only one region. They decided that changes had to be made to global account suspension work.
While we need to give Amazon a chance to show us something new and improved, I always recommend preparing for multiple outcomes anytime account suspensions are involved.
Top 5 Things to Understand Before They Roll Out the New Changes:
1. Understand that time is of the essence. You can’t depend on Amazon to get right back to you unless Account Health or other teams offer anytime call-in access. It can take several days to a week, or two, to hear back from performance and policy teams currently. Notice teams (handling rights owner infringements) appear to be the worst, with either quick canned generic messaging back, or no response at all. There’s no excuse for it, but there’s also no clear end in sight. It could take Amazon many days within that 30 just to respond.
2. Understand that we don’t know if “the right people” will be in charge and responsible for making the changes. Account Health Services have been hit or miss in the year or so since they started warning sellers ahead of their suspension. I’ve listened in on a few of these calls with clients, and there’s been a range of skill level, experience, and process awareness within their ranks. Some of them only appear able to provide general advice, not specific to your POA. Others struggle to tell you why you were suspended in the first place, as if they may not have looked, or didn’t have the right access.
3. Understand that some sellers have problems that no amount of time can cure. What are some examples? Let’s start with constant IP infringements or buying a bad product and not inspecting it properly. Keep in mind, it’s not just about having more time. Sellers with chronic policy violations they can’t seem to prevent or regular complaints about the quality of their products will struggle to find the right solutions, as they do now. Account investigators can and will still review your past history to see how many times you’ve been suspended. You can’t just re-hash a previous POA and hope it’ll fly. If you’re given this long to come up with something solid, then “mailing it in” can’t be expected to work out for you.
4. Understand they may not tell you HOW you violated a policy. Amazon is known for providing sellers with long lists of potential policy violations or bad behavior, and asking you to self-identify which ones within that general offense category you’re guilty of. You may still need to get those details by talking to Account Health Services to find out what they think you did wrong. Amazon avoids serving up all the details out of fear that they’ll miss something you did, only to encourage you to keep doing it. I believe that even after Friday, you’ll still be expected to master that research yourself, and you’ll simply have longer to execute the search for details.
5. Understand that they may not vet buyer or brand complaints better, which is something sellers really need Amazon to do. Will they cite ASINs in the messages promising an incoming account suspension, then forget to indicate why they flagged them? Will they mention “buyer complaints” without showing you any specifics, or examples? Amazon has a poor history of providing the ASIN-level complaints or any necessary specifics beyond the “Complaint category” that took you down. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have so much misunderstanding over “Used Sold As New” complaint-based account suspensions for Amazon sellers who have never sold used items in their entire business lives.
My Five Best Ways to Avoid a Suspension, Given the New Changes:
1. One positive outcome of the account suspension policy change is that it encourages sellers to monitor their accounts in a more proactive manner, and not ignore things. Anticipate the 30-day advance notice of a potential suspension when you see a flurry of performance notifications come in addressing Amazon’s concerns that sit unresolved. Understand the need to improve due diligence! Don’t wait to improve your account if the warning signs are there, take significant actions that can be demonstrated in a Plan of Action if needed.
2. Amazon will be suspending more sellers than ever for rule-breaking and Compliance emphasis, especially heading into Q4. Make sure as a seller that you know how to run a clean operation, knowing Amazon is looking to force you into compliance if you don’t. If you’ve received warnings by policy enforcement teams indicating your lack of awareness or understanding of a policy and you don’t know what to do, expect a suspension notice. It’s nearly Q4, which for Amazon sellers is the most serious time of year. It’s the worst time to get suspended, not that there is ever a good time. Buyers are buying more than ever and bad buyer experiences multiple during Q4. Amazon knows that, and so should you.
Don’t spend a lot of time calling Seller Support or asking for details before you’ve done your own internal investigation. You can’t simply blame Amazon’s lack of clear messaging because the unclear language in Amazon messages will be with us for a while. Learn the proper way to review your own account, before going back to Amazon for more information.
3. Sellers still need to know what to do to fix things that break! If you’re lost in terms of solutions, you could have months to write a POA and submit to prevent a suspension, but it wouldn’t help. Badly managed accounts, and sellers with low-quality inventory, will continue to accumulate complaints from buyers and brands whether or not they have an extended time period to address everything. Do you know how to repair the damage in order to prevent more or are you simply deleting listings and removing inventory when buyers return items or report you to Amazon? There’s a world of difference between those two things.
More specifically…Do you have training for the staff operating your Amazon account, and have they written Standard Operating Procedures for their work to maintain not only performance metrics but obedience to policies? Are they examining buyer complaints or ASIN-level data to ensure there are no problem products lurking in your inventory?
4. Management and VP level people may get more involved, given all the scrutiny around Amazon and antitrust investigation by the FTC. We don’t know this for sure. Yet with all of the negative attention around how Amazon manages their marketplace, many wonder if managers and VPs will play a larger role in transparency with sellers who are about to lose their Amazon business. Managers and VPs have involved themselves in how these processes in the past, without a lot to show for it. Also, managers are known to change roles at Amazon. Some top-level VPs are either not in the same role they were before, or they left the company. So higher-level involvement in this area of enforcement may not necessarily benefit the appeals process, nor seller account investigations. We need time to watch and wait, to find out if their work will be a good thing or a bad thing.
5. Take some real action, don’t just promise things. Some sellers only take real action or make painful choices when suspended. Sellers need to reset mentally and find the willingness to make painful decisions like deactivating precious listings when they see patterns of buyer complaints, rather than simply waiting for Amazon to take them away first. Real action is needed to prevent a suspension, not just words and false promises. If they give you 30 days to fix what’s broken, make sure investigators will find evidence in your account that you’ve upped your game. If everything stays the same, expect an account suspension AND they won’t find your Plan of Action to be credible when you attempt to appeal.
Receiving thirty days to fix operational deficiencies should be plenty, for almost any suspension cause. Don’t wind up losing your account because you expect Amazon to tell you everything you could be improving. Think in terms of prevention strategies like compliance improvement, listing deactivation to stop an influx of bad buyer complaints, upgrading your supplier vetting procedures, or any new approaches that can be implemented within a month’s time.
You’ll need to strike at the heart of whatever’s bothering Amazon (and their performance or policy teams) and execute successful strategies to keep them off your case, or a suspended account lays ahead! And if you can’t avoid their teams, make sure you use your 30 days wisely.
Founder eCommerceChris, focused on business development, client relations or account/project management, and e-commerce fraud prevention. Chris worked for several years on Amazon’s performance and policy enforcement teams and in recent times and has helped compose appeals in the reinstatement of hundreds of Amazon sellers. His expertise as ex-Amazonian positions him to complete successful reinstatement early and often, given his previous experience. His intimate knowledge of internal teams at Amazon is unsurpassed by any other seller consulting service. ecommercechris.com