Season 1, Episode 87

Amazon is Inconsistent

Amazon’s enforcement teams are notoriously inconsistent. In this episode Chris and Leah explore the reasons behind this inconsistency and offer strategies for addressing this in your appeal process.

Show Notes


[00:00:07] Chris: Hey everybody, this is Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions. I’m with Leah McHugh. Leah, how are you? 

[00:00:14] Leah: Good, thanks. How are you, Chris? 

[00:00:16] Chris: Good. Good. Today is a good day I think, to talk about. All of the conversations we’ve had throughout Q4 and throughout the year and prior years about Amazon’s enforcement being inconsistent, and the conversations we’ve had with brands or business owners about, Hey, I’m listing this stuff and Amazon took me down, but look at my competitors, they’re selling all the same stuff, and it’s the same category, it’s the same product. What’s the difference between us and them? That alone should be the basis of an appeal. And of course, we’ve had to be the bearer of bad tidings and say, well, just because you see other people doing it doesn’t mean you get the green light, because Amazon teams are horribly inconsistent and not just making mistakes, But they’re not explaining why some are allowed to do things and others aren’t. Is that fair to say? 

[00:01:03] Leah: So I think, yeah, I think that’s the key thing, is that in these conversations, we’re the ones that are saying that Amazon is inconsistent. I think sellers maybe somehow don’t realize that Amazon is inconsistent.

They just see it as, well, I have been incorrectly penalized because these other people aren’t being penalized. Or I’m also, as often this one listing was penalized, but my other listings that are exactly the same are still up and active, so this must be a mistake. And it’s like, no, it’s not a mistake.

Amazon’s teams are just really bad at flagging the stuff consistently right, and enforcing it consistently, and even replying to appeals consistently. You know, you’ll have the exact same issue on multiple ASINs with the exact same issue. One is accepted for reinstatement and one isn’t even though they should be the same thing and they should be getting the same response. 

[00:01:54] Chris: Yeah, and I have a theory about that that I can go into in a second, but a parallel example that it reminds me of is the people with invoices, right? They submit the invoice and Amazon accepts it and reinstates they’re listing for authenticity or whatever the issue was three times in a row.

And then they send the same type of invoice from the same supply the fourth time. All of a sudden Amazon says, we can’t verify your supplier and they’re prompting people to appeal again or escalate it or do a bunch of things, and it’s like, Well, how about you just scroll back through your own account annotations and look at all the other times you accepted that invoice.

So if the invoice is suddenly not acceptable, that means it wasn’t acceptable then either, and you took it anyway. 

[00:02:33] Leah: Yeah, and that happens a lot on the compliance side as well. Suddenly your compliance documentation isn’t acceptable even though they accepted it previously. And a lot of times when I’ve reviewed those cases, they shouldn’t have accepted it the first, the first few times.

[00:02:48] Chris: So it could be a mistake. I mean, yeah, there, there are all kinds of mistakes. Sometimes they just don’t read anything they’re sent and it’s easier to reject it if not doing their job isn’t, you know, there’s no oversight of quality on the investigations. But , it could just be a mistake in terms of maybe Amazon did take the listing down inappropriately. Right? We see those as well.

[00:03:09] Leah: Well, and we’re also seeing a lot more often the Amazon teams grabbing the wrong template response and so replying back with something completely unrelated. And I think this kind of comes back to something that I say a lot, maybe not on the podcast, but I feel like I tell people this a lot.

I feel like the biggest benefit of working with a consultant or, you know, on the ad side of things working with an agency, is that people like us are seeing this stuff all of the time, so it’s a lot easier for us to identify, no, that was sent an error, versus no, this is the actual issue, or this shouldn’t have been rejected, or this should have been rejected, or this was flagged incorrectly and this wasn’t.

That’s where experience comes into play because they are so inconsistent that unless you are looking at the stuff all the time, it really just doesn’t make any sense and you’ll end up going down a weird path of either showing Amazon all of the other listings that are totally fine for the same thing, which isn’t gonna get you anywhere, or that this was flagged incorrectly when it wasn’t flagged incorrectly.

Like that’s where the experience of seeing these issues en mass really does come into play.

[00:04:19] Chris: And also understanding the nature of their mistakes when they make mistakes. Why they’re making mistakes. Which Dear listener, by the way, we’re not just going to talk about how enforcement’s inconsistent for 10 or 15 minutes.

We do have some background and I have some theories, but I also have some answers in terms of why is this happening? Why is it so inconsistent? How does it not make sense that they would take a sweeping action that would impact everybody? There’s a variety of manual and automated reasons for the mistakes, but in terms of appeals, why would they reinstate some of your ASINs but not other ASINs?

One explanation for that is that their tools are cumbersome. Their tools and processes and SOPs aren’t the greatest. They haven’t upgraded them to the extent they could, so sometimes it’s simply easier and quicker for the investigator to get two or three out of eight or nine ASINs reinstated for you, because they’re doing this stuff one at a time, or the tools are clumsy and they don’t wanna be there forever.

So they take an action based on your appeal, which is, well, I’ll fix some of this, but no one’s circling back and looking through to see, well, why didn’t you reinstate all eight or nine ASINs. Why did you only do a couple? If they take action on a couple of them, they at least took some positive action and they can justify I guess, the time they spent on your case, right?

[00:05:39] Leah: Yeah. Well, and also if you’re submitting separate cases for separate ASINs, even if it’s the same issue, chances are it’s not the same person reviewing those cases. So it could be somebody is actually reviewing it and somebody is just hitting deny, you know? Or it could just be that, that they were in the mood to deny things that day.

Like we said, it’s wildly inconsistent, but unfortunately that’s not changing anytime soon. 

[00:06:04] Chris: Well, I’m trying to get at the why it’s inconsistent. I’m trying to give at least some well-reasoned theories behind the why. 

[00:06:09] Leah: Well, that is a why.

[00:06:10] Chris: I think they just hate admitting mistakes too. I mean, they’ll never put in a message, you know what? Our tools are kind of bad. We haven’t upgraded them in a while. Our SOPs are weak. People make mistakes here constantly. Like nobody can write that in a message and send it out publicly. And I think some of the problem here is that they just don’t want to admit their mistakes.

But the problem with that is, well, okay, you don’t have to admit everything publicly, but at least clean it up on the inside and we don’t see that changing over time. 

[00:06:41] Leah: Yeah. That’s good to know, I guess, but not particularly helpful to sellers. 

[00:06:46] Chris: No, I think it can be helpful. When you dispute this stuff, you can appeal saying, Hey, look, again, the parallel example of you’ve accepted these invoices six times in the past. But you can say, we’ve had some of these ASINs reinstated, why didn’t you reinstate the others?

Any investigator can go through, look through and find that the prior investigator did take some action and that person knows that they were headed in the right direction, but they didn’t finish the job. So I think you can use it. I think it is useful to mention in a subsequent appeal or escalation, you guys are already turning the wheels in the proper direction. Can you finish the job? That’s my paraphrase. Of course, I wouldn’t write it like that.

[00:07:26] Leah: Yeah. I mean, that is useful once you’re sort of a certain way in, but I think as a starting point, you need to take everything Amazon says with a grain of salt but also your starting point needs to be you investigating what Amazon has said, and by investigating, I don’t mean looking at other people’s listings, like let’s just get that one out of there because I’ve had this conversation every single day for the past five years, Yes, there are other people doing it who are still active, like just looking at other people’s listings is not helpful.. You’re just wasting your own time. So you need to look at what Amazon has said is wrong. Look at your listing or your account. See if that is, if in fact correct or not. And then if it is correct, figure out like is is this something that you did? Is this something that maybe is an attack, but you just can’t start from a place of this is an abuse from someone else, or this is a mistake from Amazon.

You have to start from a place of, is this something that we have done wrong? And if the answer to that is no, then you can proceed from there. If the answer to that is yes, then you proceed along the appeal path. But I think it’s a mindset thing of knowing that you need to investigate yourself first whenever Amazon says anything, you can’t just have this knee-jerk reaction of, this is incorrect. Why am I being unfairly treated? And like, because yes, that is possible, but having that knee jerk reaction is just going to get you into more trouble and have it take longer to resolve than if you actually investigate it, because you can use that investigation, even if Amazon is incorrect, to show Amazon is incorrect, rather than just being like, well, other people are doing it and this is unfair.

[00:09:07] Chris: Or the knee jerk reaction, it’s abuse and being attacked. I mean, we talk about abuse and brand attacks a lot on this podcast, but we’re not saying you should assume that that’s what’s going on. 

[00:09:16] Leah: Right, your first step should be am I doing this wrong? 

[00:09:19] Chris: Right. We’re always saying that’s one of multiple possibilities and there’s all kinds of abuse. I mean, abuse is not getting better. It’s getting worse so which is discouraging to an extent with all the stuff Amazon’s tried. Some of it didn’t work to prevent abuse or to resolve it faster, so it could be abuse. But if you start assuming that and you just throw it at Amazon and say, well, I’m just getting attacked. It’s abuse and I don’t know why and I don’t know where it’s coming from. They, again, they’re loathed to admit those types of mistakes, right? And they’re loathed to admit that they’ve been duped by abusers. And they’re definitely not going to admit if somebody internal is committing the action that they shouldn’t be.

That’s harming your business at the behest of somebody else who’s motivating them to do it. They’re not gonna admit any of these things. They’re gonna con continue to send generic messages. So you have to have your strategy set, I would say from the get go. 

[00:10:15] Leah: Well, right, and that’s why I think the most efficient way of starting this is to start your investigation, assuming that you’re in the wrong, so you start your investigation assuming that you’re in the wrong, once you investigate it, if it turns out that that is not the case,

you’re still, as part of that investigation, you would be identifying that abuse. So you would be using your investigation to build your case with Amazon, whether it’s your fault or not. You’re actually doing this all as one and you’re saving yourself a lot of time, and you’re saving yourself a lot of frustration by starting from that point and progressing that way rather than assuming it’s wrong and then having to backtrack later.

[00:10:54] Chris: Yeah, I mean some appeals where they send links to all the other comparable products and they say, you guys screwed up, we should be re-listed. You took our ASINs down, but all of these are up. There’s two potential outcomes there. Oh yeah, we screwed up. Sorry about that. And they put yours back up. Or if they had screwed up, or they take all those listings down too.

[00:11:15] Leah: I have never ever seen somebody showing examples of other listings, get them reinstated. Ever. I have never seen that. 

[00:11:25] Chris: Probably those are more likely when it’s just a straight up mistake. It could be an automated bot mistake and they were planning on putting them all back anyway, whether or not they heard from you or it’s a manual error. Somebody just low level, untrained, whatever. 

[00:11:41] Leah: Well, I have never even seen that get a legitimate response. Like to me, I think for an investigator, they just see that and immediately ignore. 

[00:11:52] Chris: I mean, why do things happen selectively to begin with? Bad training. No oversight. bad SOPs. 

[00:11:58] Leah: Well, and it’s automated. I assume a lot of it is automated intentionally. So it isn’t all at the same time. Because otherwise, intentionally, that team would be dealing with like a hundred thousand cases at once. 

[00:12:10] Chris: It’s automated. But there are different types of investigations. Some begin with automation, but finished with manual reviews.

[00:12:17] Leah: Right. But it’s the same thing. Even if it’s a manual review, they can’t complete hundreds of thousands of manual reviews all at the same time. So of course they’re not all going to come down at the same time. And occasionally we do see like thousands of listings go down all at once.

Yeah. But generally speaking, that’s not how they operate because those teams can’t function that way. They can’t complete all of the work all at the same time. That’s never going to work well, which is why wouldn’t you do see actions where they take thousands of listings all down at once. Sometimes it can take people months to get that resolved because those teams get so backed up in that issue. 

[00:12:54] Chris: Yeah. I mean, didn’t we work on something earlier this year? I guess when it was like three to four hundred ASINs and it was like every time there’s an appeal, it took like four different appeals and they’d do like 75 or 80 each time.

And then like if he did it enough times the right way and it got to enough people, eventually all 400 came back. 

[00:13:13] Leah: I mean, especially with compliance, because usually they’re like knee-jerk reacting to like government agencies giving them a hard time. So you’ll see like thousands of listings here removed and you can see in the forums like six months later, there are still people trying to get their ASINs fixed because that team is so backed up trying to like fix all of the problem that the automation caused, that they just get behind because they can’t function that way. 

[00:13:37] Chris: They’re backed up. But also I think the people six months later posting the forms didn’t know how to appeal it properly in the first place. Like they sort of did some of it to themselves.

[00:13:45] Leah: That too, but you also will see a lot of those times with those mass actions some of them will be incorrectly flagged because they tend to go too far rather than not far enough when they’re doing them all at once. And so, but it’ll still take weeks or months for the incorrectly flag ones to get put back up because they’re now backed up with all of the cases.

[00:14:04] Chris: Right. And we were just talking yesterday about we haven’t seen as much of the Amazon like sort of half apology messages. You know, sometimes we err on the side of caution.

[00:14:14] Leah: Yeah, I haven’t seen that one in a while. 

[00:14:15] Chris: I think they realized that that was sort of Torching the dumpster a little bit and rubbing people the wrong way, and they don’t use that one as much. Maybe they just updated their messaging templates, but because it’s not that they’re airing on the site of caution. I mean, if you’re carpet bombing ASINs across the platform, 

[00:14:32] Leah: Maybe Legal was like that’s admitting fault and we shouldn’t do that. 

[00:14:35] Chris: Either that, or they’re just like admitting they’re pulling back the curtain a little bit to show different stakeholders in the marketplace. Hey, we love carpet bombing ASINs, which is like a shoot first, ask questions later approach and you know, we’ll, we’ll grab the mop in the bucket and maybe start cleaning up the mess afterwards, but initially you’re going to lose some ASINs and you’re gonna lose some revenue. That’s very kind of, unpopular to say whether it’s internally around Amazon or externally to sellers. So, maybe that’s why those messages are on the decrease. We’ve seen people get reinstated where there’s no message at all. I think that’s the most interesting thing I’ve seen lately is just, here you go.

Here’s all your ASINs. No performance notification to, to back it up, which is kind of concerning that that still happens. Hey, at least, at least they get their listings back. The riddle of inconsistent enforcement, as Leah was saying, I do not see that changing anytime soon on the Amazon side.

What can change is your reaction and your approach to it. 

[00:15:35] Leah: Yeah. And like I said, I preach pretty hard that you need to come at it from a place of maybe I did do this wrong. Investigate that and then, and then proceed from there. Because you’re just saving yourself. I know it can be a hard thing to wrap your head around that this is your fault potentially, but in the long term it’ll save you so much time and so much frustration if you start from there. Rather than going the other way because Amazon doesn’t wanna hear it unless you can prove it and in order to prove it, you need to investigate yourself.

[00:16:08] Chris: Agreed. Well, I’ll speak for myself and for you. If you have examples and you wanna show Leah or myself, feel free to put them in front of us. Thanks for listening, and hopefully you will not be annoyed by this nuisance of such inconsistent enforcement yourself with your brand. If you get stuck and need help with it, please let us know. Thanks, Leah. 

[00:16:29] Leah: Thanks Chris.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Leah McHugh


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