Season 1, Episode 18
Fool Me Once
Chris: [00:00:07] Hey everybody, welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our podcast for Amazon sellers. I’m Chris McCabe, a former Amazonian, and current seller account consultant. I’m here as always, with Leah McHugh, who also consults sellers. Today, we are going to talk about something pretty serious, but also pretty straightforward in regards to avoiding certain kinds of account suspensions. But as a rule, we’re trying to coach you to avoid any kind of account suspension. In particular, these are the sort of two strikes and you’re out type suspension cases. And there’s lots of content out there about which ones are the worst kinds of suspensions. We talk about all kinds. We’re not talking about minor metrics misses. We’re not talking about an occasional threat to the account because of ASIN level problems like item condition, or item quality complaints, obviously. If there are item quality complaints about counterfeit products, you’re kind of already flirting with disaster. No, we’re talking more about things like primarily, recently, we’re talking about late shipment rates. Anything around prime, if they think you’re not trustworthy or reliable with prime and you lose self-fulfilled prime, product review abuse. And anything around drop shipping, those are the main ones we’re going to talk about today.
Leah: [00:01:27] I would also add code of conduct violations to that list.
Chris: [00:01:30] Yeah. Well, I was going to start there. Thanks for the lead-in. Nowadays the code of conduct message goes out, not just for abuse, like reviews, abuse, which it was before. We’re seeing it in all kinds of contexts. Like, hey, you, you confirmed items as shipped and they hadn’t shipped yet. Seems like just a regular run-of-the-mill metrics. Missed late shipment rate over 4%. Not anymore. Amazon is extremely protective of their reputation for delivering items on time. Amazon’s unwilling to let sellers fulfill orders by themselves if they can’t prove that they’re reliable and trustworthy with it. And I think sellers, we’ve been contacted by several suspended sellers who were like, ‘Hey we had a couple of glitches. We had some people out.’ Some of them told us it was COVID-related, but we’ve heard these stories. And if you’ve already been through this and you’ve already been suspended for one of these offenses, let’s just start with the metrics and the shipping for now. And you expect that you’re going to get more than one chance to recover and to rebuild. Do not expect that.
Leah: [00:02:33] Well, I think that’s maybe the more direct point rather than the different kinds of suspensions. The issue is more that you’ve just told Amazon that you fixed the problem. And here are all of the amazing steps that you’ve taken to ensure that this problem never happens again. If they then have to suspend you for the same thing within weeks or months of you presenting this plan of action. It’s a lot harder to prove to them, that well, this time, this time we really fixed it. So if they like, it’s hard for them to believe you a second time around when you’ve already told them once that this problem has been resolved.
Chris: [00:03:15] And maybe they’re not calling you a liar per se, but they’re saying we don’t believe you. Not that you’re making up a story. Maybe you’re just not able to do it. Your capability isn’t there.
Leah: [00:03:27] Well, and I’m sure for a lot of sellers, there’s a temptation to send in the same appeal that got you reinstated the first time. But I mean, it obviously didn’t fix the issue if they’ve had to suspend you for it again. So sending them the same plan of action really doesn’t address the issue anymore. You now have to not only address the problem but also address why you failed to address it the last time you said you had addressed it.
Chris: [00:03:51] Exactly. And I’ve talked to some sellers lately who called account health. There’s more knowledge out there about what account health reps can tell you and what they do now. So they had already called account health before they talked to me. What did the account health rep say? In your plan of action, you’re going to have to explain why all the wonderful solutions you gave before didn’t pan out, didn’t work, and how it’s going to be different this time.
Leah: [00:04:13] And not only do you have to do that. You have to do that in a page to a page and a half because the investigator doesn’t have any more time to look at your appeal than they do for any other appeal. So you now have to provide all of this additional information in a succinct enough way that they will actually have time to review it properly and possibly reinstate the account.
Chris: [00:04:34] I’ve had people, I know drop shipping is a controversial subject for some sellers. I’ve had some sellers, come to us who are violating the drop shipping policy. They didn’t really understand that when they were reinstated the first time that, that was it. That if they were going to violate that again, odds were minimal. I’m not saying everyone there’s always outliers. Odds are minimal that you would get back on. And now they’re hearing like from account health reps or from Amazon, no path to reinstatement. Why does Amazon tell you that? It’s because they already gave you a second chance. You’re asking really for third chance. It’s not just, why would you expect limitless numbers of chances? They’re also thinking that you’re not taking them seriously. They gave you a second chance. You went back to whatever it is you were doing, or you tried something new that you didn’t test, that wasn’t tried and true and you were experimenting, winging it, whatever. And that didn’t work out either. So your expectations should be that that’s it. And that you don’t get that extra chance. Because quite honestly, they got plenty of sellers for everything now. They don’t need you.
Leah: [00:05:41] And I would think as an investigator, if somebody is already been suspended for something and reinstated, and then did it again. I would be much less likely to reinstate because if they then go and do it yet again, surely there’s going to be questions of you as an investigator. Why would you reinstate this person?
Chris: [00:05:59] Also it gives them an easy investigation. They can take a quick look, look at your account annotations. What were they suspended for last time? Same thing. What is their plan of action look like this time? Pretty close to the last one. I don’t need to waste time on this. I’ll get credit for an investigation and I’ll toss this in the trash. That’s what sellers need to understand from the mental standpoint. I don’t see people adopting that mental framework on the way into it when they’re writing these. I understand there’s the seller psychology reason for kind of denying it in your own mind, but it doesn’t help your chances any. And quite honestly, if you’re a two time offender, it might already be too late. There might not be any point to appealing to try to get seller fulfilled prime back or to get fulfilled by merchant back at that point. Because you already know the odds are against you. Because in 2021, maybe not last year. But this year, Amazon’s made it extremely clear across the board. They’re dead serious about this stuff.
Leah: [00:06:49] I think there are certain things that they’re, reticent to give you a second chance on those programs, or even more likely to give you a third chance. I mean that the review community guidelines for reviews actually now says that they have a zero tolerance for review views, which actually isn’t necessarily true in practice, but it does give them something to refer back to when this does happen to be like, no, we don’t have any tolerance for this.
Chris: [00:07:13] I think we’re pretty much at this point, there’s been so much friction and an angst and criticism about fake reviews on Amazon this year, even more so than last year. Somehow, I thought last year was the peak of that. I think we’re at the point now where sellers should know your one reinstatement that you get for that is it. Expect there to be like a 92% probability that you’re not going to be reinstated. I know somebody listening to this might say, I’ve been hit for this twice, and I got reinstated twice and I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re extremely lucky. And some of that was dumb luck. Because you got some randomness where somebody maybe didn’t realize that you’ve been suspended for it before. And that’s why you got reinstated.
Leah: [00:07:53] Or maybe you just timed it right before it started really.
Chris: [00:07:57] Right. I mean, I’m not saying your POA, wasn’t fantastic, but what if you’ve been banned for something four times? And your, and your POA is wonderful. Does it necessarily mean anything at that point? No. They don’t want to even entertain your POA at that point. And on a side note, I’m really fascinated with this rise of the brand aggregators. We’ve talked about aggregators before on the podcast, we talked to some aggregators, what, at least two conversations we had . Where they were kind of like, well, my biggest concern about buying this company or buying this brand, is that they might’ve faked some of their reviews and gotten positive reviews that might be deleted. And I have to step in and say, well, they could also be suspended for that. And they were kind of scoffing at it, like, yeah, but people get suspended for that all the time. They get reinstated and you write a POA. It’s not such a big deal. We can hire you for that. And I might just say, well, have they been suspended for that before? Because I wouldn’t expect to hire me or anyone else had they been suspended multiple times for reviews abuse, and expect the result to be there. Because I’m already telling people like what, what are the first words out of my mouth when they’re suspended for this? I’m like, have you been hit for this before? Because all of these people who are doing all of these product insert tricks and contests and giveaways and whatever these things are, you have to understand Amazon’s appetite for this is like non-existent, they don’t care.
Leah: [00:09:17] It makes me sad if we’re still talking about product inserts, we’ve been talking about product inserts for so many years now.
Chris: [00:09:24] Well, and the whole thing about like, well, the warranty, or is it a contest or what kind of giveaway or is it okay to do a giveaway if you’re not asking for a positive review? I mean that stuff’s ancient history. If you’re still listening to marketers who are blowing that smoke at you, then you’re wasting time on the wrong people.
Leah: [00:09:39] A little bit off topic, but on topic, with the product inserts. Fantastic article from box last week, which I will link in the show notes, but my very favorite part of that article, and there were some great parts of that article, but my very favorite part of that article was that a lawyer who works for the FTC ordered something from Amazon that had a product insert in it, which was asking for a review and was offering some sort of compensation. I can’t remember what for people who left a review. That FTC lawyer went to the FTC and then went to Amazon. So something that, again, we’ve been saying for years, but just really doesn’t seem to stick. If you put something in your products, anyone can buy your product and anyone can see that insert. Whether they’re the FTC or somebody that works for Amazon or a competitor, you’re making it very, very, very easy to catch you doing something that you’re not supposed to be doing.
Chris: [00:10:38] I have sellers contacting me every week, asking me where they report things to the FTC. Competitors are buying from you all the time. And it’s become very common for them to go to the FTC and show them pictures of these inserts.
Leah: [00:10:51] And the FTC are very interested.
Chris: [00:10:53] But one thing you mentioned was, the giveaway and asking for review. People are getting suspended without asking for a review at all, just for doing the giveaways. That’s one big misconception about what’s changed in the reviews abuse space, which this podcast is not just about reviews abuse, and avoiding it. It’s about like, why are you expecting to survive using these tactics?
Leah: [00:11:16] One risky behavior to another that is not improving your odds for keeping your business long term.
Chris: [00:11:22] And you’re more likely to receive a message that cites the code of conduct. I’ve seen more and more messages from Amazon. That say, not just you broke the rules, not just we’re slapping you on the wrist. We don’t trust you is what this message is, paraphrased. We don’t trust you with our buyers. We think you’re either flagrantly or out of complete ignorance, either way, doing things that we don’t like. Which makes us not want you around or that buyers don’t like, or we don’t like that you’re doing with our buyers.
Leah: [00:11:51] Or that ‘insert government agency here’, doesn’t like.
Chris: [00:11:54] Well, I mean, maybe sellers, aren’t realizing that you’re putting Amazon’s feet as a company in the fire because the FTC will chase Amazon. Not necessarily you. The government will come down hard on Amazon in the congressional hearing. They won’t bring you there. But Amazon doesn’t want you to put them behind that eight ball. And maybe that’s what sellers are missing. That Amazon itself is under the gun for this stuff.
Leah: [00:12:16] Well, and in all fairness to them, Amazon didn’t really seem to care up until recently. So.
Chris: [00:12:21] The communication will always be poor, but just don’t expect that you can be suspended three different ways from Sunday, every year that you sell, and just do a POA and get back on. I don’t really understand that expectation, but whether I understand it or not is less important that you understand it as a seller, that you can’t get away with stuff anymore. Amazon looks good to the public when they punish sellers. They have the incentive to do it. So maybe it’s just kind of a psychological switch in your brain. I don’t know. But we’re hoping that we don’t hear from as many people saying that they violated the same thing twice. It’s not just suspended for the same thing twice. If you get a warning and you’re still active and you’re already on your second chance, whatever it is, you’re doing. Pull the inserts out if it’s reviews abuse. Drop shipping, stop what you’re doing. Source a different way, use a different business model because Leah and I can tell you we’ve been on the other end of that phone call. It’s not pleasant to have to deliver that type of bad news where we’re not even sure we can help you. Any questions on this, feel free to reach back out to us. And thank you for listening to Seller Performance solutions. Leah, thank you for joining me for this fruitful discussion and we will talk again soon.
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