Season 1, Episode 44
You’re Responsible for Other People’s Behavior
[00:00:07] Chris: Hello everyone. Welcome back to Seller Performance Solutions, our wonderful podcast for Amazon brands, Amazon sellers, people struggling to understand why Amazon is what it is today. Chris McCabe here, former Amazonian and also speaking with Leah McHugh who works at e-commerce Chris with me, Leah, how are you doing today?
[00:00:31] Leah: Good thanks, How are you Chris?
[00:00:33] Chris: Consultant extraordinaire, Leah. What have we been talking about so much lately for weeks and days and months in a row is the documentation need that all sellers have, but Amazon’s requiring people to produce documented proof evidence of let’s say terminations of relationships like between partners, sometimes they’re related account blocks.
That was a hot topic last month, last couple of months, the related accounts.
[00:01:01] Leah: I feel like that’s been going on for a year at this point.
[00:01:03] Chris: Why does Amazon think I’m related to this business? I’ve never heard of it. And then we get into like, well, which third-party services are using? Are they sharing addresses? Sometimes it’s not a third-party service. Sometimes it’s a former partner of yours who goes off and creates their own business with a suspended account. You have to be able to show this stuff when you appeal. We continue to see people messaging us right through our contact form through email that say Well, this is the situation and they give us a story, but they can’t show it in writing or show it in written proof right?
[00:01:36] Leah: Yeah, I had a conversation just this morning, actually about somebody who hired someone on Fiverr to set up their account. And then that person on Fiverr had their own accounts suspended. And now they’re suspended for being related to that account for a person that they don’t even probably know their real name because it’s on Fiverr and they have a username.
So I think this is what’s expanded in this conversation because we’ve been telling sellers to have documentation about brand relationships and whatnot for years. I think what’s expanded here is that you really need to have documentation from all sides. So if you’re an agency working with sellers, you need to have documentation of when that relationship started, when that relationship ended, what authorizations you had as a consultant for that brand, all of this needs to be documented because if Amazon comes at you for something that happened on that account after you stopped working with them, then you can’t just say, oh, we stopped working with them a long time ago. They want to see paperwork that says we are no longer related to this brand at all. And then vice versa as the brand if that consultant goes on to do some less than good things on other people’s accounts. You don’t want that to be able to come back and bite you. So you won’t have documentation saying that you no longer have any relationship with them either.
[00:02:52] Chris: We have heard people that have researched it and they know maybe even the date and they’ll put in the appeal the date, since December 18th we haven’t worked with so-and-so, but they don’t attach the proof because I don’t think they get it on the way out the door. Maybe it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, you feel like if you’re asking for a termination letter of services or if you’re dissolving a partnership, you should for legal reasons, you should have paperwork for dissolving a partnership. So that shouldn’t be a big, a big ask. But the same concept applies to terminating services. There should be something in writing, preferably on, you know, a letter on company letterhead, something that looks official. That’s not just kind of scribbled on a napkin style because Amazon does judge you based on that
[00:03:35] Leah: and same for employees. If you’re hiring or firing people that work for you, chances are in this ecosystem that they’re going to, or have already worked with another Amazon account. So you need to also have all of that documentation for your employees, which also I’m sure if you have an HR department, they would want you to have anyway.
[00:03:55] Chris: Those are legal questions but Amazon’s not so worried about the legality of it. They’re worried about what do we see in our tools? If you’re all using the same VA, if you’re all using the same agency, if you’re using the same service and you have no idea how that service works with all these other sellers and those accounts get suspended, or they get, let’s say punished for code of conduct violations, where they start losing lots of reviews.
These are all third rail problems and you could be exposed to them without even really understanding. I mean, how many related account blocks did we work on last year where I said, well, how many third-party services do you work with? And the answer came back. I don’t know, a dozen?
[00:04:37] Leah: Well, I think what concerns me more is that a lot of these services are at which we talked about before, are white labeling. So a lot of times people either don’t even know who is working on their account or using the Fiverr example, they don’t actually know the real name or entity that’s entering in their account. And anything that that person has done previously or will do in the future, is potentially a liability for your account. This is also a bigger thing to think about now that there’s a lot of buying and selling of Amazon businesses. Because once again, you don’t want to be held accountable for something that happens on your account after you’ve sold it.
[00:05:16] Chris: I would assume that most reliable aggregators are asking anyone they’re about to buy we need a full list of who you’ve done business with what they did for you, what you paid them, what the deliverables were when, when the services ended.
[00:05:30] Leah: It’s not just aggregators that are buying accounts now, though. People are buying and selling these businesses. There’s tons of websites to do that on. So, we also had a conversation recently where somebody started selling on an account that they purchased and hadn’t changed the business information on the account yet and are now stuck in verification hell because they can’t verify the old business information because it’s not the right information.
[00:05:53] Chris: Well, and then the video call, they’re doing video call verifications, where they’re like, we need the real owner of this account to be on the video call with us. And you can’t come up with a story well that person’s not available, but we can give you this person instead. I mean, why do you think they’re doing video calls? Because that level of scrutiny is to screen out bad behavior around accounts being handed off left and right.
[00:06:15] Leah: So I think going forward, anything to do with your account, you want to have documentation, whether that’s authorizing somebody to do something, whether that’s the end of a relationship, whether it’s selling a business, whether it’s hiring and firing employees, that all needs to be documented. Additionally, if you stop working with somebody who has access to your account, you as the account owner need to remove them from your account because if they remove themselves that doesn’t actually completely remove them, the account owner needs to remove them. So if you’re a seller that needs to be part of your off-boarding process, and if you’re an agency or consultant, part of your offboarding process needs to be walking the client through removing you from their account. So either one of you don’t get hit later for the others’ behavior. I know it’s pain. I know it’s awkward going through that, especially if it maybe didn’t end on the best of terms, but that needs to be part of your processes. And maybe that needs to be part of your onboarding process too. Like, this is what’s going to happen when our relationship ends.
[00:07:14] Chris: This needs to be fully baked into all of your due diligence documenting. I know it’s a pain, documenting every move you make with your business, every single thing you do, but it’s a good habit to get into. And even just taking one step back, one reason why Leah has so much to say about this today, and is so passionate about this is because she’s disentangling complex brand registry relationships and account blocks and listing blocks and bizarre stuff that takes an eternity to go through all the time. And it’s probably driving you a little bit crazy just to look at the complex relationships because you know how difficult it is to represent that in an appeal.
[00:07:53] Leah: Right and if it takes me a good chunk of time to sort through it and figure out what’s going on, chances are the investigator is not even going to get that far.
[00:08:04] Chris: They don’t have the incentive to spend that much time on it. Because they don’t get a pat on the back for, oh, you spent a half an hour disentangling this and you got it, but you got it right. There was a great fruitful result at the end of it. Nobody cares about that. Their incentive is to do something quickly. And if they take a look at it and it’s an absolute mess on top of another mess, and then that mess looks like a fully loaded pizza fell on it. They’re not going to take the time they’re not gonna have the energy to do it. They probably have four, five, six more of those in their queue already. So it’s like you and I we’re like, you know, paid to go through this meticulously. And in theory an Amazonian is too, but in reality, if it’s like then we did this, then we did that. Then we did this and we’ve seen timelines that go on for pages. Right? 2019, we did this 2020. We did that 2021, this happened.
[00:08:55] Leah: And there’s usually just so many layers of different people in different entities involved that just sorting through all of it is not something that an investigator is going to be able to do in four minutes, even if we lay it out as clearly as possible, chances are, they’re going to have to look in the tools for all of those different relations to see what it is that you’re talking about. And if there is a lot of those in the halls, there is no way that they’re getting that done in the time that they have allocated for investigation.
[00:09:20] Chris: Right. And like you said, if you or I can’t make heads or tails of it. A lot of sellers are coming to us saying, we just need to get this in front of the right person. I mean, there are ways of getting it in front of the right person. That person has to be willing to go through the pain and anguish of trying to get it right. And that assumes that your timeline is easy to understand. I mean, sometimes I’m reading through and I’m like, I can guess at what you’re trying to say, but it’s not in a format that Amazon can consume readily.
[00:09:48] Leah: And unfortunately on Amazon side, unless you represent like seven or eight figures, they’re not really going to care. And even at seven or eight figures, they still may not care if it’s just seems like it’s going to be too much work.
[00:10:00] Chris: Yeah, I think unless you have an internal advocate, you know, you’ve got an account manager going to bat for you, or you’ve got a onboarding biz-dev rep who’s going to bat for you. Even the 7, 8, 9 figure seller stuff, if it’s too much of a headache, they will make you wait until you come back to them with something easier to digest. Even if it means six months of loss sales, they’re not going to sweat that, which sounds crazy if you’re selling a hundred million a year, Heed Leah’s advice on this because she has seen every brand registry nightmare left, right and center. And you don’t want to go down that road.
[00:10:35] Leah: And every related account nightmare slash failed verification nightmare.
[00:10:40] Chris: Right? Termination of services, dissolution of partnership. I mean, these are things a responsible business owner would get in writing and keep on file anyway, so this isn’t a huge mental leap. It’s just that it’s tedious and it’s a little bit of a pain.
[00:10:52] Leah: Also final note in terms of due diligence, when you are bringing on people who are going to be signing into your account. If they’re using their own email address, first question you should be asking them is do they sign into any other account with that email address?
And if they say yes, one, question if you should be working with this person, cause they should probably know not to do that at this point. And two, make sure that they’re using a unique email just for your account, even if it means that you have to provide that email address. And I would actually recommend that anyway beause it gives you a lot more control over what they do there.
[00:11:25] Chris: A lot of reusing of emails, phone numbers, addresses. These just tie you to other parties that you may not want to be tied to in Amazon’s tools. I think that’s what’s largely understood in the related account mess, but thanks for listening today, everybody. And any questions on this, we know this is a bit of a tricky topic, feel free to let us know. And thanks again for listening to this episode of Seller Performance Solutions.
Hosts & Guests
Season 1, Episode 92 The Best Amazon Ads Launch Strategy with Laura McCaul PPC has always been the go-to strategy for launching products, but many sellers are hesitant to invest in it, instead opting for black hat tactics that inevitably put your account at risk. With...
Season 1, Episode 91 Changes to Compliance Recently we have noticed an increase in issues with products being incorrectly identified and rejected by Amazon's compliance teams. In this episode Chris and Leah deep dive into the current state of compliance enforcement to...