February 9, 2020

Sellers should turn off Amazon’s refurbishment services option ASAP to prevent their sending out adulterated inventory

By: Lesley Hensell

Imagine that you sold a gorgeous designer sweater on Amazon via FBA. Your buyer wore it, spilled wine on it, let their dog take a nap on it, and returned it.

You likely expect an industrious Amazon fulfillment center employee to open the box, be hit with the scents of wine and dog, notice the red splash of color, and throw the sweater into your unfulfillable inventory. Unfortunately, you may be wrong.

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Your inventory is being refurbished, unless you opted out

Amazon’s refurbishment services setting is auto-enabled on all accounts. Unless you turn off the setting, your inventory may be “refurbished” when it is returned to the fulfillment center.

What, exactly, does “refurbished” mean? I’ll let Amazon speak for itself, from the Help Center:

“Depending on the item, FBA can re-tape, re-glue, and re-staple boxes; remove excessive tape, non-product labels, and stickers; and re-box branded and unbranded corrugated boxes. Shoes and apparel refurbishment can include steaming and removing stains and odors.”

Let’s go through these one at a time, shall we?

  1. Re-tape, re-glue and re-staple boxes. Isn’t this a formula for Used Sold as New complaints? Are customers blind – so blind that they won’t notice a box has been cobbled back together after being torn open? 
  2. Remove excessive tape, non-product labels and stickers. At first glance, this seems reasonable. But unlike careful sellers, who use products like Un-Du and Goo Gone, Amazon FC personnel probably scrape stickers off without a lot of concern about damaging product boxes – or products. Again, this seems like a huge risk factor that could result in complaints for Used Sold as New.
  3. Re-box branded and unbranded corrugated boxes. In other words, your branded products can be thrown into generic brown boxes. Then, your customers can think you’re selling them counterfeit products. Awesome.
  4. Steaming and removing stains and odors. This cannot be serious. If an item is stained or smells bad, it is no longer new. Period. End of story. No amount of steaming or stain removal will change that. Most confusing about this step? It certainly doesn’t lead to a great customer experience and will almost certainly create complaints against both 3P sellers and Amazon.

You can no longer escape repackaging

In the past, sellers could choose to opt out of Amazon’s repackaging service for FBA returns. No longer.

“FBA repackages your eligible customer returns so that they can be sold as new. The service applies both to retail and FBA return items, and cannot be disabled in your settings.

Each returned unit is evaluated to determine whether it can be repackaged. Repackaging can include replacing the poly bag or bubble wrapping, or re-boxing the item. It can also include repackaging of branded and unbranded boxes, and poly bags.”

This is deeply troubling. It ensures that customers will receive items they believe have been tampered with, are generic, are inauthentic, or are used. And now, thanks to Amazon, there is absolutely no way to turn it off.

Your best strategy? Manage your returns.

Let’s face it – the FBA crew does a lousy job at deciding whether an item should go back until fulfillable. And now, with required repackaging, there’s no way for a seller to know if a returned item has been resold in a condition that would make customers unhappy.

Here are some strategies sellers can use to try and mitigate the damage:

  • If you have a small quantity in stock or are nearing the end of your “lot” of inventory, pay attention to repetitive returns for the same ASIN. This could indicate that the same bad-quality item is being resold again and again. At that point, it’s definitely worth recalling your remaining inventory for inspection. Remember, every return is a huge blow to your overall profitability.
  • Monitor your feedback, customer comments and product reviews (if applicable) for quality complaints that could be related to repackaging or re-sold returns. Key words might be plain box, generic box, no tags, dirty, worn, used, loose in the box, etc. Again, if this happens repetitively, you may need to remove your inventory for inspection.

If you have questions about Amazon’s refurbishment services or their repackaging, give Riverbend Consulting a call! 877-289-1017

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