April 8, 2020

Amazon is super-strict on variations; follow these rules to stay safe from variation abuse

By: Lesley Hensell

A couple of times a year, Amazon goes on a quest to clean up the catalog. For many sellers, this can result in warnings for variation abuse. Too often, brand owners and sellers are violating Amazon’s variation rules and don’t even realize it. Other times, sellers are using variations to circumvent Amazon’s rules. 

What is a variation? In short, it’s a family of ASINs that are for the same product. An “anchor” ASIN is called the parent, and similar ASINs are called “children.” These child listings are connected with one another, instead of being distinct and separate. For example, a parent ASIN might be for a men’s t-shirt with a pocket. A child ASIN would be that exact t-shirt, in green sized large.

Amazon Variation Abuse

Why do sellers violate variation rules? There are a few motivating factors:

  1. Boosting Best Seller Rank (BSR) across all variations. If one child listing is particularly popular, sellers will try to tack other children onto the listing in hopes of getting great sales for that product as well.
  2. Launching a new product. Being pegged to a popular existing product makes product launches easier.
  3. Circumventing brand gating rules. If they can’t get approval to list against a specific brand, some sellers play games with variations as a workaround of Amazon’s regulations.

Follow these five strategies to ensure you aren’t busted for variation abuse.

  1. Understand what makes a variation. For almost all product categories on Amazon, the only acceptable variations are for color, size and quantity. In the t-shirt example above, you could offer the shirt in a range of colors, a range of sizes, and a variety of multi-packs. In some categories, there are additional specific acceptable variations, such as flavor. You can find these in the style guide for each category.
  2. Do not group products by your preference. Imagine that you are selling puzzles. You have five puzzles that feature animals and 5 puzzles that feature cars. You decide to set up variation families based on animals and cars. While this makes sense to you, it is not acceptable to Amazon.
  3. Do not abuse the variant. Many sellers change the meaning of the approved variation. For example, they will create “red” and “yellow” variations for a lotion, when the true difference is scent. Sellers abuse this variation because they believe the two scents should be on the same listing. Remember, your opinion doesn’t override Amazon’s rules.
  4. Ensure everything on the child listings matches, except the variant. If you have created a valid variation family, the child listings must be identical except for the acceptable variants. The listing title, bullets, description and photos should be the same – except where you point out the color, size or quantity. When you mouse-over the variant attributes and click through the child listings, the content should remain essentially identical.
  5. Don’t use a variation to create a bundle.  Sellers fall into this temptation in the effort to differentiate themselves from listings with a lot of competition. Or, they create unauthorized variation bundles to try and “launch” or bring attention to a bundle. Keep in mind, all elements of the product must be the same across a variation family. For example, you cannot offer a product with a case and without a case on the same variation.

Have questions or a suspension for variation abuse? Contact Riverbend Consulting. We are happy to help.

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