Stale Sellers: Don’t Let Expired Inventory Kill your Account

Do you sell items with expiration dates via FBA? If your answer is yes, chances are you’re breaking the rules, and putting your ASINs – and maybe your account – in jeopardy.

Darlene loved to sell limited-edition potato chips with unusual flavors. But it was her third account suspension. Why? Potato chips have super-quick expiration dates.

Same for special-edition Oreos sold by Tim. He enjoyed the super-high ROI for these snacks, and he thought that Amazon FBA promised to sell his inventory first-in-first-out. Somehow expired packages kept making their way to customers, yielding soggy cookies and a wave of complaints.

Most sellers don’t pay enough attention to the rules for expired products.
More importantly, they don’t apply best practices that can ensure a good customer experience.

Why should you care? When an Amazon seller sends expired inventory to customers, Amazon sees that as a behavior right up there with selling inauthentic goods. The item is no longer usable. It is trash – and Amazon want better for its customers.

First, let’s talk about the rules.

Here’s what the folks at the FBA warehouse are going by:

  • Inventory needs an expiration date if it is a topical or consumable product (including nutritional supplements) for human or animal consumption. And yes, it needs an expiry date even if there is not a date already on the packaging.
  • If an item is in the Health and Beauty category, and it has a “period after opening” symbol, it should be marked to expire 900 days after the date it is processed at the fulfillment center.
  • Does it have a sell-by or best-by date? Amazon considers that the same as an expiration date.
  • If you ship a food or beverage item to FBA, it must have a minimum remaining shelf life of more than 105 days. Items within 50 days of expiration date when they arrive at the warehouse will be marked for disposal.

Now for the parts that most sellers ignore:

  • If a product has a consumption period because of regular use, add that period to the 105 days. For example, if you are selling a 120-day supply of vitamins, they need to have a shelf life of at least 225 days.
  • Only one expiration date is allowed per ASIN per shipping box. Don’t mix up expiration dates – it will confuse the warehouse and the process.
  • If your item has an expiration date, the date must be printed in a font that is 36 points or larger. It should be printed in the format of MM-DD-YYYY or MM-YYYY. If the date is in a different format on the item’s package, it needs to be covered up with the correct format.
  • Case-packs, multi-packs and display boxes must have the expiration date on the box or the bundle, as well as each individual item inside the box or bundle.
  • Items that are polybagged or bubble wrapped require the expiry sticker on the outside of the package.

Why bother with expiry stickers?

Amazon claims to treat inventory on a first-in-first-out basis. So in theory, your oldest items should sell first. In reality, this simply does not happen.> In addition, too many sellers rely on Amazon to track its inventory expiration dates. Let’s face it. The Amazon FBA warehouse has too much to do as it is. They are not going to track your expiration dates and reliably dispose of old inventory.

What’s an FBA seller to do?

  1. Follow the rules. Sticker every individual item with an expiry date. Amazon asks for large type because it is machine readable. This dramatically improves your chances that old, expired inventory will not be sold to a customer.
  2. Track your expiration dates by inbound shipment. Create a unique MSKU for different expiration dates to ensure that old MSKU’s are sold out before new MSKUs are sent in to the warehouse.
  3. When your items are within 50 days of expiration, pull them from the warehouse immediately.
  4. Don’t expect customers to translate. If a product has a “period after opening” or lot number, do the research. Determine the appropriate date with the manufacturer, and label it accordingly with an expiration date.

What’s an MFN seller to do?

  1. If it’s hard to read, add a label. Many sellers in Health and Personal Care assume that MFN shipments don’t need expiration dates. While this is technically true, it can lead to problems. Customers want to know the expiration date. If it’s difficult to decipher, add a sticker with the correct date.
  2. If it’s from overseas, add a label. Products from other countries often put expiry dates in DD-MM-YYYY format. This can lead to complaints of expired products. Add a sticker so that customers are not confused.
  3. If it has a lot number or “period after opening” date, add a label. Again, reassure your customers. Tell them when the expiration date actually is, so they will not accuse you of selling old product.

Need more strategies to ensure you always sell fresh, usable product? Call on Riverbend Consulting for ideas and advice.

Most sellers don’t pay enough attention to the rules for expired products. More importantly, they don’t apply best practices that can ensure a good customer experience.


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