Responding to Amazon Performance Notifications – Do’s and Don’ts
By: Matt Nastasi
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, I managed the escalation team, and later the Seller Trust program, for Amazon seller services. In this role, I had a seat at the table as policies and processes were developed to govern performance enforcement in the Amazon Marketplace. Notifications explaining various violations, what information would be required to appeal each violation, and even the opportunity to appeal at all were developed and implemented during that phase of the Marketplace’s history.
Now after years of meteoric growth, enforcement actions on the Marketplace can seem arbitrary – that’s what happens when keyword bots coded to find “problem word X” are also coded to shut listings down first and ask questions later. The appeals process, however, is still run by people who are trained for a mission: to protect the integrity of the Marketplace and to guard the customer experience from very bad things. And they have very specific guidelines for what meets and doesn’t meet the “acceptability bar” for performance appeals.
With these facts in mind, let’s look at a few Do’s and Don’ts for responding to Amazon’s Performance Notifications.
Don’t ignore metrics warnings –
When Amazon sends a seller a warning that performance metrics are reaching unacceptable levels, they’re doing two things: they’re letting you know a trend is happening, and they’re giving you an opportunity to do something about it before it gets worse.
Ignoring this klaxxon call can result in Amazon limiting access to specific categories, removing seller fulfilled Prime privileges, or even taking away a company’s ability to use Merchant Fulfillment. This is, of course, dependent on the metric in question, how long it’s been deficient, and the severity of the deficiency.
Do use the warnings to protect your business –
Errors are costly, and the cost grows the longer they are left unaddressed. If a listing experiences an upswing in returns for condition, as an example, you could receive a warning about the ASIN. That same upswing lingering for multiple weeks? Amazon will probably suspend the ASIN.
A best practice to avoid harsh enforcement would be to review the returns for your hottest products on a weekly or bi-monthly basis to stay ahead of trends. Take action to investigate and eliminate defects when you see increases in returns for condition, item mismatch, or safety (including expired products).
Find out why it’s happening. Look at your customer comments on each return request. Read the feedback. Check your buyer messages for clues. Spot the trend to stop the trend. It might cost you a little to improve some packaging here, or change a storage process there, but that investment is insurance against the potential loss of revenue the suspension of a single top-selling product being suspended for weeks would cause.
Don’t blame your customers in an appeal –
We all know that many customers don’t read seller listings. It’s annoying and costly, but it’s part of the game. Sellers of used merchandise use condition grading and a comments field to tell buyers exactly what they’re getting. Customers still request returns or give negative feedback for scuffed boxes and dog-eared pages, no matter how explicit a seller’s description points out these defects.
Sellers of new products can warn customers about compatibility issues, specify a product’s country of origin, or post weight limits until the cows come home. Customers will still complain that the charger won’t work with their widget, they can’t read the manual because it’s in Japanese, or their uncle broke the stepladder when he sat on it.
When Amazon takes enforcement action on an ASIN for these issues, the most common immediate response in an appeal is “But the customer didn’t read the description…” (that’s a surefire way to remain suspended.)
Do take responsibility for the customer experience –
If blaming the customer in an appeal for not reading a product description is the fastest way to remain suspended, taking responsibility for the problem, and making small but important changes to correct it, is the fastest path to reinstatement.
For used items receiving condition-grade complaints, familiarize yourself with Amazon’s used condition guidelines for each category you sell in. There are examples of each grade’s allowable defects, and it’s important to grade your used products with a critical eye to avoid bad experiences. Scuffed or gouged boxes on a product, even if the product is still factory-sealed, shouldn’t be graded “Like New.” Remainder books and DVDs shouldn’t either. Know your guidelines. Accurately grade your listings.
Before you appeal, check your inventory against your listings and down-grade them if you’ve graded too-highly. Then you can honestly tell Amazon that you take responsibility for the poor customer experience, inform them about your condition inspection and note how many listings you’ve changed. This kind of response will help Seller Performance trust that you’ve managed the issue and give them the confidence to reinstate your product.
For those “didn’t read the detail page” issues with new products: look at your listings and find opportunities to adjust them. Is the crucial detail about the compatibility of that charger located in the third bullet? Make it the first bullet. Is the manual in Japanese? Add a link to the manufacturer’s site where the english version lives. Add the weight limit for that stepladder to the title of your ASIN.
In your appeal, take responsibility for not making the issue the customer complained about more clear in the listing details. Then tell Amazon how you changed the detail page to fix that. Reacting with actions instead of excuses or defenses will go a long way to help Seller Performance make the right decision and reinstate your ASIN.
Don’t alter or invent any documents, ever –
I’ve seen it too many times. Amazon asks for invoices. A company buys lots of supplements from a liquidation clearinghouse. Amazon gets a claim of inauthenticity from some customer, or another seller, or the brand owner and takes down the listing. Amazon asks for invoices to prove authenticity. A company representative, knowing liquidation isn’t part of the authorized supply chain, finds an invoice on the internet and plugs in their own info before sending it off with an appeal.
And the whole account is shut down the next day. The charge? Falsified documents.
Amazon will detect document forgeries. Never mind how. They just will. Their reviewers are trained to detect alterations, and their systems and programs are most likely better than yours. Although we’ve successfully attained reinstatement for companies whose employees or contractors have submitted falsified documents, the loss in revenue while the account is down is not worth the risk.
Do keep proper documentation for every product you sell on Amazon.
If you can, it is always best to source your goods directly from manufacturers within a brand’s authorized supply chain. Keep copies of all invoices and be sure to ask for actual invoices if the source supplies pro-forma or commercial invoices. Invoices should have the address and contact information of the source, and the ‘Ship to:’ and ‘Bill to:’ addresses printed on it should match the business addresses that you have registered in Seller Central.
They should contain the UPC and item’s title and quantity. Highlight the ASIN so the reviewer can find it quickly. Prices can be blackened out. The total due should be $0.00, and if it’s not, be ready to show proof of payment in the form of bank or credit card statements, or wire transfer records. If you manufacture items yourself, be prepared to show invoices for your raw materials. If you source through retail arbitrage, stay prepared with receipts, and if you purchase online, download .pdfs of the invoices for each order to submit if asked.
Keeping accurate and authentic records of your purchases and shipments will help you appropriately represent that your company is a trustworthy participant in the Marketplace. Ultimately, that’s what Seller Performance wants to know before they can decide to reinstate your ASIN or your account. They just want to be able to trust you.
I know staying on top of all of this can seem daunting. You’re busy. You run a business, and whether you’re an enormous veteran on the landscape, or you’re just starting to grow, you may worry that you don’t have the time or the available staff to monitor everything you should to keep your Amazon account healthy and your company generating revenue in the Marketplace.
Riverbend can help you. Our Seller Account Protection program assigns staff to monitor your performance notifications, alert you in the event of a warning or suspension, and automatically connect you with consultants who have decades of experience as former Amazon employees to help you appeal Amazon’s enforcement actions. We’ll even help you stay ahead of your performance trends with monthly analysis of your metrics and account health so you can identify and eliminate problems before they affect your bottom line.
Give us a call at 877-289-1017, To learn more about how Riverbend can leverage our expertise to free you up to focus yours on growing your business. We are happy to help!