Amazon’s dirtiest FBA secret: Used, nasty and broken returns

Third-party Amazon sellers should monitor returns carefully or risk buyer complaints

Curling irons with someone else’s hair in them. Mouthwash with broken seals. Coffee makers with smelly old moldy coffee inside.

These are only a few of the disgusting surprises that FBA sellers have experienced. Why? Because Amazon’s FBA returns handling processes are – to put it kindly – lacking.

Third-party Amazon sellers should monitor returns

What happens when customers return items to FBA?

One reason buyers love Amazon is the friendly returns policy for FBA purchases. Amazon makes it easy for customers, who can take a look at their mail-order item and decide to send it on back.

Unfortunately, buyers don’t always return items in new condition. This might mean torn packaging, broken seals, or even used items. 

When an order is sent back to the FBA warehouse, Amazon personnel are supposed to inspect it carefully. They are charged with determining if the item is still in “new” condition. If so, it is placed into the seller’s fulfillable inventory. If not, it is placed in unfulfillable. A third possible scenario involves Amazon repackaging the item. This happens when the product is in new condition, but the packaging is not. Amazon reserves the right to repackage it and place it back into fulfillable inventory. (The setting that once allowed sellers to turn off repackaging has been taken away. Sorry, folks, you’re stuck with it.)

Amazon’s warehouse employees are graded on the number of transactions they conduct per hour. Human nature dictates that this leads to inaccuracy as employees try to meet or beat the required work level. Of course, quality naturally suffers, and items that should never be placed into fulfillable inventory are re-sold.

Another problem occurs when Amazon puts returns in fulfillable from categories that are supposed to be disposed of or not required to be mailed back to the warehouse. Supplements are a good example. These items should never be put back into fulfillable, but often are anyway.

What can 3P sellers do to protect themselves?

The most worrisome scenarios with bad returns involve products that a 3P seller stocks over the long term. Therefore, the higher volume you sell over time, the more potentially bad returns are sent back to the Amazon warehouse.

There are a few strategies that 3P sellers can employ to combat the problem:

  1. For private-label products, add a printed seal. Include language such as “if seal is broken, item is not new.” This seal is not for buyers. It’s for personnel on Amazon’s FBA returns processing teams. This way, they will be more likely to place an opened item into unfulfillable inventory.
  2. Sell down or sell through. For products you replenish, allow your stock to sell through. Alternatively, sell it down and then place a removal order for the remaining units. In the meantime, restock with a different SKU. This way, bad stock being resold multiple times will be removed from the FBA warehouse.

In conclusion, if you need help with your FBA strategies, don’t hesitate to contact Riverbend Consulting.  Let’s talk 877-289-1017 or visit our website.


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