November 14, 2017

By:

Lesley Hensell

Amazon appears to have launched a new gating initiative. This time, the target is topicals, and the timeline looks to be rapid.

Like most Amazon gating initiatives, the requirements differ greatly by seller. The current push to the target is topicals and gate them by December 8th, seems to be an extension of some efforts from last fall. If we had to guess, Amazon is generating data from customer-reported safety issues and turning that into programmatic action to:

  • Restrict highly risky items
  • “Screen” sellers who are in the topicals space

While we suspect some of this may be algorithmic, the results are too inconsistent to be solely driven by a tool. We get the feeling there is probably a larger, more restrictive push coming for the Health & Personal Care arena, but we are not yet sure what that looks like.

In the meantime, this latest move seems like a quest to pick some low-hanging, obvious compliance problems fruit.

Looking at this situation, we have some general information and thoughts to offer.

Documentation requests for resellers
Most resellers are being asked for some combination of manufacturer’s invoices, MSDS pages, FDA certification and more.

In many cases, sellers are seeing their invoices rejected. Just like with counterfeit investigations, Amazon wants traditional invoices with:

  • Complete contact information for the manufacturer, including email address and phone number
  • Billing and shipping addresses for the buyer, as well as email address and phone number
  • Quantity and description of items purchased
  • Proof of payment

While we don’t think Amazon (especially Seller Support) has a clear “watchlist” of manufacturers, they are looking for inconsistencies:

  • Incomplete/missing contact information for the manufacturer
  • Missing dates, or dates that are 6 months or older
  • Evidence the documents are altered
  • Inconsistent address, name, or ship-to info when comparing the seller’s account details to the invoice/documents

If the invoice type is not the issue, and it has all the relevant information on it that Amazon is requesting, then the problem could be the supplier/manufacturer. Again, as far as we know, there are no codified processes for Seller Support to check for “bad” manufacturers who have been censured, lost their FDA credentials, and so on. But since the Category managers drive gating, it is likely they have added some checks to look for bad actors in the manufacturing space.

The challenge for private label sellers
Amazon is aware that it has a safety testing/compliance gap in its growing private label (PL) seller ranks. That’s why many PL sellers are being asked for documents and, in some cases, are being rejected. Amazon specifies to sellers what documentation they need. We are guessing some sellers do not have this, even for their own brands.

Here is a breakdown of what each item must contain:

Certificate of Analysis (COA):

  • Manufacturer information
  • Dated within 240 days
  • List lot number and ingredients
  • Be signed by the supplier

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certificate:

  • Include PL seller’s name and address
  • Contain registration number, certification date and expiration date

Proof of FDA Registration / FDA Orange Book Application Number:

  • Include FDA website screenshot
  • Show name and address of the manufacturer. If you are the manufacturer, your name must match the legal business name and address in Seller Central
  • List Registration Number
  • State that the FDA Registration is “Valid”
  • If you provide an FDA Orange Book Number, your legal business name in Seller Central must match

What’s a seller to do?

Whether you sell in topicals, supplements, baby or another risky category, let Amazon’s current actions be a warning to you:

  • Do your research. Understand that Amazon cannot allow sellers to continue offering products that do not follow governmental and safety testing standards.
  • Does your product require safety or other testing? Make sure you’ve ordered the testing, and that you’ve created an ongoing testing schedule.
  • Do you use a contract manufacturer? Ensure they have all the FDA certifications on-hand, updated and available at all times.
  • Don’t rely on your contract manufacturer or testing facilities to keep the paperwork. Maintain all your own records, so they are available at an instant’s notice.

Lesley is Partner at Riverbend Consulting, she offers practical know-how to improve retail performance. Lesley’s experience with Amazon compliance gets accounts back up fast.

image credit: ArtMari/Shutterstock