An Amazon account suspension is the number one thing that most Amazon sellers fear. Today Stephen interviews Lesley Hensell from Riverbend Consulting to help clear up some of the grey areas that could lead to account or ASIN suspensions. Lesley starts off the podcast interview by giving us some tips to help you manage risk when it comes to sourcing. From there, she covers the difference between suspected and actual intellectual property complaints. Next up, Lesley weighs in on the two types of dropshipping, only one of which is allowed by Amazon.
We talk about some red flags for product types which always seem to cause more trouble than they are worth. After that, Lesley shares her knowledge around how to check and see for yourself that your account is in good order. Toward the end of the show, Lesley gives us some amazing, step-by-step instructions to follow if we do find ourselves in a situation where our account has been suspended, and how long it could take to get it in good order again. Tune in today and put your account suspension fears to rest for good!
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Key points from Episode 55:
- Whether it is justifiable to not start an FBA business due to fear of account suspension.
- How to mitigate the risk of account suspension using different types of sourcing strategies.
- The difference between a suspected intellectual property (IP) complaint and actual IP complaint.
- How to deal with IP complaints and when to take them seriously.
- Two kinds of dropshipping and which one won’t get your account suspended.
- Understanding SLAs with your suppliers.
- Different requests Amazon will have if they email you with a warning and how to respond.
- Red flags for which items usually cause inauthentic claims.
- Important things to look at to know how healthy (or unhealthy) your Amazon account is.
- Whether Amazon allows an additional seller account and why you don’t want to mess this up.
- What to expect and what to do if your account gets suspended by Amazon: Actionable steps.
- How long it usually takes for Amazon to activate an account after it gets suspended.
- And more!
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
- Amazon Guidelines
- Riverbend Consulting
- Riverbend Consulting Account Health Check Up
- Magic Words When Communicating with Seller Central
- The Riskiest Amazon FBA Strategies (blog post version)
- The Riskiest Amazon FBA Strategies (podcast version)
- The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months
- Get the above book for free with a new Audible audiobook membership
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Episode 55 Transcript:
[00:00:00] REBECCA: Hello there and welcome to today’s show. We are wrapping up our series on Overcoming Your Fears. This is going to be our last episode talking about fears for a while. I’m sure we’ll come back to some of these topics later or maybe do another fear series in another time, but we’re glad you’re here with us today listening. And I think we’re going to end this series on a high note.
[00:00:24] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Full-Time FBA show. In each episode, it’s our goal to help you turn part-time hours into a full-time income selling almost anything on Amazon. And now your hosts of the show Stephen and Rebecca Smotherman.
[00:00:42] REBECCA: Today’s episode is going to be an interview with Lesley Hensell of Riverbend Consulting, and Stephen is going to be interviewing her about the things that she sees going on in Amazon businesses that she has done consulting work on. And she talks about suspensions and different types of claims that she might end up having on your accounts at different times for different reasons. I know that is probably the number one thing that we experience when we ask other Amazon Sellers, “What are you afraid of?” is suspension, whether it’s an account suspension or an ASIN suspension, and it is scary for a lot of reasons.
And so I think though that this interview is actually pretty helpful. I thought that the interview is going to point us in the direction of really seeing how to run your business in a legitimate way and to make sure that you’re just following the guidelines, and not in a simple way. Just follow the guidelines. But really if you are making the effort to run your business in a way that is aboveboard, that is not trying to cut any corners, suspension is something that you can work through. It doesn’t have to be something that is inevitably going to happen to you and it also doesn’t have to be something that will just end your entire business, your Amazon business.
So as you listen to this interview, think through what Lesley is talking about when it comes to risk management. And also in particular, I will like to point out to you the differences that she talks about in IP claims, intellectual property claims and suspected IP claims. I know this is a topic that also comes up quite a bit and can be confusing at times. What’s the difference between an actual claim and a suspected claim? So be listening to what she has to say about that. You’re going to hear different things that she says throughout that you’re going to want to take notes on. I know I did as I was listening. I actually added a couple of new items to my to-do-list on a regular basis based on what she said. So be listening for that.
And as you’re getting into this episode, just be aware that because it was such a great interview, and Stephen was asking so many questions that Lesley had just really great information for us on. It’s going to be kind of a supersized episode. So a little bit longer than we normally have for you, but I think you’re going to be excited to hear all of that extra content. So let’s get into that interview now between Stephen and Lesley.
[00:03:11] STEPHEN: All right. I am here talking with Leslie Hensell, and we’re going to be talking about overcoming your fear of Amazon account suspension. And as we’ve said throughout this series, some fears are healthy. They’re good. They help you make better decisions. And some fears could cause you to stall or make bad decisions or not take the right kind of risks. And so when it comes to Amazon account suspensions, Leslie is an expert, and I’m so glad you’re on the show with me today. Thanks for joining me.
[00:03:40] LESLEY: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it, Stephen.
[00:03:43] STEPHEN: Yeah, absolutely. So I know you’ve been selling on Amazon for like around 10 years and stuff. So how did you discover selling on Amazon and the how did you end up helping people with their account suspension problems?
[00:03:55] LESLEY: Yes. I am like a grandma on Amazon, right? Selling on Amazon for a decade makes you really old on the platform. So I was introduced to Amazon back when FBA was first starting to get popular. And I found the concept absolutely intriguing that I could ship a lot of stuff in and then it would just sell on its own, rolling out slowly over time. I actually used FBA because I was homeschooling a kid. I always wanted to be an at-home mom, and I to work full-time, but I always work from home. So FBA has been a great solution for my family. I’ve taught my kids how to work I work by working in our business. And then over time you expand your network, you go to conferences, you meet people.
My background is actually in business consulting. And so when I ran into people who would be suspended, that was a perfect way for me to use my other skills and background, because, really, an account suspension, if you do it right, you’re actually going to change processes. You’re going to learn from the experience. You’re going to improve your business and explain to Amazon how you’re going to improve your business. So the management consultant background is just a really good fit for that.
[00:05:13] STEPHEN: That’s awesome, yeah. And I know you’ve been able to help hundreds and hundreds of people, maybe even thousands. I’m not exactly sure, but I know you’ve helped a ton of people that like owe their life to you, because you’re able to put their Amazon account back into good standing. So when it comes to overcoming your Amazon fears of account suspension, I know there are some people, they’re scared to even start selling on Amazon because they’ve heard horror stories about account suspension. Some people might be working on Amazon business, but they’re too scared to like go all-in, because they’re like, “What if I go all-in on this and I end up getting my account suspended?” And there’s that fear. So is the fear of account suspension a legitimate fear that people need to be worried about or to avoid even an Amazon account or to maybe not go all-in on an Amazon account? What are your thoughts on that?
[00:06:04] LESLEY: It is an absolutely reasonable fear to have that you could be suspended, because even people who try and do everything the right way occasionally get suspended. But generally speaking, if you’re a good actor, if you’re someone who really wants to try and provide good products and good customer service, if you’re following the rules, the fear of being suspended is not a reason to not sell on Amazon. There are more ways to sell on Amazon correctly than incorrectly. The bad guys that are out there trying to get away with something, trying to sell counterfeit products. Yeah, they’re going to get suspended. Eventually it’s going to happen to them. But if you’re a good actor trying to do it the right way, most likely you are not going to have an account suspension. You may have some ASIN-level problems, and those can be solved almost every time.
Amazon is really about risk management. The people at Amazon have a massive risk management department. That is what they care about. And to them, managing risk means they want to make sure that people receive the products that they order, that they’re in good condition, and that they are not ripped-off. So they are looking for the bad actors on the platform to throw them out. People who are committing fraud, shipping counterfeit goods, providing a really bad buyer experience because they’re shipping items later or not shipping them at all. If you are truly trying to do the right thing, if you’re going to set up your business where you ship the orders that you have that are merchant fulfilled, that you’re sending in quality merchandise to FBA, you’re probably going to be okay.
[00:07:47] STEPHEN: Yeah. You mentioned risk management. I know that’s a lot of what we’re going to be focusing on for this episode, because while we titled it Overcoming Your Fear of Account Suspension, fear, just like in life, fear can be a good thing and sometimes fear can be a bad thing. If you’re in a forest and you see a tiger and you have that fear – I mean, yeah, the fear and what it’s telling you to run or get away or seek safety. That’s a good fear. That’s protecting you. But there sometimes that you might in life have a bad fear that is not logical that could stop you. So we want our fears to cause us to go to a place where we make better decisions that are safer and make sure that we make calculated risks that are more on the same side than the dangerous side.
So when it comes to the sourcing side of the Amazon FBA business, are there any sourcing methods that are greater risk from like garage sales or retail arbitrage online? What are the ways that we can mitigate those types of risks with the different types of sourcing methods?
[00:08:47] LESLEY: That is a great question. And to answer that, I want you to think like you’re a risk manager inside of Amazon. If you understand what they are looking for and what’s important to them, it makes it easier for you not just to listen to what my answer is, but down the road, if you have to make a decision about your account, it helps you to think in the Amazon way so that you can avoid what they believe is risky.
So for example, you mentioned garage sales. So when you buy stuff at garage sales, you have no chain of custody. You don’t know where it’s been, where it’s come from. There’s no receipt. There’s no invoice. So anything from a garage sale or a thrift store can’t be listed in new condition on Amazon. And that’s because if they ask you for receipts or invoices, you just can’t provide them. And if you cannot provide them with receipts or invoices, there is a presumption that you’re doing the wrong thing, that you’re not selling quality goods that are from the manufacturer that aren’t knockoffs.
So then move another step down the chain and you get to retail arbitrage and online arbitrage. This is where you get to your own personal risk tolerance. I know sellers who totally understand all of these risks and they do it anyway because that is their risk tolerance. Amazon is a side business for them. It’s just one of many streams of income. I know someone who sells a lot of stuff from garage sales and thrift stores new on Amazon. He does it all the time. He knows the risks. It’s just one stream of income. He accepts the risk.
Now for me, I’ve had my account for 10 years. I love my account. So I would not do that. Retail arbitrage and online arbitrage, the biggest risk there are around intellectual property complaints. That is where a brand makes a complaint against you saying that something is counterfeit or there is a copyright or a trademark violation. Frankly, most of the time, these are bogus complaints. However, if you cannot show that the products are what you say they are, sometimes Amazon will uphold those IP complaints. They’re really, really hard to fight. So when it comes to retail arbitrage and online arbitrage, my favorite sourcing is actually from places like factory stores, outlet malls, because you’re actually buying from the manufacturer.
So even though some of those brands are high-end and a little bit scary sometimes, you’re buying direct from the manufacturer. It has the name of the manufacturer on the receipt. That’s where you’re buying the stuff. So that can lower your risk for that kind of arbitrage. Then sourcing type, wholesalers and distributors, generally speaking, very safe. However, you still need to ask those guys, “Hey, do the manufacturers you’re buying from, do they understand that you have people like me who sell on Amazon?” Because they’re supposed to mark in their catalog these items are not for online sale if they have that deal with the manufacturer. So it would behoove you just to ask, ask those questions and make sure that these items aren’t going to create intellectual property complaints.
Again, I know that in the grand scheme of just right and wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying from a wholesaler and selling it on Amazon. It’s all about their distribution agreements. But at the same time, it can still get you in trouble for intellectual property complaints. And then finally there’s buying direct from a manufacturer, which is ideal. If you buy it from the manufacturer, there can’t be any questions about authenticity. They’re not going to file intellectual property complaints. Or if they do, it’s a mistake and they’ll remove it. The only risk there really worth talking about is I do have a lot of clients who have the manufacturer ship their goods direct to the FBA warehouse.
And the only negative, and it’s not even a negative, it’s just something to be aware of and to plan for and to know how to handle is that you need to make sure that they’re actually prepping the inventory properly and that it’s packaged in such a way that it can survive the wiles of the Amazon fulfillment center.
[00:13:08] STEPHEN: Yeah. I know the Amazon fulfillment center does not want you to send your inventory with like packing peanuts, but there’s sometimes a wholesaler might send them with packing peanuts. Yeah. So you want to make sure that you take care of all that, for sure.
A moment ago you mentioned intellectual property complaints and stuff. I know when you can look in your performance and in your health in sellers central, there’s suspected intellectual property and then there’s intellectual property complaints. Like I assume that suspected means an algorithm thinks it might be, and the actual complaint is from the brand. Can you talk about that for a second and the differences?
[00:13:43] LESLEY: You are absolutely correct. So the suspected IP complaints are usually based on some kind of keyword that the box didn’t like or it could be that there are duplicate listings for something. And so the bot thinks, “Hey, hey this other listing was created by the manufacturer. This one isn’t. There something hinky there. There are several things that can trigger one of those. Brand-new thing is that now you can actually answer those. In the past, you couldn’t really answer them. You could email seller performance, but they would kind of ignore it. And most of the time, with a few exceptions, there’s always exceptions with Amazon. Most of the time you wouldn’t get suspended for suspected IP complaints, only for the direct IP complaints, the reported ones. But now there’s a new option where if you get a suspected one, you can open it up and there’s radio buttons that you choose from explaining what was going on.
So it’s definitely on everyone’s to-do-list, should be to check and see if they have any of those and answer them. Because if Amazon added options for you to answer, that means that they could start suspending in the future. Then the reported IP complaints, those come from the registered brand owner. There are however bad complaints made by people pretending to be the brand owner, pretending to be a law firm. So you can get IP complaints that are from competitors using black hat tactics. But what it’s supposed to be is complaints from the brand owner and occasionally complaints from Amazon itself. And that happens when Amazon has been under a lot of pressure from a particular brand.
[00:15:25] STEPHEN: Yeah. So what about like when people get a message through Seller Central through our emails and they have the messages that look like it’s coming from a law firm or it looks like they’re not going through an actual complaint, intellectual property complaint, but they’re coming through the buyer-seller communication system. Is that something that is a legitimate thing to worry about or not? Or does it sometimes worry about? Other times not? What are your thoughts on that?
[00:15:53] LESLEY: Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes, because that makes it a lot harder to figure out, right? I wish there was a hard and fast rule. There are law firms that will actually send you certified mail or send you priority mail with tracking that has a complaint about a brand, right? But those same law firms sometimes will only send things through buyer-seller messaging a few times. And then they will send you something by mail. So it can be like an early warning system when you get something through a buyer-seller messaging.
And again, this is all about your personal risk tolerance and how much of that product you have in stock, how many units you have in your warehouse and what kind of relationship you have with your supplier. There have been instances that I’ve worked on where someone got one of these from a legit law firm. You can Google the law firm. See if they’re legit, right? Or from a large company. And they have talked to their supplier and said, “Look what happened,” and they were able to have their supplier reach out, which I think is preferred. Have their supplier reach out to the brand and say, “Hey, you sent this. We sold them the stuff. Remove the complaint. Or don’t send them the message. Take them off the list.” That’s the most effective way.
I know there are a lot of people out there. I see it all the time out on groups like on Facebook and on forums where people say, “Oh, just tear it up and throw it away. Just ignore it. It doesn’t mean anything.” Sometimes it’s hot air and they’re just trying to scare you off the listings, but some major brands have started to pursue sellers in court. And what they do is they file a case that is about material difference and say that you’re selling products that have material difference.”
So my preference is to always go after this with the supplier. See if you can get whoever it is to back off. And if it’s something you don’t have a lot of quantity and they won’t back off, a lot of times they will agree to let you sell through your existing inventory. You can say, “Hey, that 50 units left, I bought it from this place. There’s nothing wrong with it. Will you just let me sell out? I won’t sell your brand anymore.” Most of them will say, “Okay, fine.”
[00:18:11] STEPHEN: That’s good to know. Yeah, definitely. I know we’ve talked about sourcing. Garage sales, retail arbitrage, online arbitrage, wholesale. What about those who are interested in drop shipping? And if you’re listening to this and you don’t know what drop shipping is, it’s basically selling on Amazon via merchant fulfilled. And when someone buys your product, you actually go to the manufacturer or you buy it from another website and “drop ship it” to the customer. So when regards to Amazon account suspension, probabilities, risk, what your thoughts are about drop shipping?
[00:18:45] LESLEY: So there are two kinds of drop shipping, and one is allowed by Amazon and one is not. The type that’s allowed by Amazon is where you have a relationship with a wholesaler, or a distributor, or a manufacturer, and it is typical business-to-business relationship where they send you invoices for the things that they ship out. That can be a fantastic business model. The only downsides to it are if they don’t ship out on time, or if they don’t ship out the right quality. So as long as you have an agreement and an SLA with that drop shipper so that you know they’re going to get it out on time and you know they’re going to ship the right items and the right quality, it’s a very low-risk, no capital required, great way to do business. And I think there’s a lot of draw for that. There’s a lot of marketing out there right now trying to get people to try drop shipping methods, and doing it that way can be great.
The other kind of drop shipping is against policy, and that’s retail drop shipping, meaning that you buy something from Target, or Walmart, or Sam’s Club online and you have them ship it to your buyer. And so the reason Amazon doesn’t like that, there’re a few things that comes in a Walmart box, or a Sam’s Club box. It shows the pricing, which of course is lower than the price the person bought it from, or you would be doing this, because there would be no margin. And also, there is no control of the product. It’s outside of the chain of control of the seller.
Used to, people would drop ship like this and account would get shut down, and so they’d open another account and repeat, repeat, repeat. But now Amazon has started permanently holding funds for accounts that are doing retail drop shipping. So there’s a huge disincentive now, because if you do the retail drop shipping and you get caught, which you will because buyers will have comments that will say things like Walmart, then Amazon will not just suspend the account, they will permanently hold any funds in the account. You will not be able to get them out. We’ve been able to rest the funds out for a couple of clients that it literally took 6 to 9 months.
[00:20:56] STEPHEN: Well, a second ago you were talking about making sure you have an SLA with the manufacturer or whatever. Can you talk about what that is for those who might not know?
[00:21:05] LESLEY: Absolutely. So Amazon allows you to set a lead time for a merchant fulfilled orders. So let’s say your lead time for a merchant fulfilled orders, the standard is 1 to 2 days. If that’s the case, you have to make sure that your drop shipper is actually getting to get those orders out in the 1 to 2 days and that they are going to provide you with the tracking number so that you can upload the tracking number into Seller Central so that Amazon knows you got the order out on time. Because if the manufacturer or whoever your drop shipper is does not meet the standards that Amazon has for merchant fulfilled, you could find your account suspended or your merchant fulfilled privileges revoked.
[00:21:50] STEPHEN: Yup. That sounds good. That’s good to know. So what happens when you’re just going along, you’re sourcing, you’re processing your inventory and you get an email from Amazon or a performance notification or whatever? And it’s a big warning from them. They’re asking you for invoices. They’re telling you that you’re being suspected. Or maybe they’re telling you your account is at risk. So how do you respond to Amazon when that happens?
[00:22:14] LESLEY: So the most important thing to start with is – And this will sound silly, but when people get these emails, they freak out, and I understand why. I would freak out too. When you get an email from Amazon, a warning or something shows up in that scorecard in your performance area of your account, read it carefully.
Sometimes Amazon is asking for a plan of action. Sometimes they’re only asking for invoices, and sometimes they’re telling you, you can reinstate your listing and you don’t have to do anything else. So whichever thing that they ask for, that’s exactly what you need to give them. If you provide them a plan of action when they didn’t ask for it, you can actually create more problems for yourself, because someone could look deeper in the account. Someone could read something you don’t want them to read. Just give them what they want. That is key thing number one, because I think people have been kind of trained to think you always have to have a plan of action and invoices. They’ve changed their standards for a lot of these things and what they ask for in different situations. So that’s thing number one.
Secondly, any time that they give you an option to give them information, always send it. So, for example, saw a warning today. Customer complained of inauthentic. You are allowed to reinstate the listing yourself. But if you’re interested in having the defect removed from your scorecard, please send invoices. So don’t say, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ll just reinstate the listing and move on.” No. No. No. You want to send in your invoices and get the defect removed, because if you have two or three more of those happen over the holiday season, you could find yourself suspended.
[00:23:57] STEPHEN: Yeah, we don’t want that. I’ve heard people say like, “Well, I’ve already sold it. I’m not going to sell it again. Why should I even worry about taking that off my scorecard? It’s not going to bother me in the future, right?” That’s what they might be saying.
[00:24:10] LESLEY: Right. It’s a common misconception, and it makes sense, because Amazon says, “If you want to sell this again, they’re essentially saying appeal to get this ASIN back in your account.” But what folks don’t realize is that Amazon is watching your account stats over time. They’re really focusing on the last 90 days. They will go back 180 days and look at other warnings that you’ve received, other complaints, all kinds of stuff you cannot see, but they can, which is frustrating. I know all of us can see our store feedback and we can see our product reviews, and we can see email messages that people have sent in our return reasons. There’re tons of times when someone reaches out to Amazon directly maybe on chat and return something or complains about you and it doesn’t make it into your account. You don’t see all the things.
So you definitely have more complaints in your account than you think you do if you are of any size at all. You have more stuff in there than you think. So don’t say, “Oh! It’s all clean. So this one, I’m just not going to sell it again. I’m not going to answer.” No. No. No. Answer it. Do all the things. Get them to turn the ASIN back on then delete it. But don’t delete the ASIN until you’ve answered the complaints.
[00:25:23] STEPHEN: That’s really, really good stuff. Back when sourcing, is there anything that you can – Like if you are sourcing and you see a product page on Amazon, is there any like warning signs on certain product pages that might be like, “Hey, this item might cause me some trouble in the future.” Is there anything like that that that you can give us some advice on?
[00:25:43] LESLEY: So one thing the I do – Okay. I don’t like luxury brands. That’s a personal thing. Again, this is personal risk tolerance on this one. But there are a lot of folks out there selling Coach purses. I have seen too many accounts go down for luxury brands where you’re selling 80% other stuff and 20% luxury brands. People have super high-standards for luxury brands when they receive them, and if there’s one stitch out a place, they’re saying it’s fake. That is really risky.
Another thing is to look at product reviews. You can learn a lot from product reviews. You can find out if it’s the kind of product people say is fake or as bad quality or it doesn’t smell the same anymore, like perfumes, lots of that kind of stuff. Makeup that people say the color isn’t right anymore. This doesn’t run true to size for clothing and shoes. You can see a lot of that in reviews. And if there are a lot of complaints for not true to size, now how I remembered, that kind of thing, that means the manufacturer is lacking some consistency. Stay away from it, because you are the one who gets the complaints for these manufacturer-caused problems.
[00:26:54] STEPHEN: Yeah. We’re the same way. We sell shoes on Amazon all the time, but we stay away from the really high-end shoes because of that. Even though we know we’re buying them directly, we don’t want to have to even deal with the hassle of trying to prove ourselves to be legitimate sources for these shoes .And so yeah, we stay away from the really high-end. Even though the ROI and the sales bump is really nice and enticing, we just don’t want to deal with the problems of that.
[00:27:22] LESLEY: People are just so much more likely to return and to be unhappy the more they spend on some of these categories. It’s fascinating, actually.
[00:27:31] STEPHEN: Yeah. And they have no idea that that particular item has gone through like 5 miles through Amazon warehouse to the conveyor belts, and it’s going at crazy speeds. And so yeah, the corner of the box might get dinged-up a little bit. And someone buying a $20 item is not going to be that upset about. But someone selling a $200 item or whatever might be upset about that. So yeah, definitely try to stay away from that.
[00:27:55] LESLEY: You make such a great point right there about packaging too. I think especially a lot of new sellers, and we always see lots of new sellers right before Christmas. A lot of new sellers outsourcing with retail arbitrage, they see items that have shelf wear or packaging dings. And it doesn’t occur to them. They’re not trying to pull anything over on anyone. It just doesn’t occur to them that if a box has a ding in it, you do not want to buy that item. You want to buy all the clean ones and the pretty ones, because exactly like you said, Stephen, you’re about to ship it to a warehouse or you’re going to ship through the mail to someone with merger fulfilled. And then at the warehouse, it gets thrown in a bin and it gets received. It gets thrown, picked and packed. It’s gets put in another box. And we all know, Amazon does not put any damage in anything, worst in anything, right? So it’s going to bounce around in that package or it’s going to be inappropriately put in a padded envelope. And so if you’re starting out with something with dings, creases and shelf wear, oh my goodness, what it’s going to look like by the time the buyer gets it?
[00:29:02] STEPHEN: Yeah. It’s good stuff to think through when you’re sourcing and what you’re deciding to sell on Amazon. So we’ve talked a lot about account suspensions and violations and things like that. How can people look back on their Amazon accounts and say like, “Okay, where do I stand with Amazon? How can I see where I stand with Amazon?”
I know that a Riverbend Consulting, your business, offers account health checkups that you can purchase for the professionals to go through. But if someone wanted to do like a self-check-in, or a self-check-up, what would you say are the important things to make sure to look at when looking at how healthy your Amazon account is?
[00:29:39] LESLEY: My very favorite report in all of Seller Central is the FBA returns report. The FBA returns report tells you so much about what is going on with your account. Also, if you do the downloaded file, it will show you comments sometimes as well. And what you’re looking for is not as described. You’re looking for defective. You’re looking for switcheroo. So I have to explain switcheroo, because it’s like this silly word they came up with inside of Amazon and they don’t explain it to anyone.
Switcheroo is where it’s like bait and switch. People think that you were offering one item and they got something else. Also, complaints for condition, which sometimes they used sold as new, and expired. Anything that’s inauthentic, although that doesn’t pop-up in that report. But anything that smacks of, “This was fake. It was counterfeit. It was inauthentic.” All of those are the keywords to look for. Those are the things Amazon cares about. All those words like expired and switcheroo and used sold as new.
[00:30:45] STEPHEN: The switcheroo one really stands out to me, because we have a blog post on the blog called the Magic Words When Communicating with Seller Central, and switcheroo is one of them, because we’re able to use that. So a customer buys something is new, but then returns their old copy of it and they’re like, “Wait, they did a switcheroo. But yeah, I have never thought of it the other way around,” that we, as sellers, which obviously we could be accused of doing that, a switcheroo. So that just – Yeah. I just think that’s fascinating, that whole switcheroo concept and how it works with both buyers and sellers.
[00:31:19] LESLEY: I love that you’re giving them back their own medicine. That’s fantastic.
[00:31:24] STEPHEN: Yes.
[00:31:26] LESLEY: My favorite appeals where I get to point out Amazon’s own policy violations to itself. So same kind of thing. I love that. That’s fantastic. So yeah, the returns report is super valuable and you can sort it by a sense. So if you download that sucker, throw it into an Excel spreadsheet. Sort it by ASIN. And what you’re looking for is if you have one or two particular ASINs that are causing the majority of your returns and complaints. And you might find out there’s a particular line of products you’re selling or even just one product. And then you check and see if that’s out of line with the volume that you sell. And if you figure out that it’s out of line with the volume, like if it’s not your biggest selling product that it has all the complaints, you need to probably pull down that ASIN, pullback that inventory and investigate. And even really big high-quality sellers, you will find that an exceedingly small percentage of their ASINs cause all the problems. It’s just defective bad merchandise for some reason. You don’t want to let it take on your account. And it saves you money, because you’re going killed on all the fees associated with those returns, and it just not worth it.
Then the second area that I go to are performance notifications. So if you have any performance notifications that are a concern and then I’m going to have to actually – They changed all the labels on everything. So I have to make sure I’m going to the right place. You’re going to go under the performance tab, the performance menu on your account and go to account health. And right in the middle of that page is the policy compliance scorecard. So that’s a big old box with a listing of all the possible complaints and violations; the intellectual property, the authenticity, condition, safety, listing policy violations, all the things.
And so that is a really important place to go visit. And if you have anything that is not a zero there, you click where it says, “View all,” and that is going to give you a list of anything that you need to appeal, and it will give you the opportunity to upload documents and to appeal right there on Seller Central. So that screen is super important. You can see almost everything you need to see about your account there. And then the final place to look, which is annoying and confusing is in your cases, because very strangely, sometimes Amazon sends you things in cases that do not come through email or performance notifications or the scorecard. So it makes sense that if you don’t regularly check those emails, you check your cases is about once a week and just make sure there’s nothing in there you need to address.
[00:34:13] STEPHEN: Yeah. That’s brilliant, and I thank you for walking us through that. I know that if anyone’s really worried about their Amazon accounts, I do recommend the account health checkup that Riverbend Consulting offers, because you can see those things for yourself. But then sometimes you wonder, “Well, is it okay to have this much? Or what if I have a little bit of this, but something as big of a – A big concern on this other things.” And so they take a lot of the confusing aspects about Amazon and how they display the information and put in plain English for you to understand. So if anyone’s curious about that, I recommend that for sure.
In regards to an Amazon seller account, what do you think about people who want to think of it as a fail-safe? Like, “I’m going to create another Amazon account. So if this one gets suspended, I’m going to have another Amazon account.” What are your thoughts about that?
[00:35:05] LESLEY: Amazon recently changed the rules in the past year saying that you now can have more than one account. Used to, you could not have more than one seller account per household was the rule, and you can see how antiquated that was, right? That’s like early days when it was per household, not per business address or something. You could only have more than one with permission, and they changed that rule so that now if you have a valid business reason for having more than one account, you can. However, with that has come a tremendous amount of enforcement against people who are not doing anything wrong, frankly, for having more than one account. And they will shoot first and ask questions later.
I am not a huge fan of backup accounts, and the reason is because you don’t have a valid business reason most of the time. A valid business reason is something like, “Hey, I use one of my accounts for retail arbitrage and wholesale. And then on the other one, I have my Lesley private label decorative products.” Well, if you’ve got a brand, a registered brand, having that as your second account, that is obviously a valid business reason. You should absolutely do that.
But let’s say that my wholesale account got shutdown and then I just moved all that same inventory over to a backup account, they’re going to figure that out in about 10 seconds and shut it down too. Yeah. And the reason is because people think they only match based on things like addresses and bank accounts, but the number one thing that Amazon catches linked accounts with and backup accounts is inventory.
[00:36:54] STEPHEN: They know a whole lot more than we know that they know, you know? Okay. So one of the last things I want to talk about is those who are afraid that their account gets shut down and then it actually happens. Their account gets suspended. What’s the best way to respond to that? Because a lot of people were like, “They’re going to keep my money. They’re going to destroy my inventory. What do I do if my account gets suspended? How can I get it fixed and revived?”
[00:37:23] LESLEY: So first things first. If you’re panicking, you’ve got to step back and take a deep breath. You can’t just hop off an appeal without investigating what happened. And also a lot of people are really tempted to ask Amazon questions back. What are you seeing? Or where did you find this? Or what’s the problem? And you’re wasting an appeal when you do that.
There isn’t a limit. There’s no, said, ‘you have this many tries.’ But you don’t want to set yourself up for failure because they’ve already seen that you, in their eyes, aren’t taking it seriously or you don’t know your business. So be really calm or get yourself zen before you address this. Secondly is to carefully read the notice so you fully understand the notice, but then understand that if they pointed out ASINs – So for example, you’re suspended because of condition complaints. Meaning you sold as new, or things had expiration days were passed, or the condition of the product wasn’t what buyers wanted. They may list three or four ASINs and they want you to address that. But it’s not just about those three or four ASINs. It’s about your whole account. They want you to show, because if it was an ASIN suspension, you just talk about that ASIN. But if your whole account is suspended, you need to tell them how this isn’t going to happen again in the entire account. So you have to view this holistically not just as, “Oh, they listed one ASIN. I’ll deal with that ASIN.”
Next is look at the data. Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that you know, “Oh, I haven’t had any problems with that product.” Run all the reports. Find the returns. Find the complaints. Look through all the feedback. Try and be like me. I’m objective, right? I have a whole staff of people who go through people’s accounts that are suspended and they are ex-Amazon investigators and ex-Amazon seller support and seller account help. Their objective, they’re looking at your account like a problem to be solved, not in a defensive way.
So if you’re looking through your account, you have to try and put on that hat and be objective and look at it from Amazon’s perspective or the buyers perspective of what they are seeing. And then two things with most suspensions, Amazon’s usually asking for a plan of action plus invoices if its product quality. Your invoices have to be impeccable. I have people who will say things like, “Well, I found enough invoices for 50 units. I know I sold 100, but this is good enough.” No. Don’t waste your chances. Spend the extra few hours or even the extra day or two to get all the invoices together to submit the first time. And when you write the plan of action, Amazon has three steps in there. They want the root cause and they want to know how you address the complaints. And then they want to know how you will prevent similar complaints in the future. Each one of those sections needs to be well-thought out. It doesn’t have to be a novel. They won’t read a novel. But it shouldn’t be like two bullet points. It has to show you really thought about your business. You really thought about solving the problem.
And then most importantly, have someone else read it before you submit the appeal someone who doesn’t have skin in the game. Get a friend, a relative, someone who will tell you the truth to read the suspension notice from Amazon and then read your appeal and tell you the truth, “Did I really answer the questions? Does this sound proactive enough? Do I sound defensive?” You’ve got to take responsibility even if you don’t think it was your fault.
[00:41:21] STEPHEN: Yeah, absolutely. I know some people, they respond very quickly, and it’s very emotional, and it’s a lot of stuff that Amazon doesn’t have time to actually deal with. And yeah, you don’t want to waste an appeal. There’s not a limit to the number of appeals. But yeah, you don’t want to waste their time at all. You want to make sure that you’re doing things correctly. So I appreciate that, and people can listen back to this episode to kind of go through these steps if you ever find yourself or you can reach out to Riverbend Consulting and hire them to walk through and have that extra set of eyes looking at your account and asking you, “Hey, can you find invoices for this?” And giving you the step-by-step process to make sure that you would get your account back in.
What’s the usual – And I know it’s different for different times. What’s the usual timing on when an account gets suspended, how long does it usually take for Amazon to approve someone to get back in good standing?
[00:42:15] LESLEY: So the range is absolutely huge, because a lot of it depends on the workload at Amazon at that moment. We had an ASIN appeal submitted and accepted in literally five minutes this week, which everyone almost fell off their chair, because that never happens. We have had account suspensions that we got reinstated in two hours. And then we have some that we have worked on literally for months, because seller performance rejected them. The client did 15 appeals before they even came to us. So we started with executive escalations. We even go to outside agencies, to governmental agencies and quasigovernmental agencies to try and get our accounts reinstated. So worse case is it can take months and months. So the average for like a normal non-code of conduct, regular old suspension is usually between a week and two weeks, somewhere around there. But a lot of it is all about Amazon staffing.
[00:43:17] STEPHEN: Well, thank you so much for answering all my questions. Are there any final words that you want to give to the listeners when they’re working on this fear of account suspension and just trying to help them to understand, have some perspective?
[00:43:30] LESLEY: So if you do have an ASIN suspension, a warning that scares you, or an account suspension, please, please, please feel free to call my company. We have people who answer the phones. And while of course we like to make sales, we really like to help sellers, and we have a lot of people who call us and we just talk them through the issue. We listen to them. We tell them what we’re seeing. Don’t feel like if you call our company that you have to spend money and you have to buy something. If you end up being a client, that’s fantastic. But if not, and you just need to understand something you received in your account, that’s what we’re here for, and it is literally no pressure. And frankly, it’s really hard sometimes to find people to even discuss your account with, right? I mean, how many of us have friends who sell on Amazon who are like in our neighborhood? There’s just not that many.
[00:44:19] STEPHEN: And even asking people on Facebook groups for help, you don’t know their expertise levels of what they’re talking about. So being able to call you or one of your colleagues is a huge advantage.
[00:44:31] LESLEY: And we also see trends. We see that there is a new suspension type this week or that we can tell someone that submitted an appeal. Yeah, right now, it’s taking two weeks to get a response if you submitted an appeal and you don’t know how long you should wait. Call and ask. Do you know if Amazon is responding right now? If we’re getting responses in two days and you haven’t had one in two weeks, then you probably need help. But if we’re seeing the same thing, you’ll know maybe to hang out a while longer. So that’s absolutely what we’re here for.
[00:45:01] STEPHEN: All right. The last thing I like to do when I have an interview is a three-question lightning round. So I ask you three questions. Let me know your answers. Are you ready?
[00:45:10] LESLEY: I am ready.
[00:45:11] STEPHEN: Alright. So first question, what is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working in an Amazon business?
[00:45:17] LESLEY: My favorite thing to do is to hike and to take my kids hiking. We love to spend time and the out-of-doors, which is a great thing to do during COVID anyway. And both of my boys have done distance hikes with me before. So I am starting to train now for a new distance hike in the spring.
[00:45:36] STEPHEN: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love hiking with my own boys. Got a state park pass for the different parks in the state of Taxes and do a lot of hiking. It’s a lot of fun for sure.
[00:45:44] LESLEY: We have that same state park pass. It’s fantastic.
[00:45:48] STEPHEN: Second question, what not Amazon book are you reading that is impacting your business?
[00:45:54] LESLEY: The 12 Week Year. I love this book. It is fantastic, especially for rapidly growing businesses. The premise behind it is that an annual business plan is just a bunch of garbage thrown down on a piece of paper, because people think they have to do it. Because the market changes so quickly and circumstances change so quickly, you can’t really plan for a year. And I have a very rapidly growing business. So I really identify with this. So you essentially do a business plan or a plan that’s very goal-focused every 12 weeks and then implement, implement, implement in your business.
[00:46:30] STEPHEN: Yeah. I read the book too. It’s really good. I was like, “12 weeks?” That’s almost like three months. So I guess the three-month year sound – Or the 12-week year sounds a lot better than the three-month year.
[00:46:41] LESLEY: It does.
[00:46:44] STEPHEN: All right. Last question; what are you most excited about when it comes to the future of Amazon?
[00:46:50] LESLEY: Amazon is getting so much better at marketing on the platform. And when I say that, you look at the way that the products are displaying now, that they’re actually doing some updates to the interface. They’ve got the new editorial recommendations section where they’ve got the articles about best product for this, best product for that. That drives a lot of sales. They’ve got that Amazon – The best sellers and Amazon’s choice. But they’re really expanding on that. They’ve added video to some of these sections in the video ads. I think that interactive experience is really going to drive a lot of sales for brands that are really ready to take advantage of it.
[00:47:31] STEPHEN: Yeah. I’ve noticed that too. It’s been pretty cool. I really like the video additions too. I know right now it’s mostly just open to brands, but hopefully maybe sometime in the future they’ll open to people who are like resellers. Who knows? But video can impact sales, that’s for sure.
[00:47:46] LESLEY: Absolutely. And I thought it was really interesting when Walmart did their redesign recently, and I first opened it up the first time and I thought it looked a lot like Amazon. Obviously, Amazon is continuing to set the standard.
[00:48:02] STEPHEN: Yeah, definitely. That’s awesome. So where can people find out more about you and your business and how they can get some help?
[00:48:11] LESLEY: Absolutely. So you can go to riverbendconsulting.com and you can also find us on Facebook. We try and do a lot of post to blogs and other informational things talking about trends and what we’re seeing in the market there. So please follow us on Facebook.
[00:48:27] STEPHEN: Yeah. And we’ll put that link in the show notes, fulltimefba.com/55, because this is episode 55. So anything that we talked about, we’ll put that in the show notes, because we’ve talked about a lot of really great resources for you. So we put them all in one place, fulltimefba.com/55.
Well, Lesley, thanks again for hanging out with me. I know we met in person. Was it like five years ago, I think? At CES conference? And I appreciate your friendship throughout the years and connecting with you from time to time, and thanks for coming on the show and helping everybody get a little bit more of a handle and have some more peace with their Amazon businesses as they’re figuring out risks and what they need to be doing next.
[00:49:05] LESLEY: Thanks so much, Stephen, it’s been a good time. I appreciate you having me on.
[00:49:16] REBECCA: All right. Well, hopefully, you enjoyed that interview with Lesley as much as I did. Hopefully you were able to take some good notes. Hopefully you were able to get lots of clarification on some of the different rules that come up, the Amazon guidelines that are commonly misunderstood that might lead to a possible suspension and also take some good notes on what to do if you encounter any types of suspension, whether it’s ASIN suspension or account suspension.
As always, if you would like to see the transcript for this episode or any of the links that Stephen has talked about throughout the episode, you can check out the show notes for this one at fulltimefba.com/55, because this is episode number 55.
Thank you again, Lesley, of Riverbend Consulting. We are so glad that you are with us, and we look forward to being back here with all of you on the next episode in the Full-Time FBA show. And on that next episode, we will be talking about clearance sourcing tips. So you don’t want to miss it. We’ll see you next time.
[00:50:13] ANNOUNCER: That’s all for this episode of the Full-Time FBA show. So head over to fulltimefba.com/podcast where you’ll find the show notes and links from this episode. While you’re there, subscribe to our newsletter where you’ll get several free downloads of our popular and helpful Amazon FBA resources, including a free e-book. Now, take action on what you’ve learned today so you can find success in turning part-time hours into a fulltime income with Amazon FBA.