Dealing with Customers
Let’s talk about customers. Before the advent of social media, a happy customer, on average, was likely to tell 2-3 people about your business whereas an unhappy customer would relate their experience to around 8-10 people. That response rate for satisfied customers has stayed relatively the same, but it’s now much higher for dissatisfied customers because it’s so easy for them to vent on their social platforms.
Amazon customers are no different. In fact, they are probably more influenced by your previous customers’ feedback and reviews than you will find in any of your other selling channels. Your product reviews strongly influence your products’ conversion rates, and your seller feedback and performance metrics heavily contribute to your proportion of buy box share.
Your communication and customer service has the potential to reverse an unhappy customer’s opinion of your company and, ultimately, win you positive feedback or it can be stale and lack the processes needed to engage customers so that you remain an average seller with a decent amount of negative feedback. With that in mind, in this chapter, we’ll discuss communicating with customers, customer feedback, and resolving customer issues.
Communicating with Customers
Formerly known as the Communication Manager, Amazon’s Buyer-Seller Messaging Service was launched in March of 2010 to handle all written communication between buyers and sellers. Amazon’s message service was designed to increase security (by masking private email addresses), reduce the number of disputes and A-Z claims, and make claims investigations and dispute resolutions more efficient.
Amazon also uses this Messaging Service to monitor your communication with your customers. Amazon automatically monitors your response times and checks for hyperlinks, email addresses, and other prohibited communications.
Types of Messages
What is Amazon’s message policy?
The company’s policies are found on a number of pages, including Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions, Buyer-Seller Messaging Service and Improving Your Feedback Rating pages.
Amazon has specified three categories of customer messages:
- Required Messages (the ones you must send)
- Prohibited Messages (the ones you should never send)
- Advised Messages (the ones you could and probably should send )
Let’s discuss each of these categories in more detail:
- Required Messages – You must communicate promptly with the customer. Some common examples include responses to customer questions about an order, out-of-stock or late orders, return requests and A-to-z claims.
- Prohibited Messages – These types of messages violate one or more of Amazon’s policies about buyer-seller communications. Some examples include messages containing a link to a seller’s site, soliciting the purchase of additional products outside of Amazon, and offering the customer compensation for a product review or better feedback. There are additional restrictions which we’ll cover later on.
- Advised Messages – These would include types of communication, we advise (Amazon just permits) which improve the customer’s experience on Amazon. Feedback solicitation provides an opportunity for the seller to resolve any problems the current customer might have and to improve the buying experience for future customers through the acquisition of additional written product reviews and ratings.
We’ll examine each of these in further detail:
In certain instances, Amazon requires that you, the seller, communicate with the customer. We will highlight the four main situations:
- Customer inquiries: When a customer asks you a question, Amazon requires you to either provide a response, or to mark the message as “no response needed.”
- Be sure to only mark messages that really don’t require a response with that option.
- A good example of the “no response needed” would be a customer emailing you a thank you note.
- A response still might be appropriate in this situation, but it’s not required.
- If no response of the customer is required, Amazon still requires that you click the “no response needed” button to acknowledge that communication is now done.
- Returns: For merchant fulfilled orders, when a customer asks to return an item, you MUST write back with return information – or information explaining why the order is outside your return window.
- Amazon handles these return requests for FBA orders, unless the customer sends a message about wanting to return a product outside the normal return window.
- A-to-z claims: A-to-Z claims are typically a symptom of poor marketplace customer service, where you and the customer have not been able to resolve an issue related to a product claim.
- Nonetheless, when A-Z claims do happen, Amazon expects you to communicate with the customer promptly and to try to resolve the situation.
- Amazon may review your communications when deciding on whether you win or lose a claim.
- Unfortunately, even if you “win” the claim, the fact that you had an A-Z claim ends up counting against you.
- It’s important to aim to address customer inquiries before they get escalated by the customer to an A-Z claim.
- Order problems: As a seller you want to avoid out-of-stock items, late shipments, and order cancellations, but when you do run into some or all of these situations you must communicate proactively with the customer.
Phone Vs Email
A quick note on phone calls: We recommend written communication. It may seem easier sometimes to pick up the phone especially when there’s a lot of back and forth, but written communication provides you with the documentation you need and it’s required for the first three situations we highlighted.
And if you do find yourself needing to place a call to the customer, we encourage you afterwards to document the conversation in a summary email back to the customer – that will help Amazon follow the conversation through your paper trail.
Now that we’ve covered your must-send messages let’s go over what types of communication are forbidden by Amazon:
- Links or images of a web address to an alternate site: This means you cannot include a link to your website or even an image with the address of your site displayed in it. This restriction can be frustrating in situations where the customer is asking for a link to the product manufacturer site so the customer can read warranty details or product instructions – we have found that if you add spaces in the middle of the URL address, the address won’t get suppressed by Amazon, and the customer will get the appropriate information s/he needs.
- Promoting additional product: You cannot promote products off the Amazon site (even if they are available on Amazon), and you technically should not include additional product links back to Amazon or to your Merchant Store on Amazon. However, we have seen many sellers respond to customer inquiries about finding a particular product with a link to one of their offers on the site. Amazon doesn’t usually chastise the seller for any such recommendation, but technically that sort of promotion is not allowed by Amazon. But please also note that we wouldn’t recommend suggesting additional products in your feedback emails or soliciting customers expressly for this purpose. We have seen some sellers “get away” with it, but why on earth would you risk suspension of your whole account just to make a few bucks on one more sale?
- Extra Payments: Don’t ever ask a customer for extra payment for a product, even if the customer’s demands are going to cost you money out of pocket. This is a quick way to get your account suspended.
- Feedback Incentives: Offering special discounts, cash payments, etc. for adjusting negative feedback or to leave positive feedback is considered manipulative. This is another quick way to get your account suspended. If you’ve worked with a customer to resolve its issue, you can politely ask that the customer “consider” updating its feedback, but never can you offer any type of incentive for them to do so.
- Order-confirmation emails: This probably won’t get your account suspended, but it will probably confuse the customer and may lead to negative feedback. Amazon already takes care of sending out order confirmation emails for you.
- Shipping emails: Amazon also prohibits shipment emails because they perform this task for you either when the item is shipped from FBA or when you confirm your order shipments in Seller Central.
Some sellers include delivery information as part of a feedback request, but it doesn’t make much sense to us. Feedback requests are usually best sent 2-5 days after the order arrives so the customer doesn’t need this information.
In Seller Central, Amazon provides a detailed list labeled “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions”
Amazon’s seller policy allows for what we call extra-curricular communication. In other words, you may message about certain topics that are above and beyond your mandated responses.
Here are three good examples:
- Informing your customer of unexpected events like a delay in transit due to a winter storm after your merchant fulfilled order has already shipped. Any additional information you can provide to the customer usually helps in these instances.
- At times, it makes sense to clarify product listing discrepancies with the customer before you fulfill their order. If another seller changed the image or product information for an item that does not match the item you have listed and a customer placed an order for that item, it would be wise to contact the customer.
You may request that a customer leave positive or remove negative feedback, but you may not offer any incentive to a buyer for either providing or removing feedback. You can manually solicit feedback in the following ways:
- Using the Contact Buyer link in Manage Orders.
- Select “Feedback Request” for the subject.
- Messaging on your packing slip. For example:
- “Thank you for purchasing our products on Amazon.com. We strive to offer you the best value and service possible. Please take a moment to rate us as a seller on the Amazon.com website.”
- You also can provide buyers with the following instructions on how to leave seller feedback:
- Go to Amazon.com and click Your Account in the upper right-hand corner. (You will need to sign in.)
- In the Orders section, under More Order Actions, click Leave Seller Feedback.
- Complete the evaluation form and click Submit.
- For more information about feedback, see Using the Feedback Manager.
Manual or Automated?
We don’t suggest soliciting feedback manually. It’s time intensive and unnecessary.
If you’re a small seller, you can actually utilize the basic service-level for free from a few feedback soliciting platforms, like feedbackfive.com, feedbackgenius.com or bqool.com.
You’ll get up to 100 requests per month without any cost. Think about the time it would take to manually request feedback from those 100 customers.
if you’re a larger seller, think about the time it takes you or one of your employees to request feedback from a thousand, ten thousand, or fifty thousand customers every month.
The cost is marginal to employ an automated solution that will replace any time-consuming and error-prone manual processes.
The customization of your emails and the inclusion of links to product and seller reviews also can lead to greater positive feedback and make it easier to manage and reduce negative feedback.
Sellers using Feed Solicitation Software typically find themselves reaching more of the silent (but satisfied) majority. Many of the sellers we’ve worked with increase their feedback by more than 300% without increasing their negatives.
Some preferred practices to use with automated feedback tools include:
- Removing high defect rate/return products form the set of products for which you ask for feedback
- Only soliciting customers who’ve purchased products fulfilled by Amazon
- Sending only one feedback request (opting against a second);
- Targeting specific customers (avoiding anyone who has returned a product or gotten a refund in the past from you)
- Targeting specific products (avoiding products with a high return rate or low review rating)
- Personalizing the message.
Don’t just copy a template. Adjust a template or write from scratch so that your email communicates in your language the message you want to send and uses the tone that properly reflects your business.
Feedback solicitors can not only help you automatically solicit feedback from customers, but many of them also allow you to review negative and neutral feedbacks received, monitor trends, and even request removal of negative feedbacks.
Customer Feedback: Seller
There are two types of customer feedback on Amazon:
- Product-related feedback (commonly referred to as “product reviews”) and
- Seller-related feedback (commonly referred to as “seller feedback”)
You want to get A LOT of BOTH types.
They each help you sell more product and gain greater success on the channel.
Let’s begin with seller-related feedback:
A positive feedback score is either four-star or five-star feedback. A neutral score is three-star feedback, while negative feedback is either one-star or two-star.
A high quantity of positive seller-related feedback can help your seller account in a number of ways:
- Positive seller-related feedback creates trust for the customer. When they see that thousands of other customers were satisfied, they expect they will get similar results.
- Your feedback score contributes to Amazon’s calculation of your share of the buy box
- Your feedback count contributes to Amazon’s calculation of your share of the buy box
- Higher volumes of positive feedback buffer you against the customers who would rate your poorly and affect your seller performance ratings
We often see customers get confused and leave positive product-related reviews as seller feedback and vice versa. We also have seen customers leave negative product-related reviews as seller feedback and vice versa.
if a customer is going to leave negative product review as a piece of seller feedback, we can usually get that removed through a ticket to Seller Support because product review in a piece of seller feedback violates Amazon’s review guidelines.
Customer Feedback: Product
Positive Product-related feedback, including detailed customer reviews, serve as a virtual word of mouth recommendation.
An Amazon customer’s buying decision is largely influenced by the number of product-related reviews, their overall average star rating, and the quality of detailed reviews.
A high quantity of positive product reviews can help your products in a number of ways:
- Promote an “upward spiral” of trust
- Increase product visibility on Amazon
- Convey useful feedback about products
In other words, product reviews can have a healthy impact on your business through improved customer service, increased visibility, tighter reputation management, and even increased sales. Also, keep a close eye on the product reviews that are coming in.
Who Can Write Amazon.Com Customer Reviews?
“It doesn’t matter where an item was purchased, or if it was a gift, or if the reviewer just borrowed it for a weekend. If someone feels moved to write a review of an item, and they are a registered Amazon.com customer, they are welcome.” -Amazon
There is no expiration date on customer reviews. This is an important consideration – if you have product with negative reviews from years before, those reviews will continue to affect your product unless you find a way to get those reviews removed.
Keep in mind that Seller Support will accept tickets requesting removal of feedback going back many years, so be aggressive in tracking down inappropriate product reviews or seller feedback.
The default display for customer reviews is in order from newest to oldest. On most detail pages, however, you will see one or two “Spotlight Reviews” at the beginning of the customer reviews section.
One can also sort customer reviews by different criteria. Spotlight Reviews and sorting criteria are covered in the next two sections.
Spotlight Reviews are based on how well the review was written and how helpful it was deemed by our customers. Amazon surfaces them on the site so customers get relevant information quickly. Spotlight Reviews are calculated on a daily basis for most items in the catalog.
After the first few customer reviews on a product detail page, you will find a link like this:
This link will take you to a new page where you’ll be able to sort reviews by Most Helpful or Newest First and view all reviews with a certain star rating.
How to increase Positive Feedback
In order to increase the volume and percentage of positive feedback you receive consider the following:
Target Specific Products
Some products are more naturally suited for reviews than others. Products with passionate users, books and media, or unique or self-manufactured products typically receive higher review rates.
As a general rule, the more commoditized a product, the less likely it is to generate a written review.
Some sellers suggest reaching out to likely reviewers. Amazon guidelines prohibit compensation for customer reviews, but sellers are allowed to offer a free product in exchange for an honest review, provided the reviewer “clearly and conspicuously” discloses that fact.
Amazon’s Vine Program follows this structure. Top reviewers are solicited and offered free products in exchange for an honest, detailed review. The review may not be positive, but it is honest, and that’s what is important here.
This program is only available to Amazon Retail vendors, and Reviews from the Amazon Vine program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary. Some sellers have had success emulating Amazon’s strategy by scouting out reviews of similar or competitive products to find prospective reviewers.
Target FBA Products
Products fulfilled by Amazon. In our testing we’ve found that products fulfilled by Amazon receive a much higher percentage of positive reviews.
We haven’t uncovered precisely why this is, but it makes sense that receiving your product, on time, within 2-days, in a package whose brand name you know and trust, and for no additional cost would give you better experience even if the product itself isn’t excellent.
So, the trick to employ here, if you don’t have the most reliable in-house fulfillment, is soliciting only customers who ordered your product via FBA. This can increase your average star rating you receive from those reviews for your products.
It also leads to a star rating by customers for you as a seller. They’re actually reviewing Amazon’s fulfillment in this case, but we’re okay with you taking credit for it!
Give your Buyers the Option to Review
Finding potential writers, soliciting reviews and tracking requests takes time. You also have to pay for any product that you offer for free.
An alternative or complement, is to solicit Amazon product reviews from customers at the same time you are requesting feedback.
Some Feedback solicitation software allows you to selecting the option to “include product review link” adds a customized link to the email.
The link makes it easy for a buyer to submit a review of the purchased product. It also helps the buyer to distinguish a product review from seller feedback. We recommend electing to have only FBA items reviewed.
Understanding and Preventing Negative Feedback
Negative product-related or seller-related feedback can be a challenge for Amazon sellers. As an Amazon seller, it’s important for you understand that your customers have never met you. So, consider that their only experience with you is:
- The fulfillment process of their order
- They’re going to associate the time it takes to ship and the time in transit with you – which is why it’s wise to utilize FBA when you can
- The product they receive
- If you commingle your FBA product, and your customer receives a faulty or counterfeit pair of speakers, he will associate that product with you.
- The assumption will be that you sell defective or knockoff product
- The communication they’ve had with you, about the order or the product
- This should be your time to shine, and show the customer that you are happy to be selling them a product – because you should be.
- Unfortunately, many sellers respond blandly, untimely, and without precision.
- Make sure that you treat your customer as if they were spending a million dollars
Understanding things a little from the customer’s perspective helps us to understand why it’s so easy for buyers to give negative feedback under the cloak of anonymity. They’ve never met you and probably never will meet you, so it’s up to you make a positive impression that will establish a small relationship in order to reduce the chance of negative feedback.
When you do receive negative feedback, its arrival should be an occasion for problem solving, not frustration or panic.
There’s little value in thinking of their feedback as unfair. Instead, looking at this type of feedback as a symptom of flaws and friction within your business provides you with an opportunity to fine-tune your business so you begin correcting those flaws and removing any friction from your selling process, making it easier for others to purchase and re-purchase.
So how do you find out about these flaws?
- First, review your Reviews – are their recurring issues with your product or fulfillment services which customers complain about? Has your average feedback rating recently declined?
As an example, one of our clients had exceptional product feedback spanning since the launch of her product on the channel.
She had used a number of different manufacturers through her time in business and consistently received quality goods.
After a change to a new supplier, her product feedback became increasingly less positive and customers even mentioned that the product didn’t last as long as before.
Many of them wondered if the customer had changed her manufacturing process or was using a different manufacture.
It wasn’t until we pointed out to the seller the declining trend of her feedback that she even questioned the product’s quality.
This led to a thorough examination of all of her inventory from the new supplier and she ended up moving to another manufacturer quickly enough before the biggest chunk of her business, her wholesale customers, started to notice, complain, or return inventory.
Your product reviews can be a measuring stick, helping to ensure that you’re selling products people appreciate and want.
- Second, ask those who give negative and neutral feedback
If your product or seller account starts to receive more negative feedback than usual or if you can’t figure out why that small percentage of customers just don’t like your product when everyone else seems to enjoy it, ask them.
This sort of inquiry is permitted and advised. Understanding why customer don’t like the product or weren’t satisfied with their buying experience helps you and Amazon.
It gives you the following opportunities:
- You can resolve any issues with the customer before they leave negative feedback. By asking a customer for feedback and giving them a way to contact you first, (then) if they have a problem, they are more likely to communicate with you than to simply leave negative feedback. Many customers aren’t really aware how to contact a third-party seller, so this proactive approach reduces their frustration.
- You can make changes to your product line or fulfillment services. If there’s something about your product or fulfillment service that causes customers unrest and it makes sense to change – improve it.
- You can clarify product images or descriptions better – When you can’t change the color or some other aspect of your product to meet your buyers’ expectations, providing better images or more descriptive text in the title, bullet points, and descriptions can reduce negative feedback and product returns. This goes back to seeing things through the customer’s eyes. If your blouse is labeled scarlet and it’s actually red, that’s a big deal to customers.
- Customer feedback can help you identify where your product detail pages need more precise language or which images don’t pass the vision test. If the product images or descriptions on the detail page aren’t contributed by you, it’s time to file a ticket with Seller Support, explaining how the current product detail page content is inaccurate, and confusing or upsetting Amazon customers.
How to remove Negative Feedback
Receiving intensely negative feedback, whether dramatic or scathing can be a pain to deal with. An even worse predicament ensues when a single feedback pushes your metrics into the danger zone.
This should never happen if you’re running your ship right and receiving adequate amounts of positive reviews. But when a low volume seller’s feedback score falls too low, they lose buy box eligibility and may receive an account suspension.
We’ve never seen a seller reach that predicament overnight. Poor feedback arrives one unhappy customer at a time, and if you’re running a legitimate seller business with the right processes in place there is more than adequate time to correct any underlying problems and reverse the trend.
Whether you have a superior, average, or poor rating you can implement processes to improve and streamline how you handle feedback. How you will hand each type customer may vary somewhat but should majorly follow a standard process for responding to and removing negative feedback. By creating a checklist of steps for your team to follow you can make negative feedback removal a regular part of your operations.
From the date a customer leaves feedback, Amazon has a 60-day window within which feedback can be removed. They’ve provided this small window so you can find out why the customer is upset and correct the problem. Although, upon request, we have seen Amazon will remove negative feedback on FBA orders stretching back several months or years; technically, once that 60-day period is over, your feedback should become permanent. And they may enforce the rule strictly at any moment. Therefore, it is critical to monitor your account and deal with negative feedback as soon as possible.
Let’s review the steps you can take to get rid of negative feedback:
The FIRST and EASIEST removal method, if the situation allows for it, is Removal by Amazon. We should note that Removal by Amazon is a misnomer. Although we follow suit with industry lingo in saying that Amazon removes feedback, negative feedback won’t get removed. Instead it will get stricken, and the star rating will not be included in your average seller feedback score, but customers will see stricken feedback still.
Additionally, Amazon will remove feedback only if it meets certain criteria. If your negative seller-related feedback falls under these categories submit a ticket to Amazon. To do this manually, Grab the order ID of the feedback in question, and then go to Contact Seller Support. Within the Customers and Orders Tab, click on Customer Feedback and enter the order ID number, then click on Search. Now you need to select from the list of available reasons which include:
- The feedback is for an FBA item and pertains entirely to customer service or the fulfillment process. (In these cases, Amazon will strike through the score and add an explanatory note.)
- The entire feedback comment is a product review.
- The feedback contains profanity.
- The feedback includes personally identifiable information, such as e-mail addresses, full names, telephone numbers, etc.
Note that: Amazon may also remove negative feedback if it complains about pricing – this is a relatively new policy, which appears to be related to the exemption for product-only reviews.
Make sure you clearly cite one of the reasons and provide any additional details in the Additional Information box which will help Amazon in their evaluation. Upon deciding whether or to remove the feedback, Amazon will notify the email you have listed. We should also mention that many Feedback solicitation tools help to semi-automate this process for you.
For efficiency’s sake, we recommend to first see if Amazon will remove the feedback. If it is ineligible, then work directly with your customer.
The second and harder method is to ask the customer to remove their feedback. You can do this by messaging the customer directly through Buyer-Seller messaging service. First find the order ID for the feedback in question, then navigate to Order Management and bring up that particular order. Click on the Customer’s Name which will be hyperlinked (in blue and underlined).
Maintain a professional attitude in all communications and stay focused on addressing the customer’s concerns. It’s okay to apologize, more than once, if necessary. Consider offering an order adjustment or a refund. You may contact the customer more than once, but you do not want to be accused of harassment, quid-pro-quo agreements, or attempted feedback manipulation – all of which are violations of Amazon’s policies. You can’t nag customers about negative feedback. That said, it helps to be resourceful, and some sellers have developed distinctive ways to make amends.
Many sellers ask “what’s the difference between offering money to the customer to change their review and giving them a refund in order to get their negative feedback removed? Aren’t these the same thing – an attempt to manipulate the customer to alter feedback in exchange for an incentive?” The difference in Amazon’s eyes and the reason this method works for so many sellers is how you go about it. Your goal is to make the customer happy. If providing a partial or full refund makes them happy, Amazon is happy.
Then, AFTER having made the customer happy, it’s acceptable to ask him or her to remove their negative feedback. This may seem a nuance in your approach, but it definitely makes a difference to the seller performance team. Offering the customer a refund IN EXCHANGE for changing feedback is an easy way to get in trouble.
Resolving Customer Issues
Just as it’s important to maintain a professional attitude and stay focused on addressing the customer’s concerns for negative feedback, it’s also important to be professional, concerned, prompt, and courteous in ALL of your communications with customers. In this video, we’ll go over some basics for customer service.
Responding to positive/neutral messages
As we mentioned earlier when a customer sends you a message, Amazon requires you to either provide a response, or to mark the message as “no response needed.” Again, be sure to only mark messages that really don’t require a response with that option. Although you are not required to respond to a customer thank you note, customers appreciate a simple, “you’re welcome, or my pleasure.” Remember that these customers are human beings and they respond well to positive reinforcement from you.
Different types of unsatisfied customers
You will probably run into all of these customers through the course of your business:
The Mean And Nasty Or Even Fraudulent Customer
It’s best to do what you can to please them within reason or if you feel that you are getting played, cut your losses and move on.
We’ve heard many sellers rant and rave about a buyer who defrauded them of a product by returning a used, defective, or older version of the item the seller had sent to customer.
While this is wrong and illegal, don’t get bent out of shape like some sellers we’ve seen. We’ve heard of:
- Sellers sending collection agencies after buyers
- Sellers posting the buyer’s information on the web to shame them
- Sellers threatening suit in small claims court
- Sellers calling the buyer a liar in communications directly to the buyer
There are collection agencies who would be glad to go after the buyer for you if you feel the need to. However, that would be an empty victory if you end up permanently suspended from Amazon. How much are you willing to risk over one transaction?
Sellers are not allowed to post a buyer’s information publicly. “Failure to remove the information may result in immediate suspension or removal of your selling privileges.”
If you want to sue the buyer in small claims court, you’ll need to travel to the jurisdiction in which the buyer lives and file there. You would probably end up in a he said/she said battle with buyer claiming that your advertised product is not what you sent him. Good luck winning that, and even if you did, what a waste of time, resources, and emotion you could have poured into building your business.
Calling the customer a liar over the phone or in a documented message? That alone should cost you a suspension.
You are supposed to behave like a professional seller. Calling your customer a liar doesn’t qualify.
The best thing to do is write off the loss and implement strategic tactics so you are less likely to run into this situation again or if you do, then you’ll be more likely to get reimbursed from Amazon. We’ll cover these in the fraud section.
The Honest Customer Who Deserves To Be Heard And May Be Reasonable In Return
If a customer claims your product is defective and asks to be able to return, allow him to do so.
Or if a customer claims that the package didn’t arrive, help him try to track it down before jumping to conclusions that she stole it and is asking for another one.
The Confused Customer, Who Could Use Some Help With The Rating System
Some buyers mistakenly leave a star rating even though they leave an exceptional rating in their written comment. Be professional, polite, and patient in getting these situations resolved. You don’t want to turn a happy customer into an unhappy customer by your nagging.
Suspicious / Brand Messages
As a reseller you may receive messages from brands claiming that you do not have authority to sell their product.
We cover how to deal with this in detail in the Identifying Suppliers Chapter, but remember that you must at least mark these messages as no response needed.
If these messages are sent frequently enough that they become a nuisance or if you receive messages that you suspect are from competitors or are in any way inappropriate it is recommended that you label them as suspicious so Amazon can look into them for you.
Let’s discuss Amazon’s policy toward item returns. Amazon states that “returns are a normal part of doing business online and we expect our sellers to accept most returns.
For more information regarding returns, please review the Handling Returns and Refunds Help page on Amazon’s website.
Please note that you are expected to accept returns if they fall within the guidelines specified on this page.
While there are instances in which a return may be refused, we ask you to accept returned items whenever possible in the interest of customer service.
That seems like you have some discretion to accept or reject returns but that you should accept MOST return requests.
Well, as a 3rd Party seller, you are actually expected to have a return policy equal to or more favorable than that of Amazon.
You are not to make a determination of whether to approve or not if the request is made within 30 days of the buyer receiving the item.
Even though it’s not actually documented, Amazon Seller Support insists that sellers accept any return for any reason within 30 days or provide a refund if they are unable to physical accept returned product.
Here’s the official language:
“Amazon.com, and many sellers on Amazon.com, offer returns for most items within 30 days of receipt of shipment.” and “While most sellers offer a returns policy equivalent to Amazon.com’s, some seller returns policies may vary. Some sellers, such as wineries, won’t accept returns. However, they may provide refunds. You can view each seller’s return policy in the Online Returns Center.”
In certain categories, like electronics, you are allowed to keep up to 50% of the purchase price as a fee when the new product is returned to you “significantly different” then what you shipped out. But use discretion even with electronics.
When sellers fail to approve return requests customers have the option to file and A-to-Z guarantee claim. Buyers are expected to work with sellers to make return arrangements for merchandise before filing a claim. If the buyer has received an item that is materially different and have not received a response from you with return instructions, he or she may file an A-to-z Guarantee claim for the purchase.
Should a claim be filed, and found in the buyers favor, a return is not required. In Amazon’s words, “Once a customer is reimbursed for an order via the A-to-z Guarantee, Amazon.com does not obligate that customer to return the item they received. However, you are welcome to contact your customer directly to arrange for a return of the item.”
Let’s Discuss How To Reduce Return Rates
For merchant fulfilled orders you MUST:
- Ship the correct products (make sure your SKU aligns with the correct product on Amazon)
- Pack your orders with care. The quality of shipping materials and legibility of labels can determine whether and in what condition merchandise reaches the customer.
- Use a reliable shipping service to get your product in undamaged condition to the customer in a timely manner
- Select the appropriate shipping method. Your package must arrive to the customer within the specified time frame
- Ship promptly. Make sure your warehouse processes are refined such that you can ship same day or next day.
When you don’t meet or exceed the customer’s expectations for fulfillment, you run the risk of the product getting returned. Many customers order just in-time for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or other time-sensitive events.
Utilize FBA for some or all of your products
FBA helps you to meet your fulfillment obligations and to do it exceptionally well. Sellers must still prepare product properly as failure to comply with FBA requirements can result in a range of sanctions, including disposal of inventory or blocking of future shipments. When the right product arrives on-time and in good condition, customer are less likely to return it.
Choose the right Carriers
In addition to selecting the right shipping method (ground, 2-day, etc.) it’s important to note that some carriers are less reliable than others. And some private carriers have partnered have shipping options which work in tandem with the U.S. Postal Service helping to reduce cost but also increasing deliver times. Make sure your carrier provides shipping confirmation numbers that you can insert into Seller Central.
Fill out as much product detail information as possible – most customers are motivated to leave bad feedback and return product when they feel misled about a product. Make sure that you provide precise information about the product that leaves no space for confusion.
Detailed Product Descriptions
Product descriptions should help consumers imagine the feeling of owning the product. Try to think as a consumer when describing your product – what would you like to know before you purchase it? Think about how a particular product can improve your customer’s life.
Don’t be stingy with words when describing your product. State all the essential features in a very compelling way. You can list the key product features in bullet points to make it easier for people to compare your product with others. However, the overall product description should consist of many relevant details.
And remember, while you may put amazing product description content into Amazon, if another seller’s content is showing up on the product detail page, it’s up to you to keep an eye on the description content showing up – if it’s wrong or incomplete, challenge that with a ticket to Seller Support.
Having clear and quality product images is another crucial aspect of presenting your product. Images help consumers imagine the experience of owning the product. A quality image should offer a focused photo of the product on a simple background, matching with the product description in terms of color and size.
Additional information that will eliminate customer surprises and potentially reduce returns includes:
- Legal Disclaimers
- Intended Audience
- Country of Origin
Shipping information is one of the most crucial aspects that consumers take into consideration when making online purchasing decisions. Therefore, you should clearly state your shipping policy regarding the costs and delivery time. If the customer expects your product to arrive sooner than it did, they may return it.
Minimize Price Changes
A point to consider about actively repricing your products. If you frequently change your price in significant amounts, customers may have buyer remorse and return the product. You will have to weigh the benefit of buy box share versus return rate in this consideration.
Feedback Solicitation: If proactively ask customers for feedback and give them a way to contact you. They may just need an explanation about the product or require a partial refund for minimal damage than returning the item to you or to Amazon.
Sell High-Quality Product
Higher quality products result in higher customer satisfaction and lower return rates.
Maintain Excellent Customer Service
Building and maintaining effective communication with customers and will help establish a meaningful relationship with customer. If the customer cares about you in the least, that decreases the chance that they will return a product.
Sell Lower-Priced Items
Customers are less likely to return a low-priced widget than an expensive item they didn’t perfectly like. Also, customer are less likely to defraud you of inexpensive items. Except for sellers specializing in this business, selling rare, high-value collectables on are prime targets for scams. We aren’t suggesting that you sell lower priced items, though, as you will have to weigh all the factors associated with the type of product you sell. Many sellers thrive selling higher ticketed items even though they, on average, have higher return rates.
It should be noted that all the preceding return prevention methods are sound business practices that help ensure customer satisfaction long-term driving repeat business and sales. They also double as effective methods to increase the percentage of positive feedback from your customers.
Best Practices For Handling Returned Products
Part of the normal lifecycle of being a reseller of products is that you have to handle customer returns.
Among Amazon sellers, there is a wide disparity around the established processes used to recover as much as possible from the returned items.
We strongly believe in regularly processing returns so that the returned items don’t end up piling up as an end-of-quarter project that doesn’t overwhelm your time or interest.
Let’s separate out what happens with returned FBA orders and returned merchant-fulfilled orders:
Returned FBA Orders
As an FBA seller, your returned orders are first sent to an Amazon fulfillment center, where Amazon does a superficial review of the items – if they appear to be re-sellable as new, Amazon puts the items back into your active FBA inventory.
Otherwise, the items are put into unfulfillable inventory, where they await direction from you on what to do next with the items. If you want the items sent on to you, then you can pay to have the items sent to an address of your preference. The cost of getting an item returned to you by Amazon is $0.50 per standard size unit, and $0.60 per oversized unit.
Alternatively, if you want Amazon to dispose of the items, the cost is $0.15 per standard sized unit, and $0.30 per oversized unit. And if you do nothing and let the unfulfillable items sit in the fulfillment center, they will accumulate short-term and long-term storage fees just like any other FBA inventory you have with Amazon. But keep in mind that for any returned order – FBA or merchant-fulfilled, Amazon will reimburse you only 80% of the referral fee (commission fee) that it collected on the original sale, up to $5 per unit – Amazon retains 20% of the referral fee as a fee for handing the return.
And if you ask for the unfulfillable returned orders to be sent back to you, you should expect to be sent a collection of poorly packaged items sent to you in a box by Amazon. While there should be a packing slip in the box of returned items, it’s usually challenging to match up the returned items with the customer orders from which they came.
This raises the question about how often you get returned FBA order items sent to you. Amazon offers an automated unfulfillable product removal process – you can search for the specific steps in Seller Central under “Automated Unfulfillable Removals”. While the automated options include twice a month, monthly and quarterly, you can also pull back unfulfillable inventory any time you want over and above what you may be doing with automated removals.
Depending on the levels of returned units you are getting, and the time of year (which can impact the level of returns), you may want to add a manual step each week of removing unfulfillable items so you don’t get overwhelmed with too much unfulfillable inventory arriving at your facility all at once).
Returned Merchant-fulfilled Orders
if you are fulfilling your orders, we already mentioned that you have more flexibility about what kind of return policy you allow for Amazon orders.
You can set your return preferences in the “Return Settings” section of the “Settings” drop-down menu on the main Seller Central page. Nonetheless, even with whatever return policy you implement, you will likely have a bunch of returned items coming your way that you will need to process.
So let’s look at what to do with those returned items, whether you got them through FBA orders or merchant-fulfilled orders. It now becomes your job to go through each item and figure out what to do with the items. It’s best to have someone on your team who is specifically responsible with processing returns on a regular basis. They will likely grade returned or unfulfillable items as:
- resellable as is, back as new condition product,
- resellable in new condition, once you’ve performed some slight modifications like new packaging or a new instruction manual or warranty, or cleaned up the item from slight customer wear,
- resellable as used product,
- not resellable at all, likely due to unrepairable customer damage or wear
If you believe you can try to resell any item in new or used form on Amazon, you will likely need to patch up the packaging with stickers – most returned FBA orders get a sticker put on the box by Amazon – a sticker which unfortunately is difficult to remove without further damaging the packaging. So you should have some blank white stickers available that you can use to cover up these Amazon stickers, such that Amazon customers of these resold items won’t get too upset that the product is a resurrected product rather than a pristine new product.
We should add that if there are too many stickers or scuffs on the packaging, and you are able to provide new packaging to the item, that’s a better idea that covering it in multiple white stickers.
In several Amazon categories, there is no used condition offer on Amazon, so you will have to:
- Sell used items on some other website
- Write off the items as a loss
- Work with a company like Optoro.com, which specializes in capitalizing returned inventory. And if the items are clearly not resellable, they too will be writeoffs.
Please note that, just as we encourage sellers to get extra packaging, instruction manuals, warranty cards, and any other informational materials from suppliers, we also encourage sellers to strip all unresellable items for all of their usable parts and paperwork, so that they might be repurposed down the road to help upgrade any future returns that could be resold as new, pending slight modifications.
While no one wants to have a sizeable portion of written off product, it is worth tracking how often each product has to be written off on account of customer returns. It is also worth tracking what is your recovery rate on each returned item – can you get 80% on the dollar when you resell a returned item, or is it only 30% on the dollar? Some items might have to be more often sold in used form rather than new, simply because of the wear and tear an item takes from the initial customer experience. Collecting such data over time will give you a much better sense of the all-in cost involved in selling each SKU in your catalog on the Amazon marketplace.
Inventory: Avoid putting yourself in a position of being out of stock without that information updated in Seller Central. Running out of stock in warehouse and listing the item as available on Amazon may lead to sales where you can’t fulfill the order. In these situations, if you are a reseller you will should quickly purchase the product from another supplier, have it drop-shipped from a competitor if necessary, or purchase it at a store (full retail) just so you can fulfill the order.
Do everything you can to avoid pre-cancellations as they will hurt your seller performance metrics and can cause negative feedback. If you are a manufacturer and you can’t get additional stock in rapidly, you may be out-of-luck and you’ll have to cancel the order. If you can’t fulfill an order, you should cancel it as soon as you aware of this and definitely within 48 hours. Email the customer and apologize. Some sellers have even persuaded customers to go with an alternate product, but don’t push too hard. Be professional, apologetic, and decisive.
A-to-Z Guarantee Claims
When an Amazon customer purchases from a third-party seller on Amazon, the condition of the item and its timely delivery are guaranteed under the A-to-z Guarantee.
Customers can file a claim when all of the following applies:
- The customer has contacted the third-party seller
- The customer has waited two business days for a response
- The customer request meets one of the A-to-z Guarantee conditions below
- The third-party seller failed to deliver the item by 3 days past the maximum estimated delivery date or 30 days from the order date, whichever is sooner
- The item received was damaged, defective, or materially different from the item represented on the product detail page
- The third-party seller agreed that they’d refund the customer, and they either haven’t refunded the purchase at all or the refund is in the wrong amount
- If the customer was not satisfied with the quality of the eligible services performed by the third-party seller
Note: If the customer refuses the package and the return does not have tracking information, the customer’s claim may not be covered
The following items and situations are not covered by the Amazon A-to-z Guarantee:
- Payments for services (excluding specific eligible services).
- Digital merchandise.
- Cash or stored value instruments (except physical gift cards sold in the Gift Card category).
- Prohibited items (including items violating the Amazon Payments Acceptable Use policy).
- Credit card payments where the issuing bank has initiated a chargeback
- Damage or loss that occurs to goods after they are delivered to a freight forwarder.
For details on the A-to-z coverage restrictions for wine purchased on Amazon Wine, go to About Amazon Wine Claims.
Watches, Jewelry, Collectibles, and Fine Art items must be returned according to the guidelines on About Our Return Policies to be eligible for the A-to-z Guarantee.
A chargeback occurs when a cardholder contacts their bank to dispute the charge for an order placed on Amazon.com.
Chargebacks are also known as “charge disputes” and they can be filed for a variety of reasons, including unauthorized use of the credit card.
As outlined in Amazon’s agreement with you:
- You are responsible for chargebacks filed for service-related reasons, such as non-receipt of the item, against your account.
- Amazon Payments is responsible for any payment-related fraud chargebacks, such as stolen credit cards or other payment fraud attempts.
- Preventing chargeback claims
- To prevent a debit for any dispute, follow these best practices:
- Don’t change the shipping address provided to you by Amazon.com. You are liable for any disputes filed for orders you send to a different shipping address.
- Use a shipping method with a tracking number.
- Use delivery confirmation (signature required) for high value merchandise.
- Keep records of the date the order was shipped, the shipping method used, and any available tracking information for at least 6 months past the order date.
Responding To A Chargeback Claim
When a buyer contacts their credit card company to request a chargeback, the credit card company will contact Amazon.com to request details about the transaction.
In turn, Amazon Payments will contact you via an email notification to request transaction information.
You can respond to a chargeback notification in one of two ways:
- By issuing a refund immediately.
- By representing your case to the credit card company via Amazon.
Note: You must respond to any chargeback notification within 7 calendar days of the email notification date. If you do not respond to our notification, you may be debited for the transaction. You will also need to reply to any additional requests for information within the time-frame stated in the request.
The final outcome of a chargeback can take up to 90 days from the date the charge was represented to the issuing bank. In rare cases, it can take even longer. We will inform you, via email notification, of the outcome only if you are held financially responsible for the chargeback. The notification will outline why you have been debited.
If you feel that you were debited for a chargeback in error, reply to the notification. We will review your dispute. However, in the majority of cases, the issuing bank’s decision is final and there is no recourse to appeal that decision.
If you have questions about a decision on a prior chargeback, reply to the email notification or write to [email protected]. Please Amazon’s Help section for chargeback for more information.
Let’s talk about Fraud. For many sellers this has become a more prevalent issue. One of our clients was scammed by the same individual/group over the course of 3 months for $15,000 of goods.
The seller investigated the huge amount of returns and then notified Amazon. Amazon responded by shutting down the customer’s account, while the customer tried several more times under similar aliases and PO Box addresses to repeat their attempts to purchase from the seller.
Amazon also shut down many of these accounts. It’s unfortunate that this seller took so long to identify the fraud, but it is reassuring that in this case Amazon actually helped the seller.
However, don’t expect Amazon to takes any responsibility for losses like these – they may have helped discourage additional fraud but they didn’t reimburse the seller.
The two most common types of fraud we have encountered are:
- The False Return: A buyer who defrauded the seller of a product by returning a used, defective, or older version of the item the seller had sent to customer.
- The No-show Package: A buyer who claims that they haven’t received a package (when it’s confirmed delivered) and is now requesting a refund or an additional item be sent out.
We’ll address both types of fraud and some protective measures you can take, but keep in mind that you should be in this business for the long haul and one bad transaction is just a drop in the bucket.
If you don’t have good systems in place and you’ve lost money due to fraud, it’s time to establish some appropriate measures.
And, even after you’ve done everything you can both proactively and retroactively, if you can’t prove it’s fraud, move on to the next order.
The False Return
One method is to monitor which items are high-risk and eliminate those from your inventory. This is what most sellers have relegated themselves to doing. Other savvy sellers have come up with an interesting solution.
Some sellers affix warranty labels to all of their products. The stickers are about 15 cents each and they cannot be peeled off without the word “VOID” showing up. Each of the labels also contains a serial number that you can use for date tracking if you desire. When a buyer removes the label to try to switch the item it also destroys the serial number.
The great thing is that the labels do not damage the item and can be removed from the item without damaging that item. However, the label is destroyed once someone attempts to remove it. Most of these sellers offer a 60-90 day warranty on all of their products as long as the warranty label has not been tampered with.
Interestingly enough, the use of these labels, has decreased warranty claims for each of these sellers. Perhaps that means the problem was bigger than they had originally thought.
Amazon has shown a strong propensity to back up the seller when these serial numbers have been removed.
The No-show Package
If you are fulfilling product from your own warehouse, the best protective measures are to get signature confirmation, Direct Signature (via FedEx), and/or insurance on your items.
Utilizing FBA is a preventative measure, as it becomes Amazon’s responsibility if the package is lost.
Let’s go over an example: If a customer messages the seller and claims that the package never arrived, here is what most experienced sellers do.
They apologize to the buyer and ensure them product was shipped with the confirmation number provided. They tell the customer where it could be found (neighbor’s house, with friends or family) and ask that the customer to double check for the item.
The seller then states that they will wait for customer’s response on the status of the missing item and should it not be found, they will refund in full.
Next, if the product is not found, they file a claim for the theft, and they also file a claim on the insurance if it was purchased.
This way, the buyer is happy, and the seller recoups the loss from the insurance on the package. Should the buyer be attempting fraud, the scare of the claim of theft might just find the missing item.
- We’ve often been asked: Doesn’t Amazon already solicit feedback this?
Well yes, Amazon does solicit feedback. But we and many others have noticed that Seller-generate requests tend to generate more positive feedback from customers.
- We’ve also been asked “Will a seller’s requests for feedback result in negative feedback?”
That depends in large part on seller operations. If your customer service is in disrepair, we recommend fixing that first.
Becoming an FBA seller is another way to minimize negative and neutral feedback.
You can actually preempt some negative feedback by giving buyers an opportunity to contact you first.
There will always be some negative feedback no matter how clean a business you run…but not to fret as Amazon isn’t looking for 100% feedback from anyone
If you can keep it inside the 98%-100% range, that is the top-level for your buybox eligibility, so don’t fret over a single negative feedback that you can’t get fixed or resolved.
- What does an effective request look like?
Effective requests are primarily not about asking for something, but rather showing concern that your customer is satisfied. Click here to request a do-it-yourself (DIY) feedback request template.
Play with your subject line and consider a softer approach.
So, what do we mean? Well, many people will write a subject line that says “XYX Corp would like your feedback”. Does that sound like something that you would respond to? Me either.
“Your feedback matters”
“, Please help me grow my business”
“Amazon buyers care what you have to say, please share”
- Who can write Amazon.com customer reviews?
Anyone registered as an Amazon.com customer is entitled to write customer reviews.
- Does the reviewer have to buy the item from Amazon.com?
No. It doesn’t matter where an item was purchased, or if it was a gift, or if the reviewer just borrowed it for a weekend. If someone feels moved to write a review of an item, and they are a registered Amazon.com customer, they are welcome.
- In what order do customer reviews appear on a detail page?
The default display for customer reviews is in order from newest to oldest. On most detail pages, however, you will see one or two “Spotlight Reviews” at the beginning of the customer reviews section.
One can also sort customer reviews by different criteria. Spotlight Reviews and sorting criteria are covered in the next two sections.
- How long do customer reviews stay on the site?
Indefinitely. There is no expiration date on customer reviews.
- Can Amazon.com customer reviews be removed?
Yes, sort of: Amazon may strike the review, if it violates guidelines and customers have 60 days to remove reviews
- Won’t asking for reviews help the competition for items which other people sell?
Some sellers mistakenly think that if you sell an item that is sold by other Amazon merchants, asking for product reviews may be counter-productive.
To draw on an analogy from the Buy Box chapter, when you help a product garner more positive reviews, you raise the water for every boat.
Meaning, if you solicit product reviews on a product with multiple sellers competing for the buy box, and if an increase in positive reviews leads to more sales, then each seller should receive an increase in sales relative to their proportion of buy box share.
Don’t you want your branded items to sell quicker? Product reviews aren’t just for private-label items branded to the seller.