Best Practices for Handling Amazon Suspensions and Reinstatements

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Lesley Hensell is the Co-founder, Co-owner, and Partner of Riverbend Consulting, where she oversees the firm’s client services team. Riverbend Consulting helps Amazon sellers with account and ASIN reinstatements and provides detailed consulting services for operations and fulfillment.

In her role at Riverbend Consulting, Lesley has personally helped hundreds of third-party sellers get their accounts and ASINs back up and running. She also leverages two decades of experience as a small business consultant to advise clients on profitability and operational performance. In addition to this, Lesley has run an Amazon 3P seller business for more than a decade.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How Lesley Hensell prepares a plan of action for Amazon when a seller has an account issue
  • Strategies sellers can use to avoid future problems with Amazon and their customers 
  • Best practices for getting your plan of action seen by Amazon
  • Lesley shares the common mistakes 3P sellers make that cause their accounts to be blocked or suspended
  • When to report a violation with other sellers on Amazon
  • Should you bring in lawyers to solve seller performance issues?
  • How to regularly audit your account to prevent any trouble with Amazon
  • Amazon’s process for evaluating FBA product complaints
  • Lesley’s recommendations for staying out of trouble with seller performance

In this episode…

As an Amazon seller, one of the worst things that can happen to your business is your account being suspended due to product complaints or misconduct. A blocked or suspended account or listing will cause you to lose income, profit, and essential growth for your brand. So, in such cases, what can you do to get your account reinstated?

According to Lesley Hensell, Partner at Riverbend Consulting, there are three key areas that Amazon expects you to address when writing a plan of action to reinstate your account. These include determining the root cause of the issue, solving the problem, and preventing it from ever happening again. While some types of account problems can be handled by sellers themselves, others may require assistance from third-party companies, such as Riverbend Consulting. 

Lesley Hensell, the Co-founder, Co-owner, and Partner of Riverbend Consulting, joins James Thomson on this week’s episode of the Buy Box Experts podcast to share her best practices for reinstating accounts and ASINs on Amazon. Lesley talks about some of the common causes of account suspensions, how to write an effective plan of action, and her recommendations for preventing future issues with seller performance. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

Buy Box Experts applies decades of e-commerce experience to successfully manage their clients’ marketplace accounts. The Buy Box account managers specialize in combining an understanding of their clients’ business fundamentals and their in-depth expertise in the Amazon Marketplace. 

The team works with marketplace technicians using a system of processes, proprietary software, and extensive channel experience to ensure your Amazon presence captures the opportunity in the marketplace–not only producing greater revenue and profits but also reducing or eliminating your business’ workload. 

Buy Box Experts prides itself on being one of the few agencies with an SMB (small to medium-sized business) division and an Enterprise division. Buy Box does not commingle clients among divisions as each has unique needs and requirements for proper account management. 

Learn more about Buy Box Experts at BuyBoxExperts.com.

Podcast Episode Transcripts:

Disclaimer: Transcripts were generated automatically and may contain inaccuracies and errors.


Intro  0:09

Welcome to the Buy Box Experts Podcast. We bring to light the unique opportunities brands face in today’s e-commerce world.

James Thomson  0:18  

I am James Thomson, one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts Podcast. I’m a partner with Buy Box Experts and the former business head of the selling on Amazon team at Amazon, as well as the first account manager for the Fulfillment by Amazon program. I’m also the co-author of a couple of books on Amazon, including the recent book, Controlling Your Brand in the Age of Amazon. And today’s episode is brought to you by Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. When you hire Buy Box Experts, you receive the strategy optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon. We also support investors with due diligence services. Go to buyboxexperts.com to learn more. 

Before I introduce our guest today, I want to send a big shout out to the team at Disruptive Advertising. For off Amazon advertising Disruptive Advertising offers the highest level of service in the digital marketing industry, focusing on driving traffic, converting traffic and enterprise analytics. Disruptive helps their clients increase their bottom line month after month. Check out disruptiveadvertising.com to learn more. Our guest today on the Buy Box Experts is Lesley Hensell, a partner with Riverbend Consulting, a firm that supports Amazon sellers with account reactivation and ASIN reinstatement. Her firm also provides detailed consulting services around operations and fulfillment. Lesley has run an Amazon 3P seller business herself for more than a decade, and has previously been a marketing and public relations consultant. Lesley, welcome. And thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts Podcast.

Lesley Hensell  1:53 

Thank you so much for inviting me, I appreciate it.

James Thomson  1:56  

You get to see Amazon sellers in their absolute worst. When I think about Amazon sellers, basically find a way of getting themselves in trouble with seller performance whether they want to or not. So it’s best for every Amazon 3p seller to know how to handle itself when dealing with seller performance. But given the lack of clarity that often accompanies Amazon’s performance notices to sellers, there’s a lot of confusion about how to quote and behave when dealing with Amazon. So let’s break down the problem at hand. very broadly, how do you write a plan of action? for Amazon? How do you think about that process of saying Amazon has sent me a notice, I now have to respond in a way that’s going to get Amazon’s attention.

Lesley Hensell  2:40  

So Amazon tells you very specifically the three areas that they want you to address in the plan of action. And then sometimes they ask for supporting documents as well. So things like invoices or a letter of authorization. So let’s talk about each of those three areas. The first thing they ask is a root cause, okay, they want to know why the bad thing happened. So whether it’s a complaint for inauthenticity or a safety incident, whatever it is, Why do you have this problem? They are not asking you to tell them that it’s because someone complained or because the customer was wrong, or because the Amazon warehouse did something bad. They are asking what your company can do better you as the seller of record, why you have determined this thing happened. So you have to be very specific. And you have to find a way to blame yourself, even if you really don’t think you did anything wrong, because we all know that there’s returns, Mishandling at the warehouse, for example, still not an excuse. So it can be a sourcing problem, a packaging problem. It can be something with your staff, something that wasn’t handled well. It can be a confusion over a version of a product. But there’s probably something that happened. And even if it is that FBA issue, it could be that you did not have seals on a product in a way such that they might handle the returns better ever in the warehouse. So you have to go really deep, you have to turn off that part of yourself that wants to be defensive, and really get to what that root cause might be. The second thing they’re asking for is what you’ve done to solve the problem right now is simple. As we’ve refunded these particular orders, we’ve apologized to these customers. These are the things we’ve done right now to solve the past incidents, whatever it is that made us get this complaint. This is what we’ve done. Sometimes it’s recalling some inventory, destroying some inventory, but it’s the things you’re doing right now that are reactive that they want, but then the part that matters the most is section number three, which is how do you prevent this from happening? And in the future. So this is the proactive portion of the plan, and it’s the part that the investigator cares about most. Okay? So you have to explain how you’re going to prevent these complaints in the future. Now, you and I both know, sometimes complaints are just complaints. Sometimes you have bad guys complaining about your blackhat tactics, sometimes you just have disgruntled customers who want free stuff. Yep. Regardless, you’ve got to put a plan in place to prevent this from happening in the future, be detailed bullet points to the point, no extraneous information at all. And explaining exactly what you’re going to do step by step by step. Think of it like you’re writing a manual or an SLP, a standard operating procedure for your employees, and pretend that your employees have the IQ of a houseplant when you’re writing or that you did or that you are my 13 year old son who works on my Amazon business. So when I give him instructions, they’re very specific right now, right? It’s that way very simply so that anyone can understand.

James Thomson  6:04  

Okay, so you’ve documented these short term and longer term approaches to solving the problem? Well, I’m thinking about the complaining sellers who say, but I didn’t do anything wrong. And so you helped me understand the kinds of things that often a seller can say that it’s going to do that are meaningful, and there may be small changes that the seller needs to make. And they may not necessarily solve the problems that Amazon’s having itself. How do I mistake proof of Amazon’s handling of my products? How do I mistake proof, a customer handling my products? Now, what are some of the techniques that you’ve seen sellers use successfully and avoid future problems.

Lesley Hensell  6:48  

So one of my favorite strategies, especially for anything that is a consumable, or topical, something where people are very sensitive about safety and making sure that something hasn’t been touched by someone else, is to add some kind of a steel to an outer box. And you’re really not doing that for the customer, you’re doing it for the FBA returns handling personnel. This is also great with something that could be returned and put back in your inventory with something gross like a coffee maker returned with coffee in it, or like a curling iron returned with hair in it, both problems that we have seen several times. So if you can put one of those clear round fields, but it says on it, if steel is broken, the item is not new, or something similar to that wording. It’s not for the customer, it’s for the FBA handling, folks. We’ve had a lot of plans of action accepted with that where you’re not saying FBA is a bunch of bad guys, but you’re saying this is what we’re going to do to help FBA better handle our returns in the future. Another huge issue that a lot of sellers don’t realize is that an issue is if something the packaging has changed on the product, and it’s different from what is on the listing, that’s a big deal. And it’s a big deal to the customer, because it can be confusing to them. So there’s that is something that has an admission and that you have to make sure that in the future, you’re going to list against the right thing. A lot of sellers don’t see that as a reason that they did anything wrong. I’m not saying you did something wrong, you’re selling the correct item. But there is a customer confusion problem. there

James Thomson  8:33  

is confusion that you can help to address as the seller. Yeah. Okay. So let’s say you write the most beautiful plan of action, you submit it goes to Amazon. Yes. It’s a deep dark black hole. How long should you expect to wait? Before you hear back from Amazon? Not to say that Amazon’s gonna say, Yep, we approve. But how long just to hear back.

Lesley Hensell  8:58  

So unfortunately, this is a range. And that range depends a lot on what the workflows and volumes are at Amazon at that moment. Okay. So they go through peak seasons, just like sellers go through peak seasons. January is the peak season because they’re doing enforcement from the holiday season. For example, They do catalog cleanup, and usually like August, September, right, that’s the peak season. So when things are going well at Amazon, if you’re doing an appeal, button appeal is what we call them where you’re clicking, and you’re filling in the boxes. That’s for an ASIN. We’re seeing responses right now and two to three days, which is awesome. I can tell you in the past, we’ve had queues as long as two or three weeks. So you’re back the first time

James Thomson  9:46  

even if it’s two or three days, and as a seller. You look at the situation you say I am 99% not responsible for what’s happened. Yes, I’m making changes to help prove The whole process for Amazon, but I’m losing sales as a result of what I think might be unfair. How do you coach your clients around dealing with the expectations of this delay, and hence loss income that comes from that delay?

Lesley Hensell  10:16  

Right. And a lot of our sellers are actually even more concerned about loss of bestseller rank and seeing their competitors creep up on them. Yeah. Unfortunately, two to three days, if you’re getting a response in two to three days, that’s pretty good. And you’re gonna have to be patient and happy with that. And I wish there were a better answer. I feel like I’m, I’m spreading horrible news when I say these kinds of things. But you have to understand they do have a queue of work. It’s not like there’s someone there waiting for your individual appeal. So two or three days is reasonable, and expected. What’s really frustrating is when you wait two or three days, and you get something back where you can tell they haven’t read it.

James Thomson  10:57  

So let’s talk about that because we see that situation a lot where, yeah, they’re asking for three or four things that are in the document you’ve just provided? Yes. So I’ve seen some sellers say, Well, let me just resubmit what I just submitted. Hopefully, a different person will see it in the queue, and then magically, everything will solve itself in that process. You know, you can submit again, you can change things a little bit, how do you think about this process of not only whether you submit the same content again, but how many times you can basically hit the same nail over the head the same way before saying I need to change up the way I approach this problem.

Lesley Hensell  11:35  

So there are two ways they can respond back to you. And the answer depends on that. Sometimes, sometimes they come back and just ask for one specific thing very specific that was actually in there. Okay. And in that case, I don’t have a problem writing back and saying, Hi, thank you for your response. You asked for this and called it out at the top as we explained, the Yeti, Yeti Yeti below is my entire plan of action, please reactivate the station. So if they are very specific, and you are already very specific, and you know, it’s the right answer, I have no problem doing that. And it works a lot of the time. If this is one of those, it’s really obvious, they didn’t answer especially they respond back in like 20 minutes. So you know, no one really reads it, there’s clearing out their queue. A lot of these guys, they get too many emails in their queue, they’re going to get in trouble. They haven’t responded enough. They just, you know, click reply, paste in the stupid response. It’s annoying, right? Yep. But you also don’t know if someone actually did read it. And they thought you’re totally off base, which is it? So that’s where you need a disinterested human, to read your plan of action and see if it actually answered the question. So that can be someone else in your company, it can be a buddy, it can be a buddy that you explained the situation to, it can be a consultant, it can be, you know, some guy that you know, who’s another seller on Amazon, but they but they need to read it and tell you tell them to be your harshest critic. Did I actually answer this? Does this make sense? Or am I just covering something here? Did it sound shady? What’s going on? You need someone who’s not afraid to tell you you’re full of it. If you wrote something that is lousy, frankly, show that? Yeah.

James Thomson  13:21  

I’m sorry. Please go ahead, Lesley, please?

Lesley Hensell  13:23  

Well, I was gonna say then based on their responses, you might reorder things. Sometimes with the bottom section, that solution section, you actually have the best solution at the bottom, like you have five things you’re going to do to fix it. Sometimes one of those needs to go at the top. These guys are reading from the top down as soon as they see what they want, they’re going to hit approve, right? So maybe you need to reorder, maybe you need to make it simple. You need to read words. It’s not always completely changing the plan if you actually nailed it.

James Thomson  13:55  

So as you go through the process, you’re following these best practices you’re talking about, and you’re hitting a dead dead end. Now the question comes around, what can I do as a regular seller, what can I do to escalate? There’s the idea of Oh, I’m gonna go hire a consultant who has a side door back door contact they can use but if I don’t want to use them, I just want to be doing this to myself as a seller. Are there ways that I can get more attention and say, Please, I’m not sure that there’s proper understanding here. I want to escalate this. Is there a pipeline other than your standard seller performance channel that you can go through to get somebody else to look at the documentation you’ve sent?

Lesley Hensell  14:42  

There are a couple of things to try. The first is account health services. So account health actually talks to you like people who answer the phone, what a novel idea. Now they are not seller performance. They have no power to approve your plan. They cannot fix this for you, but they can speak with you. So a couple of things you can do, you can request a call back from account health. And you can ask them to forward your POA, your plan of action to seller performance, if you think no one’s even getting it, or that they’re not reading it, you can ask them to read your plan of action and give me feedback. Now, sometimes the feedbacks, great, sometimes it’s terrible.

James Thomson  15:21  

So I’m literally going into seller support, and I’m filing a ticket saying, Please, and I have had the situation where this has been taken down, written a plan of action, I’m confused, could you please arrange for me to get a call from the the account health team,

Lesley Hensell  15:37  

in the email notice that you got from Amazon telling you they did a takedown on that? So it says do you need more help? Can we help you with something very friendly sounding, it has this Contact Us link? When you click that that is how you get the call back from account help.

James Thomson  15:53  

And when they call, whatever you’re doing, drop what you’re doing and take the call.

Lesley Hensell  15:59  

Do not miss the call? Call? And it doesn’t matter how it comes up. Because it doesn’t always come up Seattle, sometimes it comes up weird, unknown, get up.

James Thomson  16:08  

So what steps in addressing a solid performance action? Can a typical 3P seller learn how to handle itself? versus I need the pros to come in and tackle this? I’m in over my head? What would you like to see more sellers be able to handle themselves?

Lesley Hensell  16:26  

So most of the sellers that I’ve worked with in the past can usually handle in authentic, and condition which is also sold as new. If you have good invoices, and usually, you know, you know what it is about the product, the packaging was lousy, it’s merchant fulfilled, and you’re throwing it in some cheap polybag. Instead of putting it in a padded envelope, you don’t know what you’re doing, man. Most people can fix these things themselves. Where we have more challenges are when the notice that the sellers gotten from seller performance doesn’t make sense to them, or they don’t understand what Amazon is looking for restricted products, and safety is huge in this area. restricted products are really confusing. And it’s because Amazon lately has had a lot of false positives for restricted products. And you have to prove to them a negative you have to prove that your product shouldn’t be restricted. Those are really hard

James Thomson  17:26  

to pesticide, it’s a pair of socks. So show me how this is not a pesticide. So let’s talk about how to show that something that is so obvious to me as a seller? Is it not a rabbit that I’m pulling out of my head? What is it like, how do I show Amazon I’m not a pesticide, for example.

Lesley Hensell  17:46  

So more than half the time, across all RP, more than half the time there is something in your keywords or your listing that has gotten this flag. So I’ll tell you something we saw a whole lot last spring was the mask thing, we saw masks that are like masks that you know, put on your face to try and be pretty. Those were in sleep masks, those were coming up as restricted products like they were a mask that you would wear in public so that people aren’t coughing on you, right? So think of it that way. But it can be very subtle words in the keywords. It can also be that people have added keywords to your product that shouldn’t be there specifically so that your product will be suspended. I know you’re shocked. So a huge portion of the time, that’s what it is. So you have to comb through the entire listing, comb through the keywords. And then sometimes it’s getting into the nitty gritty of the policies as they are written in the Amazon help. And so that’s where it can get really difficult and you might need some assistance for things like that for Safety Safety. Amazon’s looking for very specific things, but it depends on the notification. Yeah. And then there’s the really bad stuff. Okay, so let’s move over into the really bad scary category of things where if it were my account, I would want help, you know, counterfeit. So anything that involves something that could be considered criminal, which counterfeit is even if it’s not counterfeit, y’all, they’re acting like it is. Anything that is Code of Conduct is code of conduct, they can just block you forever, and never read your appeals. If you get a code of conduct. You definitely need help for manipulation and review manipulation kind of stuff. With those, it’s really hard to know what they’re asking for. They speak in code. It’s where those notices are in code. And there’s different versions of them that we send different stuff. And frankly, most sellers out there if you say you did five for manipulation, they don’t know what that means. So if you don’t know what it means, you need to at least talk to somebody to get some more insight. Don’t just start guessing because frankly, the scarier it sounds like the platform, manipulates Our code of conduct. Yeah, really, the scarier it is. Right?

James Thomson  20:03  

Right. It’s pretty toxic stuff. And you have to take it seriously. And if you’ve never been down that path before, talk to a specialist who knows how to deal with these, because he or she has seen these dozens of times this week with various other clients. So in the spirit of, I get some scary notifications as a seller, let’s talk about and I don’t like to use this word very often. But what are some of the obviously stupid things that sellers can do to hurt their likelihood of being reinstated, when in fact, it may not be an obvious mistake they’re making, but they’ve done something that is definitely going to irritate Amazon, where it may not irritate retailers and other channels. But Amazon, oh, my goodness, don’t ever do this as an inexperienced amazon seller saying, I don’t understand what’s going on here. Tell me about some of your experiences there what around some of these so called stupid things or things that sellers need to have tons of Amazon experience to know that they can never do without getting themselves in trouble.

Lesley Hensell  21:07  

So I have a great one that I have an example for from last Friday, I had a prospective client I was talking to that they had gotten a warning for intellectual property violations. And they talked to seller support and seller support told them to put up a new listing, that’s called circumventing and circumventing will get you blocked, which blocked they’re suspended where we intend to reinstate you, and there’s blocked or we don’t intend to reinstate you. So circumventing is huge. And unfortunately, people out there in the Amazon community at large, and people at seller support will tell you, oh, just just fix that listing by creating a new one. If you got a listing blocked, for whatever reason it is, you have to fix that ace in that listing, you can’t just go create a new one. So that’s a really big one that people think they’re doing nothing wrong, because they probably really didn’t do anything wrong, right? They have no bad intent. They’re not trying to circumvent, they’re trying to fix their problem. Another is when Amazon has come after you for something we talked about this earlier, you have to say it’s your fault. Even if it’s in a really roundabout way, you’ve got to say I take responsibility, this is how I’m going to fix it because you’re the seller of record. And you may not like it, but you gotta do it or, you know, too bad. And then my last, my last big point of preaching, is fighting for products that you should drop. So sometimes there are repetitive issues with the ASIN and you can’t fix them. I mean, you can fix them to a point, but they just keep happening. So for example, you could have an IP complaint where it’s a very, very, very aggressive brand, and they just file complaint after complaint after complaint. Even if you’ve had a lawyer talk to them, it’s just gonna keep happening. At some point, you have to make a decision, my count is more important than this product, or you’ve got a product that customers misuse, or they think it’s fake, and it’s really not and it just keeps happening. Your account is worth more than that, right? Fighting for that Ace and I get it, I get it that you’re a good guy. But you have to step back and say what’s really worth it here. And usually that one product isn’t worth it.

James Thomson  23:27  

Sometimes, the bad guys come after you and falsely accuse you of certain things and they know how to play the Amazon system. Yes. I can’t tell you how many sellers have said to me, I know exactly who’s coming after me, I’m sure. And I said where’s the evidence? Well, I just know it. Okay, well, maybe you figure it out with that seller and our customer so who’s leaving you there’s reviews? Actually, yeah, they’re this other person, I can see the connection and I can show you the connection. When should a seller be proactively basically if tattling is the right word, but basically turning in other sellers who are either doing harm to the sellers on listings or doing harm to the platform.

Lesley Hensell  24:10  

So if you can show a pattern of data and has to be a pattern, a few points of data isn’t really going to get you anywhere, if you have someone attacking you. And it’s a concern, you should say something because there is a chance that Amazon could see because Amazon doesn’t just see the data that you see in your account. You see the certain returns, for example, they see this constellation of data that is another complaint for buyers and such that you never see. So you could have a bigger and more severe problem than you know right now. So if you’ve got someone you really believe they’re attacking you, you can report a violation, which is inside of Seller Central, and it’s in the support channel. You can report a violation and show that pattern of data and now you don’t want to harp on. If you don’t want to report it 100 times, you will look cranky and scary and weird. But there’s nothing wrong with reporting that if you can show a pattern of data, they’re never going to tell you, if they took action, they’re never going to tell you what they did or didn’t do. But it can help protect you a little bit. And then I do know that there are lots of folks out there who do report a violation with competitive, for example. So you’re selling product A, your competitors, product B, and product B is doing all the bad things. So they’ve got a primary image with text all over it, and they’ve got all caps here and there, and they’ve got a, you know, their, their storefront, enlisting, which they can’t do. And so they’ll go out and proactively report this. Now, you can, you can look at this from a philosophical viewpoint and say, Is this how you want to spend your life? Do you want to spend all your time focusing on your competitors? Do you want to focus on your own gig? But is there anything wrong with occasionally doing a report violation to clean up the catalog? No, I mean, you can do it, if you want to.

James Thomson  26:09  

I’ve I’ve had clients in the past who have been in controlled categories where there needs to be FDA paperwork, FCC paperwork, some sort of additional quality control, you know, federally mandated paperwork in place, and they’ve gone and done all the hard work, they can see their competitors haven’t done any of it. Because all this stuff is publicly searchable on various databases, when you’re competing against a bunch of other companies that, in fact, haven’t even followed the law and have their listings on Amazon. And know that that’s more than just I want to be a cranky old person and complain, quite frankly, it’s called unfair competition that you’re dealing with. How do you get Amazon to pay attention? In those situations? Is it the same kind of report of a violation and hope for the best?

Lesley Hensell  26:58  

So I’ve had clients in that situation, exactly what you’re talking about, where it’s like FDA approvals, and very serious things where there could be safety issues for customers, because they haven’t done what they’re supposed to do. So there’s two routes to do this. And really, where I’ve seen the most effectiveness is where you do both of them at the same time. So I’ve had a client hire my team, to help them reach out to executives at Amazon, who care about this stuff and their teams that handle their escalations. There’s teams of people who read certain guys and gals email and go through it all and help buyers and sellers. And then at the same time, have an attorney reach out to Amazon legal if it is in a category, like you’re talking about anything that we’re talking about a safety issue that’s regulated by governmental agency, there is no harm in having your attorney reach out to Amazon legal.

James Thomson  27:53  

So let’s talk for a minute about Amazon legal versus seller performance. These are two very different channels for getting things done. When do you suggest the clients bring the lawyers in versus Be patient do the hard work, right, the right plan of action for seller performance,

Lesley Hensell  28:12  

almost never bring the lawyers in. Because from a seller performance standpoint, if seller performance has engaged with you, and they are asking you for information about your account, yep, if you send in a straight up attorney, they will stop talking to you. They’re out. And then you’re going through legal channels, which are not going to reinstate your account, because legal channels don’t reinstate your account, except in very specific circumstances where it was assigned to them in the first place because of something really frosty or terrible or bad that happened with your account. So for regular old stuff, you do not want to send the attorneys in. So this is almost like what I was just talking about a second ago. This is extra legal, extra seller performance. It’s not really a seller performance issue. It’s a legal issue with products and safety. And so that’s a whole different channel. But generally speaking, you don’t want your attorney engaging with seller performance. It’s just gonna shut it all down. Now you do want an attorney if you get to the end of the road. So you have done every kind of escalation you can do, you have brought in government or extra governmental agencies that have may have helped you or could have helped you, you’ve done all these things, and you’re not getting reinstated. They still have your money, they still have your products, they’re not giving it up, and you decide you want to go to arbitration, arbitration will get your account so that it can get you your money and your stuff. So that’s when you would want an attorney when you’re at the end of the road and you want to go to arbitration and you’re just trying to get your money and your stuff.

James Thomson  29:50  

So everything we’ve talked about today is what do you do once you get yourself in trouble? Let’s spend a minute and talk about what you do to prevent yourself from getting in trouble, how do you audit your account? What should you be looking at? How often should you be looking at things to take me through best practices you’ve seen sellers take there?

Lesley Hensell  30:10  

That is a great question. So first of all, we’ve all seen the lovely account Health ScoreCard that Amazon has put together, and they’re adding to it all the time. actually very helpful. Because before when everything was in email, and in the performance notifications, it was easy to miss stuff. So now you can see these things pop up, I would have someone log into your account every single day, and look and see if you have any performance notifications, of course, any email or any cases that have been open, some of these are coming through cases now not performance notifications, and look at that scorecard, look for anything you need to appeal, you’re also going to want to check your stranded inventory. Some things for some reason, don’t show up in the scorecard or email, but your inventory is stranded so you know, you’ve got a problem. And if that happens, you can reach out to seller support and say what’s up and they’ll tell you why and even send you the notice again, sometimes. So I would look in that account every single day. But then my next favorite tactic is an agent by ASIN analysis of your account. And this is something people don’t do because it’s hard work. But it will improve your bottom line every single time. So we look at for example, when we’re doing an analysis in someone’s account, yep, we look at return reports. And we look at the voice of the customer. And we are looking for agents that have repetitive returns that are outside of what they should be based on the volume. So you don’t want to assume something with a lot of returns. It’s bad if it’s your best seller, obviously. But we remove the return reasons that are for things like I regret I bought this, like I didn’t, I didn’t really need it or it wasn’t delivered, take all that stuff out, and then figure out your return rates for your top products. And a lot of times people will find that they have one or two products or even a line, if they sell multiple lines of products that’s responsible for a massive number of their returns. Those are the things that are going to be ASIN that gets suspended or get your account in trouble. But also, anyone who’s sold on Amazon knows returns kill your profits super fast. Yep, you paid all these fees for them to fulfill the item, you don’t get all those fees back, you only get a little bit back a bit back when there’s your return. And then you might have to call it back to your own warehouse. There’s just all kinds of mess that goes with this. So if you can get your returns rate down, it’s better for your account performance, health wise and money wise. So what I like to have clients do is you look for that one Ace, and that’s the biggest problem. And you work on that ASIN you have people in your company figure out what’s the deal with that ASIN? Do we need to improve the packaging? Is there a problem with the listing whatever it is, and fix it and work through those aces one by one, it’s amazing what it can do. And sometimes you find out you don’t want to sell that thing after all.

James Thomson  33:04  

So let’s go back to the dark side, so to speak and look at a couple of examples that unfortunately happen all too often an ASIN suspended because of a complaint about selling used product when it should have been a new condition product. What do you do? Let’s assume this as an FBA product, it’s been sold to customers complaining that it’s used that now takes me through the standard evaluation process.

Lesley Hensell  33:32  

Okay, so the first thing you want to look at is any data that you can find in the account related to that product is going to look at your returns report gonna sort it by ASIN and read any feedback that you receive in that returns report about that ASIN, then you’re going to look at voice of the customer, any feedback you can find there. And then finally, look through if it’s your own product. And sometimes even if it’s something a lot of people are selling, you’re gonna look through the reviews. And look through your store feedback, because people will send product specific information sometimes through those or complain about an experience through those. Look at all the data you can find to try and piece together and see if there’s something that you’re not seeing that you made the assumption of there’s nothing wrong with the product. Right? So as an example once I had a seller who sold Nike and he had all these problems with this one ASIN and he went through all the feedback and lo and behold it said too small on every single one so it wasn’t true to size for that brand. And people know what they’re supposed to wear on that brand and for some reason this product or this line didn’t work right. So you never know what you’re gonna find, you look through to see what you can figure out. You could find out the packaging is opening and transit you could find out Amazon’s throwing it in a padded envelope when it should have gone in a box, my favorite and you sold as new also can sometimes be expiration dates, it can fall under safety, it can be under condition, it can be all these places. So you’ve got to try and do the homework to see from Amazon’s viewpoint, not yours, what the real problem might be. So that’s where you start.

James Thomson  35:15  

So you raise an interesting one where Amazon’s not using the right packaging for your product and everything’s arriving damaged. What do you do? How do you get Amazon to change the packaging?

Lesley Hensell  35:26  

There’s an appeal for that. And it works about half the time, if you’re lucky, okay, half the time, it’s better than not. So you can send a case to the FBA team, through seller support, there’s no direct reach out to the FBA team. So you send the case through seller support, and you say, please direct this to the FBA team. And then you have to make a case for why they need to change the product prep in the warehouse for that product. So a lot of times you need to show from the returns report. Yep. It’ll say damaged in such a way that you can try and make the case that it’s being damaged in transport and you have to show how you’ve prepped it. Right. Yeah. So when I sent it to you, it was what it was case packed, and it was beautiful. And you’re receiving it with no problems. And then when you’re shipping it out, the damage rate is this high. And, man, I mean, I’ve seen him send out like those really giant candles, you know, big candles that are heavy, in a glass bottle in a padded envelope. So sometimes. Yeah, so sometimes you’ve gotta make that argument and tell them it’s in a box. But that’s not enough. And sometimes it works. And sometimes we escalate those who the executive chain to try and get them to work, believe it or not.

James Thomson  36:49  

So let’s look at one other case, I’m a seller, I have done, you know, 10,000 units sales on a particular SKU in the last year. And lo and behold, I have like three complaints. But they’re all about some similar aspect. Even though you had 9997 customers who were just fine with your product. Three complaints can result in your whole listing being taken down. I asked myself this question often. You know, it’s that there should be some people complaining about stuff. But how can you have such a small percentage of people complaining, yet, that’s enough to result in the listing being taken down?

Lesley Hensell  37:29  

That is so frustrating. So there’s two possibilities here that could make it make a little more sense. And then let’s face it, a lot of stuff isn’t ever going to make sense, because it’s Amazon. Sure. But possibility number one, like we talked about a little while ago, you can see returns reports if someone actually gave the return reason, or someone did it on the phone, if this customer service agent actually gave the reason, right. You can see the voice of the customer, you can see feedback. But there’s all this other data, there’s a universe of data that Amazon is collecting, that you can’t see. And it’s very unfortunate, but it is what it is. Secondly, there are some reasons that Amazon considers so serious that they look at whole numbers, not percentages. So if it’s a safety complaint, if it’s an ingestible, a topical, especially a supplement, a couple of people say things like I went to the emergency room. Or if they say an electrical product caught on fire, it takes two of those and boom, even if you sold 10,000, you’re gonna have a safety complaint or some other issue that Amazon wants you to address. So it can be the severity. And I’ve had times where I knew all that it still doesn’t make sense, because we’ll run the return rate. And we actually give the return rate to Amazon as part of the appeal and say, this product sold 10,000 units and the return rate is point 3%. Sure. And then we don’t say what’s wrong with you, but we just kind of leave that there so they can recognize the imbalance. I don’t think it’s out of line to say that it is that aligned to go on and on about how great you are and you’ve contributed all this and you’ve made all this money from Amazon and you’ve made them all this money, you don’t want to do that and plans of action. But if something is way out of whack here, there’s nothing wrong with things. I ran the return rate, it was teeny tiny. And this is an outlier. Here’s how we prevent these things from happening.

James Thomson  39:26  

We talked a moment ago about some of the proactive steps you can take. You know, in closing our discussion today, tell me a little bit more about some of the advanced techniques you’d recommend sellers to take to stay out of trouble in general with seller performance.

Lesley Hensell  39:42  

So my super, very favorite one I’ll just reiterate is the ACM Bayesian analysis. Yep. Because I think people ignore that completely. They’re just focused on the front end, get the product in so yeah, they’re not looking at that and if you just take just Find someone in your company, hire me hire anyone to do this, yeah, save you so much money. But then after that, there are certain categories that are very challenging, and they’re going to get more challenging, because Amazon is cracking down on anything that has a regulatory component, or anything that has safety testing involved. They are asking for those documents more, they’re getting a lot more proactive about this. We’re seeing this as supplements right now. I think long and hard about launching into new categories, if you’re not really prepared for them. These can be things like toys, children’s clothing, ingestible, ingestibles, and top topicals. Tongue twister. And then my new favorite is Amazon finally gave a little bit of guidance on how often you should have testing done. Up until now, everyone’s been just guessing. So if I sell a topical, how often should I get Seo? A I always thought a year would be adequate. We’ve recently found out they want a new one every six months. For other testing, like the patch test, or you know anything else that could kind of expire because you’re manufacturing plots, or ul certification, I would ask your testing company and say, how often do I refresh this? So the advanced technique isn’t getting testing. It’s putting yourself on a regimen to refresh and update your testing and actually have it in a filing cabinet. So that when they asked for it, you’re not freaking out and having to get a ul test. It’s gonna take four weeks, and then you do like one of my crazy clients and falsify a test and get your whole account taken down because you’re panicked and you can’t imagine being down for a month, right? So being super proactive on that testing is huge. And I think that’s like the next big wave of what’s going to separate the men from the boys on Amazon.

James Thomson  41:57  

Lesley, I want to thank you today for this masterclass on keeping your account in good standings. For those of you interested in learning more about Riverbend Consulting, please visit riverbend consulting.com. Now to finish today’s podcast, I’d like to share some final thoughts. For third party sellers to be successful on Amazon. A critical lever will be soliciting feedback from customers. We at Buy Box Experts are really big fans of the team at eComEngine and it’s tools that help Amazon sellers to simplify the process of messaging customers on Amazon orders. To learn more, go to ecomengine.com. And with that, I want to thank you for listening today and I look forward to joining you next time on the Buy Box Experts Podcast.

Outro  42:42  

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Meet the Speakers

Lesley Hensell

Lesley Hensell

Co-owner, and Partner of Riverbend Consulting

Lesley Hensell

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