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Amazon and its legitimate third-party sellers have a long and complicated relationship that is bitter, resentful, painful, troubling, sickening, brutal, ridiculous, nasty and that’s a major understatement. I have been involved in E-commerce since the rise of eBay almost 25 years ago and this deep-seated distrust is not without significant merit. Please see the many heart-wrenching comments of this successful petition. Sample:
The casual matter of fact way of destroying millions of dollars of FBA inventory based on one vague email; The freezing of large amounts of funds on a whim with no email sent or reason given; The suspensions of 50+ employee businesses for one violation viewed with zero context or logic; A company locked out forever for the sin of mistyping a password 3 times; A huge business locked out because the buyer account was closed, remains open but inaccessible until enough complaints suspend the seller account as well; and multiple large businesses destroyed by one non-existent Rights Owners email are all part of a larger compliance machine that had a heart of stone and the fairness resembling a kangaroo court in the dark ages that can wreck your life in an instant. The “system” was contradictory, without checks and balances, robotic and unclear while the enforcement frighteningly brutal and unforgiving, even if nothing was done wrong by the seller. The communication was generic, and a few seller performance templates were expected to encompass thousands of scenarios that were usually illogical – not just unclear. The system was not broken, there was no system.
The result was significant unintended human suffering in an almost lackadaisical manner on a scale so large that no enlightened society would ever accept in any other industry. While GoFundMe pages are regularly set up for restaurants destroyed in a fire that cause much smaller losses, nobody would help a $25 million a year seller with 30 employees destroyed by a fake RO or a customer complaining that really only wanted free return shipping. $3 million in inventory destroyed while working on your POA with no warning? get lost!
This, unfortunately, led to legitimate sellers having multiple stealth accounts, black hat tactics that were sometimes considered necessary, and an invoice creation industry where many or perhaps most invoices had to be “made” to feed the heartless, senseless, and logic-less machine (many invoices are still fake today, especially in international circles). Amazon then thought it had to be even more brutal which led to even blacker hat tactics and so the cycle continued. The victim was legitimate good US-based sellers that were caught in the crossfire which often moved them to “have no choice” and cross the line to use grey or black hat tactics which then caused them to get suspended.
Amazon was never cruel, but boy did cruel things happen to legitimate sellers.
ASGTG aimed to change that by unifying legitimate sellers’ voices so that we can be heard and listened to like normal, regular people where logic and reason are heard and then acted upon with sane and clear policies that work for both sides. I believe the ASGTG Telegram groups, the world-famous alert system, and the ASGTG FB Group to be the most significant change engine in this relationship between Amazon and its Sellers (though not without some hiccups). As we move into 2021, and the group/blog reaching unprecedented growth I think an acknowledgment of the many changes Amazon has made to reform selling on Amazon is in order. (I am well aware of the endless open black hat hackers and insiders still publicly advertising their services on social media, but that is a discussion for a different time.) Here is my list in no particular order inspired partly by this post.
1. The way Amazon authenticates products and verifies invoices. In 2016, almost no store receipt was accepted which meant if you buy Coach items from Coach, after you get the inevitable few complaints, your suspended and terminated from Amazon. If you did not create an invoice you’re suspended, and if you did you can be suspended for forged invoices. You then had to set up a stealth account (or maybe 5) and had to be running from performance for the rest of your life. Eventually, you were suspended for being related to an account that sold counterfeit and tagged a “bad actor” for multiple accounts (of course items were not counterfeit). Today receipts are regularly accepted and more importantly, specifics of WHY an invoice is denied is given so adjustments can be made (i.e. Letter from supplier, proof of payment, photos of items, earlier invoice, etc.), and the appropriate information is given. Furthermore, if you supplied an invoice with not enough qty for sold items, it was rejected without an explanation, so you had no way to know if all you needed is additional invoices, or the supplier is not verifiable. The invoice verification process has improved 10-fold mainly because a broader type of invoices is accepted and information of what’s needed much clearer.
2. Account Health Dashboard. Prior to 2019, there was no dashboard, and the performance notification interface resembled a first-grade arts & crafts project. It was literally impossible to know your account status, find areas of concern, or even count the amount of a particular type of complaint. Today with the Account health Dashboard, you easily can clean up and fix your issues as well as drill down to the specific area of concern. There is also a “Next Steps” and an easier way to appeal with upload docs features as well as check box options to help you with a POA. There are still some issues but it’s really pretty awesome now.
3. AHR. Account health rating is a major advance as you now know in a glance if your rating is good or at risk. It has become more accurate since it was rolled out. This is working better than I had expected.
4. Calling AH. This is major as this is no longer SeSu with a different name, though not quite Seller Performance. The reps have information on your account and if it’s a clear false positive, explaining the situation can sometimes get them to escalate your case and get you reinstated without a POA. Amazon also now gives you meaningful information in the notification and on the call to AH which makes it easier to write a realistic POA with much less guessing.
5. Related Accounts. Up until 6 months ago, false-positive related account suspensions were every seller’s nightmare. You had to prove you are not related to a suspended account which is logically impossible. Today, AH will give you the first 3 digits of the root related account, so you know if it’s accurate, a mistake was made or just a brother-in-law messing you up. False-positive related suspensions of major accounts are now almost unheard of.
6. Inventory Destruction. Unsure if this was directly related to this, but Amazon now has a serious interface that allows you to set settings for the various different types of stranded inventory, so it rarely gets destroyed by accident. Furthermore, they warn multiple times via SP notifications (not SeSu emails) prior to destroying inventory. This process has improved 10X and very little inventory is now destroyed because an email was missed.
7. 72 hours before Suspension. This was tried in 2018 but works much better this time around. Most sellers I have seen do not end up getting suspended as long as they submit a POA within the allotted time. The 72 hours along with a functional AH make this a much less stressful situation as in the past – when you are suddenly suspended without warning and scrambling for a POA.
8. Rights owner Suspensions – While not perfect, the days of shutting down an account for one or 2 Rights Owner complaint is long over. The apex was after this petition, which was the largest and most successful one ever, that was picked up by the national press. Rights owner suspensions are certainly still common, but any seller that deals with complaints as they come in should not be suspended. The complaints are much better vetted and gone are the getAlife@eee.com ridiculous “complaints”.
9. Acceptance of SP getting it wrong. Prior to 2019, it was extremely difficult to get SP to accept that they may have had it wrong. “item was the Bomb!” was a safety complaint and you had to “ADMIT”, aka lie in order to be reinstated. Today, every email has the option to dispute the allegations which is a major step forward as you now no longer forced to lie on a POA as in the past.
10. Messaging explained. In 2020 Amazon released clear rules that clarify what a seller is allowed and not allowed to put in messaging and feedback requests. I found this a bit convoluted, but at least now we know what is allowed and what is not. In 2016, I honestly do not think Amazon itself knew the messaging rules it was trying to enforce and kept it vague only because they themselves had no clear rules. They then brutally suspended you for violating their unknown or unclear rules and demanded a perfect POA to be reinstated.
11. Suspensions are now used as a last resort and many chances are given before an actual account suspension. For ASINS, lately, I have seen this “Your listing is still active, however, to prevent interruption to your selling activities, please send us….. (either asking for invoices or a POA)”
12. Changing LLCs or bank accounts is no longer a heart-stopping “say your prayers” big deal and almost always goes off without a hitch.
13. Seller groups. Gone are the days of selling blindly of not knowing when the hammer will come down and destroy your business. By being connected to the alerts, chats, groups, snap polls, and breaking news, most sellers know what’s happening instantly which is important if you’re going to survive on the marketplace. Most suspensions can be avoided by simply following these groups and following the advice of the compliance minded sellers. Amazon seems to have recognized these groups as part of the ecosystem and reacts to its concerns.
The friendships made in these groups are priceless with everyone helping each other in their time of need – Often the need is not Amazon-related.
Recent comments from members:
“Amazon platform thrives on people using their platform but not understanding the ins and outs. Thats why i believe @EdRosenberg thought of creating these group chats, so that Amazon shouldn’t be able to take more advantage of sellers and i agree, thank you so much to Ed and his entire team for what they created to help sellers no matter what ethnicity, race, sex or age!!!”
There are other improvements, but these are the ones that come to mind. I am under no allusion that much more work remains. Much More. The next year, we will focus on creating a way to resolve post-suspension disputes fairly and not through the AAA arbitration process currently in place. The current process is unfair towards sellers and highly abused by Amazon that uses exhausting and expensive litigation tricks that make it almost impossible to even get to a final hearing. I will explain in due time why arbitration is a mirage used by Amazon that gives itself a draconian advantage, especially against a small seller. I will also focus on the endless amounts of black hat tactics many foreign sellers use that put legitimate US-based sellers at a major disadvantage. I also expect FBA to finally have a way to send all returns back to the seller or implement the suggestion given here.
Finally, a way to quickly escalate legitimate 911 concerns 24/7 is a must for a dynamic marketplace to thrive and a process that will need to be put in place this year since there are always “one-off” issues that need to be resolved quickly without any red tape.
This was quite a year for me personally and the seller community at large and looking onward and forward to an even better 2021. Wishing all an extremely healthy and happy new year.
ED ROSENBERG / ASGTG