As a Private Label seller, receiving that dreaded email from Amazon informing you of a suspension can be devastating. Whether it is an account suspension or a product suspension, both can cause panic and cost money. Account suspensions are a major event that could ruin your business but do not occur as often as one would think. Product suspensions or listing suspensions, on the other hand, are 10 to 50 times more common. Whether you offer one product or multiple products, a suspension email can arrive with little or no explanation and cause much confusion. Bottom line is usually that there is a problem with the product and Amazon wants you to fix it. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself as a seller.
The first step to protecting your business from a suspension is to understand what types of suspensions are possible, what triggers them and what are some of the underlying reasons for them to be triggered. Let’s talk about each.
Types of Suspensions
Full ASIN Suspension: One basic suspension is the Full ASIN Suspension where Amazon has been known to turn off an ASIN altogether. Amazon removes the product page from the site making it unable to be purchased by customers. You can tell when this happens when you get one of the Sorry, Amazon dog pages.
Offer Suspension: A more common type of suspension is when Amazon suspends one seller’s ability to have an offer against an ASIN. The seller has either underperformed or violated policies, and Amazon will suspend until the corrections are made.
FBA Suspension: In an FBA suspension the seller’s FBA inventory is no longer fulfillable by Amazon. In this case, you should transition to FBM, Fulfillment by Merchant. Your sales will not be affected, and Amazon will not stop you from listing and selling your product. Note that there will be a short window of time for you to get all your inventory shipped out of Amazon warehouses.
Buy Box Suspension: A special type of suspension, called the Buy Box suspension happens when Amazon has not fully suspended the product. However, Amazon will not allow sellers to win the Buy Box. This is usually triggered by pricing reasons.
For larger sellers doing multi-channel fulfillment, even if you have won the buy box as per Seller Central, you might still find on the product page, that you don’t own it. The reason for this may be because a lower pricing exists on another platform, i.e., Walmart, Target. Amazon follows and scrapes pricing information from numerous E-commerce sites to stay competitive. If they find a lower price elsewhere, they could punish you by taking the buy box away and giving it to a seller that will meet the lowest price standard.
How to Avoid this? One way is to drop your price further to compete. It will cost you, but you will be moving product. Try researching other e-commerce sites to match pricing and increase your chances of conversions. You can also sell-direct through every channel and make sure you position yourself to control cost. Alternatively, you can just ride it out and wait till the other seller runs out of the product.
Triggers of Suspension
We all know that the customer’s experience is Amazon’s top priority, which has directed them to operate with extreme methods to police their system. These methods could be helpful overall to customers, but harmful to sellers.
Andon Cord Triggers
The most direct trigger for a suspension is when a customer calls Amazon’s customer service to resolve a problem. The support agent can put a hold on a product based on a customer’s review. This process is internally referred to as the ‘Andon Cord’; a term that originated in the Japanese assembly line manufacturing process. Any worker on the line has the ability to pull the Andon Cord trigger when they see a defect, and it would put an instantaneous stop to the entire assembly line. One incident is enough to trigger it.
In the case of Amazon, once an Andon Cord is pulled, an FBA suspension is likely to follow. The Andon Cord System offers a quick response to address faulty products issue, yet, grants tremendous power to a 3rd person who might overestimate complaints.
Another method that Amazon uses to monitor a seller’s performance is their statistical performance. Data is reviewed and sellers are flagged for products that have a high return rate or high negative customer reviews. Usually, statistics are a much slower process that take effect after several weeks of data collection.
Bot Automated Triggers
Amazon also uses another automatic method that uses bots to review data based on keywords from negative customer reviews; in some cases, health and safety issues would trigger it. If a product gets flagged by a bot, an agent will take the customer complaint, then compare it to the product in the FBA warehouse. Statistical review and key-term identifiers are the usual triggers for a suspension.
Reasons for Suspensions and How to Avoid Them
To each type of suspension, there are many levels in which suspension may occur. In the past, Amazon has not enforced regulations for product safety. Their enormous catalog has been entirely too extensive to implement safety precautions due to the lack of means to do so; but recently, Amazon has taken a more focused approach to product safety.
Safety Suspension: Safety suspensions usually are caused by defects in a product. For instance, a customer may receive a device that gets too hot or operates in an ill manner. After recurring complaints fielded by Amazon agents, a product will be suspended.
How to avoid: Be sure to have the customer in mind when marketing and educating customers about the product. Make sure to do safety testing and extensive research on your product to make your product transparent to consumers. Test your product and use explicit directions on what is to be expected and what it can and cannot do.
Intellectual Properties Suspension: I.P. Suspensions have been a challenge for small companies. In the past, Amazon did not have the means to ask sellers that held rights to their products to stop selling a product. Right holders have had to go outside Amazon with little odds to track down validators. When Amazon receives reports of I.P. issues, a suspension is immediate, and sellers handle the issue on their own. This process negates Amazon having their hand in any dealings between sellers.
How to avoid: Do your research before you dedicate to intellectual property. Be aware of what others have done.
Negative Review Suspension: The numbers are increasing for negative review suspensions. When a customer has issues with the product, they’ll often return the product citing “not as described”. Support agents may then trigger an FBA suspension to do what Amazon calls a “bin check” to physically look for the mismatch between the listing and the product in the warehouse. An email will be sent to the seller to notify them of the suspension and which product ASIN was suspended with little further information provided. In many cases, the original report of “not as described” from the customer was actually because the product wasn’t compatible, didn’t fit, or they didn’t like the color or style. So a physical check won’t produce any additional helpful information. In these cases, opening a proactive ticket for your suspended product and explaining some reason return reasons and how you help avoid them in the listing, may help resolve the issue more quickly.
How to Avoid: While it’s not always feasible, you could consider shifting to a hybrid fulfillment model using FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) and FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon). Doing so will protect your business from running out of stock, and you can keep selling in the event that an FBA suspension occurs. Be vigilant, watch for negative product reviews, and help customers to update reviews before a suspension is triggered.
Used-Sold-as-New Suspension: There has been an enormous increase in complaints about used items sold as new. Customers are returning products stating they have received an opened item. The past notion of putting unopened products back into inventory based on customers report is no longer a validation for resale. Take into account customers could have also reported incorrectly to receive free return shipping. If a customer reports about a used product sold new, odds are your product may face suspension.
How to Avoid: While this might not always be possible, try not to reuse inventory. Instead, explain to Amazon that you only ship new items. This process is a more expensive route, but it will only benefit you in managing the risks.
Return Rate Suspension: Return Rate monitoring is a new process by Amazon, where if the return rates stay high over a specific time frame, you will be notified to describe the cause and required to provide a plan of action to correct the issue. Following this process will typically reinstate your listing. However, after a continuous history of a high rate of returns, Amazon could entirely suspend the product with no reinstatement.
How to Avoid: Get further information from the consumer if there is a problem with the product. If you have an electronics product, for example, problems could arise because of incompatibility issues or customer confusion over your descriptions. Be sure to be very explicit about what your product does and does not. Make your product listing as transparent to the customer as possible.
Taking The Blame
So what should you do if you are at the receiving end of an unfortunate suspension notice? Remember the golden rule, ‘the customer is always right?’ Well, this is especially true in the Amazon world. As a seller, you have little choice but to take complete responsibility (blame) for products and their performance. In responding to a suspensions warning or notice, always try to position your company in a positive light. While you may not be at fault at all, the only thing that Amazon wants to hear is your acknowledgment of what you did wrong and how you plan to correct it. Given that the people who evaluate your responses might be sitting in a third world country following a rule book handed over to them with little leeway for reasonable judgement, and a target of clearing emails within a three minute time frame, your best bet is to conform to the pattern that Amazon expects and hope that your product or account is reinstated as soon as possible. This is the only way that works with Amazon, so the quicker you get used to it the better. Reassure Amazon that you are a great seller with proper product procedures and have your processes in a portfolio for quick leverage. Having your process in place may not always benefit you in lifting the suspension but will prepare you for any further suspensions.
Side Note: Be aware that a product suspension can lead to an account suspension. After continuous product suspensions, your account history will be reviewed by Amazon’s support agents. Even though customer support agents are trained to react quickly and make the best judgment; they must review pages of data in minutes, meaning details of your situation get missed, leaving you at the mercy of their ability to skim for information.
Selling through Amazon can be daunting in and of itself, which allows you little time to prepare for such an event. Suspensions could occur to anyone, but focusing on processes that help you stay on top of the health of your business and staying customer focussed in a preventative sort of way, can greatly decrease your chance of suspensions. As a first step, understanding how Amazon’s suspensions work is key. Next, make sure you are monitoring your products and reviews to avoid violations or suspensions. The more you know about your consumer and their experience, the more you can ensure that your Amazon account stays active and in good standing.
About Efficient Era
Efficient Era provides powerful alerts, analytics, and automation for Amazon sellers. Tools include Review Matcher (for buyer-to-reviewer matching), Data Warehouse, Email Automator, Buy Box Monitor, Inventory Analyzer, Ads Analyzer, VAT Invoice Automator, Promotions Tracker, Questions Tracker, Returns Tracker and more. Efficient Era supports multiple Amazon geographies (North America, EU, Japan), and all tools are included for the same monthly charge of 1 cent per order and 8 cents per ASIN. Comes with a 30-Day free trial.
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