Alright, as promised.. picking up from the previous Amazon Success Story article I wrote; my Amazon account got hit with a suspension that nearly wiped out all of my sales. I know there's some pressing questions:
- WTF did you do?
- Are you back?
I'd like to first spoil the story by saying, yes, I am back selling on Amazon with my account back in good standing, but unfortunately, I was forced to delete my listings which meant I had to drop a lot of my high flying products. I am not quite back to my old numbers but closing in fast. Second; I'd like to also address that... to this day, I still really have no clue or idea as to why I was suspended and my listings had to be deleted. There was in no way any foul play or black hat (term coined in online marketing world as illegal or shady tactics) used to get those product listings going.
Out of my many years of online business: I learned quickly, you play with fire, you get burnt. In this case; I knew selling on Amazon was (and still is) too much of a gold mine to be playing around with the BanHammer, so I kept and still keep everything 100% legit.
Besides if you sell a quality product and optimize the listings in a viable niche, the nearest competitors have a couple stock images and poor descriptions; your product is gonna eventually make it to the top anyways without gaming.
Unlike Google, where you might get ignored or worse case slapped back down in rankings for "black hat" tactics. Amazon will boot you and everything tied to your social security, slam the door, flip the CLOSED sign in the window, and you walk home.... alone... to never come back... ever. With that said, I know this may strike some fear in you:
- WHAT THE HECK IS LEGIT?
- WHAT IS CONSIDERED BLACK HAT?
- WHAT IS CONSIDERED GREY HAT?
(I plan to tackle much of this in a huge upcoming post soon). But... with that out of the way; let's jump into the story!
The Gut Wrenching Suspension Email
Around noon on one of the worst Mondays ever, I read an email off my phone that I had to re-read five times. Was this for real? I KNOW I was playing by the rules... so how could this happen? Every product I had/have was private labeled and completely (logos, website, packaging, Amazon brand registered, etc. etc.) created by me so no way any counterfeit, authenticity, conditions, etc. could bite me in the butt, right?
Outside of the products itself; I was totally white-hat... didn't do any crazy illuminati review pyramid scheme, no fake sales, no fake reviews,... nothing. I was sleeping at night confident I was building a real brand and real business. But sure enough... this was in my inbox:
We are writing to let you know we have removed your selling privileges, canceled your listings, and a temporary hold has been placed on funds from your Amazon.com sales. Any new selling accounts you open will be closed. We took this action because it has come to our attention that you have continued to list items which violate our Condition Guidelines and/or our policies regarding product authenticity.
A quick backstory: due to stupid, low life, unethical competitors, I've actually had times where I had some product listings suspended due to false counterfeit or authenticity claims. Of course; I got all that straightened out without trouble because I could easily prove I was the one and only manufacturer, distributer, and retailer of my brand(s).
But I've never had my total account suspended. This was a different beast. You can kind of imagine how my day went since I got that email: confused, destroyed, anger, sadness, extreme worry, etc. etc. Worse yet; on top of all this, I'm an expecting dad in the next months. I quickly thought about what my cash flow would be like when the little one arrived.... if I could even get my cash flow back. When they suspend your account; they:
- Hold any deposits you have due back for 90 days! (totally messes up your cashflow and future inventory schedule)
- Cancel out all your precious, self-made product listings.
- Many things on Seller Central is restricted so you can't make edits, check data, etc. etc.
My one glimmer of hope: APPEAL THE SUSPENSION TO SELLER PERFORMANCE... This must just be some big mis-understanding, right? The email clearly states that it's related to either mis-information on the listing or authenticity issues. I mean... I've done it before successfully with the false accusations on my listings.. and those were "mis-understandings" too. I was optimistic.
The Most Painful Dance/Fight Ever With Seller Performance
Cool.. so before you read on. I must warn you... nothing makes sense. Which is why I'm still kind of dumb-founded as I write back on this.. (I moved on... I had to). So if you're looking for some magic hoo-rah where James Amazio comes back like MJ in the 4th quarter type thing.. it doesn't happen. BUT... it's nice to know how I played my cards versus if you (hopefully not!) ever find yourself in the same position. A few facts to know about seller performance:
- They can only be contacted via email.
- They take their time to respond (anywhere from 3-5 business days as I've experienced to horror stories of them taking up to a month).
- Get straight to the point. They do not empathize with your sob story nor have time to read through any sugar coating.
A few guesses and observations about seller performance.
- A different person reads your appeals depending on who's on shift. So one time you might get told one thing and then something completely different the next. There is not one person assigned to your case.
- They are a rogue Seal Team 6 department. There is no checks or balances in this branch.
- Email [email protected]? Good luck..
Have an Oh Shit or AHA so far?
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Submitting My Official Appeal
So I hit the first thing anybody would do: Google. I come across an article (I can't find it anymore) by Cynthia Stine (an excellent blog writer! http://onlinesalesstepbystep.com/). The article gave some tidbits on how to structure your appeal like:
- Be short and to the point.
- Don't write about your personal losses and hardship.
- Take full accountability.
- Offer an action plan on how you plan to solve the problem.
- Address that your problems affected Amazon's customers.
So within a few hours of thoughtful crafting; I jump onto my seller central and submit my appeal. My whole logic behind this appeal submission was to try to:
- Get a bit more information on what the actual, specific violation was so I could fix it directly.
- Reiterate that all my products are indeed fully owned and sold by my company.
- Reiterate that I take full responsibility for any violation and any harm caused to Amazon's customers, in addition; I am trying to build a legit, long-term business on Amazon.
Things I wish I could of done better in the appeal:
- Make it much shorter, it was too long.
- Added in a bunch of stuff that wasn't needed? (even though I didn't even know what exactly to appeal so I was throwing darts on what I thought was the violation from previous email)
The Following Back And Forth Responses
Seller Performance Responds To My Appeal They ask for three things: an action plan, copies of my receipts/invoices, and my suppliers information. Cool, I thought.. they just want to make sure that I am indeed the owner of my brand and that they just need to verify. Must of been too many flags on the account for false authenticity accusations on my listings; maybe I had hit the tipping point and they needed credentials. I was optimistic.
My Response I totally comply and send them back all the information they want and need.
Seller Performance Responds
Hello, Thank you for writing regarding your account that was recently blocked. We have reviewed this situation, and have decided not to reinstate your account. As we have indicated in our previous warning to you, listing generic or off-brand items against detail pages for specific brands is against our terms of service. Sellers are asked not to deviate from the format or product listed in our retail catalog. As stated in our policies, sellers may not list items against detail pages for different products.
Then I was hit with the WORST NEWS EVER... A denial on my appeal. My heart and stomach sink into the absolutely worse feeling ever. I just didn't understand?? I just complied with everything asked of me.. What made it worse was that: I had absolutely no idea what the problem was.. so the first email they sent states that there was a "product authenticity" issue, and now they are saying pretty much saying my listing descriptions don't match my products?
My Response Confused as ever. At this point; I just went into a straight emergency mode.. With zero idea of what to fix. I just decided that with the money they are holding from my deposits and importance of me having seller privileges long-term again; I would remove all listings and never sell these particular products again.
I was desperate; that was the only real way to comply with it all. I couldn't afford the time to go back and forth with seller performance (if they would even entertain or respond to any more of my emails since they denied the appeal) to try to figure out what the real direct problem was.. it was all or nothing at this point. How will I get rid of all the extra inventory?
I'd have to do it offline or other marketplaces like eBay... problems I will worry about later. So I prayed and prayed and sent another action plan (and prayed some more hoping they would respond).
Seller Performance Responds They respond! Whew... at least they are giving me a shot to continue my appeal. But now I'm more confused as ever. I send them an action plan and they send this:
We appreciate the information you have provided. However, a review of your account indicates you have listed against detail pages that do not accurately describe your items or are not in accordance with our Condition Guidelines.
My Response Huh? Oh... kay? So in my mind; I am thinking okay, they liked my action plan but they needed to see some action. So I go through and start executing through them, and send them an updated response.
Seller Performance Responds Same exact response as before.
My Response Okay? I must of not done enough of the action plans yet to satisfy them. Between doing removals and other things, I did about 9 out of 10 of the action steps and send a response.
Seller Performance Responds Same exact response as before.
My Response Uh.... okay? At this point; it's been over a month or so since my suspension. I am finally at a point where I just delete everything, listings, etc. and send them back my response.
Seller Performance Responds Finally a different response. They state that my account is under review! And a few days later I get a notification that my selling privileges have been reinstated. I got my deposits unfrozen and everything else with the reinstatement. It was the most bittersweet moment in a long time. On one hand; I lost a lot of my products and everything I built up for them. Completely gone. On the other hand; I am back in good standing with Amazon and can sell again.
Present Day And How I Am Doing Now
Although; I haven't completely recovered from what I was bringing in before, I am closing in fast. Luckily, during that time, I was building more brands and more products so I had a couple under the wings just about ready to launch. I was just either waiting on samples from suppliers or had already put in my first bulk order. So my recovery didn't take that long.. Thank God.
But it did mess me up cash flow wise pretty badly. Most of my money was tied into inventory; I had to liquidate the rest of that inventory offline and other marketplaces. Had to juggle a bunch of things to pay off a Kabbage loan on time while waiting on the money, etc. etc.
So... there it is folks. There's my suspension story.. What did I learn from it? Oh, man..... A LOT. Something I plan to tackle in an upcoming article. But mainly... DIVERSIFY YOUR CHANNELS AND INCOME. As soon as you possibly can.. You are playing in Amazon's play ground; they own the rules. You are riding shot gun, you are not driving. Peace of mind is a very under-estimated feeling and emotion.
Hope you enjoyed the article. I have some more fire content around FBA brewing up. The next one coming up on the batter's mound is:
- Ranking Factors of Amazon's A9 Search Algorithm
Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss it! OH... and if you have a suspension story you want to share; I'd love to hear it in the comments!