My Amazon Listing Suspension
The main focus on our blog is to assist importers in dealing with China. However, we've recently branched out to include Amazon focused topics as well, as it is clear this is becoming a major area of interest and revenue for a lot of private label sellers.
This article was written by Eric Barrett, a fantastic client who we've been working closely with to organize all of his suppliers and productions neatly in preparation for the sale of his current Amazon business. This is his horror story of having his Amazon account suspended. After the successful conclusion of getting one of his listings reinstated, I welcomed Eric to share his story of the process on our blog. Enjoy.
Amazon Account Suspended! My Amazon FBA Listing Suspension & Reinstatement Story.
I remember it vividly: I flipped open my MacBook Pro, pulled up my email window and saw an email from Amazon’s Seller Performance Policy department with the subject, “NOTICE: Policy Warning”. Even though I didn’t know what it was about, my heart skipped a beat and I tentatively clicked on the message. Here is what it read:
We have removed your listing because of a buyer complaint about the condition of an item they received from you. Your listing will remain inactive until we can work with you to resolve the concern.
Complaint Type: Inauthentic Items
To maintain a trusted marketplace for buyers and sellers, we take immediate action when we identify a buyer complaint regarding the condition and authenticity of products.
What you can do
If you believe this was in error and would like your listing reinstated, email XXXXXXX@amazon.com
and let us know. When you respond, include the following:
For Authenticity complaints:
- Copies of invoices or receipts from your supplier issued in the last 180 days. These should reflect your sales volume during that time.
- Your supplier’s contact information including name, phone number, email address, business address, and website.
- Any additional details you feel would be helpful.
You can remove pricing information, but make sure the rest of the document is visible. You can send us a pdf, jpg, png, or gif file.
Please be assured that your distributor’s or supplier’s contact information will remain confidential - Amazon puts great effort in maintaining the confidentiality of our customer's information.
For all other complaints:
A plan of action that contains the following:
- What is the issue that caused the complaint.
- Steps you have taken to resolve the issue and ensure similar complaints won’t happen again in the future.
- Any additional details you feel would be helpful.
What happens next:
We’ll review the information you send and get back to you with an answer as soon as possible. When we respond, we may ask you for additional details or to revise your plan of action. If we can confirm the information you provide and your plan of action sufficiently addresses the complaint, we will reinstate your listing on your behalf immediately.
Please remember that additional complaints about your listings may result in the removal of your Amazon selling privileges.
Sellers should understand our policies regarding product condition. To learn more, search “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions”, “Product Detail Page Rules”, and “Condition Guidelines” in Seller Central Help.
Still have questions? You can ask our Seller Support team: Contact us (https://sellercentral.amazon.com/hz/contact-us/performance).
We appreciate your cooperation and thank you for selling on Amazon.
Seller Performance Team
Confusion City. Population: Me
Needless to say, my pulse quickened, as I've never had my Amazon account suspended! I opened my browser to confirm that my listing was actually removed. When I logged into my seller central account I saw this icon next to my listing:
After confirming that my listing was indeed blocked, I re-read the email no less than 10 times because I was thoroughly confused. The ASIN that was removed was a private label product that I had been selling for over a year. It had about 400 reviews—all 5 star reviews.How in the world could I be selling “inauthentic” items when my private label product and registered US Trademarked logo DEFINE authentic? It just didn’t make sense to me. Since I was the sole owner, manufacturer and seller of this item, how in the heck could it ever be considered inauthentic?
After those exact thoughts ran through my head, I fired off a reply to the Amazon email account that contained the required invoices, the contact info for my suppliers and my thoughts on this whole situation and how it was absolutely impossible for me to sell inauthentic items since as the owner of the product, I alone dictate what is authentic!
I was pretty confident any logical person would understand my thought process and accept the items I provided for proof of authenticity. Boy, was I wrong!
I received this reply from Amazon not 25 minutes after I sent my email:
Thank you for responding to our request for information. However, we still need more information regarding:
Title: PRODUCT NAME
What you can do
Email email@example.com and include the following:
Copies of receipts or invoices which:
a) Clearly identify the specific item(s) under review
b) Demonstrate purchase and listing quantities
c)Invoices should be authentic and unaltered
d)The receipts or invoices should display required information, including supplier and buyer information, invoice date, and item(s) descriptions and quantities
e) The invoices were issued in the last 180 days.
Please note, we DO NOT accept Commercial Invoice/PROFORMA INVOICE/Order Confirmation/Purchasing List/Contract Document/Delivery Report as proof of authentication.
Now I was worried. Specifically, about item C regarding unaltered and authentic invoices as they relate to the last sentence of the email. ALL of my invoices from my suppliers that were sent electronically had the word PROFORMA INVOICE on them. Also, some of the invoices were missing my full address and one was missing a date.
I was between the proverbial rock and a hard place. One of the invoices I had was a PDF so I couldn’t adjust it, and even the 4 invoices that were in Excel format which I could adjust, would go directly against their instruction of providing unaltered and authentic invoices. I really just wanted to open the invoices in excel, delete the PROFORMA word, and add the date and address on the invoices that were missing this data. This would meet their requirements, but in doing so it would also violate their rules since I would have to alter the invoices to achieve these results.
I still couldn't believe that I had my Amazon account suspended!
What would you do?
What did I do?
Well, I played by the letter of their law: I sent the invoices "as is" and explained that I could only send them what I had, since every single invoice I’ve ever received from any supplier had the word “Proforma” preceding the word “Invoice”, so that’s what I sent. I didn’t want to risk altering the invoice because I did a quick google search of digital document authenticity which revealed plethora of information regarding forensic programs that Amazon could use to find out not only the time of modification of any digital file, but the PC used to modify it, the GPS coordinates of the PC used, the author, the time zone, the region, which program was used, etc.
In short, it would be nearly impossible to alter a digital invoice to meet their requirements and think it would go unnoticed by Amazon; a company of limitless resources that is almost guaranteed to have some form of digital forensics application at their disposal.
After authoring an eloquent email explaining my predicament, and suggesting that if they have questions on the invoices, my suppliers would be more than happy to talk to them and verify ANY information they needed, in real time via skype, telephone, or email. I again provided them with the contact info for each supplier and explained these suppliers were standing by to not only answer any of their inquiries but also to vouch for the authenticity of me and my product. (I actually did ask my suppliers if they would be willing to take a call from Amazon to answer questions and they all agreed!)
After proof reading my email, adding a few more instances of “please”’ and explaining that I was really trying my very best to provide them with what they needed without violating any rules, I hit the SEND button and waited.
While I waited, I googled Amazon listing removal and other similar keywords. At this point I was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Not even 10 minutes later I received this reply from Amazon and my nightmare officially began:
Thank you for responding to our request for information. After reviewing the information that you have provided, we have determined that you may not offer these items on our site. We have removed your listings for these items.
What you can do
Refrain from re-listing these products once you have been notified of a restriction.
What happens next
Please remember that additional restrictions or complaints about your listings may result in the removal of your Amazon selling privileges.
We appreciate your cooperation.
Seller Performance Team
The Death of a Product
After reading this aloud multiple times to ensure I was actually reading it correctly, and in utter disbelief, I confirmed that this very short and terse email just effectively ended one of my very profitable SKUs. My Amazon account was truly suspended.
I was flabbergasted. Completely floored. It may have hit me so incredibly hard because that very day my largest shipment of this particular product to date had just hit Amazon’s warehouse. 3,000 new units had just arrived from my supplier in China. Over $60,000 of potential revenue down the drain in one fell swoop. I don’t recall ever feeling that distraught and helpless in my entire business career, which is well over 25 years. I had many other SKUs that were selling very well, but I had just put a lot of work into this one by designing new, expensive-looking packaging, a redesigned feature that I paid a lot of money for from an industrial designer, and a new solo ad campaign that I had just signed a multi-month agreement for.
I was now visibly shaking and feeling nauseous. I fired off another email to Amazon essentially begging them to take a step back, and recognize the catch-22 I was in with regard to the issue of invoice authenticity. I had the invoices they required, but according to their rules I couldn’t change anything to ensure these invoices complied with their requirements. Here is the email that was sent back to me:
Based on the information you provided, you may not sell these items on Amazon.com. We removed your listings for these items:
Please do not relist these items. If we receive more complaints about your listings, we may not allow you to sell on Amazon.com.
We may not respond to further emails about this issue.
Seller Performance Team
The sentence that read, “We may not respond to further emails about this issue” was a not-so-subtle directive for me to stop bothering them with the same information once they’d already passed judgment.
In desperation, I opened the invoices in Excel, made the required changes and attached them to a new email stating that I have included the invoices with the required parameters. I also showed how each invoice, and the quantity shipped, correlated to the number of sales that were made in that 180 day time period, as requested. Again, Amazon replied quickly with the exact same email as the previous one. It seems they had made up their mind and the decision was final.
Customer Service Extraordinaire
At this point, I was determined to prove my innocence. I went back and look at everything that may have caused this disaster and traced it back to 3 customers who received my product without the logo printed on it. It seems that the cut-rate inspection company I used in China had missed a few units that had either no logo, or a faded logo. I should have known better, as I usually have Guided Imports do all my sourcing, negotiating, inspection, prep and shipping and have never had a single issue in 3 years, Well, since I decided to handle the re-order of this product on my own, because it was just that; a RE-order of an existing product, I got burned. This logo fiasco was enough for the customers to give seller feedback saying they had received a “generic looking” product. It turns out those words are an absolute killer. Specifically, the word, “Generic” is something that sets off the alarm at Amazon Seller Performance Department. And very loudly!
I contacted each of these customers and offered to send them a new product at no charge to make things right. I also implied it would be a great help to me if when they received the new product, and were satisfied, that I would be eternally grateful if they removed the negative feedback.
This worked for 2 of the 3 customers!
My email was very apologetic and stressed that we take great pride in customer service and that even the exclusion of our logo on a product is an egregious error and we will make it right at any cost. I offered my direct phone number to each of them and implored them to call me if the offer of a free replacement was not satisfactory.
One customer did call me and was so over the top angry that his unit had no logo, he said a new unit wouldn’t sway him to delete his negative feedback. So I offered to refund his money AND send him a new unit at no charge. That changed his tune. In fact, he gushed about what fantastic customer service this was. Fun side note: I swear I sensed a bit of multiple personality disorder in this particular customer, as the mood swing was extreme on both ends of the spectrum...all in the span of 2 minutes. But hey, as long as he ended up in the extreme mania/joyful phase of that pendulum swing, I was satisfied!
Time to Call in the Big Guns
After those 2 customers removed their feedback, I decided to hire a professional to help me get my listing reinstated. I did some more google searches and came up with 2-3 services that specialize in this exact situation. One of them was Cynthia Stine, the proven guru of all things Amazon reinstatement. However, after a cursory glance at the fee structure on her site, I foolishly thought I’d try someone less expensive. This would prove to be one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I completely misunderstand the fee’s, but it turns out that it would have been the SAME cost as the amateurs I hired initially.
Honestly, looking back now, I have no idea why I didn’t use Cynthia initially, even if she was 2x as expensive (which was NOT the case) as I knew how important my Amazon business was and that I likely would only have one additional shot at reinstatement. Especially after Amazon stated they may not reply to further emails from me on the subject. But, for some unknown reason, my misguided propensity for thrift outweighed my desire to hire the best to accomplish this important task and I wound up wasting money on a second-rate service. And the kicker? In my quest to save money, I ended up paying more than I would have if I went with Cynthia first!
The first company I hired required a payment of $500 before they would help me. Considering everything that my listing meant to me, it was a reasonable price. After receiving their suggestions and requirements I was fairly confident I’d made a good choice. That feeling faded fast. When they helped author the email and attach the necessary files, they forgot to attach the invoices. When I brought this up and expressed concern that the invoices still had the errors on them (Proforma, lack of full address, missing date) they said it should be ok and I could ask my supplier for new ones but it shouldn’t matter.
It did matter.
Amazon sent the exact same email as the last 2 they had sent. I was not happy.
I quickly told them I was done with them and that I was very disappointed in the way they handled my situation. They did not reply. I then did a few things I should have done earlier: I hired Cynthia Stine, and I registered my brand in the Amazon Brand Registry.
I knew that I was probably a LONG shot to be reinstated at this point. After receiving the exact same denial reply from Amazon 3 times in a row, I didn’t have high hopes at this point. However, after signing up for her service and receiving a thorough reply back, my confidence was bolstered. Cynthia and her team are very detail oriented and after sending them all of my current correspondence up to that point, they also did a complete audit of my seller central customer feedback and responses as well as all of the previous submittals and denials.
I was then contacted by one of her staff and he gave me a list of instructions that were exactly what I thought I would need to have a genuine chance at reinstatement. I ended up contacting my suppliers and having them re issue all of my invoices in the correct format. Once this was done, Cynthia’s team crafted a very detailed and professional email with a well thought out plan of action that they covered with me prior to writing the email.
When everything was done and ready to go, they sent a final email with instructions on how to link the required files as well as guidance on what the email should say and how it should be formatted to be most effective.
After sending off the email, the waiting game began. 48 hours later, I received the following email from Amazon:
After reviewing the information that you provided, we have determined that you may continue to offer these items on Amazon.com:
Title: PRODUCT NAME
If we receive more complaints about your listings, we may not allow you to sell on Amazon.
Manufacturers can enroll their brand in the Amazon Brand Registry and register themselves as the brand owner. The goal of Amazon Brand Registry is to make it easier for sellers to manage their brands and list their products on Amazon.
To learn about enrolling your brand, search for "Amazon Brand Registry" In Seller Central Help.
Seller Performance Team
Initially, I thought it was another denial because it looks almost exactly like the last 4 emails I’d received from Amazon, with one important difference: the word NOT was not in the first sentence of this email!
I think I read that email 5-10 times just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I was ecstatic! I immediately emailed Cynthia’s team and thanked them for their help. If you can’t tell, I’m VERY high on her service and her team. I signed up to be an affiliate for her services after I was reinstated on Amazon because I am so eager to help spread the word to others who may be in a similar situation and are having the same feelings of helplessness and anxiety that I was feeling.
Also, another thing I did after this happened, was I reached out to Sam at Guided Imports. Since they continuously work on all of my products I bring over from China, I thought I’d give him a heads up so he could implement some safeguards that would prevent this from happening to any of his customers. He was very appreciative, just as I was appreciative that he didn't say, "I told you so", because he did in fact recommend that I let him handle the reorders due to the fact that he has seen similar situations happen in the past with other customers who wanted to handle their re-orders. We went through all processes and documentation to make sure the invoices Guided Imports are receiving are entirely in accordance with these requirements. So rest assured, if you want to have a company manage all aspects of your sourcing, manufacturing and logistics, plus make sure something like this never happens to you, talk to Guided Imports and let them handle the re-orders!
LESSONS LEARNED AND TIPS FOR SUCCESS
I thought I’d wrap this up by providing an easy to reference list of best practices you can put in place to ensure you never have to deal with having your listing blocked by Amazon. In the interest of appeasing the ever growing “TLDR” gang, (google it) I decided to format this in a bulleted list.
- Register your brand if you are selling private label products. Aside from Amazon specifically telling me to do this in one of their emails, the benefit’s to doing this are:
- Increased authority over listing content for your products: Registering your brand with Amazon gives you increased control over your products' titles, details, images, and other attributes. It also has the potential to reduce matching errors that may occur during listing.
- Amazon-issued product IDs that can be used in place of UPCs: Registering your brand allows you to list your products without standard product identifiers, such as UPCs and EANs. Enrollment assigns a Global Catalog Identifier (GCID) to your products, which you can use in place of the standard product ID. (Although we recommend that you continue to include your products' standard IDs if they exist.)
- Stay on top of customer feedback. If you see a trend, head it off before it becomes an issue that Amazon is forced to address. You have to have a fundamental understanding that Amazon’s key to their existence is protecting their customer base, NOT, keeping their sellers happy. Thus, sellers can and will be suspended for actions that may or may not be their fault. The customer drives this ship. Be hyper-aware of this and make customer service your focus.
- If your listing is banned or suspended, do NOT respond to them yourself. Your business is worth the investment to hire a professional. This usually costs around $500 for a single reinstatement letter. A very small price to pay to keep your listing! And of course, if you know by now, hire the best first: Cynthia Stine. Don’t make the mistake I did by trying to save a buck and hiring someone else. I was extremely lucky that my mistake didn’t cost me my listing.
- Ensure that your suppliers are providing invoices that meet Amazon’s requirements should they ask you to provide them. This will proactively ensure you are well prepared if Amazon requires you to provide them. The requirements are:
- Clearly identify the specific item(s) under review
- Demonstrate purchase and listing quantities
- Invoices should be authentic and unaltered
- The receipts or invoices should display required information, including supplier and buyer information, invoice date, and item(s) descriptions and quantities
- The invoices were issued in the last 180 days.
- Please note, we DO NOT accept Commercial Invoice/PROFORMA INVOICE/Order Confirmation/Purchasing List/Contract Document/Delivery Report as proof of authentication.
- If you sell private label products, trademarking your brand is important to retaining control over your business. This is especially helpful if other sellers try to hijack your listing. Also a requirement if you ever plan to sell your Amazon business someday. I used Legal Zoom and was very happy.
- Keep a very close watch on your Seller Performance notifications. That’s where Amazon directly messages you for product-specific, listing specific, or account specific issues to give you a heads up on anything that puts your account in danger of suspension.
- When ordering more than one product from a supplier, make sure they put each product on its own invoice. This will save you a HUGE headache if Amazon requests invoices for one product, but not the other(s).
- Use an inspection company! Do not ship your products from China to Amazon without having them inspected by a 3rd party. There are a few good Chinese inspection companies. Make sure to inspect your products BEFORE they are shipped and before you pay the final invoice. There should be language in your supplier agreement regarding defects, inspection findings, etc.
- Audit product information to ensure it matches Amazon’s policies
- Become familiar with Amazon policies & agreements (you’ve agreed to them after all)
- Follow Amazon news to make sure Amazon hasn’t updated any requirements
If you’re familiar with all of Amazon’s rules, it’s easier to avoid breaking them, and you’ll have more wiggle room to negotiate when you’re suspended
In the end, it was a learning experience for me. A costly one both mentally and monetarily, but at least I learned a valuable lesson and am now far more careful and diligent in my day to day business activities and customer satisfaction focus. I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone, but if you happen to find yourself in a similar predicament, even after following all of the best practices, do yourself and your business a favor and retain the services of a professional who has a >90% success rate—Cynthia Stine. She handles ASIN Reinstatement, Hourly Consults, and Account Suspension. Basically, if Amazon blocked, suspended, or removed your account or listing, she is your best chance of success!