Amazon Rescinds UPC Exemptions to Clean Up Catalog
By Ina Steiner
Amazon's structured catalog is one of its key assets - each product sold on the site has one catalog entry that every seller of that item hooks onto. But as Amazon gives more merchants the ability to add or modify products to its catalog, that can lead to duplicates that are confusing to shoppers, and mistakes that are frustrating to sellers trying to list their items accurately.
Amazon uses a general rule that each unique product manufactured and sold to consumers must have a unique trade item number, whether it's UPC, ISBN (books), EAN (European Article Number), JAN (Japanese Article Number) or GTIN-14 (Global Trade Item Number).
In an effort to reduce duplicates on its marketplace, Amazon is rescinding some of the exemptions for UPC requirements and notified sellers last week through an email.
"Our research shows that duplicate listings caused by missing or invalid UPCs make it more difficult for customers to find, evaluate, and purchase products. To improve the customer experience, we decided to validate UPCs for new and existing listings for 300 Brands in Hardlines, Softlines, and Consumables. This extends a similar initiative in Softlines, which requires UPCs on nearly 2,500 brands in order to create new ASINs in the catalog. A complete list of the Softlines brands that require UPCs can be found in Seller Central."
Sellers discussing the changes debated how much of an impact this would have - some said because Amazon was so restrictive in granting UPC exemptions, it wouldn't have a big impact. But another seller wrote: "I'm betting there are a LOT of non-UPC items in the catalog. I'm grandfatherered in many categories, I almost never need a UPC when (I list) an item." But the seller explained that they're unable to identify which listings are impacted by the new policy ahead of time: "all of those literally 1000's of listings could go blank, and there is no way for me to know until they do that they are affected."
Amazon has "UPC Exemptions" pages in various categories. Those pages explain that some products will be suppressed if they don't have a UPC (sellers will be allowed to create the ASIN, but it will be suppressed after listing), while other products require a valid UPC when the seller tries to create the ASIN (sellers will receive an error during listing if they don't provide a valid UPC).
Included in the brands requiring UPC regardless of previous UPC exemptions include: Disney, Under Amour, Adidas, Nike, Rubbermaid, Schwinn, Evenflo, Fisher Price. Some products, including private label and specialized products, don't have UPC codes, and Amazon advises sellers who sell products that do not have UPCs to review the Amazon Brand Registry requirements.
In its letter to sellers last week, Amazon wrote:
Beginning 10/23/2013, sellers will experience the following if they list a product for one of the 300 brands:
- New submissions from sellers will require a UPC in order to create an ASIN regardless of whether the seller has a UPC exemption
- New submissions from sellers with invalid UPCs will be rejected
- Existing ASINs will continue to be active and buyable, but invalid UPCs will be removed from the respective ASINs, causing the ASINs to be suppressed from search and browse.
Be sure to read the details in Seller Central, as UPC requirements vary by category and brand.
Sellers are also currently discussing the issue of mistakes in Amazon's product catalog. A seller explains that a book they wish to send to FBA had been "updated" by another merchant to include incorrect dimensions and weight. A regular hardcover book became a heavy cube-shaped item: "Someone had altered the catalog page to make the book 20"X20"x20" and weighing 20 lbs.," they wrote, but said customer service wanted proof before they would correct the catalog.
"(Amazon) created the problem by allowing changes to their catalog go on for years and years without any monitoring and now it's a big mess," the seller wrote.
Another seller offered advice on how to get customer service to address the issue, explaining that using the term cubiscan is important: "Cubiscan is the magic word - it is an internal Amazon word for weight and dimensions, and tells them you know what you are talking about."
It's difficult to see why Amazon would choose the middle of October to address UPC requirements, just as the holiday shopping season is in full swing. But reading the discussion board thread about the issue with more examples of merchant-added mistakes to the catalog shows some action seems warranted.
Update 9/30/13: A reader sent an email response from Amazon to his query:
"On September 27, 2013 we sent approximately 42,000 sellers a reminder that items they've sold in the past will now require a UPC, regardless of any UPC exemptions.
This e-mail was sent regarding 300 brands in Hardlines, Softlines, and Consumables.
The list of brands can be found in Seller Central Help: https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/help/200663400
To determine if a brand you sell is impacted, review the two lists of brands found in Seller Central at this link: https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/help/200316920
Thank you for your efforts to improve the customer experience on Amazon.com.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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