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Amazon Puts Brakes on Novelty Items

Amazon is instituting new limits on certain sellers, but different from eBay Selling limits. In Amazon’s case, it is not instituting dollar or listing caps, but rather, it is limiting sellers to the number of novelty SKUs they can list.

Amazon recently informed some sellers they were limited to 25,000 novelty SKUs, others, 100,000 novelty SKUs – that includes active and inactive SKUs as well as parent and child SKUs. Sellers in the clothing category in particular are taking a major hit as a result of the new policy.

Amazon explained, “Our goal is to help customers more easily find what they are searching for by reducing the number of novelty and similar SKUs that do not receive customer interest.”

One Amazon seller told EcommerceBytes, “We’ve had to lay off 6 people already.” Another frustrated seller wrote on the boards, “I do have to say that for a company that prides itself on being customer centric, they have just, in a flash, deprived their own customers of a huge range of products and condemned the site to be just another online store rather than somewhere you can buy anything which was, I believe, the aim.”

What are “novelty” SKUs on Amazon? Amazon states, “Novelty products typically include items that are printed after a customer places an order (i.e. print-on-demand). This can include T-shirts, posters, mugs, and other products. A product is similar to a novelty product if a seller’s listings demonstrate high volume of highly similar ASINs with only a slight variation to distinguish each product.”

One seller explained, “A lot of things are novelty now, but basically all screen printers and direct to garment printers items are. Also socks and blank apparel are novelty in some cases. I think anything not an upscale/boutique brand name is being thrown into novelty.”

For example, looking at Amazon’s Clothing & Accessories category reveals this subcategory tree: Novelty & Special Use – Novelty – “tshirts.”

Amazon added a page on its site to explain the novelty SKU limits. “For sellers who list a large number of novelty SKUs or SKUs that are similar to each other and which have not received customer interest, Amazon has instituted SKU limits. Sellers who are impacted by these limits are contacted by Amazon and expected to actively reduce their number of ASINs below their limit. Sellers who fail to do so within the allotted time may have their accounts suspended.”

It went on to recommend sellers remove products that haven’t received interest or sales in a long time. And, it said, “We will not be granting exceptions such as one-off increases to the limit or extensions for compliance. However, we will periodically review the limits.”

Sellers can pay for ads to get around these limitations, however: “If you would like Amazon customers to have access to your entire selection, we recommend you participate in Amazon Product Ads. With a Product Ads account you can list a basic variation of your product and link interested customers to the entire catalog found on your personal website.”

One seller speculated, “I think they have a deal in the works with CafePress and are trying to clear the field,” saying there must be a reason why – “a reason where they will make more money is my guess.”

Update 2/27/14: Amazon spokesperson Erik Fairleigh said, “We are always looking for ways to improve the customer experience. The change is to help customers easily find items they are looking to purchase and to encourage our Sellers to prioritize the most popular items that customers may have an interest in.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.