A growing number of sellers are experiencing the unthinkable: logging in to Amazon and learning they’ve been suspended. Hopefully Amazon will never suspend your selling account, but if you ever find yourself in that position, it’s critical you know the dos and don’ts of getting reinstated.
We turn again to Amazon expert Cynthia Stine for her advice. Last month, she provided solid tips on how to avoid the problem in the first place in her guest column, How to Avoid Amazon Seller Account Suspensions.
As founder of consulting firm Online Sales Step by Step LLC, it’s her business to help merchants navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of Amazon selling. With 25 years of business, crisis, and turnaround consulting experience, she turned her attention to Amazon sellers and developed a system to analyze their mistakes, file appeals, and get their businesses back up and running.
How to Reinstate Your Suspended Amazon Seller Account
By Cynthia Stine
When Amazon suspends a seller, a banner appears at the top of the SellerCentral account in the same place you might get news about winter storms delaying shipments. Many of my clients stare and stare at that banner as if it is some kind of mistake that might change if they blink their eyes enough.
Losing this source of income for even a day is terrifying to most sellers and they send us panicked emails and texts at the wee crack of dawn because they can’t sleep. It is bad news, yes, but most of my clients will get reinstated.
10 Steps to an Appeal that Gets Accepted
After helping more than 350 sellers get their accounts and/or listings reinstated, here are 10 actions that we’ve learned work best:
1) Brevity. While some of our plans have by necessity been quite long, there was no fat in them. Don’t waste time telling Amazon what a great seller you are, your volume, your children who will starve if the business fails…just don’t. Focus on the facts. Don’t waste the reader’s time.
Use bullet points where it makes sense. You want this to be easy to skim and read. Write in short, clear sentences without a lot of adjectives or adverbs. The reader is someone in India. American English is not their first language. They only want to see what is going to change in your business.
2) Summarize. The person who decides to reinstate you not only has to read what you’ve written, they have to type up a brief report. For this reason, we provide a short summary at the top that they can cut and paste into their report.
3) Links, not attachments. When you file an appeal, the text box you are forced to use does not allow for attachments. For this reason, we provide supporting documentation such as invoices as links to a private google drive or something similar. Even if you are sending an email, we recommend links. It makes it easier for the reader.
Do NOT attach 10 files and expect your reader to figure it out. Be sure to also annotate each document with arrows, circles, etc., for clarity. Add the ASIN number by the item so it is crystal clear to the reader. Leave nothing to chance. Do not expect them to be sophisticated readers. If they can’t scan it in two seconds and figure it out, your chances of reinstatement decrease.
4) Demonstrate you understand the problem. A lot of plans I see from sellers are too generic. They don’t know why they are suspended so they can’t respond properly. They haven’t read their customer complaints or looked at their returns reports. This means their solutions are generic as well.
When we talk to sellers, we ask them where they buy their inventory, how their internal systems are set up and more to try and figure out where the breakdown is. Only then are we ready to write the appeal.
5) Realistic solutions. Some sellers try to use other seller’s plans to get reinstated. They propose solutions that make no sense for their situation because they think that’s what Amazon wants to see. Whatever you propose to Amazon you have to live by. If your solutions don’t fix the problem, you are cooked for good. Your plan will fail and you will be suspended again.
6) Plans not promises. Many plans are rejected because they are promises rather than proactive plans. It is the difference between a kid saying, “I promise never to do it again! Really!” and another saying “here’s how I’ll make sure it never happens again: 1, 2, 3…” Which kid would you believe?
A proactive plan doesn’t just cover the current issue; it covers your entire inventory. How will you make sure this problem doesn’t crop up again later with a different product? Your plan has to be broad enough to cover other products.
7) Politeness. You would think this goes without saying but…sellers get angry and say some really stupid things. Remember the reader at the other end is: 1) a human being; 2) not responsible for your current predicament; and 3) not the guy who suspended you. That was an algorithm. I’ve seen some awfully rude, demanding and entitled letters filled with disdain. Don’t do that. It doesn’t work.
8) Patience. Lately every appeal we submit gets bounced back to us quickly. We call it the “punt.” It is a stalling technique by an overworked seller performance worker to help him/her meet his metrics of 17 plans an hour (that’s the rumor we’ve heard).
By bouncing it back to you, it counts as handled and only takes a few seconds. This is very irritating to sellers, of course. I tell my clients to be patient and keep submitting the plan until someone reads it.
After the third or fourth time, many start to panic. If we didn’t have so many successful reinstatements under our belts, we’d be nervous too. Just keep responding. If they should ask for something new, give it to them. Most of the time, however, they are asking for stuff that is already in your plan. Be patient. Once they actually read your plan, there is a good chance you’ll be reinstated.
9) Repent. If you broke a rule, bought from an inauthentic source, or screwed up in some other way (according to Amazon), say you are sorry and won’t do it again. I’ve had sellers who have sold counterfeit and bought from inauthentic sources get reinstated. This is not about wearing a hair shirt and weeping. It is about being honest. “I didn’t realize that…now that I know I won’t… I regret the unhappiness this has caused Amazon’s customers.” Amazon wants to fix the problem and will forgive most infractions if the seller seems to understand what they did wrong.
10) Change, Now. Any plan you submit you have to live by. This can’t be lip service or you will be in the hot seat again soon and Amazon won’t forgive you. There is no way you can get reinstated and not change something about how you operate unless you are the rare bird wrongly accused (I’ve only seen a couple of these rare birds – you are probably not one of them, sorry).
Often I have my clients start to make those changes while they are waiting to be reinstated. They fix negative feedback, identify imperfect listings and close them until they can be fixed, they take new pictures, train their staff…in short, they take action. The plan applies to all your inventory, not just the ASINs in question. If you have a listing problem, for example, then you need to check ALL your listings and fix the problem ones. Also, my successful seller clients realize that this is a continuous process of improvement. The reinstatement is just the beginning.
The Devil in the Details
If the 10 steps are what you need to get reinstated, why do people hire outside consultants? Basically, the devil is in the details. The hard part for most sellers is really understanding why they were suspended. A lot of times they will argue with us for a while, persist in their innocence, rage at Amazon…all perfectly normal responses that interfere with writing a calm letter.
Many of them are confused by Amazon’s terminology. They don’t understand how inauthentic is different from counterfeit, for example. They are shut down for “used sold as new” and they only sell new merchandise. It makes no sense to them.
Others are defensive because they realize that they are getting dinged for how they conduct their businesses. Sellers who drop ship, for example, are very upset to realize they may have to give that up. It is the ultimate fantasy – make millions without having to buy inventory. It doesn’t work for most sellers because their partners aren’t reliable enough for Amazon’s standards. Those who buy from liquidators and the gray market are equally upset. I had one client say to me in all sincerity, “where will I buy my inventory, then?”
In addition, many of them don’t know where to look in their accounts to find answers or understand what they are looking at. This does not mean a seller has to hire someone to write their appeal, only that they should not do it alone.
I recommend for my do-it-your-selfers to have a friendly fellow seller go over the letter and look for these common pitfalls. If the letter doesn’t have a proactive plan of action, this calm reader can point that out. If there is too much hand wringing or emotional appeal, an outsider can see it better.
All aspects of a plan should be measured against whether it will fix the problem for the Amazon customer. I’ve seen some weird things in plans that told me they had clearly cut and pasted part of someone else’s plan into theirs. Don’t do that. Your plan needs to be about you, your issue and your solution. Generic approaches rarely work. That’s why we don’t cut and paste from other seller’s plans, either. Two sellers with “Used Sold as New” will have completely different plans because their businesses are different and how they got those claims will be different.
Amazon knows why they suspended you. They have a pretty good idea that you buy from liquidators, drop-shippers, China, retail stores, the gray market, etc. They suspect that you don’t have real invoices and they are really, really good at detecting fakes (don’t fake your invoices, please. It makes my job so much harder). They are rarely wrong when it comes to fraud, embezzlement, counterfeit and stolen goods. If your plan doesn’t match what they think is going on in your account, they won’t reinstate you. That is why it is so important to be honest in your plan. They will forgive a lot from an honest seller, but nothing from a suspected liar.
Next – and I see this a lot with FBA sellers – sellers aren’t paying attention to the customer’s complaints. They will sell and sell and sell a faulty product until they are suspended. FBA sellers rarely have to deal with the customer so they are distanced from their complaints. After they are suspended, they need to investigate their account thoroughly.
The same reports I recommend for suspension prevention help with reinstatement. Every seller should look at:
Performance metrics. Merchant-fulfilled sellers have the most issues with performance metrics. Luckily Amazon puts all those metrics on the dashboard so it is pretty easy to see what’s going on. In addition, it is easy to show improvement and – for the most part – easy to get reinstated with a good plan. If you are having serious problems, you may find that switching part or all of your inventory to FBA can make all the difference.
Imperfect orders report. This is your roadmap to where your customers have complained so you can figure it out (negative feedback, A-Z claims, returns, messages).
Returns reports. There are two if you sell both FBA and MF. Read the returns reasons carefully and see if you can figure out what is going on.
Customer messages. If your buyers are sending you unhappy emails, there’s a lot of information to be mined for your reinstatement appeal.
Negative Seller Feedback. Be sure to look at all your negative feedback including those you were able to get removed. The Amazon search ‘bots still read those.
A-Z claims. Usually these are very specific and helpful.
Amazon policies. How many sellers do you think actually read the contract they signed with Amazon? You know, the one that is 60+ pages when printed out? Yep. Time to revisit that monster. Many times when I tell a seller something is against Amazon policy, they are surprised.
While reading a contract is tedious, all sellers need to understand what they agreed to. Amazon is holding you accountable to that contract. Quite a few of our clients are suspended because of policy violations and Amazon is not sympathetic to “I didn’t know…”
If these don’t provide enough insight, then the next step is to go to the unhappy buyers and ask them how you could have made their experience 5-star. Really listen to what they are saying about their experience and think about what you can do in your operations to address that need. Don’t blame it on Amazon (“they aren’t shipping my packages well enough!”) and don’t blame it on the buyer (“they’re stupid and not reading the listing!”). Your job is to fix the problem despite these facts.
This is where all your creativity as a business person comes in. We have helped our clients work out many solutions for imperfect products or shipping problems. We’ve helped them reach oblivious buyers and take Amazon fulfillment centers to task for poor packaging. When you are focused on fixing the problem, your plan of action becomes clear and then you can write about it.
A client of mine recently had an issue where a customer complained that they got the wrong size shoe. They ordered “regular” and got “D.” He said to me “D is regular! What am I supposed to do about this?” I helped him write a nice letter to the buyer apologizing for the confusion and clarifying that she got the correct size. Then I suggested he update the listing to explain the sizes. Some women are not as familiar with men’s shoe sizes. A short guide to shoe sizes will greatly reduce complaints like this in the future. He did it. Why? Because he never wants to get suspended again. He can’t afford any unhappy buyers on his account right now.
This is what Amazon expects of its sellers – listen to the buyer. Fix the problem.
Evil Seller Tricks
Most sellers I talk to either think everything that is happening in their account is the result of an evil seller (competitor), or nothing that is happening is due to an outsider. My cynics and optimists, basically. The truth is somewhere in between. There ARE malicious sellers who go way beyond normal competitiveness and violate Amazon policies in order to take out other sellers. These guys cause a lot of harm and should be beaten like a rug on a clothesline.
On the other hand, Amazon doesn’t like excuses or whiners. For most of my clients we focus on getting them reinstated first and then go after the evil seller. If there is solid proof that another seller played a role in the issue, then we might present that as part of the situational analysis, but it can’t be the whole plan. We still present a thorough plan of action. The point of a plan is to prevent something from happening in the future. Even if you are not in the wrong in this case, Amazon still wants to see what you will do to avoid the problem coming up.
After looking at a lot of scenarios, I’ve concluded that most of my clients were vulnerable in the first place. Their practices made it easy for an evil seller to tip their applecart. In other words, there were already things wrong with their accounts. In their plans of action, we talk about how to fix the issues that made them vulnerable. We look at everything that is going on.
I had one client whose competition kept dinging him with inauthentic and claiming he was not an authorized reseller of his product. He was authorized and had official letters from the manufacturer to prove it. Every time we presented these to Amazon, he (or sometimes it was just the listing) was reinstated. It annoyed him immensely to keep proving this over and over again, losing time and sales while the issue was hashed over. Neither Seller Support nor Seller Performance was able to make the accusations stop.
We came up with the idea of talking to someone high up in Amazon about the issue and arranged a meeting with a senior vice president at a conference. One quick conversation and a phone call later, and the matter was settled. My client’s account was permanently annotated. We prepared for weeks to communicate the issue succinctly, clearly and quickly.
My client was vulnerable for several reasons. He had merchant-fulfilled performance issues (a previous suspension), product quality issues (another suspension) and other competitive issues that had shut him down (his last suspension). It was hard for him to get Amazon to pay attention to what he was saying. His credibility was shot. I’ve seen this with several clients who’ve used up their Amazon goodwill. When there is a dispute with another seller, Amazon will not take their side.
My clients hate when I say it, but you have to get reinstated first. Your credibility is already low because you are suspended. It is an ugly catch-22.
My final advice about getting yourself reinstated is to not give up. Most “sins” are forgivable. If you are denied or banned, it means your plan was not enough…not that you’ll never get reinstated. There are exceptions in the case of fraud and criminal activity, of course, but most of my clients have product quality or performance issues. Sellers can recover from most policy violations as well. If your plan is denied, try again with a better, clearer plan.
About the Guest Columnist:
Cynthia Stine is also an influential blogger and the author of two popular books, “Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect Your Amazon Seller Account,” and “Make Thousands on Amazon in 10 Hours a Week” – you can read more at SuspensionPrevention.com.
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