Today I’m thrilled to have Cynthia Stine on the show. Cynthia is someone I met at the Import Summit last year and she runs a site called OnlineSalesStepByStep.com where she offers a variety of very unique services related to Amazon.
She’s has worked with hundreds of Amazon sellers over the years and she specializes in helping companies get out of the Amazon penalty box.
If you’re ever suspended, Cynthia will help you get unsuspended.
If a dirty seller is purposely trying to sabotage you, Cynthia can help.
If want to know all of the tips and tricks on how to keep your Amazon account clean, Cynthia is your woman.
Enjoy the interview!
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What You’ll Learn
- The most common reason why a seller gets banned
- Some things to watch out to prevent getting banned
- Evil things sellers are doing and what can you do about it
- What you have to do to get reinstated
- The primary thing that private label sellers selling FBA have to worry about
Other Resources And Books
- Consult with Cynthia
- Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect Your Amazon Seller Account
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Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. Today I’m thrilled to have Cynthia Stine on the show. Cynthia is someone I met at the Import Summer last year, and she runs a site called onlinesalesstepbystep.com, where she offers a variety of very unique services related to Amazon. She’s worked with hundreds of Amazon sellers over the years, and she specializes in helping companies get out of the Amazon penalty box.
If you are ever suspended, Cynthia will help you get unsuspended. If a dirty seller purposely try to sabotage you Cynthia can help, and if you want to know all the tips and tricks on how to keep your Amazon account clean, Cynthia is your woman as well. She also has a book out called Suspension Prevention: Get Reinstated and Protect your Amazon Seller Account, of which I own a coveted and personally signed copy. With that welcome to the show Cynthia, how are you doing today?
Cynthia: Hi, good morning?
Steve: Good morning. Helping people’s accounts get reinstated is very niche, and very random in my mind, so can you give us a quick background story on how you got started helping people get their accounts reinstated.
Cynthia: Sure, I’ve been an Amazon seller since 2010, and before that I was a business consultant. I’ve been doing crisis work, turnaround work, all kinds of communications work for over 25 years, and then I got to selling on Amazon and I wrote my first book about how to get started selling on Amazon, and as a offshoot to that I would do some consulting on the side. That was fun and few hours a months whatever, and in 2014 some of my clients started coming to me who had been suspended, and they said can you help us. I thought well I’ll do my best.
I started helping them get reinstated, and I saw a lot of different situations, and so in February of 2015 I put up my little e-shingle as it were, and I said hey I do this as well, I do reinstatements and I wrote a couple of blog post about it, and I mean wow, the doors just blew off. I had no idea that there was such a huge demand. I was by myself, in March of 2015, by this time last year I had brought out a business partner, and now at this time that I’m talking to you we have 7 people in the US, and 14 in the Philippines, and we are all working very hard to help our customers, our sellers keep their accounts clean.
I have sort of a maintenance and a preventative aspect of what I do. Then for those who are suspended, of course we get them reinstated, and so that’s and then somehow in, I don’t know I had no sleep last summer, somehow in the dead of night last summer I also wrote that book Suspension Prevention, and I did that because there were so many sellers who just had no clue what was going on, and why Amazon was doing this, because Amazon didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t put out a memo, they didn’t say here’s we are about to tweak the algorithm, and here’s what it means.
They didn’t do any of that, and they didn’t put anything on the dashboard for us to look at either. Most split sellers and most of my clients are very good sellers, they religiously check their dashboards everyday to make sure their metrics are in line with Amazon expectations. They would have these great metrics, green, green, 100, 100, and they were getting suspended, and they were bewildered and of course upset.
That’s what my book was about, was just trying to get people to see what was going on and help them be aware, so they didn’t have to be suspended to find out what was going on, and so that’s also why I’ve been speaking and out there is not to sell my book, because that’s not where I make my money. It is to help people get ahead of what could be a potential problem in their account. That’s the gospel according to Cynthia, and that’s what my team is all about, and we all feel the same way about it I guess, which is we’re all focused on helping sellers and 4 of us, consultants are sellers ourselves.
Steve: Okay, that was my next question; you are still selling physical products today?
Cynthia: Yes. Now, obviously I have automated my business 100%, and it’s much smaller than it was, because I just can’t give it – I mean Timothy Ferriss talks about the 4 hour work week. When it comes to selling on Amazon it’s more like a 1 hour work month, I just have not given it the time that I can, but it’s still very important to me to sell on Amazon, because as someone who has run several consulting companies over the years I know there’s a life cycle to them, and I want to be able to sell again one day when maybe this tuff dies out.
Steve: Have you ever been suspended yourself?
Cynthia: No. Luckily and honestly it would be a horror if I ever was, because everything that I teach my clients to do I make sure that my team is doing on my account as well. So we are very– We keep a really close eye on my tiny account.
Steve: Okay, I was just thinking it from the perspective of like in order to know it works you should get suspended yourself and then get reinstated, but…
Cynthia: No, no, no I don’t– all that we do is just give me even greater empathy for my clients, but I actually have seen hundreds of different ways to get suspended, which is I put them in my book and I talk about them, and I write about things in my blog. What happens is Amazon will, they had a huge tweak to the algorithm last spring, but since then they’ve had little tweaks every couple of weeks, and I know they have done something new, because we’ll get a rush of sellers who all look the same.
Like there was one week where we had like 5 sellers who sold pearl jewelry. [inaudible 00:07:41] we hadn’t had any jewelry in quite a while, and then all of a sudden we get 5, all for the same reason. I’m like oh tweaked the algorithm I see, and that’s how it goes, so like we had a whole bunch of people suspended for improper product review programs.
Steve: Okay, I want to touch in all this stuff eventually yeah.
Cynthia: Okay yeah. Again, it was like oh, oh Amazon has tweaked the algorithm, and so well we had had sellers all along who were getting suspended for product reviews, but when you get a bunch in a row you know that there’s something going on. So the tweaking of the algorithm as I call it is something that goes on constantly at Amazon.
Steve: One of my biggest fears is waking up one day to my Amazon account dead in the water, and so you mention a bunch of reasons so far about how you can get suspended. What are some of the things that have been happening recently on why people have been getting suspended, and I also want to touch on how you can prevent all that stuff from happening.
Cynthia: Okay, well so basically some of the things that we’ve seen just in the last few weeks is we’ve seen people getting suspended for their product review programs.
Steve: Okay, let’s talk about that.
Cynthia: Yeah, so let’s start with that. What happened a few weeks ago was that sellers were getting suspended for their product review programs, and they were actually naming names in the suspension, which I have never seen before. They named AMZ Trader Tracker, anyway they named them, and the reason for the suspension. I was just shocked because I have never seen that before. Then basically what they are coming down on sellers for in this case was excessive giveaways, there was too many giveaways, and then…
Steve: What does excessive mean?
Cynthia: Well wouldn’t it be nice if they would tell us that, because here’s what we’ve discovered by trial and error, it’s less than 20%. If you are selling 100 units a day for example, you can’t give away 20 or more products a day, so this is what we’ve just learnt by trial and error. So I have my clients experimenting with between 15% and 20% to see if we can find the magic number in the algorithm, but anyway so you have to give away less than 20% of your volume of sales, and that’s…
Steve: What does that mean if you are first starting out, then you have no sales, no sales history at all?
Cynthia: Right, and that’s a different case, so what we’ve seen– we haven’t seen anybody shut down for excessive sales who is just launching a product. These are guys who have been selling this product day in and day out, months, years and they just constantly do product review giveaways, right just the concept part of the marketing campaign. Amazon knows you are going to do a big [inaudible 00:10:40] to launch a product. I don’t know where the cut off is where it stops being a launch, and starts being a pattern, do you know what I mean?
Steve: Yeah sure.
Cynthia: But I would say from what I’ve seen anyway, I think most people can feel pretty comfortable having a big push in the first month of a new product, that Amazon is not going to– as long as they see that this starts converting to real sales, they will understand what you are doing. If most of the so called sales of your product are all giveaways and it doesn’t start to shift to real sales, then they are going to say that something is wrong, like maybe your product is crappy.
I do tell people if you are going to run a product review program, make sure that it’s a comprehensive plan, don’t just rely on getting reviews on the platform, you should be trying to promote and support your product on Facebook, on Pinterest if it’s a visual product, on everything you can think of Reddit, LinkedIn. Maybe not LinkedIn but you should really look at trying to get people to write blogs about it, and just do a sort of a traditional marketing campaign around that product, and build a fun base.
I think that’s just smart anyway, because anytime you can capture someone’s email off the Amazon platform, well they are yours for life, so you can the next time you launch a product why you can market to them. This just makes sense on every level, but it is hard work and people don’t want to do it, and so some of them they just focus on, okay I’m going to save all this money into a product review program. The other reason that they get…
Steve: Would you say that these large scale review programs are pretty much dead then?
Cynthia: No, what’s happening is they are changing, so AMZ Review Tracker, for example coincidentally after that week when so many sellers were suspended changed their policy. One of the policies that they– one of the things that they were doing that Amazon came down on was what we call super URLs.
Steve: Okay right.
Cynthia: Manipulation of the platform is another reason that people were getting suspended, and that’s again where you try to force the browser experience by putting in the keywords into the URL, so they are not naturally going out to the platform and looking for your product, they are they are using specific keywords. Basically a lot of review programs have cut that out, because I think Amazon has spoken pretty clearly on that being against policy. That’s what they call manipulation of the platform.
There are other ways that people manipulate the platform, and one of them is to try to hide that the products were given away for free or for a dollar. If they don’t put the disclaimer that says, “Hey I got this product for – I did this count in exchange for an honest review,” they are not only violating Amazon’s policy, but they are violating FCC policy, and Amazon has a zero tolerance policy for this. What happens with my clients who were suspended is they have to do what I call confess and repent, and so they have to admit what they did wrong, and then they have to provide Amazon the list of the reviews that violated policy.
Steve: My goodness, okay.
Cynthia: Another violation that I see is people who do like a lot of these reviews, Facebook groups, or review programs, and I’m talking about the reviewers now. A lot of times they’ll go out and put a review up before they even receive the product, like the review will appear the next day, and that’s because they are obligated to write a review.
They are getting this product for cheap, and they are obligated to write reviews, so some of them are just highly efficient, and they just get it out there because they don’t give a crap about what they are saying. Amazon of course doesn’t like that either. I had a client recently where we had the spreadsheet, and it was just hundreds and hundreds of lines long of reviews that violate policy. Either because they were written too close to the purchase, or they didn’t use the disclaimer. And literally all those reviews are — I mean I’m talking hundreds maybe a thousand are wiped out. Because when Amazon gets that spreadsheet, they are going to remove all of them from my client’s products.
And they will most likely shut down the reviewer as well, which means they will remove all the reviews by that reviewer throughout the platform. So that means that I may wake up one day and suddenly a bunch of reviews are gone from my site. No, I’m not in trouble, but it’s because these reviewers were violating policy on somebody else’s account. So…
Steve: So what’s your policy on using review groups? Because I imagine a lot of review groups have people like this person who got banned, right? Like the reviewer I mean.
Cynthia: Yes, well and that’s the thing, so what — here is the thing. People think oh I’ll just do a group and it will be efficient and cheap and easy and all this stuff. But what you really need to do is keep track of the reviews that are written. You need to keep track of when they bought the product, when they wrote the review, if they complied with Amazon’s rules. So you still need to keep a track of it.
And I would say this for people who are doing large scale campaigns this is going to be a daily event. Where you are literally going to have to review your reviews, and then for violators go after them nicely, but immediately. And say, “Oh maybe you are thinking of a different product, because you reviewed our product and you haven’t even received it yet.” Or you have to say, “Oh I noticed that you didn’t include the disclaimer, could you please include the disclaimer.” So it becomes the seller’s job to police their own reviews. So you can’t abdicate that.
Steve: At any event that they don’t do what you are asking at least you have the record that you tried right, is that the idea?
Cynthia: Yes, and this is where it gets a little effie, because I haven’t quite figured out like what the seller should do. So let’s say that the problem is — I mean here is my belief that the seller should turn in the reviewer if they don’t comply. So if you send them a friendly email or write them a note, and they don’t comply within a couple of days, you are obligated to turn them in to Amazon.
Steve: How do you do that?
Cynthia: Basically I would either — this is another thing I haven’t quite figured out. I would probably just send them email to seller performance.
Steve: Okay that’s interesting. So you are having your clients do all these things now, like review all the reviews and proactively…
Cynthia: Well we are starting to. Right now there is nothing that makes it really easy right now. I know Seller Labs has a product that’s coming out, but they are launching very soon, which I think will really help automate this process. It will work a lot like their Feedback Genius where you will be notified when you get a product review. And you can filter it if you just want to see the negative reviews, right? Most of my clients who are running review programs; they are going to want to see all of their reviews, because again they have to check them for compliance.
This is a service that we are starting to offer our clients where we do the TDS checking everyday part, and it’s I guess in beta if you want to put it that way. But yeah it changes because now Amazon has clearly said the seller is responsible. So if the reviewer doesn’t follow the rules the seller is the one who can lose their account.
Steve: Interesting, so let’s switch gears a little bit, like so we talked about review groups and reviews. But let’s say you are not participating in review groups and you are getting your reviews kind of organically. What are some — and let’s say you are not doing anything black hat, like you are just a typical Amazon seller following the rules. What are some of the reasons that you’ve seen those types of people get banned?
Cynthia: For their review programs?
Steve: Not for review, let’s say they are not participating in review programs, they are doing everything by the book, but then one day they get banned. What are some of the common reasons for that happening?
Cynthia: Oh sure okay, so a lot of reasons why sellers have been getting suspended since last spring relate to product quality. This is the hidden metric that I talk about because there is nothing on your dashboard that measures your product quality metrics. There is nothing that says here is the acceptable number you sold as new or not as described, or not as advertised that you are allowed to have before we shut you down. So it’s really tough and that’s why we created our get clean stay clean services was to help our clients stay ahead. And we are very, very conservative because honestly it doesn’t take very many some of these for them to shut you down.
Steve: How many does it take actually; can you give me an idea?
Cynthia: I wish I could do that, because it does seem to vary, again it’s an algorithm. So it is based somewhat on how things are going in your account, and what type of claim it is. Like inauthentic, they’ll pretty much check any counterfeit, they’ll shut down your listing every complaint pretty much.
Steve: Really, so one complaint will do it?
Cynthia: For a listing yes. So for the account, for as new as we can tell it looks like you are allowed to have maybe three or four before your account goes down. So yeah there is like a zero tolerance policy about this, which is why I tell people if you get a warning from Amazon or they shut down a listing, you need to respond immediately. Even if you have no intention of selling anymore of that product, you have to respond to it as if it were a suspension, because otherwise these are going to account against you.
So a lot of my clients who were suspended for these product quality reasons, part of their problem was they just sort of let them go, right? They would look at them and they would either just stop selling that product or whatever, but they didn’t realize that this wasn’t the only warning they were going to get. And they didn’t realize that how serious Amazon takes it right.
Then here is the thing, a lot of them don’t know what it means. So if I say to you, you sold as new and you buy wholesale, they are like what you are you talking about, all my stuff is new, right? The thing is Amazon knows that, they know your stuff is new, but what they are telling you is that when the buyer opened their happy Amazon box, and looked at the product they thought it looked worn, used, abused, dirty, to one maybe the corners were crushed in.
I mean it’s hard to say, but they looked at it and it looked like something that had been sitting in garage sale somewhere versus a brand new product, right? In Amazon you can’t do like eBay where you say your new inbox, right? You can’t do that, you either is perfectly sparkly, brand new and beautiful, or its not and that’s it. Like there is no, yeah it’s all green on the outside, but it’s still new, no. You would have to say that that was used good, right? So that’s where…
Steve: So is that usually a packaging problem then for these people?
Cynthia: Yeah, it’s usually a packaging problem, it might be a shipping problem, it might be something like that. It may be weared at getting in the inventory. So I have a lot of clients who buy from liquidators, right? So obviously these products that they are buying have been sitting on various shelves for a long time. Then they get thrown into a big truck, someone buys the track load. So by the time that box gets up to Amazon it does look like it’s been around.
And it maybe still [inaudible 00:23:30] and all of that, but it doesn’t look nice. So one of the things I tell my sellers is you have to make sure that what you are sending out is pristine. You can’t just throw anyhow thing up there on Amazon and think it’s going to sell. Now if you have some mumpy bumpy dirty dusty boxes, and it’s in a category where you can sell used, then sell it as used and you will be fine.
But the other thing that’s taking down a lot of sellers, so besides the physical quality of the box, yes things like inauthentic. And well that’s really more of a policy violation than a product quality issue; they tend to go hand in hand. And a lot of times people will again open their box, and they’ll think this is a piece of crap. And they’ll think maybe it’s brutally either fake or it’s not real. So they’ll make a claim to Amazon that they are returning it, because it’s not real right, or it’s fake or whatever. And that gets sellers in trouble.
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Steve: Does that apply to people selling other people’s products, or does that apply to private label as well?
Cynthia: Well yeah any product. So I often have private label clients who were shocked that they are getting inauthentic claims or even counterfeit. Because they are like wait a minute, I manufacture my own, I am the manufacturer, right? How can they think this, I am the only one selling this on Amazon. But that tells them that they have a product quality problem. Like for some reason why somebody gets the box or the bottle or whatever and they think this isn’t the real thing.
And sometimes there really is a product defect. I mean I think about people who private label shampoo for example. If the formulation isn’t just right, or sometimes if the bottle isn’t sealed properly, then people are thinking, hey this is like — this has been previously opened right, because it doesn’t have the seal on the top. And technically the rule says, Amazon rule says we have to have that seal on the top of the bottle, right? It can either be around the outside, a little plastic [inaudible 00:26:45] crappy thing. Or it can be the actual cap under the cap, but we are supposed to have that.
I can’t tell you how many clients of mine have gotten in trouble with inauthentic claims or counterfeit claims. Because or even used sold as new because they didn’t have that seal. Or they were trying to just sort of seal it themselves with a piece of tape. And I thought are you insane or whatever. So again if you are going to manufacture your own, make sure that it’s properly packaged.
Steve: Does that mean that you have your clients monitor their refund reason, like if there is a refund request?
Cynthia: Yes, so these are the hidden matrix. What I tell my clients to do and what we do for them if they hire us to do this work, is we go and the first thing we look at is the imperfect orders report, which is right under the perfect orders on the dashboard basically. So if you open that page under performance, the one that has all the greens and stuff, and you go to the right hand side and go most of the way down the page, as I’m saying this is the most hidden report I have ever seen. There you’ll see this imperfect orders report.
And the reason it’s important is because this is the roadmap. I always sort if by acing so that I can understand which acings are building up problems, right? And Amazon considers imperfect anything that the client or the buyer has to contact you for. So if they email you, if they got to return/refund, if they file A to Z claim.
If they do any of those stuff it’s an imperfect order right? Because in Amazon’s world perfect is, they buy the product, they love it, you never hear from them again, right? We are all happy, and as a bonus if they leave you positive feedback or write a product review that even better, right? You get bonus points for that. So that’s where I start because that chart where you put down into a spreadsheet, it tells you where the problems are.
Like they say well okay so for this acing where I have 10 issues, I see three people left me negative feedback. Two people sent me an email, I had all these returns, and I had an A to Z claim, I’m just making that up. But then I know where to go work, because I’ll say what’s happening with this acing, why am I getting all these returns? So you really need to try to read what’s happening, right? Oh wow it looks like it’s getting torn up on its way to the buyer, right? They are getting torn packages or this or that.
Once you know what’s happening you can fix it and that’s what Amazon wants you to do, which is why I have my clients look at these reports every week. Because that way you can catch things before they get big, and before they get to Amazon’s level of attention. Now the other reports are the returns report, FBA merchant fulfilled, and of course negative feedback.
And now for my clients who are doing product review programs, they should be reviewing their product reviews if not every day at least once a week. Because again if somebody is violating policy you can let it sit up there for very long, you need to take proactive action quickly. So that’s the thing, you can’t wait and do it once a month. And by that time you will be suspended for excessive reviews, or manipulating the platform or whatever. So that’s a lot of work like…
Steve: Yeah it sounds like a lot of work.
Cynthia: Yeah, and so we try it to make it easier for our clients, but that’s what we do for a lot of our clients, and we are monitoring this for them. We are taking care of the issues. If we see a lot of a particular kind of claim on the account, we’ll tell our clients. And then one of the things that we do is we also email all of our negative returns. So everybody who returns a product for a negative reason, not a typical changed my mind, didn’t like the color. But you sell this new, inauthentic, or one of those negative reasons, we send them an email and we do this for our clients every week.
We send them an email and say, oh we are really sorry this didn’t work out for you, can you tell us what we could have done to make this a better experience. So it’s like very open ended, but and what we’ve been trying to do of course is to get real feedback that we can maybe act on and figure out why are they returning this.
Like I had a client yesterday where when we were examining why they were getting so many returns on a particular product, it was a pair of tights. And everyone was saying it was not as described, and you’re like shit, it’s pair of tights. I mean but when we looked at the listing we could see where the confusion was coming from. And it was literally a color switch on the listing.
So I said to them, you need to fix those listing before you sell anymore of these tights. And they are like, well we sell thousands of these, and we’ve only got X percentage of returns, and I said I understand that. I said if these were normal sort of defective returns, change my mind returns, I wouldn’t care. I said but they are not, these are negative returns, you have to fix these. So we had them close down their listing, and now we are working with the [inaudible 00:32:10] department to fix the listings, and then they can turn it back on again.
So that’s why I’m saying it becomes an ongoing like sloping task to try and figure out what’s really going on. I told them if you — if we can’t figure it out, you are going to need to call these guys, some of these returns. Like even though we email them, only a few will respond, you know what I mean. So I’m like you have to be more aggressive, because this is a problem and you are going to lose your ability to sell this product that you are selling thousands of every month. So like you get to smile with them my friend.
Steve: What’s the usual progression, will that listing get suspended first, or will the account get suspended?
Cynthia: Again it depends on the status of the account to begin with. So if they don’t have much going on, and this is just kind of a one off, the listing will get suspended. But here is the thing, with this particular client they already had other listings suspended for similar reasons. So I’m like you can’t afford to get anymore of these, because that’s the thing. When Amazon sees that you have several listings suspended for similar reasons, they think you are not paying attention.
And the other thing that’s hard for my clients to grasp right away, especially my high volume sellers is, if they find a problem. Like in this case it was a listing problem, and I think we should be able to get it cleaned up pretty quickly. But if they find a problem and they fix it, they have to fix it for every product they sell. Like you can’t just keep building up not as described on your products, you can’t.
Amazon is like, hey you haven’t learned anything, right? You just can’t do it as it comes up, you need to have a plan in place that you are constantly looking at your listings and making sure your products match. And then when something shows up on your report, like oh my gosh we’ve had three returns in the last 60 days for not as described. Then you can of course drill down real hard on that one, because something is going on there. But you don’t want to have — you don’t want to keep having the same problem over and over again and having get to a level where Amazon pays attention.
Steve: Will the imperfect orders report disclose most of this stuff, like you should know like way ahead of time when something wrong is potentially going to happen, right?
Cynthia: Yes, what the imperfect orders report will show you is the acings that are building up problems. So again if you see 10 imperfect orders, it doesn’t mean that they are all negative returns, it just that they are imperfect. But then it’s like a roadmap like I said then you go look at why are these product being returned. And again if they are just saying oh it wasn’t quite the shade of blue I needed, or stuff like that.
Then you are like don’t worry about it. But if you start to see — so that’s why you have to go look at your returns as well. The two reports work together, and you have to look at your negative feedback of course, we should anyway. But again there is valuable clues in there. And what people don’t realize is that Amazon, when they are searching your store or whatever for trigger words; this is what the algorithm does. It searches all your buyer messages, it searches negative feedback, it searches returns, A to Z claims, everything.
So I had a client who had a listing shut down where the buyer literally said, I know this isn’t fake, but it seems really dirty, right? I know it isn’t fake; he got shut down for counterfeit. Because the word fake was in there, in that case it was just the listing, we got it back. And we pointed out the obvious. Because again the algorithm is that’s a robot, right? It’s trained to do certain things; it’s not trained to think thoughtfully about it, like oh he said not fake.
Steve: Great, so let’s talk about that a little bit. Because I know there is a lot of – it’s a very competitive world out there, and a lot of people are doing this maliciously. So what are the things that you can do when people are purposely trying to sabotage you?
Cynthia: Dirty seller tricks? Oh my God I hate dirty seller tricks. The latest story dirty seller trick, and they do seem to go kind of into charts or waves. I don’t know if people are just picking up on these on Facebook or what. But they try to do; you do see this in waves. So the latest wave of dirty seller tricks that we’ve seen has been claims of copyright infringement, okay? So we are all familiar with the occasion of getting the Cs into Cs letter through the platform. And you always have to sit and wonder are they serious, are they real, or is this just bullshit, right? But the dirty seller trick that I am talking about is where they will actually file the claim with Amazon, which by the way means that they are singing under oath and apparently a perjury that this is true.
So I can’t believe the balls on some of these guys, but they will file this claim saying these sellers are violating my whatever. My pattern, my copyright whatever, and then of course everybody gets shut down on that listing. Or they say this guy is the only one selling on that listing right, because he is the rights holder. So then what happens is the sellers are like trying to resolve the issue with the rights holder, and the rights holder just ignores them, right? Because they know that these guys are not going to get back on the listing unless the rights holder sends an email to Amazon saying this issue has been resolved.
So this is the latest one that I have seen, it’s caused a lot of heartache. And we have been able and I’ll just say this for anyone listening out there who thinks this might be a good idea. That what we do is we get that, we reverse the tables on them. So for my clients who are willing to fight, we reverse the tables and I have got a number of sellers suspended for pulling this particular dirty seller trick. It’s against the Amazon policy, if you lie on that forum, they take it very seriously. But anyway I have just seen it over and over again over the past couple of months. And then I can say it will tie up a very lucrative acing for a long period of time.
And sometimes you have to hire a lawyer to get it, and even with a lawyer it doesn’t necessarily get resolved. Because here is the thing, if you say to Amazon oh Amazon I have tried and tried and tried to reach this guy, and he is not returning my calls and my emails. They’ll be like, oh too bad, resolve it with them, they just stay out of it, right? They are not going to get involved. So we’ve sometimes had to — our clients have had to hire attorneys and things like that to get that listing back.
So it’s worth it to them, but even my clients who just perpetuate like they are like oh, well I didn’t mean violate trademark or whatever, or I don’t want to deal with it, like I’m not making enough sales off of this to– I’ll just walk away. But again, if that company does not send the notice to Amazon saying this issue is resolved, then this black mark stays on my client’s record. It shows that he’s not resolving this issue. I have to help them somehow get Amazon to undertake their account that they did everything in their power to resolve this, and that they are no long selling the product.
You would think that an email would be enough, but it’s not. That’s where I get really angry at this particular dirty seller trick, because it costs my clients money even when they are more than willing just to walk away.
Steve: I see. When you say suspended like what is the typical reinstatement time when you are successful?
Cynthia: Okay, from the– you have 17 days once you are suspended to turn in your plan of action. I usually very much, I mean depending on when our clients come to us, it’s much faster than that. But you have 17 days. The first time you turn in something, sometimes they reinstate you right away, and you are done. It’s great. I’ve had clients reinstated in 20 minutes.
Steve: Really? Okay.
Cynthia: They are very happy. By the way this does not include last summer which was a night mare. Amazon was taking 3 weeks to get back to people. I’m talking about today. Today, ever since I would say like December, we can generally get a response within a day or two. What they’ve been doing lately is what we call the plan or the store. What happens is these guys in India, that’s what seller performance is, they have metrics as well. They have to go through 17 of these an hour, if they fall back with one every 3 minutes.
If they fall behind, what happens is they’ll start to cheat, right? Because it so fast to simply send an email back saying, it’s a form letter. Thank you very much, but we still need more information about X even though you just send them a plan of action for X. And so we recognized what this was last December, and it’s still going on.
Our clients would get frustrated. They will wonder if we knew what we were doing. I’m like, “Yes, yes it’s just the plan. Nobody has read your plan yet?” I mean, literally they have not read it. They are just cheating. They are like thanks, send them back up, thanks, send them back up. We’ll usually play that game a few times, and we’ll send it back in. We might tweak it a little bit, but we just basically keep sending it back in, and if that doesn’t work then we’ll escalate it.
Steve: What does escalation mean?
Cynthia: Well, we have other email addresses inside Amazon that kind of go above seller performance.
Steve: Interesting, and these are Amazon employees or?
Cynthia: Yeah, yeah, these are the– there is an escalation team.
Cynthia: That’s when you are not getting satisfaction from seller support, or seller central or seller performance, seller performance. Yeah, they have bosses too. Then there’s always the ultimate last resort which is writing a Jeff Bezos letter. I always caution people that that’s a last resort, because his people can take weeks to get back to you. You don’t want that. I mean that is a last resort.
What you want is to get a faster response by working within the system, and usually if we just escalate it that usually takes care of it. My clients are like, “How do you know they are not reading it?” I say, “You will know when they read it.” It’s true, because as soon as they read it, they reinstate them. That’s the thing. Or even if they do legitimately have an additional question or something, the email you get back is very different. It’s not the [inaudible 00:44:06]. The answer to your question, this process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of weeks.
Steve: Couple of weeks? Wow, okay.
Cynthia: Depending on Amazon. That’s the thing, we’ve seen some weeks where we’ll have 10 punts going on at a time. It’s driving us crazy, our clients are going crazy, we are just like sending it back and sending it back in with an escalating and blah, blah, blah. Our process, in terms of punt escalation, Jeff letter is about a business week four, five days, five, you know again getting the answers back from them that all that can add some additional time.
All I can say to my clients who are very frustrated by this is it’s still so much better than last summer where we wouldn’t even get the first answer for three weeks. Like I said, so usually I can get people reinstated quicker in a week or two, and sometimes the same day, sometimes the same day.
Steve: I’m curious what happens to the dirty sellers that file these false claims, because Amazon usually will just ban you first right, before getting your testimony. I still really hope that these malicious sellers are getting punished. Do you have any insight into that?
Cynthia: Yes, they are if they work with me, because first we get our clients reinstated. Then, we go after the dirty seller and we file a policy violation against them. That’s the thing, and I’m really good at writing policy violations.
Steve: What does that entail exactly?
Cynthia: If you go into seller central help, and you go to that page where it’s like why are you contacting us basically? There’s like another and under there you can file a policy violation against another seller. And so what I usually do is I keep it very factual. I ask Amazon to look into it, and to help us and…
Steve: Will you say that this seller purposely did this or like– I’m just kind of curious like how you word it in such a way even if you don’t have like all the evidence, right?
Cynthia: Right. A lot of times we won’t. That’s exactly what we say is that we don’t have the ability to investigate this, but you do, because Amazon knows everything that happens on their platform. So what we will just do is we’ll put the case before them, and will say it is our suspicion or our belief that this seller never intended to respond, or never intended to work with us to resolve this issue, and that it was in fact a tactic to kick competition off this listing.
Then you always have to put it in terms of the buyer experience, which diminishes the buyer experience by limiting choice and also raises the price and– I’ve said different things like that. But basically you’re always going to put it out there why this impacts the buyer.
Steve: Got it.
Cynthia: Not, “Those guys we hate them. They are mean.” You can’t do that. You have to really focus on why this is against Amazon policy, and why it affects the buyer. Another dirty seller trick that I see a lot is someone will buy a bunch of your product, and you are like, “Yeey, I’m in the money.” Then they will return all of them on the same day, and they will have a negative reason for returning them. And so because the part of what the algorithm looks at is velocity.
If they suddenly– if you’re one person who bought 10 units, but if they see 10 units coming back on the same day, they go into danger mode. Like, the algorithm freaks out, and you can get suspended just because there’s velocity on that acing. Like that acing might get immediately suspended. That’s a dirty seller trick that they do. So you can explain to them, no, it’s just one order.
Again, when– you know one order, 10 items. This is a trick. If you see it once, you know. If you see it a couple of times, two or three times, and it starts to look like a pattern, that’s a dirty seller trick, and that’s where you need to go and report it to Amazon, and you can say, “It is our belief that they never intended to keep this purchase, but it was bought specifically for the purpose of damaging our metrics. Because they straw our purchase,” and things like that. That works really well.
Steve: It does, interesting.
Cynthia: Oh yeah.
Steve: Even if they just wrote to– like if I was doing this intelligently I will just have different people do this, right?
Cynthia: Yes, and that’s why it gets harder to detect. But again, if you haven’t gone along selling, selling, selling, and then all of a sudden you get a bunch of attacks. I have a client this has happened to where his competitor thought they were very clever, because they were having people buy from all across the country and do this. Now you may think, how did he know that they were working together? Well because in this case they were really stupid. All of them used the exact same language, I mean exact.
It was honestly cut and paste including typos, and they used the exact same picture. That never happens. You know what I’m saying? Like they didn’t even take their own picture of the product. And then the picture that they took of the product wasn’t even of the product that they purchased. It was a related product. This was just a bungled job. In that case it was pretty easy to prove, but again, if you see a pattern, you can say to Amazon who loves patterns. “We’ve seen this pattern and we’re wondering if perhaps this might be going on. Could you please look into it?” What Amazon will do is if it’s a really strong case, they’ll take you down. But maybe it’s not very strong, maybe it’s a [inaudible 00:50:29], and then they’ll send you a warning.
You may wonder how do I know this? I have had clients who’ve had this warning in their performance notifications. I said, “What the hell! You want me to represent you and you do dirty seller tricks.” We had to have a little conversation first. That’s– anyway, I know that Amazon does this. They even punish buyers by the way. People don’t realize this, but we saw a rush of buyers losing their buying accounts. And when you lose your buyer account, if you are also a seller, you lose that as well.
Cynthia: This is for all the people who abuse Amazon’s returns policy, and they have too many returns. In case you are wondering how many returns you are allowed, by the way these are free returns. If you are paying for the returns, you can have as many as you like. But if you are claiming a reason always just so you can get the free return, beware because it’s a very limited amount. Again when Amazon sees velocity, they see that it’s a habit.
I mean if you have one free return a year, you are going to be fine. But if you are having one every month, you are out of there. And they are not going to wait for you to use up all your free returns. Basically what I heard which is only hearsay, but I heard that you get like 26 in a lifetime, 26 free returns. After that, that’s it. You don’t get anymore.
Like I said though, if you were getting one a year, and you were buying lots of other products and not returning it or paying for the return, then they are not going to like kick you off once you have 26 years from now. But if they see there’s a pattern that is theft.
Steve: Is it a violation to leave a review without a disclaimer as a buyer? Or is that the seller’s responsibility?
Cynthia: The seller is held responsible. The buyer is also responsible. And so again what will usually happen is you will get the warning from Amazon saying, “Okay now look, you need to do this disclaimer as an FCC regulation blah, blah, blah. You get one chance, and that’s it.” That’s why with all these most review programs, they are very good about telling their people that they have to do the disclaimer. But what they are not good at is policing it. They may say, don’t forget the disclaimer, but they are not out there really checking these reviews to make sure that they are.
Steve: Well, that takes a lot of work.
Cynthia: Yeah. And I’m saying most of these programs, because some of them actually do. Some of them, so if you are looking at a product review program, that would be one thing to look for to see if they actually police the reviews, and make sure that they do leave the disclaimer.
Steve: Okay, hey Cynthia, we’ve been chatting for a while, and I have to be honest with you, after talking with you, I don’t feel as comfortable selling on Amazon.
Cynthia: Well, that’s because I showed you a bunch of stuff you didn’t know. And so it’s scary, because now you are asking yourself what else don’t I know.
Steve: That’s correct. Yes absolutely.
Cynthia: Yeah, actually you know a lot, and that’s why I want to tell you and anybody listening to this is you now know a lot that you can do to protect yourself. My hope is now that you’ve been forewarned, you are forewarned, and you will never have to hire me professionally.
Steve: Incidentally, a lot of what we have talked about today is actually in Cynthia’s book and she covers all this stuff in a lot more depth in her suspension prevention book. Cynthia, I learned a lot just from talking to you today. Where can people find you should they need these services that you offer?
Cynthia: I have 2 websites. One is very simply suspensionprevention.com. That’s focused on obviously my reinstatement services. Then I have a blog onlinesalesstepbystep.com. And by the way in my blog, a couple of times a month I’m writing on this topic constantly. It’s a good place to just sort of check out what’s new and what’s going on. Those are my two websites and both of those sites which I’m in the process of sort of merging. In both those sites is you can find our services there. You can sign up online to get started with us.
Steve: Okay, and then if you end up finding that your account is suspended at like 5:30 am, I will be posting Cynthia’s cell phone number in case you are desperate.
Cynthia: No. I was telling Steve earlier, I had to buy, not buy; I got an app for my phone that turns off all the sounds between certain hours just so I wouldn’t hear all the middle of the night texts and phone calls coming in from my clients and prospects, because I need my sleep.
Steve: Yeah, absolutely. I can imagine that the people calling you are probably quite desperate and in great need of help.
Cynthia: Yes definitely.
Steve: All right Cynthia. Thanks a lot for coming on the show. This was great. I’m sure everyone is going to love it, thank you.
Cynthia: Thanks for having me. Bye.
Steve: Take care.
Hope you enjoyed that episode. Amazon is getting more and more cut throat every year. With other people trying to sabotage your listings and Amazon constantly changing the rules, you really have to monitor your account in order to make sure you are obeying their terms of service. If you ever get suspended, make sure you call Cynthia Stine.
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