"It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
If you have recently received an email that starts with “Your Amazon.com selling privileges have been removed,” you may be tempted to go into full-out, let-me-speak-to-your-manager mode, but take Douglas Adams’ advice and DON’T PANIC.
Frantically searching for a direct line to Amazon’s suspension team is a waste of both time and energy. Amazon is a well-oiled machine, so as frustrating as the process may be, there is a process, and they expect you to follow it – preferably with a smile on your face.
So what do you do first?
Figure Out What You Did
Contrary to how you might be feeling at the moment, Amazon isn’t out to get you, and you haven’t been penalized because you wear glasses and don’t share your Twinkies at lunch. Amazon depends on its sellers to treat their customers with care and respect. Their reputation as a trustworthy supplier of goods forces them to assume the position of bouncer to keep subpar and dangerous products and sellers out of their marketplace. If they feel that you have run afoul of their standards in any of the following ways, they will not hesitate to give you the boot:
1. You’re trying to sell a product on their restricted items list. If you didn’t know that there was such a list, you should have done your research before opening your Amazon Seller’s Account. However, to give you the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible that Amazon added something to their list after you already had it up on your site. After all, they do have a clause that reads that Amazon can ban “products that Amazon otherwise determines are unsuitable.”
When you look up the restricted items list on their site, at first glance, it might feel like you’re not able to sell anything! But again, DON’T PANIC! By clicking on your business’ selling category, it will give you a list of things that are permitted and things that aren’t. Some categories list items that only pre-approved sellers may market, so if you want to sell those items, you will need to take some extra steps. As a side note, the FBA side of Amazon and regular Amazon merchants have different items on their restricted lists, so make sure that you check with your specific selling group.
2. You have thrown caution to the wind. If you have violated any of Amazon’s policies, it is well within their purview to kick you out. Their policies are well-published and should be understood before you open an account.
3. You’re not up to snuff. If your store is continuously getting negative reviews and complaints, Amazon is going to start paying attention. They may suspend you for consistent customer service problems, poor product quality, problems with shipping, and other avoidable mistakes.
Understand the Disciplinary Actions They Can Take
Per Amazon’s own website, this is their warning:
“If you supply a product in violation of the law or any of Amazon’s policies, including those listed on the Restricted Products pages, we will take corrective actions, as appropriate, including but not limited to immediately suspending or terminating selling privileges, destroying inventory in our fulfillment centers without reimbursement, returning inventory, terminating the business relationship, and permanent withholding of payments. The sale of illegal or unsafe products can also lead to legal action, including civil and criminal penalties.”
But most often, you will be hit with one of three penalties:
1. Banned: This is the worst of the three. It means that your account is closed forever and that you are prohibited from opening another Amazon Seller account. If you’re slapped with a ban, you will have no method of communicating with Amazon as they will immediately screen your emails and calls.
2. Denied: This stage is the intermediary of the three. It means that you made an appeal that was rejected, but you still have another chance to prove that you are a changed seller.
3. Suspended: This means that you can’t sell anything else until your suspension is cleared up, but it also gives you a chance to appeal. You’ll need to gather up some important information and put together a well-thought-through Plan of Action before you make any attempt to appeal, or you will just be wasting your time.
We could spend all day talking about each of these penalties, so we will just focus on one: suspension. Here are a few tips to help you steer clear of the dreaded “S” word.
- Respond to your notifications. Even if you feel like you’ve already corrected the problem, and you know that you’ll never do it again, Amazon doesn’t know that. They expect you to follow their process and do the appropriate paperwork to show that you are a serious seller. It’s OK to make mistakes, but it’s not OK to assume that being privately penitent is enough. After all, you know what they say when you assume…
- Think of the customer. Customer service is crucial to running a competitive business, and Amazon takes this aspect seriously. Make sure that your product listings are accurate and appropriate. Take quality pictures, from multiple angles, so your customers know exactly what they’re getting. If you’re using FBA, make sure that everything is labeled correctly and packaged well. Respond to your customers’ questions quickly and take their comments seriously.
- Be honest. Make sure that your descriptions are honest and that your goods come from a verified source. Don’t try to short change your customers or Amazon.
If you do get hit with a penalty, once again, DON’T PANIC! Read through your penalty email carefully and audit all of your notifications. Create a thorough, professional (don’t point fingers or accuse), well-organized Plan of Action to let Amazon know that you are serious about living by their rules. It can take weeks to months for appeals to be approved, but at this point, there is nothing else to do but wait.
If you get a “Denied” response, go back to the drawing board and make sure that you hit every single one of their penalty points in their suspension email. Remove any personal feelings from your appeal, refine your Plan of Action, and try again. If you get reinstated, make sure that you learn from your previous mistakes. Be a conscientious seller and always to stick to the rules.