Alien invasion. Hatchet-wielding zombies. Donald Trump as president. None of these strike us much fear into most of us like the thought of having our Amazon account suspended. Yet each year, many sellers, even exceptional sellers, go through this very thing.
In this article I'll discuss the types of Amazon suspensions you may face as a seller and also how to have your suspension lifted.
Types of Amazon Suspensions
In my experience, there are basically three types of Amazon suspensions:
- You exceed one of Amazon's operational metrics (i.e., late shipments, shipment defects, late tracking) for an extended period of time and Amazon has suspended you as a big eye-opener to force you to correct the problem OR
- You were playing with fire and you knew it (re: you were doing something clearly illegal and/or against Amazon's TOS) and you've been suspended/banned OR
- There was a misunderstanding on Amazon's end.
Suspension Scenario #1: You Exceeded One of Amazon's Operational Metrics
This is the most common type of suspension.
For example, when Amazon implemented the ‘valid tracking' metric in 2014, suspensions become more prevalent. Normally, people who receive these types of suspensions are overall good sellers but who are below average on a certain metric.
In my experience, you need to exceed one of their metrics for a fairly long period of time before you actually get suspended. For example, in the case of late shipments, you will normally receive a warning notice if your late shipment rate exceeds their minimum threshold for approximately 15 days or more. These warning notices, despite their dire verbiage, don't immediately precede a suspension. Normally, you get suspended if you don't correct this metric in the next 15 days or so. Sometimes, you will even receive TWO warning notices.
How to Appeal an Operation Metric Suspension
Here's the good news: operational metric suspensions are normally successfully appealed. Sometimes nearly instantly, and sometimes within a couple of weeks.
There's a secret to appealing these types of suspensions, and I can't believe how many people utterly screw this up.
If you receive an operational metric suspension you MUST identify 2 to 3 steps regarding how you are going to correct it. But what if this happens to you: Your employee in charge of updating tracking got bitten by a polar bear while vacationing in Florida. The second person in charge of tracking then got a heat stroke in Edmonton, Canada, over Christmas. These were both COMPLETE fluke events, right?” Too bad. Amazon wants to know how you are going to ensure your orders get shipped out the next time an employee gets bitten by an employee while sipping margaritas in Miami and the second employee gets heatstroke in Canada during the winter.
Here's a good template to follow:
- Acknowledge the problem and the impact it has on customers.
- Identify three actions you will take to correct it.
- Apologize and mention your dedication to Amazon's customers.
Here's a good example:
First, I would like to stress how our company fully understands the importance of uploading tracking information promptly. I recognize the anxiety late tracking can cause for customers. We will be taking immediate actions to further improve our updating of tracking information:
- Each of our 5 employees will now do a daily tracking number check on Amazon Seller Central. Each day during our regular morning meeting, we will confirm whether all tracking has been updated.
- We will be implementing tracking number automation. We will use Zapier to scrape all of our emails for tracking numbers and upload them automatically via the Amazon API.
- In the next 2 to 4 weeks, we will be requiring all of our drop shippers to send us tracking information within 24 hours. For any suppliers unable to do this, we will no longer be offering their products through Amazon.
Again, we look forward to improving our systems and processes to provide better service to our customers.
Amazon is never going to check to see if you're actually implementing your plan. All they care about is that you never exceed that metric again. So unless you like having your Amazon account suspended, grind your teeth and come up with an action plan of 3 items to correct, even if you know 100 percent the error will never occur again without any modification from you.
For a late shipment/tracking violation, Amazon will often respond and approve within 24 hours. A shipment defect rate seems to be slightly more serious and can take 2 to 4 weeks.
If you receive an operational metric suspension you MUST identify 2 to 3 steps you will take to correct it.
Overall, keep in mind that often, a Scenario 1 Amazon suspension is a legitimate motivation for you to improve a flawed business process, so take advantage of the opportunity.
One thing to keep in mind is that you want to come across as apologetic and remorseful but at the same time, you do not want to admit guilt specifically if you're not guilty of the alleged infraction. Such an admittance could impact your chances of success if you ever needed to file a lawsuit. However, whether or not you're guilty and whether or not you admit to being guilty, neither of these should prevent you from creating an action plan to improve your service, which is what Amazon is really looking for.
Suspension Scenario #2: Clear Violation of Amazon's Terms of Service
In this first case, you did something in clear violation of Amazon's Terms of Service (TOS). The most common one I hear about in this case is someone who was selling counterfeit products. Another common one is that someone, for whatever reason, went for a certain extended period of time without shipping products.
If you KNOW that you were playing with fire, and we're talking playing with a serious flame (not soliciting some discounted reviews) Amazon is typically unforgiving and implements permanent bans that cannot be repealed. If you're lucky, you will have the option to appeal, but you may not even have this option. If you can appeal the suspension, you may try some of the techniques outlined in Suspension Scenario #1, but chances are, you will not be successful.
If this is the case, there are some very drastic measures I have heard being implemented successfully. I do not condone any of these, but I'm put this out there for informational purposes only.
First, a permanent ban from Amazon typically seems to be around 3 years. Most people I've heard of with ‘permanent' bans were able to have their accounts reinstated way down the road. But three years is an eternity for a seller.
The very very black hat way to get around the suspension is to open another account. Simple, right? Just use a new email and your wife's name?
Amazon is very good at connecting dots. If you want to open a new Amazon account without them detecting it, you will need to do, at a minimum, all of the following:
- Use a different email.
- Use a different company name.
- Use a different personal name.
- Use a different address (including ship to and ship from addresses)
- Use a different credit card/bank info.
- Use a different IP AND never log in to Seller Central from an IP that you've used before (this almost certainly involves using a proxy).
I know of at least one Chinese seller who has 5+ Amazon accounts (4 of which are not permitted) so it is possible. Your biggest danger is that if Amazon catches you, which there is a VERY good chance of, they will likely not release any funds you've accumulated.
There are also cases when Amazon mistakenly associates your account with one that has a pending issue. You can appeal the related accounts suspension and hopefully, within a few weeks, you'll have the account reinstated.
Suspension Scenario #3: There Was a Mistake on Amazon's End
There's a third type of account suspension scenario: there was a legitimate mistake on Amazon's end.
Where I've seen most of these types of suspensions occur is when Amazon thinks you are selling counterfeit goods. I've also seen it happen when someone who was formerly banned from Amazon is allowed access to your Seller Central account (such as in the case of using a third-party contractor).
If there is a legitimate mistake by Amazon and you still have the option to appeal, you'll likely get your account back after submitting the necessary paperwork (such as commercial invoices, shipping receipts, etc.) to prove they are not wrong. Be prepared to give lots of paperwork. Amazon values paperwork ahead of your pleas.
The other major downside to these types of suspensions is that they tend to take a long time. Whereas with an Operational Metrics suspension Amazon tries to get you ‘rehabilitated' quickly, these cases normally involve being reviewed by senior Seller Performance team members at Amazon and can take a long time to rectify (it could take weeks). Try calling Amazon and ask to get put through to their Seattle office (as opposed to their India call center which is absolutely useless on most things) for the best results.
The Ultimate Resort: File for Arbitration with Amazon
Have you tried everything but have had no luck getting your account reinstated? (and you've legitimately been unfairly suspended) Well, what most people don't realize is that when you signed your Amazon Seller agreement (you read it all, right?) you and Amazon both elected to resolve disputes by bringing them to binding arbitration.
Each party consents that any dispute or claim relating in any way to this Participation Agreement or your use of the Services or Transaction Processing Services will be resolved by binding arbitration…
Arbitration is no small task. Generally, it doesn't require a lawyer, but it will cost you a couple thousand dollars to pursue. The total cost will depend on the type of payment option you choose (standard or flexible), the type of case (international or non-international), as well as the amount you are claiming. If your claim is less than $75,000, the filing fee alone is at least $1,750.
And while you are not required to hire a lawyer for your arbitration case, you should still do so unless you are sure you can draft a good Demand for Arbitration that takes into consideration all possible problems that might come up as a consequence of the words you choose. An example of a good lawyer for Amazon cases is CJ Rosenbaum of Amazon Seller Lawyer. He has years of experience in bringing cases to arbitration.
The good news is that almost all cases brought to arbitration are settled in the seller's favor (although this may be a result of the fact that most lawyers will only bring winnable cases to arbitration). The other good news is that you can also file for damages as well as have your account reinstated.
Here's another good news: You will not be liable for Amazon's arbitration fees as long as the arbitrator does not consider your claim frivolous. And if you win, they will reimburse you for the arbitration costs you've incurred up to $10,000.
Other Methods of Last Resort: Myths and Realities
There are some other methods of last resort, some of which are either myths or outdated, and some of which have some roots in the truth.
First, the secret email firstname.lastname@example.org hasn't worked to get results for anything with Amazon in quite some time. Second, I can confirm that email@example.com is a real email at Amazon which reportedly could be used in emergency situations. However, it appears now to yield no results.
Cynthia Stine is famous in the world of Amazon Suspensions and is known to help get Amazon accounts reinstated where the seller has failed (often multiple times). Her fee for looking at your case begins at about $500 and progresses to $2000+ depending on the difficulty of the case. I can report that Cynthia was able to help a friend with a very difficult case get his account reinstated after about 5 weeks and $2000.
Finally, I have an acquaintance on the Ecommerce Fuel forums who has a mysterious contact at Amazon (this contact I believe the acquaintance made through Amazon's Exclusives program). I witnessed as this acquaintance was able to get another's account reinstated within mere hours of talking to her contact. It was akin to Don Corleone calling in a favor. The takeaway is that there are people who can push magical buttons at Amazon that none of us even know exist.
An Amazon suspension can either be a stern warning to make process improvements or it can be death bells. An Operational Metrics Suspension is terrifying but rarely permanent (in fact, often you will be reinstated within hours if your appeal letter is sufficient). On the other hand, a suspension for a clear Terms of Service violation can be next to impossible to recover from.
Have you ever been suspended from Amazon, either permanently or temporarily? If so, share your experiences in the comments box below.