As I’ve spent the last several months in China I’ve been hearing more and more about various black hat selling techniques used by both Chinese and non-Chinese sellers. Perhaps one of the most prevalent strategies I’ve heard about is sellers opening up multiple Amazon accounts. This might not sound like such a big deal but it can have serious impact on your business as competitors are able to more liberally violate Amazon’s selling policies.
In this article I’ll discuss how sellers open and operate multiple seller accounts (against Amazon’s Terms of Service) and how you can use multiple Amazon Seller Central accounts within Amazon’s Terms of Service.
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Are You Allowed to Have Multiple Seller Central Accounts?
To be clear, Amazon forbids multiple accounts without their express permission.
Operating and maintaining multiple Seller Central accounts is prohibited. If you have a legitimate business need for a second account, you can apply for an exception to this policy – Amazon Seller Central
I can tell you from experience when we had two Amazon accounts (with permission from Amazon) that Amazon is very good at detecting multiple accounts from suppliers as they will trace back IPs very quickly. Frequently Amazon would ask us why we had multiple accounts and we would have to provide documentation to verify we were given permission. I’ll discuss in detail below how black hat sellers are avoiding being detected.
Why Have Multiple Amazon Accounts?
There are legitimate business reasons for wanting multiple accounts and not so legitimate ones.
In my previous company we had two very different brands, albeit under the same company. We had different branding, customer service emails and phone numbers, etc. If we had both brands under the same account it would make separating the brands down the road (potentially for a sale) very difficult. Thus, we received permission from Amazon to open the second account.
However, many sellers want multiple business accounts because they are very deliberately breaking Amazon’s Terms of Service and they are terrified of having their account shut down. By having multiple accounts they’re able to hedge their bets. If one account gets shut down, they can simply start selling their products on the other account.
The more grey area comes from legitimate white hat Amazon sellers who fear having their account suspended for illegitimate reasons. We’ve all heard horror stories from sellers who have had their accounts shut down simply in error. Unfortunately this happens all too often. If you’re an Amazon seller with your life savings stored in inventory and/or with employees relying on you for employment, having all your eggs in one basket is not necessarily the best business decision. I know many sellers who open a second (or more) Amazon account without Amazon’s permission simply to mitigate their risk even though they do not explicitly break any of Amazon’s rules.
How Prevalent is the Problem and Why is it a Problem?
I was first made aware of the seriousness of the problem of sellers with multiple accounts when a friend showed me a very complex diagram of all the Amazon accounts of the company he was working for. It was over half a dozen accounts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the friend worked for a Chinese company based in Silicon Valley. Ironically, this company shuttered its Amazon operations after about a year after they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to bring their brick and mortar brand to Amazon.
However, this problem extends well beyond Chinese sellers. In many of the ecommerce groups I’m a part of, having multiple seller accounts is a strategy employed by many sellers to allow them to stretch the Amazon rules more than they might if they only had one account. These sellers are often using incentivized reviews, super URLs, and other black hat techniques. This is why there’s a problem – these sellers have an unfair advantage over sellers with one account.
How Do the Black Hat Sellers Open Multiple Accounts?
Amazon is very sophisticated at finding sellers with multiple accounts so black hat sellers have to be very sophisticated in return to avoid being detected.
To open up a second Amazon account, with or without Amazon’s permission, requires separate credit cards, emails, and bank accounts. This is actually the easiest part of the equation as Amazon does not require any of these three things to match up to the seller entity name, i.e. EcomCrew Inc can use a bank account under Dave Bryant.
The seller entity part is slightly more tricky although it is still relatively easy as one can simply use another personal name (i.e. your wife or relative) or register a new business. In China, it is a well known secret that many Amazon Sellers require their employees to open up Amazon accounts under their names to avoid the whole seller entity issue. Many Chinese sellers have multiple (sometimes in the double digits) Amazon Seller Central accounts.
The hardest part of having multiple seller accounts is avoiding being detected. Almost all black hat sellers I know, whether in China or elsewhere, have multiple ISPs and computers. Each computer is then linked to one particular internet connection and they take as many precautions as possible to avoid ever accidentally logging one computer into the same internet connection as this would almost immediately alert Amazon that the accounts are from the same sellers.
How to Open A Second Account – The Right Way
Once you’ve exceeded a few hundred thousands dollars in revenue per annum it is not a bad idea to request permission to open a second Amazon Seller Central account. The reason for this is that one temporary Seller Central account does not normally affect the suspension of the second account (if you get permanently banned, both Seller Central accounts will likely get axed though).
If you ever decide to sell your business, having a second seller central account that you do not sell with your business also allows you to keep selling without having to build up seller history from scratch.
A fair warning – operating a second Seller Central account will increase your book keeping work and overall maintenance.
How to Open a Second Account
If Amazon gives you permission for a second account they require the following: a separate bank account, separate email, and separate credit card. They do not require a separate business or personal entity.
- Open a case with Amazon. Click Selling on Amazon, then select Your account, and then select Other account issues.
- I’ve found there’s one keyword that Amazon is hyper-sensitive about that will increase your likelihood of getting approval for a second account: sales tax. Here’s a sample email I’ve had luck with:
We are considering opening a new business in the near future. This new business will have separate sales tax requirements and customer service emails/phone numbers.
Can you tell me how we can setup multiple sales tax requirements for different products within our account as well as different customer service emails/phone numbers?
If this is not possible, can you please give us permission to open a second Seller Central Account? I understand we will require separate email addresses, bank information, and credit card information.
Even if you never open up a second business, Amazon will not care if they ask to see permission for the second account.
- If you get rejected, I suggest trying every month or so until you get permission, as whether you are granted permission or not seems to be a subjective decision granted by that particular customer service rep.
- Once you get permission from Seller Central for a second account, then this will be your golden ticket. You will likely get inquiries from Amazon from time to time asking why you have multiple accounts and you can simply point them to this case ID.
Hopefully this gives you some insight into how sellers are using multiple Amazon Seller Central accounts to get an advantage over you. I don’t recommend opening up a second Amazon account without express permission from Amazon, however I do recommend getting explicit permission from them as soon as possible. Opening up a Seller Central case and requesting permission takes only a couple of minutes of your time and can give you some peace of mind.
Do you have multiple Seller Central accounts? If so, do you find it to be an advantage for your business? Would you like to open a second account and have any questions about the process? Post your comments and questions below.