We weren’t suspended yet, but our account was a ticking time bomb and we didn’t know why yet. While I waited for the sun to rise in Seattle so I could talk to the Account Health Support Team, I started digging. I dug through my inbox, my performance notifications, my brain.
I knew we were clean regarding IPs, Inauthentic complaints, and Used Sold As New complaints. Except for a modest smattering of Suspected IPs, our Account Health Dashboard looked good. What else? And then it hit me. We had received several policy warnings over the past few months…for what? I tried to remember. Asins that Amazon thought were problematic in some way, but we didn’t see any problem with them. Most didn’t even come up in our Inventory when I searched them on Seller Central, and they looked fine on Amazon.com. Since I didn’t see a problem at the time and didn’t think we had even listed or sold most of them, I ignored the warnings.
As the minutes dragged by I continued to dig. It’s amazing what you can do in a few hours when your business is on the line. I found that the asins mentioned in those nearly forgotten warnings were items we had listed in the past. Why did I miss them in the first pass? They had already been conscientiously deleted from our inventory in Seller Central, but I found them in InventoryLab: Closed Batches.
If I had spent a little more time digging when I first received the notices, I might not have discounted them so readily.
Lesson 2: Dive Deep.
This is Amazon speak for getting to the root cause of an issue. Care about the details. Engage and understand the details and the big picture, and work to see both. It should not have taken a 72 hour warning to motivate us to dig into the issues behind those warnings. A warning I didn’t understand should have motivated me to DIG, not bury it.
My best guess was that our 72 hour warning was connected to those forgotten policy warnings, and when I got on the phone with the Health Support rep, it was immediately confirmed. The most recent notice – the one that triggered our 72 hour warning – was for a couple of backpack orphans we had added to a parent listing. Even though they were identical to the other variations in model, style, fabric, size and feature, the product titles didn’t read the same.
It would have been easy to feel like a victim. Weren’t we making the catalog better by fixing these orphans? No good deed goes unpunished, right? Wrong. We hadn’t created these variations, but when we moved them to the parent we didn’t correct them. Someone else’s problem became ours.
The other warnings were similar situations, although we weren’t given specifics on those. All were categorized as Listing Violations: Variation Abuse. The Health Support rep was kind and incredibly helpful, and our conversation made a lot of sense in the context of a highly relevant article I had read just a week before on Cynthia Stine’s blog, Listing Madness – Amazon Cracks Down on Sellers.
When I first read it I thought Cynthia was being a little too persnickety about the whole subject, but when we found ourselves caught in the net I suddenly understood the need to Insist on the Highest Standards (does that wording ring a bell?). As Amazon tries to run an ever tighter ship, false positives are a big problem… but our situation really couldn’t even be explained as a false positive. We were guilty as charged. We’re not bad actors, but we were being careless. We had the opportunity to improve the Amazon catalog, and instead we stepped over someone’s mess – or stepped right in it – because it wasn’t our mess. Only it was. If you’re editing, updating, or even just adding your offer to a listing, you share responsibility for that listing.
To extend the messy analogy, if you see trash on the ground, pick it up and carry it a bit, then drop it back on the ground, you are guilty of littering.
Lesson 3: Take ownership.
If you mess up, own up. It works in business as well as personal life. Not all problems are false positives. Instead of becoming defensive and shifting the blame, figure out what went wrong, and how you can solve the problem and prevent recurrence.
When I got off the phone, we went into action. Now that we knew the issue, we also knew that we were in new territory. We immediately hired Ed Rosenberg, hoping his team could help us out over the weekend before the deadline.