This is the latest installment of the Amazon Briefing, a weekly Modern Retail+ column about the ever-changing Amazon ecosystem. More from the series →
In February of 2023, baking brand Supernatural found that its bestselling plant-based food color product had been suspended by Amazon. The ‘best buy date’ had been inadvertently mislabelled, which caused some of its brand new products to appear as expired upon purchase, Supernatural Founder Carmel Hagen told Modern Retail.
“Customers sent in complaints and Amazon shut us down,” Hagen, who has been selling her products on Amazon for seven years, said. Amazon has rules in place about the amount of shelf life required to sell an item through its marketplace. “Because of this issue, we were out of compliance,” said Hagen. The way Hagen saw it, the path to reinstatement should have been straightforward and involved removing all affected inventory.
However, a handful of units had been lost within Amazon’s warehouses, meaning they still showing up as available within the inventory management system. This loss of inventory, according to Hagen, made it impossible to remove the affected items from Amazon’s warehouses and in turn, get Supernatural’s products reinstated. “Removing these lost items was truly and frustratingly out of our hands, yet Seller Support was not empowered to either find the inventory, or reinstate the listing until that task was complete,” Hagen recalled.
Amazon’s Seller Support is a channel where third-party merchants can appeal or report issues related to their online stores. In addition to the support provided by account managers, Seller Support is meant to be the primary interface between Amazon and its 3P sellers, a place where brands can go for assistance on issues like the one Supernatural faced.
But many founders like Hagen have found that Seller Support isn’t providing the level of support they need. After four months of what she called “dead ends” and “failed attempts” to find and remove this inventory on Seller Support, Hagen escalated the issue to senior Amazon leadership in July. She emailed Amazon’s vice president of technology Mary Beth Westmoreland a detailed description of her case asking Westmoreland for help.
“Within a few days, we received a response from a team called Executive Seller Support, who had our listing live again within a week. We lost about $50,000 dollars over this time, and so did Amazon,” said Hagen.
For its part, an Amazon spokesperson wrote in an emailed response to Modern Retail that “we are sorry that it took so long to resolve the issue reported by this seller. This experience is not representative of the vast majority of Seller Support cases. Our selling partners are incredibly important to us and we work hard to help them grow their businesses. Our seller support team is available 24/7 and we strive to resolve issues quickly.”
But, some merchants and consultants say Hagen’s saga is not unique. According to Lori Fields, director of e-commerce and founding partner at Amazon agency Jay Street Partners, two of her clients have faced a similar issue in the last six months – and Seller Support hasn’t always proven helpful.
The issues Fields’ clients have faced range from Amazon losing track of inventory, to items being inappropriately flagged by the Amazon algorithm.
Some issues are bound to happen, and that’s where Seller Support is supposed to step in and help. But, Fields said that cases can sometimes take longer than expected to resolve because the Seller Support can go into a “dead end.” Seller Support will ask her clients to provide documents like safety data documents, or manufacturing process documents to resolve an ingredient issue.
But, “we’re providing the documents and they’re not acknowledging that the documents are correct or they’re not acknowledging that they received the documents and they’re still kind of stuck on the ingredient or the issue. It can go into a circuitous queue,” Fields explained.
Mark Power, CEO at Amazon consultancy Podean echoed that the seller community is always “rolling their eyes” around Seller Support and the problems that they experience with it. “I think Amazon is trying to fix things, but it’s not an easy one. It takes time, he said.
Navigating Seller Support
Seller Support is divided into four categories: account issues, seller product issues, general questions about selling on Amazon, and customer service. Sellers open up a case depending upon what their issue is, and Amazon typically responds within 24 to 48 hours.
But, the problem, according to sources, is that Amazon usually replies with a generic response. Additionally, it can be hard to reach a real human. “For inventory types of issues and warehouses, there is no one that you could speak to through Seller Support on the phone,” Fields said. “It’s very inconclusive. So I think that’s our frustration.”
How long it can take to get a problem fixed can also vary wildly. In some cases, Amazon Seller Support can fix issues within two weeks and sometimes it could take months.
The trick, then, is figuring out how to get a more tailored, specific response from Seller Support that actually addresses the issue.
Hagen of Supernatural said learning to navigate Amazon’s Seller Support tools is essential and worthwhile for any brand that aspires to make meaningful revenue on Amazon. “Like any large scale selling platform, Amazon is a unique ecosystem, and some aspects of navigating will feel opaque at first. If you stick with it, it will pay off,” she said.
Hagen said Amazon puts the responsibility on the seller to know and comply with all of its guidelines. “They don’t typically like to hand-hold you through identifying where you went wrong, or how to fix it. They want you to understand your own responsibilities, and to have functioning internal processes in place that minimize the likelihood for compliance issues to even happen.”
In general, Seller Support follows extremely specific guidelines for working with brands to solve problems, and the support specialists are not empowered to make special exceptions, sources say. ”The more experience you have with their compliance expectations (which are for the most part available online), the less frustrated you will be as you navigate solving your problems, and the faster you can make progress,” said Hagen.
Making Seller Support interactions less painful
Supernatural, Hagen said, “reduces the time interacting with Seller Support by being as thorough as possible with our communications from the first message.” This typically involves four steps, each carrying a lot of detail. Hagen says the first step is to acknowledge the issue; then take responsibility, which means the founder may need to swallow their pride. Then, share the brand’s internal investigation of the issue and give Amazon a plan of corrective actions, explained Hagen.
Fields, for her part, said that when she is stuck in a doom loop with Seller Support, she tries to escalate the case as much as she can by “keeping the chain active.” Our three options are either to work with our internal account reps, or then deal with Seller Support online, or via case management emails,” she added.
There are also changes sellers would like to see made to Seller Support. Fields, for example, believed that Seller Support could have more streamlined verticals, centered around some of the most pressing issues her clients face like inventory issues, listing issues and suppressed ASIN. “There could be like five or six different verticals. And playing in those lanes would help Amazon cut down the queue time.”
Power also believed that Generative AI tools – some of which were unveiled at Amazon’s Accelerate conference in September – could help address some of the most frequent frustrations with Seller Support, or limit the issues that people go to Seller Support for.
For example, one of the Generative AI tools Amazon unveiled recently helps sellers more easily write product listings. So that should, in theory, cut down on some of the Seller Support queries Amazon receives related to product listings. And, there’s more Amazon can do with Generative AI as the tech evolves.
“That’s something that is being well received. But everyone’s waiting for it to actually take shape,” Power added.
Amazon news to know
- Amazon is reportedly in talks to invest in the U.S.’s largest regional sports programmer, Diamond Sports Group, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- As part of a settlement with a nonprofit organization, Amazon is no longer selling Donkey meat in California.
- The Associated Press looked into who players like Amazon and Walmart are increasing delivery speeds to compete with the likes of Shein and Temu.