Tag: Amazon tos

When you signed up to be an Amazon Seller, you agreed to a long list of seller policies and terms of use. Over time, the Amazon Terms of Service can become a distant memory and as Q4 ramps up, you may be looking for tactics to push your sales. In the flurry of the holiday season, it is easy to make a rash decision that might fall on the wrong side of the rules, risking future sales or your entire Amazon business.

 

Amazon terms of service reminders

 

Luckily, we are here to give you a quick refresher on the important policies and regulations to help keep your account safe. We have compiled an overview of Amazon Terms of Service, including code of conduct, selling policies and prohibited actions to jog your memory and help you avoid any questionable tactics.

Let’s get started!

Seller Code of Conduct

Amazon strives to provide a safe and trustworthy online marketplace for millions of customers across the globe. They require sellers to adhere by a strict code of conduct to ensure shoppers trust their purchases and continue to return to the site. This code of conduct also protects you as a seller in that it keeps your competitors from using unfair tactics to outsell you and other rule-following sellers.

If Amazon discovers that you have violated their Code of Conduct, they typically take quick action. This can include suspending your seller privileges and/or removing you from the entire Amazon Marketplace.

Amazon code of conduct

Amazon Selling Policies

In order to protect consumers, Amazon has rules and requirements on what types of products can be sold on their site. Be sure you are not planning to sell any questionable items on the marketplace. Amazon does not allow you to list products that:

Prohibited Seller Actions

Amazon prohibits certain actions by sellers in order to protect both sellers themselves and shoppers. The site does its best to keep the playing field level for all sellers, so any action that gives you an unfair advantage over your competitors is not permitted. Chances are if you are worried whether a tactic you are considering using may be against the rules, it probably is. Here is a quick recap of some prohibited actions:

1. Diverting traffic from Amazon

Sellers are not permitted to use any sort of language or web links that push traffic away from the Amazon website. This includes any advertisements, special offers or calls to action that encourage shoppers to leave the site.

2. Unauthorized business names

All business names must accurately identify the seller, must not mislead shoppers and must be a name that the seller is permitted to use (i.e. it cannot be a brand or trademarked name that you do not have appropriate permission to use). Business names cannot contain an email suffix (i.e. .com, .biz, .net, etc.).

3. Inappropriate email communications

Sellers are not allowed to send any unsolicited emails to customers other than those needed for order fulfillment or customer service. Marketing emails to customers are not permitted.

4. Improper use of customer phone numbers

Customer phone numbers are provided to sellers who fulfill their own orders so they are able to comply with carrier label requirements. These phone numbers must be handled in accordance with Amazon’s customer personal information policy, which can be found in the Seller Agreement.

5. Multiple seller accounts

Sellers are not permitted to operate and maintain multiple seller accounts. If you have a legitimate business need for multiple accounts, you can apply for an exception by visiting the Contact Us section of your seller account. Click on Selling on Amazon, then select Your Account, then Other Account Issues. You must provide an explanation of your need for multiple accounts in your submission.

6. Misuse of the Amazon seller service

Sellers that upload excessive amounts of data repeatedly or use the service in an excessive or unreasonable way may face restricted or blocked access to product feeds or any other function they are misusing. Amazon decides what constitutes this misuse at their own discretion.

7. Misuse of ratings, feedbacks or reviews

Sellers are strictly prohibited from engaging in any action that may manipulate ratings, feedback, or reviews. This includes offering incentives to customers for their reviews or ratings, posting feedback to your own account, etc. You are allowed to ask for reviews in a neutral manner, but you are not allowed to ask for positive reviews. Sellers must also comply with Amazon’s Community Guidelines when dealing with customer reviews.

Amazon terms of service for reviews

8. Misuse of sales rank

Sellers are prohibited from engaging in actions that manipulate sales rank. This includes soliciting or knowingly accepting fake orders, placing orders for your own products or providing compensation to shoppers for buying your products. Sellers are also not allowed to make claims about their sales rank in their product information.

9. Misuse of search and browse

Any attempt to manipulate the Search and Browse experience of shoppers is prohibited. This includes artificially stimulating customer traffic through internet bots, etc., providing misleading catalog information about your product, or adding product identifiers to hidden keyword attributes. Follow Amazon’s guide to properly optimize listings in order to write your listing in compliance with Amazon’s rules.

10. Misuse of product customization

Those products that are listed as being customizable must be able to deliver on this claim. Any attempt to manipulate custom functionality in a manner which bypasses existing Amazon policies or misrepresents customized products is prohibited.

Know the Rules, Follow the Rules

Amazon does not take violations of their terms of service lightly. At best, you may get flagged and temporarily suspended. At worst, you could be banned completely by the online retailer, stopping your cash flow and dashing all hopes of future sales.

Though it may be tempting at times to try questionable tactics to boost sales, it is not worth the risk. You may see some of your competitors breaking the rules to get ahead, and while they may not get caught immediately, Amazon almost always catches up to sellers who are abusing their terms of service.

We at Viral Launch are here to provide TOS compliant solutions to help your listing pick up speed and generate sales. From professional photography to optimized listings, we have a team of experts ready to get to work for you. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you!

From September of this year forward, we have seen an unprecedented number of Amazon policy changes. Some changes have had major repercussions such as the TOS update posted on October 3rd of this year, and some updates have had minor impact such as the requirement of a customer account to have spent $50 in order to be eligible to leave a review. Posted the weekend of the 18th, we have yet another update, which from our perspective, should be chalked up as a minor change.

What Is The Policy Change

Over the weekend, Amazon updated their customer’s Community Guidelines, specifically under the section “Additional Guidelines for Customer Reviews”.

The new statement reads:

Customers can submit 5 non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews each week, starting on Sundays.”

Just below that bullet is a statement that reads:

When we find unusually high numbers of reviews for a product posted in a short period of time, we may restrict reviews of these Amazon Verified Purchase reviews.”

I am not sure if the second statement is new or how long it has been there, but I find it a bit peculiar which I explain down below.

What It Means For Your And Your Business Moving Forward

A month and a half later and there still seems to be plenty of debate as to whether or not it is okay for reviews to be solicited/left on purchases made at a discount. In a blog post published a week or so after the TOS update of October 3rd banning the practice of giving products away at a discount, we stated that Amazon’s legal department had said specifically that reviews received from promotional sales were within Amazon’s Terms of Service. Naturally, there were still many skeptics, which I completely understand. However, with this update I imagine the air will be cleared.

In my opinion the most significant aspect of this change is simply that it serves as public proof that Amazon is accepting of unverified reviews. It seems as though there is no further room for debate as to whether or not soliciting honest feedback from discounted purchasers is within TOS. While we have known this for a few reasons, there were a lot of rumors floating about in various groups that receiving un-verified purchase reviews could result in a suspension from Amazon, or worse. If you have read some of my other posts, you know of my disdain for misleading rumors. I’m glad Amazon has disproven yet another.

non-verified reviews

 

How will this limit the number of reviews you are able to obtain from running promotions? I’m not quite sure the answer to this and I am even a bit confused.

There are two known limitations given by Amazon (from the customer’s perspective) when it comes to the quantity of reviews a seller is able to receive. The first limitation states that each customer is able to leave just five non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews each week. While we are not allowed to track review rates from the promotions being run through Viral Launch, we know simply from what our seller’s report that the review rates are low. There is little expectation that this will have any measurable negative impact on the value of promotions as the previous benefit from receiving reviews was marginal.  

The next bullet point also talks about limiting reviews, but it is odd because it is referring specifically to limiting Verified Purchase reviews not non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews. I am pretty well connected and well aware of a lot of things going on in the space. I am not, however, currently aware of any common methods of quickly driving inauthentic Amazon Verified Purchase reviews (not that I want to partake, it is my job to know however). Obviously I am not aware of everything going on, but I am curious if this will have an impact on sellers that are great at running external traffic to drive high volumes of sales and that also have a great feedback funnel (just wait until you see what we’re launching to help you with both of these aspects 😉 ). It will be interesting to see what Amazon means specifically with the phrases  “unusually high” and “in a short period of time”.  I would hate for sellers to be limited in their ability to generate authentic verified purchase reviews knowing just how valuable each and every review is in this day and age.

All in all, this new Amazon policy update is a great thing in my opinion! There is a lot of blackhat and underhanded activity going on in the marketplace that most sellers are not aware of. The more Amazon reigns in those activities, the greater your chances will be at succeeding so long as you focus on executing all aspects of your private label business well. This is a blow to dishonest sellers accumulating reviews from dishonest practices. I think Amazon deserves a “thanks” here. 🙂

As always, we’re here to help you succeed in everything you do. Let us know how/if we can be of any help in your journey to achieving success.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I’d like to first stipulate that I am obviously biased party in this discussion seeing that I own and operate Viral Launch. I also don’t claim to understand or know definitively what Amazon’s intentions were. I simply want to lay out all of the information and observations we’ve made around the latest change and how they fit into our perspective of the marketplace. I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of misinformation in the space. A lot of which is spread by “gurus” and service providers. I want to provide this stipulation so no one wrongfully misconstrues this as a pure factual post.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way 🙂  I feel like I can speak a little more freely about my interpretations, so let’s jump into it!

From a High Level

Overall, I am assuming that Amazon’s latest update to the promotion creation process was made with good intentions for the community, however, I think there was a slight oversight as to the entirety of its ramifications. I am expecting Amazon to make another change in the near future that will allow merchants to better protect their inventory when running promotions.

Amazon is big, very big, and with such a large platform there are a ton of complexities. There are a variety of internal departments all with their core functions and responsibilities. Sometimes one department can make a decision based on their understanding and knowledge of a situation, without getting a larger holistic view with the help of other departments. This happens all the time in government (an even larger complex organization built of many departments). Lawmakers will enact a law designed to solve a problem for a select group of people, and without realizing the entirety of the law’s impact, they end up creating new issues for other groups. A quick example would be a recent update to labor laws dictating when it is/isn’t okay to pay employees as salary versus hourly with special emphasis on overtime pay. The intention of the lawmakers was to protect salary workers making under a given pay threshold (let’s say it’s $45,000/year) from being taken advantage of because they make the same amount no matter how many hours they work in a week. On paper, it sounds great, and I’m sure for some it worked well. The problem that arose quite often is that salary workers making just under the pay threshold (ex. $40,000/year) had to become hourly workers and a lot of them took hefty pay cuts or they had to work more hours to achieve the same pay. I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but it helps to illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

Could this have been intentional? Of course. Is Amazon too large and sophisticated to make a “mistake”? That is a great question that I simply do not have enough experience/data to make a more confidence assumption either way. Either way, here is the data we’ve collected that has lead us to our current conclusion.

Supporting Data

Why do we think this was an oversight on Amazon’s end?  Three main reasons:

    1. It Doesn’t Make Sense For The Average Seller

Without the ability to limit the number of units a coupon may be redeemed for, there is no way to protect a seller’s inventory. If I were to create a 50% off coupon and post to a FB group, SlickDeals, or my brand’s personal fan group, one customer could completely wipe my inventory with a single claim code. It’s ludicrous. For those unaware, one purchase for 100 units provides the same amount of keyword ranking power as one sale of one unit. On top of that, considering opportunity costs, you would be losing out on an incredible amount of money.

Sure you are able to protect your inventory with a Multi-Channel Fulfillment Order, but in nearly all circumstances in which a seller provides a coupon to a customer, allowing one customer the ability to grab the entire available inventory would ruin the campaign.

This is not exclusively within the context of running promotions to build sales history in order to improve keyword ranking. These thoughts are within the context of any kind of promotion. There are many reasons why a seller may want to provide a discount code to their customers such as improving brand loyalty, spreading awareness of new products, contests, etc.

No matter the intention of the promotion, without the ability to protect inventory, promotions in their current capacity simply do not make sense.

Promotions/discounts have been a vital tool to sales since the concept of sales existed (probably a fact 🙂 ). Ecommerce without discounts is unnatural and can quickly create a stagnant and stale market due to the significant increase in the barrier to entry for new sellers. Amazon has thrived due to the open competition. As competition becomes stifled, it will be very interesting to see how the market progresses.

So why don’t you just lower the price? Lowering your price is certainly a viable option, but it has its own limitations and drawbacks. To quickly explain, depending on the item, if you drop your price too much you’ll find your product categorized as an add-on item, which can be terrible for organic sales conversions. Amazon can also create limitations to how quickly you can increase your price after a significant drop. For those running Lightning Deals you can quickly find yourself trapped, or your deal canceled as Lightning Deals will play off of your product’s lowest price over a certain time period (30 days I believe, but I’ve heard longer as well).

    2. Correspondences With Amazon Seller Support

Based on a few different interactions with Seller Support regarding the new promotion creation process, we were given a few pieces of information that seem to support our conclusions. I understand that you typically want to take what Seller Support says with a grain of salt. Many times Seller Support is not very knowledgable or in tune with what’s going on, but some of Seller Support actually seemed to be well aware of the recent change and appeared to have a bit of interesting information for us.

Main pieces of information:

This letter from Amazon Seller Support explains that the coupon creation update is something Amazon’s Business Team is testing over the holidays.

 amazon coupon update

On a phone call with a well informed Seller Support member, the representative told us that the change was driven largely due to some tax consequences that came with shipping products that are set to 100% off or free. As most have noticed, Amazon no longer allows us to create 100% off promotions, so whether or not this checks out is beyond me. I will not try to act like I know how taxes work for Amazon. I can only imagine the army of CPAs, accountants, lawyers, etc. they have to deal with all of the intricacies and complexities. The representative also mentioned that they were surprised by the removal of dollar off promotions, because he had seen such success with the previous promotion set up, and he expected that the current setup would not last very long.

    3. Language Within Seller Central

Amazon latest Coupon update

This dialog box is available when creating promotions. As you can see from the language used, Amazon appears to be under the impression that you can still protect your inventory with the use of the Single-Use claim codes, which we know to be false. While it is possible that the developers simply forgot to update this field, I’m curious if that is the case because they made sure to update the language on the main Promotions page under the Money Off option to only mention “percentage discount”. With the latest update, single-use claim codes also do not have quantity limits.  If Amazon were unconcerned with providing quantity limits for sellers, I wouldn’t expect to still find this language.

new Amazon coupon update

What’s Going to Happen?

As I mentioned, I’m not quite sure what will happen. Based on my data, it seems like this is a temporary change that will have an Amazon-created solution sometime soon.  Based on the Seller Support email shown above, the more sellers that complain the more likely the situation will be remedied. I would imagine there are quite a lot of complaints as this can be a significant risk at nearly any percent off . I’m imagining this update will be remedied soon.

Could I be wrong? Completely, so please don’t take this as fact. I’m simply sharing our perspective and how we expect things to play out.

What do you think? Based on the information and data you’ve collected, what are you expecting the outcome to be?

We are back with more information surrounding Amazon’s latest TOS update. I really don’t intend on “milking” this subject, but there is simply so much misinformation/rumors, it’s crazy. This misinformation leads to poor decisions and more misinformation, so I would like to do my best to clear up everything as quickly as possible. The team and I have had a good number of questions/comments around the FTC’s guidelines for reviews on products purchased at a discount. While I am not a lawyer, it seems pretty clear to me that reviews left on discounted purchases DO NOT require a disclosure statement to be left. Below, I break things down a bit further with quotes from the FTC.gov website, specifically pages around Endorcements.

As always, I do not expect you to believe me simply because I’ve said it. I am obviously a biased party here, so I have included links and quotes to help you make informed decisions and interpretations for yourself (but again, it seems pretty clear to me)!

 

Logical Breakdown

At the heart of it all, the FTC is concerned with reviews that are left by experts/bloggers/reviewers/etc. who were provided some type of compensation for the review. The intention of promotional services is simply offering discounts on Amazon products, period. Whether or not those buyers happen to leave a review is beyond our concern. Obviously we hope they leave a review for your sake, but it is beyond our company’s scope. To comply with Amazon’s TOS, we simply cannot track whether or not a buyer leaves a review. This is also not to get confused with email follow-up services, which are completely separate.

Think about popular deals websites like Slickdeals or RetailMeNot. Do you find any kind of language on their sites that let you know, “If you use one of the many coupons you find on our site and chose to leave a review, you must use a disclosure or else you will be violating the FTC’s guidelines.”? No, you do not. Nor do you see stipulations when reviewing products on other websites (ex. Walmart.com) that require a disclosure on products purchased with a discount code.

So simply by omission, I can assume that a disclosure is not required if you did indeed purchase/select the product yourself. The only reason this was ever a thing on Amazon is two-fold, 1) Amazon’s terms required it, and 2) when products were given away in exchange for a review, the FTC saw this as an endorsement which then warranted a disclosure statement.

If the product was given in exchange for a review, you were provided some form of compensation before or after, or you have some type of connection to the company, then the reviewer HAS to leave a disclosure allowing the reader to know the given circumstances.

Viral Launch is not giving products in exchange for a review. We are not providing compensation to buyers to leave reviews, nor do our buyers have connections with you as a seller/marketer. Therefore, there is no need for buyers of discounted products on Viral Launch to leave a disclosure statement.

 

Quotes From the FTC

This one seals the deal in my mind. On a very clear and concise page that covers common questions around endorsements on the FTC’s website, we find this question under the headline: “WHEN DOES THE FTC ACT APPLY TO ENDORSEMENTS?“.

For the sake of our topic, replace the word “blogger” and “blog” with “reviewer” and “review”. (The highlighting/bolding is my emphasis.)

“I’m a blogger. I heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?”

No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.

The FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays you or gives you something of value to mention a product. If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered. Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are covered.

 

As you can see, it is pretty clear that there is no need for a disclosure if the buyer/reviewer pays for the item. There is also no need to provide a disclosure if the product is given for free, so long as it is not given with compensation or in exchange for a review.

Hopefully, that makes you feel comfortable with the fact that the FTC does not require a review to contain a disclosure statement if the reviewer purchased the product at a discount from sites like Viral Launch.

As further examples, I’ve included a couple other quotes from different pages on the FTC’s website.

 

If you visit this link here, you will be taken to the U.S. Government Publishing Office discussing “GUIDES CONCERNING USE OF ENDORSEMENTS AND TESTIMONIALS IN ADVERTISING”. This is a bit harder to understand and has the traditional lawyer speak that you may expect. Going through all of their given examples under the headline “Consumer endorsements” and “Disclosure of material connections”, you will find only examples where compensation is provided either before or after the fact. There are no examples provided in which a customer purchases the product at a discount and is required to leave a disclosure.

 

On a page labeled “THE FTC’S ENDORSEMENT GUIDES: BEING UP-FRONT WITH CONSUMERS”, we find these two quotes.

 

Quote 1:

“… marketers who are compensated to promote or review a product should disclose it.”

Quote 2:

“The Endorsement Guides also state that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”

 

These both show that only when compensation is provided or the product is given in exchange for a review is the disclosure statement needed.

 

Using Follow-up Services

Is it within Amazon’s terms of service to solicit a review after a customer has purchased a product? YES. As I mentioned in our previous blog post, we have confirmation from Amazon’s legal department that following up with a buyer asking for a review is completely within Amazon’s TOS so long as it is done correctly. How do you follow-up correctly? That is another post in itself, but briefly, do not incentivize, require, or manipulate the review/reviewer in any way.

One thing that I want to point out is the fact that you should NOT tell reviewers that they cannot leave the disclosure statement in their review. By telling a reviewer they cannot leave the disclosure, in my mind, you are manipulating the content of the review by telling the reviewer what it can/cannot contain.

Our approach to this situation is to inform the buyer that Amazon’s TOS is no longer requiring the disclosure statement, “I purchased this product at a discount in exchange….”. We also let them know that the product was not given in exchange for their review and that they may choose whether or not they decide to review it.

It is simply a question of semantics, but can be critical when adhering to Amazon’s TOS.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully this brief discussion on the FTC’s rules clear up any rumors and/or misinformation that has been floating around. As always, it’s our goal to help you make the most informed decisions possible when it comes to operating and growing your Amazon business.

Overall, it looks like this is further proof that a major intention of Amazon’s latest policy update was simply to rid reviews of the disclosure statement so as to improve the perceived integrity of their review platform to consumers.

 

If you have any other questions, curious about rumors, or anything of the sort, please post them in the comments down below so I can address them for you!

As always, I wish you the best in growing your Amazon business!

In my original post, I posed a lot of questions around how exactly Amazon would interpret and enforce their latest TOS update moving forward. As is too common in this space, we’ve heard an insane amount of rumors. Be careful what you believe and guard who you trust. Thanks to a friend of mine with direct contact to Amazon’s legal department, we have some much appreciated clarification. I’ll update this post in the next couple of days with a link to a post by this friend where he will give exacts from the conversations he has had directly with Amazon’s legal department.

To many, the clarification mentioned below was already common assumption. Personally, I prefer to speak on the facts and make decisions based on data, which we simply did not have just 24 hours after the TOS change was posted.

So what is the clarification? What is the information directly from Amazon’s legal department? 

 

The two largest takeaways are:

 

  1. It is okay for 3rd party websites to distribute discounted claim codes on behalf of Amazon merchants.
  2. It is okay for merchants to follow-up with the discounted buyers asking for a review, so long as they abide by all other review policies and stipulations (ex. Don’t ask for only a positive review, do not force the customer to leave a review, do not monitor whether or not they were able to leave a review, etc.)

 

What does this mean? Well, for Viral Launch specifically, we will continue to operate as we have for the last year or so. Fortunately, we had the foresight to position ourselves away from the review group model, which has had incredible benefits for our customers. Largely the only change we had to make post TOS Update is the removal of all language from the site around “reviews”.

What does this mean for you as a seller? Hopefully this helps to ease concerns and increase confidence in the fact that Amazon allows you to run promotions and to ask customers for reviews after purchasing your products at a discount. Hopefully this helps to convince you that the private label world is not dead. That there is still plenty of hope in a bright future moving forward!

As history has shown and as time progressed, we have come to find out that another TOS update did not have such severe an impact as we initially expected. With that said, the landscape has definitely changed, and depending on your previous launch strategy, launching a product has become quite a bit more difficult. As we’ve always preached, you need to do all things GREAT in order to outsell your competition (and sometimes even survive), now more than ever! If you find yourself having a difficult time getting ahead of the competition, launching a product, or even maintaining sales, look around to see just how well you are executing every aspect of your private label business.

So all in all, the dust seems to have settled for the most part and we are all free to go on our merry way, building scaleable private label businesses on the world’s largest commerce platform! Sounds like a great time to be an entrepreneur to me! 🙂

Side Note: With all of this, I feel like this news has definitely confirmed the suspicions I posed in our initial blog post regarding what net affect this would actually have on the market and what Amazon’s true intentions are (you can read them in here).
As always, we will keep you updated as new word comes out and we wish you and your business the best!!

The Amazon space has changed and while we are still waiting for the dust to settle, there are some basic truths we do know like the fact that we CANNOT give products away at a discount. No more 80%+ review rates from discounted product sales. It’s going to change the fundamentals of how sellers can quickly get products up and selling. So the Viral Launch team is putting together a comprehensive Amazon private label guide to successfully launching products on Amazon with the new rules brought about by Amazon’s latest Terms of Service update. It’s epic and incredibly beneficial to all levels of experience on Amazon.

Spoiler Alert! Selling on Amazon Is NOT Over! It’s Not “Too Hard” Now. If That’s Your Mindset, Change It! Life As An Entrepreneur Has Its Challenges. It’s The Strong That Survive, And Together, We’ll Help You Thrive!

Each day we will feature a new step in the process of selling private label products on Amazon with specifics on how each step has been affected by the TOS change. We are super excited to help you navigate the process based on our extensive knowledge and experience in the space of running over 11,000 product launches and working with high level sellers selling between $50-$100 million per year on Amazon.

You can find our Ultimate Amazon Private Label Guide to Success landing page here. Each day we will add a new section and topic! Our first day we discuss product sourcing and how to make intelligent decisions when souring especially with the new market conditions following the TOS update. The page can be found here!

Are you excited about our guide? What topics would you like us to cover?

If you are looking for the Amazon TOS Update of 2016 that can be found on our in-depth post here!

 

 

 

 

Our Position on Amazon’s Update to their Terms of Service and the Chaos that has Ensued

Originally Posted: 8/30/2015

Amazon is constantly changing and transforming. We were reminded of that this weekend as they discreetly updated their Selling Policies, specifically their “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions” page.

If you have not read for yourself here are the excerpts from the updated page:

Reviews:

“Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers’ experiences with products and services — positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”

Misuse of Sales Rank:

“The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders. This includes placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description. “

So what does this mean for you as a seller? What does it mean for your future with Viral Launch? There have been more than enough rumors and opinions posed as facts, so we would like to break things down as best as possible for you. We’ve launched over 2,000 products, consulted $50m/year Amazon businesses, and tracked 10′s of millions of data points all in the last 10 months. This is not to brag (hyperbole marketing and telling others how great I think I am is not my style 😉 ), but to illustrate the interesting perspective we have obtained, and while we have no absolutes, here are our thoughts.

Our Position

For those with limited attention spans, or simply want the short version, I want to pose Viral Launch’s official position here at the beginning. I will elaborate and explain in greater depth our position throughout the rest of this post.

Our goal is to provide our clients a long-term solution to promoting their products, gaining exposure and building their businesses. If that means taking calculated precautions so as to ensure we are 100% ToS compliant and without possibility of being accused of manipulative or fraudulent behaviors, then we will take the appropriate actions to do so.We would never want our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Although we do not believe that Amazon will be cracking down on sellers for running promotions through targeted URLs or begin penalizing sellers for running promotions giving more than 50, 100, 300, etc. in a day, the fact of the matter is the language of the new policies deems these actions strictly in violation of policy. For that reason Viral Launch is repositioning itself as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure capable of driving buy-ready traffic to your product in a powerful yet controlled manner. We have an audience that wants to buy your product. Simple as that. Under the hood, everything will remain essentially the same. However, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. You can checkout our new page at https://viral-launch.com.

No One Knows Anything

The thing is, in the Amazon marketplace Amazon creates the law, enforces the law and answers to no one.They write their policies to be broad and vague so that they may interpret as they wish and enforce them as they please. There is no knowing for certain their intentions when crafting these policies. Even if one did know the intent of a rule, the language is so loosely written that they can turn around and penalize sellers on completely different grounds.

-Will Amazon penalize, remove, or suspend you for running promotions through a SuperURL or any other type of targeted URL? The short answer is probably not. However, they can very easily see that you are sending traffic through an unnatural URL, the customer has a new session, and by tracking the referrer tag from the referring URL.  I will say that our OrganicURL satisfies these three issues, but then the question comes down to whether or not Amazon perceives this as an attempt at ranking manipulation, which in my opinion I can very easily see Amazon interpreting this an attempt at ranking manipulation. My opinion does not matter, it is how Amazon decides to interpret and even more importantly how/if they choose to enforce it.

I will say that one leading service in their position announcement made a point trying to “geek-out” and use programming language (the sample code they used was definitely not written by a programmer as it had some major issues and is nothing like what Amazon uses but that is besides the point) to illustrate that Amazon could very easily disallow keyword ranking boosts from launches using the SuperURL. I would like to disagree. I am a developer myself. I hand coded the entire Viral Launch platform, and have experience working with advanced machine learning (AI) algorithms similar to those employed by Amazon. This gives me a unique perspective on the A9 ranking algorithm. The ranking algorithm is not a simple script that allots keyword ranking to products after a sale through a specific keyword like the previously mentioned service believes. We are talking about a brilliantly complex algorithm architected to take into account a myriad of data points with logic constructs that are not easily adjusted. I believe Amazon has intentionally decreased the ranking effects of SuperURLs because they are well aware of launching services using them and Amazon does not like it. So why has Amazon not done away with the ranking effects of the SuperURL altogether? Frankly because at this point, they simply cannot. Think of an intricately designed spider web. It may be easy to remove just a couple of supporting threads, but if too many are removed or adjusted the spider web will collapse in on itself. The A9 Algorithm is just such a spider web, a very complex construction which services millions. It is not easy to completely change how it operates (allotting ranking) while continuing to service such a high volume effectively.  But I digress.

-What is “excessive” in Amazon’s eyes? Who knows, but my assumption is A TON. I am referring to numbers in the thousands. You will see why we believe this in the next section. That being said, Amazon could very well interpret giving 100+/units in a single day as excessive. Do I think you should be concerned with giving more than 100 units in a day? No, but I think it is important to  simply be aware. We have sellers who have been giving 200+/day since the updated terms have launched and thus far nothing has changed. Amazon tells us the term “excessive” is referring to giving an “excessive” number of discounts of the same product to one individual.

-Does running promotions constitute as attempting to inflate sales rank? I think the keyword here is “inflate”. There is a difference between improve and inflate. Inflate, according to Merriam Dictionary refers to excess, which is again a very subjective term. From speaking with Amazon we are led to believe that when the policy refers to “sales rank” it is in direct reference to Best Seller Ranking. Again, we do not think you should be concerned with Amazon accusing you of inflating sales rank, but we want you to be completely informed.

What We Know of Amazon

Amazon prides itself on its review system. The quality and legitimacy of reviews are vital. If consumer confidence plummets in its review system then sales will suffer. From some of the largest brands on Amazon as well as Amazon themselves we are being told that Amazon is far more concerned with review manipulation than they are sellers sending promotions through unnatural targeted links.

Amazon does not care who is at the top of the keyword rankings, no matter who it is, they are making their money all the same. However, as soon as the consumer base loses faith in the integrity of the reviews posted on Amazon, their bottom line will take a hit. That is not acceptable.

That is not just our view, but the shared beliefs of some of our largest allies who have been on Amazon for 10+ years and are each hitting in the ten’s of millions every year.

I think it goes without saying, but you must be uber careful when it comes to reviews. Be wary of promotional services that require their users to leave reviews. They incentivize their users to leave reviews by telling them they can get more deals after they leave their review. I cannot help but view this as manipulating reviews, that is why we have never employed such methods ourselves. Although the methods were more black hat, Amazon recently took legal action against review manipulating companies and I imagine there will be more to come. Amazon is cracking down.

What Amazon is Telling Us

As you know talking with seller support and the info received from them is not exactly the most reliable. Despite this being the case, there were a few points that were offered almost uniformly.  We also have some inside connections with Amazon along with powerful friends with inside connections. Even so, after speaking with many Amazon representatives in various departments, we have no definitive answer and very little clarification on the language used and exact intention of the updated policy.

Here is what we have been told:

  • Incentivizing or manipulating reviews is against policy (duh).
  • Those that abuse or infringe upon this policy will first be warned before action is taken.
  • Amazon does not want you sending multiple units of the same product to the same customer.

We have been told almost uniformly that these new statements are simply an extension of an existing rule working to thwart black hat rank boosting efforts. We have friends of friends who will have a “customer” make hundreds of purchases on a single product at a discount to boost their keyword ranking. There are sellers sending thousands of products to fake accounts and fake addresses. There are ways sellers are working to manipulate the systems, and it is these instances we feel Amazon is largely targeting. Don’t do that.

This is Not the Death of Promotions!

Amazon relies on merchant run promotions as an avenue for driving new customers to the Amazon marketplace. Without promotions, how would one get started in this space. It would be incredibly difficult, and would take a toll on the marketplace’s overall performance.

If Amazon did not want you to give products away at a discount (or free) in exchange for reviews they would not state, “If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review.” The ability to create these promotional codes would be no more. So all the rumors you have heard telling you that you cannot promote your product or else your account will be suspended are absolutely false!

Repositioning

Viral Launch has always prided ourselves on being an honest company and being 100% compliant in our approach. We really care about the success of our users (if you have ever reached out for advice or help you know this first hand). In order to ensure compliance we have to make changes in how we operate and how we advise you with promotions.

1.) First, we are changing our positioning as a company. We no longer want to be lumped into the category as those “blast” sites. In the past we prided ourselves on our ability to raise products from no sales to $10k, $25k, $35k/month after just a couple of launches with only our standard packages. We have been able to boost keyword ranking at will, however, so as to avoid jeopardizing the accounts of sellers we work with, we will now be positioning ourselves as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure to your products and services. While most things under the hood will remain the same, and you will continue to see the same effects, we believe that it is important to change our positioning so that there is no doubt that we are running a completely compliant service. We feel this is imperative to offering a long-term solution to promoting and growing your products and business.

2.) Second, we offer ways to spread or stagger your launch promotions through multi-day launches in a very controlled manner. We have always found that this receives better results and is much more likely to help you feel compliant in terms of not being “excessive.” We will continue to offer this and educate sellers on the best launch strategies for them.

3.) Thirdly, you will now have the choice as to whether or not you wish to use our OrganicURL for your launches.  As stated previously, we do not believe any seller will be penalized for using targeted URLs, however, for your sake we wish to give you the choice.

4.) We have updated our pricing model to better reflect our intentions going forward. As you are familiar with Pay Per Click models on other promotional platform such Google and Amazon, we want to emulate just that. You can view our new pricing on our landing page.

5.) Finally, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. We would never want the opportunity for our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Our Warning to the Wise (and everyone else)

We are in a space of super marketers. They know the exact language needed to make anything sound appealing or appropriate. They will brag about themselves and self-impose superficial titles to sound more authoritative just to get your money. They have no problem claiming you NEED something that just so happens to require you to pay them more money in order to be successful. When they fail to deliver, they blame you. To some services, all you are is money, and they will stop at no expense to get as much of it as they can. They do not care about your success they care about their bottom dollar.

Now more than ever, be skeptical. Only work with the people, services, and companies you trust. It is very easy to be swept up in pretty talk and superlatives. Only do what you are absolutely comfortable with. It is not worth losing the business you have worked so hard to build. Viral Launch is no exception. If you are not 100% comfortable with what we are doing ask us questions. If even then we do not ease your concerns, then I encourage you to find a company which better satisfies your needs and aligns with your perspectives. 🙂

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Do not pay for reviews. Even if they are video reviews.
  • Do not require or incentivize reviews. Using services which require their users leave reviews on the products they get is included in this. Telling users that they will have access to more deals if they leave a review is incentivizing them to leave their review. This is strictly against Amazon’s policy. There are many many services out there that do this. Please be skeptical and use caution.
  • Be weary of services that allow you to pick and choose which users will be reviewing your product. This is a lot like manipulation.

Ultimately, we will continue to work towards providing the best long-term solution to building and growing your business. We are continually building out new features and services that allow you to effectively and efficiently grow while ensuring the probability of your long-term success.

Wishing you the best,
Casey Gauss
CEO/ Co-Founder