Recently, we covered the do’s and don’ts of Amazon reviews. This article continues our in-depth look at Amazon’s Terms of Service, though this time, we will examine Amazon product promotions.
Unlike their reviews, the changes Amazon has made to their promotional rules remains somewhat of a mystery.
Changes made to its TOS are subtle, with little-to-no fanfare. And every other day we hear about a seller who was suspended following a promotional campaign on Amazon.
As we did with our guide to Amazon’s reviews blog, we’ve taken our real-world experience with sellers and their suspensions, as well as our conversation with Amazon seller suspensions expert, Chris McCabe, and used it to break down their TOS.
Based on that information, we’ve put together a list of what Amazon ultimately considers illegal or unethical, and what they believe is okay.
Product sales rank and its relationship to promotions
For a long time, Amazon FBA sellers have noticed that there is a strong connection between sales velocity and sales rank, both for best seller rank (BSR) and organic ranking (SEO).
The more products you sell, the higher you appear in Amazon’s rankings. Therefore, in theory, if you give away products as promotions, your product will appear higher in the search results. Naturally, this leads to more sales and success.
In many cases, however, Amazon sees this practice as sales rank manipulation and a misuse of its platform.
When it comes to Amazon, always play it safe
To be clear, at Jungle Scout, we believe all types of sales rank and promotion manipulation bring down the Amazon platform. It leads to a loss of shopper trust. And a loss of trust means fewer sales for the platform, sellers and even our business.
If you’re ever in doubt that what you’re doing might be considered unethical or illegal in Amazon’s eyes, err on the side of caution. It’s always the best option.
In Amazon’s words:
When it comes to the actual terms of service for seller behavior, you can find Amazon’s guidelines in Seller Central. But to make this really easy for you, the following was taken directly from that policy. We’ve omitted any information that doesn’t apply to promotions:
Misuse of sales rank:
The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. Any attempt to manipulate sales rank is prohibited. You cannot solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders, including placing orders for your own products. You cannot provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you cannot make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.
Breaking it all down
So what does it mean? Here’s our analysis:
1 – “The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product.”
As we pointed out in our article about reviews, Amazon cares about its customers more than anything else.
The BSR is a tool Amazon uses to instruct its customer base on the popularity of products. This means that if the rank is manipulated, Amazon (and the responsible seller) misrepresented the demand for the product.
2 – “Any attempt to manipulate sales rank is prohibited.”
This is where things get tricky. What does Amazon consider sales rank manipulation?
Unfortunately, Amazon offers no exact guidelines or “magic number” for how many coupon codes can be given out during promotions.
However, Chris McCabe, our seller suspension specialist, suggests that sellers giving away hundreds or thousands of products are clearly breaking the manipulation rule.
On the other hand, sellers who offer only a few dozen promotions should be safe.
3 – “You cannot solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders, including placing orders for your own products.”
This practice is known as ‘sock-puppeting’, and Amazon takes it very seriously.
When you create an account (or hire someone else to create it for you), in order to purchase your own product with the intent of boosting your own BSR, you are violating Amazon’s ‘no manipulation’ rule.
I recently met someone who accidentally accessed their seller account from their buyer account. Amazon immediately suspended the seller’s selling account.
4 – “You cannot provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products…”
After Amazon killed incentivized reviews in October 2016, a lot of clever sellers got the idea to “hire” people to buy their product on Amazon. The sellers then paid the buyers via PayPal, prompting the buyers to leave a positive review for the seller.
Amazon caught on, and sellers are now banned for this practice. You can’t pay someone to purchase your product from Amazon’s site.
5 – “… or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank.”
This particular line is the subject of many seller debates.
As I mentioned before, promotions and sales velocity are like two peas in a pod. You give away enough products and, eventually, your sales rank will rise.
However, give away too many products and Amazon may suspend you.
McCabe believes promotions are still doable, as long as the seller doesn’t give away hundreds of coupon codes. He suggests keeping the number of Amazon product promotion giveaways low; no more than a dozen per day.
There’s also a rumor that Amazon is looking for sudden sales spikes in conjunction with product reviews. The thought is that they’re targeting ranking manipulators.
This is just another reason to make sure your follow-up emails, along with your Amazon product promotions are TOS-compliant.
6 – “In addition, you cannot make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description.”
This rule ties back to misrepresenting a product’s popularity on Amazon.
The BSR is in constant flux, and mentioning your ranking is considered to be a manipulative tactic. Amazon doesn’t want rank to influence a buyer’s decision.
Ask the Experts: Chris McCabe
Recently, Greg Mercer and I sat down with Amazon suspension specialist, eCommerceChris’ Chris McCabe. He used to work for Amazon, but now helps Amazon sellers avoid terms of service issues with the retail site.
Here are a few of the things we learned from Chris.
“Don’t make a giant spike.”
Chris tells us that Amazon’s chief concern is cracking down on the big black hat sellers using bizarre PPC (pay per click) tactics to manipulate the system.
Having said that, if your sales suddenly spike, it raises suspicions. And if you gain a significant number of reviews, along with the sales spike, it’s extremely likely that your account will be flagged.
“Stay away from 100s and 1000s of promotions. Keep it in the dozens.”
When launching a product, it’s okay to give away 50 to 100 products, as long as you give them out over a period of time. Chris told us that when sellers start giving away 100s of Amazon product promotion codes per day, Amazon takes notice.
Therefore, we recommend keeping your daily giveaways low, and/or in line with what your competitors sell to rank for their keywords.
“Amazon keeps it vague – especially in account suspensions.”
Basically, Amazon wants to stay flexible with its do’s and don’ts of Amazon product promotions.
While they try to remain fair, if they think a seller’s listing content goes against their core value of taking care of their customers, Amazon will take action.
“Suspicion quickly converts to suspension.”
Suspensions are on the rise, and Chris believes Amazon isn’t taking any chances with sellers trying to “break the system.”
Accounts coming under suspicion for manipulation and content abuse are likely to be suspended, particularly if they fail to address the concern, or stop manipulating the system.
“However, Amazon does warn its sellers.”
A large portion of all sellers are warned by Amazon to cease and desist practices that violate their terms of service. However, many fail to notice–or simply ignore–these warnings. Don’t be one of those sellers!
Suspensions of these types of accounts are common, so if you receive a warning, protect yourself and make the recommended changes.
“Big sellers aren’t treated any differently.”
Regardless of how much business you’re doing on Amazon, Amazon takes its review content very seriously.
Chris explains that during the last major “purge”, Amazon banned thousands of sellers, including accounts making eight or nine figures in revenue.
The only advantage larger businesses seem to have is that those who use them are better at hiding their ‘black hat’ practices.
“Just because others are doing it, doesn’t mean you should too.”
There may be sellers bigger than you breaking the rules (and not getting caught–yet), but that doesn’t mean you can do the same without catching Amazon’s eye.
The bottom line is that if you’re not following the guidelines for Amazon product promotions, you’re putting your account at risk.
“Manipulation is suicidal selling. You’re gambling with your business’ future.”
Breaking the rules to succeed might seem attractive; in the end, though, you’re putting your business’ future on the line.
Remember: selling on Amazon isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes time, patience, and investment.
Cheating the system could, in all likelihood, erase all the hard work and money you put into your Amazon FBA business.
Best practices for boosting your ranking on Amazon
Everyone wants a higher sales rank, but we don’t believe you have to cheat to get there. Here are a few legal things you can do to improve your product’s popularity and visibility on Amazon:
- “Be as conservative as possible.” Always err on the side of caution. If it seems like you’re giving away too many discount codes each day, slow down. And after distributing your codes, remember that if you’re contacting a shopper strictly for the purpose of getting a positive review, you’re probably going against Amazon’s terms of service.
- “Take care of the customer, always.” Sure, it’s not a ‘hack’, but it’s a tried-and-true method that’s as old as time. If you take good care of the people who purchase from you, they will come back and buy again. They will spread the word, suggesting your product(s) to their friends. Provide poor customer service, and people will also spread the word…but to tell people to stay away from your Amazon listing(s).
- “Brand.” Small brands can thrive on Amazon. But, in order for your products to flourish, you’ve actually got to build an actual brand. Simply tossing your product on Amazon and hoping for the best won’t cut it. You need to build an audience for your product outside of Amazon.
What questions do you have?
Naturally, as Amazon evolves and grows, they will continue to add new rules. Hopefully, though, this article cleared up a lot of the confusion around Amazon product promotions and ranking guidelines.
But if you still have questions, comments, or even stories to share surrounding Amazon product promotions, please post them in the comments below.
And a special thanks to Chris McCabe for taking the time to speak with us!