f you’re active in the eCommerce space, especially if you sell on Amazon, then you may have heard of Chris McCabe, a.k.a. ecommerceChris. McCabe is a specialist in helping Amazon sellers improve their performance and navigate the complexities of the world’s largest online marketplace. From reviewing the accounts of active sellers to ensure they’re protected from ever being suspended, to helping sellers with suspended accounts get reinstated and deal with other issues stemming from failure to comply with Amazon policies, he’s dealt with it all.
As a former Amazonian who worked on Amazon’s performance and policy enforcement teams, McCabe has years of experience seeing the inner workings of the world’s largest online marketplace. He also has strong relationships with people who still run those teams, and they keep him informed about Amazon rule changes. McCabe’s knowledge and connections give him a deep understanding of the policies, procedures, and proper methods of communication that sellers must follow if they want to remain in Amazon’s good graces, making him the ideal source to consult when seeking Amazon expertise.
We were fortunate to speak with McCabe about all things Amazon and find out what’s in store for PROSPER Show attendees when they go to the Seller Performance Panel he’s putting together with fellow Amazon experts Cynthia Stine, Peter Kearns, and Ed Rosenberg.
Here are the highlights!
Q1: Chris, can you tell our readers a bit about what you do?
Just to give you some quick background, I used to work at Amazon for six years. So, the entire basis of my consulting business is helping sellers with issues that my former teams give them trouble with. Seller Performance and Policy Enforcement teams, category managers, account development, account management, that sort of thing. I have a small crew because I only hire former Amazon people, preferably people I used to work with directly.
The Amazon space is rife with misinformation. As someone who used to work at the company, I see things that are way, way off from the perspective of sellers and the people advising them. And then I’ll see people retweeting that misinformation, sharing it on Facebook, and putting it in seller forums, and then 10 other people come to me the next day and ask me about it. I also see a lot of people taking bad advice or asking the wrong people really important questions and getting terrible responses. I mean, the responses might be polished and might sound really good, but no one is double-checking things.
So, it’s my job to help clear things up, set things straight, and help sellers navigate through the noise so their problems can be solved.
Q2: What are the most common areas in which you see misinformation about Amazon?
Oh boy, I’ll make a list for you. [laughs]
I can speak more to the performance and policy teams that I used to work on. Here’s a good example: People totally misunderstand what an “escalation” is. 90-percent of the people you talk to or see commenting on forums or Facebook groups say, “oh, ‘escalation,’ that’s writing to Jeff Bezos at firstname.lastname@example.org.” And then you send your grievance there — it could be anything under the sun at this point — everyone uses that email address and it’s become a regular move, which is not what it was supposed it be.
But it’s not just where you send correspondence; it’s also what you send. People don’t always understand what an “escalation” is supposed to look like. And that creates a lot of extra work for Amazonians, but also extra work for consultants like me because I have to untangle all these mistakes and gaps in understanding. Because people think, “well, I’ve emailed my Plan of Action, but Amazon’s not reading it and not reinstating my account, so I just have to keep sending it to as many email addresses as I can to work the law of averages until I get a response.”
If you happen to get lucky and find some random Amazon employee who reads your email and forwards it to the right team, then you’d better make sure that your one opportunity goes through. Otherwise, you could really be ruining your chances at being heard and having a proper appeal considered by Performance and Policy. And you don’t get that many chances at it, either.
I see this so much and it’s a bit frustrating because, logically, if I send you the same email seven times in a row, it’s doesn’t really mean that they’re going to respond better or appreciate it. That’s what sellers are doing with Amazon when it comes to Seller Performance. They’re spamming Amazon because they think quantity is quality, but on a logical level you should know that’s not the case.
When it comes to dealing with Amazon compliance issues, these are nuanced communications with teams that are adjudicating your appeal, and in some cases, they’re deciding whether your whole account should be reinstated. And for many people I work with, their entire business is tied up in Amazon, so it could mean the reinstatement of their whole company.
People typically know when their business is in imminent danger and they can communicate it to me very easily, but for some reason, it doesn’t match up with the style or quality of communication that my former teams require. That, in a nutshell, is how I started doing what I do.
I looked at how sellers handled troubleshooting operational problems on their accounts, their perspective on being an Amazon seller and account holder in general, and I just saw people shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly.
So, it was my job to approach these processes as politely as possible, help these sellers get reinstated and coach them through the different details. Most people seem to be doing trial-and-error with Amazon, and you can’t do that with them. They don’t give you that many chances and they’re very strict — for important reasons. They’re the chief marketplace that exists and they have to protect the integrity of it. And, they have the leverage to do so.
That’s how a lot of my business grew: my background, experience, and knowledge of how Amazon processes work, plus the relationships I’ve made at Amazon over the years. Everything like this and more is what I’m going to talk about on the Seller Performance Panel at PROSPER Show.
Q3: Aside from the Seller Performance Panel, why should Amazon sellers attend the PROSPER Show?
PROSPER is the largest major Amazon conference and it brings the most people together — the most people who are former Amazon employees, for sure. There are other eCommerce conferences, but I tend to see that speakers at other conferences aren’t former Amazonians, which, to me, is PROSPER’s key difference.
Q4: What level of sellers would you say PROSPER Show is best geared toward?
PROSPER is great because it’s so large that it attracts all kinds of sellers. I met small ones, big ones, medium-sized ones, some doing private label and others who are resellers. There are definitely lots of established older sellers and there are always newer ones.
I fell into the trap of thinking maybe some of the newer companies there were going to take years to ramp up -- they’re only doing a million a year now and maybe it would take 5 years to triple that or quadruple it -- and that’s not really the case. That’s the beauty of Amazon: if you do it right and don’t make a lot of mistakes, you can make up for a lot of lost time quickly. PROSPER helps sellers gain the knowledge and insights to do that.
And then of course, newbies might be rubbing shoulders with established sellers, listening to them talk out on the floor or learning from them during Q&A’s. It’s a great gathering place for a range of seller sizes and a mix of seller types.
Q5: Beyond what you already told us, what can PROSPER Show attendees expect from the Seller Performance Panel you’re putting together?
On top of what I discussed earlier about the misconceptions sellers have about how Amazon works internally, the panel will educate PROSPER Show attendees on even more of the nuances of proper communication with Amazon.
There are little things, too. Some people just aren’t great at writing, and a lot of what you do with Seller Performance involves written appeals. You have to write content that explains who the supplier is, and give Amazon readily verifiable information about how you’re sourcing your products. If they don’t understand, or they’re spending too much time looking at, or they don’t think it’s valuable, they just toss it to the side and move on to the next one.
The main reason I was invited to PROSPER is to share some of this expertise and walk people through how things are perceived internally at Amazon, and really just teach people how to communicate with Performance and Policy teams because poor communication with them won’t get you far.
A lot of people assume “a bot took me down,” and people are mixing and matching a lot of these terms without understanding the real processes that are going on. They assume it’s all automated software. When you’re reinstated or denied reinstatement on Amazon, there’s a person behind it. It’s an investigator. They’re global teams, so it may be someone on the other side of the world in India reading and responding to you at an off-hour because they’re located in another time zone, but someone is reading it.
The panel will focus on all of this and delve into many more details about how sellers can keep their accounts in good standing so they can avoid compliance issues with Amazon.
Q6: On another note, how long do you think Amazon Australia will take to get it together?
I think a lot of launches take some extra time. It’s different when the registration isn’t open and Amazon is saying “contact us and we’ll vet you for selling, and then we’ll get back to you,” because then you’re depending on the speed of their processes. And that’s what they’re doing in Australia.
I’ve spoken with some Amazon business development people and account managers about the launch and let them know I’ve got a lot of people interested in selling in Australia to find out how they’d like these interested sellers to get involved.
They’re splitting it up between people who are established sellers, either incredibly established off Amazon in Australia and finally getting to sell on Amazon for the first time, or sellers who are established in other markets, like the US and UK; they’re based in Australia but selling in all these other markets already, so it’s easier to know more about them and get them integrated into what they need to do for Amazon Australia.
So that’s the degree of complexity. Some people are coming in cold from doing no eCommerce or just having their own website and sales there, and Amazon doesn’t want to discourage those types of sellers. But, at the same time, they don’t want to just open up Amazon Australia for self-registration. It was similar to that when they opened Amazon China; it was sort of an invite-only model because they wanted to vet everyone on the way in, for obvious reasons. I think that for Amazon Australia, it looks like Amazon is using the same gameplan.
Q7: Were you ever an Amazon seller yourself?
I’ve never been a seller myself, but my main value to people who sell on Amazon is that I saw it all from the inside. I evaluated sellers’ content from the other side so I know what’s expected, and it’s a very particular type of communication and correspondence that’s needed.
I read all their email, I have the Internal team perspective. Read all the appeals, assessed them for viability and eligibility for reinstatement for a listing or an account, based on the quality of information given, the proof that they understood why they were suspended to begin with, their interest in following the rules and being compliant. Part of it is just proving you know what the rules and policies are.
Lots of people write emails to Amazon saying “we’re 100% compliant” and they make all these promises, but sometimes I speak with them afterwards and discover they don’t really know what “compliance” means in terms of what they’ve been warned for.
Q8: If you ever became a seller what would your approach be?
I would probably be a private label seller. I’ve seen a lot of war-torn misery of resellers who sell major brands and run into problems with buyers or the brands themselves, so reselling doesn’t look that appealing to me. I know people who have been very successful with reselling and they’ve seen a lot of growth year over year with it, so I understand why they still do it, but that’s also getting harder to do each year.
And I think it just personally appeals to me more if I had a product I wanted to make or something that I didn’t see was out there that could be something that would sell well and also meet a need. Creating a private label product and doing it the right way with cultivating a brand is appealing.
Once you understand how to be trending well on Amazon, getting sales growth, how to get people to look at your page, understand what your product is, make a decision to buy it, and then share the experience with other people, that sort of thing…. Once you have all that down, then it’s just a question of the quality of the product, the relevance of the product, and if you can expand it into other marketplaces. If you’re doing well on one Amazon marketplace, then you might be able to do well on four or five.
Then you have to go through steps to make sure you can sell things in other marketplaces — again, back to compliance. Since I already understand a lot of those concepts, switching over to being a seller would be a little easier for me than, say, someone who was selling via brick-and-mortar their whole life.
But, for now, I’m focused on the other side: helping Amazon sellers navigate through the complex issues of compliance and getting their suspended accounts reinstated.
Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you at PROSPER Show!
Remember, PROSPER Show 2018 is coming up soon: Pre-show workshops start on March 12th, and the official conference runs from March 13th through March 14th, all at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Grab your tickets today and use the code 18xApp, exclusively for Informed.co blog readers, to save $100 per ticket, so you don’t miss out on the biggest and best conference for Amazon sellers all year!