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The Price is Right

by earthmom

#127, 25 August 2008

You've taken the plunge and opened your Amazon seller account. You've seen the "Sell Yours Here" buttons on Amazon's website, and you're thinking to yourself, "How hard can this be?" so you grab a book off your overcrowded bookshelf, turn it over and enter the ISBN number - and a couple of minutes later your Amazon business has officially begun.

Now, how do you manage to survive for the first month, the first 6 months, the first year, without being eaten alive or shut down? Let's talk about some things to consider and some ways to keep your head above water.

Fastest ways to get shut down by Amazon

  • Open more than one Seller Account. This is a huge no-no and Amazon doesn't want to listen to your reasons why. You can have multiple Buyer Accounts, but don't get them mixed up and accidentally list something for sale from your Buyer Account (thus converting it to a Seller Account). You'll get shut down quickly and without prejudice.

  • Buy inventory from a seller who has had their account on Amazon shut down. The inventory itself can get recognized and Amazon will tie you to that bad seller and you'll also be shut down. Remember, Momma told you that birds of a feather flock together. Amazon believes that and acts on it.

  • Break the Participation Agreement by selling banned items. It's important to read up on what is and is not acceptable to be listed for sale. Obvious prohibited items like firearms, explosives and Cuban cigars may not be a big surprise, but ARCs (advance reading copies) of books are also prohibited, along with copies of media (burned CDs or DVDs or photocopies of books), and even solutions manuals can get you in trouble. Be sure to familiarize yourself with what is not acceptable: Follow these breadcrumbs on Amazon's site: Help > Selling at > Policies & Agreements > Community Rules > Marketplace Seller Offenses & Prohibited Content

  • Neglect to fulfill your orders or check your email. (It's been known to happen.) A seller gets all excited and lists a dozen books then goes off and gets busy with life and doesn't check email for a week. During that time the orders roll in, the orders don't get fulfilled, and the inquiries from customers go unanswered. This will result in bad feedback, customers filing A-to-z claims against you and Amazon closing your account. Amazon sellers are required to ship within 2 business days.

  • Divert traffic away from This can be attempted by putting your own URL in the comments section of your books, or by using the email addresses of customers to sell or to send your own advertisements to. Sellers on Amazon are forbidden to contact their buyers except to discuss a transaction that has been made. No other marketing or spamming or selling of names is allowed.

Let's take a closer look at what Amazon measures and what will get noticed and get an account suspended and possibly closed.


You want good feedback, obviously. At first you'll have none, so how can buyers know if they can trust you? It's always difficult to do your best and wait for a few nice "5s" to roll in. If you grade your items honestly (we'll discuss Amazon Marketplace grading in Part II of this series), put up clear comments about any flaws, pack well to prevent damage and ship quickly, you will most likely see some good feedback very soon. If your feedback percentage drops, you'll get a warning from Amazon to get things straightened out - or else.

On Amazon, leaving feedback for buyers is practically unheard of (and it is being phased out entirely). It's definitely a one-sided thing. A buyer places an order and does or, more often than not, does not leave feedback. Pretty cut and dried.

If a seller is doing all the right things and feedback is slow coming in, there are ways to encourage buyers to leave more. Amazon sends out a reminder email at 21 days asking your buyer to leave feedback for you. In addition, many sellers put a line across the bottom of their packing slips asking for feedback, or a line in their confirmation emails. Beyond that it's advised to not contact the buyer or ask for feedback. Remember, good feedback is what you're after. Bugging a customer or intruding on their privacy may result in the other kind of feedback you really don't want!

Finally, Amazon calculates your feedback score on the basis of the percentage of positive feedbacks you receive. If you receive, for example, one positive and one negative feedback for your first two sales, your feedback score will be a horrific 50% - a percentage that had better be improved quickly. If you've already accumulated hundreds of positive feedbacks, however, the effect of a single negative feedback will be comparatively minimal. As a new seller, a good strategy for accumulating feedback quickly and insulating yourself against the effects of early negative feedback is to list absolutely flawless copies of low-value but sought after paperbacks (based on sales rankings) at whatever it takes to get them sold quickly, even if you have to price them at a penny. Package orders with exceptional care, ship them the same day you receive them, upgrade to First Class or Priority (if you can afford it), and, on your packing sheet, politely ask the buyer to leave appropriate feedback.

A-to-z Claims

If you make a mistake on an order, the customer should contact you first and give you the chance to make it right. That would mean refunding them, either partially or fully, and possibly sending them a postage-paid mailer so they can return the item. Some customers won't contact the seller first and will file an A-to-z Guarantee Claim instead. If this happens, Amazon contacts the seller and asks for your side of the story. If you apologize and refund, all will be well. If it's a bogus claim and you reply explaining why, Amazon may or may not honor it. And they may or may not take the funds out of your account to refund the customer. They make a judgment on each case. (Note that while they're reviewing the claim against you they will hold your money in the amount of the transaction. So if a claim gets filed on a $20 book, you will see $20 of your account balance be held by Amazon until the claim is settled.) If you get too many claims that have ruled against you, this can result in suspension or account closure. There are no hard and fast rules about how many are too many. There's nothing in the participation agreement that states you can't have more than three per year or anything of the sort. It's a judgment call that Amazon makes. Your best bet is to try and steer clear of any A-to-z claims against you.

Amazon has had its share of scammers who have opened Seller Accounts, listed lots of high priced items, collected the money and taken off, never to be seen or heard from again. They never had the merchandise nor ever intended to ship and just ripped the buyers off. For this reason, there is a policy in effect whereby a new seller's funds are held for something on the order of 30 to 45 days. It's very important to be aware of this possibility, because during that time, even if they hold your money, you are still responsible for shipping all orders that you receive. That means you'll need money to stay afloat and to spend on shipping materials and postage.

When I started selling on Amazon, I just listed a couple of books I wanted to get rid of, they sold, and I shipped. There was no holding of funds. A few months later I listed another book or two and on and on. Time passed in between my hobby selling experiences and several years later when I went full time I had an established account. If possible that is a good way to begin, but if you are leaping in and listing a lot of inventory at once, or high dollar items, know that you're most likely going to face a withholding period.

Customer Service

Your momma told you to "Be nice to people, and they'll be nice to you." That's still a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. And as basic as that advice is, it's amazing how many sellers are rude to their customers.

Time and time again a new seller who is just trying to clear out an overflowing bookcase or sell off his textbooks will state, "I'm not a business, I don't know what to tell these people!" But that's not true, as soon as you enter into the agreement to take on the role as Seller, you have to assume that you are responsible and you are The Business. If a Buyer contacts you with a problem, the easiest way to figure out how to deal with it is to put yourself in that person's shoes.

Imagine that you order a book that is listed as "New," and it arrives with a creased spine and highlighting in the text. What would your reaction be? Well that's the same reaction your Buyer is now having! What would you want to happen when you complained about the error?

Customer Service is a topic that can fill entire books but it boils down to being polite, helpful and non-intrusive. We'll cover this in more detail in future columns.

The old adage "A rising tide lifts all boats" absolutely applies to selling on Amazon. One new seller can make many people angry enough that they never want to trust another Marketplace Seller again, and this hurts business for everybody. For this reason it's a good thing to keep in mind that by being a good Seller you're not only adding to your wallet and your online reputation but you're helping to build the entire community. That's a pretty cool side-effect from just starting out wanting to clear off that overcrowded bookshelf.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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