Have you heard the term “gray hat” before? If so, it was likely in reference to hackers and speaking to someone in the gray zone between a “white hat” hacker (a security hacker who hacks for testing purposes) and a “black hat” hacker (who hacks with malicious intent or for personal gain). Sometimes you’ll hear these terms applied to SEO, where a “gray hat” might comply with the rules but not the spirit of SEO policies. (Until the game changes, like with Google Panda.)
I think it’s a good time to start applying this hat concept to Amazon as well. You’ve got a group of sellers, the “black hats,” who are out for their own gain, selling counterfeit products with unscrupulous selling techniques and causing Amazon to have to take a closer look at some categories and products. Then you’ve got the law-abiding retailers on Amazon — the “white hats” — who are trying to follow the rules to the best of their knowledge and make a living in this great big world. (I’m a sucker for a good guy winning.)
Then there are the “gray hats.” I would argue that some retailers fall into this category for two reasons:
1. They’re inadvertently breaking the rules. After all, there’s a lot to learn about e-commerce, and being successful on Amazon isn’t as easy as throwing your hat in the ring. (I’ve got the perfect white paper for you — see below); or
2. They saw that a policy on Amazon wasn’t being enforced or they found a loophole in the system, so they decided to exploit it to their benefit.
3 Categories and 2 Trends
As a mother of two young children, I’ve always taken the phrase, “What you allow will continue” to heart as I consider the line between freedom and correction in my house. It seems that Amazon is taking this phrase to heart now also, and the marketplace is making an effort to audit some black and gray hat practices of retailers in their network.
I recently blogged about restricted products, where I mentioned that the worst-case scenario is a seller suspension. We’re seeing increased reports from sellers in some categories that the published restricted product lists are being scrutinized by Amazon, and sellers not complying with policies are being dealt with severely. As in immediate, permanent account suspension. Amazon is very protective of its customer base, and if sellers are putting out products that Amazon sees as detrimental to customer satisfaction and safety, the consequences could be severe.
Within our customer base, Beauty and Health & Personal Care categories appear to be top of mind with Amazon at this time. If you’re a seller in these (and other categories), take time NOW to review the prohibited items list and any notices or warnings that Amazon has posted in your Seller Central account, then immediately remove any offending items from your stock. Even if you’ve gotten away with listing prohibited items in the past, don’t assume that you’ll be able to do so in the future. Suspension could come at the drop of a hat.
There’s also some controversy lately that’s centreed on the interpretation of some of the restricted goods policies. A fellow blogger reported on it recently, so you may want to read over the scenarios that some sellers are experiencing and determine your comfort level with items that may fall into the gray area within Amazon’s compliance teams.
Another “gray hat trend” that has surfaced takes place when a seller takes a product that is similar to another product and uses ASIN to match the products together, even though they’re not the same. To help prevent this, later this summer Amazon will start suppressing listings in the Consumer Electronics category where the product UPC doesn’t match the brand’s UPC. This should weed out some force-matched products that aren’t actually the same. You may have experienced this in other categories, such as Clothing & Accessories and Shoes, in the past. If you’re guilty of this, take time now to correct it. If you’re genuinely selling the same product but are using a different UPC, you could get caught in the cleanup — so make an effort to obtain a consistent UPC.
The bottom line here is that you should take a good look at your Amazon selling philosophy and make sure you’re clearly wearing your white hat. Amazon has millions of SKUs on its marketplace, so take the ones that are questionable or risky at this point and put them on the shelf (or better yet, try them on another marketplace). Keeping your Amazon partnership in good standing is a lucrative decision and one that’s worth your scrutiny.
Blog post by Rachel Miller, product marketing manager, ChannelAdvisor