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Selling on Amazon; can this be fixed?

The last year has been plagued by issues selling our replacement parts on Amazon.com.  First there was some abuse by a single customer who ordered about 100 parts just so she could go through them and pick the few she wanted with the smallest molding defects, and then returned almost all of them.  We stopped selling on Amazon.com for about a month while we worked to tighten down our sales policies to avoid that type of thing in the future, and while Amazon investigated, and possibly banned her from continuing to purchase there.

Then Amazon started suspending some of our listings due to high return rates.  We did some major revamping of our listings, added lots of photos with circles and arrows and writing to make it explicitly clear exactly what the parts were and were not made for.  Amazon made this very difficult as we had to go through multiple support requests for each part, just to be able to get listing changes approved; the entire process took a month and a half.  We also removed the low volume parts that had high return rates figuring people will just have to get them from our website.

Now they’ve once again suspended our listing for our most popular part, the single screw pot handle, that fits most Revere Ware pots from 1968 through the late 2010’s.  On reviewing our return rate we see that, despite all of our new “educational” material, we are still seeing lots of returns, perhaps even more than before.  And the process to get it restored has become that much more complicated.

I am seriously scratching my head on this one.  We have something like a 1% return rate for sales made from our own website. Because people are forced to contact us before they return something, we have a chance to help solve the problem, and often times, these customers just need a little help figuring things out, and we are able to avoid a return, or we can send them a replacement for a defective part.

For sales on Amazon.com some of the return rates approach 25%.  It seems that there is just no way to convince Amazon.com customers not to order items they aren’t sure will work, or to at least ask questions before ordering. Furthermore, almost no-one contacts us to ask for help before returning a part, despite the fact that we’ve added explicit instructions to most of our listings on how to contact us through Amazon.com.  The only real differences between ordering on our site and Amazon.com is the free shipping.  Free shipping, it seems, causes people to act unreasonably, by ordering things they have no real expectation will work, and making no attempt to get help before giving up.

The real shame of all this is that it makes items unavailable for everyone else.  More and more of our parts are now available on our own website only.

I’m not sure of the path forward this time, but I’ve got a few ideas.

  • Raise the prices on Amazon.com significantly to discourage casual buyers looking for generic parts and that don’t read the details.
  • Start shipping problem items ourselves so that people have to contact us for a return, and we can interact with them.  Not excited about this one; there are a lot of shipments and I already have a day job.
  • Somehow get Amazon.com to stop returning parts deemed defective by customers back into inventory.  Seriously, look at this return report.

Does returning items that customers claim are defective back into inventory strike anyone else as odd?  I can’t help but wonder if quite a few of my returns are the same few defective or customer damaged parts getting sold over and over again.

  • Start stuffing every part with a detailed troubleshooting guide, and contact information.
  • Stop selling on Amazon.com altogether.  I’ve thought about this from time-to-time.  It seems that the majority of time I spend on this business is now related to Amazon.com.  This will probably mean that our sales will drop by about half, but my workload for this business (above and beyond my real day job) will drop by 75% or more.  We ship things to our fulfillment center for our own website sales in boxes, with a cover sheet. We ship things to Amazon.com and every item has to be labeled, and some get an additional insert (to try and help reduce the return rate ha ha).  This is a business of passion much more than profit, so I don’t like the idea of making replacement parts less available to people, but Amazon.com is just not a good partner anymore.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far.  Any Fulfillment by Amazon gurus out there with some other ideas?

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Revere Ware on eBay continues to grow

It was less than two months ago that we bench marked the number of Revere Ware related listing on eBay at just under 13,000.  But now:

Wow.  Just wow.  It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is causing this upsurge to continue at such a rapid rate.  In much of the country, life is slowly getting somewhat back to normal.  Our sales have slowed a little from the holiday high, but still remain far above our typical level as evidenced by this graph of monthly sales for all the years we’ve been in business.

You can see 2020 broke ranks in March / April from prior years and continued at a high level throughout the year, interrupted only when we removed our parts from Amazon.com in October 2020 due to some inappropriate customer behavior.  This year the part has continued, with last months sales more like what a typical December used to be like.

There has been a lot of talk about what changes that were forced upon us by the pandemic will remain.  It seems that cooking at home is still wildly popular by all measures.

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Funny eBay drop-ship listings

I got my dose of humor this morning finding a couple of listings for our parts on eBay.  If you aren’t familiar with drop-shipping arbitrage, it is the practice where people take items for sale off Amazon.com, for example, and list it on eBay for a higher price.  When someone places on order on eBay, they simply execute an order on Amazon.com for the item, thus, getting Amazon.com to “drop-ship” the order for them.

We don’t like the practice at all and have tried reporting these sellers to eBay, as this is a violation of eBay’s policies.  It inflates the price to the buyer, the buyer has no possibility of getting support from us, and we believe the practice results in a higher number of returns that affect our standing with Amazon.com.

Other than that, they are great! 🙂

The first thing I found humorous about the two listings is that they cut off the full title of the product, which makes them rather confusing:

To top that, they chose to replace the actual description with these very interesting one liners.

Trade gasket?  Venerate?

I’m not sure what fusing two sets actually does.

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Whoops, Amazon did it again

Once again we seem to have run afoul of Amazon.com and they removed both of our listings for pot handles, vintage and more modern variety.  These were our top-selling items there, with many hundreds selling every month.

The problem this time is the high return rate; we seem to average between 7-10% of these products being returned, which apparently is too high for Amazon.com.  We’ve had our listings suspended a number of times for the same issue; this time they opted to remove one of the listings, for the single screw pot handle, permanently.

With every previous suspension, we’ve tweaked our listings to try and make it less likely people will buy them just to try them on an item we specifically say it won’t work on.  For some reason, our listing now has reverted to the initial version from quite a few years ago, loosing all of these edits.

The problem with selling on Amazon.com is that they make it extremely hard to get any good information from the customers as to what is wrong.  Here are the comments we got along with returns in February (the few that actually gave us a comment).

  • Big
  • It is not broke, it is not compatible with my pot
  • Product was not what I was expecting and I do not want them.
  • will not fit on my stock pot
  • Par de mango para macetas (which translates to “Pair of potting handles”)

Not very helpful.  And the Fulfillment by Amazon take-it-or-leave-it no questions asked return policy precludes us from having a conversation with customers before a return is authorized, to determine whether there is actually a real problem, with either the product itself, or the products somehow getting damaged through the fulfillment process.  To make things worse, they appear to be returning damaged items back to inventory, such that they get shipped to another customer and rack up yet another return.  Here is just a few returns they processed.

Disposition Customer Return Reason Status
Customer Damaged Product damaged or defective prior to shipping Unit returned to inventory
Customer Damaged Item is defective Unit returned to inventory
Customer Damaged Product is not as described on website Unit returned to inventory

In dispute of the listing removal, we sent Amazon.com a three page brief on everything that was wrong with their service from a sellers perspective.  Ultimately, it was the fact that they appear to be putting defective or damaged items back into inventory that seems to have convinced them to allows us to relist the product.

I seriously doubt there is anything wrong with our actual product; we sell about half as many on our own website as we do on Amazon.com, and rarely ever receive a complaint about these handles not working.  I suspect that when customers have to pay for shipping, and return shipping is not free, people tend to actually do  some due diligence before buying, which probably avoids 99% of the potential issues.

I love the convenience of buying from a business like Amazon.com, but with all the problems from a buyers perspective and a sellers perspective, that I see every day/week/month, I have real concerns about continuing to use Amazon.com as either a buyer or seller.

Like Google, Amazon.com seems impossible to replace.  But complacency has felled many past giants.  Along those lines, for several months now I’ve been participating in a alpha test of a new search engine.  With almost no exceptions, I haven’t needed Google search since I started.  If Google can be replaced for search, it isn’t that hard to believe that an alternative to Amazon.com, for both buyers and sellers, might come along.  Here’s hoping.

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Revere Ware is dead, part 2

We’ve reported previously on the abandonment of the Revere Ware brand in 2018 by the new owners Corelle Inc.  Today we discovered it goes further than just discontinuing the production and sales of the product.

We received an email from Amazon.com that one of our listings was closed due to a suspected trademark violation.

We have removed ASINs that can be found in the Suspected Intellectual Property Violations tab of your Account Health, under the Reason “Potential Trademark Text Misuse”.

That made me look to see what trademarks actually exist for Revere Ware, and I found this:

Wow, all trademarks are dead.  That is actually surprising, as it says that no-one actually sees any remaining value in the Revere Ware brand.

Many of them were cancelled in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2016, and the last one was dropped in 2019.  Seems like the brand has been dying for some time.

The issue with Amazon.com appears to be them thinking we don’t have the right to sell under the brand RevereWareParts.com.

The brand RevereWareParts.com mentioned in the product detail page of the ASIN B001U2E1DY seems to be incorrect.

Hmm.  Well hopefully this page placed on our website is proof enough to them that we own the brand.

Update: Turns out what they objected to was this product listing title:

Revere Ware Pan/skillet 2-screw Handle Replacement Hardware Set (Med, Lg, X-lg Handles) (Two Sets)

They claim that Lg (which is shorthand for Large) infringes on the brand LG.  Just how to you respond to that kind of silliness?

 

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Amazon.com product listing update

We’ve started relisting some of our products on Amazon.com.  As we relist items there, we are adjusting our listings to accommodate the increases in risk and difficulty that selling on Amazon.com has acquired in the last few years.

We want to accommodate customers that prefer prime shipping and not having to buy from a small independent seller they don’t know (it’s ok, we don’t take it personally).  But Amazon.com in their quest to be come everything to buyers, has become somewhat of a snake pit for sellers.  We’ll do our best, but buying our products on Amazon.com might be a little less convenient and a little more expensive.

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Say goodbye to the eBay drop shippers

We’ve never been fond of the people who sell our products on eBay by drop-shipping them from Amazon.  They do this by listing our products on eBay for higher then they sell for on Amazon.com, and then when an item sells on eBay, they place an order for it on Amazon.com. But they just cut and paste our product information, which misses any updates, and don’t provide any support. There were 160 different listings of our best selling parts on eBay at one point.

But now that we’ve delisted our products from Amazon.com, all of the listings for our products on eBay are gone.  I can’t say we are disappointed.

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We’ve pulled our parts from Amazon.com for the time being

While Amazon.com has taken over more and more of our overall sales over the last 10 years, it has become a more difficult and frustrating place to sell over that time.

  • They now restrict access to any customer information, so we have to ask customers just to send them a replacement or missing piece.
  • Under many circumstances, we aren’t allow to even contact our customers
  • Their no-questions-asked return policy leads to lots of people who buy the product without reading the information and then return when it doesn’t work which causes constant product de-listing.  We have something like a 10% overall return rate at Amazon.com vs perhaps 1% on our own website.
  • Their review system promotes people who buy without reading the information we include on the listings to leave negative reviews like “didn’t fit”.
  • Some of our listings have been changed by malicious parties
  • We don’t have full control over our listings despite being the product manufacturer and the only ones that sell the products
  • Our products can be  hard to find in search results at times, we believe because Amazon wants to push people to use their advertising system, which, from our experience increases costs without increasing sales.

But what really takes the cake is some serious customer abuse we’ve experienced over the last few weeks, that was made possible by some of the above Amazon.com policies.  We’ve reported this to Amazon.com, in the hopes that they will take action, possibly by terminating the customers account. But we’ll still take the hit.

This has made us question selling on Amazon.com at all, which would be a bummer for everyone that likes to take advantage of free Prime shipping.

Our own website will be the only source for Revere Ware replacement parts for the time being.

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Is Amazon.com safe?

As we’ve discussed before, 70% of our sales are through Amazon.com, up from none in 2009.  Amazon.com has capture more and more of our sales, something through aggressive tactics like advertising against our own website through Google AdWords.  And there’s been a lot of news in the last couple of months about Amazon.com using its position as a third party marketplace to glean data to become a competitor for some of the top selling products.

Besides all that, how is Amazon.com for consumers?  My personal experience is that I continue to practice higher and higher levels of caution when shopping on Amazon.com, and I continue to look for more reliable alternatives for some of my purchase categories.

So what’s the problem?

About 10 years ago Amazon.com started courting Chinese sellers aggressively to help fill up their marketplace.  Because of multi-national agreements on postal service costs, shipments from China can often be shipped for less than the cost of shipping within the US, very often far less.  My guess is that our average postage cost for shipping first class packages within the US is about $4.00.  Many shipments from China can be shipped from China to their final destination in the US for a third of that.  That gives Chinese sellers a significant advantage.  So theirs that.

But if you’ve had any experience dealing with companies in China, they work from a different rule book; dishonesty seems much more common and is considered acceptable by many.   It is not uncommon for employees in China to arrange for two invoices when dealing with vendors, one of which shows an inflated price and one shows the real price; the employee pockets the difference.  It is also common for vendors to fake material certifications and substitute inferior materials.

So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that a huge increase in Chinese sellers now selling on Amazon.com brings with it a lot of problems, like:

Fake products

Perhaps 3 or 4 years ago I bought some Apple earbuds off of Amazon.com; they were cheaper than on Apple.com and had stellar reviews.  What arrived were so obviously inferior and stopped working after a short while.

Inferior products

The prevalence of Chinese sellers on Amazon.com means that a majority of pretty much any category of item you are looking for will be really cheaply made and marginally functional items.

Fake reviews

I think 2 or 3 years ago the fake reviews started in earnest.  At first it was really obvious stuff, like 3,000 identical 5-star reviews on a product all added on the same day, or reviews done in really bad English.  But as time when on, it got more sophisticated.  In addition to realistic looking completely fake reviews, sellers routinely simply pay shill buyers to buy their product and give it a positive review, and then reimburse them for the cost.  I’ve received cards with purchases from Amazon.com offering to refund the purchase price for a positive review, so they are pretty bold about trying to recruit people.

Brushing

You might be familiar with the brushing scam from all the unsolicited seeds that have been sent to people in the last couple of months.  Apparently this scam involves sellers using fake accounts to buy their own products, then mailing them to unsuspecting people. They do this to ensure they can write positive reviews for their own products, thereby giving their items a boost in Amazon’s search results.

Account takeovers

We’ve even heard of unscrupulous sellers registering trademarks and then using them to claim that they own a seller account, thus taking it over from the legitimate account owner.  They then start selling inferior knockoffs from the account to capitalize on the brand (and in the process ruining the brand).

Fake competitor reviews

Some sellers will intentionally add obviously fake reviews to a competitors product so that the product gets banned by Amazon.com.  Or they will leave negative reviews to drag the overall rating down.  This means that it is harder to tell the good products from the bad ones.

Help?

I’m sure there are more I’ve missed.  After reading all this you might be thinking that Amazon.com is a wasteland and you should stay far, far away from buying anything there.  You might not be too wrong.  So what can you do?

Use a review filtering service

First and foremost is to use a review service and / or plugin like FakeSpot or ReviewMeta to get a clearer picture of products and sellers.  These services use artificial intelligence to (try and) weed out the real reviews from the fake ones.  It isn’t uncommon to see a 4 1/2 start rating get restated to a 1 1/2 star one after the bogus reviews are filtered out.  They also rate sellers from A (good) to F (very bad) based on how many of the reviews are fake.  I no longer buy from sellers that don’t have a B or better rating.

Buy from people you already know

If you are happy with a product, buying it again from the same seller isn’t a 100% guarantee, but is pretty close.  A lot of what we do is repeat buying.

Distinguish between safe

Buy elsewhere

A lot of big retailers are getting their e-commerce act together and are great places to buy things now. Personally, I am trying to move a lot of my purchases away from Amazon.com as I just don’t like supporting a retailer that has created and supports so much pandemonium on their marketplace.

Here are some of my favorites.

Walmart.com has free 2-day delivery on lots of items and items can be shipped to a nearby store for pickup for free.

Target.com can ship things to a nearby store for free and get 2-day free delivery for orders over $35.  We are lucky enough to have a small footprint Target nearby that isn’t too busy.

B&H Photo Video has an astounding deal for tax-free purchases, especially important for us as the sales tax in our state and town is almost 9% now.  If you sign up for their PayBoo credit card, any purchases you make with it will automatically refund you the tax, effecting a tax free purchase.  I make all of my large electronics purchases from them now, like the new iPads we just got for our kids for the coming (remote learning) school year.

Yes, we sell on Amazon.com

As mentioned above, about 70% of our sales volume is on Amazon.com.  But you can trust our listings on Amazon.com for one really good reason – we are the only company that sells what we sell.  No-one else offers Revere Ware replacement parts and I seriously doubt anyone would go through the trouble to knock off the parts to start selling inferior versions given that our product is somewhat niche and doesn’t have huge sales volumes.

 

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Things are getting back to normal

Our sales continue to be substantially higher than the same period last year.  Because Amazon.com has been limiting restocking shipments for all but essential items, we were starting to get worried about our inventory running out; we began the pandemic lockdown with about 3 months of inventory for normal volumes we expected this time of year, and some of our parts inventory were getting thing.

Amazon did start allowing some restocking of non-essential items, but in the last few weeks, we were very limited in what we could send; we only managed to get a few part numbers that were close to being exhausted restocked and could only send a small amount of each item.

That all changed last week when, without receiving any official notice, we discovered that there were no longer limits on the restocking of any of our parts.  We’ve managed to ship a considerable amount of inventory to Amazon.com now that should bring us back to our 2-3 month stock level targets.

We’ve also continued to frequently restock our fulfillment center that serves orders made from our website.  You should have no trouble getting our items from either source.

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