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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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Business in the time of coronavirus update

Stock levels

Orders from our website continue to ship without issue and we are able to keep the stock at our fulfillment contractor at sufficient levels.

Amazon.com has opened up the ability to send restock for non-essentials, but they have placed limits on restocking shipments on items they consider to sufficiently stocked, which are levels below what we prefer.

We have always tried to aim for a 3-months supply on hand with Amazon.com when we plan restocking shipment quantities;  we typically check stock levels once a month, it typically takes a month for items to get into stock, and that gives us an extra month buffer in case of issues (like a global pandemic).

Now it seems they really only want you to have a months inventory on hand, so they limit incoming inventory until the stock levels are below something like a 30 day supply, and they limit the amount you can send.  The bottom line is that some of our Amazon.com listed items may end up out of stock over the next month or two.

Shipping speed

As anyone that has been buying from Amazon.com over the last two month knows, the prime shipping landscape has changed dramatically.  While some items are shipping faster now than a month ago, for many items, delivery is still quoted at two weeks or more, and many items take 1-3 weeks to arrive. The upside is my children are learning to be more patient. 🙂

Shipments from our website on the other hand typically ship the next business day and are for the most part sent USPS first class mail.  In normal times, the quoted delivery time for first class mail to anywhere in the US is 1-3 days. The USPS is now quoting 3-4 days for this service, which is still not bad.

So if you order from our website, you will pay a little more for shipping, but will get it there faster.

USPS delivery

But beware that there is an increased incidence of mis-delivery by USPS postal carriers.  I’ve experienced this personally with packages and letter mail delivered to the wrong address on our street or the wrong street entirely, and we’ve had customer reports of missing packages.  I suspect this is due to some USPS personnel calling in sick for personal safety reasons, and being replaced by personnel less experienced with a particular route.

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Parts shipping and inventory status

We received this notice from Amazon.com yesterday:

We are seeing increased online shopping, and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock. With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers.

For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. We are taking a similar approach with retail vendors.

This will be in effect today through April 5, 2020, and we will let you know once we resume regular operations. Shipments created before today will be received at fulfillment centers.

Currently, we have approximately three months stock for all parts for typical sales volumes for this time of year at both Amazon.com and our websites fulfillment contractor.  While we can’t currently send inventory to Amazon.com, it seems likely that sometime over the next two months that restriction will ease.

Our fulfillment contractor tells us they are operating at full capacity, accepting new inventory, and have no plans to shut down.

So, for now, we can provide all of our parts without interruption. 

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Amazon.com and suspended listings

We sell about 2/3 of our parts via Amazon.com these days.  It seems to be the place that people go to look for things, and the low shipping cost is advantageous to customers.  But Amazon.com is not without its problems.

Competition:  Amazon.com actually advertises with Google to steal business from our website to our products on their website.

Feedback: The feedback system on Amazon.com is just broken.  Happy customers rarely leave positive feedback but people with a bad experience often do, leading to a skewed feedback rating.

No-questions asked return policy:  People often use negative feedback to justify returns, in response to their own failure to check product details.  We see a lot of “it didn’t fit” which to us clearly means they didn’t bother to check the copious details we have for our products to avoid wrong purchases.

It is that last one that really gets us.  We get enough returns by people that just don’t bother to check the details that about once a month, one of our products on Amazon.com gets suspended due to and “abnormally high” return rate.  We then have to go through a rigamarole to get the listing activated again.

One time, we decided just to leave a couple of listings inactive for a while because they constantly had this problem.  Eventually, someone tried to hijack the relatively good ratings on the product by submitting changes to the listing name and description, and listing some totally unrelated product in its place.

And then there are the nightmare stories we’ve read about

  • Amazon.com suspends a seller account for some unknown reason they won’t disclose.  Game over.
  • Competitors will leave feedback that claims a product exploded on them, causing Amazon.com to suspend the listing indefinitely with no recourse.
  • People actually hijack entire seller accounts and then start listing far inferior products under the same listings.

So, even thought it might make sense to simply close sales on our own website, as our cost per shipped item is much higher than on Amazon.com, we keep it going as a stop-gap against issues with Amazon.com.

You can help support the continuity of independent sellers like us by purchasing from our website, even thought it might cost a bit more due to higher shipping costs.

 

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Revere Ware parts … in Spanish? Or, why not to buy our parts on eBay

I suppose this was bound to happen.  We’ve written before about retail arbitrage, where some eBay sellers relist items available on Amazon.com for a higher price than you might otherwise pay there, and simply have the item “drop shipped” to you from Amazon.com, when you purchase on eBay.  This essentially means just purchasing the item on Amazon.com and entering the eBay buyers address as the shipping address.

Of course, there are websites that providing information on setting this up.

The most recent twist to this is that we’ve found listings for our parts now in Spanish.

Note that eBay’s official policy is that this practice is not allowed:

Drop shipping, where you fulfill orders directly from a wholesale supplier, is allowed on eBay. Remember though, if you use drop shipping, you’re still responsible for the safe delivery of the item within the time frame you stated in your listing, and the buyer’s overall satisfaction with their purchase.

However, listing an item on eBay and then purchasing the item from another retailer or marketplace that ships directly to your customer is not allowed on eBay. In such cases, we may remove your listings from search, display them lower in search results, or remove them completely from the site. We may also limit, restrict or suspend your ability to buy, sell, or use site features on eBay, and you could lose any special status and/or discounts associated with your account.

A more nefarious twist to this practice is that some scammers use stolen credit cards to purchase the items from Amazon.com to fulfill the purchase on eBay; this is called triangulation fraud.

The bottom line is that, it is generally a bad idea to buy our parts on eBay for a number of reasons.

  • There is a high risk of fraud
  • You get no guarantee at all if anythng goes wrong or you get a defective part.  These sellers are about as fly-by-night as they come, and will just close up shop and open a new account if their feedback becomes negative.
  • You are paying more than you would just buying it on Amazon.com
  • The sellers are selling in violation of eBay’s policy.

Please buy just from our website or from our store on Amazon.com.  We are the only authorized sellers of our parts and we don’t sell on eBay.  If you buy from us, we guarantee a good experience and will replace your part if it is defective.

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More progress on the sales tax situation

It looks like more states have passed legislation mandating marketplaces like Amazon to collect taxes, and submit returns, on behalf of third party sellers.   Here is what we just received from them:

Dear seller,

Based on changes to Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, and Utah States tax laws, Amazon will begin calculating, collecting, and remitting sales and use tax for all orders shipped to customers in these states on October 1, 2019.

Your existing tax calculation settings, order details, and payments reporting will update automatically to reflect this change. Changes to your tax settings or seller account are not required based on the state law changes. However, you may consider working with your tax advisor to determine if your business has any other ongoing tax remittance or reporting obligations.

Answers to common questions are available in the Marketplace Tax Collection FAQ.

For more information from Amazon or links to each state resource, see Marketplace Tax Collection FAQ

Thank you for selling on Amazon.

Regards,
Amazon Services

Since that now includes our home state, California, that is a relief.  I imagine now it won’t be long until all states require this.

But is still leaves us open to abuse from state tax authorities for sales through our website.  We still await a solution to that problem.

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