Amazon Prime Customers are Babies
Excerpt from Amazon Autopilot: How to Start an Online Business with Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), and Let Them Do the Work by Peter Valley
The dominant reputation of Amazon’s customers goes like this: Amazon customers are superior to eBay’s. eBay customers henpeck you to death over details. (Where’s my book? Do you have a copy of that book in blue? What kind of box are you shipping it in? WHERE’S MY BOOK?!) The reputation also holds that Amazon customers are of a superior temperament, simply saying: Deliver what I ordered when I expect it to be delivered, and I am happy.
I’m openly picking a fight with whoever started this rumor. It’s nonsense. Amazon customers are absolute babies. Especially Prime subscribers.
If you’re still shipping your orders yourself, you’re dealing with much more reasonable people.
My negative feedback increased when I switched to FBA. Suddenly it seemed like every crease in every used book was grounds for vicious negative feedback. I struggled with an explanation.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Since joining FBA, I have gotten some of the most obnoxious, unwarranted feedback in the history of injustice.
Here are some samples:
These examples are the scary part of FBA. Your negative feedback will increase; Maybe a little, maybe a lot. And compared to merchant-fulfilled orders, you have a dramatically decreased ability to do anything about it.
Even one neutral or negative feedback is no small thing and should be addressed vigorously. This is important for two reasons: Feedback affects your standing with Amazon, and feedback affects sales.
As for the first, Amazon is absolutely ruthless about banning sellers who do not meet their customer satisfaction demands. Fall below their target feedback percentage and you’ll get a warning. You are expected to turn around your performance quickly or you’ll be permanently blacklisted.
And by blacklisted, I don’t mean having your bank account blocked, forcing you to open another one and start over. I don’t even mean Amazon blocking your IP address, forcing you to do business using Starbucks’s wifi. I mean you’ll have your MAC address (an individual computer’s unique identifier) banned, along with your bank account and any you may try to open in the future. I mean a very thorough blacklisting, leaving you unable to sell on Amazon ever again (see the “Amazon Hacks” chapter for a source that may offer a workaround).
Your standing with Amazon is based on these performance metrics:
If 100% of your inventory is FBA, the only thing you have to worry about is not getting bad feedback (otherwise defined as “making your customers happy”), not getting caught breaking rules, and responding to customers promptly.
Feedback Rating: The Danger Zone
When will Amazon kick you off? What ultimately defines whether Amazon kicks you off is your Order Defect Rate, defined by Amazon as “...the number of orders with a defect divided by the number of orders in the time period of interest. It is represented as a percentage.”
For an FBA seller, an “order defect” is simply code for negative feedback. Watch your feedback. Amazon offers these cautionary words to anyone who lets their feedback fall below 96%:
Amazon’s Performance Targets state that, ‘the number of negative feedback entries should be less than 5% of the total feedback entries received.’ If your negative feedback rate is greater than the 5% performance target, you may want to review your business practices and adjust to the demands of customers.”
You may not read it this way, but that’s Amazon’s version of a veiled threat.
The curse of neutral feedback
Ultimately, buyers base their trust in you on the percentage number next to your seller name. That number is the percentage of positive feedback. This means both negative and neutral feedback counts against this figure.
The truth is that nearly every buyer will read “97% positive feedback” as “3% negative feedback.” They don’t see that 3% for what it is: 3% negative and neutral. And some happy customers will still leave neutral feedback.
Here is the good news about neutral feedback: It does not count towards your order defect rate—only negative feedback does. That “defect rate” metric is the one that ultimately determines whether or not Amazon allows you to have selling privileges.
So neutral feedback does count with getting the trust of the buyer. It does not count in the eyes of Amazon.
Getting Militant About Feedback
Here’s Amazon’s official response to the question: How do I respond to negative feedback?:
Ask the buyer to remove the feedback. If you want to respond to negative feedback, the best option is to work with the buyer to improve the situation that led to the negative feedback. Then, ask the buyer to remove the feedback. To do this, contact the buyer with concern over the problem, and remedy it if possible. If you develop a positive relationship, ask the buyer to remove the feedback. Instructions on how to remove feedback can be found on our buyer Help page, Leaving Feedback. When contacting a buyer, always keep in mind that pressuring a buyer is unacceptable and a violation of our policies.”
So you can’t “pressure” a buyer. But what can you do?
I’m giving the issue of responding to bad feedback a lot of space, because it is a serious issue. Amazon will ban you so ruthlessly that (almost) no trick you can think of to hide your identity will get you a new account.
In regards to feedback, the major disadvantage of FBA over merchant-fullfiilled is that Amazon disables your ability to refund buyers (read: bribe them into removing feedback).
Pre-FBA, this is how you had negative feedback removed:
You were out the value of the book, but it was a small price to pay for the preservation of your business. That was then. This is FBA.
The four-strike FBA handicap
Your ability to bribe customers into removing bad feedback as an FBA seller is greatly diminished because you can’t issue refunds. Strike one against the FBA seller.
Add that the percentage of buyers who leave feedback is somewhere in the range of 10%. This isn’t eBay. And customers are much more likely to leave negative feedback than positive. Strike two against the FBA seller.
Then add that Amazon Prime customers are guileless children. Stike three.
Then, add that Amazon is absolutely cutthroat about banning sellers they deem unworthy, never allowing them to return. Four.
Amazon has forced us to get militant…
How to have feedback removed
First, the easy low-hanging fruit. You’re not breaking any rules with this one.
As an FBA seller, when feedback is the result of something that is clearly Amazon’s fault, they will remove it. Examples include complaints about late shipping or items not arriving.
Amazon will remove feedback if any of these apply:
Now, how do we deal with the rest? Answer: bribery.
Hacking feedback: Black hat feedback removal tactics
Your approach to feedback removal must conform to the reality of FBA. The two relevant issues here are:
So you have to do a little dance that doesn’t involve bribing customers into removing feedback. Instead you’ll be invoking the rule of reciprocity—a “no strings” gesture in hopes that they will return the favor.
I send the customer an e-mail that reads:
They almost always respond, and almost always choose the second option. Then you order a $10 gift card, choose the “deliver by e-mail” option, and have it delivered to their “@marketplace.amazon.com” e-mail address.
Then send the follow-up:
I follow with step-by-step instructions for removing feedback.
About 65% of the time, the feedback is gone in 24 hours.
If not, I follow up with a polite reminder of how grateful I would be if they would consider removing the feedback, and include instructions again. I follow up with the same e-mail several times at intervals of ten days or so until the feedback is removed (or until they tell me to leave them alone).
Buyers can remove feedback for up to sixty days. If after six weeks the buyer has failed to do so, I send a rather short and groveling e-mail stating bluntly that I’ve made every attempt to make this right, that negative feedback can be devastating to an online seller, and that their feedback caused my rating to drop by a whole point. And would you please consider removing your feedback? Then I paste instructions, again.
There have been a couple of times when I’ve finally gotten a response after the sixth or seventh e-mail, and had feedback removed with days to spare.
A note on persistence: If at any point the customer responds and says “Leave me alone,” concede defeat. Amazon is watching and it’s best to avoid any “harassment of customers” while there are witnesses.
The Last resort: The Reverse Feedback Sniper Statistic Manipulation Technique
You finally got there: Negative feedback has hit 5% and you’re on the precipice of disaster. At any moment Amazon could put you on probation, which is so deep down the danger road, it’s time for desperate measures.
Here we go.
I found myself in this situation once, receiving four negative feedbacks in quick succession. There is a cascading effect to negative feedback. When people see the last guy left negative feedback, they follow suit like robotic zombie sheep when their feedback may otherwise have been positive.
My entire income was on the line. I had thousands of items in my inventory. Death was knocking at my door. I started doing some math.
I had 750 feedback ratings over the past 365 days. Thirty-seven negative or neutral ratings to 713 positive. That put me at 95% positive. Danger zone.
How I reversed my fate in two weeks
I wanted to get my feedback up to 97% immediately. I could expect thirty new ratings during in the next two weeks.
780 positive: 37 negative = 95%
One of the negative ratings was going to become over 365 days old and would no longer count towards my percentage.
780 positive: 36 negative = 95%
If I received no further negative feedback ratings, I could expect positive ratings to increase at a rate of two per day over the two weeks.
802 positive: 36 negative = 96%
Meanwhile, fifteen positive ratings would become older than 365 days and not count towards my figure.
788 positive: 36 negative = 95%
I sent an extremely groveling e-mail to every person who left negative or neutral feedback in the past sixty days explaining that my entire livelihood was in jeopardy because of their feedback. This yielded exactly one removed rating.
788 positive : 35 negative = 96%
The next step: soliciting positive feedback from customers. I went through every order from the last ninety days to send direct messages to customers requesting positive feedback. The risk here was that in soliciting feedback, I would be waking sleeping giants who would be moved to leave bad feedback they otherwise would have forgotten about. So I wanted to increase my chances by only contacting customers who would have the highest likelihood of having positive things to say. I reasoned there were high risk categories for defective and imperfect products, and decided not to contact customers who bought the following:
I e-mailed every customer who bought used books or non-media and requested they leave feedback if they were happy with their purchase. I included instructions how to leave a feedback rating. Total e-mails sent: 2,400. Total positive ratings received: 118 (just under 5%).
906 positive : 35 negative = 96%
I needed 150 more positive ratings to be comfortably in the 97% slot. This is where I got bold.
I drafted an e-mail with a link to my Amazon store and sent it to hundreds of personal contacts, offering one of two things:
The first 150 people to buy a book and e-mail me the receipt, would get $5. The only stipulation was: They had to leave positive feedback.
I sent this out to my entire address book of personal contacts, and broadcasted it on Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else.
The majority (a hundred or so) were friends I reached out to personally who had no interest in a free book; they just wanted to help.
By the end of two weeks, after some vigorous follow-up, my feedback hit 97%.
I never ran the exact numbers, but after averaging about $1.50 per book in Amazon reimbursement, I estimate the entire operation cost close to $525—a very small price to pay for preserving a business that was bringing in that amount every 36 hours.
To prevent another crisis, I took rigorous stock of mistakes that had led to this and massively overhauled my buying and grading criteria. I learned several things:
I have held steady at 97% (a good percentage for Amazon sellers) ever since.
© 1999- Harry McGrath, Inc., DBA Skip McGrath, Auction Seller's Resource and Vision-One Marketing. All Rights Reserved.
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