There are quite a few updates for Amazon sellers to be aware of. Karen covers them all in this episode of Conversations with Karen. Amazon will soon be stripping html from your listings, the listing style guide is being enforced causing some listings to even be suppressed, the new melting temperature change is effecting new items, storage limit by ASIN, and there’s a new round of warnings from the pesticide bot even on items such as shower curtains and shoes. Karen discusses all of these, how they affect you as a seller on the Amazon platform and what steps you can take.

Listen in or read the transcript below the podcast player.

Phaedra Perkins: Hey everyone, and welcome to Conversations with Karen. I’m Phaedra Perkins and I’m here with Karen Locker, CEO of Solutions 4 Ecommerce. Karen is a highly regarded eCommerce industry expert who built her first eBay and Amazon stores in 2008. Wow, put a big date stamp on that forehead but that’s okay because I was right there with you back then. Over time, Karen built Solutions 4 Ecommerce into a professional services firm, and she built it on a foundation of integrity, honesty, and professionalism. She is every Amazon seller’s go-to person. Karen, we have a lot going on in Amazon.

We have this HTML, and then we’ve got ASINs, and we have the bots are making another round and terrorizing sellers over pesticides with some new items going on there. Let’s just start with the first one and see if we can’t check these off our list. What’s going down on June 17th with Amazon?

Karen Locker: Effective June 17th, Amazon will no longer display HTML in your product descriptions. Over the years, HTML has never really been “allowed”, but you could use bold, you could use the italics, people use page breaks, sometimes they use paragraphs, you could use different things like that and they would display okay. Amazon is now saying that only page breaks can show and that they should be used sparingly. Basically, they want the description to be a paragraph of text. They’re going to strip it out from being displayed. If you have a lot of HTML in your listing, and they were highly customized, it is now not going to look good. You need to look through and review all of those.

I think part of this is they’re pushing towards brands and brands using the aspx content to really have those graphics and things like that, as opposed to in the description. What will happen is there’s a couple of ways you can look at your listings. This all happens on June 17th, I don’t know how fast it’s rolling out, I don’t know if they’re going to hit massive [inaudible 00:02:26] strip it out automatically and it is what it is, or if it’ll be a slow roll-up by category or how they’ll do it. One of the things you can do if you want to look at all your listings is, from seller support, you can request an inventory report by category.

If you download that report, for listings that you’ve created, or added information on the Item Detail page, that report will give you basically the equivalent of an Amazon flat file with your descriptions and all the information you put in there. You can edit it, and you can re-upload it. That’s a relatively easy fix if you’re comfortable with flat files, and Excel CSVs, and things like that. The other one would be to go into each of your listings and to edit the HTML out in the Item Detail page.

That’ll work unless the product falls into Brand Registry, then you may or may not run into the issue, and anybody who’s done anything with new listings now knows that sometimes Amazon says the brand controls the page and they can’t make any changes, you can’t make any changes, only the brand can. The biggest problem with that is a lot of times the brands aren’t on Amazon themselves, don’t police the listings, didn’t create the things, don’t really care about them, so you may never get them fixed.

Phaedra: I’m assuming the Amazon consumer is about to have maybe perhaps a not so pleasant experience as these descriptions are jumbled and made awkward for them to read and consume.

Karen: Yes. Unfortunately, that’s just the Amazon way right now. Brand Registry seems to be the overriding thing on a lot of listings. The other thing is, if you UPC match, and you didn’t create the listing, there’s nothing you can do about it. If somebody else created that listing and put the HTML in, you can open tickets, but there’s no way for you to really correct it. You can try to get Amazon seller support to correct it. As always, when working with seller support, it’s to make a better buyer experience is what you need to tell them. Those are the easiest ways to fix it. I would definitely look at your listings, ones that you know you have a lot of HTML in.

Some people just put a little bit of bold and a little bit of page breaks. That’s all they’re doing. It’s probably not going to be as drastic but if you have italics and a lot of other things to try to define words, it’s definitely going to look a little different.

Phaedra: Wow. Okay. It sounds like everyone needs to reach down and find that place of Amazon patience, [unintelligible 00:05:07] after June 17th, and take a look at your listings and see how you’ve been affected with this and hope.

Karen: Hope you can fix them.

Phaedra: At least you’ve been forewarned now here on Conversations with Karen. Next on the list is this listing style guide enforcement and it seems to fall in line with the path that Amazon is now showing us. It’s shipping HTML. Now, what are they doing with this listing style guide?

Karen: The style guides have existed for as long as I’ve been on Amazon. They’ve probably existed since before I was on Amazon because I know some people would’ve been selling on Amazon since the early 2000s. I’ve been using it since ’08, ’09. Style guides have always existed for making listings. They give you an idea of how long your bullets should be. If you use flat files, which is what I do most of my stuff with, they tell you how many characters, they give you character counts for titles, descriptions, bullets. The style guide will tell you that everything should be natural face, meaning the first letter of the first word or proper nouns should be uppercase and no full, complete capitalization, but a lot of people that they want their information to stand out in the bullets have always put the whole thing in the beginning in all capitals.

The problem we’ve run into now as we’re working on helping other people fix listings is when you go to the Amazon tool to correct the listing, to change information, it’ll tell you that you don’t match the style guide and it won’t even let you submit the changes until you change it from all uppercase to [unintelligible 00:06:54] lower or until you make the title shorter. We’re finding listings are being suppressed again for titles that are too long. This is a cyclical thing with Amazon. They periodically go through and start enforcing. I think they enforce it, they figure out ways of doing it right and then they come through again and they start enforcing it.

I know I had one person that just had 10 listings. They were all suppressed because the title didn’t follow the copy rules. Anybody knows dealing with Amazon, getting the answer on what’s wrong with the listing is sometimes as hard as trying to get them to let you fix it. Just look. I can’t give you hard numbers for every category because it’s different for each category. It’s funny because I’ve gone around and around with people over the years. I know that on the Amazon flat files, some categories, the bullet points are restricted to 50, the titles are restricted to 50 characters.

You can put more in and Amazon will accept more because that restricted doesn’t really mean anything, but when they go through one of these periodic, “I’m going to make sure everybody’s following the rules,” then they do mean something. That’s some of the tricky things. The newest thing I’m looking at is they recommend it’s around 80 characters or fewer, which is funny because that’s also what eBay’s limit is for titles, 80 characters. Don’t use all caps. They say use numbers. It says the title should contain minimal information needed to identifying the item and nothing more. You have to be very careful.

They are having issues if you try to sneak in some of those “best-seller”, “best-selling” [inaudible 00:08:42] types of things. Like I said, they’re periodically, they go through the catalog and they start suppressing things and then you have to change them and fix them. Again, if it ran under Brand Registry, fixing them is not always as easy. You may have created the listing eight years ago, six years ago, two years ago before Brand Registry existed, it doesn’t matter now. If Amazon decides that only the brand can fix it, only the brand can fix it. That makes it tricky.

Sometimes you have to pull back items, especially if you’re a retail [unintelligible 00:09:17] seller, you may have to pull back items that you’ve been selling for a while because Amazon won’t un-suppress them.

Phaedra: Wow. How do you even know if you have suppressed listings?

Karen: Any seller that goes into their All Inventory, there’s a list of suppressed. They’ll be suppressed for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the picture doesn’t meet the requirements. That’s another thing that periodically Amazon will enforce. Technically, the main image is supposed to be of the entire product. Sometimes when the product is sold, there’s places like straps on handbags. The end of the strap is cropped off. Amazon will occasionally come back and say you need to submit the entire image, not just, so it’s very hit or miss. Best practices is if you’re making a listing, we’ll get the style guides for the category. See what they say.

Phaedra: It sounds like best practice is know the style guide for your category, follow it [inaudible 00:10:18] have this issue moving forward. In the meantime, check your suppressed listings and see if this style guide enforcement might be your issue.

Karen: [unintelligible 00:10:30] [crosstalk].

Phaedra: [unintelligible 00:10:30] [crosstalk] is going to be strict and you’re listings might get suppressed. [chuckles] Don’t we love Amazon?

Karen: Then one more thing is you’ll notice the different title lengths in the category-specific style guides like I was saying. They say their guidelines are based on preferred typical title style for products in that category. We have to remember that one of the things Amazon has that we don’t is a whole lot of data because Amazon is big data. [unintelligible 00:11:01] the stuff that they tell us to do is based on what their data is saying. Now, sometimes it’s absolutely silly like their restart suggestions when you marked something down to cost just to get rid of it and they tell you to order 40 more of them, well, obviously, their data is a little bit skewed.

Then some of the other things is they have the data to see why they say it.

Phaedra: Exactly. This practice of stuffing every keyword possible in your title, shoe, sneaker, tennis shoe, walking shoe, running shoe, all in one title is probably not going to work for you much longer because now they are enforcing the style guide. Get rid of the HTML, the style guide Nazis are coming down. Next on our list is this new melting temperature change that’s going to affect some things that you may not have thought it would. What’s up with that Karen?

Karen: This is a while ago now and we’ve been all over the place, so I haven’t had a chance to have one of our conversations. We figured if we put this in, it will be available for next year when this rolls around again. April 15th or April 14th is the deadline to remove all meltable stuff from Amazon. Now, the temperature that they used to have to withstand was 120 degrees, this year, they increased it to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a huge jump in temperature and things that you would not have considered meltable in the past, Amazon now considers meltable unless you have proof that it can withstand over that temperature.

Even a lot of candy that you wouldn’t think are meltable, it’s going to be hard to get proof that they won’t melt at these. Gummy bears and M&Ms and Skittles and spray candy and all those other kinds of hard candy that you wouldn’t consider meltable, if you can’t prove that they’re able to withstand 155 degrees, you can’t sell them FBA from April 15th to October 15th. If you do not remove them, if you have them in the warehouse and you don’t remove them before April 15th, Amazon will dispose of them and charge you the disposal fee for every unit that they dispose of.

Phaedra: There goes your inventory.

Karen: They actually have a huge Excel list that you can download from seller support or from their help section of meltable ASINs.

Phaedra: Well, that’s helpful.

Karen: It is.

Phaedra: Even if you had a spray candy you know would not melt, and I think candles would fall into this category as well.

Karen: They would. [unintelligible 00:13:47] people sold last summer and the summer before that are now having to be pulled. I’ve had a couple of sellers that some of their better products have had to be totally retooled because Amazon considered everything meltable.

Phaedra: If you weren’t prepared this year, put a reminder in your calendar for next year to pull those items. I’d say get over to seller central and get this ASIN list right away, and then be prepared to pull your items next year, prior to this coming up. If your items are already in the warehouse, just all you can do is say goodbye and there goes that profit margin, unfortunately. [unintelligible 00:14:26]. [chuckles]

Karen: If you’re someone who does bundles, have a winter bundle and a summer bundle so that-

Phaedra: There you go.

Karen: -you don’t lose your whole best-selling, have two different ASINs, one that you can sell fall and one that you can sell year-round.

Phaedra: Now that’s actually a very good tip. Makes perfect sense. [coughs] Next on our list, I know this seems like it’s just going on and on and on, but we’re almost there, promise, is the storage limits by ASIN that Amazon is implementing. Can you tell us more about that, Karen?

Karen: For a long time, IPI scores gave you unlimited storage. Amazon introduced their Inventory Performance Index a couple of years ago. Originally, you had to have 300 I think it was to have no limits on your storage on what you could send into Amazon. Then they upped it, and then they upped it again. I think they brought it back down. I think it’s in the 400s at this point, but you have a limit. If your IPI score which looks at your inventory turn, your excess inventory, your stranded inventory, and all of that stuff, and they give you an IPI score.

Don’t ask me to make sense of the IPI score because they say restarts don’t have anything to do with it but I see people with that’s their only negative and their scores aren’t where they should be. A lot of it is all about inventory turn. Years ago, especially when a lot of people [unintelligible 00:16:06], it was send anything and it’ll eventually sell. Things like books, you could send in one and it would never charge the storage. As Amazon’s fulfillment centers became warehouses and not fulfillment centers, Amazon kept making changes. First, you’re going to get charged for the single unit and a variety of other things like that. Now, they’ve got the Inventory Performance Index.

Once they’ve got that into place, it was supposed to define how much you could send in. Now, they’ve changed it again and storage is by category. There’s shoes and footwear. There’s apparel. There’s different things, it used to be just standard and oversized. The other thing they’re doing is they’re limiting the number of units you can send in for ASIN. The truly unlimited storage that you can send in anything, any amount as long as your score is high enough doesn’t really exist anymore. They say they’re looking at their inventory turns when they’re saying how much you can send it but I know some people that they have to keep sending inventory in because Amazon won’t let them send in more than 150, 200.

That will be lucky to get them through a couple of weeks, so they’re constantly having to send new inventory in. I think a lot of it is because Amazon’s warehouse got just full of stuff. The same reason why Amazon now if your stranded or your suppressed inventory is there too long, they’ll just dispose of it or send it back to you if you don’t take care of it. Stuff has to be available for the platform, and now they’re making these per ASIN level restrictions. A lot of it depends on what category it’s listed in.

Phaedra: You need to know what your restrictions are and plan ahead for your shipments and how you’re going to manage your profit margins and your revenue amongst all of this.

Karen: Definitely going to be tricky for Q4 because Amazon looks at the previous six months. If it’s something like Christmas ornaments, well, they wouldn’t have sold in the previous six months.

Phaedra: Right.

Karen: It’s going to be tricky as everyone adjusts to all of this stuff. I get lots of emails. “Karen, how come my limit is only this?” “Why is my limit only that?” It’s like, “Because that’s what Amazon decided.” We can open cases, we can try to justify, we can try to explain, “This is a Christmas ornament. We need to have more room for it because it sells so many units,” and if depending upon the seller’s support rep you have, you may or may not get somewhere. Most of the time, it’s more not than [unintelligible 00:18:53].

Phaedra: It sounds like not where I would want to spend my time. I’d rather spend my time running my business. It sounds like, overall, in the coming days and weeks, Amazon sellers are going to be experiencing a little bit of upheaval on the platform. HTML removal by June 17th, enforcing the listing style guide, the new melting temp change which could have caused you to have inventory that’s going to be disposed of. Please make sure you make a note and are prepared for that next year. Now, the storage limit by ASINs, so all of that. Then, there’s still one more. Last one. I promise, guys, last one. This one, though, is always big because it just seems to go against the laws of common sense.

The Amazon pesticide bots were terrorizing Amazon sellers on the platform again. Karen, can you expand on that for us?

Karen: I think if I remember right, the first blog post we did on the pesticides was way back in 2018, right?

Phaedra: Yes it was.

Karen: When it first came out and they were taking everything down and had to take the pesticide course. I have seen three, four, five, I won’t tell you, different sellers email me because they’re getting hit with this stuff again or they’re getting calls from seller support or seller performance that they’re going to be hit with a bunch of policy violations for these. The issue is this is not Amazon making our life crazy.

Phaedra: No it’s not.

Karen: The United States Federal Government EPA making our lives crazy because in the EPA, they’ve decided unregistered pesticides are a significant health risk. The problem is common phrases that we use antimicrobial, antibacterial, virus germ, assorted words, simple words, all-natural, keeps pests away, all of those kinds of words are determined to be pesticide words, and when those words are in a listing, Amazon decides you’re a pesticide or pesticide device. Now, if you have a pair of shoes that has an antimicrobial-treated insole, technically that is, according to the EPA, a pesticide device because it is created to prevent microbes from growing.

Same thing with if you’ve got a shirt that’s got antimicrobial properties, and you know a lot of exercise wear will say that, so those companies, most than likely, have an EPA registration number but if you’re not buying directly from them, you may or may not have access to that number. In the past, you took the pesticide course and blah, blah, blah, and then you just said the item is not a pesticide and Amazon accepted it, or you went in and did a few other things. There were different things you could do. Well, now the bottom line is those words cannot be in there. Now, here’s an example.

I have someone that I know that was selling one of those pepper bird foods and it keeps the pests away because of the squirrels and the chipmunks. Guess what? Pesticide because it said that.

Phaedra: Wow.

Karen: You’ve got to reword stuff. It can’t kill germs, it can’t disinfect, and there’s a whole list on seller central, and I think we’re also doing yet another blog post with some words that my team has been running into. They’re not necessarily things that you would think of as pesticides that are causing triggers. Now, one of the things people have done in the past is there is a column on the flat file where you can say, “This item is not a pesticide device.” You can fill that out but if you didn’t take the words out, Amazon is now saying, “You stated this item was not a pesticide device but we have re-reviewed it and have determined that it is and we’re suppressing your listing or you’re restricted from selling it.”

Policy violations and all of that stuff. The other– [crosstalk]

Phaedra: You can actually get your seller account restricted because of this?

Karen: If you get enough of them, yes.

Phaedra: Wow.

Karen: If you get enough of them. Amazon sends out, and I see more of this than I want to count, “These [inaudible 00:23:35] have been determined to be a pesticide or pesticide device. Please provide,” and they want the EPA registration number.

Phaedra: Wow.

Karen: The easiest way if the thing is not truly any EPA device, it’s not a pesticide device, you don’t have any proof that it’s been treated with anything, is the best thing is to find those words like that bird food, do not say that it gets rid of pests. Just don’t put “pest” in it at all.

Phaedra: [chuckles] Don’t use that word.

Karen: Now one of the tricky things was I had someone, this was a couple of years ago [unintelligible 00:24:13], he was selling stickers, and they were for doctor’s offices and stuff. It talked about germs, “Wash your hands to avoid germs.” Germs [inaudible 00:24:26].

Phaedra: Wow.

Karen: That one had absolutely nothing to do with it. I don’t know how you would take the word germs out of that particular one. Maybe that was three years ago, there may be [unintelligible 00:24:37]. Basically what’s happening is, and I just found it, the EPA issued another order on 29. This is the third order that they’ve done, hence [unintelligible 00:24:49] and it’s slowly working its way through the system from February to now, that we’re getting hit with this yet again. It’s [inaudible 00:24:58] EPA, they [inaudible 00:24:59] orders. Manufacturers should not be saying things are X, Y, and Z, unless they are, and stuff like that.

Again, when changing a listing, maybe you can take the word out. If you run into Brand Registry, maybe you can. That’s the other tricky thing, and you can find all of these on your account health, under other violations. Sometimes the list is quite long.

Phaedra: Then it sounds like everyone needs to get over there and check. Like I said at the beginning, this goes against the laws of common sense. I know a shower curtain and a shoe is not a pesticide.

Karen: But if it’s anti-microbial or anti-bacterial,-

Phaedra: It’s a pesticide.

Karen: -it’s considered a pesticide.

Phaedra: Wow. I can see everyone trying to find synonyms now [chuckles] to describe their products. If you’re getting these warning emails or “check your account”, we do completely understand the frustration, but bots do not understand the human laws of common sense, however, we don’t want to undergo policy violations and lose our selling privileges, so as usual, we will adapt to the platform because as e-commerce sellers, that’s what we do, it’s rented real estate. There’s just a lot coming up for you guys if you’re using the Amazon platform to sell your inventory. We hope that today’s episode has given you some insight and some heads up and some things to put on your calendar for next year.

Head over to our blog, solutions4ecommerce. com and you will find lots of information, valuable information for sellers, not only on the Amazon platform but others as well. As Karen mentioned, we are working on publishing one right now about this latest round of pesticide bots terrorizing sellers on the platform. We’re going to include some verbiage from the emails that are going out so you better understand, then some background information, which Karen shared today, as well as some of the words and phrases that are triggering these issues so that you can check your listings and hopefully, be able to remove them and your item remain viable and sellable on the platform.

Thank you so much for tuning in with us today here on Conversations with Karen. If you have a burning question about e-commerce or a specific selling platform, let us know, and we just might cover it in the next episode of Conversations with Karen. In the meantime, head over to solutions4ecommerce.com. That’s solutions, the number four, e-commerce dot com for all the information you need to stay on top of, and don’t forget, Karen and her team have some fabulous services awaiting every e-commerce seller to help you grow your business and focus on what’s important and not get stuck in the mundane. Until next time, I’m Phaedra here with Karen Locker and we’ll talk to you next time.

Karen: Bye-bye.