Challenges working with Amazon on the enforcement side ⎜ Riverbend Consulting ⎜ EP 113

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This is a podcast episode titled, Challenges working with Amazon on the enforcement side ⎜ Riverbend Consulting ⎜ EP 113. The summary for this episode is: <p>Ryan Cramer of Crossover Commerce talks with Lesley Hensel of Riverbend Consulting about the challenges working with Amazon on the enforcement side of your business. They'll address issues for 3P sellers &amp; what to do when Amazon suspends your ASINs.</p><p>---</p><p>Crossover Commerce is Presented by PingPong Payments. PingPong transfers more than 150 million dollars a day for eCommerce sellers just like you. Helping over 1 million customers now, PingPong has processed over 90 BILLION dollars in cross-border payments. Save with a PingPong account <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">today</a>! </p><p>---</p><p><strong>Stay connected with Crossover Commerce and PingPong Payments:</strong></p><p>✅ Crossover Commerce @ <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p>✅ YouTube @ <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p><p>✅ LinkedIn @ <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"></a></p>

Ryan Cramer: What's up, everyone? Welcome to my corner of the internet. I'm your host, Ryan Cramer, and this is Crossover Commerce presented by PingPong payments, the leading global payments provider helping sellers keep more of their hard earned money. Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome. What's up, everyone? I'm your host, Ryan Cramer, and welcome to episode 113 of Crossover Commerce. This is my corner of the internet, where I bring you the best and brightest in the Amazon and e- commerce space. It's where I like to talk with people who show much emphasis on what they know about the Amazon e- commerce space. We can get really broad, we can get really deep. But today, I'm really excited because we're going to get in some really important insights on what's been happening almost what seems at random. But we're going to get into a little bit more on that a little bit later. If Amazon's suspending your account, actually, what would happen today, I personally wouldn't know what to do, I would be freaking out, it would be one of the things if storm hit your home, what would you do first? It's a big catastrophic event if something major happens to your business, especially selling online, if you can't come to the root of the problem. What would that potentially look like? What's step one? And how do you get that resolved? So we're going to get into the nitty gritty of that in your product listings. How do we get back in line? And really wanted to title this episode challenges working with Amazon on the enforcement side, so you have rights as sellers, Amazon has terms, making sure that you fulfill them, and you can show how you can get from point A to point B. That's the key and the focus. But of course, every episode of Crossover Commerce is presented by PingPong payments. PingPong transfers more than$ 150 million a day to e- commerce. So it's just like you if you're listening to this, we've helped more than one million sellers across the world help save money when sending or receiving payments in their local currency, and now have processed over$ 90 billion with B, that's a B, billion dollars with B. It's a fun number we get to say, but$ 90 billion in cross border payments. So if you want to know more about PingPong payments, go and check out that link below. It's in the comment section. Or you can just search for PingPong payments. Make sure that you mention Crossover Commerce when you sign up for free. It's easy to save money today, whether you're sending to a supplier, manufacturer, distributor, your VA, advertising agency, the list goes on and on and on. But if it's sending money in your business, or receiving money in different marketplaces, check out PingPong, and we'll get you hooked up there. But the show is obviously not about me. It's about our guests. And I want to go ahead and quickly introduce our guest today. If it was just me talking that would be one boring show. But our guest today is actually Lesley Hensel, co founder and co owner of Riverbed... Riverbend Consulting, excuse me, where she oversees the firm's client services team. She has personally helped hundreds and third- party sellers get accounts in ASINs back up and running. When I initially talked to her, she was not an attorney, but someone who just knows the system very, very well. So we're going to dive into that. A little bit more of her background. But she leveraged his two decades as a small business consultant to advise clients on profitability in operational performance. She has been an Amazon seller for almost a decade, thanks to her boys 19 and 13, who do most of the heavy lifting, which is awesome. But as a longtime Amazon power seller, not just Lesley, she's the... we'll say the better half of her... or the better half of Riverbend Consulting. Joe Zalta was frustrated with his account when he was suspended, and he turned to Lesley actually, and that's how they merged and became informed Riverbend Consulting and the result, they are experts and not just sellers, they are not just enforcement experts, but they're not just brand owners, all three. So coming at it from that approach. They're helping clients massively get their businesses back into one single piece, if you will, and helping sellers worldwide. Their team is growing. I'm really excited to have on with Crossover Commerce Lesley Hensel of Riverbend Consulting. Lesley, welcome to Crossover Commerce. Let me bring you in, there you are. How are you?

Lesley Hensel: I'm good, thank you. Thanks for that awesome introduction.

Ryan Cramer: Yeah, I mean, it's easy when my guests always have really great backgrounds and it's easy to hype them up. We've talked a little bit beforehand, your background is so fascinating because this is a unique place in the the e- commerce world. It's a dark hole not a lot of people want to play in, I want to say, and once you're there, it's kind of scary, if that's the best way to kind of paint the picture. But you're there with a flashlight showing sellers the way out of this hole if something bad happens, really.

Lesley Hensel: It's interesting you call it the dark hole because we call it the black box, right?

Ryan Cramer: That too.

Lesley Hensel: Because Amazon seller performance is a black box and they do not let you in to see, they do not let you understand what's going on, they say it's your responsibility to magically know all the things and solve the problems. So it is an interesting space to be in. And what's really bizarre to me is I've been working on account appeals and helping people with accounts for six or seven years now. And my goodness, we literally see new problems every day.

Ryan Cramer: Which is fascinating. And I told you this, it's a space that you probably wake up every day and you're like, " What's going to happen today?" Or, " It's not a worst case scenario, it's a how are we going to problem solve today?" I would assume. So that being said, you were a seller, you're still active seller, what gave you this crazy idea to say, " You know what, this is a viable business, we can really help a lot of people." inaudible the helping aspect or is it the anticipation of a new problem every single day?

Lesley Hensel: I've always been a small business consultant, it's how... Well, I started my career crazily as a journalist, but then went into business consulting, and used my MBA to do that. And I just love helping people solve problems, it's always been really fun for me. Way back in the day, I helped people redesign manufacturing lines, and operations. And it's interesting to me how a lot of that still applies today with people who have massive Amazon businesses and have never really spent the time to figure out how to make things efficient and effective and make sure that they're following policy. So I really do love the problem solving and the helping people. As cheesy as that may sound, I cannot even tell you how exciting it is. We have a client come in who literally is afraid they're going to have to fire their brother or not make their mortgage payment or lose everything, and we fix it. Best thing ever. Once we had a client call with 20 employees in the room to all say thank you because we saved their jobs. So it is so much fun to help people fix the problems and then continue to grow. I get a huge kick out of it. And being that trusted adviser status, it's a great thing to do it.

Ryan Cramer: I think that's why a lot of people get into the service side, honestly, is I've been on the seller, but also service seller side. It's fun as a seller, because you could see numbers go up and you feel a sense of satisfaction, right? That I did something, I created something and people want what I have to sell, right? So as a sales person in me, I'm like, " That's really cool." As a service side, you're always helping people solve a problem, whether it's saving money, time or effort. And the cool thing about your industry and your specific niches, you kind of do all three, right?

Lesley Hensel: Yes.

Ryan Cramer: It's really fulfilling, I would think, in all aspects of that. So that being said, what's kind of a day- to- day like for a person in your position when you have people coming to you and saying, " Lesley, help me out. I don't know what to do."

Lesley Hensel: Right, because we're kind of like the... We're David's friend in the David and Goliath scenario, right? And so people come and say, " I do not know how to solve this, because Amazon is a black box, they're not helping me, I don't even understand what this notification means." We have a lot of problems come in the door that I can pretty immediately give people off the cuff help. A lot of times we give advice and information and say, "If that doesn't work, come back to us and hire us and we'll do the thing." But a lot of people come in and we say, " Try this, try that." But for people-

Ryan Cramer: Press a reset button, something like that, right? Turn off and on your phone or whatever.

Lesley Hensel: Yeah, the easier fixes of, " Did you open a case and say these things? And did Amazon fix it?" But a lot of folks come in the door, they've got a suspended account, we have a quick process we put them through asking them questions, we get access to the account, start working the appeals. Then we have some really bizarre things that come in the door that, frankly, I don't know the answer. So I'm very fortunate, I have a team with 20 plus people on our service team here in the US, and 14 of them are ex Amazon employees. So we have, through the magic of Slack, we have some chat channels that are literally called odd cases and help me where we throw out these bizarre scenarios. I just had one this morning for someone who's brand registry is being held hostage, so chatting about it with my team saying, " What can we do for this guy?" And going through and figuring out a three step, three prong approach and go back to him and say, " Okay, we've got three ideas. Which one are you up for? Which one do you want to try?" So it really is on the fly problem solving all day long. We have two paths, right? So you asked typical day, we've got all the normal things that come through, suspensions for inauthentic and intellectual property and ASIN issues. And we just send those through our regular channel, we have very solid processes, and the team works them. And then we've got strange things that come in where we are, on the fly, trying to figure out something to tell people to do.

Ryan Cramer: That, to me, when you paint that picture, it instantly, don't know why, it makes me think of the movie Apollo 11, when something breaks on the spacecraft, and instantly mission control is like, " All right, give me every scenario," or even any sort of doomsday mission, something breaks, and again, I go to space, like Martian or whatever. How do we solve this problem quickly? And how do we effectively with the tools we have, make it so that everyone can get by on skates? So you're almost like the mission control expert of making sure every little solution is checked off, when it's not, that's where the problem is, and whether it's the thrusters of their business or just something that doesn't check off right, I think that's super fascinating. You got to make sure everything goes compliant inaudible. So with one of those kind of strange cases, what's a situation that you'd find yourself in pretty typically, mainly with the product or is it more service? What's kind of the gauntlet, if you will, though, we're dealing with, with Riverbend?

Lesley Hensel: So a lot of things coming in lately are brand registry problems, for example, or like the new restrictions on inventory, restrictions on inventory for hazmat, and then for the restock limits, all of these things, right? So you've got a client that comes in with something that's really challenging, and we are going through all the checklists of is there a path through seller support? Is there a path through seller performance? Does this immediately go to an executive escalation? Which a lot of times, because we only do weird stuff, the answer is yes. We start sending it through executive escalations. Do we need to get an attorney involved for the client with the client? And do we need to go to external agencies, governmental and quasi governmental agencies to try and solve this problem? There are all of these tools in the toolkit. I think a lot of sellers on Amazon, their instinct, which I totally get, because when I was a seller, starting out 10 years ago, I thought everything could be solved through a case. And back then almost everything could be. But now-

Ryan Cramer: It was so simple back then, right?

Lesley Hensel: It was the Wild West, and yet simple. So you could just do the seller support thing, someone's going to help you. It's awesome. But now there are all these different variations and different places that you have to go to get challenging problems solved, because Amazon has grown so quickly, internally, and they have really siloed the organization so much that if you go to the wrong team, they're literally not empowered to help you with problem X. They don't tell you that. They just don't help you. They don't say, " Oh, go over there to those guys, because they're the ones who consult." They don't tell you the second part of where to go. So that's where my team really comes in handy, because a lot of my folks worked on catalog team or FBA team or different places inside the company. So we know, " Oh, yeah, you need to get that over to the brand registry people, whatever the case."

Ryan Cramer: Absolutely. And that's the fascinating thing, what, Amazon has 50, 000 employees on a full time basis? Not just in warehousing, but almost on logistics or seller support side or wherever they might be, and I've had a connection with them there on the launchpad team. And honestly, it's fascinating to hear, because I just got him to pick his brain and go, " You've been here five plus years. If I have a problem with this, how do you help people solve that?" And he goes, " Honestly, it's really difficult because I've been here long enough, so I actually can find my way around. But if you're someone with a case, like you had mentioned, they're not going to know where to point you in that direction. Honestly, that's not my department." But with such scale, that's kind of crazy. And is it asinine to think that they don't have better processes in place with such a machine that they built? Or is that kind of the nature of the beast, if you think about it?

Lesley Hensel: You know what's really crazy? Is a lot of the people who handle the executive escalations internally at Amazon do know these teams to send things to, but A, you have to know how to get to them, and then B, you're more likely to get them to send it where it needs to go if you tell them... Right, so give you an example. There are some very specific things that have to go to engineering, and engineering means the programming guys. They have to fix something because it is a software, programming, AWS error. And we've had cases where we've said to seller support, " Please, forward this to the engineering team. Please, forward this to the engineering team." They don't do it. I don't think they're not doing it because they don't want to help, I think they literally don't know how. There's some training issues because of lots of turnover, and just the massive size of the team, and they're all over the world. And then there's language issues sometimes, so they won't afford it. And so we've literally had to go to executive escalations, to individual executives at Amazon to get something forwarded to the engineering team for a programming fix.

Ryan Cramer: How does Amazon fix that? Yeah, how does Amazon make it... Let's throw the typical stats out there, right, 65% of Amazon sales is coming from third- party sellers plus, growing properly. You have all this attention on... I mean, just growth is coming from more people getting innovative and continuing to invest their resources in there. There's all this ad revenue that's coming in from all these different companies. It's kind of the cash cow, if you will. Why not invest in the opportunity to attract more sellers, instead of making this just almost unnavigational typical... I don't even know what word I'm saying. You can't even navigate through these waters most often and it's just more frustrating, then you just throw your hands up and walk away. Why would they be okay with that process do you think?

Lesley Hensel: You know how Amazon has the Amazon principles, they're written about in books? And crosstalk

Ryan Cramer: About customer first.

Lesley Hensel: That they're supposed to internally have these principles. And one of them is self criticism, that you are willing to look at yourself and your team and say, " We're not doing this right, or we're not doing this right." So that is lacking, that may be in their principles list, and it went out the window a long time ago. So example, restricted products, we've all heard these ridiculous stories about restricted products where something completely off the wall gets blocked from the platform as being hate speech, or being... We had a some bug spray last week that was hate speech related. And they took it down because it said it kills insects. And the notice from seller performance said it had the word killing in it or something like that, like we were saying to kill people, but it was for mosquitoes. So they have these bots that do all these take downs on restricted products. Well, if you go to the restricted products team, internally, at Amazon, and you say, " What is your false positive rate?" They'll say, " Oh, it's almost nothing. And we really don't have problems with false positives." Now, if you're a seller with any kind of catalog of size, you know that that's not true. It happens all the time, and it's really hard to get those back up, even if they're false positives. They are so focused on telling their manager who tells their manager who tells their director, " We've got all these things solved, and it's all great and look at my numbers and they're fantastic." They are so focused on that as a culture, that that self criticism, how can we do better, is out the window. And frankly, I think they lost their, how can we serve sellers, orientation a long time ago. And if you need any more proof of that, look at the seller central interface. Over the last year they've been doing these little tweaks to it here and there, right? First, they put all those... whatever they call them, the little blocks, they're all over the homepage, right, that crosstalk there. So first, they put those suckers on there. And then they decided to change the shipping workflow to something that does not make sense for most people, and these little bitty tweaks here and there. But they've never really done a redesign of seller central. It's like held together with staples and glue and a little bit of bungee cords or something, right? It does not run efficiently. The reporting isn't great. There's all kinds of features that are missing. They don't care. They're not investing in sellers. We are replaceable, sellers are replaceable, and there are not a lot of people in Amazon who believe that sellers are unhappy.

Ryan Cramer: Well, it just seems like that's so hard to believe, though. I can't imagine... Well, I take that back. You and I are in the weeds. We all know that's the case. We all, as service providers, we know that there's frustrations that pop up constantly, whether it's one part of the cog or another. Is Amazon just that naïve that they're only focused on sellers, and at the end of the day, just want to get product out the door? Do you think that's why all these changes with inventory limits? They just want to catch up on this mass backlog of products or what's kind of... If they're not worried about the seller, are they worried about the buyer then? Because that doesn't also seem to be the case always.

Lesley Hensel: I know.

Ryan Cramer: So I don't know who they're worried about.

Lesley Hensel: Allegedly, the focus has always been on the customer, right? The buyer. That is supposed to be where all of the effort goes and everything else, there can be other priorities, but the buyer experience has to be great. But I'm with you that a lot of things don't seem to be serving that end. Because when you take away seller fulfilled Prime, and then you're not allowing things to be stocked, you're going to have stock outs. I don't know about you, but where I live, I have some things Prime that show up the next day, and I have some things that take a week. And it doesn't make any-

Ryan Cramer: Yeah, and it's still Prime.

Lesley Hensel: And it's still Prime. And that is not from a third- party seller, that is Amazon. So there are a lot of things I don't understand, either. I don't understand why they think all sellers are replaceable, that even extends to extremely large sellers. Because several of our sellers are in the top 10 on Amazon in volume. And so these are people who do a billion dollars a year with a B on Amazon only. And they do not get the kind of partner treatment that you would expect from a large retailer that is a partner with you, right? Like if you were selling through to Walmart as a crosstalk

Ryan Cramer: You would have a key account rep. Yeah, exactly.

Lesley Hensel: Yeah, someone would care. And it's all through this intermediary of the software and of seller central, and they're trying to have fewer reps. I don't understand it either, Ryan, I wish I did. I really wish I did. But here's here's my thing. I don't see it getting any better. Every year, I think, " Is this the year, the magical year that it's going to get easier for sellers to navigate Amazon?" And it just gets harder. They add tools that are supposed to help and then they misuse them like brand registry. So brand registry was sold to sellers as get your stuff on here, and no one else can screw with your listing. I mean, wasn't that what we all believed? Like, if you go through brand registry, your content's protected and random people cannot come in here and change your content. That is not true. Random people can go in and change your content. And if you go internally to Amazon, and you say, " Well, then why did you do this brand registry thing?" It had nothing to do with helping sellers and brand owners protect their content. That's not why they did it.

Ryan Cramer: Right. Even hijacking in general, if you're listening to this, you know what hijacking would be, someone can come on your listing, remove imaging, or change out your copy, something like that where it would get you either flagged or even potentially taken off for a certain amount of time. Don't ask me how that happens. I know that there's a lot smarter people out there who could tell you, but in that case, a lot of people just say, " Yeah, I'm on brand registry, and that's not supposed to happen." And time is money, right? So if you're knocked off of your listing during that happening, and for some reason, you just don't understand why everything looks good, you've checked all the boxes. Still, you might be missing out on a couple days of sales and that's money out of your pocket, ultimately. It goes to your competitor or that person just doesn't make a purchase for some reason. So that's really frustrating in that regards. I know a seller and friend of the show, she actually around Prime Day, because it's pretty topical, inaudible have a graphic up here, I'll even pop it up right here. inaudible epic deals, June 21st and 22nd. Look at that Prime Day, I'm promoting already. Since it's been officially announced, feel like that's something that a lot of people are getting anxious about too with hijackings because certain ones had their listings hijack their top selling performance products around Prime Day or on Prime Day and they just missed out on all these opportunities because their back end had said that they had pesticides in their listings or something crazy like that in their meta tags, I think. And it was just wasn't true but someone had hacked them and put that on the back end. It was just crazy to hear the stories of all this and never got it resolved until about a month or two later, which again is crazy to hear that. Amazon's becoming more behemoth and more and more sales are happening now, we fast forwarded because of the pandemic. What would you like to see in an ideal world? What to you would be almost... Not to make your company obsolete, but to make your company obsolete, what would have to happen? Does that make sense?

Lesley Hensel: Yes, it absolutely does. So Amazon would actually have referral pathways inside of seller support. So when they looked at a case, they would refer it to an appropriate team that would handle it without the seller having to know to ask them for that team, they would have much better training than seller support. And I'm sure you've had this happen before, I open tickets, and I get responses that are nonsensical, I have to go back and say, " What I was asking you is..." and explain it over and over again. You'd have to have incredible training, including some language training in some areas, so that people... The reps in other countries are very smart, and they're working from behind the eight ball because I could not provide support to people in Spanish or French. So I admire people who are multilingual. But there is a problem when they cannot answer sellers the first time with a good answer. So you'd have to have language training or hire people who are better language skilled, they would have to then be better skilled in answering Amazon questions. I think support would go into multiple tiers, and it would be based on volume, it might be on the number of SKUs you have, it might be on the volume of sales you do overall, I'm not sure. But it would actually go into tiers, because as we all know, if you do a billion dollars in sales, you have more problems, and more technical issues and difficult issues than someone who sells$ 100,000 a year, right? So you would have tiered support, and there would be more, not fewer, as they're going to, but more specific groups in seller support that regular sellers can actually reach, like the captive team. There'll be more captive reps. They also call it the snowball team, for some people who might have heard that term. You could actually get directly to catalog instead of having to beg to get to catalog. Because you do, you have to beg, threaten, cry, to get to the catalog team, there would just be more access to these teams. And they would be tiered and sliced and diced. And here's a crazy thought, how about when I have an issue, it goes back to the same rep every time till it's solved instead of being reassigned round robin to a new person, both in seller performance and seller support?

Ryan Cramer: That would make sense.

Lesley Hensel: There's a concept, whoo, how about if seller performance says, " Hey, this appeal won't cut it, I need to know about A, B and C." And so when you sent the new appeal, it went to that person who asked you for A, B and C, that would be awesome. So all of that still would not make me obsolete, because Amazon is still a giant company that will always have some problems and be difficult to navigate. But golly, gee, that could make life a lot easier for sellers, it would be super, super fantastic. The chances of it happening I think are almost nothing.

Ryan Cramer: Which is why you're going to be here in business.

Lesley Hensel: It really-

Ryan Cramer: Which is why there's always going to be more growth.

Lesley Hensel: It makes me sad. It's kind of like being the emergency room doctor, he's got a great job, and he makes a good salary because he helps people who've been in car accidents, and that's really sad. But at the same time, people who are in car accidents need an emergency room doctor. So it's a strange feeling sometimes to charge people to solve these problems that I honestly don't think should exist, it upsets me. But that's a good motivator for our team. We use that as motivation that, dang it, we're going to solve this because it's not fair.

Ryan Cramer: Right. So what's the emerging problem areas? You guys can probably see it. I would assume that you have much data and analytics to kind of go behind every complaint that you have to file with Amazon. Is there reports or is there insight that you can share with our audience that you're starting to see more and more cases have to be open because of these problems? And almost a word of caution, if you will, for sellers out there.

Lesley Hensel: Absolutely. So restricted products has gone insane since January or February this year. At one point, our ticket count on restricted products had gone up 5x, I believe it was from February to March-

Ryan Cramer: And a restricted product would be, for basic definition, how would you classify that for people who'd be like, " I don't know what that technically is?"

Lesley Hensel: Sure thing, it's when Amazon says that a product isn't allowed to be sold on the site and that can be because of legal reasons, like an ingredient in a supplement that is no longer allowed. It can be for one of Amazon's policy reasons, like when they decided you couldn't have any Confederate merchandise on the platform anymore. And a lot of times, it's for individual words that are not allowed to be in any listing. And so that kind of refers back to what you were saying earlier about the black- hat tactic of inserting words. We've seen where an entire list of street drugs was put into someone's keywords.

Ryan Cramer: I was referring to... Yeah, I think they said pornography was one of them, or just any sort of, like you said, term, lexicon, that they go off of, if something just gets in once or twice... It was hidden, there was like one or two that popped in there. It was only on the certain bestseller products, which is really weird. But that's the targeted approach that hackers can do. And they don't do it simply for either working for potentially another dark company, or they're just doing it just to really screw with society. I mean, I haven't really... Do you guys ever... Is there ever ways that... Have you been able to get to the bottom of something, and then it's a legal... you have to turn it over to the authorities, because of some sort of legal action was taken, and they were caught. Is there anything like that that's been happen? inaudible.

Lesley Hensel: We have some instances, several, unfortunately, where we have clients who come in, that their listings have been taken down by a competitor using those kinds of tactics you were just talking about. And then they will receive a demand for an extortion payment. The demand-

Ryan Cramer: Really?

Lesley Hensel: Yes. And the demand typically is from overseas. So what we've traced and figured out is, it is a competitor in the United States who hire someone who is a hacker in the Ukraine or in Russia, so then the hacker will take down the listing, and then they will make demands. So the demands are things like, " We will stop doing this if you'll pay us five Bitcoin." And then if you pay, it doesn't stop, they keep crosstalk more money. So y'all, if you ever get that, do not pay.

Ryan Cramer: Yeah, ransomware, or any sort of like black... Yeah, cyber crime.

Lesley Hensel: Exactly. But in this case, because you're small potatoes in the... you're not the pipeline or the meat processor, you're a little guy, even if you're big on Amazon, you're a little guy compared to those people, is what I'm saying, right? Like inaudible of the US government. If you pay, they're just going to make you pay again, and the FBI isn't going to be in there fast enough. It's going to be reactive, not proactive to help you. So what we have done is we encourage our clients to file police reports. And also there is a really great tool out there online, y'all, it's with the Department of Justice. It is the computer crimes form, it goes to the FBI. And so we have filed... we've gotten our clients to file those reports, and it has been very useful. You file a local police report as well, and you can use that documentation to help you with Amazon.

Ryan Cramer: Interesting. Yeah, I've heard the computer crimes form has actually been very helpful. Typically, if that's... I mean, this also sounds bad in my mind, I'm also suspecting that if there's any sort of sniff by these cyber criminals that they could potentially be in jeopardy, I think, that they would back off and they would walk away more often because they want to keep the business, they don't want to be caught. Do they think they can get away with it? Probably. But I would assume that would deter a lot of people. And that leads me to my next natural question, my mind goes very dark, because unfortunately, I've heard just too many stories where this is just detrimental, and people can go out of business and have gone out of business because of these tactics. How can you protect yourself from this? Because you said you might be too big to fail, but we've seen recently just sellers get picked off and pulled off for their listings because they actually engage with some of these tactics before. Whether that's overseas or here in the United States, it's bound to always come back and bite you in the butt one way or another. So how do you protect yourself from that?

Lesley Hensel: First of all, back to what you mentioned at the beginning, some of these... Hacker's contact information gets passed around in the seller community among sellers who are willing to do these tactics. So just know that if someone from overseas comes after you, you are not their only target. This is being done to other sellers as well by the same group. And I'm telling you this because I've actually seen screenshots of the phone conversations that are being done by text, where we can tell it's the same people, okay? The language being used, and this is on different sellers that we work for. So it's the same people, it's the same group. So just know that this is organized... It's really organized crime, and it's extortion, and it's wire fraud, and it's all those things, okay? So as far as how you protect yourself, first thing is never give them the money, because they're just going to come back for more, we've seen it, it doesn't work, that's not going to fix your problem. Secondly, you do have to be in brand registry, you have to be. I know I complain about brand registry does not solve all your problems, it will solve this one to an extent, because if you own the brand registry, you're acting in good faith, because you don't want to take down your own product. And they have ways of making it almost look like you did these things, or could have done these things to your listings that get you taken down. So you can show in good faith, " I own this helped me fix this." Engage with law enforcement early, because your local law enforcement will at least give you a document, they will file a report. If you get phone calls, record the phone calls and keep the recordings. Some of these people call family members of the people they are extorting and say terrible, horrible things. So if you are pursued by one of these people, warn your family members who can easily be traced to you and have them put some kind of recording software on their phone so that they can record the calls, because those calls are used by law enforcement, local and federal. I hate that I'm even having to say this stuff, because it sounds crosstalk

Ryan Cramer: Right. No, we're not trying to go dark here on a Friday, either. This is something that it's super... Again, the people I've had on the show, not many people dive into this because A, they are experts in this field, but B, it's just a terrible place that you don't want to have to go, but ultimately, if a natural disaster happens, you have to start putting the pieces together somehow or figuring out what's the next step? So that being said, here we are. If this happens, you have to be protective, and it's best to be in front of the eight ball instead of, like you said, behind it. So how do we do that as sellers? Is there a pattern... So all those are great tips, Lesley. I love that you could share that with us. When you and your team... What's kind of the benefits working with you guys? Is it like a retainer process? Or is it something like when I... Something happens to me, I can say, " Lesley, help me out. I don't know what happened." And then boom, you're instantly activated, if you will, like the femur or anything like that? The femur of Amazon.

Lesley Hensel: So on a positive note, so let's have a cheery Friday thought-

Ryan Cramer: True, let's do it.

Lesley Hensel: With all of the black hat stuff that gets talked about a lot and for good reason, because it's sexy. It's interesting. It's a little exciting, if it's not happening to you. It's all the bad things that crosstalk

Ryan Cramer: Thriller novel.

Lesley Hensel: ...happening to you. Yeah, it is. It's like a spy thing, right? So when we've seen these trends, and a lot of people talking about these trends coming up, we did some research of our own ticket system, we have a ticket- based system where we manage every single client appeal, or question, or issue that we work on. So we did some analysis, and we determined that one and a half percent of our tickets are related to black- hat tactics. So that means-

Ryan Cramer: That's good.

Lesley Hensel: ...98.5% of our tickets are not about black- hat tactics. And so what I preach to sellers is there is a lot in your control, there are things about Amazon that are not in your control, most of those are Amazon, most of those are not super duper bad guys. The bad guys are mostly going after people on supplements, some in electronics. It happens everywhere. But I'm telling you, supplements, it's a huge portion. So if you're not-

Ryan Cramer: Why is that? Is it the money aspect?

Lesley Hensel: It's incredibly competitive. They invest a lot in their product. There are lots of new entries all the time of people who just go into these contract manufacturing companies and get a supplement for X, Y or Z. I'm not really sure I even fully understand the culture of the supplements world that this has become a thing, but I'm not talking about like the big guys, I'm talking about the little sellers. The small PL guys who are doing a few million a year on these supplements. It's cutthroat, it's insane. I think a lot of them use the same contract manufacturer, so they're essentially selling the same product with a different label, and that makes people more aggressive to try-

Ryan Cramer: And have you stand out.

Lesley Hensel: Right, exactly. But if you're not selling those categories most of the time, the really evil black hat stuff, the truly crazy stuff is not going to happen to you. Most stuff is in your control. Okay, so that relates to your question where you're like, " Hey, how do I work with you?"

Ryan Cramer: Exactly. Let's just pick on Amazon now, because the 98% that it's their fault.

Lesley Hensel: We meet sellers where there are some folks, they have a one time problem, they get suspended, or they have an ASIN taken down, most of them have tried to get the ASIN back from selves. And for whatever reason, maybe it's a complex issue, maybe they are not fully understanding what Amazon's looking for, maybe operationally, they need someone from the outside to give them an opinion, because you get kind of tunnel vision. Of course, my operations are all great, right? So you need someone from the outside. A lot of people come in one time, they give us a call, we talk to them about their issue, we determine if we can help, we sign them up, we do the one project. Then we have other clients, and usually they come from that set of guys who sign up for a monthly account help. So they pay a fee every month and we handle all the ASIN reinstatements that come up, any other issues that come up, answer their questions. We're like a partner for them. We have a portal, if they have a question, they just log into their portal, shoot it to us, it creates a ticket, we work on the issue. So it's like an outsource where instead of hiring an individual, even though you may have 10 issues one month and zero the next month, you outsource it to our ex- Amazon people and they take care of it.

Ryan Cramer: That's awesome, and it's pretty much a... What's kind of the numbers that you can tie to it? If it's a subscription, obviously, if you don't use it, you're saving still down the road. What's kind of the cost savings or time savings, because here at PingPong, we're all about saving money, time and effort. What is the cost savings that you can really tie your model to in that regard?

Lesley Hensel: Sure. So there's an incredible range, because our clients are an incredible range of sizes and issues. So our entry level price is$ 499. But are ginormous clients I told you about, we go all the way up where they're paying 15 grand a month, I mean, it's huge, right? But for the average seller, you're paying less than$1, 000 a month. And here's what we do. We base it on how many appeals you've needed over the past, say, three, four or five months, and say, " Okay, so on average you do two appeals a month. So here's your price." And then every quarter, we're going to evaluate it. So if you don't use as much from us, we're going to adjust the price down. If all of a sudden you're getting 10 appeals a month, we're going to adjust the price up, and we're going to work together. We want to make sure everyone's happy. So there is no set in stone, " It's got to be this thing." We really try and meet people where they are, because we're all small businesses, y'all. That's why everything we do is a flat fee. We don't do retainer work. Well, we do retainer work on big projects, but we don't do hourly fees on our appeals. So if an appeal takes... If you hire me to get your account back up, if it takes two appeals or it takes 20, it's a flat rate, because neither of us can control that. It's Amazon-

Ryan Cramer: Right, a problem's a problem. Yeah.

Lesley Hensel: Right. And you can't control if Amazon won't listen, and we have to escalate to 10 people. You don't know and we don't know either going in, because it's a black box.

Ryan Cramer: What's the worst department that once you get... Almost like, if you're on a call with them, they're like, " I'm transferring to this department," you're going to throw that phone through the wall or out the window, and you're like, " I can't talk to these people. They have no idea, they've never helped me." What is that department in Amazon? This is just a fun, bash session on Amazon. And I'm sorry if you're listening Amazon, I apologize for that, but we're trying to improve the seller's headaches right now. But is there one that's really difficult to work with?

Lesley Hensel: In a way, the most frustrating thing recently has been the catalog team will take calls, and then they won't take calls, and then they'll take calls, and then they won't take calls and you don't know which it is. So sometimes the seller support rep doesn't know either. So they will transfer you to the catalog team, and no one ever answers. Because they didn't read the email that said, " We're not transferring to..." And I want to know Amazon, why are you having the catalog team take calls and then not take calls? Can you explain? I mean, why is it not just, " This is our policy instead." Instead of, " This week..."

Ryan Cramer: The doctor's in and the doctor's out. Just show us a sign, one or the other, if they're here or not. That'd be nice.

Lesley Hensel: That's like when you see people online who are like, " I called at 2: 00 am, and I got a great person, but I called at 2: 00 pm and everyone was stupid." It's that kind of thing. We shouldn't all have to strategize what time of the day we're going to call Amazon to get someone to answer the phone crosstalk. Just say, " These are the hours the catalog team is available, they're going to talk to you."

Ryan Cramer: Yeah. So in this capacity, what's Amazon good at then? Let's kind of turn it around on that regards. Is it speed? Is it effectiveness? Is it kind of fixing the problem, so it doesn't happen again? Is there anything good that can come from these kinds of problems that you're showing them, " Hey, this is an issue." It shouldn't be, they fix it, they patch it, and then move forward and the boat continues to go on. Silence, I love it. We're thinking and there's nothing coming to mind.

Lesley Hensel: I'm thinking really hard.

Ryan Cramer: That's okay.

Lesley Hensel: I'm trying to think of something that we've escalated for many clients over and over to show that this is a continual problem, and it's gotten solved.

Ryan Cramer: Like the kid who touches the hot stove, but they keep coming back and touching it. Amazon's a kid and we keep touching the hot stove. We haven't learned from our mistakes yet.

Lesley Hensel: I can't think of anything that... There are some things that are a little better than they used to be.

Ryan Cramer: That's good, some things. You don't know what they are. It feels like somethings crosstalk

Lesley Hensel: This is awful. I've never been asked a question on a podcast that I literally had no answer for.

Ryan Cramer: First time for everything. No, it's all good. I'm all about answering the tough... or asking the tough questions here on Crossover Commerce. And everyone, if you're watching live, if you have a question, like I said, this is also a live interactive show. So if you have a comment you'd like to make about a story that you had, feel free to send that through and put it on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, and we'd be more than happy to answer that for you. We only have about 10 more minutes or so before the top of the hour. So that being said, I guess Riverbend has started developing with you helping another seller. Now you guys are growing. What's kind of that roadmap moving forward as Amazon kind of diversifies and has different arsenals and different things that are important to them? How do you ebb and flow with them as well?

Lesley Hensel: Amazon has gotten much more aggressive with vendors, 1P sellers. So we now help vendors with account appeals and other issues. And y'all, it's tough being a vendor, if you think it's tough being a seller, whoa, I've been working on vendor issues for about a year and a half now, and the cards are... The whole deck is stacked in Amazon's favor over there. It's really tough, lots of problems. But we're moving with Amazon, because they've got a lot more going on in their vendor program, so we're doing that. We're also trying to help our clients grow. So for example, we have editorial recommendations, we're helping with really cool video product that we're building brand videos for people and product videos for people. So we're trying to help our clients take advantage of the positive movement on Amazon and the great things you can do to get yourself on page one of search, or to get yourself on page one of search in two or three places, which really has to be the goal these days. If you're just on there one place, man, with your PPC, it's not going to cut it anymore. So we're trying to help people get on page one, two or three different way. Then brand registry is really huge. Brand registry has created almost more problems than it's solved. And a lot of our clients, vendors and sellers are having some tremendous issues with brand registry. We're building up our team around that. Oh, and one last thing. We used to have this big team of consultants, and we all worked on everything. And now we are really specializing for different kinds of clients. So we have a VIP program, that's our really big guys and our huge brand owners and folks who have really pressing, scary problems, like if they've got one ASIN and down for two days, they're in trouble. They're our VIPs, our most experienced people are in that group. Then we have our SAP group. That's for those monthly clients that we talked about, they really learn that group of accounts. So they get to be like your buddy, they know everything about your account, they can react really quickly to fix those ASINs. So we're kind of mimicking Amazon world, not Amazon itself, but like the world of sellers that there are now these stratified groups, and so we're fitting into those groups including the vendors. But yeah, vendors.

Ryan Cramer: That's awesome. Yeah, I've heard of certain stories and it's tough because more and more 1P sellers are coming into the game, because they feel like they have to, and rightfully so, there's a lot of pros to it. But then also, like you said, Amazon has you over a barrel in that negotiation process, that's a very tough place to play, especially margins, especially quantity, all the different other kinds of components that they make you jump hoops through. It's pretty nauseating. I don't know how well it's gone, or how much better it's gotten, but judging by your facial expression, it hasn't gotten much better since I've talked with other people in that space. Lesley, before we cap off you, you mentioned a couple of books actually, and you seem like a good knowledge, continuous thinker and kind of educator, if you will. What's a book that has to be on everyone's shelf that you kind of live and die by, and they have really good information about either entrepreneurship, selling online, just kind of business acumen? Is there one that you always recommend to people?

Lesley Hensel: Absolutely. So I am a huge fan girl of Cal Newport. So Cal Newport is a Georgetown professor, who is really deep into programming and math and all of these things, but he's taken that knowledge and he really focuses on productivity. And he has three really great books that I love, Deep Work, A World Without email, and Digital Minimalism. And the reason I love these books is that as an e- commerce person, you're always online, we have all these groups that we're in, because as a seller, a lot of times you feel isolated, it's hard to find other people who do what you do. Everything we do is on a phone or on the computer, and then there's all of the social media and you're trying to get your image out there, get your company out there, all the things. It's so overwhelming. Then how much time are you really spending working and focusing on what you really need to get done? And I've got a team of 52 people, so we've got a lot of people to manage a lot of demands. And if you're continually getting pinged all over the place, are you really focusing and spending time implementing what you have to get done to make money, right? So I am really into the Digital Minimalism book. I'm off all the social media except LinkedIn, I let my team do my social media, not answer my messages, but tell me what I need to answer. I auto post everything on buffer instead of actually getting in there, writing the post. And I go into LinkedIn every day, and I interact, but I have a timer set. I also time block my day, Cal Newport's really big into time blocking, and has a great podcast called Deep Thoughts, I think. It's all about focusing on getting the work done, so you can have a life. A lot of sellers are like me, they're so into their business, it's really easy to not have life, right? You're spending all your time working with new ideas and new thoughts. So I've gotten really passionate about the time blocking and the digital minimalism and trying to get the really hard work done that I know is going to move my business forward. Is that a nerdy enough answer for you, man?

Ryan Cramer: Yeah, that's great. No, that's good. And that's something that I think every person needs to work more on. I know, I tried to... I have multiple books of tasks that need to get done for the day, personal and then business wise, and then trying to be as effective as possible. I block off time with my family, so I know that people can't schedule meetings during that time. So I think it's super important even that aspect of it might be in the middle of the day, or you work with your family. As we all kind of work from home this past year, what's a good time for sitting down for dinner, and then maybe hopping back on for a couple hours of work, knocking out, as my son is banging on something out there somewhere else outside my office. So it is what it is. But we all have to effectively figure out time, we don't have a lot of during the day, when can we put it towards the things that actually matter and move the needle, instead of like you said, maybe just always engaging on social media, even though it's a good medium? You got to work on what moves the needle, truly. So that's awesome. I love your content you're always posting on LinkedIn. What are the best ways to kind of interact with you or they have questions, talk to Riverbend. What's kind of the first or the best way to do that?

Lesley Hensel: Yeah, so please connect with me on LinkedIn, my username is Lesley Hensel. Just my name. You can find me there. I do post Amazon specific content almost every day of the week, and then some entrepreneurship growth stuff too. But lots and lots of nerdy Amazon content for you people who want to be up on the trends on what's going on. You can also find us at riverbendconsulting. com. We have live people who answer the phone to answer questions, and to give you help and let you know if it's something we can help with. And if we can't help, we try to have a referral source, someone we can send you to. So those are probably the best two ways. And anytime anyone has a question, feel free, you can email me at Lesley L- E- S- L- E- Y @ riverbendconsulting. com, or hit me up on LinkedIn, leave me a message there. I love to talk to sellers and answer questions and see if I can help.

Ryan Cramer: Awesome, thank you so much for hopping on today. I know we were really... We got really dark really quickly in the beginning, but I think we turned it around and we ended this on the right foot. But that being said, it's always super important to know that you have options and the there's people out there willing to hop in and really support you in that regards. Because you guys are obviously growing, there's going to be more and more issues as e- commerce develops and grows over time. So that being said, it's really awesome to know that there's people on your side that can really help. So congratulations on the growth as always, and you guys are going to be at events soon, upcoming. Make sure if you're listening to this, look for Riverbend Consulting, Lesley and her team as they continue to grow and help sellers navigate this black box world. Thanks, Lesley for hopping on.

Lesley Hensel: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it, Ryan.

Ryan Cramer: Yeah, no problem. Have a great day. And we'll catch you soon, now friend of the show on Crossover Commerce.

Lesley Hensel: Awesome.

Ryan Cramer: Awesome. Again, everyone. Thank you so much for hopping on watching live on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. We appreciate you spending a little bit of your time just to watch us on LinkedIn, or on any of those platforms. But if you're listening to this, go ahead and subscribe on either Apple podcast, Google podcast, Amazon music or anywhere that you constantly are listening to podcasts, like Lesley mentioned, with Cal Newport or hopefully you're subscribed to this show on your favorite podcasting networks. I want to give a shout out to our partners with inaudible, who kind of facilitate this portion going live to our streams, as well as our new partner, Casted, who's a really exciting podcast partner that we're aligning with. So I want to give a shout out to them, and all the exciting things are going to be coming out. Stay tuned for that as we continue to evolve in our content here at Crossover Commerce, as well as PingPong payments, shout out to PingPong payments, of course, as always, who this podcast is presented by, go ahead and check out the link below. If you don't have an account, go ahead and sign up today. It's free. It's easy. It's fun. I say fun, because saving money is fun. That's what we like to do over here. So check it out. But I'm Ryan Cramer, the host of this show Crossover Commerce. I go live three to five times per week. It's crazy the amount of content that we're pumping out. But you don't want to miss an episode, so subscribe to our channels on YouTube, Facebook or LinkedIn to know when we go live. Or you can follow me as well on those social channels. Again, quickly, I know we kind of talked about it earlier before the top of the hour, but two days of epic deals, June 21st and 22nd. We're talking about Prime Day, more and more as time is getting closer, Amazon just officially announced it, it was very much alluded to, but we know it's officially happening on that Monday and Tuesday. So if you're a seller, make sure that you're prepared, and plans for that. We actually talked about that last week, PPC strategies to help prepare yourself for Prime Day. We're going to be talking about that as more and more... the things you can actually do to help prepare for one of the bigger seller days of the year since its inception, really, about five years or so ago. But that being said, we have great content next week. We'll have Brendan Young on Monday, Christina Martins from inaudible on Tuesday, I believe. And then inaudible from SellerApp is going to be here on Wednesday. So go ahead and tune in, make sure you're notified when we go live. Make sure you subscribe to those channels. I'm Ryan Cramer, this is Crossover Commerce. Thanks everyone again for tuning in. This is episode 113, challenges of working with Amazon and more of the enforcement side of what you can do to get out of those black box topics and areas. We'll catch you guys next time. Take care.


Ryan Cramer of Crossover Commerce talks with Lesley Hensel of Riverbend Consulting about the challenges working with Amazon on the enforcement side of your business. They'll address issues for 3P sellers & what to do when Amazon suspends your ASINs.


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Today's Host

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🎙 Ryan Cramer - Host

|Partnership & Influencer Marketing Manager

Today's Guests

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Lesley Hensell

|Co-Founder of Riverbend Consulting