Ep. 017 Keyword Podcast: Key Aspects to Focus on for 2017 with Kelly Johnston of Cascadia

February 13, 2017
Key Aspects to Focus on for 2017 with Kelly Johnston from Cascadia

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Kelly Johnston with Cascadia (www.thinkcascadia.com) tells Keyword what sellers need to be focusing on in 2017.


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Show Notes: Key Aspects to Focus on for 2017 with Kelly Johnston from Cascadia

Several years ago a seller I know was in China at the Canton Fair and looking at Hoverboards. He and several other sellers spent time testing the boards, getting quotes from suppliers and debating whether or not to sell them on Amazon.

You might say he dodged a bullet. He decided not to sell hoverboards and a few months later reports of them catching fire starting popping up, along with video.  

Amazon responded quickly. They temorarily banned the sale of hoverboards and have and have since developed an application process to approve you to sell hoverboards on the marketplace.

Amazon is constantly changing and adapting its policies to stay current with federal laws and regulations. Sellers have to stay up to date with these changes or put their own accounts in jeopardy.

This week’s episode we are covering three major topics: compliance, customer service and dealing with bad reviews. All things, you should be focusing on this year. This week’s Amazon Insider is Kelly Johnston.

“The company grew by leaps and bounds while I was there,” Kelly says.

Kelly worked at Amazon for nine and a half years, mainly in seller support.

“I was fortunate enough to be in a position to do policy and content writing so I wrote a lot of the warnings that are still used in some form today,” says Kelly, “Wrote a lot of the different SOPs and training materials that investigators still rely on or using the legacy pieces of.”

Kelly was one of the first investigators for the Amazon North America Marketplace. She helped build the framework Amazon still uses today when they investigate third party sellers.

“That also includes the tools that they use. The actual technology they use to do their jobs because I worked very closely with the engineers that were designing the investigation tools and I was able to give them really strong input about what investigators are doing. What they needed. What was gaps that they were having. Things that weren’t working quite right,” Kelly says.

Now Kelly works for Cascadia, consulting third party clients. You can find them at thinkcascadia.com.

Kelly’s basically doing the same thing now that she was doing for Amazon but in reverse. She helps with account reinstatement, ASIN reinstatement and helps sellers understand the basic general Amazon policies too.  

“I kind of view myself as an interpreter. I am able to take the two pieces of the puzzle; what the seller side sees and does and what the Amazon side sees and does and thinks about things and help my clients understand what it is Amazon does and is going for,” says Kelly, “Because it’s not always easy. It’s a very complex, deep ecosystem to work in and it’s never more so than today. Ten years ago, it was getting more complicated. Today it’s unrecognizable.”

Amazon’s policies are constantly changing and updating. Kelly helps sellers navigate that. It’s also a big thing to focus on in 2017.

This year, you need to focus on compliance. Compliance to any Amazon policy but also compliance to any laws or regulations that might pertain to your product. Think FDA, FTC, FCC, USDA, not to mention any local laws that might also pertain to your product.

“Many of my clients are private label sellers and they’re having some issues with Amazon ‘s new program they launched last year, the safety incident program and we’re finding more and more that these sellers are having to do some serious back tracking and re-doing of their compliance work to get back on the right side with Amazon,” Kelly says.

Not all products have strict regulations on them, but it’s more than you might think. Of course there are regulations on food items, supplements but there’s other areas too. Things like laser pointers for example.  

“I’m sure you’ve seen all the news stories, people who think it’s entertaining to shine lights in pilots eyes as they’re trying to land planes,” Kelly says.

“Amazon didn’t want to completely ban those products because they are viable products, they have legitimate uses but there were really bad concerns about people misrepresenting lasers that were quite powerful that could do damage as less powerful lasers,” Kelly says, “So what they did is implemented some controls to make only pre-approved sellers available to sell those particular type of laser pointers so people weren’t getting the super high powerful ones that could blind a pilot as he’s landing his Cessna.”

When Amazon does update a policy, like restricting some sellers from selling laser pointers, the new policy will be vague. That’s on purpose.

“Amazon does not want to paint itself into a corner so that things become udderly black and white,” Kelly says, “Because that reduces their legal ability to move and make changes to monitor their platform.”

Sellers are responsible for knowing, understanding and complying to every law and regulation that relates to their product. That includes different state laws. In some cases Amazon will be even stricter than the law.

“A lot of them fall into again in the supplement and testosterone booster and other types of health care type of things where you could go to your CVS tomorrow and get that product whatever it is, but Amazon has opted not to allow it,” Kelly says, “I see that a lot with the FDA type of stuff. There’s a few other things too like certain weapons that are hunting related like knives, gun scopes and things like that.”

There’s also an effort inside of Amazon to prevent things from going to countries or states that aren’t allowed there.

“When I worked on the export control stuff the whole goal was trying to make sure that sellers weren;t inadvertently exporting items that the government is not allowed to export,” says Kelly, “So it’s a huge huge thing and it can be extremely complicated and that’s why Amazon really expects sellers to know: can i export this item? is it ok for me to sell this in Germany? can I ship this to the UK or is that a problem? Am I allowed to ship a hunting knife to oklahoma? You know all these different things.”

Items that are noncompliant, will be shut down. When a new policy change comes up, sellers should get their product in compliance as quickly as possible, even if that means pulling down your listing while you’re doing it. It’s better you pull it down and get compliant than Amazon pulling it down.

I also talked with Kelly about customer service. She thinks this should be another major focus of third-party sellers in 2017.

Here’s why:

  • The playing field between sellers has relatively leveled,  everyone is pretty much doing the same thing.
  • Most sellers are using fulfillment by amazon or partial fba –
  • Using fba brings more customers to your listings –

Improving your customer service will help you stand out. It will improve your customer’s experience and you’ll increase sales.

“I really believe that as 2017 goes on that’s going to be the theme the weak from the chaff in terms of performance because buyers are incredibly responsive to people who provide comprehensive quick service,” Kelly says.

There are three ways you can boost your customer service this year. The first way is to have use some sort of automation.

Using a program like Feedback Genius is a great place to start. You want to use an auto-responder to send a thank you to your customers. This is also a way to solicit reviews that is within amazon’s terms of services.

“Those can be done automatically so somebody doesn’t have to sit there are copy paste a blurb or heaven forbid, even worse, type it out by hand every time,” says Kelly, “Anything you can automate that will allow you to focus on your customers is going to be a huge, huge thing.”

The second way: have a team or person dedicated to escalation.

“Let’s face it, somebody is going to be unhappy about something at some time,” Kelly says.

How you deal with an unhappy customer determines if they will be a repeat customer or not and if they have a horrible experience with you, they may tell everyone they know they had a terrible experience and it’s your fault. .

Remember, if you get an escalation note from a customer,  you should be responding as fast as possible. A good rule to follow by: they should be responded to within 24 hours.

“So if you’re not training someone to have that kind of role to be able to triage really important incidents and customer complaints then i think you’re doing yourself a disservice,” Kelly says.

The final way: writing good copy. If that’s not your forte, hire someone with that skill. You need to have someone that can listen to your customer’s needs and address the problems in a way your customer understands.

“I see this a lot. I see sellers that are super knowledgable about their product segment who know pretty much anything and everything about their specific niche but they are absolutely abysmal when it comes to responding to buyers,” says Kelly, “Most of the time, they’re too brief and they don’t have any kind of i don’t want to say touchy feely but there’s no connectedness in what they say.”

All three of these ways to boost customer service work hand in hand. Adding automation, having a team or person dedicated to escalations and having someone that can write good copy can all boost your customer’s experience. Increasing your customer service will help set you apart from other sellers – and boost your performance.

Now, we do have one additional part of customer service that we want to address: bad reviews.

“For my private label sellers, bad product reviews can be the difference between having your product online and not,” says Kelly, “There’s a school of thought that some sellers feel that they have to approach everything, like a bull in a China shop, that they have to go after these reviews really really hard and try to get them taken down.”

Ok. Bad reviews are rotten. If you get one, take a step back. Read it and see if there’s something you need to change about your product. A trend of bad reviews could reveal that you have a quality issue and you should know Amazon is looking at these reviews too..

“Amazon is using product reviews differently than they have in the past. it’s very obvious that they’re generating investigations off them,” says Kelly, “In particular safety incident stuff and condition related complaints have been coming from product reviews.”

When it comes to a bad review again take a step back. It’s hard to get bad feedback, but instead of focusing on getting it removed, look at what the review is saying.”

“Yes, pay attention, respond to customer inquiries, problems and reviews but treat it like you do feedback. There’s only so much that you can do and you can really really really learn from what buyer’s experiences are if you are willing to take that feedback to heart because sometimes it’s extremely valuable,” Kelly says.

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