If there’s one thing as an Amazon seller you should always expect, it’s that Amazon continually tweaks and updates its terms of service. It’s your responsibility as the seller to stay current with the most recent changes and ensure you remain compliant.
“There are some mistakes you could easily make without realizing it,” points out ecommerce blogger Mary Weinstein. “There’s a lot of fine print in those requirements and Amazon put them in place for a reason—everything they do is driven by the shopper experience.”
But as with the law, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the rules.
The same notion applies to Amazon’s buyer-seller messaging rules. Failure to comply with Amazon’s guidelines could result in significant buyer messaging limitations—or even outright suspension of your selling privilege.
That’s why you’ll want to get up to speed with Amazon’s latest changes to its Communication Policies.
In this post, we’ll review exactly what you can or cannot do under the updated guidelines, as well as current Amazon policies concerning how you can request a review. We’ll then look at how you can proactively ensure compliance with the rules, improve your relationships with buyers and grow your business.
Types of Messages No Longer Permitted
The primary intent of Amazon’s buyer-seller messaging guidelines is to minimize the number of messages that buyers receive. To that end, the new guidelines now prohibit the following:
- Sending shipping or order confirmations to customers (Amazon already does this automatically)
- “Thank you” or “We’re always here to help” messages that have nothing to do with order fulfillment
- Coupon offers
- Marketing or promotional content
- A repeat request for seller feedback or product review (one request for a review or feedback is still permitted)
Okay, so what is permitted?
Permitted messages must be sent within 30 days of the original order. They must be related to customers who have contacted you, the seller, about a specific order and can only be sent through your Amazon Seller Central Account or an approved third-party app.
There are two types of permitted messages:
Required messages to complete an order, either because...
- There is a problem with the order (e.g., fulfillment can’t be provided by the originally promised date)
- You need additional information to complete a return, or you are offering a partial return. Note: Returns are ordinarily handled in the Manage Orders section on your Amazon Seller Central page. Contact your buyer directly only if you need more information or if you are offering something other than a complete return.
Seller-initiated messages to request or provide additional information related to an order. Other examples when proactive messages are permitted include...
- Sending an invoice
- Scheduling delivery for a heavy or bulky item
- Resolving an issue required to complete the order
- Asking a question about a return
- Verifying a custom design
- Scheduling a home services appointment
- Requesting a review or feedback (which, again, you should only do once)
The Fine Print
Including certain information, even in permitted messages, is prohibited. While some of these are not new, it’s good to review all the restrictions enforced by Amazon:
- Do not offer to compensate or reward customers for a positive review or feedback. This includes reimbursement, rebates, free or discounted products, gift cards or other indemnification or future benefit.
- Do not ask to remove or change a product review, or request a review only if it will be positive.
- Do not request a buyer to submit a cancellation request when you are out of stock.
- Do not include attachments that are not invoices, warranty information or instructions directly related to the purchased product.
- Do not include external links (except for Amazon-owned or secure links for order completion) or unsecure http links.
- Do not include links to opt-out of messaging.
- Do not link logos to your website or use images other than those that relate to your brand or company.
- Do not include tracking pixels or images.
- Do not offer email addresses or telephone numbers.
- Do not use offensive language or images (do we really have to explain this?).
- Do not send images of your product (Amazon already includes them for you).
- Do not use emojis or gifs (we know, these used to be a great brand differentiator for sellers, but, alas, no more).
In addition to meeting the above criteria, permitted buyer-selling messaging must comply with certain formatting rules (what Amazon refers to as “styling”). Messages to buyers cannot contain the following:
- Spelling or grammar mistakes
- More than two line breaks between paragraphs in a row
- Margins over 20% maximum width
- Images/graphics larger than 80% maximum width
- Text that is centered or otherwise does not follow default alignment settings
- Fonts in more that three sizes
Messages must adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline(WCAG) from the Web Accessibility Initiative, which aims to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. While this is not a legal requirement, Amazon is acting in your best interests here (and of course its own best interests as well).
As web design and compliance expert Kim Krause Berg points out in Search Engine Journal, “Just because there is no straightforward set of legal requirements for website accessibility does not mean your business will not be presented with a lawsuit.”
One example cited in the article details a $250,000 fine that Winn-Dixie received as a result of its website not complying with WCAG standards.
“Preventing anyone from conducting tasks online is risky,” writes Berg. “Since there is little in the way of federal website accessibility law, some states are moving forward with their own decisions.”
How to Ensure that You Comply with New Amazon Buyer-Seller Messaging Guidelines
When the new buyer-seller guidelines were released, there was a great deal of concern among Amazon sellers who believed that the guidelines didn’t offer enough protection or leeway for sellers.
However, one seller noted: “The policy changes appear to mostly force sellers into better compliance with the law and recent judicial decisions (language, accessibility, etc.)...this is not oppressing them but rather are guards to protect Amazon and sellers from breaching the law.”
Whether you personally like or dislike the new policy, if you want to remain in Amazon’s good graces, and perhaps within the good graces of the law, you have to follow them. There are a number of ways to ensure you do this.
1. Use Pre-Built Templates
While you can use Amazon’s Buyer-Seller Messaging Service to communicate with buyers, a number of third party software companies offer pre-built email templates designed to help sellers stay compliant with the latest updates.
Third-party feedback management platforms provide pre-formatted templates that include the buyer’s preferred language, Order ID and other custom product details. These platforms enable sellers to set up templates and automate communications on key topics, such as feedback, product instructions, FAQs and warranty information.
In addition, the template editor should meet all Amazon styling and formatting requirements, as well as flag and disable any prohibited content like emojis, emails and phone numbers; non-secure links and errors in link variables; and other styling/font violations. There should also be a trigger that disables sending messages more than 30 days after an item is purchased, which the Amazon Communications Policy forbids.
At the same time, third-party automation can help to fine-tune your messages. For example, say you’re interested in sending out review requests within the 30-day window. You could schedule requests to go out at different times depending on the product that was purchased. For any apparel items, you could send requests within seven days of purchase, while for tech items that require more time to evaluate, you could wait a few more days (perhaps 25-30 days) before sending requests.
In choosing a third party software provider, the law firm of Rosenbaum Famularo, P.C. advises, “Make sure to select a trusted one who is constantly updating software and services to keep with Amazon’s ever-changing rules and requirements.”
2. Request a Review (the Amazon Way)
As noted above, you are still allowed to request a review. That hasn’t changed. Similarly, you still can’t fish for a positive review, or offer incentives (coupons, money, future discounts or other promotions) to influence a positive review.
Instead, use Amazon’s “Request a Review” button that appears on your Orders page and is available between five to 30 days after the buyer has received your product. First introduced in 2019, the button generates an email to the customer asking for a review. The email is sent using an Amazon template that is not customizable.
The chief advantage of the” Request a Review” button is that you simply have to click the button and the rest is taken care of for you. Since it is an Amazon feature, there’s nothing to worry about compliance-wise. Also, if you’ve been temporarily or even permanently banned from Amazon’s buyer-seller messaging platform, you can still request a review using the button because the “Request a Review” emails run off a different system.
So, what’s not to like? Well, a couple of things. For one, the emails are generic and bland. This is what the template looks like:
And since other sellers are using the same template, buyers are seeing the same thing in their inboxes over and over again to the point where they may just ignore it, if not delete the message altogether.
From the seller’s standpoint, while requesting a review is an easy and straightforward process, it is manual. You have to navigate to the Orders page and press the button for each and every order.
Because the “Request a Review” email is sent outside the buyer-seller messaging system, there’s also no way for buyers to reply directly back to sellers. This lack of communication could lead to a less-than-positive response or remove a star from the experience.
For this reason, you might want to check out third-party product review software that not only automates the “Request a Review” function, but also provides the means to develop customized strategies based on products, customer profiles and other metrics, plus analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of these campaigns. You are likely to get a better response rate to your review requests, and do it in less time.
Bonus Tip: Stay Compliant While Giving Your Entire Business a Boost
While not directly related to the new messaging policies, it’s worth pointing out that there are a number of proactive steps you can take to grow your business while staying in compliance with Amazon’s terms and conditions.
“It’s a pivotal moment for Amazon sellers,” points out Zentail marketing manager Allison Lee. “The world is undergoing massive changes in the wake of the coronavirus, and many sellers are reeling from the impact of strained supply chains, sudden policy changes and shifts in customer demand.”
This presents an opportunity for your business to rise above the rest. While the new communications policy may be just yet another thing to deal with during these weird and challenging times—deal with it you must. The good news is that Amazon “posted the biggest profit in its 26-year history as online sales and its lucrative business supporting third-party merchants surged during the coronavirus epidemic,” as reported by Reuters this past July.
Some could argue that Amazon needs you almost as much as you need them. You can make Amazon need you all the more by growing your brand’s presence and authority on its site by doing things like:
- Optimizing your product data to create more high-quality, high-ranking listings
- Building up your brand through enhanced brand content, ads, social media and other brand control techniques
- Leveraging Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program to further collect reviews
- Using software to not only ensure buyer-messaging compliance, but to also shield you from other sudden marketplace changes, like new listing requirements
- Diversifying your supply chain and looking beyond FBA for fulfillment
- Cross-selling on other channels (e.g., Walmart Marketplace, eBay, Google Shopping) to reduce your reliance on Amazon
- Staying true to your brand’s long-term strategy and identity, instead of simply chasing more sales around Amazon-trending items
Change is inevitable on Amazon. And when change happens, those who quickly adapt make the best of the situation. Amazon’s changes to Buyer-Seller Messaging rules may at first seem like a pain, but it’s relatively easy to stay on top of, especially if you use third-party software that’s designed to ensure compliance and protect you from unwitting violation of updated rules.