Did Amazon Just Kill Rebate Launches?
For e-commerce sellers, one thing that remains consistent is Amazon’s ability to completely shake the foundations we build. Here’s a big one!
The landscape that is Amazon FBA selling is constantly changing, but one thing that remains consistent is Amazon’s ability to completely shake the foundations we build.
As a community, we’ve recently experienced this in another “sky-is-falling” episode of swift changes, definitions, and potential enforcement of vague terms of service.
Yesterday in the Amazon Services Seller Forums under US Announcements, where regular important updates are posted, a sticky thread was published that was both extremely clear (odd given Amazon’s usual behavior) and somewhat confusing.
Clarification on Amazon’s Policy on Rebates, Coupons, and other Marketing Incentives
The Amazon Seller Code of Conduct requires acting fairly, and prohibits manipulating sales rank. We have recently received several seller inquiries regarding Amazon’s policy on incentives that drive customer discovery and conversion particularly through rebates, coupons, and other marketing incentives—and are offered outside Amazon as a way of driving a purchase in our store.
We welcome and encourage coupons, discounts, deals, and other tools to lower prices for customers and drive incremental sales—but only when those incentives are part of the product offer made in our store. Amazon offers numerous programs to help you drive discovery of new products and increase sales through lower prices, and we welcome sellers advertising the same pricing and discounts off-Amazon as they offer in our store. However, we consider it a violation of the Amazon Seller Code of Conduct if off-Amazon rebates, discounts, and other schemes are designed to drive customers to products that are listed and sold without those incentives on Amazon. These practices are potentially abusive to customers and other sellers, as they may inflate search ranking, incentivize product reviews, and generate artificial traffic and conversion behaviors.
Specifically, it is a violation of the Amazon Seller Code of Conduct to manipulate search rank to artificially boost your products’ search ranking, including through ‘two-step urls,’ ‘super urls,’ ‘funnels,’ “treasure hunts,’ ‘search-find-buy,’ and any other form of false or misleading behavior. A service by any name that’s intended to artificially boost search ranking or portray a discounted sale as full-price, is a violation.
We would like to remind sellers that you are responsible for the actions taken by your account, even those handled through third-party service providers. Sellers who may not have understood this policy previously should end these practices immediately, as they are in violation of the Amazon Seller Code of Conduct. In addition, we continue to audit developers in our Seller Central Partner Network to ensure they are not offering abusive services, and we are removing any applications that violate these terms.
Additional clarification was added later by a user (and veteran seller) asking for confirmation these interpretations were correct…
Let’s break all this down, shall we?
Consider the Source
First thing to consider is that this is a forum post, NOT a seller central notification. After logging in to check as of this morning (11/3/2021), no such messages exist in my account.
That does NOT mean it isn’t valid. If you look at the job description for a Senior Community Moderator you can see that they are authorized to respond and communicate on behalf of Amazon, and they are expected to be up to date on Amazon’s internal workings.
This would tell me that they likely have access to internal wikis.
However, that doesn’t mean that moderators won’t misinterpret things from time to time.
Where the ‘Panic’ Started
The reason why this particular forum post is being taken so seriously, aside from it being posted by a senior member of the moderator team and stickied to the top of the US announcements board, is because of action taken against well-known service providers a few weeks earlier.
Not long ago sellers were sent this message from Amazon…
The message essentially states that Rebatekey, a popular rebate service, was losing their access to MWS. The same message was sent to Elite Seller users (who also offered a rebate service).
The email was so that users would be aware that data and service or functionality loss should be expected as Amazon was no longer sharing their information with the services.
And of course, speculation abounds about the motivation behind this move. One recurring theme was that the only thing these services had in common (aside from sharing owners), was the rebate services.
After the same treatment was given to the service Klaviyo, an e-commerce email platform, many began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t rebates, but simply data (and the use/misuse of it) that caused the merciless action.
Now, back to present day discussion…
Perhaps a single moderator making a post in the seller forum could be taken with a grain of salt under normal circumstances. But in light of the API rug pull of these two popular services, Amazon’s stance seems less ambiguous.
Dissecting the Language
Now, going back to the forum post, and more specifically the later clarification.
There are some interesting things to note. First, the language has shifted from “sales rank,” which has traditionally always been the verbiage used and refers specifically to BSR, to “search rank,” which specifically refers to keyword ranking.
Next, for the first time in seven years, super URLs and “two-step” URLs have specifically been called out as violations.
Here is the screenshot again for the ask for clarification from a user. We are still awaiting on confirmation that this was a correct interpretation…
Finally, the language specifically calls out “treasure hunts” and “funnels.”
While the reference to funnels has confused marketers the world over, these are the exact words used to describe features offered by RebateKey and Elite Seller.
Overall it seems like this was a knee-jerk reaction to chatter, Amazon taking action, and of course the deluge of seller support tickets that have inevitably been submitted.
How this will translate to actual enforcement is still anyone’s guess. Perhaps this was just a scare tactic that Amazon is strategically using the forum for because they may not be able to adequately enforce these “new terms.”
Or maybe it is an inside look at something we’ve all been kind of expecting for some time now.
*Updated the “clarification” section outlining the “This is a violation” URLs that we reported came from the moderator, but actually came from a seller (not an Amazon employee).