Slow Sales, Search Words don't Matter, Suppression of listings by Algorithm


#1

Here is the email I sent to a large group of Amazon Department heads:

+Once again, thank you for sending Kimberly and Mike to speak with me about my concerns. They asked if there were any other problems or glitches, so I made list with screen shots, etc.+

+It was troubling to find out that the problem with my account was not caused by server problems, but by an algorithm that picks and chooses the listings that it shows the customers. This algorithm was actively suppressing my listings to the point that even typing my company name – Vase Candle – into the search box wouldn’t even bring any of my items up. That has directly and actively hurt my business.+

+Because I am in Handmade section, I can’t even sign on to pay for the professional account. But if someone pays a fee up front, isn’t it unethical to suppress their listings when they are paying for a service? I have purchased $1,000s of advertising. Did the algorithm effect that advertising?+

+I actually watched a friend try to find Vase Candle on Amazon using my business name. She tried several times and finally gave up and was able to bring some Amazon/Vase Candle listings up with a Google search. If a customer wants that product, why let the algorithm get the way?+

+I can’t think of anyone – Customer or Seller – that would actually be pleased to know that this algorithm is not functioning properly.+

+I am not angry, so please, you don’t need to send anyone else to get in contact with me. Please take this as a helpful, but irritating email. These are concerns for the well-being of Amazon, it’s customers and sellers.+

+Thank you so much for your time.+

+Yours,+
+Rhonda Greene+

I have been an online merchant for 20 years. I’ve owned and run my business for almost 30 years. I’m not new to online sales. I was invited to sell on Amazon Handmade in September of 2015 and opened up my account. I was also up front with Amazon in that I have been working in one of their largest facilities since Jan of 2015. I have been as up front and as transparent as I could be.

The 2015 Christmas season blew us away - $30,000 for those 6 weeks - did not expect that, but very happy. Our sales tend to be seasonal in nature, so when we still had $5,000 to $6,000 in sales we were fine. These sales showed the same kind of growth that we have seen before in our mall stores. The sales usually go down for the summer and then pick back up in the fall when it gets cooler. Vase Candle is a candle, people just burn more during the winter.

We were ready for the 2016 Christmas season. Usually with the $30,000, we would do half again as much - so we expected $45,000. Didn’t buy everything up front, but knew how to get a hold of it quickly if need be. But the season never really started. I did everything that I needed to do - Key Words, More Advertising, Tripled the Listings, etc.

Here’s the kicker, finally I went to another computer and tried to see what came up in the Amazon search. Candles - I didn’t get pulled up. Okay, I can understand that. Typed in Vase Candle - none of the listings came up - but it had Vase Candle listed as a Seller on the left. Clicked on that link and it said that it was empty. None of my 400 listing were available.

So I put in a ticket and it stayed open all through the December until I started listing in the regular Amazon. We only did $18,000 for the season with heavy advertising. I started looking around and doing experiments with my account to see what I could do with it and it looked like the servers were having rolling brown outs. I know it sounds weird, but it makes sense that if the listing isn’t there that it won’t bring it up, but not show that it’s crashing.

As an Amazon employee, we are told that basically if you see something, you need to say something. I am an Inbound Problem Solver. If there is something wrong with a shipment, it is my job to find out where it came from, who it belongs to and to get it safely stowed. I can go on forever about the problems and glitches that I have had to deal with in my own account. Many of them just don’t get fixed and they’re weird. Nothing you would expect to wake up to in your account. But this should have been right up my alley, so to speak.

I emailed an embarrassing number of managers and department heads within Amazon about how these glitches were hurting people. I got a pretty quick response and was assigned Kimberly and Mike. Now during the conference call, I put forward that I thought the servers were having problems. I was assured that servers were top notch and just doing what the algorithm told it do. That this was a smart algorithm that knew what a customer wanted to buy. Also, I was told that the key words didn’t mean that much (basically, I wasted my money on an outside optimization service). Mike told me to go to the forum to ask for help. I am not so sure that this is what he had in mind, but here it is.

I have thrashed around as much as I can as an Amazonian and a Seller. I do not believe that there is anything that can be or will be done for my account to bring it back to life. The main point is, if your sales drop, go and find another computer that hasn’t been used to search your listings before and find out if your listings and/or your company name are coming up. Don’t let it know who you are or sign in in any way to get a good reading. If your information, you may have an algorithm problem and spending more money on advertising and/or optimization may not help.

So, I don’t know what the answer is that would solve this problem. I’ve talked to a couple of lawyers - there’s no way to force Amazon to do the right thing for their customers or their sellers. I don’t know, but it also kind of looks like I work for Darth Vader. I’m having some trouble with this to say the least.


#2

Well, as long as you’re here:

I typed in Vase Candle and was able to see some of your products along with, well, a bunch of vase/candleholders. The brand link worked in-listing but not from the search page.

If I called my company something like “Black Backpack” I wouldn’t be surprised if my products didn’t lead the search results.


#3

I would agree that Amazons search software is defective by design. I don’t sell anything unique. Just boring industry parts identified that industry standard part numbers used across all manufacturers.

When I search for one of parts often the 1st page of listings is devoted to the JL sellers who created fake brand for the parts - such as selling Toshiba parts under brands like Dongrong, Shinebear, DealMux with generic pictures, seller specific text, created by JL sellers with up to 5 duplicate accounts - the listing with the correct brand and manufacturer, correct and accurate product details, and true and accurate pictures are pushed down to page 2+

Amazon has decided that buyers do not want to see the legit products, buyers want to see the products from the JL sellers 1st.

Fighting this is tedious. I can spend about an 1-2 hours listing on every JL page, then getting the titles harmonized, then merge them all together which can bring SIX pages of junk down to 1 page of accurate listing for a week or two.


#4

Dear SeedyCDs123,

It would absolutely be awesome if they have done some things to make it start coming up. Let me just show you the screen shots from Dec 4, 2016.

You can name your product Black Backpack if you want. We’ve had Vase Candle for almost 20 years now. It’s common because we’ve been out there for 20 years. Around 2008, we had Vase Candle in retail stores in 26 states. We also had no problem with our product coming up in 2015.

You know, it took a lot for me to put this up. There are a lot of people out there where their accounts don’t work and believe it’s their fault, I’m saying that this is not necessarily a problem with them or their product.

Does this help?

Edited by: Vase Candle on Jun 30, 2017 1:42 PM

Edited by: Vase Candle on Jun 30, 2017 1:48 PM


#5

Dear Photo Bob,

I really appreciate the time you took for that response. Thank you.

We were told by Mike, the head of Handmade, that the search terms don’t matter that much. What I’m doing today is to put search words aimed at Google - because they really don’t matter on Amazon.

That’s how my friend found our listings on Amazon - it was through doing a search on Google.

If anything, it might stir up your listings to make the algorithm look at it again.

Free search word tool from Google if you don’t have the link attached in photo.

Edited by: Vase Candle on Jun 30, 2017 1:57 PM


#6

Vase Candle, make sure your Search terms combined do not go over 250 characters or none of the Search terms will index. Take one of your listing if it has Search terms of over 250 characters and reduce it to 250 character or less. After waiting about 15 minutes, check your listing to see if the remaining Search terms turn up. Not every Amazon rep knows about this search engine change. If your items already have under 250 Search term characters, then this is not your issue. I am not sure if this is your issue, but this may of gone in effect months ago.

Note: If your items are in the Handmade category, make sure your Style terms do not go over 100 characters. I do not believe the non-handmade categories has this Style terms field.

Test procedure for seeing if your Search terms are indexed: If after searching for these test lines shown below, your item’s photo will show up if all the Search terms you listed are indexed. The items photo will not show up if even one of the Search term words is not listed.

ASIN#+searchterm

or

ASIN#+searchterm1+searchterm2+searchterm3

Edited by: Photo Bob on Jun 30, 2017 1:44 PM


#7

Google will pick up search terms in your title and item description. I am not sure why Mike told you that keywords in the search term fields don’t matter that much. The keywords in the title are more powerful but the search terms or keywords in the Search term field should have an impact on having your items found. You can feel free to choose what is best for your company. I though you were saying that your search terms are not showing up (indexing) and you did not say if you had many items with search terms over 250 characters. You do not need to say, I was just curious.


#8

Photo Bob,

I’m sorry, I don’t know if it helps or not. I don’t know why he would say that either. That’s why I’m here on the forum.

I went ahead and paid for a key word optimization - for title and description. I told Mike that and that’s when he said that the search key words aren’t that important.

After that he suggested taking better pictures (it’s always good to get fresh pictures because you have to look at it too). But we pointed out that the pictures don’t matter if the listing doesn’t come up.

But yes, I have less than 250 keys that I’m putting in today. They are ones that got off the Google key word planner with commas. Because it aimed more at Google than Amazon. But it can’t hurt on Amazon.


#9

Let me try to help here.

Christmas 2015
200 Vase Candle listings
All Handmade section
I used 1/2 the title characters and just the normal description
I had three key words - literally - Candle, scented candle, jar candle.
$30,000 gross

Christmas 2016
400 to 600 listings
Both regular Amazon and Handmade
Optimized everything - title, description and key words
$18,000 gross

It’s not the key words that help the listing.


#10

Our sales are down to about 60% YOY. If feedback numbers are any kind of an indicator, most of our competition is going through the same thing as their feedback counts are down as much. Looks like you’re in the same 60% club as we are.

I’ve noticed pretty much the same thing as you, when sales are down, listing more items, lowering price, changing keywords are all useless. Nothing we try seems to bring back the sales.

Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the influx of cheap products from Chinese sellers, maybe we’re getting the short stick of Amazon’s manipulation of the marketplace. In anycase, we are scaling down the business and putting ourselves into survival mode, as nothing we do seems to help boost our sales.

Edited by: JustHaningOn on Jun 30, 2017 9:29 PM


#11

My friend, we feel your pain over this way as well. Since February/March, our sales have been cut in half and traffic is nowhere near it has been in past years.

After Amazon changed all their search Algos and modified reviews and other procedures, it seems only the Chinese and offshore sellers who game the system are at the top.

Example:
The top products in our category have less than 100 reviews (some even less than 10), yet they are top ranked. Other sellers have in upwards of 5-10+ verified 5 star reviews DAILY.

We are at a complete loss for what it seems the Amazon landscape as turned into. The funny thing is, we weren’t the hardest hit… media sellers are almost pulling their hair out along with other categories.

These are strange times to be selling on Amazon… very bizarre traffic, search and sales patterns.Much more volatile than any other platform I’ve ever sold on.


#12

Thank you so much for posting, AZ1234 and JustHaningOn. It’s good to know that it hasn’t been going on since the beginning of time.

A faulty algorithm (if it is faulty) would explain a lot about what is going on. We as Sellers do not really have a way to deal with the situation. I’ve put complaint in after complaint.

As an Amazonian, I can see the culture working against actually getting things fixed. I have been trying for months at work to get a Seller interface through Pick evaluation. The facility that work at has around 40 million items to give you an idea. It would save both Amazon and the Sellers millions of dollars. It is actually basic business that isn’t being followed.

Amazonians are not being held accountable for all their little projects. All of our valid complaints get washed up into Seller Services and go no further.

The Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP) is an example. If you are a Seller with just one location in the United States and a part of the SFP, you have to use 2 different Prime Shipping Templates so that you don’t have to pay extreme shipping costs to ship your item (2 day shipping guarantee). Well, the small Prime Template doesn’t work and we were being exposed to extreme shipping, example - $32 shipping for a $25 item.

What I did was to buy the shipping, cancel it, purchase the real shipping and then edit the tracking number in the sale. I then emailed the head of SFP about the problem with the app, what I did and that the app needed to be fixed because this glitch really hurts the Sellers.

Of course they didn’t fix the app, this person took away my ability to edit my SFP shipping. I’ve got a ticket out on it right now to get it re-enabled.

This was one of the main issues when we (my husband and I) had that conference call with Kimberly and Mike. They told me that they couldn’t find the email where I reported the problem. I said, “Don’t worry, I have it right here in my Amazon folder where I keep all my screen shots and problems that I have with my Amazon account.” They didn’t seem real pleased.

I got an email the other day from the head of SFP. I haven’t opened it. I already understand that it can be upsetting when your food talks back to you.

So, I’m trying to push for change on the “other side” - not just for myself. The people I work with are important too. Both the Sellers and Amazonians rely on these jobs for their income. So when Amazon doesn’t function properly, everyone looses.

Edited by: Vase Candle on Jul 1, 2017 4:21 AM

Edited by: Vase Candle on Jul 1, 2017 4:21 AM


#13

This is very common in media. It almost always happens when Amazon is pushing it’s ebooks or cheesy Print On Demand. Sometimes there are many POD listings that crowd out all legit editions.
And yes, it is unethical, especially to sellers paying upfront pro fees or FBA.


#14

If your “key words” are specific enough AZ search works fairly well…

Algos are not good at “mind reading”

Any ambiguity will be resolved against your search for more popular items

So the more obscure your item the more specific and detailed your search words must be.

Some items can’t be singled out as well as say: a book title, author and publisher…

If you type “candles” you’re likely going to get thousands of items…

Add unique Details to make search work better.


#15

When I started selling in 2009, Amazon sponsored advertising was not available, I was a professional seller paying my monthly fees. Then later, they added the advertising module to seller central, and because they also added millions of foreign sellers by facilitating importation and logistics to their US FBA warehouses, advertising became a must.

So if you add advertising which nowadays is a must if you want to get a couple of views on your products, the fee that we all pay now to sell as Professional Sellers, is WAY more than before and than we had agreed to pay. Fair? go figured…

I entered survival mode back in 2013, no matter what product I manufacture and offer even at cost and different categories, the sales never came back.

Other sellers here in the forum laugh when I mentioned that AMZ may be choosing who can grow and who is destine to die of no sales (by using AI or algorithms) .

Long Story Short:

My wife and I called SS, send countless emails and went crazy trying to find out what was the cause of our lost sales. Out of many emails, and calls, one foreign guy (Indian accent) who said was from the developer team called me and asked to hang on, explained to me that sometimes AMAZON tests new algorithms with blocks of sellers and I may be in one of the blocks… I was out of words… he was actually very nice and sounded like he was very apologetic. (This was 1 year ago )

The first thing that came to mind was an email I sent a few weeks before the call, explaining how my wife and I started our AMZ business in our garage, moved it to a small warehouse where we were employing 4 people, to later have our dreams shattered by the same corporation that gave us the dream. My wife had to go back to work, laid off all my employees and brought back the business to our garage.

Decided to spread and placed my products on the bay , WM and Sears… still surviving but I know it will never be the same… my seller account fell in to an AMZ black hole and is staying there. After I’ve tried everything that can be done, no other explanation makes sense. I wish I can screenshot the sales and views graph since I started so I can show you, but you can only go back 1 year.

My advise to you is spread your sales in to other channels, don’t buy lots of inventory, and never, ever EVER go with the flow of the river here, as one day you could be selling thousands of items, and the next day ZERO without an explanation or help.

Good Luck!


#16

Thank you so much for your post Amzrulez. Just validation that this has been going on for years. If it’s not illegal, it should be. It sure is unethical.


#17

You are assuming that your goal for search results and Amazon’s are the same.

Unless your products are best-selling products, they are not.

The comments that Search Terms are not all that important is honest and accurate.

No one you have spoken to is likely to know exactly what the algorithm in current use is biased toward.

Even if it was unchanged for years, it will be affected by competitive products and their sales histories.

Your drop in sales could be solely due to search bias, or if your conversion rate on sessions has dropped, your drop on search results could be a result of decreased interest in your products.

Too little information is available to tell why your Amazon business is decreasing.

Amazon has always discouraged SEO and specifically moved to defeat their effects, the 250 character limit is a recent addition.

Your current actions could potentially make things worse.


#18

same problem here. We are way down and searches no longer bring up our products the way they use to. Started in March. But we are now down to 30% of normal. Nothing works. Listing more, sending to FBA. Nothing.


#19

Thank you for saying this. This situation is exactly what happened to us. And at the exact same time.


#20

Thank you, Vase Candle, for the research and for posting this. It reflects perfectly what I’ve told SS time after time. Despite adding new products, turning most of our active inventory to SFP, cutting prices, etc., we’re down 40% YOY, and it’s steadily declining. I’ve asked repeatedly for SS to put me in touch with someone who can work through this with us. It’s evident some algorithm turned off the search and sales faucet, and every so often, the faucet leaks out a sale or 2 or 12, … until another algo comes along and shuts it off again.

Invariably, it appears that ANY correspondence, chat or new case with SS makes matters worse, not better.