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.+
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.