Amazon Changes its Communication Policy & Buyer-Seller Messaging: Here’s What Sellers Need to Know

Amazon began rolling out policy changes to its Communication Guidelines, which includes changes to its Buyer-Seller Messaging policy.

Amazon will begin enforcing the new policy on November 3, 2020, which gives sellers & 3rd party software providers 8 weeks to learn the new policies. This applies to sellers across all marketplaces.

Failure to comply with the new guidelines may result in Amazon limiting Permitted Messages to Amazon’s templates or a suspension of selling privileges in Amazon stores. Amazon has the authority to block any message at its discretion.

reviewsFollowing is a summary of the major updates made (with more detail provided later on in this post):

• Communications to customers will need to follow new language and formatting rules.
• Sellers can still ask for product reviews & seller feedback but may only ask a buyer for a review / seller feedback ONCE per purchase.
• Sellers can still use third-party software in order to best comply with the new guidelines while garnering more feedback and reviews and cultivating positive relationships with buyers.

There are 3 main reasons why Amazon has updated its communications policy to buyers, all of which ultimately raises the bar to help build a stronger marketplace. These changes will:

1. Limit proactive messages to those concerning order completion.
2. Improve both the quality and content of the proactive messages that sellers send to buyers.
3. Protect buyers from fraud and abuse, and to protect sellers from unscrupulous actions from competitors.

The Updated Amazon Messaging Policy: What Is/Is Not Allowed

Amazon considers “Non-Permitted Messages” as those that cannot be sent as a standalone message or as included in other messages. These include:

• Order or shipping confirmations
• Messages that say only “Thank you” or that the seller is here to help if buyers have any problems
• Marketing or promotional messaging, including coupons
• A repeat request (per order) for a product review or seller feedback
• Any promotion for additional products or referral to third-party products or promotions

Amazon considers “Permitted Messages” as one of two types: Necessary Permitted Messages and Proactive Permitted Messages. Here’s what you need to know about both and where they overlap and differ:

Necessary Permitted Messages

• Defined as those communications necessary to complete an order or to respond to a customer service inquiry
• Are order-specific and thus can only be sent via a seller account in Amazon’s Seller Central

Examples include:

• Problem with Order. Sellers must communicate with buyers if a product ordered is not available to be shipped. Sellers should adjust the full order amount using the Manage Orders feature in Seller Central, followed by using the “Problem with Order” option to communicate with the buyer about the inability to fulfill the order.
• Return-related: Sellers must process refunds for the order amount (minus any charges) using the Manage Orders feature in Seller Central. Sellers may communicate with buyers about their returns only when sellers need additional information to complete the return or offer a partial refund.

Proactive Permitted Messages

• Defined as messages sellers initiate that are not responses to a buyer’s question
• Can be sent using Amazon’s templates via the Contact Buyer or Request a Review page in Seller Central or by using third-party applications in the Applications Store or the API

Examples include:

• Resolving an issue with order fulfillment
• Requesting additional information required to complete the order
• Asking a return-related question
• Sending an invoice
• Requesting product review and/or seller feedback
• Scheduling delivery for a heavy or bulky item
• Scheduling a Home Services appointment
• Verifying a custom design
• Any other reason where the contact is required for the buyer to receive the purchase.

To whom can a seller send Necessary Permitted Messages and Proactive Permitted Messages?

A seller can only send Necessary Permitted Messages and Proactive Permitted Messages to customers who have contacted them about purchasing a product or who have already purchased a product from them on the Amazon store.

Necessary Permitted Messages and Proactive Permitted Messages must:

• Be sent within 30 days of order
• Include the 17-digit order ID and be in the buyer’s language of preference

Major Amazon Communications Policy Updates

Amazon has now explicitly stated what violates messaging rules within all Necessary Permitted Messages and Proactive Permitted Messages. Do not include the following content:

• Language that either incentivizes or persuades the buyer to submit positive product reviews or seller feedback, including by offering compensation, money, gift cards, free or discounted products, refunds, rebates or reimbursements, or future benefits
• Language that requests removal or an update of an existing product review
• Language that requests a product review only if they have had a positive experience with the product
• External links unless they are secure working links (https, not http) necessary for order completion or links to Amazon
• Attachments except for product instructions, warranty information, or invoices
• Logos, if they contain or display a link to your website
• Link to opt-out of messaging
• Sensitive content in images or text (e.g. bare skin, violence/gore, adult/offensive language)
• Tracking pixels or images
• Email addresses or telephone numbers
• Images of purchased product(s) as Amazon includes those on your behalf
• Images that do not relate to your brand or company
• Spelling errors or grammar issues

Within all Permitted Messages, do not include any of these styling elements:

• Known accessibility issues as specified in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative
• Emojis 🙁
• GIFs
• Message margins over 20% maximum width
• Image or graphic sizes larger than 80% maximum width
• Overrides of Amazon’s default line height, font family, or font color
• Fonts in more than three sizes
• Message bodies that are centered or otherwise override default text alignment set-tings
• More than two line-breaks (spacing between paragraphs) in a row
• Unsecure images (http instead of https)

Other Updates to Amazon’s Buyer-Seller Messaging Policy

Amazon has two communication types: Direct (emails sent to buyers) and Indirect (or-der-related information to buyers through their “Your Account” updates). Regardless of the message, Amazon has the authority to modify message subject lines in order to pro-tect the buyer experience.

Regarding Critical Messages, the following are considered necessary to complete a buyer’s order:

• Product customization questions
• Delivery scheduling
• Issues with a shipping address

The following messages are not considered critical or necessary to complete an order:

• Requests for seller feedback or buyer reviews
• Order, shipment, delivery, or refund confirmations. Amazon already sends these emails.
• Proactive customer service, for example: product manuals, tips for using the product, answers to frequently asked questions, suggestions if something goes wrong.
• Out-of-stock or delay notifications, or offers of alternative products (please cancel the order instead).

If a seller is to send a critical message via Seller Central, he or she will not be able to edit the subject line of the emails sent from Seller Central. Amazon will deliver the mes-sages related to completing an order. If he or she sends a critical message using own email, he must include the word [Important], with brackets as shown, anywhere in the subject line. The email will not be blocked then and the sellers will not receive a bounce-back message.

As a compliance reminder, any communication sellers have with buyers (including shipping box inserts), they cannot ask the buyer to leave a positive customer review for a product, or leave a review only if they had a positive experience with a product. Similarly, sellers cannot only ask customers who have had a positive experience with their product to leave a review. It is also prohibited to offer buyers any compensation for a review, including money or gift cards, free or discounted products, refunds or reimbursements, or any other future benefits.

Once again, failure to comply with any of Amazon’s Communication Guidelines may result in Amazon limiting Permitted Messages to Amazon’s templates or a suspension of selling privileges in Amazon stores. All sellers should be aware that Amazon has the authority to block any message at its discretion.

Remaining Amazon-Compliant When Communicating With Buyers

So what can sellers do to ensure they are not in violation of any of the new updates? Here is a quick list that should keep them in the clear:

1. Know the rules and stay up to date with policy changes. Buyer-Seller Messaging should never be automated or templated without careful review by the seller before it goes out.
2. Follow all new rules whether a seller uses Amazon’s Buyer-Seller Messaging service or a third-party software. Amazon has made it clear that all Amazon sellers are responsible for their actions even when using third-party software.
3. If a seller chooses to work with a third-party software provider, they should make sure to select a trusted one who is constantly updating software and services to keep with Amazon’s ever-changing rules and requirements. Seller Labs is a good example of trusted provider as they are a founding member of the Amazon Developer Council and is in constant contact with Amazon, understanding all their news and updates.
4. Remember that Amazon calls the shots and that if Amazon restricts a seller’s messaging capabilities for an infraction, he or she is not likely to have that overturned. (Don’t give Amazon any reason to restrict your buyer-seller messaging privileges!)