“Every great change is preceded by chaos” Deepak Chopra
If there’s one fundamental law of eCommerce, it's that things change quickly.
Amazon sellers have to constantly stay on top of changing variables in the marketplace to stay ahead of the competition.
Lately, it appears that a lot of Amazon sellers are finding their accounts suspended due to misuse of product variations, also known as ASIN variation misuse.
If you’re one of the unlucky ones to receive an email that begins like this:
Initial Suspension letter:
We recently contacted you about misusing ASIN variations. Because you are still creating product detail pages with invalid variations, you currently may not sell on Amazon.com. Funds will not be transferred to you but will stay in your account while we work with you to address this issue. If you have any open orders, please ship them.
Your listings cannot contain invalid ASIN variations. Here are some examples of your listings that do not follow our policy:
...then your sales figures have taken an immediate hit. Ouch!
If you received an email like this, then you are all-too familiar with ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) variation misuse.
If it seems like this has been happening A LOT in the past few weeks, it has.
As it turns out, there’s been a policy change at Amazon that has caught many sellers unaware, and left their business twisting in the breeze.
How do you get yourself out of this mess and in Amazon’s good graces again?
Fortunately, Judolaunch is here to help you get your Amazon Seller account reactivated and your business reopened.
In this timely article, we’ll first go back to basics on product variations - what they are, how to set them up, and why you should have them.
Then we’ll dive into the new Amazon rules around product variations to help you understand what changed.
You’ll get actionable tips to solve the issues with your product ASINs from our Amazon specialists, former Amazonian Chris McCabe and Leah McHugh, two experts in Amazon Account suspension causes. They’ll give you the insider scoop on the entire situation - and how to get out of it.
Let’s get started solving your “pain in the ASIN” problem by first getting back to basics.
What Are Product Variations
ASIN is the acronym for Amazon Standard Identification Number, the 10-character alphanumeric unique identifier that is assigned by Amazon to identify products sold on Amazon.com.
Each product sold on Amazon therefore has its own unique ASIN within its marketplace.
A Product Variation is a version of the same product that differs in color (black, red, blue) or size (small, medium, large) from the original product.
An Acme Bluetooth Speaker (a fictional item we’ll use as an example) may have a variation in red, black and another in grey or white.
Each of these will have its own unique ASIN. These sets of items are collectively called Product Variations and the group of products are said to have a Variation Relationship.
We’ll use the terms Product Variation and ASIN Variation interchangeably.
A variation relationship has three components:
- Parent Product - This is the product displayed in search results. In our example, the Acme Bluetooth Speaker. If the variation type is by color, the Parent should not have a designated color.
- Child Product - These are the products related to the parent product. In our example, the red, black and blue speakers.
- Variation Theme - This is the relationship between the parent product and child product, expressed in how the related products differ from each other. In our example, the products differ from each other in color.
Another good example of a variation relationship would be in clothing, where a specific jacket may be available in 3 to 5 different sizes and 4 different colors.
The group of variation attributes (such as size and color) is called the variation family.
On a product listing page, variation allows sellers to list all related products under one listing.
This is why you can buy Acme Bluetooth Speakers of all colors on a single detail page.
Different categories of products can have different variation families besides size and color. These might include attributes unique to that product such as scent.
It’s important to note that not all products may have variations.
An unacceptable variation theme is products that differ in style, or where different models of product - or different products - are grouped together on one detail page.
If the variation theme is not correctly established, Amazon will remove the products in question.
Now that we know what product variation (or ASIN variation) is, let’s break down how to set them up.
How To Set Up Product Variations
For Amazon sellers, setting up product variation is a relatively simple process.
- Go to Amazon Seller Central.
- Download the inventory file for the product category.
- Fill in the required info. This includes the variation theme (size, color, etc.); the different variations available (for example, black, red, blue); and the images and/or dimensions for each variation.
- Upload the completed file.
- Wait a few minutes for Amazon to email you with confirmation that the variation is complete.
- Now that the information about the variations has been saved in the product details, it’s easy to modify, add, or remove variations quickly at any time.
It’s similarly easy to create parent-child relationships between products.
By creating parent-child relationships, you help customers find different versions of the products they’re searching for or viewing.
Here’s how to do it:
- Go to Amazon Seller Central.
- Use the Add a Product Tool (for a new product) or the Inventory Files (for an existing product)
- To determine the variation attributes for the child product, use the recommendations in the Product Page Style Guides. You may be able to detect these automatically with the Check My File feature.
- In your seller account, it’s possible to view the existing child ASIN(s) for parent ASINs in the Amazon catalog on the Add a Product page.
- You will have to create a new ASIN if your product is not in the Amazon catalog.
Now that we know how to set up product variation (or ASIN variation) and parent-child relationships between products, let’s look at the benefits of doing so.
Benefits of ASIN Variation
Having ASIN variation gives a number of benefits to both customers and the sellers.
When you have a vast variety of different potential customers with different preferences, opinions, and demographics available, having variation creates the opportunity to sell different versions of the same product to different audiences.
Product variation create two big advantages for shoppers - it makes it easier to browse between product options, and they promote a better search results experience.
By allowing them to see all the different versions of the product on the same page, shoppers can easily compare and discover all the versions of the product, find exactly what they are looking for (even if they didn’t know that’s what they were looking for), and powerfully influence the transition from shopper to customer.
For sellers, ASIN variation translates to increased sales.
Customers searching for our example Acme Bluetooth Speaker might not know that it also comes in red - their favorite color - and make a purchase right away.
The black speaker may rank well and drive traffic to the red and blue speakers which appeal to a select group of shoppers who didn’t know they were available.
In this way, ASIN Variation creates sales leverage that boosts the bottom line for Amazon sellers.
Since Amazon product variation is such a successful strategy, it’s no surprise that we see examples of it in every product possible category on Amazon.
As we discussed at the top of the article, many sellers have recently had trouble with Amazon suspending their accounts for misuse of ASIN variation.
Let’s take a look at recent policy changes and find out why.
Changes in Amazon ASIN Variation Policy
Amazon prohibits practices that are considered misuses of ASIN variation, including misuses of parent-child relationships. Their reasoning is that these misuses create a negative customer experience.
The most common penalty is that sellers can be suspended for ASIN variation, either temporarily or permanently.
Recently there have been some changes to Amazon’s policies in this regard, which are triggering the recent wave of suspended accounts.
The new changes affect:
- How reviews appear for certain parent products with multiple child variations.
- How products with variations will rank in search results.
Seller contact with Amazon Seller Support Representatives indicates that the changes are a result of excessive negative customer feedback due to unscrupulous sellers generating incorrect variations for the purpose of joining together reviews.
According to Amazon, these sellers put low-ranking products with negative reviews added in variation with products with many positive reviews.
As one might expect, there were a lot of dissatisfied customers and a lot of negative feedback - which are elements that Amazon does not want associated with its shopping experience.
As a result, one of the changes is that an interim policy has been implemented where ASINs will display their reviews separately.
This is intended to provide more accurate product details to shoppers.
In the past, a grand total of reviews would appear uniformly for each child variation of a product, combining all the product reviews of each child.
Now, it appears that unique review data will be displayed for each individual child ASIN for select parent products. In other words, Amazon is placing limits on reviews to preserve shopper trust in Customer Reviews.
Per Amazon, the policy change to the variation display logic works like this:
- - Reviews for particular Child ASINs are displayed on the detail page
- - If unusual review behavior is detected, limits may be placed on reviews
- - Or limits may be placed on sharing of reviews for related products
Basically, rather than displaying the total reviews for all ASIN variations, only the reviews for a particular variation will be displayed.
Using our example from before, if the black Acme Bluetooth Speaker has 20 reviews, the red has 10, and the blue has none, each variation will only display the reviews for that particular ASIN on the detail page.
In the past, the blue speaker would have displayed 30 reviews, and now it will have none.
The red speaker will only show 10 reviews, not 30, and so on.
Previously, merging reviews from separated product listings was a strategy used to increase sales for underperforming products - and even products that weren't actually legit variations per Amazon policy.
It was also used as a strategy to move bundled products, like a speaker and a case, by adding them as a variation to the parent.
Chatter on the message boards seems to finger so-called “Asian hijackers” as the reason for the policy changes and increased suspensions.
Posters claim that these perpetrators “would find a top rated listing and put an entirely unrelated piece of garbage as a ‘variation’ and in such a way that the other variations disappeared entirely, essentially hijacking the listing”.
It is clear that Amazon is doing what it feels is necessary to protect the trust of the customers and ensure a high-quality shopping experience.
Amazon brands are going to have to re-evaluate the way their catalogs are organized and optimized going forward in order to keep abreast of the new policies.
As of now, those penalized by Amazon seem to be brands that are selling merged products that are obviously unique under a single parent - in other words, those sellers who are using unacceptable variation themes or variations that are illegitimate.
In most cases, the policy hasn’t rolled out yet to affect legitimate parent products with multiple child products.
It’s easy to speculate that this may happen in the future, if Amazon decides to move to a model where all reviews are tied to individual ASINs.
For now, Amazon is going after the bad actors and largely leaving the rest of the sellers alone.
In light of this new information, we decided to reach out to our experts and see what they had to say about the new ASIN variation policies.
What The Experts Say
We talked about the suspensions and new policies with a couple of Amazon experts, Chris McCabe and Leah McHugh, to get you the low-down on what is happening out there, how to solve the problem if you’re one of the unfortunate ones who got the suspension letter, and how you can prevent suspensions. Be sure to check out our expert’s step by step standard operating procedure on how to defend your Amazon account.
What’s Happening Now?
Chris: ''A previously lesser known cause of Amazon account suspensions jumped to the forefront last week. Many sellers found themselves suspended for violation of the ASIN variation policies when policy teams stepped up enforcement.
Some sellers long considered this a minor violation and a good chance to boost sales with extra visibility, while others simply failed to learn the proper criteria for making new variations.
Either way, they paid the price by losing their selling privileges, pending a viable appeal.''
Leah: ''We've dealt with a lot of ASIN variation suspensions over the years, and have seen a lot more in the last few weeks. Most often sellers have been misusing the variation type.
So, the variation type will be “color” but the children really vary by size or quantity.
Sometimes it’s a seller error, where a child variation is accidentally turned into a parent, so then the variations don’t make sense.
Or there are the cases where they try to use variations for totally different products, or different models. For example, If you had a parent listing "iPhone" with children for iPhone 4, 5, 6, and 7. Incorrectly using IPQ ( Item Package Quantity) can also cause problems.''
How to Solve the Suspension Problem?
Chris: ''ASIN variation misuse by sellers who have been warned already for this violation may result in the below messaging, which indicates a permanent account closure and not a suspension.
You have continued to misuse ASIN variations, which includes, but is not limited to:
-- Adding children products that are not true variations of the parent product.
-- Changing the parent product detail page so it does not match the children.
There's no mention in these notifications of 17 days to submit an acceptable plan or appeal, demonstrating Amazon's seriousness about enforcing the policy.
A strong Plan of Action is required for reinstatement that shows the seller understands what they did wrong in the first place, before addressing how they'll stop it from happening again.''
Leah: ''If you've received policy warnings, blocked listings, or a suspension for ASIN variation misuse, you need to respond with a POA (Plan of Action) showing that you understand what you have done wrong, and the measures you have put into place to make sure it doesn't happen again.''
How To Prevent Suspension
Leah: ''Check your listings and make sure you're using the right variation type. I always recommend using a flat file for listing uploads, so you can easily check your listing information - and so you have a paper trail.
Don't assume something is policy compliant just because the catalog team let you do it.
We've seen quite a few sellers face suspension after taking what Seller Support and the catalog team told them at face value.
Make sure YOU are familiar with Amazon's listing policy.''
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
If you’re an Amazon Seller with a lot of listings with variations, don’t wait around to see if you get a surprise suspension letter.
Your best plan is to get out in front of the policy changes and carefully review your listings and variations for compliance.
Review your product catalog closely, and make sure all parent-child relationships include legitimate variations of the product.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to be suspended for ASIN variation misuse, you’ll need to detail all your corrective actions into a detailed Plan of Action.
Use clear language and bullet points to show that you are aware of what you did wrong, and the specific actions you are taking to correct it. Then follow your plan to the letter.
The boxer Mike Tyson once said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
Don’t wait around for that sucker punch.
Protect your business and your customers by going on the offensive.
Get your Amazon listings and product variations in order, and take advantage of the opportunity for increased sales you’ll have over those who don’t.
Just remember, the chaos of change hides great opportunity. What are you waiting for?