Is Video Screening the Answer?

Amazon has rolled out a pilot program that uses video calling in an effort to improve upon the cumbersome seller account registration process.

Amazon touts this as a modified screening process that will help root out fraudsters on the way in, before they begin abusing policies or sabotaging other sellers. Perhaps given past controversy over Amazon’s plans to use automated facial recognition software, Amazon now prefers to have human beings check over documents – in real-time – to verify a seller’s identity.

Even though the program is in pilot status, many sellers are hopeful that Amazon will implement it quickly. Identifying bad sellers before they can enter the marketplace will benefit everyone, IF the system is implemented correctly.

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What’s wrong with the way Amazon verifies sellers now?

Sellers who intend to join the Amazon marketplace need to make sure they fully understand all parameters and moving parts to make sure they get it right the first time. Otherwise, they risk long-term pain and frustration of the kind we see daily with the current Amazon seller registration process.

As things work currently, any mismatched information or hiccup could result in weeks of silence of the kind that could kill a business before it ever starts on Amazon. Sellers receive general denials that don’t mention which documents were not acceptable, nor why.

Numerous sellers have simply given up rather than struggle with the canned, generic messages Amazon sent asking for the same things over and over. In many cases sellers receive no response at all, and have to decide if they should wait weeks for an answer or begin the registration process all over again.

Under this video screening pilot, Amazon makes it clear that they want to see what you look like and what documents you can show them, to register a new seller account. They promise to walk you through how to register with the help of an Amazon representative.

We hope that the new process will result in instantaneous decisions. If anything requires clarification, you’ll have a chance to find out what it is, or even provide it right then, on the spot, to avoid any nightmares.

It’s good to see Amazon’s newfound willingness to confirm identities of incoming sellers in a manner other than automated checks or a cursory manual review of submitted documentation.

What are sellers saying about video verification so far?

I work with several agencies who help businesses set up on Amazon. I asked Jason Boyce from Avenue7Media for his thoughts on this new pilot program. Given the frustrations his clients have experienced getting started on Amazon, I spoke with him about the current seller registration process and the roll out of the new program.

This issue of inconsistency and difficulty surrounding account verification and seller account setup really began in early 2019 and has reached new levels of frustration for new sellers. It has driven at least one seller I know to Walmart in the hopes that their process will be more efficient and competent. It appears that multiple departments are involved and they don’t communicate with each other. When a seller finally collects the appropriate documents, Amazon teams go MIA and account approvals get lost in the void. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Jason Boyce, Avenue7Media

As an agency with a client who is part of the pilot, Jason is hopeful that more of his clients will have this option in the near future. He would like Amazon to go back to other sellers who were rejected in the past, and vet them on video so that they may be approved retroactively.

One worry is that Amazon will have other snags in the system that could halt a registration elsewhere, even if sellers pass the video call. With the current system, we’ve seen numerous seller accounts apparently verified without problems, only to be closed down an hour or a day later.

After speaking with Jason’s client who has navigated through the video vetting system, I can see several benefits, but also possible shortcomings, with the application of the video screening program.

According to the seller (who requested anonymity):

They asked me to bring along the ID and the bank account statement but they actually never checked the latter. You’re free to select a date and time from the given options (a choice of about three different days and times). After that, about 20 hours before the interview, an email arrived with a link to their video conference software and unique session ID for logging in.

Anonymous Amazon seller

The seller didn’t find it jarring to share their passport with the Amazon rep, because it’s Amazon’s own software, and they think it highly unlikely that someone outside the company would be able to get access to it.

I was also told that sellers do not have to rely on the Amazon employee to accurately enter their information. The Amazon rep tells the seller what to do, asking them to share their screen so the seller can enter the info themselves. This is optional, however, so if the seller is reluctant to share the screen, they’re free not to.

I asked the seller if any reason was given for the video call being required, or if it was just a random test:

They mentioned that the only actual reason for the interview was the suspicion raised by a wrongly entered driver’s license data (one of our employees mixed up the date and the number fields). Amazon thought it might have been a scam and wished to see our representative face to face, with him proving his identity by showing his ID during the call. They asked to turn the ID a bit and to bend it slightly to prove it’s not a paper copy.

Anonymous Amazon seller

After the ID verification, the Amazon rep told the seller that the registration process was complete and that any follow-up information would arrive by email (which it did).

The only remaining step was to enter their tax information within Seller Central, after which their Amazon account became fully active.

Upsides of the video screening program

Based on the feedback I have heard, Amazon’s use of video calls to verify new seller accounts could be a big improvement on the current documentation-driven process. Amazon badly needs a system like this to avoid long delays in getting seller accounts verified!

Let’s take a look at the potential benefits of this program:

1. A more streamlined system

The confusing and ineffective system of automated checks and manual reviews may be closer to an end. No more suffering through Amazon’s current, horribly broken seller registration system! This speaks for itself, if that’s what will really happen. Good news is always welcome in Amazonland.

2. Faster verifications

Verifications should be much quicker. Currently, businesses can wait one day, a month or two, or up to a year to get verified to sell on Amazon. It has been reported that Amazon is “supplementing” the current online verification process with this enhanced vetting but let’s hope they will soon replace the current system entirely.

3. Fewer suspensions

There shouldn’t be as many sellers suspended due to failed verification. As it stands, rejected sellers end up appealing for reinstatement via Seller Performance email queues, clogging up a system that is already close to bursting. Anything that prevents seller suspensions is a BIG deal!! We need exclamation points in abundance on this one, here’s some more!!

If anything goes wrong in your initial seller account registration, with Amazon’s current process, responses to appeals are often non-existent. Appeals are turned down and Seller Performance account investigators don’t even bother to send a message informing you of that denial. If a program like this is what it takes to help sellers avoid that purgatory, it is 100% worth it.

4. Less back-and-forth

The new process should allow sellers to submit several documents in one sitting, and only have to follow up later with any missing or invalid documents, not the entire set.

As it is now, you can’t take any chances. You have to send them EVERYTHING, every time, just to make sure you won’t be denied because one document is missing. If they ignore you via appeals in Seller Central, you have to email them attaching everything, every time. Hopefully, this cures that hassle.

Downsides of the video screening program

We’ve seen Amazon programs before that promised to “improve” a process, or exciting announcements about how new teams will tackle tricky seller pain points.

Whether it was the supposed 30 day advance warning prior to an account suspension or the roll-out of phone-friendly Account Health Services reps, sellers often find tremendous disappointment with the results. Some new programs limp along into the present, others fall to the wayside, forgotten. Either way, the hype often fails to match what sellers actually get.

What factors could derail this video verification program?

1. A lack of seller experience

Are the right people in charge of this program, with technical skills and enough “seller experience” to help smooth out the rough edges?

There have been past attempts to clean up poor processes when it comes to Amazon seller registration, account hacking, real versus fake product reviews, and even rights ownership issues or IP-related complaints, without much success.

Often Amazon teams try to come up with an all-encompassing but simplified process to apply to a large number of sellers, involving a complex integration of tools and teams. It’s not an easy thing to do. You need high-level managers with proven experience, well-trained staff, and an auditing system, to fully implement each step of an ambitious new initiative.

We’ve seen, for example, how anti-counterfeit and product safety enforcement programs used basic algorithms to flag keywords in complaints from buyers, without accounting for false positives or obvious competitor sabotage. Process gaps need to be identified and addressed, quickly, if this is going to work at all.

2. A lack of consistency

What happens if there are technical problems, or if one party misses the call or arrives late?

As we’ve seen with Account Health, if you somehow miss their “24-hour warning” call about an incoming suspension, they’re not always available to walk you through what you need to do when you call back. In fact, most sellers tell us that they get different answers every time they call and speak to a new rep. They never seem to be on the same page for similar types of cases.

3. Falling back to the old process

If you can’t produce documents on the spot to show the Amazon rep, are you piped back into the old process? Rest assured that I’ll get the word out if that happens!

Sellers need to be 100% prepared to make the most of this opportunity to avoid weeks or months of delays in appeals for failed account registration. Don’t leave it to the whims of new teams using new systems to manage the constant influx of sellers. If their standard operating procedures lead to a dead end, they might have little choice but to send you back into the previous process.

4. The plug being pulled

Remember, some pilots never get past the pilot stage. Or if they do fully execute them, they often don’t measure up to the promises.

For example, Amazon’s promises of 30-day suspension advanced warnings never truly materialized. Dharmesh Mehta, VP of Brand and Partner Trust, clarified later that it only applies to “terminated” accounts without explaining the various bits of jargon used to refer to account suspensions. What’s a temporary versus permanent deactivation? When are those decided and under what circumstances? It ended up being extremely unclear.

Another example was the creation of Account Health Services. We’ve seen a mixed bag, at best, of reps lacking practical knowledge about account suspensions. Many lack access to necessary account information, or the skill set required to help write a POA that someone in Seller Performance (who is the one actually deciding your fate) will accept. They often cannot provide any useful data on missing responses, why appeals are denied, why Seller Performance refuses to respond to escalations, or anything similar.

Unforeseen consequences?

As soon as Amazon introduces a new process or requirement, fraudsters will throw all their energy into finding a way to cheat the system.

Will bad actors start using “registration mules” to create selling accounts on Amazon? That is, paying people to open new accounts so a previously banned seller can regain their privileges.

What will happen when legitimate sellers need to change their account details? Will it become harder or easier? Up until now, you could enter someone else’s information to register an account, without having to prove that it’s that specific person filling in the forms. In the future, will you be able to change the name of the account owner, if they verified their identity via video call?

So several questions remain, and only time will tell how well this new process works!

This post was by Chris McCabe, owner and founder of ecommerceChris, LLC, an Amazon seller account consultancy. Chris was formerly an Investigation Specialist for Amazon’s Seller Performance team.