April 2015. After months of delays and watching seemingly everyone else launch their products, I finally released my first private label product on amazon.co.uk. I was buzzing and produly messaged my family members, friends and anyone else who might like the product.
it was a huge deal for me and it had taken me around four months to get to that point. I felt truly proud of myself that I had taken on a lot of new information and taken action, taken the risk.
Sadly, my excitement didn't last long.
My first week I was basically giving units away for £1 to get honest reviews, I shifted about 15 units. On the sunday, after a long and exhausting day of travel, I decided to check my sales for the day.
It was 11pm and I was greeted with the message 'your account has been suspended.'
I got the same sinking feeling in my stomach that you might get when you accidently hit another car when reversing. I'm a new seller, still learning the ropes and I get hit with a suspension right away.
The long back and forth
After calming myself down, the next day, I wanted to focus on correcting whatever mistake I had made. I was ready to prostrate myself before the Amazon gods.
Looking at the seller central message, it turns out I hadn't registered my seller status properly. I had registered for a pro account and positioned myself as an individual seller, someone who might sell the odd bit of stuff every now and then. In actual fact, I had 150 units of my branded product at amazon's fba warehouse and was fully intent on building a business out of this.
According to Amazon's instructions, i needed to register as a business and update my information accordingly. Fair enough.
I didnt plan on tax dodging or anything like that, I just wanted to start selling fast, see how my product sold and then perhaps set up an LLC or something when I could see how things were going. To me, registering a business was just another roadblock to my goal.
But of course, hindsight is always 50/50.
I quickly set myself up as a UK sole trader (you can find out how to do that here) and had to wait a week or so to get my tax code. Once I got that, I went back to seller central and finished up my business registration (I had to scan some documents, proof of address and whatnot).
Once done, I wrote to seller central and let them know I had done all that was asked of me and they responded that i needed yet more document scans. I obliged and had them sent within the day.
This was where things started getting annoying. I had done what was asked of me, and yet I was still suspended.
I sent Amazon an email asking what the deal was and i was met with...silence.
I replied to the seller central emails and got nothing. The live chat option on seller central also didn't help as they gave me the same email i already had.
From the 14th of May to the 29th May I had no answer from Amazon. I was sending an email or two each week to just try and get some, any response.
Dark times - things get worse
At this point, I was really starting to panic. I didn't have a job or any income and, because of the suspension, all my budgets and plans had been totally thrown off. I completely ran out of money, I was about to turn 30 and I had to ask my parents for money to pay for food to feed my family. I have a 9 month old baby and a wife, every day I would wake up and see the look of fear and panic on my her face.
The fridge was empty again and the thought of going food shopping made me sweat because it meant money would be spent. I have never felt so low in my life, I hit a bad depression patch and started to doubt everything I had ever done. When Seth Godin talks about 'the dip', I imagine it to be something like this.
For me, FBA and private label was the first 'make money online' plan that made sense. After years of searching for 'the one', I had found it. But now, 'the one' was taking a shit in my happy place.
I had a horrible failure of an online supplement shop before starting Private label fba. In four months, I sold some creatine and gainer to one person (friends aside) and that was it. This colossus of a failure was due to a combination of things that I learnt from, but it hurt.
And now, I was just being ignored by Amazon, like a piece of trash - which was what i felt like every day.
A small ray of hope came on the 29th when Amazon actually responded, sending me the following:
Thank you for contacting us.
Before we can proceed with your registration we need you to confirm the following details:
• What country are you fulfilling your orders from.
• Does anyone else have access to your account.
Please reply directly to this email.
This sounded pretty strange to me, but whatever. I presumed that, because I was based in Russia, I may have been flagged as some spammer or something. Also, when I started selling, I had been in Bulgaria visiting my parents. I thought that, perhaps this had raised some red flags, maybe they thought I was a Russian scammer with a Bulgarian slave minion or something, I didn't know.
I replied, explaining that I was from the UK and based in Russia with my wife, I also explained the recent visit and possibly IP confusion - just in case.
Yet again I was sitting around, not getting any response. I started sending them emails every week again, just trying to break through. Finally, on the 11th June, seller support got back to me again, but it seems they never received the previous reply, go figure.
So i replied right away with all the information and things went right back to radio silence.
At this point, I had started to lose hope completely. I started planning how I could sell off or get rid of my inventory. Having to pay to destroy my first product, I thought that would be a pretty bitter slap in the face.
I contact a friend in the US and started paving the way to start selling there.
Sure, while suspended, I had my listing on Ebay and, thankfully, I could still fulfill orders via FBA, sadly, I only had about 2 orders the whole time. With no way of getting my Ebay listing out there, my product just sat there, flacid and alone.
While all this had been going on, I had the hassle of organising moving my family to Bulgaria. After 7 years in Moscow, I had enough of the big city and toxic propaganda that started to pollute the atmosphere since the whole Ukraine fiasco.
On June 15th, we arrived in a new country. I had mentally accepted that my amazon.co.uk selling was over for the near future. I had made a small mistake and paid the ultimate Amazon price for it.
Then it happened
June 16, right out of the blue, I got a seller central e-mail with the news that I was back in seller action. I couldn't believe my eyes.
I started my ppc right away and was made a few sales that same day.
If you get unlucky and get banned, be ready for Amazon taking their time between answers and don't plan on getting back on track quickly. I waited around for way to long before picking up freelance gigs to get some money in because I , mistakenly, believed that Amazon would fix everything right away.
Don't expect responses either - look how long it took me:
April 26 - suspended
May 04 - clarification email from Amazon, restating what I need to do
May 14 - all requested documents upload as per amazon request. I e-mailed them telling them
May 19 - Sent a follow-up mail to let them know
May 21 - Sent another email, no response
May 29 - Get response from Amazon asking what country i was in , didn't receive a reply
June 11 - Sent a repeat of that email, didn't get a reply
June 15 - Magically reinstated
Now I am back in full swing, I have freelance work coming in, have made 48 sales in 15 days and it looks like things are going to be fine. But things for me went dark for a while, darker than ever before I think.
The lesson here (apart from not letting your funds go dry), is that Amazon can take you and your whole business down - hard and fast and there's nothing you can do.
If I had my own standalone site, I'd never be able to have the kind of success that Amazon can offer, but I will be diversifying as much as possible, as soon as possible.
If you are suspended, I hope my saga will be of some insight!
Recommended reading: Amazon Horror Story: How Suspension Crashed My Sales From $50K To Zero