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Beware the checkbox of death

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Beware the checkbox of death

Last weekend I lost 75% of my Amazon stock to one guy who took advantage of my ignorance and wiped me out. He now has, in his possession, hundreds of items that belonged to my business and he paid absolutely nothing for them.

My Amazon listing is now out of stock in five of the best selling variations since he was careful to only take the best sellers.

I am writing this because I want to warn all the other new sellers out there that this can happen, so it doesn’t happen to you.

I am a bit frustrated I have to admit, that I have spent at least 40 hours a week over the past few months, on top of time spent on my other businesses, reading everything available about how to manage a successful business on Amazon, yet I had never heard of the checkbox of death until it was too late.

So, what is the checkbox of death? It is an option which is checked by default in Seller Central, that ensures any promotion codes you create are posted publicly on your Amazon listing. That way, anyone who goes to your product listing can see the code they need to put in at checkout to take advantage of the promotion. Sounds reasonable.

Problem is, all the “how to sell on Amazon” advice out there tells you that you have to get as many reviews as you can, as fast as you can, to be successful. The current advice is to give product away in return for reviews, because, among other reasons, amazon allows this, provided the reviewer declares they received the product for free in return for their honest and unbiased review.

All good so far. Except the only way to give product away on Amazon is to provide the reviewers with free promotion codes. And, yes, unless you know about unchecking the box that unhelpfully says “detail page display text”, the code goes public and the outcome is potentially shattering.

But what the hell does that mean? What is a detail page and what is the display text? No explanation is given, no little question mark offering some explanation as to what this means. And since the box is checked by default, any newbie (who is in a hurry and trying to juggle 10 things at once, like me) is going to assume that one should leave it that way. I would certainly not check a box I didn’t understand, but equally I wouldn’t uncheck a box I didn’t understand.

Usability testing 101, Amazon. That box would do no harm if it was left up to the user to decide whether to check it or not. Worst that could happen to someone setting up a promotion where the code needed to be public, would be that they would realize it’s not visible on their listing and they could go put it in. A much less devastating outcome than the way it is designed at the moment.

This one checkbox is apparently the source of many, many sellers being in my shoes. It has apparently sent many sellers to the wall. This is so common that it has been dubbed the checkbox of death.

Before I go on, and lest I don’t do this warning properly, there’s another checkbox that you need to know about too, the one that says “one redemption per customer”. At least this one is pretty obvious. If you don’t check this box and you give a code to a reviewer, he can give it to anyone else and they – and potentially hundreds of others, can use it too. At least the description of that one makes perfect sense, but I thought I’d mention it as apparently it’s also the reason many sellers have been wiped out.

Anyhow, back to the story. The weekend for me was devastating as I tried valiantly to save my stock as it was running out the door and down the drain. Firstly, I rang Amazon within one hour of the first 90 items being bought and asked them for some help. I couldn’t see that this person had used a promotion code, it looked like they were legitimately buying the stock, which I knew was a sign something was wrong. No one needs 90 garlic presses, let alone at full price!

The person I spoke to never alerted me to the potential folly of the checkbox, nor did she ask me if I had recently set up a promotion. She told me that she could see that all the sales were to one person, she also assured me Amazon protects their sellers and that I need not worry, if the sales turned out to be a problem, Amazon would reimburse me. She must have said at least three times, don’t worry about it, everything will be ok.

So I didn’t worry. Then 12 hours later there was another run on my stock. Again I rang Amazon, again they were not much help. This is when I turned to The Amazing Sellers Facebook group where I was alerted to the checkbox of death. I checked my promotion, found the issue, turned off the promotion (which takes four hours to take effect), and then watched helplessly on as the rest of my stock was wiped out.

The next 48 hours was spent trying to get Amazon to cancel the orders. This is not an easy task because, although I was wiped out, all is good for Amazon. They supposedly have one very happy customer, and that’s what they are all about, happy customers.

I opened a few support cases with different titles and each time they read the case they closed it by forwarding it onto a “specialist team”. Each time they did that, I reopened the case and provided a phone number for someone to call (this was all happening outside normal business hours at Amazon, so there was no phone support). They closed, I reopened – until finally someone called me!

Once I explained, they were somewhat helpful, but by now it was all too late. Most of the orders had gone out, and my stock was gone.

To add insult to injury as they say, I still don’t know what effect having my stock out there being controlled by someone who doesn’t understand it and didn’t pay for it, will have on my business in the US. Potentially even more damage to my business yet to come.

However, after I got over the devastation to my business and the feeling of being violated, by Tuesday I was back on the horse and had sent another shipment of stock to Amazon.

I’m largely an optimistic person and I do generally look for the silver lining. For me there were several positive outcomes, yes, truly there is.

With the sudden run on my products, the all-important Amazon sales rank metric has gone through the roof. That means that the Amazon algorithm thinks my product is hundreds of times more popular than it thought it was before the weekend, which has increased sales to the remaining stock and will positively impact sales when my stock is back. (This is one reason for sending more stock over as quickly as I could – might as well make the most of it, right?)

Second, I discovered that The Amazing Seller Facebook group was a remarkable group of supportive and caring people, which restores one’s faith in humans.

And third, I decided to tell my story so that I could help as many of you as I can. I hope that hundreds of Amazon newbie sellers read this so it doesn’t happen to them.

I am also very grateful for something else, which I hope is a lesson for others, and that is that I didn’t have all my eggs in the Amazon basket. I have several ecommerce sites which bring in sales from at least 12 other countries. I am currently building a structure of resellers and distribution networks and warehouses all around the world, and sales are still strong everywhere else.

While this temporarily wiped out my Amazon business, it didn’t wipe out my business as a whole. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, spread your risk!

So here’s my other piece of advice: never give up and don’t let the buggers get you down

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