After introducing the feature back in March, Amazon has apparently refined and updated the feature allowing buyers to opt out of receiving unsolicited, “non-critical” emails from sellers. This also seems like a direct response to a perceived overuse of automated follow-up emails by third-party sellers. First, though, let’s go over exactly what this change means.

Policy Summary

You can see Amazon’s explanation of the change below:

Amazon Buyer-Seller Messaging Message

As you can see, they’ve specifically targeted all of the most common behaviors associated with follow-up emails. Sellers can still tick the “additional information required” box, or put “[Important]” in their subject line, if they truly need to send an order-critical email, but it’s very likely that Amazon will not take kindly to abuses of those override methods. Since they’ve outlined what constitutes a “critical” versus a “non-critical” email, expect sellers that use the “[Important]” override in emails which aren’t critical to complete orders to see some form of punishment.

Of course, this introduces some grey areas. What happens if you include extra non-critical information in a critical email? For example, what if you need to send an email about a shipping address issue, but include a review request at the bottom of that email? It’s unclear what would happen in these cases, but we would advise caution. Amazon isn’t known for being particularly liberal in its interpretation of its own rules, so they might very well come down on sellers trying to blur the lines in this way.

What This Means

This change has already gone into effect. During the testing period in March, we saw a peak of 20% of customers opting out. It’s surprising that so many customers opted out during a testing period; it may have been added as part of a larger ‘marketing email opt-out’ program that many buyers were already a part of. We have yet to see how many customers will opt out using this newly-refined system.

For the customers that did opt out, there’s unfortunately nothing you can do — you should respect their decision, and, as mentioned above, do not abuse the override functionality unless you truly do have a critical email to send. You can continue sending follow-up emails, and they will go to customers who haven’t opted out as usual.

However, this feature poses a much bigger problem: it hurts sellers who strive to provide excellent customer service through communication with buyers. If enough customers opt out, this policy means less differentiation between good sellers and great sellers, and an overall reduced impact of providing fantastic customer service through Amazon. We’ve always been big proponents of customer service on Amazon, including one of the things that Amazon specifically mentioned — proactive customer service. We believe that giving customers everything they need to have a great experience before they ask for it makes for an improved Amazon experience. Why should Amazon limit our ability to help our customers?

If we are to come together as customer-oriented sellers and convince Amazon to change their mind, it’s incredibly important that we discipline ourselves in our use of follow-up emails. The most likely explanation behind this policy change is a litany of complaints from customers who felt as though they were receiving too many seller emails. Indeed, after the ban on incentivized reviews, sellers have been relying more and more on follow-up emails to gain advantages, sometimes sending huge excesses of messages to buyers. This type of behavior not only doesn’t work — buyers get irritated after too many messages, becoming less responsive — it also leads to increased complaints, which in turn lead policies like the one we’re seeing now. At the end of the day, these policies further homogenize the marketplace and reduce individual differences between sellers, making it more difficult for the best sellers to stand out from the crowd.

Of course, there is a glass-half-full take on this: customers who chose to opt out of seller messages might have been less inclined to open or respond to those emails in the first place, so there may not be a huge loss in conversion rate, despite reaching fewer customers. However, if this feature was introduced as a bundle with an existing “opt out of marketing” option, customers who would have otherwise been receptive to seller emails may have unintentionally opted out, hurting both sellers and customers.

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