Is Amazon punishing sellers by “shadow banning” your FBA listings if you haven’t made a recent shipment? A conspiracy theory
Video: Is Amazon “Shadow Banning” Your Listings?
Read the more in-depth article below, or watch the video:
The “Shadow Ban” Conspiracy Theory
Is it irresponsible of me to do a whole article on an Amazon conspiracy theory that I can’t prove? Probably, but I’m doing it anyway…
Here’s the theory:
Amazon is hiding the listings of sellers who haven’t done recent FBA shipments.
In other words: Amazon is punishing sellers who don’t do frequent FBA shipments by “shadow banning” them, or otherwise making their listings hard for customers to find.
To take another angle on this: There is something about shipping in inventory that triggers sales of products that weren’t in the shipment.
Sounds crazy. But I’ve observed this for too many years to not know it to be true.
Tell me if this happens to you: You’re like most Amazon sellers, and you’re not exactly running a military-style operation. Your FBA shipments are a little irregular. Sometimes you do tons of FBA shipments, then you might take a break and not do another shipment for awhile.
Then you do your first shipment in, say, a couple months. You get a flood of sales. But you notice two very suspicious things…
Suspicious thing #1: You immediately get sales of old FBA inventory
Right after you do an FBA shipment, you get a flood of sales. Nothing weird about that. But then you notice that some of those sales are for older inventory that wasn’t part of your shipment…
And not just any inventory. Inventory that has been languishing for months. Items that maybe even had a decent Amazon Sales Rank, and that you’d been consistently repricing. But suspiciously, the item hadn’t been selling.
But at least it sold, and you’re not going to argue. But still… weird.
You probably think, “when it rains, it pours.” But you also wonder why the “rains” on Amazon are so heavy. And the dry spells are so… dry.
Suspicious thing #2: Your sales plummet after 3 to 4 weeks
You notice your sales fall off a cliff a few weeks after your FBA shipment goes live.
Now, it makes logical sense you would get most of your sales shortly after they go live on Amazon. But you see sales go into a free fall in a way that doesn’t seem organic.
You even see high-demand inventory, where you have the lowest price, and everything indicates it should be selling, but…. it just sits there.
Suspicious thing #3: You have high-demand FBA inventory that isn’t selling
One more: This one can be observed anytime its been a long time since your previous shipment (but before you do your next shipment)…
It’s been awhile since your last FBA shipment. You might have hundreds or thousands of high-demand items, all at an FBA warehouse, live and for sale. But they’re not selling.
You’re repricing. You’re doing all the right things. But inventory that should be selling, isn’t selling.
You rationalize it but saying “well, I haven’t done an FBA shipment in awhile…” and you accept the slow sales as your punishment.
But still, it;s weird. Why do you have high-demand books (say, with an Amazon Sales Rank of 100,000), competitively priced, and going months without a sale? How is that even possible?
(Back to Suspicious Thing #1…)
Then maybe you do a new FBA shipment, and suddenly that book (that should have sold a long time ago), sells instantly. Much like other examples of old, lower demand inventory mentioned earlier.
You chalk it up to coincidence. But it’s almost like the book was never for sale at all…
Conclusion: It all points to conspiracy
I’ve seen this phenomenon too often for too many years to dismiss it anymore.
There is something about shipping in inventory that triggers sales of products that weren’t in the shipment.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this. But I danced around the conspiracy/ shadow banning angle, only going so far as to call this phenomenon “mystical.” I credited it to some unseen energy or something, and not something engineered by Amazon.
Here’s some screenshots from my last writing on this subject:
Why would Amazon “shadow ban” listings?
I’ll admit it – it doesn’t make sense. A good offer is a good offer, and it shouldn’t matter when the seller last shipped in inventory. Would Amazon literally keep a customer from a product they want, just to favor sellers who make regular FBA shipments (or punish those who don’t)?
It doesn’t add up for me either. But by process of elimination, there’s no other explanation.
Here’s a couple specific things that might be happening:
Theory #1: Amazon doesn’t let infrequent shippers win the Buy Box
This one is pretty simple, and the one most sellers would probably accept: Amazon won’t give the Buy Box to sellers who haven’t made a recent shipment.
So this theory would go: Sending in an FBA shipment triggers all your offers getting featured in the Buy Box, and a flood of sales results.
This is the least conspiratorial, since its well known that the Buy Box has a complex algorithm behind it. And how often you’ve shipped might be a factor.
Sidenote: The Amazon Buy Box and I have a complicated relationship. I’m not an advocate of chasing the Buy Box, and believe winning the Buy Box is a natural byproduct of good practices (and not something you need to fixate on). Because of this, I tune out of any article that goes into the latest “trick” the “win the Buy Box,” or some new insight into Amazon’s Buy Box algorithm. All of that is to say: It’s entirely possible that “shipment frequency” is an already well-known factor in winning the Buy Box.
But even though this “Buy Box” theory is the simplest explanation, I don’t consider it the most likely. I know what “winning the Buy Box” does for sales (at least in the Books category), and I know what not having the Buy Box looks like. And the sales spike you see after sending in an FBA shipment following a hiatus – in my opinion – is too big to be explained merely by the Buy Box.
Theory #2: Amazon punishes infrequent shippers by “shadow banning” their listings
This is the more “conspiratorial” of the two, but one that fits the evidence most (in my opinion).
It’s simply this: Amazon hides listings from the list of visible offers if you haven’t done a shipment in awhile. Either fully, or by only showing it to some Amazon customers (and hiding it from most).
Again, it makes no sense. I’m flailing for an explanation just like you. But if we can agree this whole “shipments trigger sales” phenomenon is a real thing, then Theory #2 fits the evidence the best.
It’s known that Amazon shadow bans both listings and products. Nothing new there. For example, your FBA listing isn’t shown to every customer in every search. If your item is an the FBA warehouse in Charlotte, its entirely possible Amazon is never going to show your listing to a customer in California.
With Amazon shadow banning already a known practice, its not too far of a leap to think they might shadow ban offers in other situations.
Theory #3: I’m an idiot
Alternately, it’s possible I’m missing something huge and obvious that explains this. I’m sure you’ll jump in the comments below if that’s the case.
Test this yourself
Hopefully you never go more than a week without doing an FBA shipment. But if you do, pay attention to what happens after you do your first shipment after a hiatus.
A new FBA shipment will trigger sales of products that weren’t in the shipment.
This Amazon selling mystery remains….
The actionable takeaway
Do more shipments, get more sales.
My lesson from all this is that Amazon rewards sellers who make consistent shipments.
Which means your new FBA battlecry is: Ship consistently, ship often, get more sales of everything.
PS: Seen this phenomenon yourself? Or have an alternate explanation for what’s causes it? Jump in the comments below.
PPS: Think its inappropriate for me to propagate conspiracy theories that I can’t prove? Is suspecting “shadow banning” going too far? Go ahead and rip me to shreds in the comments. I’ll approve them, no matter how critical.