Karen Summer - GetUngated.co.uk.
In Episode 28, I interview Karen Summer of Getungated.co.uk so you can learn the secrets of how to get ungated in those difficult restricted Amazon categories in order to expand your product offerings on Amazon platform.
Getting ungated on Amazon platforms is the easiest and fastest way to grow your Amazon business and sell in product categories that have less competition which will allow you to make more profits.
David: This is episode 28…
Intro: Discover the key components of business success as we hack the minds of successful entrepreneurs. Welcome to the Business Hacker Podcast. Here's your host, David De Souza.
David: Today I'm here with Karen Summer of getungated.co.uk. And today we're going to explore the topic of Amazon brand ungating. Welcome, Karen.
Karen Summer: Thanks for having me, it's great to be here, David.
David: Thanks for coming on the show. So let's kick it off. Why don't you share a little bit about yourself and the success you've had as an Amazon and e-commerce seller?
Karen Summer: Well I had an e-commerce business going back a few years, but got really excited when I started my Amazon business. Amazon is such a great platform on which to build a substantial business. Now I've got myself ungated in a few categories because I fancy selling in beauty and health and personal care and such like. And I found it really easy. And then I realized that I had a bit of a knack of knowing what Amazon was looking for in terms of ungating sellers. And from then on, I've been helping people get ungated.
David: Yeah, it's definitely I'd say a knack, I know for myself when I started doing it, I had to run round to different warehouses trying to get different invoices, and it was a bit of a hassle. So it's good to have you on the show, and I guess inspiring to know that it is impossible. Before we dive in, why don't you tell us a little bit about what exactly is ungating, and why you think sellers should strongly consider ungating?
Karen Summer: Well Amazon gates categories in order to be able to restrict which sellers are allowed to sell products in that category. Amazon has had a lot of issues recently with people starting seller accounts and taking the money and then not sending the products to the customers, or sending counterfeit goods and then closing their accounts and disappearing. So understandably, Amazon are looking to get much tougher, and get to know a lot more of the people that want to sell on their platform.
Karen Summer: So new sellers are coming up against a lot of category gating, brand gating, and restrictions. And category ungating is the easiest of those to overcome. Getting ungated can have a massive effect on your business. Because it not only opens up a whole new section of products that you can sell, it helps lift restrictions in other areas too. For example, people get ungated in beauty and then suddenly find they can sell more in toys.
Karen Summer: And getting ungated is all about giving Amazon a chance to get to know you better, and to start to trust you and realize that you're serious about building a stable business. Getting ungated isn't always the easiest of processes, we know that. But what you can pretty much guarantee is that it's not going to get any easier than it is today. It feels like every week the process changes a little bit. And I've not seen any of those changes make it easier for sellers.
Karen Summer: And getting ungated in certain subcategories in the US, like topicals, or supplements, now comes with a $3,000 fee. Now there's no sign of that in Europe at the moment, but who knows whether that will come our way in the future.
David: Yeah, no way, I actually didn't know that. I haven't been ungated in the States, and is that just a fee that you pay Amazon, or what sort of fee is that?
Karen Summer: Yeah, it's just a fee you pay Amazon. Couple days after getting ungated you get a bill from Amazon.
David: Oh, well, that's quite interesting to know. Especially I guess to see where Europe maybe heading, that's really cool to know.
Karen Summer: Yeah, who knows, we never know whether things that start off in the US will come here, but a lot of them do, so it's just something to keep an eye on, to watch out for.
David: Yeah, definitely. In what you just mentioned in that answer there, it seems that there's a lot of different product restrictions, does this tend to vary from country to country and what are the different types of product restrictions?
Karen Summer: Okay, well there's three main types. There's category gating, brand gating, and then it's just general restrictions. Category gating is what we've talked about mainly today so far, and that's the one you've got the most control over as an Amazon seller.
Karen Summer: Brand gating is when the brand have applied to Amazon's brand registry program, which means sellers aren't allowed to market those branded good without permission from the brand.
Karen Summer: And then there are restrictions, and they're often not permanent restrictions, they're often because maybe a product has got a safety concern, or Amazon feel there are too many sellers, or they don't like a particular new seller and they want to check them out a little bit more before they let them sell that one particular product, rather than restrict them in the whole category.
Karen Summer: But as I say, most restrictions are temporary, so it's always worth checking back if there's a particular product that you want to sell, because you may find in the weeks or the months ahead that that restriction's been lifted.
David: Okay, interesting. And in terms of I guess the main restricted categories, why do you think … what are they, and why do you think this usually occurs?
Karen Summer: Well the main UK gated categories are beauty, health and personal care, grocery, watches, and jewelry. They seem to be the most popular ones. But within each of those, and within some non-gated categories, there are gated subcategories as well. For instance, everyone can sell toys, that's an open category. But within that there are building blocks and infant toys, just to name a couple, that not all subcategories within that category are gated. So it's a little bit of a mine field to finding out which ones are and which ones aren't.
Karen Summer: But getting a category ungated will have a little bit of effect on brand gating, but not very much, because that's obviously brands that have applied to be brand registry through Amazon. But it can have an effect on lifting restrictions and help get those pesky little things out of the way a little bit.
David: I'm guessing it is possible to lift these restrictions then?
Karen Summer: Well it is, but not directly. You can't apply to Amazon to have those restrictions lifted. You can get ungated in a different category, and then because Amazon trusts you a little bit more, that then means that some of those restrictions are lifted, but you can't specifically pick and choose which ones that you'd like lifted.
David: Okay, and then say we're a new seller and we're approaching selling on Amazon for the first time. Do you have any tips or resources of how they can actually go about telling whether something is restricted to stop I guess a new seller going out and buying something then coming back and oh, no, this is restricted?
Karen Summer: Yeah, if you're doing online arbitrage, you should absolutely check on your seller central before you buy any product. So check on Amazon, find the ASIN, put it in seller central, and if you can't sell it, it will come up and tell you that you can't sell it. So always make sure you do that. But when you're out on the go, there's an Amazon seller app that you can download. And then that will give you the same information that you'd be able to get from your seller central on your laptop or on your desktop. So then you can check and make sure that you can sell it, but you'll always need to, as a new seller particularly, make sure you check whether you can sell things before you buy them, definitely.
David: And you'd say like … I know it may sound a bit complicated by what we've gone on, like it is actually quite easy to determine whether something is restricted or not from a new seller's perspective who may be worrying about this.
Karen Summer: It's easy to find things … whether it's restricted in terms of whether you're gated or restricted from Amazon's point of view, yes, because that will come on the laptop or in your seller central account. But what's more difficult is to find out whether a product is a private label product, and whether therefore you're not allowed to sell it from that point of view, because that's not restricted on Amazon. So that is about a little bit of experience of recognizing what that might be.
Karen Summer: For instance, if you find a deal that's a brilliant deal, and you can make lots of money on it, and there's no other FBA sellers, I would be really concerned about that, and you'd need to check it out. Because you may think that because Amazon tell you you can sell it, you're allowed to sell it, but that's not actually the case. Amazon only tell you what you can't sell in terms of their gating categories, not in terms of other people's private label products. So there's been a lot of people getting suspended because they don't realize that they've infringed somebody's copyright or whatever, and they're selling a product they're not allowed to sell. So you have to be really careful, so check it out. If you find a deal that looks amazing and there's no other sellers on it, look into it and find out why that is. It might be that you just found a great deal, but that's possibly a little bit unlikely, so you should check it out. Go and have a look at the person that's selling it, and check out the name. You'll often find that when you go to their storefront on Amazon, it will talk a bit about their brand, and then they make talk about a brand name that they own, and then you'll see that that brand name goes with that seller, and that therefore you're not allowed to sell it.
Karen Summer: So that's something else to be really careful of that doesn't come up as an automatic restriction when you check a product on Amazon.
David: Yeah, right, okay. And let's say you've decided that you want to get ungated, and there is restrictions there, do you have any recommendations as to when sellers should think about getting ungated? Like should they look at this on day one, or wait a few months? What's your opinions there?
Karen Summer: Well Amazon won't ungate any new sellers until they've got a few sales on their account. We've talked about those sellers coming on and scamming people, and so Amazon will not consider any category ungating requests until you've got a few sales, and you've proved yourself a little bit. So definitely you need to get a few sales, but not loads of sales, maybe 10 or so, that will be absolutely fine. And what seems to trip a lot of people up when they get ungated as well, is because they've got maybe a private label product or something like that they want to sell that's maybe in beauty, and what they don't realize is that they need to sell some non-gated products before they can get ungated to go and sell their beauty product.
Karen Summer: And I think the other mistake that sometimes, particularly private label sellers make, is that they use their private label invoices maybe from China or from wherever they're getting their products manufactured, and they try and use those for ungating, which doesn't work, or in my experience I've not seen that work. Not very often anyway. And you should always use local wholesalers or manufacturers for invoices for getting ungated.
Karen Summer: And the best way to look at it is, is there's two completely separate processes. I think people mix them up together and think that because they're selling in a gated category, that all goes together with getting ungated and it doesn't. Getting ungated is essentially just a tick box exercise. And you've got to help the Amazon representative assessing your case tick all the boxes that's on their list to be able to say yes to you. And a local wholesaler is one of those boxes, and that helps get your application through.
David: And just touching on one of your previous points you made, so just to make it abundantly clear, so say you've decided you want to go down the private label route, you don't want to do arbitrage, but say you're wanting to sell in a restricted category like beauty, you're saying that you actually probably need to demonstrate to Amazon that you can meet their criteria for selling items in a non-restricted category before making that initial application to the restricted category, is that right?
Karen Summer: Yes, absolutely. You have to have some sales on your account before Amazon will let you get ungated or you'll just get declined. So absolutely, so you need to do a little of arbitrage, even if that's not your business model going forward and private label is your business model, you need to do a little bit of arbitrage first to get yourself a few sales and build up your trust level with Amazon first.
David: Yeah, I think that's really handy, and that's already some more quality advice. And in terms of overall, general criteria, what in your experiences been the criteria that you need to meet to become ungated?
Karen Summer: I think ultimately the things you absolutely have to have is you need to have a professional seller account. So if you're not paying somewhere around 30 pounds, or whatever that is in dollars, 45 or whatever it is, for your account every month, then you don't have a professional seller account, so you need to go and sort that out. You need to have a few sales on your account like we've talked about. And you need to have good metrics, as well.
Karen Summer: If you're an FBA seller, I think I see people assume that because they're an FBA seller, they will have good metrics on their account, but that's not necessarily the case, because you can lose metrics on your account just by not replying to a customer's email, or just not even telling Amazon you didn't need to respond to a customer email, and that's enough to get your some red blocks on your account. If a customer emails and asks for something, or emails with something that you don't actually need a response with, you still need to go into your account and register that you don't need to respond to that customer, because that can affect it as well.
David: And in your experience, once customers say they have gone down that path and they've gotten some bad metrics, and bad feedback from customers, do you believe that there's any way back for customers going ahead and then becoming ungated further down the line, like if they do demonstrate good conduct?
Karen Summer: Yes, absolutely, you should never give up with ungating. Never, ever give up.
Karen Summer: And a lot of the times as well, you can look at the feedback that you've got, because you're only … certainly as an FBA seller, not so much as a merchant fulfill, but as an FBA seller, if a customer has left you poor feedback and that feedback is about the product, you can contact Amazon and have that removed. Because that is not appropriate, what they're supposed to be giving you feedback on is your performance, and therefore that should all be good.
David: Yeah, that was actually a really handy tip that I found when I launched my first private label product. I think I want to reiterate that point as well, I mean for me myself, it actually took me a couple of times to get ungated, and I think that's part of like you need to have the mindset, well, one as an entrepreneur, but even just to get ungated. I think that's great.
Karen Summer: Yeah, you just don't quit. Amazon keep putting hoops there, you just keep jumping them.
David: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. But what about in terms of common mistakes that you see sellers make when ungating? What are they?
Karen Summer: I think on the whole they tend to forget about the basics. I think getting ungated, as we've talked about, can seem so complicated and overwhelming that people spend all their time focusing on all the high level stuff that they need to make sure is in place, then they forget to do the basics like just check that the address on the invoice matches the address that Amazon hold for them. And they forget the real basic things. You've got to make sure that all of the information that Amazon hold for you is on that invoice. So don't have a different address because you're staying at your girlfriend's that night, or whatever. Make sure that it all matches what Amazon hold for you, because that will trip you up, and it doesn't need to do. If you do all the hard work of sourcing your products and finding your wholesalers, to get tripped up on something, just an address or something simple like that, you've just spelt your name wrong or whatever, then that seems like a real shame. So it's those basics that people forget about.
David: Yeah, and I think we'll jump ahead, I have a question for you on I suppose any minimum quantities or special types of retailers or invoices that you recommend. I know you've just mentioned having an address, so is there a special kind of invoice, or how does that tend to work in terms of what you need to provide Amazon in order to maximize your chance of getting ungated?
Karen Summer: You need to provide them with invoices, not order confirmations. So if your wholesaler doesn't give you a proper invoice, you need to ring them up and ask them to give you an invoice. And it needs to state “invoice” at the top. It needs to have your name and address, and it needs to have the wholesaler's name and address. It needs to have the wholesaler's company number and VAT number. And then you should always make sure you check, there are a lot of wholesalers sell things in cases rather than individual products. So you always need to make sure that on the invoice it not only states how many cases you've bought, but how many items there are in that case. Because that can trip people up as well, because Amazon, if the wholesaler only puts that they've bought two cases, then there might be five products in each of those cases, but Amazon won't see that, they'll only see that you've bought two products, and therefore you'll get declined because you haven't bought the right amount for that particular invoice.
David: Yeah, that's actually really smart, I didn't even think about that myself. And it may well have been one of the reasons why I could've got rejected.
Karen Summer: Sorry about that.
David: That's all good. In terms of legal structure, does the legal structure of your business you operate under make a difference to your chances of success in your experience?
Karen Summer: Yes, absolutely. And we've talked about these changes that Amazon are making all the time to make it more difficult. And that's one that's happened recently. Up until a month or so ago, it didn't make much difference on ungatings whether you were a limited company or a sole trader. But Amazon are now making it much harder for sole traders, and they're giving them more hoops to jump through than they do the limited companies.
Karen Summer: Now obviously having a limited company has tax and other considerations, so you should absolutely take advice from a professional, but just from an ungating point of view, as things stand at the moment, a limited company makes ungating easier, definitely.
David: Whilst we're on the topic of invoices, does the quantity of products required to be purchased and the number of invoices change between when you're trading under a sole trader versus a company legal structure in order to become ungated?
Karen Summer: Yeah, it's the number of invoices that changes, not the number of products that you need. So for instance, in beauty, and health and personal care, and grocery, in those three categories, the requirement is 10 products per category per invoice. But depending on your business structure, that will change how many invoices you need. Because if you've got a limited company and you've got a business bank account, and you're VAT registered, you can provide an awful lot of backup in terms of your application. So if that's the case, you'd get away with one invoice. But if you're a sole trader, still using a personal bank account, and you're not VAT registered, therefore you're going to need to buy more to prove to Amazon that you're serious, and you'd need to get three invoices.
Karen Summer: So it changes based on not how many products you buy, but how many invoices that you need.
David: Yeah, great, and I guess that tidies up what we need to look for in terms of items and products. What about suppliers, or where to purchase the goods from? Is there any guidance that you can provide that Amazon tends to look favorably? Do they tend to favor certain types of suppliers?
Karen Summer: They definitely do. The suppliers that they will approve changes on a regular basis, so you should always do your research from scratch and not just assume because somebody used a wholesaler last month, you can use them this month. You should always check, but you can do that. If you find a wholesaler that you think might be good, and we'll go through what to look for in a second, but you can then contact Amazon and give them the name of the wholesaler and ask them if they will accept that wholesaler. Amazon won't give you the names of the wholesalers to use, but if you contact them with a name, they will usually say yes or no.
Karen Summer: But what you're looking for is a proper wholesaler and not a cash and carry type place. So you can't use Bookers, or Makros, or Costco or anywhere like that. You should always go onto the wholesaler's website and make sure you can see quite easily that they sell to trade only, because that will be something that really helps Amazon. And you need to be able to set up an account to purchase, because obviously that's how wholesalers work in terms of having accounts with their people.
Karen Summer: But also make sure you check that the wholesalers, what their minimum order quantity is. Now it doesn't matter in terms of your ungating application, Amazon don't care what your minimum order quantity at the wholesaler is. But for you it will make a massive difference, because some of them have got many hundreds of pounds, or in the US sometimes it can be many thousands of pounds that you need to spend before that wholesaler will work with you. So make sure you check that out from your point of view as well.
Karen Summer: But yeah, make sure it's a proper wholesaler that … you could even contact them, I always contact wholesalers before I work with them and say to them, “This is what I need. I need an invoice, I need it like this, this is the format I need, this is how I'm able to place all these orders, I want different invoices for each one,” because remember, you've got to make sure you've got the right number of invoices. So I always find a wholesaler first and make sure that they can meet what I need before I'd recommend them to a client.
David: Yeah, I think that's really cool. I mean, just thinking back on what you just said, I actually got ungated a couple of years ago and used Makro. But I think it's really interesting, even the trend that we've sort of seen with how much Amazon tends to change, but it would seem to me, as like I guess an anecdote or a general tip to someone who listens that if it is going to go down the route of having to pay $3,000 to get ungated, it seems like people should be using your advice, and we'll touch on your service later on, because it definitely is probably a worthwhile investment to save the $3,000 that is probably going to come in the not so distant future.
Karen Summer: Yeah, definitely. It's something that you can do yourself, you can research and learn how to do it, and you can put the effort in in finding the wholesalers and copying and pasting and finding all the products that you need. Because that's what you need to do when you've found a wholesaler that you think is good, you need to find products that are on Amazon that you can use for ungating. So you need do all that copying and pasting and find them and make sure they're in the right category, and they are what you need for your ungating application.
Karen Summer: Which is hugely time consuming, it takes a long time. And there's a lot of people out there who would argue with me and say you don't need to do that, you can just Photoshop invoices. But that's not something we would ever recommend that you do, because you're risking your Amazon seller account by Photoshopping your invoices. And you'd spend … well, I would, I'd spend my whole life looking over my shoulder wondering when Amazon's suspension ax was going to come.
Karen Summer: So personally, I'd always say take that time and trouble and do it properly, and do it well first time.
David: Yeah, definitely, I agree with that. And it only takes one strike and then that potential source of income, Amazon income, can be crippled and it's just not worth it in my opinion.
Karen Summer: No, definitely, quite right, because they're not always … if people get suspended, it can be really difficult and really expensive to try and recreate your account again and get back in with Amazon, it can be very expensive, many thousands of pounds are spent on fees with consultants trying to reinstate your account.
David: Yeah, you're definitely not wrong there. And I was just thinking, we've talked about domestic people like UK residents trying to get ungated in the UK, but do you have any tips for sellers who are wanting to get ungated in overseas markets? Do you work with any people that do that, and do you have any advice for how to overcome that given that you've got the physical barrier of not being in the same country?
Karen Summer: Yes, it definitely makes it much of a challenge. It's not a challenge you can't get over, but it definitely makes it more of a challenge. Because you need to try and find local wholesalers, or local manufacturers that you can use. And I've often found actually it's easier to find manufacturers that you can work with if you're working overseas rather than wholesalers. That often makes it a little bit difficult.
Karen Summer: You need to think about things as well, like if you're going to buy your products, you've got to have them delivered somewhere. And it needs to be in that country, because you can't have them delivered elsewhere, most wholesalers wouldn't be interested in shipping internationally. So you've got to think about whether you need to set up a prep center, or what you need to do in that local country to make sure you've got somewhere for your products to be sent.
Karen Summer: And you need to think about how you're going to pay for them, because that's another big issues. You'd think that in 2017 that international payments was really quite easy, but actually it's not. It's really not, and that's something that stumps a lot of people because the wholesalers just want local money, they don't want to be worrying about back payments nor anything else. And even credit cards. If they're not registered in the … for instance, if you're trying to get ungated in the US, trying to find someone that will work with you because you've got a UK or a whatever credit card can be really difficult. You can look at Pioneer accounts and things like that. But you need to think about things like that as well, and how you're going to pay for those things.
David: Yeah, it certainly seems like it can get quite complicated or complex, especially if you're not based in the country you're trying to get ungated in.
Karen Summer: Yeah, it definitely makes it difficult, more difficult, but nothing's impossible. And you've just go to keep jumping those hoops and if you're determined to do it then you'll achieve it, you've just go to … every issue that you come against, you've just got to find a way round it, or under it, or through it or whatever it takes. You've just got to keep pushing forward.
David: Yeah, that's totally true. So tell me, how can you help customers become ungated?
Karen Summer: Well we help customers on two different ways. We have a 16 module video course, which teaches people how to do it themselves. So we go through all the main UK categories and we screenshot the whole process of all of them, and a couple of subcategories that are popular as well, and especially in the toy ones, we do those as well. So we go through the whole thing, we give the list of wholesalers, who to use, which we keep updated all the time, because as I've already mentioned that changes regularly. So we keep it all updated. And we change the wholesalers, and we change the process as it changes, so it's a constantly changing thing, but so that it's always up to date.
Karen Summer: So there's that, so we teach people how to do it themselves. Or if people just don't want to spend the time, because not everyone has got the time to spend getting ungated, it can be hugely time consuming. And we also offer a personalized service where I will do all the work for our clients, and I personally will get them ungated. They have to do a little bit of shopping, but apart from that, pretty much I do it all for them. So we offer both of those services to help people get ungated.
David: Yeah, and I personally think that's great and at the end of the day, time is money and you want to spend your time doing profitable things for your business, so I think that's great that you also offer that bespoke, do it for you service.
Karen Summer: Yeah, definitely. It's the way to grow a business big, isn't it, is to outsource the things that you can outsource. Because you can't do everything yourself, and if you're going to try and do everything yourself then your business is never going to be as big as it could be.
David: In terms of assisting customers, so do you assist customers in getting ungated across all Amazon platforms, or you have specializations just in the UK market?
Karen Summer: We do help international customers as well, we have helped quite a few, but we do specialize in the UK market.
David: Okay, great, and what sort of success have your clients had?
Karen Summer: With our UK clients, we have 100% success rate. So so far, all perfect.
David: Yeah, you definitely can't ask for anything better than that. So tell me, what's the best way for my listeners to contact you?
Karen Summer: Well I think people should go to our website, which is www.getungated.co.uk. And on there they'll find our email address and our phone number. And we'd obviously love to help them grow their Amazon business. But also what they'll find on there is a blog with lots of free information, and there's a Facebook group as well. And they can get lots and lots of free information to help them in that process, and to help them get ungated.
David: That's awesome. Karen, that actually brings us to the end of today's Business Hacker session. Whilst it's been a shorter one, I actually think it's been great. Like even the little tips from calling up Amazon and saving yourself the time of going and wasting time shopping to be rejected, I think it's been phenomenal. So I want to really thank you for coming on the show, it's been a pleasure having you. And a big thank you to all my listeners. If you found this useful, please, please, please leave me a review on iTunes.
Karen Summer: Aw, thanks so much, it's been great.
Outro: The Business Hacker podcast has come to a close. To access the free training or discounts offered by today's guest, head to www.ecommerceguider.com/businesshacker, or join our Facebook group community by searching E-commerce Guider.
➤ Karen shared about her background.
➤ Karen explained why getting ungated is so important.
➤ Karen explained the different types of product restrictions and whether they vary from country to country.
➤ I asked Karen why category restrictions occur?
➤ Karen provided an overview of the main restricted categories and explained if it’s possible to lift these restrictions.
➤ Karen gave some recommendations to sellers about when to get ungated.
➤ I asked Karen about the criteria one should meet to become ungated.
➤ Karen mentioned the common mistakes she sees sellers make when ungating.
➤ I asked Karen if the legal structure of a business makes a difference to your chances of ungating success.
➤ Karen gave her recommendations on the minimum quantities, special types of retailers, invoices and best suppliers.
➤ I asked Karen how can she help customers who are based outside he country who wished to be ungated and whether she assists customers with getting ungated across all Amazon platforms.
➤ Karen explained the success she's had for her clients.
➤ Karen provided the best way to contact her.
- You can get in contact with Karen and view her services here.
- No bonuses left by this guest.