A challenge with powder supplements

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Being in the food or supplement business with Amazon can be complicated when it comes to customer complaints, because many customers buy a product without reading the ingredients first (or even upon receipt) and then wonder why they feel ill after consuming the product.   Still more people aren’t even aware that they have a food allergy or sensitivity until they have their “first” reaction.

I saw a lot of “first” reactions in customers who purchased protein or other powder supplements, because soy or whey are common protein ingredients in this category.  People whose diets don’t normally include much soy or dairy might suddenly be feeding themselves 8 servings a day—or more, if they are in a hurry to bulk up or build muscle mass.  (Remember, teenagers or young men are probably a huge demographic of customers for this product category.)   Some of them wonder what went wrong when they can’t leave the bathroom for a day or two.

Sellers feel the heat sometimes when the customer writes in their “one star” review of the product that they felt “nauseous” or “sick” or “vomited” or “had diarrhea”.   All of those are words that Amazon’s Product Safety algorithms are likely to pick up and flag as a customer safety concern- which might automatically take your ASIN Listing down until it is fully investigated. That can sometimes take weeks.  Those words WOULD be legitimate food safety concerns if there was a possibility that the food was tainted or compromised. But even the best whey or soy powder is going to make some people vomit or have excess gas if their body cannot tolerate these ingredients.

Here are some things a seller can do to limit having a product taken down for “safety” reasons:

  1. Show good photos of your product’s ingredients and nutrition panel, and print that same information on the detail page, which will allow it to transmit well for viewing on a cell phone so the customer can be well informed about what is in the product.
  2. Call out the specific allergen below the ingredients statement, as required by the Food and Drug Administration Labeling Guide.
  3. Add bullet point above the fold on the detail page stating “Whey powder is a dairy product.  Some people might have difficulty digesting whey powder.  Do not consume more than one serving per day for the first two days to confirm your body can digest it easily.”   Repeat this information on your label, or include an insert when you ship the product.
  4. In one case, we worked with the seller to put a large font warning sticker on top of the container, so every time the customer opened it, they could see the warning.

Taking the precautions listed here should help reduce your one-star reviews and increase your satisfied customers—along with your standing as an Amazon seller.

About the Author
I know how Amazon investigates safety and compliance concerns because I wrote some of their internal investigation procedures. I spent four years at Amazon building out compliance requirements and training their associates. Before that, I spent twenty years helping Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Costco, Eddie Bauer and other large retailers deal with quality, safety and compliance issues on a wide range of products, from hardlines to softlines and food to supplements.

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