As a small business, it breaks our heart to share that the company we once held with high regards has turned out to be anything but an unethical enterprise determined to control the online marketplace by any means. The recent NewYork Times article about how they treat their employees speaks well to this fact.
In this article, based on direct experience, we are going to cover how Amazon has fined tuned the whole fine jewelry application process to trick small businesses into paying excessive fees and to stall their businesses. However, before we do so, we want to establish some legitimacy to our claims. We have been through the fine jewelry application process and will post our correspondences with Amazon to prove this. We are an A+ rated BBB small business and have 100% positive ratings on all platforms we do business on. Amazon on the other hand has a B+ BBB rating (surprisingly, we would have rated them as an F) and has thousands of negative cases there and on consumer affairs. All of this should bring some level legitimacy to our claim.
After reading this article, we hope comrades in the fine jewelry business would think twice before applying or considering to sell on Amazon, and much more so, we hope consumers would think twice before buying jewelry on Amazon and deal directly with a reputed small business on their own platforms so that we don’t have to be at the mercy of such unethical corporations. Moreover, we hope that Amazon would take this review seriously and look into and address its unethical business practices and customer support.
- The Cost of the Fine Jewelry Application
- The Fine jewelry Application Process
- The Fine Jewelry Application Timeline
- Why the Fine Jewelry Application is Designed to Fail on the First Try
- Who should Apply and Who Shouldn’t
The Cost of the Fine jewelry Application:
Amazon will bond you to the whole process by requiring you to pay $500 application fee upfront. Amazon is aware that no reasonable business owner will stay with them until the end of this process without tricking them into some sort of bondage – you’re in a sense enslaved by your own actions by paying them $500 upfront.
This is not the only cost! In our case, the following is what it cost us in addition to the application fee to be hesitantly part of this process. If we had known in the beginning that this is what it would cost to go through this process, we would have happily withdrawn the application and given Amazon the $500 in charity.
- At least 20 hours of work to read their instructions and guidelines
- At least 200 hours of work to redo all product pictures in a pure white background
- At least 20 hours of work to fill up a daunting 25 pages excel sheet form
- At least 15-20 hours of phone calls to get a simple answers to our questions or get our own products back after waiting for 3-4 months
- Ten of thousands dollars in revenues because we were supposed to hold 25 of our top selling products on hold valued between $100,000-$150,000 so that Amazon can physically inspect 10 of them. They have the right to keep these 10 products with them for review for up to 90 days, but would not disclose it to you at the time of the application. In our case, the products submitted to them for inspection alone were worth over $50-60K. We lost two sales of over $10,000.00 while these products were with Amazon for inspection. No reasonable business is going to live up with this.
- Hundreds of dollars in shipping and Amazon seller’s account fees. They charged us the seller’s account fee for three months even though we were not authorized to list any item as the review was not completed.
- The stress and nightmares of not receiving any feedback or response in months.
The Fine jewelry Application Process:
The most challenging and surprisingly ironic aspect of this whole process is that Amazon’s sales team has no control over this process. They don’t even have a phone number for the team that overseas this process. All they can do is to email them! We and Amazon’s sales team had to wait for the Fine jewelry Quality Assurance Team for weeks at times to get a simple response. Please see the timeline below to see how exactly this worked for us.
The Fine Jewelry Application Time Line:
Early May 2015:
Received a sales pitch call from Amazon fine jewelry team.
May 28, 2015:
Submitted the fine jewelry application
Payment $500 for was processed (until this point communication was very prompt and responsive)
June 10, 2015:
We didn’t hear anything from Amazon after the application was processed, so we sent them the following note:
“I have not heard from Amazon after we were charged $500 for the application fee. Would you please let us know what the next step is in the process?”
June 26, 2015:
Having not received any communication in almost four weeks after we were charged $500, we called Amazon multiple times after which they sent us the instructions for filling up a confusing 25 pages excel form.
July 06, 2015:
We completed the task and submitted the application with the following message:
“Thank you for your instructions. This was a laborious task. We had to retake all pictures again with white background and the template requires a lot of details. I hope we have done it justice. We have tried to be as accurate as we can. If there is anything missing, please let us know. We have 5-6 pictures for each product in white background and can provide additional pictures if needed. Please note that these products are available for sale on our website. In case if we sell any of these, we can submit other ones for considerations. I just thought we should let you know.”
July 21, 2016:
Because we had no heard anything in nearly three weeks, we made multiple phone calls to Amazon and waited on the phone for hours. After which, they sent us vague instructions for how to submit our items to a third party for inspection.
We responded with the following:
“Thank you for your response. We will mail the items next Tuesday and follow your instructions. We will provide a tracking number as soon as the package is mailed. These are high value items. We hope adequate care will be given to them while they are inspected. I have two quick questions. How long does the inspection take? and Do you have a phone number for XXX (the third party) so that I can call them once they receive the package for confirmation purposes? Thank you.”
July 28, 2015:
All requested items were mailed via express mail within the seven days window they had given us. However, we received no response to our questions about how long the inspection will take and how we would be able to contact the inspection team after they receive our items.
July 29, 2015:
We wrote the following email to Amazon:
indicates that the package was received. It included the following items valued
at over $50,000.00. I would appreciate it if someone can confirm if you have
received these items. I would also appreciate it if you can let me know when
they will be returned as they are currently listed on multiple platforms and as
a small business not having so many items in stock affect our ability to live
up to the expectations of our clients.
Tab # 1: 14K White Gold Unique Halo Diamond Engagement Ring - LEO 0.98ct G VS2 Round Diamond – $4,699.00
Tab # 2: 14K White Gold Halo Engagement Ring - Tolkowsky Ideal Round Brilliant Cut Diamond 1.59ct G SI2 GSI Certified – $7,999.00
Tab # 3: Classic Platinum Engagement Ring - 1.69ct G SI2 AGS Graded Ideal Round Brilliant Cut Diamond – $8,499.00
Tab # 4: 18K Halo White Gold Engagement Ring - GIA Graded .7ct Diamond VVS2 G Ideal Cut – $3,499.00
Tab # 5: Unique Swirl White Gold Engagement Ring - GIA Graded 1.03 Princess Cut Diamond VS2 I – $3,599.00
Tab # 6: 14K White Gold Cathedral Style Engagement Ring - GIA Graded 0.9ct Round Diamond G VS2 – $4,099.00
Tab # 7: 14K White Gold Engagement Ring - Tolkowsky 1.05ct Princess Cut Diamond G/SI1 – $3,999.00
Tab # 9: Classic 14K Yellow Gold - GIA Graded 1.72 H VS1 Ideal Cut Diamond – $12,999.00
Tab # 10: 14K White Gold Engagement Ring - Leo Princess Cut Diamond 1ct G VS1 GSI Certified – $3,999.00
Tab # 11: 14K Rose Gold Halo Engagement Ring - AGS Graded Hearts on Fire 0.71ct SI1 H Round Diamond – $3,499.00
July 30, 2015:
We were furious because Amazon had not even confirmed if they have received our inventory worth between $50-60K. We called Amazon and waited for hours to speak to a senior manager in Amazon who can reach out to the jewelry team and get us an answer.
July 30, 2015:
We received a short email from Amazon stating that this inspection might take up to 90 days. In the beginning when we filed the application, the sales person had told us that while technically the whole application process can take up to 90 days, most often it is done within a month or so.
July 30, 2015:
Having already lost tens of thousands in revenues because our items were stuck at Amazon, we sent the following notice to Amazon:
“To Amazon Fine Jewelry Inspection Team.
We would like to request the following based our fine jewelry application:
1) Confirm that you have received all the items we have submitted.
2) Provide a deadline for when they will be inspected and returned.
3) No physical damage is allowed to the diamonds during the inspection process as they are worth over $50,000.
4) If the inspection can't be completed by August 14, 2015, we would like to request that review be cancelled and our items returned. In this case, we would like to request a full refund for our $500 application fee + all the additional seller account fees as the time frame in which application is processed is unreasonable, not customary, and not in line with what we were told initially - it was communicated to us by the sales agent that it might take 2- 3 months at most.
We consider this communication as an official notice to Amazon.com.
July 30, 2015:
We received a generic email from Amazon jewelry team which clearly indicated that they had not read our email, so we sent them the following email:
Please read our email as we have provided clear terms and conditions. We were told that the whole application process will take up to 90 days, not the testing period. We can't allow these items to be at your lab For 90 days. This is not a reasonable business request given the value of the items. We also don't approve that the diamonds be drilled or altered in anyway. You may perform any tests to the mountings so long as they are fixable.
If Amazon can't live up to the 90 days period to complete the review of the application from the date it was submitted (May 28, 2015), we would like to request the withdrawal of the application and have the fees refunded.”
August 04, 2015:
Amazon’s jewelry team finally responds stating that they would not use destructive methods on our items and would also expedite the inspection process without providing any other details about the time it might take.
August 7, 2015:
We sent the following email to Amazon:
“I've already turned down two sales worth over $10,000 because those items are at Amazon's lab. If the inspection can't be completed by August 14, 2015, I would like to withdraw the application and have the items returned as soon as possible.”
August 10, 2015:
Having not received any response, we sent a reminder to Amazon stating the following:
“I'm wondering if you have received the email below and if you have any updates about the inspection process.”
August 11, 2015:
We receive an email from Amazon stating our application was not approved without providing any justification. We called Amazon to inquire about it, and to our great surprise, they had rejected two certified/graded diamonds. However, they told us that we are authorized to reapply right away even though it is against their policy as the fine jewelry application is accepted once a year. We bet Amazon use this tactic to trick every other jewelry business into paying excessive fees.
Since we disagreed with their assessment, we responded to them with the following:
“I don't think the
basis for which the application was rejected are valid or justifiable. As such,
I would like to request a full refund for the $500 because your team is clearly
using standards that are not acceptable in the jewelry industry.
The two items that were rejected have valid reports from trusted laboratories and the information reported was based on those reports.
A copy of both the AGS and GSI/GEMEX reports are attached. I don't think your jewelry team is more qualified, trusted or accredited than the American Gem Society. If the GSI report is not acceptable to your team, I am willing to sending the diamond again to IGI to regrade as I don't agree with the assessment of your team so it is better to go by a lab that is acceptable to Amazon. I wanted to report the diamond as G, but there was only the option of F/G available. I should have stated that as G/H to be on the safe side as one grade up or down is an acceptable norm.”
August 12, 2015:
No response, so we called and waited for hours again until we managed to find a member of the leadership team. After speaking with him, we sent the following note to the fine jewelry team:
“I just had a
chance to speak with a member of the leadership team in Amazon. We agreed on
1) Our items are going to be returned as soon as possible with a tracking number to the following address:
2) Amazon Jewelry Team will look into the attached grading reports for the items rejected and provide written justification for why they were rejected. The jewelry inspection is a subjective process and even GIA agrees that one grade discrepancy up or down is an acceptable norm. The description provided for the items was based on the attached reports and not our own opinion. We rely on these established labs and I believe they are better equipped than us or Amazon to make a better judgement. As per your jewelry quality standards, it is clearly articulated that you accept AGS lab reports and one of the two items rejected is AGS graded and the information reported is based on those reports. GSI is also a reliable lab; however, if their grading is not acceptable to you, I am willing to send the diamond to IGI or AGS to regard it. The second diamond has faint florescence that's why maybe your team is grading it as an H instead of a G. I made the error of calling it G/H instead of calling it F/G as the actual grade of that diamond is G and as per the general grading standards, if a G graded diamond is graded by another source as either F or H, it should be acceptable as this entirely depends on who is observing the diamond - two of your own gemologists might not grade those diamonds in the same way.
3) As explained above, since Amazon has not followed its own jewelry standards, it will look into the possibility of refunding us the $500.
August 14, 2015:
We finally received an email from the Amazon Fine Jewelry Quality Assurance Team which basically ignored our request and restated that we should reapply. Who would want to go through this horror again? So, we responded with the following:
"Thank you for your response. We post all grading reports and certificates on our website and other platforms with the product listings. You may verify this. I have posted the instructions sent to us from Amazon at the bottom of this email and as you can see there is no mention of the fact that we were required to submit grading reports. Of course, we would have posted these along with other details once we were authorized to list products. No one specified to us that these were required. Instead of rejecting the whole application over one technicality, I think we had the right to be asked for these documents. What happened to the 5% flexibility? The description of the items clearly indicated which lab the item is being graded or certified by. We only sell GIA and AGS graded diamonds and make an exception for well-known cuts/brands such as Leo and Tolkowsky.
It may not be a big deal for Amazon, but for us it was one of the biggest projects we had to work on this summer - getting approved by Amazon. We thought our values were aligned, but after this experience, we feel like we are just bullied and robbed by a big bully in the marketplace. We spent over 200 hours working on the spreadsheets/retaking & editing pictures and following Amazon's instructions/policies and lost ten of thousands of dollars in sales because we had kept 25 of our best items on hold for Amazon for over 3 months, and all of this for nothing. If I had not insisted, Amazon wouldn't even do us the curtsy of providing proper explanation for why our application was rejected. Getting 100% positive reviews and A+ rating on BBB, Etsy and eBay in a tough industry like fine jewelry didn't happen by miracle, we actually worked hard for it and earned it.
By submitting an application to Amazon again, we are not going to ruin our reputation and lose important sells opportunities. We are a small business and can't afford to hold $200K worth of inventory for Amazon so that you can complete your so called review again. I think it is just another opportunity for Amazon to rob $500 from a small business. Otherwise, you could easily ask that 'hey Amazon is going to keep your funds for each sale for 30 days (or whatever your return policy period is) on hold to protect ourselves'. But no, why would you lose the easy $500?
What a red tape! You guys are worse than some of the world's corrupt bureaucracies.
Please do us the favor of returning our items soon as we are truly fed up at this point.
Please provide us a tracking no.”
August 17, 2015:
We sent them the following reminder:
I would like to get an update on when our items will be returned? We can't lose more sales over this pointless review process. Please return our items as soon as possible.
August 17, 2015:
A tracking number is finally provided and items shipped back. We can’t wait to receive our items and be done with this nightmare.
Why the Fine Jewelry Application is Designed to Fail on the First Try:
From the above detailed explanations, we hope two things are crystal clear:
- Amazon and its partner inspection company wants you to apply twice so that they can riff $1,000 off you not $500.
- This is a tactic in which Amazon holds the bestselling items of small businesses on hold for months under the excuse of a so called “inspection” in order to curb competition on other marketplaces. They would have stalled us for another three to four months if we had reapplied, but I think we have learned our lesson.
In a nutshell, no matter how long you take to read the instructions and follow their vague guidelines, you are not going to succeed in your first attempt unless you grade your items two grades lower than what GIA or AGS has graded them. Even in that case, they might reject your application for grading it too low.
Who should apply and who shouldn’t:
If you sell real fine jewelry (by which we mean high value jewelry), you simply can’t afford this process unless you have thousands of pieces in which case you are not a small business. As a small business, it is just not the right fit for you.
On the other hand, if you are selling sterling silver jewelry that you buy from Alibaba and resell on Amazon, you should apply. This is exactly the right marketplace for you as the inventory you’ll submit to Amazon would be barely worth $1,000 and it can set in Amazon for as long as they want.
Here are copies of reports/certificates for items on the basis of which they rejected our application:
AGS Report - Amazon contradicted its own policy by rejecting this item:
Amazon rated this a H instead of G color as shown in the report below. In gemology field, since diamond color is determined solely based on observation (it is not a scientific test), two gemologists often don't have one opinion. Therefore, it is an accepted norm if a diamond is graded one grade up or down by a secondary lab. Amazon bluntly contradicted the standards of the diamond industry in case even though their policy states that they follow such standards.