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Originally published Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 6:24 PM

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'Boom, it's over,' and no one at Amazon seems to listen

For two online retailers whose sales proceeds were held or their accounts suspended by Amazon, the fallout was significant. And neither retailer could get a detailed explanation of why from Amazon.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Some feared for their jobs. Others struggled to pay their bills.

Many online sellers described the fallout from being suspended or banned by Amazon in their complaints to the Washington state Attorney General's Office. Here are two of their stories.

The Music Den

In 2011, after quietly selling on Amazon for four years, the Music Den in Randolph, N.J., decided to get more serious about attracting customers online.

At Amazon's suggestion, it opened a new type of account that would give it a better handle on shipping costs, said e-commerce director Kip Bell.

But the change set off a series of snafus. The store's shipping software ceased to alert Amazon when orders were delivered, he said, making it seem as if customers did not receive their products on time. Amazon notified Bell via email that his late-shipping rate was unsatisfactory, then removed his selling privileges and canceled his listings.

"We took this action because it has come to our attention this account is related to an account which has been previously blocked for performance issues or violations of our policies," Amazon wrote.

"While we do not provide detailed information on how we link related accounts, we have significant evidence that this account is related to a previously closed account."

Indeed, Bell closed the store's old account to open the new one, but his efforts to explain himself went nowhere.

After 90 days, Amazon released about $13,000 in sales proceeds, ending their business relationship.

Ironically, Bell's efforts to do more business through Amazon had exceeded his expectations.

"We start doing all these sales, and then boom, it's over," he said in an interview. "It was very stressful. I pretty much thought my job was gone. We did everything we could to fix the problem with our shipping software, but no one was understanding. They went right past suspending our account to closing it."

Simple Cell

At Simple Cell, which sells phone accessories in Eldersburg, Md., Amazon accounts for 60 percent of the company's business. So when Amazon suspended Simple Cell's selling privileges in August, President Nicholas Skelly had to make some tough decisions, including cutting three employees to part-time work.

On Aug. 24, Amazon notified Skelly via email that one of his product listings had been removed because it was believed to be an "unauthorized replica." Skelly replied that he sells only original equipment, but Amazon soon canceled all 300 of his listings.

"This recent unjustified suspension not only cripples my small business but also will affect the community that I am located in as we have hired employees and leased warehouse space to meet the order levels we have received as a seller on Amazon," Skelly told the AG's Office.

"I find it troubling that a merchant in good standings would be removed from Amazon overnight with a generic email and no further explanation or contact information."

Skelly asked for someone to go over his case with him, but Amazon wrote, "While we understand your concern, we regret that the Seller Performance Team does not offer telephone support."

Skelly also made a YouTube video to show the impact of Amazon's decision on his business and emailed Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.

After eight days, Amazon notified him that his selling privileges had been restored, and it released about $25,000 in payments owed to him.

Skelly notes that eBay had done the same thing to him six months earlier.

"The only difference," he said, "is that I was able to get a hold of an actual human being on the phone."

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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