In early May, Amazon introduced a new phone number anonymization system.

Previously, sellers on Amazon US marketplace who fulfil their own orders had access to buyers’ phone numbers, which they required for sharing with shipping carriers when generating a shipping label. This ensured that the carrier can contact the buyer if there is any issue during the delivery.

With Amazon’s recent announcement, sellers no longer have access to buyers’ phone numbers, but are instead provided with temporary anonymized phone numbers, with a 5-digit extension number. If carriers dial the anonymized phone numbers, they are prompted to enter the 5-digit extension number, followed by the buyer's postal code, as well as the first numerical digits of the address. The anonymized phone numbers expire once the package is delivered. Check out the audio below to see how it works.

Example of what how anonymization works when carriers try to call a buyer

Amazon implies that this change has been introduced to prevent sellers from abusing the information and to address privacy concerns, especially with the EU's GDPR mandate. Originally, as part of Amazon’s “Prohibited seller activities and actions”, sellers have been able to contact buyers only to fulfill an order, while for any other reason, sellers are required to use the Buyer-Seller Messaging Service. This new change is a step that aims to tighten controls further.

For many sellers, however, there have been concerns that followed in the weeks post the announcement. Most significantly, the new phone numbers are prone to cause an error when shipping labels are issued with international couriers as the format may not be in line with the acceptable format of the couriers. In Ship&co, for example, we had to modify the format of these temporary phone numbers to prevent errors from occuring during label issuance.

In addition, there are also concerns, especially from international sellers, that these temporary phone numbers might in some cases expire before a carrier needs to contact a buyer, or in other cases, error in the postal code would result in error with phone numbers, and hence communication could potentially be blocked from carriers.

Given Amazon usually leads new trends in the e-commerce industry, we’ll be keeping an eye on how Amazon will be addressing such concerns from sellers, and whether other e-commerce players will also be following suit in the months to come.