Becoming An Expert Amazon Seller Simplified
In today’s e-commerce market, one of the most crucial components to brand success is performance as an Amazon seller. Here at the Hound Dog Digital Marketing Agency, we help brands perform and improve their rankings on Amazon every day.
Our goal is to make every single one of the clients we work with into multi-million-dollar sellers by following a successful Amazon marketing strategy.
Although our focus area is Amazon Seller Central, we also manage Vendor Central and Vendor Express accounts for our clients. The preferred method of selling that we promote is Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA) on Seller Central. This gives the seller the best control over the selling price, the marketing, and the listing of their items.
The focus of this Amazon Selling eBook is to offer a simplified guide to becoming a profitable seller on Amazon Seller Central. This wealth of knowledge comes from our years of selling on the Amazon marketplace.
There is a lot of misinformation out there about selling on Amazon.
“Amazon is going to steal my business.”
“They are going to wait for me to build my sales and then Amazon will kick me off.”
“Amazon’s fees are too high.”
“You have to sell things so cheap that you can’t make money.”
Don’t buy into it this thinking.
What Is Amazon Really?
Amazon is an open marketplace. So think about it as another channel to showcase and sell your product to new customers.
There are over 6.5 million users on Amazon.com every day!
Very few companies have the money to invest in order to get that much traffic to their site. Use Amazon.com as a tool to build your overall business.
Think about it as another customer acquisition channel.
Customers that may be hesitant to type their credit card information into your site when the only connection they have with your brand is through an ad that they viewed.
Consider customer behavior for a moment. Customers are constantly reminded of cyber security threats and credit card hacking scams. It is natural not to trust every site and unknown brand page that they visit.
But they are not afraid to store their credit card information on Amazon. Customers know Amazon’s A to Z Guarantee. They understand that if they buy from an Amazon seller, Amazon has their back, no questions asked.
Amazon & Third Party Sellers
As a third-party Amazon seller, Amazon wants you to succeed. You are essential to their overall strategy. Third party sellers provide Amazon with the variety of product options they need to keep their customers coming back.
To illustrate how vital third-party sellers are to Amazon, here is the now famous Bezos napkin sketch.
Bezos himself shows how Amazon sellers provide the variety that keeps customers interested in the Amazon marketplace. Amazon sellers provide value to Amazon and the customers.
Putting The Customer First
Remember one crucial fact about Amazon. They are a customer focused retailer providing a high level of service. Amazon sellers are held to the same standards that Amazon holds themselves.
Third party sellers are over 50% of the sales volume on Amazon.com.
If you are a brand which is selling direct to consumer, then you need to add Amazon to your arsenal of weapons.
Not only can you add to your existing sales, but you can build your brand awareness as well.
With over 6.5 million site visits per day, there are a lot of potential customers you can reach as an Amazon seller.
Check out the graph above. Amazon.com has more than double the traffic of the next biggest e-commerce site.
Build A Brand
To take advantage of this large and expanding marketplace, you need to understand how to build your brand and grow your sales.
To take advantage of this large and ever-expanding marketplace, you need to understand how to build your brand and grow your sales.
As expert Amazon sellers, we developed this guide to simplify how you can succeed and become a multi-million dollar brand.
Over the next nine chapters, you will gain a better understanding of how to sell on Amazon and how to build your brand.
You will also learn how Amazon works and the tools you need to be a successful Amazon seller.
Chapter 1 – Why You Should Sell On Amazon
Chapter 2 – Begin With An Amazon Strategy
Chapter 3 – Target The Amazon Buy Box
Chapter 4 – Create A Bullet Proof Amazon Selling Plan
Chapter 5 – Know Your Amazon Selling Keywords
Chapter 6 – Write Amazon Optimized SEO Listings
Chapter 7 – Bring Marketplace Customers To You
Chapter 8 – Bring Customers To The Amazon Marketplace
Chapter 9 – Adapt and Grow Your Amazon Sales
Chapter 10 – Grow Your Amazon Sales Webinar Replay
Chapter 1 – Why You Should Sell On Amazon
Selling online today is very different from what it was just a decade ago. There’s no end to competition for customer interest.
The good news is that retailers like you and I have more information at our fingertips than ever. With the right tools and analytics, we can find out which websites customers visit and how long they browse when they’re there. We also have access to what target clientele read on their favorite news and entertainment sites.
Social media sites even show us how customers respond to our brand messaging. In our digitally connected world, we can get to know customers as well as we do our friends.
Of course, the competition can do this, too. To be a successful retailer in the data-rich age, you have to be ready to leverage every opportunity.
At the top of your list of allies should be Amazon.com. More than any other channel operating today, Amazon is empowering Amazon sellers to create multimillion-dollar businesses, increase their e-commerce penetration, and enhance their brands with direct-to-consumer sales.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Amazon is the enemy. Selling on the Amazon Marketplace doesn’t enslave your brand to a corporate overlord. The company has built itself into what it is today by respecting Amazon seller partners. In fact, the way that Amazon does business shows that they view retail partners as a different sort of customer. This unique approach is significant because Amazon is a customer-centric company. Amazon is dedicated to the customer’s voice and acknowledges their opinion. They’ll do that for you, too.
The Importance Of Third-Party Sellers
Amazon sellers are imperative to Amazon’s success. Over 50% of Amazon.com sales come from third-party sellers. However, you must be aware that Amazon holds you, as an Amazon seller, to the same high customer service standards that they hold themselves.
What would online retail be without Amazon? A wild west town with no sheriff, or a circus with no ringmaster. A bunch of billboards strewn across the desert far from any road. There is no company better for online retail than Amazon. Therefore, there is no better place to build your sales online. Your customers like making choices, don’t they? Given the option, they’d like to decide what to buy, when it arrives, and how much (within reason) they have to pay.
Amazon puts choices into the customers’ hands. They offer retailers the opportunity to get their products in front of the biggest, most powerful customer base on the planet. In today’s e-commerce environment, if you’re not an Amazon seller, you’re not competing. And you are certainly missing out on where the customers are shopping.
So let’s assume you want to become an Amazon seller. How do you break through the clutter and reach your audience? What can you do to get eyes on your products, seller account, and brand? How can you become a multi-million dollar Amazon seller?
Think Like A Customer
To break through the clutter of e-commerce, great marketers need to think like their customers. What do customers do? What do they love? What puts them off? In our data-rich age, customers have short attention spans. If they don’t like what you’re saying, showing, or selling, they’ll quickly move on.
Thinking like a customer helps you understand what they want to hear about your products and services. It prevents you from wasting your — and the customer’s — time. Amazon knows customers well. They maintain a database with an overwhelming amount of information on how people shop. Partnering with them as an Amazon seller allows you to leverage that data to drive sales.
Engage With What They Love
Customers don’t buy features; they buy benefits. They’re people with problems. Offer the right solution, and they’ll pay for it.
Customers need to know how your product will enhance their lives. On Amazon, you communicate this using a product description and bullet points. The purpose of this content isn’t to talk about a product; it’s to sell a solution to customers in need.
That is an important concept. Too often we see sellers writing their product descriptions and bullet points focused on the product features.
Customers don’t buy the features; they buy the benefits of those features. Customers don’t buy anti-aging skin care. They buy youth in a jar.
Think Like A Customer To Sell To Customers
Who needs your product?
The people who read publications about the problem you’re solving online, who blog about it, talk about it on social media and respond to emails asking for their feelings and experiences. Find out who they are by searching, browsing, and asking.
Once you’ve learned everything you can, you’ll be able to write product descriptions that address their needs. Your competition will try the same approach, but you can get an edge by structuring your product line, so one solution supports another. Who doesn’t love a one-stop-shop?
Understanding how customers search for products is crucial to your success as an Amazon seller. At its core, every search is a problem. Every useful result is a solution. The words customers type into Google and other search engines (but mostly Google) to find these solutions are called keywords. We’ll talk more about them in Chapter Six.
Thrive, Grow, Repeat
When you engage with your customers, you make sales. When you make sales, your business thrives. Thriving isn’t an endpoint to the retail process. It’s a trigger to think more, engage more, and thrive. The more sales that roll in, the more you’ll learn about the job you’re doing as a seller, and the more you can adapt to solve your customers’ problems. To do this, you must expand your product line and tailor your message based on performance metrics.
A vital part of thriving is communication. On Amazon, this means being responsive to reviews, some of them negative. This is especially important because Amazon values customer feedback so highly. If you follow up on feedback appropriately, Amazon will support you.
The typical multimillion-dollar Amazon seller has over 60 live marketplace listings. You can’t build that broad a portfolio without paying attention to what people want.
Amazon Drives Sales
The preceding are fundamentals to succeeding on Amazon. If it looks like a lot of micromanagement, that’s because it is. But it’s also one of the most efficient ways to build an e-commerce business.
Some readers may wonder if selling on Amazon is worth their time. Wouldn’t they be better served investing in their brand? The reality is, that is what you’re doing. Once you’ve built a solid foundation of sales on Amazon, your marketplace presence will become a customer acquisition tool driving customers to your brand.
Use Amazon To Build Your Brand
My personal experience bears this out. Some years ago, I founded 800razors.com. We were one of the first and largest companies to offer complete shaving solutions online. Our advertising was broad-based – TV, radio, print, online – any platform you can name, we were on it. Adding up our marketing expenses, we found that the average cost of acquiring a new customer was $72. That wasn’t bad, given that our average sale was $35 and we retained customers at a rate exceeding 60%. All told, we had average annual sales per customer of $123.
But I thought we could do better. Analyzing our Amazon seller account results, I found that cost per new customer on Amazon was only $12, one-sixth the cost elsewhere! My team and I put in the hours required to structure a product assortment that attracted first sales on Amazon, then pointed customers to our branded site.
AMZ Terms & Conditions
This is tricky to do and not break Amazon’s Terms and Conditions. We did it with inserts in our packages, branding on the boxes and branding of the products. What products we did not list on Amazon were just as important as the ones we did list. So think creatively when setting up your product mix.
Once we began selling, our total sales went up a little. Profitability went up a lot. The brand benefited from a boost in name recognition. And what did this cost us? Nothing but time.
The fact that over 56% of all product searches begin on Amazon.com tells you all you need to know. Customers trust Amazon. They’re loyal to Amazon. No company in its right mind would attempt to out-market Amazon at this point. The much smarter approach is to learn to love the marketplace and leverage it to grow your business. A brief history lesson will help you do the former.
Empowering Customers From Day One
Amazon was founded in July of 1994. Initially, the company listed books for sale online. Instead of maintaining a massive back-stock, with all the associated warehouse costs, founder Jeff Bezos saw the value of connecting with third-party retailers early on. With meteoric speed, Amazon became the world’s largest bookseller, while owning relatively few books.
The name “Amazon” is a marketing triumph. It evokes the mighty South American river, and its alphabetical primacy made it show up at the top of search lists in the early days of the internet. Never short on ambition or pragmatism, Bezos dared to dream and planned for the long haul. It took Amazon six years to turn a profit, but the slow growth strategy the company implemented paid off big time.
In 2015, Amazon exploded past Walmart in market capitalization. In 2016, it became the fourth most valuable public company on the planet. As of this writing, 43% of all online sales are made on Amazon, and 25% of the US adult population has an Amazon Prime membership. The company will finish 2017 with over $200 billion in merchandise sales, having sustained an average of 6 million site visits per day. With over 180 million unique visitors per month, Amazon has traffic to spare. It’s quality traffic, too, not just window shoppers. Amazon visitors come with cash in hand.
Putting The Customer First
It’s no accident the Amazon logo is a big smile. Amazon loves making customers happy. The Amazon experience has a famously positive reputation the world over. In my opinion, this is well-deserved. Retailers can learn a lot from Amazon’s example. The key to their success has always been meeting customer needs. All the innovations they’re known for, and all their expansions into new spaces have been driven by this commitment.
Every year, retail outlets die in their infancy because they take their customers for granted. They get consumers excited about a new product or market some new way to meet an existing need, then fail to follow up. When a competitor comes to offering free shipping, a half-price discount, or some other enticement that’s going to zero out in the long run, customers flock their way. Why? Because the company that got them to buy in the first place did nothing to keep them loyal.
Amazon is a model worth following because they know the value of an outstanding brand. Great brands aren’t built on sales volume or marketing schemes; they’re built on adding value to customers’ lives. Value creates trust, trust creates loyalty, and loyalty is synonymous with the engagement that makes a business thrive. Amazon embodies this model. They tweak, enhance, and innovate their way into customers’ hearts.
The now-famous “napkin sketch” by Jeff Bezos
I know we showed this previously, but we are going to show this again because of its significance to what Amazon has become.
Jeff Bezos illustrated the Amazon business cycle back in 2001. Notice the two pillars of his process on either side of “GROWTH” in the sketch above. Sellers have always been an important part of his vision because sellers enable the selection that helps spin the wheel. You can easily see the benefit of being part of their cycle by mentally substituting your company’s name where “SELLERS” appears. What do you bring to Amazon? Selection. A pretty modest contribution to the “TRAFFIC” they bring you return.
The most significant factor that should motivate you to become an Amazon seller is that they genuinely want you to succeed. Bezos & co have built an empire by delivering best-in-class service to their customers and yours. In pursuit of excellence, they’ve developed tools you can enroll in to win at online retail. We’ll discuss those in Chapters Three and Four. In Chapter Five, you’ll learn how to set up a bulletproof Amazon seller account. In addition to keywords, we’ll discuss how to market your products with listings that sell in Chapter Six. Chapter Seven will highlight tips on getting customers and keeping them. Finally, we’ll return to the topic of thriving in Chapter Seven.
Before you can succeed in any marketing approach, you first need to decide what success means to your company. What are you hoping to achieve? Defining the strategy that will work for you will be the subject of Chapter Two.
Chapter 2 – Begin With An Amazon Strategy
Before you set up your first product as an Amazon seller – in fact, before you set up your account – you need to understand what it will take to succeed. Becoming a multimillion-dollar seller isn’t easy. Automatic pilot won’t get you there. You have to start with a strategy and do what it takes to follow through. What do you want to accomplish as a retailer? How can Amazon help?
Consider some of the possibilities. Perhaps you want to use Amazon to build your brand. Maybe you’re just looking to move merchandise as quickly as possible. Or you may want to use Amazon as a new sales channel in conjunction with your branded e-commerce site.
The priorities you decide on will determine how you structure your business to work on the Amazon marketplace. It should also shape your marketing overall. When tailoring a strategy that will work for you, consider the points discussed under the following sub-headings.
All good marketing, whether online or off, has at its center communicating value to the customer. Customers don’t buy products; they buy solutions. In fact, we can take this concept one step further and say they buy results. The value of the result is what your marketing must convey. When customers look at your product, they shouldn’t see its components. They should perceive the value it will add to their lives.
A product’s perceived value is how that product makes a customer feel. Diamonds are a great example of this. Once valued for their rarity, discoveries of the gem in South Africa near the end of the 1800s saturated the market. Inflated supply and stable demand depressed prices until N. W. Ayer, a marketing agency out of Philadelphia, PA, sold courting couples on the idea of the diamond engagement ring. This wasn’t a totally new concept, but with the backing of mining monopoly De Beers, the agency successfully popularized it to the point that no man with a glimmer in his eye would think of offering his lady anything else. What is more, he’d pay two months’ salary for the privilege. All that for a clear rock? No, all that for love.
When you’re contemplating the kind of Amazon seller you want to be, how does perceived value come into play? If speed is your goal, maybe not a lot. You’ll want to plug into existing perceptions of value to minimize the time spent. But if you’re marketing a product that is unique or one that sets itself apart in an unusual way, you’ll want to spend extra time building perceived value. This means carefully crafting your brand, your listings, the whole deal.
The sort of product you’re selling will also affect the fulfillment side of your business. Do you want your products to arrive at the customer’s home in an Amazon box? If so, you’ll want to set up as a Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA) seller. If the packaging outside the packaging is important to you, maybe you’d prefer to be Fulfilled By Merchant (FBM). I’m going to make a pitch for FBA when we discuss both options at length, but there’s a fringe case to be made for either of these options. You have to know all the factors in order to pick the right option for your business. Perceived value is one of these.
Core Goals and Principles
The ultimate objective of every business is to generate profit. How an individual business achieves, this is where core goals and principles come in.
Are principles important? No brand was ever built without them. In the last chapter, we discussed how Amazon’s dedication to customer experience propelled them to the top. They persisted even while analysts from all kinds of backgrounds were prophesying their doom. Like every great company, they overcame obstacles by staying true to their principles.
Your Guiding Principles
What are your guiding principles? Make sure these stand out as part of your brand. A close reading of the Amazon “Terms and Conditions” for an Amazon seller is essential, as these establish a ground floor of acceptable behavior. Violating Amazon’s standards will get you kicked off the site, but the T&C has more value to you than that. Practices like putting up fake or so-called “bought” reviews are disallowed because they’re harmful to Amazon’s reputation. This disavowal also safeguards you. As an Amazon seller, you benefit from the trust customers place in Amazon.
Again, if you’re using your Amazon sales as part of a larger marketing effort, defining goals and principles will be more important to you then if you’ve just got a bunch of junk you want to clear out of your garage. Either way, I encourage you to think deeply about what you want customers to remember about their experience with you. If you reflect appealing qualities, people will be far more likely to leave positive feedback. To an Amazon seller, good reviews are gold.
Desired Growth Point
The type of account you set up on Amazon, the way you structure your listings, and everything else you do to drive traffic can and should depend on your desired outcomes. Do you want to keep all of your sales on Amazon, or you want to divert customers to your branded site? Perhaps you want to do the reverse, converting your branded site customers to your Amazon seller store.
Knowing where you want to grow is critical. Will you invest in keeping people tied to your Amazon store, or in moving them along? Trying to do both will only dilute your message.
My Real Life Example
The beauty company Raw Essentials was a venture I founded in partnership with supermodel Carol Alt. Our products were sold Internationally on TV shopping channels as well as our e-commerce site.
Amazon factored into our selling strategy as a way to bring awareness to the brand. It was also a customer acquisition strategy. We wanted Amazon sales to pull in new customers, then pass them along to our branded site. Since our desired growth point was our e-commerce site, we decided not to build a dedicated Amazon store.
It’s How You Merchandise
The approach we took was to sell beauty regimen sets on Amazon. “Sets” is the critical term here. We didn’t sell individual products. Our reasoning, which proved to be effective, was that customers would run out of one product before another. They’d want to replace their favorite items, as well as items that worked in combination. Quality was one of our unshakable core principles, so we had confidence in the retention power of our line.
As expected, customers soon began contacting us about refills. According to Amazon’s Terms and Conditions, we couldn’t just tell them, “Go to our website.” Instead, we responded, “Hello Ms. Customer, Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Unfortunately, we do not sell that item on Amazon at this time outside of our kits. We are always working on adding items in the future. Thank you again.”
Customers Are Not Stupid
This was all above board, not a word to suggest we wanted to sell anywhere else. Amazon was a valued partner and a valuable sales channel. And our customers weren’t stupid. The branded website was called out on our labels. So was our toll-free phone number. In the box the kits were packaged in, we packed in a coupon for the website. If the customer missed all of this, all the information they needed to find us was printed on the box.
While never straying an inch outside our agreement with Amazon, we managed to convert more than 65% of our Amazon customers into e-commerce customers on our branded site. That would never have happened if we’d posted our products without thinking about our next step. Strategy guided our merchandising plan.
I know of many an Amazon seller who does not sell replacement parts on Amazon for this same reason we offered only kits.
On the other hand, there are those who use their Amazon seller store to represent their whole product line. Decide where you want to grow and factor that into all of your strategic decisions.
The more places a customer sees your product, the more aware they’ll be of your brand.
Think for a moment about some of the classic American brands. Black & Decker. Proctor & Gamble. Briggs & Stratton. Other than the double-barreled names, one thing these all have in common is massive exposure. Black & Decker shows up everywhere tools are sold. Proctor & Gamble products fill aisles in supermarkets and pharmacies around the world. If you’ve ever shopped for a lawn mower, chances are that a Briggs & Stratton engine was in the majority of models you considered.
With market penetration comes brand awareness, and with brand awareness comes market penetration.
You obviously have to start the cycle somewhere, and showing up on Amazon search results is a big help.
Amazon offers many benefits for marketplace brands, but not every Amazon seller is aware of the exposure they can gain. Knowing the intricacies of Amazon SEO and being savvy in your digital marketing are necessities if you want to show up in the top ten searches for your category.
In Chapter Six, we’ll talk about a couple of growth hacks that will help you create a prominent Amazon presence. Hacks alone won’t transform you into a multimillion-dollar seller, though. It takes time to accumulate positive reviews and feedback, without which no Amazon seller can thrive.
Sit somebody at a table and flip through a dozen random playing cards. Show each card’s face for a split second before laying it face down. Next, ask the subject to name any two cards they saw. They’re far more likely to identify the first card shown and the last card. This is a well-known principle of psychology called primacy and recency. We retain first impressions for a long time. It’s in our nature.
When hatching your Amazon seller strategy, you have to give sufficient thought to the impression customers are going to take away from your product page. Amazon customers have a ton of options. If your page strikes them as dull, they’ll move on, but they won’t forget. Their first opinion of you will be negative, and they may never form a second.
Bad product photography is a pet peeve of mine because the quality of presentation speaks to the quality of a product. Customers believe their eyes. If what you’re selling doesn’t look good to them, it’ll read as worthless. Don’t ever skimp on product photography. The pennies you save now will cost you, customers, tomorrow.
Do you need to advertise outside of Amazon? Yes. 56% of all product searches take place on Amazon, but unless your product sells itself, you have to ask, “Where do those searches come from?” Customers can’t search for a solution if they don’t know they have a problem someone can solve.
The first step you should take to educate them is setting a budget. To be competitive online, you have to be multi-channel. That means social media, Google Ads, the works. Advertising offline can also be effective. TV, radio, and print media ads are expensive, but they do still have a role to play in modern retail success. Can you achieve multimillion-dollar Amazon seller status without them? Absolutely. If that’s your strategy, it behooves you, even more, to investigate every opportunity available to you online.
Use Affiliates To Your Advantage
One underused channel are the Amazon-specific affiliate sites that let you post your products and deals. A list of these Amazon Affiliate Websites is surprisingly difficult to Google. Budget-minded website Wallet Squirrel sought to address this problem. Their fifty favorites are linked in this article on Wallet Squirrel.
To go deeper on just one, look at Gear Patrol. Here you’ll find reviews of tech, clothing, and more, with Buy Now links that take you straight to Amazon product pages. Providing a popular site like this with free product could be a cheap way to boost your traffic.
Once you do begin to get customers to your Amazon listings, there are a number of campaigns you can run. Free Shipping, Discount Coupons, Promotions, Buy One Get One Free, Sponsored Ads can all be effective. You have to work with them to find the right mix.
Competing On Price
If price is your key competitive advantage, you better make sure you have a cost advantage as well. Amazon sellers who focus on price are generally distributors with close ties to manufacturers. Price wars are costly for everyone. It’s almost to impossible to beat an opponent who is closer to the source than you are.
Some resellers play online arbitrage, purchasing products from outlets at a cheaper price than they can charge on Amazon. This is a dangerous game, as you’re never more than one bad buy from losing money. Check your budget before you enter the fray.
Your best approach as an Amazon seller is to price your product slightly lower than the competition while still making a profit. We’re not talking dollars here, but cents. A surprisingly small difference in price goes a long way when customers are spoiled for choice. What looks like an insignificant change in margin can drive significant profits.
Let’s think about an example. Say that for a particular product, your cost is $18. Your closest competitor, with the same cost, is charging $20 retail. If you offer to sell for $19.50, there’s a good chance the customer will purchase from you. Even though your profit per-item is lower than the other guy’s – $1.50 versus $2.00 – you can cover the difference by making 25% more sales. Is that an unreasonable volume? By no means. Besides, we’re only talking about one item. The brand awareness you build with these extra sales is valuable.
Finding the optimum price that gets customers to buy but won’t incur a loss, requires you to consider many factors. How many sellers are you competing with? Is the product a commodity which is bought on price or a luxury item where price doesn’t matter? Every case is different, so think on an item-by-item basis.
Low-Risk Brand Building
Launching a new e-commerce business is risky and expensive. To be successful, you have to build a brand, and you can’t do that on price alone. It would be like a mechanic trying to build a reputation by giving away car parts. Anybody can cut prices. To get the repeat business you need as a multimillion-dollar seller, you have to prove to the customer that you can create value for them.
Early in 2016, I was presented with an opportunity to launch a skincare line. The manufacturer had five products developed and ready to go, but no brand or marketing in place. I thought carefully about the best way to launch. Metrics are important to me, especially early on in a product line’s life. How was I going to figure out what customers wanted, needed, and loved?
I decided to leverage Amazon’s traffic, customer base, and powerful review system to give me answers. Using Amazon, I knew I could have products listed and selling in a matter of days. This would save the delay and capital involved in building a branded site and getting traffic to it. Instead, my money would go into inventory and marketing. If the line was a hit, I was ready to invest more heavily, but first I wanted to see the numbers.
Setting up the brand as an FBA Amazon seller was the right choice in this case, as it avoided any issues involving warehousing or fulfillment. My goal was to generate sales ASAP, remember. Once Amazon helped me do that, I could gauge customer acceptance and flesh out the business model.
The product line launched in August 2016. My immediate goal was to sell 100-plus units of each product per week. That would make us trend in Amazon’s search algorithm, opening up Lightning Deal opportunities and other Amazon marketing features. To achieve this, I posted coupon and discount offers outside of Amazon. There are a few excellent services that will syndicate your deal to affiliate sites.
Building Brand Awareness
With exposure came brand awareness. Sales grew quickly, which was great. But I also wanted to see some reviews. I wasn’t interested in trading free product to individual customers in exchange for an Amazon review. This is against Amazon’s policies and will get you thrown off. Getting customer reviews the right way requires responsive communication. Amazon expects sellers to respond to a customer question within 24 hours, seven days a week.
I handle most of the work involved in this using auto-responder emails. There are several products available to help reach out to customers while staying compliant with Amazon’s Terms of Service. My current favorite and the one I used for the launch in question is Feedback Genius by Seller Labs. xSellco also has a great product for getting feedback. You have to choose what is best for your brand.
They all have proven templates for getting feedback from customers. Here is an example of a proven email.
You can’t be shy about asking customers for a review. Most of the tools available have pretty good templates with the right words to use. These systems are robust with proven wording. Here are some customizable templates.
I typically get in the ballpark of 1 review for every nine orders, and that held true in this case.
By September 2016, the skin care line had hit all my targets, selling between 100 and 160 units of each of 4 items every week. In October, I began getting invitations to sell certain items as Lightning Deals. The timing was great, seeing as we were moving into the holiday season.
Amazon As A Tool
I don’t want to convey the wrong idea. My focus was not on building the entire business on Amazon but becoming an Omni-channel brand. In fact, that’s been my goal with most of the brands I’ve launched as an Amazon seller. TV, branded e-commerce, and marketplace sales are all pieces of a puzzle.
The advantage of launching on Amazon is its low-risk and built-in feedback system which makes it easy to glean insight into consumer preferences and the competitive landscape. Using Amazon in this way can help you understand the challenges of your market with minimal investment. By making the most of the opportunities it enables, you can build a brand that will stand the test of time.
Chapter 3 – Target The Amazon Buy Box
“The best way to sell more on Amazon is to win the Buy Box.”
– William Harris, e-commerce consultant at Elumynt
As Mr. Harris indicates, the default strategy for attracting an Amazon customer’s attention is to top the list of suggested sellers Amazon picks using their Buy Box algorithm. What exactly is the Buy Box?
In the screenshot above, the Buy Box appears on the right side, with the “Qty” selector at the top and the “Add to List” button at the bottom. Winning the Buy Box means that when a customer adds a selected quantity of an item to their cart or buys instantly using 1-Click, they’re buying from you. To buy from anybody else would require clicking on links in the “Other Sellers on Amazon” section. It is estimated that 82-85% of purchases made on Amazon are through the Buy Box. This increases to around 90% when including mobile sales.
With so much conversion power, it’s no wonder the Buy Box is given such importance in the marketplace. How can you win the Buy Box? Amazon’s algorithm is shrouded in mystery and constantly evolving. It’s a little frustrating – just when you think you’ve mastered the criteria, Amazon makes a change – but we do know the conditions for eligibility.
1. A Professional Selling account.
The first condition is that you have to register as a Professional Amazon seller. Basic or Individual Selling accounts are ineligible to compete for the Buy Box.
2. New items only.
The Buy Box is available only for new items, nothing used.
If you run out of stock, Amazon will automatically rotate the Buy Box option to another Amazon seller. This is one of the most important reasons for managing your inventory properly.
What is beyond these minimum requirements? It’s hard to say exactly, but despite changes Amazon has made over the years, some key performance metrics do appear to play a consistent part in Buy Box domination. Tied closely to these are your “Fulfilled By” status, proactive inventory management, and an item’s landed price.
“Fulfilled By” Status
Many Amazon sellers are under the impression that Fulfilled By Merchant status will put them at a disadvantage when it comes to the Buy Box. This is strictly not true. Fulfilled By Merchant (FBM) and Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA) sellers are bound by the same conditions. If you have a high Amazon seller rating, a history of shipping on-time, competitive prices, and stellar feedback, there is no reason you can’t win the Buy Box.
That’s not to say your Fulfilled By status doesn’t matter, however, because it may enter into the picture. To understand what we mean, we need to understand the difference between the methods.
Two Types Of Amazon Sellers
There are two types of Amazon sellers. One type of seller is Amazon itself. The other is made up of third party Amazon sellers. Since Amazon wants to deliver the best customer experience, they make their logistical supply chain resources available to third-party sellers. Sellers who choose to take advantage of these resources set themselves up as FBA. Those who choose to handle fulfillment responsibilities set themselves up as FBM.
What does Amazon do for an FBA Amazon seller?
The basic answer is that once a customer makes a purchase, Amazon handles the payment, packing, shipping and customer service. As an Amazon seller, this means you ship your products to the appropriate warehouse “on consignment.” But once Amazon has received that product, your logistics work is basically done. Amazon will see that the item gets to where it’s going. This simplifies your process, but there are reasons you might not want to go this way.
For one thing, Amazon assesses additional fees for FBA sellers. Makes sense, right? They have to pay the forklift guy, the people who unpack your delivery, pack up the orders for the customers, and handle the phone calls.
Amazon will also collect the sales tax for you in the state in which your item is warehoused. This is one of the few complications that chip away at the convenience of the FBA model. If Amazon puts your product in 20 different warehouses around the country, you may have to pay sales tax in those states. Its always good to check with your accountant and tax attorney about what triggers sales tax nexus for your business.
The Buy Box Again
On balance, though, you will generally fare better at the Buy Box as an FBA Amazon seller. One big reason for this is that any shipping problems you have will be between you and Amazon, not you and the customer. If you get a negative review for one of your items and the reason is shipping, as an FBA Amazon seller, you have a right to get the review removed. If you’re FBM, the buck stops with you.
All this means is that if you go FBA, you’ll have several fewer metrics to worry about. When Amazon is computing who wins the Buy Box, they do not, at time of writing, handicap FBM sellers. But FBM sellers can handicap themselves. If you expect trouble on the fulfillment side, FBA is the right choice.
Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime Performance Metrics
Maybe this is not an issue for you. Some FBM sellers maintain very high-performance metrics and can keep prices a bit lower by avoiding FBA fees. FBM companies with a history of adherence to Amazon’s strict shipping guidelines are invited to join Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime program. Their products qualify as “Prime Eligible.” By linking up to Amazon’s shipping API, they receive access to preferred shipping rates. In exchange, Amazon can track their packages, further assuring compliance
This new addition to the marketplace proves that it is possible for high-performing FBM sellers to win the Buy Box, even versus an Amazon seller who is FBA.
Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime is an exclusive club.
Aiming for inclusion will be worth your while only if you do a high enough sales volume to make the savings-per-item pay.
The kicker is that FBA provides its advantages immediately, so it can be a big help in increasing sales volume for your business. Clearly, for Buy Box reasons among others, you need to give careful consideration to the kind of seller you want to be.
It’s worth noting that even if your Amazon seller account is set up for FBA, individual items can be listed FBM. You can create multiple listings for the same product using different fulfillment settings. If you’re unsure which set up will work best for a particular item, FBA is probably the way to go. However, you are still able to experiment. Testing different set-ups is a good way to learn, but be careful. If your fulfillment infrastructure isn’t up to the task, it’s best not to risk hurting your brand or your seller rating.
The lower your price, the better your chance of winning the Buy Box. The price in this calculation below includes shipping. This means that items sold FBA will show a single price since their shipping charge is assumed to be zero, while items sold FBM will display price, shipping, and a sub-total.
The following chart compares the pricing of two Amazon sellers who are offering the same model Polaroid camera. The only difference is that one is selling FBA while the other is not.
Although Amazon Seller A has kept a low selling price, added shipping charges put them at a disadvantage. Amazon Seller B is charging a higher price, yet still wins the Buy Box because of a lower landed price. Can you keep your prices so low that shipping won’t shove you out of the 85%-converting Buy Box?
All else being equal, the competitor who lands the lowest price will usually win the Buy Box. Your performance metrics play a big part in your performance. But with so many sellers using FBA, it’s highly likely that landed price will be the only discriminating factor between you and at least one top competitor.
Make it part of your daily routine to check competing prices, and watch for any changes you can make that will keep your prices lower, even if the difference is minimal.
Amazon Repricing Tools
There are repricing tools built into Amazon Seller Central. But you may want to consider several third-party re-pricers to help you automate your pricing strategy and maximize profitability.
Here are two of the bigger products.
xSellco has a very good re-pricer and has excellent reviews. Feedvisor also has a popular re-pricer. Again, you need to evaluate what is best for your business.
When the time comes to order new inventory, think about what you can do to lower your prices while maintaining your margin. You have to think holistically to make this happen. Favor items with a higher average selling price (ASP). This will cause fees charged per transaction to reduce as a percentage. Note the following examples.
As ASP goes up, fees as a percentage of margin go down. Amazon charges both referral fees and closing fees for all sellers and sales. Professional Amazon sellers pay an additional monthly subscription while individual (non-professional) sellers are charged $0.99 per item. Any time you’re paying a fixed amount for the same service, selling items at a higher average price is the better deal.
How can you make this work for you? It is vital that you curate your product line to trim products that don’t pull their weight. Bundling kits together is another smart method since a kit will sell at a higher price than the individual items within it. Whichever method you utilize, raising your ASP will mean incurring less cost to make higher profits.
Amazon Seller Performance
As important as price is to the algorithm, it is possible to win the Buy Box while having a slightly higher price than your competitor. How can this be?
Remember that Amazon is customer-centric. They prefer to give sales opportunities to sellers who provide customers with the best experience. When advising our clients at Hound Dog Digital, my team of marketing experts prioritizes seller performance over other metrics, including price. Improvement in this area has the strongest correlation with Buy Box success.
Amazon provides every seller with a dashboard display that allows you to track your performance in the areas that Amazon considers to be the most important. Below is an example of an account health screen. Notice that each performance category specifies whether orders assessed were fulfilled by Amazon, by the seller, or a combination of both.
In this particular case, the account in question does all its business FBA, so metrics for shipping show as N/A. This high-level view illustrates the importance Amazon puts on seller performance or the customer experience delivered by the seller. Inside your seller account, you can drill down into reports like this. Look for weaknesses and areas for improvement.
Customer experience is too important not to analyze and address.
Feedback Count and Rating
Feedback Count is the total number of buyers that have given you, the seller, feedback. Don’t confuse this with its big brother, Feedback Rating. Feedback Count is agnostic to whether your performance (or the customer’s opinion of your performance) has been good or bad. It reflects the total amount of signal and noise on your Amazon store.
Feedback Rating, in contrast, reflects the overall positive percentage of feedback you’ve received as an Amazon seller. The details of how the Feedback Rating is weighted and used by Amazon are hidden within the algorithm. What we assume to be true is that Amazon doesn’t just say, “Seller A has 1000 positive reviews, seller B has 90, so A is better.” We do know Amazon considers the volume of each seller’s sales. Maybe A’s feedback came in over a matter of years and two million sales, whereas B made 92 sales total in their first month. Seller B looks like a rising star from that perspective, and this will show in their Feedback Rating.
Clearly, Amazon has good reasons to care both about how many reviews a seller has attracted and what portion of those are positive. Feedback Rating features heavily in seller performance evaluations.
When all other metrics are equal, Feedback Count can be a difference maker. You can monitor yours on your Seller Central page. Check daily, if you’ve got the time. At a minimum, look at these metrics every five days. Following is an example of Feedback Rating, with Feedback Count, for an account less than 90 days old.
There are also third party plugins that can help you manage and monitor your feedback rating and alert you when a customer has left you a rating of 3 or below.
There are several good products to help Amazon sellers manage feedback and reviews. xSellco handles more than just Amazon reviews. Seller Labs has Feedback Genius and there are a few others. Find the one that works best for you.
Knowing this information quickly will allow you to communicate back to the customer and resolve their issue. Once you have resolved their issue, ask them to revise their feedback.
Selling a product you don’t have stocked is a nightmare. Not only will customers rail at you for lateness or out-and-out failure to fulfill, but Amazon also assesses extra penalties if you sell an item that’s gone out of stock.
In contrast, proactive management of inventory can increase your chances of winning the Buy Box. How? Like any other search engine, Amazon assesses specific parameters to order its product searches. An important, heavily weighted parameter is sales rank on relevant products. And what’s sales rank based on? Availability and past sales velocity.
Every day you report a product as out-of-stock, your rank in that product goes down. Experienced Amazon sellers know how difficult it is to achieve a good sales rank. Losing rank to inventory snafus is a rookie mistake.
Take holiday demand into account. Be optimistic but realistic. Planning up front can save delays later.
Amazon has very good information to keep track of your inventory and sales velocity in Seller Central. But again, there are plenty of third-party automation to help you maximize sales and minimize inventory errors. Sales Warp is a product we like because it can automate your entire e-commerce business.
Up to this point, we’ve considered several factors known to affect the Buy Box algorithm. Without knowing more about what’s going on under the hood, we can’t state definitely how much each will factor in. Even if we could, the handling of these and other metrics are subject to change.
Having done what we can to hack the system, all that’s left to try is old-fashioned hard work. Here are some techniques you can use to make your products attractive to customers and thus, hopefully, win the Buy Box.
Include Keywords In Your Product Listings
Be creative and descriptive when writing product descriptions and bullet points. Most importantly, be strategic! You have to make sure that you are catering to both customers and Amazon with your descriptions and titles.
Titles should be concise and easy to understand, while also containing strategically-placed keywords. Amazon’s SEO has an algorithmic logic that uses keywords to sort products into categories. We’ll explore this subject in depth in Chapter Six.
Being completely honest with your product descriptions is important. Why? Because customers will notice if you’re not honest and they will let Amazon know it.
Even the slightest difference in what’s shown and what arrives at their door can get you a bad review. If your product descriptions don’t describe exactly what you’re selling, you can lose credibility as an Amazon seller. Like silver, trust is hard to earn, easy to tarnish.
Focus on Repeat Customers
Loyalty is built through communication. As mentioned in my skin care example, it is vital to use credible auto-responder services to let customers know where their order is in every step of the way. This is something you don’t want to leave to Amazon. Personalize, personalize, personalize. Let customers know they are your priority.
Ask for feedback early and often. Your job doesn’t end when the product leaves your (or Amazon’s) warehouse. Make it your business aim to keep customers by shattering their expectations about customer service. Monitor the responses you get from software-generated emails. If a buyer lets you know about problems they’re experiencing, act quickly to resolve the situation before they leave a review. How many times have you seen comments like, “Gizmo arrived broken, but seller replaced promptly.” That is a GOOD review. Why? Because it came from a good customer experience.
Request Product Review Edits When Appropriate
Familiarize yourself with the Amazon product review terms. In many cases, Amazon will agree to remove negative reviews if the problem does not pertain to your actions. I already mentioned one valid reason for them to do so, shipping problems on an FBA item. If your reviewer uses foul language or otherwise makes themselves a nuisance, you can ask Amazon for a removal. If they say no, you’re no worse off.
Use this provision wisely. If you get a legitimate 1-star rating, don’t try to get it removed. The review-reviewers at Amazon are savvy. Trying to game the system can cause you to lose reputation, get your account flagged, possibly even have it canceled.
Amazon will delete negative reviews in these additional cases.
• The review is fake. You can spot this by looking for the exact wording on several pages.
• One customer is writing multiple reviews of the same product.
• A competitor is leaving a bad review, and you can prove it.
• The reviews are vulgar or spiteful.
• LAME! That is, it’s a one word review.
• The review contains personal contact information. This could be spam, trolling, or naïveté. In any case, get rid of it.
• The reviewer’s complaint comes down to wanting a lower price.
If you find that a review meets any of these criteria, you can report them as abuse on your product page.
Partner With Exclusive Suppliers
You’ll want to grab every competitive edge you can over other Amazon sellers. Attend trade shows, looking for brands that need help selling on Amazon. Signing an exclusive deal for them to supply and you to distribute what they produce will guarantee that you have something unique to offer. You’ll attract more traffic to your store and stimulate positive outcomes, leading to increased sales and good feedback.
Follow the Rules
This last tip on winning the Buy Box is more of a reminder. Make sure you understand Amazon’s rule and regulations. Their policies are customer-focused and, at times, strictly enforced. There’s a right way to do everything from setting up your account to shipping product. Know the rules and live by them.
Don’t let the little things go. If you do, you put yourself in line for bad reviews, penalties, and eventual removal from the marketplace. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can read the complete Amazon guidelines and regulations online.
Chapter 4 – Create A Bullet Proof Amazon Selling Plan
Over 50% of all online sales today are on Amazon, and it’s still the fastest growing retailer in the world. That’s amazing!
With this information, it is clear that no online retailer can afford to have a weak presence on Amazon. You have to have a strong presence and a strong brand if you want to be a multi-million-dollar Amazon seller. That’s why you need a bulletproof Professional Selling Plan.
There is an alternative, but it’s not for you. An Amazon Individual Selling Plan charges $0.99 per transaction. In contrast, a professional account costs $39.99 per month. Do you plan to sell more than forty items per month? If so, the pro account pays for itself. But the cost is only part of what makes it the right choice. A Professional Selling Plan gives you access to volume listing tools, inventory planning sheets, and reports on both selling and sales taxes. Its most significant benefit, as already discussed, is that it makes your products eligible to compete for the Buy Box. That one advantage alone is enough to justify the expense.
Having settled the question of what type of account you need to set up, the rest of this chapter takes you through the process of creating such an account. The key point to keep in mind is to take your time. Several settings are hard to change after you’ve put items on sale. More than once I’ve had to struggle through item resets because my initial settings were incorrect. Read the Amazon Seller Central setup instructions carefully, make the right selections up front, and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.
Guided Amazon Seller Central Account Setup
Before you begin self-service registration, be sure to have the following information available:
• Your business name, address, and contact information
• An international credit card with valid billing address
• A phone number where you can be reached during registration
• Your tax information, including tax ID
• Your bank information, including account and routing number, so Amazon can forward payment
Amazon Seller Central Setup
Amazon makes the Amazon Seller Central setup process as simple and straightforward as possible. Start by directing a browser to Amazon.com. Then click Sell→Start Selling. You will then be presented with a series of five screens. I’ll walk you through the first three.
The “Create Account” screen asks for necessary information. Here, you’ll enter an email address that will be used by the account administrator. Once you have registered this email, you can never change it. That bears repeating. Once you tell Amazon the email for your account administrator, it’s fixed for life. I prefer to set up an exclusive Gmail address for each selling account, whether for myself or a client. That way, if somebody buys the business, the owner can easily transfer admin credentials without impacting other operations.
Amazon calls this next screen “Screen 1”. It asks you to enter the legal name of your business. Are you an LLC, a corporation, or an individual? Give the same answer you have given, or plan to give, on your tax forms.
On Screen 2, enter your business address and desired display name. A website URL is cited as optional. Pardon me as I jump on my soapbox for a minute: no business is too small for a website! If you’re on a tight budget, make it a one-pager. You want customers to have someplace outside of Amazon where they can look you up.
From Screen 3 on, your settings will vary based on what you’re selling. Read over each page carefully and follow the prompts.
After collecting your tax information on Screens 3 and 4, Amazon will give you a preview of your W9 and prompt you to sign it digitally. Check and double check that everything is filled out as it should appear on the completed forms. Once you’ve verified this, you’ll be in a position to start setting up items immediately. Before you do, take a moment to check what you’ve already done, and look over the rest of the options available to you.
Pre-listing Amazon Seller Account Check
You can see the basic settings for your account on the Amazon Seller Central dashboard. Notice the Settings link in the top right corner.
When you hover over this link, a menu will drop down.
Selecting “Account Info” will show you everything we’ve discussed so far. Take this opportunity to set up your Deposit Method so you can receive payments every two weeks direct to your bank. Then click on Tax Settings.
Amazon Seller Sales Tax
You’ll want to have Amazon charge sales tax in every state of which you have a “sales tax nexus.” State laws vary, so check to see if the state where you have a physical presence – even if that’s only a home office – requires you to collect sales tax. Also, check the tax laws of any state in which your employees reside. Finally, check the state laws that apply to any warehouse your products will ship from. Even as an FBA Amazon seller, you are responsible for collecting tax triggered by having product in one of Amazon’s warehouse facilities. All these different tax laws are a hassle, but it’s best to figure out the details early so you won’t have issues when it’s time for your business to scale.
At the bottom of the Settings menu, you’ll find a link to options for Fulfillment by Amazon. If you are an FBA Amazon seller and are selling a non-exclusive product (something anyone else can sell) you will need to label the items with an FNSKU. By doing this, Amazon knows that the product you’ve shipped to their warehouse belongs in your inventory. When they ship the purchased product to the consumer, it will be your FNSKU they look for to verify they’re picking the right one.
There are two ways an FNSKU can be applied. You can label the items before shipping, or you can pay to have Amazon apply a label when they receive the product from you. Make the selection you want to use going forward on the Fulfillment by Amazon screen.
You won’t find the FNSKU options in the screenshot above. The reason is that the seller who owns the account these settings are attached to has taken a further step to strengthen their presence and their brand. This is a step you’ll want to take yourself if you can.
Amazon Brand Registry Program
Created to combat counterfeiters and re-sellers who violate exclusive distribution, the Amazon Brand Registry Program gives you an extra layer of protection and control over your brand. To qualify, you’ll need a trademark “issued by government patent and trademark offices in the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, [or] the European Union.” You’ll also need to have a working company website. You’ve already got that covered, right?
With trademark and website in hand, all you have to do to is fill out an online application form. Be careful to fill in all the fields exactly as they appear on your official documents to avoid complications. Amazon may take two to three weeks to approve your application. Once they do, they’ll allocate you a Global Catalog Identifier. The GCID marks your products as belonging to your registered brand.
You can include your GCID on your product packaging if you want, but you don’t have to. Alternatively, you can specify UPCs and barcodes that identify products as exclusively yours. If you don’t have a printed UPC and barcode on your packages already, you can add them via a label or pay Amazon to do the same. That’s what the “FBA Barcode Preference” option refers to in screenshot above.
Brand Registry Benefits
In addition to security, there are other benefits to registering your brand. Amazon recognizes a hierarchy of control over all products. Registered brands are a higher rung on the ladder compared to unregistered brands. This means, in part, that the search algorithm will give more weight to contributions of images and text about a particular product from Amazon sellers who have registered their brand. These considerations are pooled together when deciding where to display a product in search results. More weight means more visibility for your content.
Other advantages include streamlined resolution of conflicts with unauthorized sellers, faster approval for product additions in select categories, and measures that prevent additional Amazon sellers from using your page to promote themselves or steal content uploaded by you. Adding new photos to your product listings is a breeze as a registered brand. A new feature, known as Brand Gating, rolled out in late 2016. Amazon sellers wanting to offer products of a gated brand are now required to pay a $1,500 fee. This serves to weed out underfunded, low-quality sellers and sets a precedent for even more stringent brand-oriented control in the future.
Registered Brand Advantage
Overall, registering your brand provides a distinct advantage over sellers offering similar products, unaffiliated re-sellers of your product, and counterfeiters. You’ll also notice a change in your Amazon Seller Central options after program acceptance.
Enhanced Brand Content is a set of additional options for your listings that will help them stand out from those of other sellers. I’ll tell you more about it when we talk about Writing Listings That Sell.
Before we move on, however, you’re probably wondering about the Early Reviewer Program shown in the screenshot. The short answer is, it’s nothing you need. I’ll tell you why, and provide advice on other options you should skip (for the time being) in the next section.
Other Amazon Seller Options To Consider
An Amazon Professional Selling Plan gives you all the tools you need to build your multimillion-dollar business. With the exception of the Brand Registry Program, there aren’t any frills that will add a lot of value when you’re first setting up. Vendor Express, Vendor Central, Amazon Vine, and the Early Reviewer Program are some of the extras that are unnecessary for building your business. The question of what they can do for you is sure to come up, so I’ll touch briefly on each one now.
Vendor Express offers you the chance to sell a product to Amazon as you would to any other retailer. Amazon sellers who sign up for Vendor Express act as wholesalers, supplying “Sold by Amazon” products. Once a product leaves their home, factory, or warehouse, it’s out of their control. Amazon will set the retail price, write listings, and handle fulfillment. Vendors are still responsible for marketing and driving sales, but they give up control of the customer experience, which is essential to building up a business.
Vendor Central sellers don’t have it much better. Though many responsibilities are theoretically shared between sellers with this invitation-only status, in practice it’s still the senior partner who’s in control. Pricing is subject to Amazon’s price-matching and similar policies. The company sometimes changes product listings without warning. Every change a vendor wishes to make has to go through a lengthy approval process. In short, whatever advantages vendors gain regarding the algorithm are offset by a loss in flexibility.
In 2007, Amazon debuted Vine, a service designed to help Amazon sellers get feedback from certified reviewers. In addition to qualifying as a vendor through either of the not-for-you methods above, Vine members have to pay a fee ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 per distinct product. Also, participants have to provide free samples to reviewers. What the sellers get for this investment is an accelerated path to high quality – though not necessarily positive – reviews. Vine customers, in essence, are paying Amazon to select trusted voices from the customer community to voice their opinions.
Early Reviewer Program
For registered U. S. brands on Amazon Seller Central, Amazon offers the Early Reviewer Program. Products eligible for the program must have fewer than five reviews on Amazon per SKU. Each SKU must be parent level or stand-alone with no variations allowed, and the price of each product must be greater than $15. Though the Early Reviewer Program does not charge an enrollment fee, there is a cost of $60 per item. Amazon will offer reviewers a perk – typically a $1-3 coupon for reviewing a product they already own – for a full year or until the product has racked up five relevant reviews.
Even though the Early Reviewer Program costs much less than Vine, neither has a positive payback. They’re both money makers for Amazon that give little to no sales advantage. Ask yourself: “are my customers going to listen to a compensated reviewer, even if that compensation is only a free product?”
Amazon puts the “Certified Purchase” reviews for a reason. Invest your time and money in getting your own reviews.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Now that you’ve brainstormed your strategy, set your sights on the Buy Box, and created a bulletproof Professional Selling Plan, it’s time to add product listings to your shiny new store.
Chapter 5 – Know Your Amazon Selling Keywords
As an Amazon seller, you don’t have a monopoly on a customer’s eyes. When they show up to shop for what you sell, they’ll be offered more choices than you’ll find at any big box, department, or grocery store. Amazon uses its algorithms to limit the choices customers see, making the complex process of selecting a Buy Box winner look simple. You have to think differently to stand out from the crowd in such a competitive environment. In the fight for attention, your main weapon is your product listing.
How can you write product listings that will help you become a multimillion-dollar Amazon seller?
Fundamentally, Amazon is a search engine for buying stuff. As in any search engine, keywords play a major role. Though Amazon’s search has some quirks, the good news is that it handles keywords pretty much the same way Google does.
This means tools like AdWords Keyword Planner are an excellent resource to help build product descriptions. If you’re shopping around for a good keyword creation and management tools, or are open to recommendations, check out Scientific Seller’s keyword tool.
How can keywords help you grab a customer’s attention? When you browse for top-selling products, you’ll notice that they include enhanced keyword titles. A high-performing product title should be designed in a way that causes the product show up in multiple keyword searches.
To create the example below, I initiated a search for wristwatches on Amazon. The watches that appeared at the top of my results list all have titles that include brand name, product type, and material. The description of the very first result, shown on hover, includes the color of the watch. Due to the structure of the Amazon search categories, this combination of keywords results in the watches being categorized by Brand Name, Type of Product, Material, and Color.
Think about what the Amazon seller is accomplishing here. By including the right keywords, they’re enlisting Amazon’s help to reroute the customer to the product page via multiple channels. It doesn’t matter if the customer types “watch” or “quartz” or “gold-toned” first, the Amazon search engine has what it needs to auto-complete a search term that will lead the customer to these results, a click away from the Amazon seller’s product page. The watches get extra exposure, maximizing the chance of a sale.
The best descriptions utilize a variety of long-tailed keywords – keywords specific to your product or a narrow category it belongs to – as a hook into search results. How can you select effective keywords?
Focus On How Customers Search
All successful Amazon sellers and marketers think like customers. This is the best way to understand customer behavior and buying patterns. Imagine you’re a customer searching for a gift in your product category. What specifications would you type into the search bar? How would you start your search? What keywords would you type into the search engine to produce the most relevant results?
By objectively answering these questions, you will form the foundation of your keyword strategy. Before you take each step in your research process, reflect back on the customer’s point of view. Remember, Amazon is customer-focused. To get the best results, you have to look at every aspect of what you’re doing from the customer’s perspective.
Get Insight From Auto-Complete
When you start typing into Amazon’s search field, the auto-complete options that pop up indicate what phrases people are actively searching for, as well as keywords that are having positive results. Notice the wealth of suggestions in the following screenshot.
It makes sense to utilize this feature as a functional tool for your benefit. Any word that populates in the auto-complete could be a winning keyword for you. Granted, it takes effort and patience to pull up lists like these and copy them down in your notes. Not every keyword auto-complete offers up will be specific enough to point a customer to your product page. It takes skill and practice to pick the winners, but don’t give up. Scanning for keywords in this way can be a valuable experience.
Conduct your search systematically, typing in the name of your product followed by each letter of the alphabet from A through Z, one at a time. Look at the suggestions Amazon comes up with for each letter. Are there recurring patterns? If auto-complete keeps tacking on color or size specifications, it probably means customers are searching for this information on a regular basis.
Try narrowing your search by adding more long-tail keywords. How specific can you get before auto-complete stops suggesting additional search terms? Which terms are the first to drop off as you focus in on what you want to find? Which are the last?
Link Complementary Products
Another way to find relevant keywords is to look at Amazon’s suggestions for related items.
This strategy works exceptionally well when you’re selling complementary products. For instance, if you’re selling printer paper, it would be a good move to include keywords relevant to printers in the listing. That way, when a customer buys a printer, there’s a good chance they’ll be directed to your paper as well.
Amazon’s Best Seller list will give you insight into popular trends. Scrolling through different categories of the frequently updated list is a great way to search for synergistic opportunities. If you spot a hot item that is related to something you sell – even if the connection takes a bit of imagination – consider adding keywords that tie the two products together.
Just don’t go too far out in left field. You can’t afford to waste keywords. Think about customer problems and look for products that work together as solutions.
Study the Competition
There are no unique products on Amazon, only unique strategies. This is especially true for fast-moving goods and product categories where the competition is fierce. Before you can do something novel, you have to know what everybody else is doing in the same space. Train your eye to learn from both good and bad examples.
As an example, check out the product listings below. All three of the items displayed show up in the same category. They have all good pictures and competitive pricing. But look at the detailed, keyword-inclusive title shown under the product in the middle. It’s doing far more to sell the product than the barebones titles attached to the products on the left and the right.
Some customers do search Amazon specifically for Argan oil, as attested by the left item’s review count. But how many more customers come looking for hair, face, and skin treatments? The left and right titles miss out on all these other keywords, and that means they’re missing out on sales opportunities. Unless the Amazon seller to the left and right get their act together, I will put money down that the Amazon seller who put the middle title together is going to bleed off every bit of the competitors business. It’s only a matter of time.
What can you learn from the above?
That writing a product listing is about much more than just telling the customer what’s on offer. People don’t buy features; they buy benefits. To write a listing that sells, you have to think like a customer, choosing the keywords that will engage with them.
You now know where to look for those keywords, how to think creatively and observe patterns, and how to critique what your competition is doing. Now is the time to pause in your reading, go back through the techniques we’ve discussed, and apply what you’ve learned to your research project. When you’ve figured out the keywords that will work for you, we’ll move on to a discussion of how to use those keywords in titles and descriptions.
Chapter 6 – Write Amazon Optimized SEO Listings
Now that you have the right keywords in hand, what are you going to do with them? First, use those keywords to write a product title that will bring customers to your Amazon seller store. A template like the one used in our watch example from the last chapter is an excellent place to start. Choose a template that suits your product as closely as possible, then populate it with long-tail keywords in an order that makes sense.
You’ll usually want to start with the brand and product type, then add specifications that your research revealed are the most frequent search terms. Per Amazon, each title can be no more than 200 characters long. Use your full allowance in as organic a way as possible.
Here’s a concrete example from our wristwatch search: GUESS Women’s Quartz Stainless Steel Casual Watch, Color: Gold-Toned. Parsing this out, you can see that brand is on its own, while the product type and material are combined. Details like this will vary from product to product. Note that the seller labels “Gold-Toned” as a color. A customer would probably have figured that out, so I’m thinking the Amazon seller is tipping off the algorithm here. Not a bad idea, if experience shows it has a blind spot in a category.
This title reads naturally, is keyword heavy, and conveys everything the customer needs to know to be sure they’ve come to the right place. How can you write an effective title like this?
Follow these five steps.
1. Think about the distinguishing characteristics of your product.
2. Researched keywords your customers might search.
3. Create or select a template that arranges those keywords in a logical order.
4. Adapt the template to the specific needs of your product.
5. Write a title by inserting keywords into the template. Be careful to ensure that your title doesn’t sound robotic.
The motivation for each step in the process is focusing on the customer. A good title doesn’t say what you want to sell; it tells the customer what they want to buy. That’s why it’s not enough to list features. To write a title that sells, you have to focus on helping customers find the solutions they need.
Descriptions That Engage
Your title is a billboard to get people in the store. Once they’re inside, it’s up to your product description to engage the customer. Once again, the key to writing one is to think about the value your product brings to the customer. Descriptions are limited to 2000 characters. Considering all you’re trying to accomplish, that’s not a lot of space.
Having the following points in mind will help you make the most of it.
• Keep the text informative and the tone engaging. Think about why the customer has come to your page. How will they know that they’ve found the item they were looking for? Don’t waste their time. Make them feel welcome, then tell them what they want to hear.
• State your exact keyword search string somewhere in the product description. You’re targeting the word-for-word phrase Amazon will use to rank and categorize your product, so be precise. Work the string of keywords into your text naturally. Just like your title, you don’t want your description to sound computer generated.
• Reiterate the primary benefits of your product. Mention the problem the product solves and offer clear information about common uses, ingredients, warranty, whatever is applicable.
• Restate the long-tail keywords from your title. Work on however many additional keywords you can. Go for maximum keyword density, but don’t destroy the tone.
• Use basic HTML. If you’re not a tech geek, don’t fret. HTML is easier than it looks, and including a few basic tags will add shape and beauty to your listing. Tags are also great for structuring information in your description. The default Amazon format makes your description look like a soggy lump.
Below are useful tags for an Amazon seller to add stylized text, paragraphs, and line breaks to your product listing.
Slap these on either end of your text and preview what happens. Note that <tag> is the format to start an effect and </tag> is the format to end it. If you miss an end tag, your text can get messy. Line breaks <br> do not take an end tag. If it bugs you not to have a forward slash in there, use the <br /> version, but be aware that <br><br /> will add two breaks, not one.
• Address common objections in your description. Often the Frequently Asked Questions about your product are objections waiting to be answered. If you can identify the ten most common questions you’re likely to get and answer them preemptively, your customers will feel free to move ahead with the purchase.
Product Bullet Points
Once you’ve prepared a description that’s organized well and contains strong keywords, you’ll want to look at other product page features that can boost your listings and increase sales. One of the most under-used features is the product bullet points.
For each product you list, you can add five bullets. What should these tell the customer? Remember that customers buy benefits, not features. For each feature you list, be sure to highlight the benefit.
• SILKY SMOOTH: This 4 oz jar of silky smooth face cream helps eliminate fine lines and wrinkles, so you look and feel younger.
“Eliminate fine lines and wrinkles” is the feature; “look and feel younger” is the benefit. Benefits drive sales.
Here are tips for writing feature/benefit bullet points:
• Write your bullet points as sentences without periods; separate phrases with semicolons
• Use numbers and abbreviations, i. e. 4-oz instead of four-ounce
• Make each bullet brief and descriptive.
• Despite the brevity, use your full 100 characters per bullet, 500 total.
• Be clear in listing what the customer will receive and why it’s great.
• If you’re selling sets, list each item in the set.
• Integrate keywords where they make sense.
• List warranty information in the last bullet point; if a warranty is not offered, list add-ons.
An outstanding example of bullet point usage follows. Note the capitalization of leading phrases.
Images sell products. Plan to have 6-9 images on your product page. As with everything else, Amazon has standards for images they will approve. Familiarize yourself with these and stick to the rules. There’s a direct reward for this: Amazon ranks products higher when their product pages have more qualifying images.
Your main image should always show the product the customer will receive. In additional shots, you can include different angles of your product, demonstrate it in use, or showcase close-up details that will sell the product.
Images should be at least 1000×1000 pixels. This is the minimum size necessary to allow customers to zoom in. At the very least, make sure your main image is zoomable. You want people to imagine holding the product in their hands, turning it around to examine it.
Do not, under any circumstances, use poor quality images. I’ve mentioned this pet peeve already. If your product looks like junk, nothing else you do will make up for it. People won’t buy, you’ll hurt your conversion rate, your ranking will suffer. Invest money into high-quality images. Have them professionally touched up. It is imperative that you show the best side of what you’re selling.
One quick caution word of caution: make sure your images are not misleading. Show what you’re selling and the condition you’re selling it in. If you fabricate anything or show options/colors that the customer is not going to receive, you will get complaints about it.
Enhanced Brand Content
Accessible to sellers who have registered in the Brand Registry Program, Enhanced Brand Content is designed to improve product page fundamentals. Using it, an Amazon seller can create a better description of their products, incorporating image and text formatting options that are not readily available outside the program. Showcasing a product visually is a great way to set yourself apart from your competitors.
Upon accepting a seller’s registered brand, Amazon offers five templates to enhance that brand’s product pages. These alter the look and feel in ways that customers are sure to notice.
If you’re an HTML mastermind, maybe you don’t feel the need for this kind of help. But wouldn’t it be nice to know that if a sweeping change in Amazon’s software comes along, it won’t wreck your Do-It-Yourself formatting code?
After building your Enhanced Brand Content page, you must submit it to Amazon for approval. The process typically takes less than seven days. You can avoid delays by knowing what is and is not allowed. The following are page content guidelines that you should obey on all Amazon product pages, even those that do not usually require approval.
EBC Content Guidelines
• Never provide seller contact information.
• Do not reference any competitor’s product.
• Exclude the term “only sold by authorized resellers,” or any other authorizing statement.
• Only include your own logo.
• Include only high-resolution images.
• Do not include third party information from press clippings, endorsements, or Amazon customer reviews.
• Don’t link, or attempt in any way, to direct users to sites outside of Amazon or pages within Amazon.
• Do not make any mention of using a product for illegal activity.
• Maintain all Amazon Terms and Conditions.
This list is not exhaustive. Like everything online, it can change fast. Research before submitting your first product page, especially if you are enrolled in a program like Brand Registry that may come with additional restrictions.
Amazon Search Engine Optimization
At this point, we’ve covered most of the elements that go into writing a product listing that sells. You’ll likely have noticed that there are two audiences you have to keep in mind at all times – your customers and Amazon itself.
The keywords we selected are meant to appeal to both, while the presentation elements focus mainly on the customer.
Looking deeper into how the search engine works will suggest techniques you can you use to make listings more attractive to Amazon.
Amazon’s search engine is tightly focused. Its goal is to deliver a relevant product in every search result. “Relevant” here means that the product will deliver the best experience for the best price and solve the customer’s problem in the best way possible. Does the engine accomplish its goal? According to statistics for “Prime Day” (July 11, 2017), Amazon’s “conversion rate is more than five times higher than the average of the top 500 largest online retailers in North America”.
This remarkable performance hinges on Amazon keeping its search process simple. The search engine doesn’t waste time. If a customer types in “women’s shoes,” it auto-complete their search with options that narrow the field intelligently, showing a variety of popular styles, brands, and sizing options. These are curated from similar searches customers have conducted in the past.
A9 and AI
The fact that the search engine has artificial intelligence has interesting ramifications. As anybody who has worked extensively with computers can tell you, what you get out of a program is only ever as good as what you put in. Remember earlier, when we searched “watches”? Note the results we get when we search “wrist-watches” instead.
As a further contrast, here are “wristwatches.”
Why are these result sets different? You would expect the algorithm to categorize all variations on that same theme in the same way. But that hasn’t happened here. Why not? Because over the course of years, watch sellers have fed the algorithm titles and descriptions that don’t include all variations. By failing to include “wrist” or “wrist-watch” in their keywords, they’ve trained Amazon not to collate their products together. As a result, the Amazon seller who omits these variations are missing out on sales.
How can you avoid making this mistake? Understand and consider what Amazon does and does not do for you, and utilize the following Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips.
1. Use exact keywords and phrases in your title.
If you’re trying to rank for “iPhone 6 cases” and “iPhone 6 protective case,” the surest way to do that is to have both variations in your title. Having the keyword in the title is good. Having the exact phrase is better.
2. Call out benefits with keywords.
Your customer shouldn’t need to click on your title because it should jump out at everything they’re looking for. By using keywords to call out benefits, you can appeal to both the customer and the search engine. Which product below would you be more inclined to view?
iPhone 6 case. Black. Lightweight.
The #1 Rated iPhone 6 Case in the World. Matte Black Finish, and Incredibly Lightweight.
Benefits enhance the title’s appeal to the customer. Keywords enhance its appeal to the search engine. You can rank higher in search results by adding more relevant keywords.
The #1 Rated Thin iPhone 6 Case in the World. Matte Black Finish. Best Slim Lightweight Case For iPhone 6 In Existence. Highly Protective Cases and Loved By All.
Here we’ve targeted:
• iPhone 6 case
• Case for iPhone 6
That’s a lot for the search engine to chew on! By the way, don’t be afraid to make your title extra long. You are allowed 250 characters for most products on Amazon. You should use every one. Even if a title looks a little silly due to its length, it’s how the algorithm looks at it that counts. So long as you don’t go over your character allowance (which could get you blocked from ranking), every relevant keyword is another chance to get in front of the customer.
3. Include search terms in the backend keyword area.
Point your browser to Amazon Seller Central→Product Info, and you’ll find the keywords tab. Here, five boxes are provided to list your search terms. Each box can hold 1000 characters. Enter your most important keywords here, in the exact order Amazon uses in auto-complete. List each phrase only once.
You don’t need to separate phrases. Don’t use any commas, semi-colons, or quotation marks. Do include all variations, synonyms, and the singular and plural versions of each keyword. Put yourself in the customer’s place and include all the features they are likely to search. Even if you’re unsure of the relevance, list every term you have room for.
Here’s an example of what you might include in box 1 of 5:
black thin iPhone 6 case matte slim cases cover
Notice that these are not unique. These are the same keywords we included in our title example. By entering them here, we’re telling Amazon directly how we want our product categorized. This is one way to ensure we’re getting our point across.
4. Provide accurate and complete product data.
Utilize every field Amazon makes available to specify what you are selling. You won’t get points for brevity. If any field is empty, fill it out, even if you’re not sure how applicable it will be to your product.
Omitting information can get your product excluded from the results of a detailed search, like in our “wrist-watch” example from earlier. The more keywords you feed Amazon, the more channels they can use to drive traffic your way.
When I say to fill out every field, I mean all of the following:
• Search Terms
• Intended Use
• Target Audience
• Other Attributes
• Subject Matter
• Colors, Flavors, Dimensions
• Safety Warning
“Platinum Keywords” are not included here because they apply only to select, invitation-only sellers who do significant corporation volume. Feel free to fill in your platinum keywords, though. Everybody else does. Dream big!
5. Don’t use special characters next to keywords.
The algorithm sometimes handles periods, commas, HTML, and other special characters in unexpected ways that can impact your categorization. Leave keywords unencumbered for maximum effect.
6. Use capitalized and lower-case versions of your high-volume keywords
Including upper and lower-case keywords can give a slight advantage over sellers who only include one or the other. But, don’t go crazy. Favor other important keywords over CrAzY vArIaTiOnS if you’re low on space.
7. Offer Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
After previous hemming and hawing, now we come down to it. FBA is, in the vast majority of cases, the best bet for your SEO. Prime shipping attracts customers, and given two products that are equal in every other way; Amazon will favor the item that they know will arrive on time. In a competitive landscape, FBA controls the Buy Box more often than not.
A Case Study in Amazon SEO
Amazon hosts a large and diverse e-commerce marketplace. Its complexity is continuously increasing, so Amazon’s categorizing algorithm can never rest. To stay on top of search results for your category, you have to grab every advantage. A little knowledge can go a long way, as an experience my team of marketing experts and I had some years ago illustrates.
Our client was an Amazon seller who dealt with athletic apparel and high-quality activewear. The company’s prices were market competitive, and the reviews from the few sales they made were positive. Still, the company felt they were not reaching their potential. After analyzing their overall market position, we agreed that there was a lot of room for growth.
The cause for this poor performance was the lackluster listings. Rolling up our sleeves, we added high-quality images, enhanced titles, and descriptions with relevant keywords. Within a week, the client’s average sales volume improved from 12 units per week to 37 per week. That’s a 208% increase!
This example reiterates the importance of choosing the right keywords, but there’s a broader point. Running an Amazon store without studying the SEO algorithm is like shooting bullets in the dark. You don’t know what you’re going to hit. Integrating SEO into your marketing strategy is essential to success.
Chapter 7 – Bring Marketplace Customers To You
Your number one goal is to increase sales volume.
Nothing will move you up the search rankings faster. If people continuously buy products from you, Amazon will see you as a trusted Amazon seller. Their dedication to delivering the best customer experience will motivate them to promote your products and your store.
The promotion will lead to more sales, continuing the cycle. To get that cycle started in the first place, you have to get Amazon Marketplace customers to choose you over the competition.
You can do great things with product listings, but they shouldn’t be the beginning and end point of your marketing campaign. Customers need to know what you have to offer (especially if your product is one of a kind) before you can get them through the door.
That means advertising.
In the context we’re talking about, you can think of advertising as being divided into two parts. The first part is what you do inside of Amazon to make your store stand out from the crowd. The second is the efforts you make to draw customers to Amazon from the (slightly) larger outside world.
In this chapter, we’re going to concentrate on job one, getting marketplace customers to notice you.
I’ll briefly tout the benefits of Amazon Prime to emphasize why you should try to make your products qualify. Then, we’ll move on to a discussion regarding Sponsored Products and Promotions, the most direct intra-Amazon marketing tools at your disposal. Next, I’ll mention Lightning Deals, a great way to give your sales an adrenaline boost. Finally, we’ll pivot a little to talk about Promotions and Coupon Codes. Offering discounts to bargain hunters serves as a lure to draw in customers from inside and outside of the marketplace.
Amazon Prime is more than a way to get free shipping. It’s a lifestyle.
There are so many different benefits offered to Amazon customers under the Prime umbrella that its subscribers develop a bond with the company. This relationship is so strong that other retailers can’t compete with it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by having your items designated as Prime eligible. Customers gravitate to Prime, and Amazon will shut you out of certain filtering options if your items don’t measure up.
What do customers love about Prime?
• FREE Two-Day Shipping in the United States, plus other Amazon Prime shipping benefits.
• Prime FREE Same-Day Delivery in certain zip codes on designated items.
• Prime Now, which gives customers FREE two-hour delivery on over 10,000 items in select zip codes.
• Delivery from participating local restaurants via Amazon Restaurants.
• US Prime members enjoy unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes using Prime Video. Also, members can purchase video add-on subscriptions to premium content providers.
• Prime Music gives members unlimited, ad-free access to more than a million songs and hundreds of playlists. members also get discounts on monthly or annual Amazon Music Unlimited plans.
• Prime Photos is secure and offers unlimited photo storage for you and members of your Family Vault.
• In certain zip codes, Prime Pantry gives access to groceries and household products. Prime members in select regions can also access Amazon Fresh by paying an additional monthly fee. They receive free shipping on all Amazon Fresh orders of $50 or more and can spend a flat delivery fee for orders under $50.
• Amazon Elements links subscribers with end-to-end origin stories of everyday essentials.
• The convenient re-ordering of Amazon Dash Buttons can’t be beaten.
• Prime Early Access gives shoppers 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals, which is popular among shoppers of hard-to-find items.
• Prime members can borrow books, magazines, and more from Amazon Prime Reading. This is available for Fire tablet, Kindle e-reader, and Kindle reading apps for iOS and Android.
• Amazon First Reads provides US members early access when selecting new books. This service gives away a monthly free download to every member.
• Audible Channels are made available for free to Prime members.
• Twitch.tv provides discounts on video games.
• Finally, Amazon will even let you share your Prime benefits by creating an Amazon Household account.
The takeaway is this: nobody is going to come along with a more comprehensive online customer loyalty package than Prime. From food to fashion to beauty to electronics, Amazon Prime is a service that customers trust. You’ll want to make the most of your seller status by aiming to make every item eligible for Prime.
Get Your Products Prime Eligible
Becoming eligible for Prime can be an elusive goal for the first-time Amazon seller. Amazon offers Prime on FBA items, with the only exceptions being items from sellers who are allowed to offer Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime. Until you’ve racked up some serious sales, the latter option will be unavailable. In addition to your fulfillment status, Amazon requires a high seller rating for sellers whose items qualify for Prime.
Looking from the ground up, Prime looks like a mountain. The fact is, it’s a mountain Amazon wants you to climb. Sign up for FBA, be responsive to customers, and get good reviews (a subject we’ll cover in more depth in our final chapter) and you’ll make it to the top in no time.
Remember all those keywords you researched before writing your listings? Here’s another opportunity to use them to their fullest potential. Similar to other keyword-driven advertising systems, Sponsored Products allows you to bid on an ad group made up of items of your choosing. Once you’ve picked the items you want to focus on, an intuitive user interface lets you pick up to 1,000 keywords to target with Pay-Per-Click ads.
Readers familiar with Google AdWords will feel right at home when they set up a Sponsored Product campaign.
Setting up ad groups is easy to do, but it does take forethought. You have to consider how to structure your groups. What characteristics tie keywords relevant to your product together?
In the screenshot below, I’ve created groups that are item specific. Even though my products share some keywords, they are each targeted differently. Your grouping might have a completely different basis. For instance, breaking a line of pocket watches down at the item level probably doesn’t make sense. There’s not a big enough market to target different segments. Plus, all the pocket watches I’ve ever seen were variations on the same theme. It might be more appropriate to create ad groups for pocket watches by brand or material. The point is, find a grouping that works for your product line.
Unlike ads create for Google, you can’t write text for a Sponsored Product ad. Amazon pulls the ad copy from your product listing. Good thing you put in the hard work to make that listing great! Below is a real-world example of a Sponsored Product ad.
You probably noticed that the default bid for each of my ad groups on the campaign was $0.60. Just like on other PPC platforms, a higher bid means more prominent placement. A majority of the time, you probably won’t have to pay your default bid for clicks. Rather, your bids will be entered into an auto-auction, and you’ll pay the winning rate. Some guides advise you to set a high default bid, especially if you’re starting out and trying to gauge the market. Personally, I prefer to make a realistic bid. Then, I check back five days into the campaign and compare the suggested bids with their click-through rate and return on investment.
When I say “checking back,” I mean specifically for raising or lowering bids. You should check on the success of your keywords daily. Are they generating a positive return? I’m always ready to tweak all aspects of a campaign as needed. The following screenshot gives a glimpse at some bid adjustments I made on some of the 500+ keywords in the sample campaign.
These examples should give you an idea of the work it takes to build your business as a multi-million-dollar Amazon seller. Amazon rewards attention to detail as much (if not more) as any marketplace out there.
One Last Point
One final feature of the Sponsored Product system which you should be careful not to overlook is the ability to add negative keywords. Negative keywords block a product from appearing in search results where the algorithm may mistakenly think it’s relevant when it’s not. This added precaution can save customer frustration if your product bears a superficial resemblance to an unrelated item. The line of pocket watches we talked about, for instance, share similarities with other common timepieces. But, does it make sense to bring up an item from that line if a customer’s search includes the keyword “wrist”? You’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s better to exclude keywords up front or wait for user feedback. Be mindful. It is a toss up whether purchases made by misdirected customers who were searching for something else will help or hurt your brand.
When you click over to Amazon’s “Today’s Deals” page, you are directed to the page shown below.
An Amazon Lightning Deal offers a limited number of discount offers on select items for a short period. These offers are restricted to one per customer per product, and they go away fast. Some disappear after the limited quantity of virtual coupons becomes depleted, others at the expiration of a 4-hour time block. When time or supply is up, the deal disappears in a flash.
By offering a product for a discount, you’re making a trade-off between profit per item and sales volume. Usually, products with elastic demand are most suited for discount offers. By reducing the price of one of these items even slightly, you can produce a significant surge in total sales. This is typically the situation with products in highly competitive categories.
If you’re offering a product that caters to a large segment of the market and is available from multiple sellers, putting it up as a Lightning Deal can create a drastic, short-term improvement in your sales. The challenge to you as the Amazon seller is to retain these newly acquired customers through exemplary customer service.
There are certain requirements that an Amazon seller must fulfill before their products can be featured as Lightning Deals.
• The seller must have more than 20 units in stock at the time of the deal.
• Eligible sellers are preferred to have at least a 3.5-star rating before being featured in the deals section. However, this is at Amazon’s discretion. They may accept a product even if you don’t have stars or reviews. In such a case, they will monitor your store for the duration of the deal.
• Products up for Lightning Deal must be new.
• Products are preferred to be Prime eligible.
• If your product is set up to be FBA, there must be no add-on items for the specific product promoted as a Lightning Deal.
• Deal prices proposed by the seller must 20% off of the current Buy Box price or more.
Promotions and Coupon Codes
A more standard suite of incentives is listed under Seller Central→Advertising→Promotions. Here you can drive product sales by offering “Money Off,” “Buy-One, Get-One,” or “External Benefit” bonuses. Note that this list is subject to change. The promotion type which will be the most effective for you will depend on your product and category. Thinking like your customer will help you arrive at the right answer.
A major benefit of Promotions is that you can specify a claim-code to activate the offer. These codes are something tangible that you can offer your followers on social media or other non-Amazon advertising channels. Closely related to this are coupon codes, which offer discounts on a percentage basis. You can find this option under “Percentage Off” on the Promotions page.
There are several ways to use coupons effectively. In my experience, on-site coupons for immediate use on Amazon will help you convert in a competitive category. For example, I recently launched a new razor blade refill that is compatible with Gillette Mach3 handles. Instead of lowering the price of its branded refills, Gillette responded to my bargain by offering a 10% coupon. This dropped their selling price without messing with MSRP. Well played, P&G. We’ll fight another day.
Affiliate Deal Sites
Another method for getting your coupons out there is to promote them on affiliate sites. Well-known sites like Hip2Save, RetailMeNot, and Groupon can deliver customers right to your door. A fringe benefit for you is that being featured on one of these will build your credibility within the Amazon algorithm. Consider amplifying this effect by syndicating your deal via sites like Snagshout or JumpSend.
Advertising your coupon codes on social media is tricky, but potentially very powerful. Be careful not to come on too strong and “sales focused,” or you can quickly turn people off. Different platforms may be better or worse for the product you’re advertising. Products with a strong visual appeal, for instance, work better on Instagram and Pinterest.
Chapter 8 – Bring Customers To The Amazon Marketplace
Even if you use Amazon’s advertising tools to their fullest potential, you can still find yourself at a disadvantage when your competition has a long track record. The discount coupons we discussed at the end of Chapter Seven are your gateway into the wider digital advertising world. To close the gap between your new store and marketplace veterans, you’ll need to promote these coupons and communicate your brand’s value using a unique marketing campaign.
What that campaign will look like is ultimately up to you. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter solutions or one-size-fits-all, so the advice I’m about to give is going to be about equipping you to make decisions. It won’t make those decisions for you. Marketing isn’t rocket science, but you do have the right mindset to market successfully. This chapter will get you into that mindset by taking a broader view of online retail than we have up to this point.
The purpose of this expanded viewpoint is to help you work around the competition. You’ll bring in new customers by advertising directly to them. Driving traffic to your store is critical to your success as a marketplace seller. If you want that success to reach the multimillion-dollar mark, some of that traffic will have to come from outside of Amazon.
Prepare for the Challenges
Legendary Esquire Magazine cover designer George Lois said, “Great advertising can make food taste better, can make your car run smoother. It can change your perception of something.” As true as this statement is, it has to be acknowledged that advertising has changed in the digital era. Traditional forms of advertising and marketing (of which, advertising is a part) are less effective than they once were. These days, people are attracted to creative ideas and high concepts. Merely informing the customer of what you’re offering doesn’t cut it anymore.
What kind of experience do you want customers to associate with your brand?
Think about the last time you pointed your browser to a click-bait entertainment site. No doubt, you were bombarded with clutter. People associate digital advertising with video headers and junked-up margins these days because that’s what appears on countless websites. You can’t stand out doing what everybody else does, especially when the method in question repels visitors. To build buzz and get clicks, you have to think differently.
Organic marketing is about finding a hook that connects customer problems with your product’s solutions.
Figure out what your customers love. You can use this information to engage in a way that sets you apart from the crowd. This is easier said than done, but it’s not as hard as you might think. Catching a customer’s attention is half the fight.
Today’s customer has developed a filter to screen out useless information. Like bats using sonar to fly through the dark, online shoppers use highly refined sensibilities to navigate through overwhelming options.
The average attention span of today’s digital customer is eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish.
Am I trying to say customers are idiots? Quite the opposite. Customers have learned, after years of being visually yelled at, to narrow their focus when clicking on a new site. They scan, assess, and make decisions at reflex speed.
Your first challenge as a marketer, then, is to communicate a complex statement of worth before the customer looks away. You can do this by injecting worth into the statement itself. Great campaigns of the past are remembered as much for their entertainment value as for what they were selling. Readers of a certain age will remember the “Where’s the beef?” lady. Recent campaigns have gone interactive, engaging customers by asking for their creativity. Will this method work for you?
Know Your Market
Good marketers know the demographics of the market they’re targeting. They can tell you the age range, marital status, average income, and educational level of their typical customer.
Great marketers immerse themselves in their customer’s world.
They know what customers like, what they love, what grabs their attention, and what makes them turn their backs.
Great marketers target people, not statistics. Using metrics and data, they get as close as they can to a customer, talking face-to-face.
Marketing is never without risk. Whenever you communicate with people you can’t see, there’s a danger you might offend them. When retailers don’t understand their customers, imaginative ideas can do more harm to a brand than good.
Consider the following cautionary tale.
Coachella – aka the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival – is an annual trendsetting event in youth fashion culture. Before the 2017 mega-concert, vintage clothing brand COW marketed a line of South Asian traditional clothing as “Festival Wear.” They had smartly spotted one of those hooks into the market that I talked about previously. But, although their campaign was fun and relevant, they attracted charges of cultural appropriation. Inadvertently, they upset many potential customers and existing fans.
It’s not as if no one in the past ever tried to make a buck selling another culture’s fashions. Where did COW go wrong? They probably could have watched the news a little more. There have been few times in modern history when cultural insensitivity was more liable to get noticed. COW’s campaign might have gone by without comment in 1997, or even 2007. But divorcing traditional garb from historical context and selling it to party people in 2017? No way that was going to end well.
The social media response was immediate and strong.
Pepsi experienced a similar backlash when they released a commercial showing Kendall Jenner and her privileged posse quelling clashes between protesters and police. There are plenty of examples like this, where creative campaigns missed the mark. Companies that truly see through the eyes of their customers save themselves a lot of grief.
Think of the Target Audience
They also save time and expense. Say you’re selling bridesmaid dresses. The channels you target, and the content you promote should be different than if you were selling exercise gear. But think about the target audiences for both of these product lines. If you just look at the demographics, they might appear the same – women 18-35 who are willing to invest in looking good – but the whole ecosystem of banner ads, keywords, coupons, and social media will need to be worlds apart.
Because Amazon caters to everybody, the sellers you compete with on Amazon are going to be diverse. Some will be operating under established brand names. Some will be newbies trying to establish market authority. Don’t try to follow the crowd. In most markets, it’s impossible. Different leaders constantly influence the market and pull it in different directions. Set your core objectives, identify your niche, and get to know your customer. A powerful tool to help you do this is the buyer persona.
Develop a Buyer Persona
We can boil most of what we’ve talked about in the previous sections to this: your product is only going to sell if it solves a customer’s particular problem. Knowing that customer is the key to targeting them through ads and social media. Targeting an audience of millions is a daunting task. Thankfully, you can reduce the complexity by crafting a buyer persona.
Essentially, developing a persona means distilling customer characteristics from a target market segment into a set of categorized, semi-fictional characters. I always get weird looks when I try to explain this, so let’s illustrate.
Imagine a prospective customer named Jessica. Jessica is 30 years old, makes $40,000 a year, lives in a mid-west suburb with her husband and one child, and is a college grad. Now that I’ve told you all those details, do you think you could find “Jessica” on social media? You could probably find a hundred Jessicas in 30 minutes! Now the question is, with the real-life Jessica in front of you, can you articulate her life goals, values, interests, challenges, pet peeves, and fears?
In the data-poor days of last century, marketers could merely create content for a demographic, but they didn’t have a wealth of knowledge and analysis like we do today. There’s no excuse to fall back on that now that we have to tools to build realistic buyer personas based on actual, demonstrated customer traits. Buying habits and social media posts tell us what customers love. Generating content based on that knowledge will increase engagement, sales, and brand loyalty.
The Building Blocks
The building blocks of a buyer persona include – but are not limited to – demographic details, professional profiles, and social media posts covering hobbies, likes, and dislikes. You start with a wide-angle shot and zoom in. At first, you only know your customer’s age range, gender, and income level. As the buyer persona takes shape, you dig in from there until you know everything about a customer that you’d want to before walking up and talking to them on the street. The closer you can get your persona to resemble a real person, the better. People engage with content that is about them, not about a broad group to which they supposedly belong.
By understanding what your customer’s real interests are, you can market in a way that is relevant to them. This is one of the reasons personas differ from industry to industry. A medical supply company, for instance, needs to know the specific ailments of their market segment. Politics are much less important to them than they might be to an online news agency. Hence, the buyer persona for the medical supplier may omit data that the agency considers crucial. The more specific you can get about what is useful to your company, the more helpful a persona will be to your campaign.
Tools to Help You
What are some available sources to help you build your buyer persona? Google Analytics is an excellent place to start. Using the data it provides, you can focus in on the keywords customers searched for to find your Amazon seller store or branded site. You can see which sites they came in from and, in the case of your site, how long they spent browsing a particular webpage. Did they read more about your flagship product or add-ons? This can say a lot about why they chose you over a competitor. Keywords from Amazon’s auto-complete search field serve a similar purpose.
Tools such as HootSuite, Klout, and How Sociable will monitor social media for you, alerting you to trends that highlight the dynamics of customer interactions. Once you know how customers engage with their favorite brands, you can adapt to meet them on their terms. With these practices, you can instill their loves deep in the heart of your buyer persona.
If you have the resources to do so, consider going a step further in the creation or your persona by doing primary research. You can gather data by utilizing surveys, interviews, or focus groups. People aren’t always honest in their answers. As long as you consider this fact, there is a place in modern marketing for asking questions directly to customers. Do you have a customer’s email address? Write a personalized questionnaire. Have a phone number, instead? Text a YES or NO survey or call to have a conversation.
Sum up everything you have learned about customers to create categorized, semi-fictional human beings. Give your personas names and representational pictures. Make plans to revisit them, keeping them up-to-date with changing market needs, trends, and attitudes. Regard your personas as your whole audience, the specific two-or-three customers you’re looking to engage. Everything you do in your campaign should now focus on these individuals. They’re your peer group, your bosses, and your friends. Serve them, and you’ll be serving the people they represent in a manner Amazon would approve.
Be Alert to Differences
Every platform is different. Remember all those long-tailed keywords we talked about that are so essential for Amazon titles and product descriptions? They don’t always make the best Google AdWords. Blog posts and website content will naturally include keywords specific to your product, but nobody is going to Google those words until after you’ve established your brand in the popular imagination.
Maybe you’ve invented a type of smartphone powered by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air. That’s awesome! But nobody’s heard of it yet, so paying search engines to hyperlink “CO2” to your Amazon store is a waste of money.
On Amazon, customers search for relevant products, swipe through pictures, read reviews, and decide to buy. Algorithms mine keywords as a means to classify what you sell. Answer-focused search engines like Google use keywords in different ways. Exactly how is a little outside the scope of this book, but in brief, the approach you want to take in securing keywords for use on non-Amazon search engines is to think about what the customer is likely to search. They don’t know you. They don’t know your brand. If you’re selling a product in a category by itself, they don’t know your product.
Even if you’re selling a staple, any keyword specific enough to single you out is too specific to pop into anybody’s mind. So, generalize! Check your budget to see if you can afford to compete with established brands. Maybe keywords aren’t central to your strategy outside of Amazon.
Key Performance Indicators
Take a moment to visualize the customer’s process, from initial search to checkout. What kind of information drives your customer from step to step? Where there problems that drove them to start Googling? What interests drew them to your niche? Once they started looking, what navigation challenges might they have encountered on (a) search engines, (b) your website, or (c) Amazon.com? These questions point to Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that you can improve to provide a better customer experience.
Third-party analytics programs are vital to identifying where your customers are hitting roadblocks in their process. When you initially open your store to business, you’ll only be able to check the effectiveness of techniques other retailers have used to get customers to come to them. This is valuable in building your strategy, but the real fun comes in when you receive data feedback from your first few sales.
Let’s say you send an email out to everybody who filled out a form on Facebook. You included a 10% off coupon code for your whole line of solar-powered dinner plates, for a limited time. You know how many emails went out and how many people bought plates at a bargain from your store. The question now becomes, did the conversion rate justify that 10% discount?
There are two calculations you need to make.
1. Did the promotion attract enough people to cover the difference in margin?
2. Did I engage customers who will return to purchase new additions to my line?
It’s not enough to feel good about how a promotion went. You need numbers to back that feeling up. Numbers don’t show everything. If the promotion was a loss financially, but it generated a ton of buzz, it might still be considered a success. But, you have to have the numbers in front of you to make that call. Where are those numbers going to come from? I’m glad you asked.
Everyone Needs Tools
There are innumerable third-party tools that claim to be able to chart a path forward for your business. I have not tried every one, but close. One toolkit that has brought me great success is Seller Labs. I’ve already covered their auto-response email generator, Feedback Genius. There’s more to love about this great package. Here are three of my favorite components.
Scope is a keyword and product research tool that allows an Amazon seller to browse common keywords from top selling Amazon products. We discussed the importance of choosing the right keywords for popular products back in Chapter Five. The wrinkle Scope adds is that through careful keyword analysis, it highlights ways you can also sell products that are not currently popular.
The data Scope taps into gives you a peek into what your competitors are doing to drive customer sales. You can use this to identify gaps in the market. For example, if a customer is searching for a product that is not available on Amazon, or tacking on terms like “alternative” to products exclusively sold under a limited number of brands. This may be an opportunity to streamline, innovate, or otherwise disrupt a market whose sellers are not meeting demand.
Are customers searching products that are out of season? Do the names of hard-to-find add-ons show up again and again? Try to think like the customers performing these searches. Ask yourself if there’s enough of a market now for you to invest big in a product line expansion or if you can partner with a third party to test the market with lower risk. We’ll cover these topics in more depth next chapter.
This product aims to stoke the embers of your sales volume by managing and optimizing sponsored product campaigns. Keyword data drawn from Scope, combined with real-time sales tracking through an intelligent interface, prompts you to strike while the iron is hot.
Heaps of data go into Ignite. What comes out are ancillary products that may be useful for horizontal integration. This can be extremely valuable when you’re looking for ways to expand. It also suggests ways you can leverage PPC ads more effectively. Being able to view historic and current campaign information all in one place makes it easy to analyze winners and losers, and is a great help when you’re trying to decide whether to extend or end a campaign.
Business intelligence is a broad category. As the name suggests, Quantify seeks to express everything you need to know for Amazon success in hard numbers. The data it encapsulates includes trending products and details of your product sales. Like Scope and Ignite, Quantify updates in real-time. The visual tabulations it creates aim to simplify the process of combing through data.
For a high-volume Amazon seller, Quantify offers extra value. It will monitor your inventory, alerting you when it’s time to restock. Though with all the reports it can generate, a data junkie like me would have a hard time missing that detail. Can you live without the micro-management options Quantify offers? Of course. But why would you want to?
The preceding is only a taste of the KPIs you can keep track of with Seller Labs and similar toolkits. Taking all of this data in and employing it to make logical changes to the marketing strategy make up the bulk of the workday for a successful Amazon seller. The concrete details of what you can do with this data will be the topic of our final chapter.
Chapter 9 – Adapt and Grow Your Amazon Sales
In 2016, Amazon eliminated the ability for an Amazon seller to trade reviews for free or reduced-price products. Before this change, incentivized reviews were a large part of the Amazon landscape, and the company had no problem with it. By giving away free product, responsible sellers could get a groundswell of positive chatter going and customers could (in theory) benefit by having more voices praising or damning those products.
In practice, many sellers abused the system. The thousands of reviewers they solicited expressed less-than-honest opinions, sometimes in response to misguided seller requests. It got bad enough that researchers were able to detect a nearly ½-star difference in incentivized versus genuine reviews. Amazon ruled that the bias was not serving customer interests and pulled the plug. It was a fair and sensible move on their part, but it did leave a hole that some Amazon sellers scrambled to fill.
It all goes to show that it’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. If you want to become a multimillion-dollar Amazon seller, you need to start out strong and be quick to make necessary changes. First, you must be monitoring your KPIs daily. You also need to be careful that you don’t limit yourself to one marketing channel or another. Your strategy must be comprehensive, adaptable, and diverse.
“What gets measured gets improved,” said Peter Drucker. On Amazon, success is measured in terms of sales, and reviews are a close second. This chapter will discuss how you can broaden your marketing outreach, obtain great reviews (without paying for them), and grow your business into the future. By the time you read the last page, you’ll know enough to run with the big dogs on Amazon.
Before your first month as an Amazon seller wraps up, start looking at how you can diversify the platforms you use for social media campaigns. You’ll already have cracked the most obvious platform for what you’re selling, whether that’s Facebook, Instagram, or whatever. Now it’s time to think outside the box. How can you create a presence on the platforms that are not so perfect for you?
Remember that every platform engages customers in different ways. You can use their specialties to drive traffic even if they don’t appear to align with yours. Instagram is all about visuals. What can you post that will captivate your client visually? It doesn’t have to be a product shot. Facebook is predominately text-based. Even if your product doesn’t lend itself to poetry, you can share blog posts that highlight core values and social engagement. Pinterest is a great place to boost your following and build authority with visuals and text. Once you know what each platform can do, you can find a way to use them effectively.
Does this mean that you have to be the king of all social media to make it as an Amazon seller?
Don’t get me wrong. If you have the resources and expertise to engage daily with digital tastemakers, it helps. But social media can be a dangerous place if you don’t know what you’re doing. Poorly managed content and tricks like posting via ghost accounts can cripple a campaign and seriously injure your brand.
Be consistent with the message you post on social media platforms. Don’t just pick up and follow trends. Integrate what you say with your brand message. Every time you’re tempted to move in a new direction, check your KPIs to see if what you have in mind will drive sales. If a social media channel you’re already using isn’t bringing customers to your store, think about dumping it. Don’t branch into similar territory if what you’re already doing is giving a low return on investment.
None of these cautions are meant to put you off of diversification. Your brand needs room to grow. Think like your customer when you go into uncharted territory, and you won’t go wrong.
The best defense against making a social media blunder is authenticity. Though you have to keep an eye on what they produce, one of the best ways to get authentic content is by calling on users to generate it themselves. Customers love having a voice and watching the effect their influence has.
Imagine you’re and Amazon seller promoting a line of high-fashion sneakers. What could you do to engage customers who enjoyed your initial offerings and are eager to see more? Perhaps you could initiate a design contest. Encourage customers to describe and/or draw what additions they’d like to see to your product line. Do you have to use their submissions? No. But you can use the opportunity to start a dialogue with hard-core fans. Say up front that you want to know what they love about the existing line and where they’d like to see it go in future. The thrill of competition, coupled with the incentive of winning a prize, will attract repeat customers.
It’s the nature of social media that participants in a customer-focused contest are highly likely to spread the word to family and friends. They’ll ask people to come to the platform to support them. Make sure that the best showcase for all the content you curate is your Amazon store. That will get new customers in the door. Then you can communicate the value of the product and make new sales.
Connecting With Influencers
Buying behavior has changed tremendously in the past few years. Instead of products or services, people shop for solutions and experiences. The average customer is more aware than ever of social, environmental, economic, and political issues. We’ve already discussed the pitfalls marketers can fall into due to insensitivity. But is it always bad for business when customers wear their opinions on their sleeves?
While customers tend to distance themselves from brands that are out of line with their beliefs, they also embrace brands that share their values. To reach today’s customers, your brand has to feel human and real. How can you inject it with a dose of personality?
One way is by connecting with influencers. Bloggers, YouTubers, and other social media celebs have tapped into a tribal instinct deep inside the human mind. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. This impulse makes it easy for companies who have a strong positive association with popular figures to attract massive followings.
Developing such a relationship takes time, but approaching one individual whose beliefs are out in the open is a whole lot easier than appealing to thousands of strangers. Most influencers are their own brand. Everybody who might be useful to you as a spokesperson, investor, or super-fan has an entrepreneurial spirit. That gives you a common cause with 99% of social media influencers. It won’t hurt to reach out.
Positive and Negative Reviews
I’ve touched on the importance of reviews several times. Amazon’s algorithm gives them such a high value; you can’t afford not to ask for a review every time you finish a transaction. Of course, not all your reviews are going to be positive. It’s important to learn how to deal with negativity without overreacting.
When a customer places a negative review on your store’s page, don’t get defensive. Handle issues with sympathy and patience. You are dealing with a disappointed person who spent hard-earned money on your product and did not receive what they expected. Everybody’s been there. It always sucks.
Communicate to find out the cause of the problem. React quickly, so the customer feels valued. Be transparent. Let the customers know that their opinions drive your success. There are knuckleheads out there who will slap any hand you extend to them, but there are far more decent people who just want what’s been promised. Meeting negative comments with positive action can transform a complainer into a regular customer. It may also get you free word-of-mouth advertising.
Still, you can’t change everybody’s minds. Have you ever been browsing through Amazon listings and come across a seller whose product ratings are all 5-star? After the first ten or twenty glowing reviews, that sort of consistency gets hard to swallow. Don’t be upset if you get a few bad reviews. A healthy mix of good and bad will increase your credibility.
You can guard against negative reviews by always using a friendly tone in product descriptions. Focus on the solution and provide photos that show exactly what the customer will receive. There is no excuse for getting a “not as described” review on a product. Too many of these will get a product de-listed. Don’t embellish to get a sale. Just be confident and honest.
Follow up every order received with whatever actions it takes to make the customer happy. If you’re an FBA seller, most of your work is done for you. If you’ve chosen to manage your own logistics, give fulfillment the necessary daily attention.
Adding a personal touch is essential to engaging with the customer. Whatever it is you’re selling, you can remind the customer that their purchase is connecting them to a fellow human being by including creative inserts in the package.
These insert should reinforce your brand message and your commitment to their experience. Be imaginative and show your personality in a way that will appeal to them. You already know what they love. Can you remind them of common interests or a shared sense of humor? When brainstorming what to add to your package insert, picture your buyer persona. Address him or her in your selection. Think, “What would make Mark/Elaine/Tristan/Wanda smile?” Of course, you’ll provide an instruction manual, troubleshooting tips, warranty information, etc., in the box. What I’m talking about here is an extra touch that shows you appreciate the customer’s business.
Don’t be shy about asking for a review in your inserts. You already know you’ve engaged with the customer at the moment of sale. Use the insert to remind them why they purchased from you, then politely prompt them to cap off your friendly exchange by leaving positive feedback.
If you want to thrive as an Amazon seller, you have to think holistically. From the moment a customer pulls up your listing to that final moment when they submit their review, work at retaining their interest. Approach your online sales just as you would if your customer were standing in front of you in a brick-and-mortar store.
Thriving in a Competitive Environment
On your way to making your millionth sale, you’ll learn a lot about the Amazon seller Marketplace in general and your niche in particular. Ultimately, your goal should be to conquer that niche, then expand your customer base by increasing your product portfolio.
Amazon has a well-known history of branching out from books to music to everything under the sun, rolling over competitors like Borders and Barnes & Nobles. Product diversification worked well for Amazon because they deployed it as part of a comprehensive strategic plan. Of course, it didn’t hurt that they had the financial backing to operate without a profit for years.
You likely can’t afford to wait that long. That’s okay. Growing your product line is still a good idea for your Amazon store. But before targeting a wider audience, make sure that you’ve consolidated dominance of your current market. If you don’t have the resources to balance day-to-day operation with market expansion, it’s wiser to concentrate on the customers you already have.
On the other hand, if you’re crushing it at home, there’s no reason to wait. How can you implement a product diversification strategy that won’t backfire? Here, I will include three techniques I have used to turn a fledgling business into a thriving brand. Note that I have arranged them in order from most-to-least comprehensive. Please read through all the suggestions before deciding what will work best for you.
1. Complete Product Innovation
Once you’ve established yourself as an authority in your niche, customers will look to you to point them at the next big thing. By far the most profitable way to do this is to produce that thing yourself. This does require caution, however.
Introducing an entirely different product while targeting a broader audience calls for advanced market research and abundant resources. You have to count costs and calculate risks before doling out the cash. Your first step should be taking stock of your current customer base. Feedback and reviews will give you insight into other market segments worth exploring. Do your customers frequently ask for related services or products? Find out what it would take to meet their demands.
Complete product innovation is most beneficial when your new product complements existing business structures. Returning to Amazon as the example, it’s no accident that they explored territory already pioneered by brick-and-mortar booksellers. Shipping a book isn’t very different from shipping a DVD case. Fashion accessories (as an example) are more specialized, so they were added to Amazon’s product line later. It’s no sin to take your time. Diversify organically by capturing nearby markets before you leap more distant ones.
Once you have decided the direction you want to go, conduct a test process. Create a demo product and promote it in your Amazon store. Treat it like a normal product offering and watch the reaction. Are customers enthusiastic about what you’re doing? If they give you the green light, move forward with production and stocking. If not, pull back and reassess.
2. Extending existing product lines
A safer way to diversify is to add products to your existing portfolio. Minor changes to a popular line can create buzz and boost sales.
Imagine that you’re selling a line of eyeglasses. You might experiment to see how customers respond to sunglasses and fancy frames. Since this is a logical extension of what you’ve been offering, the worst that can happen is a lackluster response. If customers love the new products, they’ll flock to your store and excitedly promote the expanded line. Customer psychology is endlessly fascinating. I’ve seen customers go gaga over tiny additions.
The very best thing that can happen to your brand when you expand your existing line is that your reputation will proceed you. What I mean is, if you are known to produce excellent eyeglasses, customers may credit your sunglasses as being high-quality, sight unseen. The authority you’ve established carries over, actually giving you an advantage over brands that specialize in what is, for you, a new product type. In this way, it is possible to gain market share even in a market that appears to be saturated.
3. Third-party reselling
If neither of the previous suggestions is feasible given your resources, you can still expand by partnering with third-parties. This is the most popular diversification method for an Amazon seller. In addition to being cost-effective, listing somebody else’s products on your store takes next to no time, compared to the months or years it can take to R&D a new product, and the weeks it can take to extend your line intelligently. You don’t even have to worry about managing or stocking inventory!
If you’re moving into a holiday season and don’t have anything new to offer, third-party reselling can be a lifesaver. What sort of partnerships should you consider entering? Synergy is the key. If you deal in handmade doilies, partner with a scented candle maker. If your bread-and-butter is clown costumes, connect with an oversized shoe guy. Every partnership should have the goal of serving your customers better while exposing you gently to a new market.
Go Sell A Million
Congratulations! Having engineered a winning strategy, bulletproofed your account, and attracted customers with listings that sell, you’re fully equipped to thrive in the fast-paced, highly competitive Amazon seller marketplace.
What key points do you need to keep in mind as you go forward?
Remember, first and foremost, that Amazon is customer-centric. Focus on giving customers great experiences and Amazon will support your ambitions. Amazon thinks about their customers and engages with what they love. By continually looking for ways to better serve customers while diversifying product lines on offer, Jeff Bezos and co. have built Amazon into an online force of nature.
The second key point is that even though your store will operate within the bounds of the marketplace, you are still your own unique brand. Invest in creating awareness of that brand inside and outside of Amazon. Much of what you need to succeed is made available to you in Amazon Seller Central. Use it to create compelling product titles and descriptions that sell.
Third, use your comprehensive strategy to stay ahead of the competition. Look at your KPIs every day. Adjust your keywords and diversify your channels. Target the social media platforms that your customers frequent.
Fourth and fifth and sixth, get reviews.
Armed with these keys, you too can tap into the limitless potential of the Amazon seller Marketplace. Think like your customers, engage with what they love, and you will soon be able to thrive as a multimillion-dollar Amazon seller.
Chapter 10 – Grow Your Amazon Sales Webinar Replay
The author, Phil Masiello, sponsored by The University of Maryland School of Business presented this webinar “Grow Your Sales on the Amazon Marketplace” in 2 parts. This is a step by step guide to Amazon selling that is a must see for beginner Amazon sellers to the most seasoned.
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