Amazon Channel Management

How To Outsource Fulfillment: Questions To Ask When Selecting A Fulfillment Partner

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This is a guest post from Michael Krakaris of Deliverr. Deliverr provides fast and affordable fulfillment for your eBay, Walmart and Shopify stores, helping to boost sales through programs like Walmart Free 2-Day

 


A growing eCommerce business is great news, but also means you have to scale up operations. That means expanding your warehousing, inventory management, product research, marketing, customer support, sales, and every other aspect of sales at the same time.

Fulfillment is often the most complex and challenging aspect of an eCommerce business, because you have to build relationships with carriers, process orders, pick and pack, and ensure goods are correctly labeled and shipped to a customer in a reasonable time. And buyers are demanding fast, free fulfillment as the norm.

As sales grow, many small eCommerce sellers begin to struggle with timely and efficient fulfillment. As costs go up and sales velocity fluctuates, it can be difficult to maintain an appropriate number of warehouse employees, and order volume can quickly exceed your capacity to keep up. 

Outsourced fulfillment solutions help to solve this issue by taking over fulfillment operations, often storing products in their own warehouses, using their own software and machinery, and hiring the employees to pick and pack.

At the same time, not all fulfillment providers offer the same value. Some are geared towards smaller retailers and others are much better suited to enterprise operations.

Defining what you want and need, as well as asking the right questions will help you make the best decision for your organization.

 


Why should I outsource?

eCommerce operations of all sizes can benefit from a good relationship with a fulfillment partner. Small sellers get access to the infrastructure they need, and large sellers get to outsource to a specialist.

Overall, the reduced cost of shipping, access to fast shipping tags, and increase in efficiency will help you across all your channels, boosting account health metrics, improving customer satisfaction, and allowing you to increase sales velocity.

You want to improve your delivery times.

A good provider can help you to boost account metrics and meet strict shipping requirements. If your products aren’t getting to your customers on time (or at all), outsourcing fulfillment should be able to guarantee high delivery rates (and more happy customers).

 

You want to raise conversions by leveraging fast shipping tags.

This is the key benefit to outsourcing fulfillment. Whereas Amazon Prime is most conveniently accessed using FBA, there are Prime-like shipping programs across multiple marketplaces today. Those fast shipping tags help you to stand out in search results and raise conversions (and sales).

Here’s why you need fast shipping tags on your listings:

You want to avoid Amazon’s long-term storage rates.

Amazon's storage fees can skyrocket over the long-term. They don’t like having stock that stands still taking up space. Shifting excess inventory to other warehouses will allow you to maintain rapid delivery standards without paying hefty storage fees. 


You want to diversify beyond Amazon.

Most fulfillment partners can help you quickly and seamlessly integrate across multiple marketplaces (Amazon, eBay, Jet, Walmart, Shopify).

For example, a good 3PL will offer real-time inventory management synchronized across all your channels (with updated tracking information), so that when products sell on your own website, they update across eBay, Jet, Walmart, or whichever other marketplaces you’re using.

This saves you headaches by reducing backorders and improving customer satisfaction, while preventing the need to split inventory.


You want to focus on growth.

When you outsource your fulfillment logistics, you free up your internal team to focus on growth. Instead of working in the business, you’ll be able to focus on the business. This is vital for improving and perfecting your product development, branding, and sales.
 

What questions to ask when choosing a fulfillment solution

There are hundreds of fulfillment options in every niche and market. Choosing one can be intimidating, and may be expensive if you make the wrong choice.

Taking the time to ask the right questions upfront will help you make the best choice before signing a contract.


What is your pricing?

The area where most typical 3PLs cause problems is cost. Many solutions aren’t transparent with their pricing, and sellers often don’t know how much they’re spending for fulfillment until the bill arrives. This can cut into profits, and cause major headaches down the road.

Some typical fees that a 3PL charges include;

  1. Receive
  2. Storage
  3. Box
  4. Pick and Pack
  5. Label Printing
  6. Shipping
  7. Workorders
  8. Long Zone Fees
  9. Account Fees

To keep things simple at Deliverr, we only charge 2 fees;

  1. Fulfillment fees
  2. Storage fees

Want to calculate your fulfillment costs? Visit our cost calculator.
 

Deliverr.png


What fast tags do you support?

Fast shipping tags are key to conversions. They help you stand out from the intense competition, we’ve seen that buyers are willing to pay for speed, marketplaces are shifting focus from price to experience (in which fulfillment plays a large role), and they will help you get the buy box. Make sure your fulfillment partner can help you get those fast shipping tags on your listings.
 

What integrations do you support?

From marketplaces to tools, it’s important that your partner works with the software and channels you want to use. If you’re planning to expand to new channels in the near future, you should make sure those are supported as well.
 

What products can you take?

Finally, use case specific questions based on your needs. If you sell batteries, ask if they support those with their fast shipping programs (batteries are not allowed onboard air freight).
 

Are there capacity constraints?

If your fulfillment partner isn’t able to scale as quickly as you plan to, you won’t be able to stay with them long. Many solutions use shared-space warehousing, working with multiple customers in a single space. This allows most to scale up easily to meet your growing demands, but not every solution will have that option.
 

Where are your warehouses?

Choose a logistics partner who can ship goods quickly and efficiently. A fulfillment company with warehouses around the country or in geographical locations where you make a lot of sales will save you money in the long-run.

 

Tip: Warehouse location no longer plays a key role in taxation, since the Supreme Court ruled eCommerce sellers are subject to sales tax no matter what state they fulfill from.
 

Many fulfillment companies will also move goods to their warehouse closest to a destination before handing it over to a carrier, which can help reduce shipping costs and increase delivery speed. Some also specialize in specific locations (such as the West Coast).
 

Do you offer FBA prep?

Fulfillment companies can offer everything from basic freight services, where they pick goods up at your warehouse, to a full-service solution including import and freight inspection or FBA prep. While it is likely you will pay for each of these services, they may be extremely valuable for your company.
 

If you lose or damage my inventory, what’s your reimbursement policy?

We never want to think it’ll happen, but things do go wrong; Boxes are dropped, items break, and things get lost. If this happens, make sure you know exactly how your fulfillment partner will handle it. Ask your sales or customer support contact, and get confirmation in writing either via email or have them send their exact policy to you. Sometimes their policies are published online in their support forums, so you can check there and save the page for your records.
 

How quickly can we get started?

Many typical 3PLs take weeks to get up and running, and those are weeks you could be making money instead. Look for a solution with a simple signup process and easy onboarding that can hit the ground running, so you can get started quickly.

The best option to choosing a quality partner for your eCommerce fulfillment is to begin with your own needs. If you can define what you need in terms of warehouse locations, services, software, integrations, data management, audit standards, etc., you can make a better choice when you start looking.

A good fulfillment partner can offer a lot of value, especially if you’re in the process of scaling and don’t have or want to spend the resources on creating warehousing, infrastructure, and inventory management on your own. Your ideal solution will give you the freedom to scale, provide access to fast shipping tags, keep fulfillment affordable, and delight your customers with fast delivery.

 

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About the author

This is a guest post from Michael Krakaris of Deliverr. Deliverr provides fast and affordable fulfillment for your eBay, Walmart and Shopify stores, helping to boost sales through programs like Walmart Free 2-Day Shipping and eBay Guaranteed Delivery.

Deliverr’s FBA-like multi-channel fulfillment comes with clear pricing, easy on-boarding and a hassle free experience so you can focus on growing your eCommerce business.

 

In-House Amazon Team Versus Working With An Agency: 6 Pros & Cons

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This article is by Kiri Masters, Founder & CEO of Bobsled Marketing.

We’ve attacked this question in various indirect ways on the blog before, in posts like:

We talk with dozens of brands every week here at Bobsled Marketing, and we know that working with an agency to handle their Amazon sales channel is just one of several options to consider.

The most compelling alternative to working with an agency is to build an in-house team. I think this can be a perfectly fine option for a company - as long as they understand the pros and cons of doing so. Here are six pros and cons of building an in-house Amazon team versus working with an agency, and also a middle-ground alternative.

 

Pro #1: Build and retain institutional knowledge

Institutional knowledge can be anything from actual product IP to Standard Operating Procedures. And companies generally prefer to keep business-critical information (like how to run their second or third biggest sales channel, in the case of Amazon) inside the company. 

Agencies may be more or less likely to share their own institutional knowledge (procedures, workflows, technology) with their clients, so the company never really gets to build their own Amazon muscle. If they need to leave the agency, all that knowledge of how to build and manage their Amazon sales channel is lost. 

 

Pro #2: The promise of lower costs

I’ve spoken with dozens of companies who begin talking with agencies, only to eventually decide to hire a individual person (generally an ex-Amazon employee) to handle their entire Amazon channel. The idea is that this one individual is adept at managing everything related to Amazon, and the company will have an all-knowing, in-house expert. 

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Call me biased, but I’m skeptical that one individual can be equally skilled at running highly efficient PPC campaigns, writing Amazon-optimized copy for product listings, staying on top of program and policy developments, and doing inventory forecasts. And should that same person, if they are so highly skilled in these strategic growth-focused areas, also handle customer service, resolving cases, responding to product reviews and scanning products for unauthorized sellers and counterfeiters? 

This leads directly on to the first Con.

 

Con #1: Costs of an internal team are usually not as
low as you think 

Once the core competencies of your internal Amazon team are identified, it could require the discrete skills of 2-3 individuals. 

Does your company’s Amazon channel have the volume to justify 2-3 FTEs? If yes, will a Manager or Director be required to oversee those individuals to ensure harmony in the team and approach? 

 

Con #2: Internal team turnover 

Besides the costs of hiring these individuals, paying their salaries and managing them, there will be turnover. When working with an agency, it’s the agency’s job to have a pipeline of qualified candidates to take the reins for any position that’s vacant. 

At Bobsled, we spend an enormous chunk of time recruiting, vetting, and keeping our “bench” of candidates warm, ready for growth and backfilling positions. We also have extensive onboarding training, peer learning, and handover procedures. There are generally four individual Bobsled team members overseeing each client account. So even if a team member leaves, no momentum or account-specific knowledge is lost.

With a smaller internal team of Amazon experts, companies have significant “key person risk”. If that person provides 2 weeks notice, the company will probably struggle to retain momentum on Amazon while they backfill the position.   

 

Con #3: Relationship weight with Amazon

As Amazon continues to grow the number of Sellers and Vendors on their platform, they are also trying to automate as much as possible. This means that many brands who previously had a ‘warm body’ at Amazon who might help them have found that support disappear. Amazon has introduced new direct support models, which are paid programs. 

A major benefit of working with an agency is when the agency has a direct relationship with Amazon. At Bobsled we’re fortunate to be part of the AMS and AMG partner programs, and we’re a proud member of Amazon’s SPN (Solution Provider Network). In September 2018 two Bobsled team members are going to Seattle for an agency-only event where Amazon will share new developments within AMS. 

Our AMS partner team helps us with forecasting, troubleshooting, and letting us know about new beta programs. The communication flow is two-way. We’ve provided critical feedback to Amazon about processes and programs that they will consider more deeply, given the volume of accounts and spend that we manage.    

Individual companies selling on Amazon are unlikely to get this direct line in to Amazon (without paying for it separately). 

 

Con #4: Real-time comparative information

As an agency that works with brands in different product categories, across different selling platforms (Vendor and Seller), with different budgets, and different objectives, we’ve developed insights about what works and what doesn’t on Amazon across various scenarios. 

We generally learn about new beta programs on Amazon just by seeing a new feature pop up in an account one day. We can then determine how to respond to the feature before its rolled out to all clients. 

Likewise with bugs, process changes, and terms of service. Chances are that by the time these affect a client’s account, we have dealt with it already somewhere else. 

Every day at Bobsled an internal conversation will pop up in Slack along the lines of, “Has anyone seen this before?” and responses will be posted within a few minutes offering case studies of similar situations and how we’ve dealt with them in the past. 

 

A middle-ground alternative: AGENCY SUPPORT OR
CONSULTING FOR YOUR IN-HOUSE TEAM

You might think I’m pretty biased when it comes to this topic, running an Amazon agency, and you’re probably right. Still, I appreciate why some companies opt to build an internal team, or have an existing team that they want to continue to invest in. 

So we have started offering consulting services to brands who have established internal Amazon teams, are looking to stay sharp with their knowledge of the platform, stay on top of emerging trends, or troubleshoot pointy issues. We also offer full audits of a brand’s Amazon channel to diagnose issues, opportunities and present a detailed map of how to move forward. 

 

If you’d like to learn more about our consulting services or account audits, fill out our contact form. 


Do you have any pros and cons to add? Share them with us in the comments below.

5 Questions to Ask Distributors Before Letting Them Sell Your Brand on Amazon

Here at Bobsled Marketing, we’re strong believers that brands should be representing themselves on Amazon. Amazon accounts for an estimated 50% of ecommerce sales, and many shoppers start their product searches on Amazon. Brands should be using the channel to gather insight into product and competitive trends, get feedback from customers, represent their brand (and pricing!) consistently, own & grow the direct revenue, and own as much of the data they can get from Amazon.   

Still, some manufacturers figure that they’d have an easier time allowing their distributors or a specialized reseller to handle Amazon for them: out of sight, out of mind. 

While we don’t endorse this approach, we do understand that it can be the simplest way for brands to check Amazon off the list, and be a good option for expanding into international markets. In order for brands to practice “safe distributing”, we’ve compiled a list of questions that brands can ask potential distributors and resellers to ask before giving up their Amazon channel to a third party.    

 

1. What data will the reseller share with the brand?

Amazon isn’t known for sharing a ton of data with the merchants that sell there. From their perspective, shoppers on Amazon are “their” customers, and merchants don’t get a ton of insight into who the buyers are or their purchasing habits.

Still, there is helpful data that can be gathered in Seller Central & Vendor Central (depending on which platform the reseller is using), which you should request reporting on.
 

  • Sales data over time, by product. Which products are most popular based on units sold, and total revenue. How are those trends changing over time? Lower sales over time could signal higher competition.
     
  • Conversion data over time, by product. Which products sell the best once a shopper finds them? Are conversion rates getting better or worse over time?
     
  • Search Term Report, when running PPC ads. This report is essential reading to understand what keywords and phrases shoppers are using to find your product, and which terms actually convert into sales.
     
  • Other ASIN Report, when running PPC ads. This report shows you competitors’ products that shoppers bought after clicking on an ad for your product. This is essential competitor insight.
     
  • Order reports. Although you cannot re-market Amazon customers, you can generate reports which show where customers who bought your products are located. This can give you valuable demographic information about who your customers are.  This is only available to Sellers, not Vendors.

 

2. What marketing activities will the reseller deploy?

A potential issue with resellers and distributors is that they may not care as much as you would about representing your brand in the best possible way. 

At Bobsled Marketing, we have seen issues where products were materially misrepresented on Amazon, causing big customer service issues and damage to the brand. 

But on a more innocuous level, if could be as basic as making a half-hearted attempt to produce product listings with great images and compelling copywriting.

If your products aren’t represented in the best way possible, it will mean lower conversions and sales.

  Above: example of a Amazon product page, with a keyword-optimized title, descriptive bullets, quality product images, logical flavor variations, and enrolled in the Subscribe & Save subscription program. 

Above: example of a Amazon product page, with a keyword-optimized title, descriptive bullets, quality product images, logical flavor variations, and enrolled in the Subscribe & Save subscription program. 

You should also ask the reseller if they will be running promotions like shopper coupons and lightning deals; how they plan to get product reviews; and whether they will be running PPC ads to drive qualified traffic to your brand’s products. Each of these efforts can increase sales considerably.

 

3. How will inventory be managed?

As a manufacturer, you know that everything grinds to a halt when you run out of inventory. So what are your distributor’s processes for ensuring they have adequate levels of stock? Do they use software to calculate the quantity and frequency of orders from you?

Another concern may be around how they will handle product returns. Amazon has different options for handling returns when the items is shipped by Amazon (using FBA or Vendor Central), and the default option is for Amazon to re-stock any inventory that appears to be in sellable condition. That can create huge issues for the brand when the following customer receives a product that has been opened or appears used. 

  Above: a disgruntled Amazon customer who received a product that was not in the condition described by a reseller.

Above: a disgruntled Amazon customer who received a product that was not in the condition described by a reseller.

Distributors may also liquidate returned inventory through other channels, and even to other resellers on Amazon like Amazon Warehouse Deals. These downstream sellers can create issues of their own.

 

4. What are the reseller’s customer experience processes?

Amazon customers are savvy and sometimes demanding! They know that by shopping on Amazon they can expect an almost immediate response, and for problems with orders to be solved instantly. 

Make sure the reseller has processes in place to respond to buyer messages within the 24-hour  window required by Amazon, and that they’ll also be responding to negative product reviews. 

Remember that most shoppers will have no idea that they are buying from a reseller or distributor - to them, it’s simply your brand’s products. 

 

5. What are the terms of the reseller agreement?

Make sure there are provisions in the agreement that mean you can cancel if the reseller doesn’t meet the agreed requirements. Consider adding some terms from the above questions to ensure your brand is being represented correctly and has the best opportunity to grow.
 
Be careful if you give permission for your reseller to apply for Amazon’s Brand Registry. This means that if you decide to eventually take back control of your brand on Amazon, the reseller will already have primary rights to edit product listing content, and make it harder for you to represent your own brand.  

 

In summary

The decision to relinquish your brand on Amazon to a third party shouldn’t be taken lightly. But if the distributor or reseller can answer these questions to your satisfaction, you might have a win-win partnership. Be sure to revisit the strategy of your Amazon channel periodically, especially if you find that purchase orders from the distributor are growing at a good clip. And if you decide that your brand’s Amazon channel should be fully owned by your company, you don’t have to do it alone.


Bobsled Marketing has worked with hundreds of companies to grow and protect their brands on Amazon, without giving up control. Request a consultation with our team today or learn more about our services.   


FBA Small & Light: Is It Worth It?

The FBA Small and Light program is a fulfillment option for products that are priced under $15, measure 16” x 9” x 4” or smaller, and weigh 15 ounces or less. In this blog post we’ve broken down all the important aspects of the program.

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SMALL AND LIGHT?

  • Small and Light offers are eligible for FREE Standard Shipping (4-5 business days), but not other Prime shipping options such as Prime 2-Day Shipping. 
  • Non-Prime customers receive FREE shipping (6-8 business days) with no minimum order requirement. Non-Prime customers all have the option of upgrading to 4-5 business days shipping for $0.99. 
  • It is possible to fulfill the same product through both the Small and Light program and standard FBA fulfillment. Fulfillment through the Program and standard FBA require separate inbounding processes.
  Image Source: Amazon.com

Image Source: Amazon.com

 

WHICH PRODUCTS AND SELLERS ARE ELIGIBLE?

The Program is currently only available for ASINs and sellers who meet certain criteria and are approved at Amazon’s discretion. Eligible sellers may submit the ASINs that they want to enroll in the program for approval. Sellers participating in the Program must already be enrolled in FBA and not have Premium Placement enabled.

In addition to Restricted Products and FBA Prohibited Products, the following products cannot be fulfilled through the program:
 

  • Hazmat products
  • Adult products
  • Temperature-sensitive products (such as chocolates)
  • Any product that is not in new condition
  • Existing FBA product offers that use manufacturer barcodes for tracking (commingled offers) instead of Amazon barcodes
  • ASINs that have been on Amazon.com for more than 90 days and have sold in the trailing 4 weeks (or are expected to sell in the upcoming 4 weeks) fewer than 25 units
  • Products with package dimensions greater than 16x9x4 inches or weighing more than 15 ounces.
  Image Source: Amazon.com

Image Source: Amazon.com

 

SHIPPING PREP REQUIRED FOR SMALL AND LIGHT PRODUCTS

  • All same-ASIN units within a box must be bundled together using a plastic bag, manufacturer/seller case pack (i.e. boxed or shrink-wrapped), or other means of grouping your same-ASIN units together.
  • A minimum of 30 units per ASIN must be sent in each shipment.
  • On the outside of each same-ASIN bag/pack, the total quantity of sellable units must be clearly labeled or a packing list must be included in each shipping box.
  • Each unit must have a scannable barcode (UPC/EAN/FNSKU) or be individually stickered (if no barcode is available or if the barcode applies to more than one ASIN).
  • All units must also be prepared according to the FBA Small and Light Prep Requirements. Units prepared according to the FBA Small and Light Prep Requirements will typically be available for purchase 5 days after Amazon’s receives the shipment in the IVSA fulfillment center in Erlanger, Kentucky.

 

HOW DO THE FEES WORK?

There is a difference between FBA standard and S&L Fulfilment Fees, and your S&L margin improves for individual orders with more than 1 unit sold. Therefore, the program makes economic sense for brands that sell small products but in large quantities (per individual order). 

 

WHAT KIND OF PRODUCTS IS THE PROGRAM MOST SUITED TO?

We recommend reviewing your sales history (on Amazon plus other channels) to see if there’s any products in your catalog that are bought in large quantities via single orders. Often times due to the low price-point such items are not suitable for standard FBA, and have been listed as FBM (Fulfilled By Merchant) on Amazon to protect profit margins. Chances are, if you consistently sell multiple units of these products via single orders, you can see an improved margin on the S&L program compared to FBA standard.

Let's use an example to illustrate the potential savings of S&L.

The following 8" harp set from I Like That Lamp has a total weight of 3.2 oz, dimensions of 11" x 5" x 1" and retails on Amazon for $9.95.

Here's a breakdown of how the FBA vs. S&L fees would work assuming 1 unit was purchased in a single order.

The general S&L concept is that the more units you can sell with individual orders the better your profit margins will become. If you are in doubt we would recommend crunching the S&L fees using the above table before confirming with Amazon support that your calculations check out prior to prepping S&L inventory.

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ALWAYS CHECK THE FEES

Ensuring that Amazon fees are correct is a big part of Bobsled’s operational deliverables as a full channel management Amazon agency. Unfortunately we’ve noticed discrepancies across several accounts with expected vs. actual Amazon S&L fees.

It is up to each individual seller and vendor to keep track of all Amazon fees across the product catalog. If there’s any S&L fee errors you should open a case with support who will ask for more info and investigate. The issue may be related to a product having incorrect dimensions/weight or simply a glitch in the system. If you can prove to Amazon that fees have been calculated incorrectly, you will be reimbursed accordingly.


WANT TO KNOW MORE?

To learn more about the S&L program and Bobsled’s Amazon channel management service, please schedule an appointment below:


How Do I Update A UPC On Amazon?

For a variety of reasons, a brand may need to update the UPC of a product on the Amazon marketplace. In this post we’re going to break down exactly how to go about this.

 

  Example of a UPC

Example of a UPC

SKU, UPC, EAN, ASIN AND FNSKU - WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

UPC stands for “Universal Product Code”. Typically the 12-digit UPC is printed on the product packaging or label of each SKU as a barcode. European brands may use a EAN or “European Article Number”, which is a 13-digit barcode, in place of a UPC.

A SKU must have a UPC or EAN in order to get listed on any Amazon marketplace. Once the product listing has been created, Amazon will generate an ASIN, which is a “Amazon Standard Identification Number”, a 10-character alphanumeric unique identifier that's used within the Amazon ecosystem. 

 

  Product description found on the product listing. The ASIN for this product has been highlighted.

Product description found on the product listing. The ASIN for this product has been highlighted.

In addition, Amazon will also generate a FNSKU, which stands for “Fulfillment Network SKU”. Each individual SKU on Amazon will be assigned a single ASIN, but each ASIN may be sold by various different parties. Amazon uses the FNSKU to identify the product as belonging to you. So when you get a sale they pull from your inventory, rather than from another sellers’.

  Example of a FNSKU on an Amazon label.

Example of a FNSKU on an Amazon label.


WHY WOULD YOU NEED TO UPDATE A UPC?

Here are a couple of common reasons why a brand may need to update a UPC on Amazon:

  1. User error. When creating the product listing incorrect UPC details were uploaded. An incorrect UPC will cause issues for Sellers trying to generate an FBA shipment or Vendors trying to fulfill a new PO.
     
  2. New in-house labeling system. If you assign a SKU a new UPC in-house, you will need to inform Amazon of this update. For example, a brand may decide to use a different UPC for the same product sold in the US compared to Canada in order to better track inventory levels and sales.

 

INSTEAD OF UPDATING THE INCORRECT UPC WHY DON’T I JUST
CREATE A NEW PRODUCT LISTING?

There should be no duplicate listings on the Amazon marketplace. If you realize that a product listing has an incorrect UPC the solution is not to simply create a new product listing. Eventually Amazon will pick up on the duplication and merge the listings which could result in the loss of valuable product reviews.

Another benefit is that the same product will be linked by the same ASIN across multiple marketplaces. For example, let’s say Product A has 25 product reviews on Amazon.com. When Product A is launched on Amazon.co.uk the ASIN will be the same across both marketplaces. Although Product A will start with 0 reviews on Amazon.co.uk, there is a neat feature which involves Amazon giving UK shoppers insight about the product reviews from the US marketplace. This insight builds trust in the new marketplace and helps with conversion rates.

most helpful reviews on amazon.JPG

If you’re using the wrong UPC in either Amazon market the ASINs won’t match and therefore you won’t be able to access this “Most helpful reviews on Amazon.com” feature. 

Note: if a SKU changes fundamentally in nature Amazon requires the seller or vendor to use a new UPC and create a new product listing. For example, if a model of wallet is made out of Horween leather initially but this is updated to faux leather, you cannot continue to sell the faux leather wallet under the original Horween UPC, even if you update all the product listing info. This is because any existing customer feedback on the listing is a review of the Horween product, and it would be misleading to substitute in the faux leather product in its place. Depending on the product category, you may be able to add the faux leather SKU as a child variation on the existing product listing, or you may need to create a brand new parent product.

If there are only slight changes to the nature of a SKU (i.e. updated product packaging, new product insert), you are not obligated to create a brand new listing with a new UPC. If you are ever in doubt about whether you are required to create a brand new listing we’d recommend talking with Seller or Vendor support.

SCANNING.jpg

 

WHAT IS BOBSLED’S PROCESS FOR UPDATING A UPC?

  1. Start by opening a case. Immediately after noticing the issue, open a case in writing with Seller or Vendor support. Log in to your Seller or Vendor account, click ‘Help’ in the top right hand corner of the screen, and click ‘Contact Us’. Write an email to support explaining the issue. It’s important to be polite yet at the same time stress the urgency of the situation. A good way to do this is to let Support know that an incorrect UPC will ultimately impact the Amazon customer experience in a negative way. We recommend attaching relevant screenshots and photos to your message as visual evidence of the problem.
     
  2. Follow-up with a call, escalate accordingly. In some very rare instances your UPC issue will get solved immediately. But most of the time you’ll need to follow up with more cases and phone calls. On the phone it’s more than likely that the first rep you speak with won’t be able to help. It’s important to be persistent and ask Support to escalate the problem to someone who understands your issue and can assist.
     
  3. Get the right info from Support. After several attempts you’ll eventually get connected with a Support rep who’ll be able to solve the problem over the phone in real time. In our experience it will take the Amazon system 48-72 hours to recognize the correct UPC and it may take up to 5 days for the change to reflect in the back-end of the product listings. We recommend asking the Support rep to follow up after the call with a) screenshots of the update on the Amazon side and b) specific instructions on how to handle any related issues. For example, due to the incorrect UPC, a vendor may need to cancel a PO and wait for a new one which will appear once the UPC has been correctly updated. 
     
  4. Check the problem has been solved, and then check again. Finally, it’s important to triple-check that the changes made by the Support rep actually take effect as planned. Even if the update was correctly implemented an Amazon glitch could undo the change and you will likely need to re-open the case. Trying to connect with the same Support rep who initiated the change is always recommended.

Although it can be a painful exercise, updating UPCs on Amazon is sometimes a necessity. To learn more about how Bobsled can help with this and other operational tasks please schedule an appointment below.

Winning On Amazon - The 4 Parts Of The Iceberg

Bobsled Marketing is a full channel Amazon agency. What does this mean exactly?

Unsurprisingly, this is a question we hear a lot. Amazon is becoming increasingly important for thousands of brands and there is a lot of mystery surrounding what it takes to effectively master the channel.

We thought it would be useful to break down our approach to Amazon management aka “The 4 Parts Of The Iceberg”.

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Our Credentials

Before we dive in, here’s a little background about Bobsled:

  • Established in 2015 by Australian entrepreneur and former commercial banker Kiri Masters
  • Headquartered in New York City
  • As of July 2018, we manage the Amazon channel for 55+ brands on Amazon North America, Europe and Australia
  • Our clients include third-party sellers (Seller Central), vendors (Vendor Central) and “hybrid” sellers (Seller Central & Vendor Central)
  • We represent branded manufacturers and retailer private labels across all of Amazon’s product categories
  • Proud member of Amazon’s official Solution Provider Network
  • Accredited agency for the Amazon Media Group  (AMG) display ad network
  • Official Amazon content contributor on Forbes.com

Every Amazon account is unique, and our extensive experience has taught us that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

However, there are specific areas of Amazon management that every seller or vendor needs to be on top of. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling makeup, jewelry or toys; you will simply not succeed on Amazon if you don’t manage certain aspects of the account efficiently.

 

The 4 Parts Of The Iceberg

A picture paints a thousand words, so without further adieu, here’s a visual representation of how we view Amazon account management: 

As you can see, the iceberg is broken down into four different sections; Operations, Brand Protection & Customer Service, Organic Marketing and Paid Advertising.

In this post we’re going to break down exactly how we manage each chunk.

 

 

Part 1 of 4: Operations

Day-to-day operational management forms the backbone of every Amazon presence. This section sits at the very bottom of our iceberg as the tasks involved are typically behind-the-scenes. But such tasks are incredibly vital as they keep the entire account afloat.

At Bobsled we define Operations as maintaining excellent Seller and/or Vendor metrics. This is perhaps the easiest part of Amazon account management as Amazon will help you track all critical metrics, and if there’s an issue you’ll receive a performance alert.


Third-party sellers (Seller Central) have different operational metrics compared to brands selling to Amazon in a wholesale capacity (Vendor Central). Here’s a brief checklist of the main operational metrics we look for on Seller and Vendor:
 

Vendor Central

  • Incomplete or pending shipments
  • Product Submissions page to track approval status of new products
  • Problem Receive Rate %
  • Vendor Operational Performance alerts for any issues
  • Chargebacks and vendor returns
  • Case Log, assess the status of any existing disputes
  • Purchase Order submissions and confirmed quantities
  • Customer Packaging Ease Of Opening and Protection Ratings
  • Invoicing issues


Seller Central

  • Performance notifications
  • Respond to Buyer Messages
  • Check Account Health status
  • Inventory review
  • Case log updates
  • Incoming-FBA shipments status
  • Stranded inventory
  • Unfulfillable units
  • Catalog review
  • FBA fees
  • Inventory management
     

It’s important to note that some tasks needed to be completed daily, whereas others should happen on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, Sellers should look for Performance Notifications every day because if you miss an important notification, such as an A-Z Claim, it could lead to an account suspension.
 

Inventory Is Key

The greatest challenge from an operational point of view is typically inventory management. Ensuring that you have Prime-eligible inventory available at all times is a simple and effective way to grow Amazon revenue.

Sellers have more control over their inventory levels compared to Vendors. This is because Sellers can decide exactly how much inventory to make available on Amazon, whereas Vendor inventory levels are determined by Amazon’s wholesale PO’s (Purchase Orders).

Shoppers love the convenience of Amazon and if your product is unavailable they will likely go with a competitor or an unauthorized third-party seller. Analyzing YOY data and closely tracking sales velocity are two things every brand should be doing to help accurately project required inventory levels and avoid costly stock-out situations.

Here is more information about Bobsled’s recommended inventory management strategies.


Part 2 of 4: Brand Protection & Customer Service

Due to Amazon’s growing market share in the eCommerce space, protecting your brand and providing exemplary customer service is of extreme importance. Once again, a lot of the work is “back-end” heavy, but completely necessary due to the dog-eat-dog manner in which Amazon functions as a marketplace.

We define brand protection and customer service on Amazon as:


Controlling Buy Box Threats

For every unique product on Amazon there is only one product listing. This means that if your product is sold by multiple sellers, they will all be competing for the same Buy Box.


Every brand has a slightly different policy when it comes to other parties selling their products on Amazon. Here are the three most common scenarios:
 

  • Scenario 1 - brand has complete control over distribution, and no other parties sell their product line across any other channels. Such brands generally don’t have to worry about other parties trying to win their Buy Box on Amazon.

  • Scenario 2 - brand has select authorized resellers who are allowed to sell their product line on Amazon. Such brands need to ensure the authorized resellers respect the MAP agreement on Amazon to preserve pricing integrity across all online channels. It should also be noted that authorized resellers may on-sell large quantities of inventory to other parties who may end up becoming unauthorized Amazon sellers (unless there’s a specific clause in the agreement preventing the authorized reseller from engaging in this activity).

  • Scenario 3 - brand sells to multiple other parties, and has no authorized Amazon resellers. As a result a brand in this situation will likely have to contend with a huge number of unauthorized resellers competing for the Buy Box on the Amazon marketplace.
     

In our experience, prevention is always better than a cure when it comes to dealing with Buy Box threats. Carefully vetting wholesale partners and creating watertight agreements can save you from numerous headaches further down the line.

This issue unfortunately impacts both Sellers and Vendors. Amazon wants wide selection and fierce price competition on their marketplace so it’s up to the brand owner to control the Buy Box on each product listing.
 

Responding To Customer Questions & Product Reviews
Promptly With Helpful Information

Failing to respond directly to Customer Questions and Product Reviews can have huge ramifications for your brand.

On your own ecommerce website you completely control the shopping experience. Amazon is a little different. You control the product listing content for your own branded products but customers can leave feedback right on the page. If this feedback is negative or inaccurate it can impact conversion and revenue negatively.

For Bobsled clients we respond directly to this type of feedback in order to preserve the integrity of product listings under our management.

 

Part 3 of 4: Organic Marketing

Many brands have great content but it’s simply not optimized for the Amazon marketplace. Organic marketing is about giving both the A9 algorithm and the Amazon shoppers all the right information about your brand and product line.
 

Ensure That All Your Product Information Is Correct

Often times product listings on Amazon have been “hijacked” by other third-party sellers. Or perhaps there are counterfeiters selling fake versions of your product line. There is often misleading information floating around on Amazon, particularly for brands with large catalogs that sell across multiple channels.

It is your responsibility as the brand owner to review the catalog and update any false information.


Are Your Product Listings Designed To Convert?

The first step is starting with the framework of the product listing; back-end search terms and metadata, product title, images, bullet points and product description.

Secondly, Sellers and Vendors should be considering boosting the quality of the product listings with EBC (Enhanced Brand Content) and A+ Pages. These enhancement features offer a great way to differentiate your products from competitor offerings.

Finally, brands should be considering ways in which they can offer more value to shoppers with Promotions. Simple offers include Percentage Off, Free Shipping (if you always Merchant-fulfill) and Buy One Get One promotions. If you want to get more advanced, Product Bundles and the Subscribe & Save program might be ways in which you could edge out the competition. We’ve published a blog post on Amazon Promotions, you can check it out here.


Part 4 of 4: Paid Advertising

In our iceberg graphic we put Paid Advertising at the very top. Once you’ve built an account with solid foundations, you can use PPC advertising to drive more awareness to your brand and product catalog.
 

Do I Really Need To Advertise My Amazon Products?

Every Amazon marketplace is becoming more and more crowded with each passing month. Therefore, it becomes more of a challenge to rank organically (even for established brands) due to the increased competition across every product category.

By utilizing Amazon’s paid advertising tools a brand can rent pieces of prime real estate across the ecosystem in an attempt to gain more impressions, clicks and conversions. By not investing in PPC you are giving competitors an opportunity to eat into your market share.
 

How Do I Allocate Spend & Track Performance?

There is no simple answer to this question due to the fact that each Amazon account varies so wildly. Some factors that should impact your paid advertising strategy include; Amazon fees, inventory levels, seasonal trends, state of listing optimization and competitiveness of your product category.
 

It Starts (And Ends) With Profit Margin

At Bobsled, our starting point for ascertaining the recommended PPC budget is always profit margin on a SKU level. Amazon is a great channel for exposure, but if you’re aren’t turning a profit then what’s the point?

Once we have a ballpark idea of what the ad spend level should be, our advertising team builds PPC campaigns and begins to track performance. Our ultimate goal is to reach the point of diminishing returns across the catalog. This means spending just the right amount on advertising to see the most optimal results overall.

Check out our blog post “How Much To Spend On Amazon PPC In 2018”.

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Conclusion: When We Say Full Channel, We Really Mean It

Bobsled’s full channel Amazon management service is a complete package. In a nutshell; our clients ship inventory, and we handle everything Amazon related on their behalf.

This service overview is just the “tip of the iceberg”. To learn more about how we can help your brand scale on Amazon please schedule an appointment with a Bobsled representative below.

Bobsled Amazon Prime Day 2018 Playbook

Amazon Prime Day has become one of the biggest events on the e-commerce shopping calendar, and at Bobsled we’re predicting Prime Day 2018 will leave past years trailing in its dust.

Prime Day is a global event that will be held sometime around mid-July where thousands of short-term deals will go live on various Amazon marketplaces. Sellers and Vendors are contacted by Amazon in the lead up to Prime Day and are asked to submit for various Prime Day deals (the first deadline is tomorrow, Friday May 18th, more on deadlines below). In order to access the deals, shoppers need to become Amazon Prime members.

Find our recap of Prime Day 2017 here.

  Image Source:   Amazon  .  com

Image Source: Amazon.com

Amazon capitalizes on the event by gaining more Prime subscriptions and an untold amount of publicity. Sellers and Vendors have the opportunity to capitalize by selling through a lot of inventory and acquiring new customers in the often patchy summer selling season.

Since its inception, Prime Day has been criticized by brands and customers alike for three main reasons:
 

  1. Duration of deals. In past years, customers have logged on to Amazon on Prime Day and found an attractive deal, only for all units to be sold in a matter of seconds, leaving thousands of disappointed customers.
     
  2. Lack of value-for-money. In 2017, Amazon suffered some social media backlash in the aftermath of Prime Day from customers who felt the hype of the economic holiday outweighed the actual quality of deals on offer. 
     
  3. Technical Glitches. Last year a technical glitch on Amazon’s end apparently caused several sellers’ Lightning Deals in North America to be “suppressed” and ultimately “cancelled,” causing them to lose potentially large amounts of money in pre-paid fees and over-stocked inventory.

In 2018, we predict Amazon will address the above concerns in a couple of ways.

Last year, Amazon started spacing deals out around the week leading up to Prime Day. We suspect that they will take things a step further this year with deals start popping up on Amazon in the weeks leading up to Prime Day, giving shoppers plenty of time and opportunity to snag a bargain, increasing overall customer engagement. Rather than a single day or week, think of it more as Prime-Month.

  Image Source:   Amazon  .  com

Image Source: Amazon.com

Secondly, Amazon will undoubtedly be using it’s wealth of historical sales data to ascertain the right price-point and inventory levels for the 2018 Prime Day deals. Amazon uses the event as a tool to get more Prime subscribers, who according to research will spend twice as much on Amazon over the long-term as non-Prime users. However, the trade-off is that Amazon has to provide real value-for-money deals (that actually function as advertised), otherwise the occasion comes off as a PR stunt for it’s Prime service.

As a full channel management agency, we provide our clients with Amazon support across four key service areas: Operations, Customer Service & Brand Protection, Organic Marketing and Paid Advertising. We’ve developed a Prime Day 2018 playbook across each service area in order to help our clients win big on this hugely important day.

 

OPERATIONS

Deal Deadlines

In order to participate in a Prime Day deal, the first step is submitting an expression of interest. Here are the various deadlines:

  • May 18th – Deadline for Third Party (Seller Central) Sellers to submit for Amazon Prime Day Lightning Deals.
  • May 31st – Deadline for Vendors (Vendor Central) to submit for Amazon Prime Day Lightning Deals, Spotlight Deals, Coupons, & Category Deals.
  • June 15th – Deadline for Vendors to submit category page merchandising & marketing packages.

The above deadlines may vary based on the Amazon marketplace.

All the different types of deals function in essentially the same way. Amazon asks Vendors and Sellers to provide short-term product discounts that are predetermined by Amazon in exchange for increased visibility and exposure on the marketplace. There is also an obligation to assign a certain number of Prime-eligible units to the deal. Even if a brand agrees to Amazon’s proposed discount and inventory levels there’s no guarantee Amazon will approve the deal, and there is also no guarantee Amazon will actually run approved deals on Prime Day.

In order to figure out the right type of deal, a brand should have an intimate understanding of the profit margin of each SKU sold on the Amazon marketplace. Prime Day is ultimately a pay-to-play experience, and every Seller and Vendor should make an informed decision about how to reconcile profit margin with increased exposure.

 

Inventory Planning

Perhaps the biggest consideration for sellers and vendors in the lead-up to Prime Day is inventory planning.

In order to qualify for Prime Day deals a brand may have to manufacture more inventory than what’s historically anticipated and ship this inventory to Amazon’s DC’s (Distribution Centers) on a very short turnaround.

Existing levels of inventory will also inform which Prime Day deal to go for. For example, if a brand is planning to eventually discontinue an item, it may make sense to utilize a Lightning Deal to sell through remaining inventory very quickly. In this situation a brand might take a hit on profit margin, however by selling remaining inventory rapidly they may be avoiding future long-term storage fees. 

In addition, it’s extremely important for brands to think about the type of impact Prime Day might have on their entire Amazon catalog. A successful Prime Day typically may result in a huge spike in traffic and conversion, which in turn boosts the BSR (Best Seller Rank) for impacted products. This means that in the aftermath of the event the demand for certain SKUs may be heightened, and therefore you need to ensure you have adequate inventory to capitalize on this surge of interest.

We discuss this ‘halo effect’ in Episode 1 of Bobsled’s Ecommerce Braintrust podcast.

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For Sellers this may mean sending in additional FBA inventory, and strategically reserving units that you can decide when to bring back online. If sending more FBA inventory to Amazon is not an option, having the capacity to Merchant-fulfil orders is the next best solution. 

Here is more information about Bobsled’s recommended inventory management strategies

Vendors are a little more constrained as their inventory levels are controlled by Amazon’s Purchase Orders. However, if a vendor is anticipating a serious inventory crunch in the aftermath of Prime Day, it may be worthwhile investigating the possibility of pursuing a hybrid model (operating a Vendor and Seller account simultaneously). By selling in a hybrid capacity, a brand can ensure that even if all Vendor inventory is sold out, customers will still able to find and order Prime-eligible inventory.

 

Impeccable Account Admin on Prime Day

As experienced Sellers and Vendors know all too well, technical issues can seriously hinder progress, especially on high-stakes occasions like Prime Day. Such problems include product listing pages appearing incorrectly, credit card payment failures and stranded inventory.

Failure to fix such problems in a timely manner on Prime Day can result in thousands of dollars of lost revenue. Therefore it's critical brands allocate resources to ensure everything is running smoothly.

We recommend triple-checking all the crucial moving parts at the start of Prime Day, and revisiting the account every hour to ensure everything is running according to plan.

 

CUSTOMER SERVICE & BRAND PROTECTION

Post-Purchase Email Sequence

A huge advantage of Prime Day is that your brand and product has the opportunity to get in front of thousands of new eyeballs. Making a lot of one-time sales is great, but turning new Prime Day customers into long-term supporters of your brand is even better.

With this goal in mind, Sellers should be looking at their post-purchase email sequence. At Bobsled we recommend a post-purchase email sequence that satisfies three criteria:

  • avoids negative product feedback
  • promotes positive product feedback 
  • adds extra value for each customer

By implementing such an email sequence Sellers will be doing everything to ensure quality customer service experience for all Prime Day customers. This should result in more product reviews, which will help build your catalog’s BSR.

customer-service-feedback-amazon.jpg

 

Prepare For A Higher Volume Of Customer Service Inquiries

For Sellers, more orders generally means more direct interaction with customers. A customer who finds your product on Prime Day is probably ecstatic about the deal and potentially has some follow-up questions, hence a higher volume of inquiries is to be expected. The last thing you want as the Seller is for the customer to be left in the dark if there’s been some type of issues with their order. Poor customer service on and around Prime Day could have lasting ramifications for your brand.

The solution is simple; Sellers should ensure adequate customer service resources are dedicated to their account in order to preserve perfect account metrics.

Vendors, on the other hand do not have any ability to interact directly with customers as this is something Amazon handles on their behalf. 

Another thing both Vendors and Sellers should be watching during this critical period is product reviews. Negative product reviews are often the result of a simple misunderstanding regarding how to use a product or perhaps an issue with the shipping carrier. It’s important for brands to respond directly to any negative product reviews in order to try and find a solution for that particular customer, and also allay similar concerns for any potential future customers.

 

Monitor The Presence Of Unauthorized Third-Party Sellers

Unauthorized third-party sellers are a huge problem for both Vendors and Sellers on the Amazon marketplace. These sellers compete for the Buy Box on product listings, and could be making a serious dent on your gross Amazon revenues.

During a period like Prime Day, traffic on Amazon will spike, and this surge of customers will be trying to find the absolute best deal for every product on their wish list. If an unauthorized third-party seller is undercutting you on price, or you’re faced with a stock-out, this seller may win the Buy Box and reap the rewards.

Unauthorized sellers don’t merely impact products that are getting boosted with Prime Day deals. A customer may find your product through a deal on Prime Day, and then decide to review your entire product catalog. Therefore a comprehensive brand management approach is recommended.

You can read more about Bobsled’s best practices in respect to Amazon brand management here.

 

Organic Marketing

Are Your Product Listings Designed To Convert?

A Prime Day deal is designed to generate a huge quantity of clicks, but that’s only half the battle. Ensuring your product listings are optimized for conversion will allow you to reap the full benefits of the Prime Day buying frenzy.

The first step is starting with the framework of the product listing; back-end search terms and metadata, product title, images, bullet points and product description. In the lead up to Prime Day it’s worthwhile to check the traffic and conversion percentage across the catalog to ascertain which listings may require a tune-up.

Secondly, Sellers and Vendors should be considering boosting the quality of the product listings with EBC (Enhanced Brand Content) and A+ Pages. These enhancement features offer a great way to differentiate your products from competitor offerings. 

Summarized, Sellers and Vendors need to ensure their product listings are designed to turn browsing bargain-hunters into buyers on high-reward occasions such as Prime Day.

Optimizing+your+product+listings+for+Amazon+-+Bobsled+Marketing.png

 

DIY Prime Day Deals

As mentioned earlier, in order to qualify for Amazon’s official Prime Day deals, a brand needs to accept Amazon’s non-negotiable discount demands and inventory prerequisites. For whatever reason, the nature of the deals are simply not going to work for many Vendors and Sellers.

The reality is that due to the huge amount of PR Amazon will be doing there is going to be a lot more traffic on Amazon during Prime Day. And once a user is on the site, there’s nothing stopping them from finding your products, even if you aren’t running an approved Prime Day deal.

Therefore, brands should be considering ways in which they can manipulate their product listings to provide more value for money for the Prime Day customer. Simple ways to do this include Percentage Off, Free Shipping (if you always Merchant-fulfill) and Buy One Get One promotions. If you want to get more advanced, Product Bundles and the Subscribe & Save program might be ways in which you could edge out your competitors, even if they are running official Prime Day deals.

We’ve published a blog post on Amazon Promotions, you can check it out here.


Prime Day 2018 presents an opportunity for every brand selling on Amazon. If you’re interested in learning more about how Bobsled could ensure your brand is ready for a successful Prime Day you can set up a consultation here.


Using Other Channels To Promote Your Prime Day Deals

Every brand has a different perspective on how they view their Amazon channel, but some Vendors and Sellers are in the fortunate position of being able to send qualified existing traffic to their Prime Day deals.

If you are a brand manager in this position, we’d strongly recommend scheduling email blasts and social media posts for Prime Day, alerting existing customers to your deals. There is going to be a lot of noise on the day, therefore it’s crucial you can reach your existing customer base with your offer before a competitor beats you to the punch.

 

PAID ADVERTISING

Test And Analyze Your PPC Performance In The Lead-Up To Prime Day

Whether you are planning to run sanctioned deals, or whether you simply want to capitalize on the event by manipulating product listings on your own terms, the performance of your PPC campaigns will make a big impact on your Prime Day results.

In the lead-up to the event it’s important to closely review your AMS and/or Sponsored Products campaigns in order to gauge performance. Looking for opportunities to add any missing negative keywords and closely reviewing the bid amount and daily budgets for all campaigns can be hugely advantageous, as it will allow you to take stock and establish a baseline.

The existing PPC data contained within your account is hugely informative and will inform how to approach Prime Day from a paid advertising perspective.

analyze+performance.jpg

 

Carefully Monitor PPC Performance In The Lead Up & On The Day

Every brand’s Amazon presence differs wildly, therefore it’s impossible to develop a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to Prime Day paid advertising.

In 2018, we’re expecting more total marketplace traffic in the lead up to Prime Day, and as a result it’s important to monitor PPC performance closely in order to capitalize.

In 2017, we noticed a 46% average increase in spend on Prime Day across our clients’ campaigns compared with the average spend from the first 10 days in July, however it was not uncommon for some of our clients’ daily budgets to be spent within just a few hours. Curiously, on average, CPC (Cost-Per-Click) only increased 2.72% on Prime Day, as compared to the days leading up to the event. Just 1 out of 3 clients saw an increase in CPC of more than 50% on Prime Day, versus the period of July 1-10.

Stefan Jordev, PPC Manager at Bobsled, has compiled his main Prime Day takeaways:

  1. Check your account every few hours. Campaigns run out of budget very quickly. 
  2. Get ready with bids and budgets before Prime Day.
  3. CPC rates do not necessarily increase during Prime Day.
  4. Every single account saw increased sales on Prime Day.

If you’re interested in learning more, we have more Prime Day PPC analysis here.

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Good Luck!

Prime Day 2018 presents an opportunity for every brand selling on Amazon. If you’re interested in learning more about how Bobsled could ensure your brand is ready for a successful Prime Day you can set up a consultation here.

The Updated Guide to Selling Food & Beverages on Amazon

Amazon is taking big steps forward in the world of food & beverages. Splitting the category previously named Grocery & Gourmet into three categories named Food & Beverage, Organic Products, and Chilled & Frozen Foods to help further define the types of products they will sell.

The splitting of the categories also comes with heightened requirements for sellers that ensures quality and accuracy of origin and ingredients. This is especially obvious in the Organic Foods category, where Amazon is now requiring all of the official certifications to prove the product’s organic status. 

foods+beverages+amazon.png

At Bobsled, we suspect that many of these changes were motivated by Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, which is no big surprise. Whole Foods has been the leader in the natural and organic food space for decades, and therefore an extremely attractive target for the market-share focused Amazon.

 

Documentation & Certification

Requirements surrounding FDA certifications, Order defect rate (< 1%), Pre-fulfillment cancel rate (< 2.5%), and Late shipment rate (< 4%) are still applicable for all categories. There are additional category requirements that we describe in detail in “The Updated Guide to Selling Food & Beverages on Amazon”

In the guide we’ll help you determine what documents and certifications you need to provide to Amazon in order to sell products in each category. We’ll also dive into additional requirements for Organic Products, as this new category holds brands to a high standard to ensure quality.

Previously, a seller, once approved to sell in Grocery & Gourmet could label any product they wanted as “organic” without needing to provide certificate proof to Amazon. That’s definitely changed with the introduction of the Organic Products category.

 

Packaging & Labelling

The guide will also go over some best practices and requirements for packaging and labelling your food and beverage products. Including proper types of packaging, expiration date limits, and any dietary or allergen related information.

bear naked packaging amazon.png

 

Chilled & Frozen Foods

Creating this new category will allow brands to sell a much wider variety of perishable foods on Amazon, but it also means that they will need to prove that these products have been maintained within a certain temperature range throughout the entire supply chain.

There are a couple different ways a brand can prove that they have maintained the correct temperature. We’ll present the different processes in our guide.

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Marketing Strategies for Food & Beverage Brands

Getting your brand approved to sell in any of the Food & Beverage categories on Amazon is just the beginning. This category is one of the most competitive on Amazon and requires effort from the brand in order to promote products and increase sales.

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In “The Updated Guide to Selling Food & Beverages on Amazon” Bobsled presents insider information on how to get your food & beverage products seen and sold. From how to create optimized listings and titles, to PPC campaign ideas, product bundling, and special programs Food & Beverage sellers can take advantage of.

Download the Food & Beverages Guide

 

 

Food & Beverage remains a highly competitive category and Amazon’s increased standards mean that brands need to be more on top of their requirements than ever. If you’re ready to expand your market and make your products a success on Amazon, Bobsled is here to get you started on the right foot.

Selling in the Beauty Category on Amazon

The beauty industry is a behemoth. This $160-billion-a-year industry should be taken note of by any retailer, so it’s no surprise that Amazon is aggressively pursuing beauty brands. Everyone is talking about it too. From Buzzfeed to Bloomberg and Instyle to Refinery 29, the beauty and business worlds are responding to Amazon’s push into the beauty market and taking a stab at predictions of what’s to come.

But how easy is it for a beauty brand to sell on Amazon? Products so deeply connected to image and experience must be difficult to sell online with stores like Sephora and MAC offering value added services, like in-store makeovers and free samples. And these retailers don’t seem to be suffering, regardless of Amazon’s push to overtake a large portion of this market, but with Amazon Prime and the customer service that comes with services such as Fulfilled by Amazon, this could be a great opportunity for brands big and small to grow their customer base.

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There is a huge amount of variety in this category, as you can tell from Amazon’s 15 best selling beauty products in 2017. The cosmetic, hair care and skin care items all come from different brands, some of which are relatively niche, but luxury, producers. 

Now there’s news on the horizon that Amazon is going after the very high-end brands that would normally be reserved for boutique windows in well visited shopping areas, but some of the most recognizable names in beauty are resisting Amazon’s pull. Giants such as L’oreal and Clinique are still avoiding the platform, despite rumored courting from the ecommerce entity.

While they wait for the giants to come around, Amazon is building out an impressive list of luxury beauty brands. So, how does a beauty brand looking to reach new audiences and new heights make themselves visible to Amazon’s wandering eye? We’ll share some of our thoughts on what it’s going to take.

 

Our White Paper on selling in the beauty category will give you tips on everything from how to properly label and package your product, to avoiding and dealing with hazmat flags. We’ll also dive into how you can optimize your listings and take advantage of advertising opportunities on Amazon.

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Beauty Trends for 2018

This is an industry that is being driven by the wants and needs of consumers. Much of the growth is happening in online environments among small players. Crowdsourcing, eco-consciousness and cruelty free policies are front and center for many shoppers and brands in the coming year. Being that these trends were all started by smaller brands, this could be a good opportunity for new players in the industry to stand out by selling their forward-thinking beauty products on Amazon.

Shoppers and brands can also expect to see a shift in focus, leaning towards clay, charcoal and other natural elements in cosmetic products. As well as a transition from creams over to oils, which is, once again, considered the more natural and effective treatment. Natural beauty is here to stay.

What does this mean for beauty brands on Amazon? It means that the consumers are more educated than ever about what’s in their beauty products, so brands should care about what’s in theirs. It also means there are plenty of opportunities to be had for new brands to capture the attention of the market through a platform like Amazon Beauty, with high quality ingredients, an emphasis on natural, and company policies surrounding testing.

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What’s next for Amazon Beauty brands?

Amazon has made the beauty category ungated for the first time. Previously, brands needed to go through an approval process before being able to list in the beauty category. So while this news makes it appear like it should be easier than ever for beauty brands to sell on Amazon, they also introduced two new sub-categories available through a specific application process: Luxury Beauty and Professional Beauty. 

Beauty brands wanting to be successful on Amazon have quite a few hoops to jump through, but if you have a quality product that gains you rave reviews, we’re optimistic that you can win the beauty buy box!

 

Get the low-down

At Bobsled Marketing, we’ve worked with many brands in the beauty category. We compiled our experience and insights into a new White Paper. This guide to selling in Amazon’s beauty category will give you tips on everything from how to properly label and package your product, to avoiding and dealing with hazmat flags. We’ll also dive into how you can optimize your listings and take advantage of advertising opportunities on Amazon.  

And if you are a beauty brand looking to grow your Amazon presence, contact us to learn how Bobsled can help protect your brand and scale your sales in this critical channel. 
 

Transitioning from a Vendor to Hybrid Selling Model: Avoid These Crippling Mistakes

Amazon provides selling opportunities for all sizes and types of brands, but sometimes a brand feels like they fall somewhere in between the VC (vendor central) and SC (seller central) offerings. In these cases is it recommended and beneficial for a brand to use both? And how do brands keep that all sorted and optimized?

We’ve written extensively before about the hybrid model of selling on Amazon, and how it can help resolve the unique challenges of being a wholesale-only vendor to Amazon. But it’s definitely not as simple as flicking a switch. There are unintended consequences when initiating this transition, which can dramatically affect sales. 

If you are a brand that is already a vendor with Amazon and are considering the switch to SC, or you want to try out a hybrid solution, we have a few recommendations to make the transition completely to SC or a hybrid model go as smoothly as possible. 

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Different Platforms for Different Needs

Amazon’s VC platform looks pretty familiar to suppliers. Amazon buys wholesale, sets prices, creates promotions, and deals with shipping and customer service. All the brand has to do is ship the product to Amazon and everything else is taken care of. 

However, some brands can experience downsides to being on VC, such as:
 

  1. Minimum quantities per wholesale order, making it difficult to test out small amounts of a new product.
  2. A 90-day lead time from the time Amazon puts in an order with a vendor to when that product hits the “shelves”. This is a really long time in comparison to how fast you can get a product up on Amazon in SC.
  3. The brand has no control over shipping or customer service. For some brands and products this is a good thing, but if you’re experimenting with a new product it’s nice to have a little more control.
  4. Amazon can end their relationship with a vendor whenever they like. 
     

VC works very much like selling to any big box retailer for them to sell direct to the consumer, but you may have noticed that retailers following this model are not the predictable successes they once were. So what now? How do you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to consumer demand?

Shortening the time from concept to production to sales allows brands to jump onto trends faster and give the consumer what they want, when they want it. One of the biggest benefits of listing on SC is greater control over supply chain, stock levels and advertising customization. Brands don’t have to wait for Purchase Orders - they can list new products and start selling them immediately. 

 

Why use a Hybrid VC/SC model?

Being a vendor on Amazon can work really well. Especially if your brand has a consistent set of products that you can keep shipping to Amazon in consistent quantities. But what happens when you want to test the market with a new product and don’t want to create a huge number of them? That’s where operating on SC in conjunction with your VC account can be beneficial.

The way manufacturing takes place is getting faster, along with the buying habits of shoppers. Brands are creating and testing products on the market before going ahead full-steam. While it used to take months or even years to bring a new product to market, with focus groups, test pricing, and all, a brand can now bring a new product to market in mere weeks.

The internet is largely responsible for making this possible. Brands can use crowdsourcing, largely via social channels, to determine what’s going to sell and what’s not. This crowdsourcing often determines the direction of a new product and the customers feel more ownership over the product and loyalty to the brand as a result.

The Amazon SC platform makes it easier than ever for brands to be a part of this crowdsourcing movement. If a brand wants to test a variation of an existing product, or something new altogether, it can list it on Amazon with relative ease, test out the market, and make changes to the product. If the product ends up performing well over time and the quantities are increasing the brand can then consider moving that product over to VC.
 

Further reading: find our previous post on the differences between the two platforms and the pros and cons of using a hybrid method, or listen to our podcast episode on the same topic.

 

VC to SC Transition Hiccups

Unfortunately, the transition from VC to SC may not be a completely smooth one for brands. SC requires a lot more work from the brand, from pricing, to shipping and customer service, as well as advertising; the brand has a lot more control. This new found control means a brand could potentially drop the ball if they’re accustomed to Amazon dealing with all of this for them.

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One other problem that occurs when a product is moved from VC to SC is that the buy box will most likely still be owned by Amazon. This can cause a lag in sales for the product until Amazon runs out of inventory, but sellers can make their way around it by using FBA for the product listed on SC. This allows a brand operating as a seller to take advantage of Amazon’s capabilities in shipping and customer service, while reducing their time to market and quantities, in comparison with products listed on VC.

You do still want shoppers to know that your product listed in SC is the same product as what Amazon may still be selling, so you’ll want to keep the same UPC/ASIN/Sku, but you could help your listings stand out by creating product bundles that will give the products a new ASIN to help differentiate between sellers. You can also give your SC listings a competitive edge by offering strategic pricing to align with the vendor offer created by Amazon. This means, if Amazon’s offer is set at $49, you might set your offer at $48.95.
 

Navigating the Vendor-Seller Hybrid Model
Requires Skill and Experience


So now that you’re managing pricing for your products, how do you know when to modify pricing? First, there are a few things to consider when adjusting your price: How many units are you moving through? Are you able to get back into stock? What is the Buy Box price? For example, if you are trying to move through inventory you know you won’t be replenishing, it makes sense to price below the Buy Box price to get the sale. If it’s an evergreen item and there are only a few units between competitors, it may be worth riding out the wave and maintaining profitability.
 
Pricing is such a significant part of your business, it is imperative to regularly manage it. You can manually manage it on a daily or weekly basis. Utilize software tools to automate your price, or set programmed limits in SC. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain a healthy margin but also win the Buy Box, because if you’re not winning the Buy Box, your business is at risk of missing out on potential sales.

 

Owning Your Brand

If you want to enhance your brand experience on Amazon and bring new products to the market quickly, while still benefiting from the perks of being a vendor, a hybrid model could work really well for you. 

Bobsled can help you navigate both platforms and decide which products fit best on each. We work with clients on both platforms, many of whom employ a hybrid strategy. We can help you to avoid some of these issues and capitalize on the benefits of this strategy. Contact us today to see how we can help your brand.