How Rollie Shoes’ Amazon Channel Manager Hit Amazon Selling Success in Less Than 7 Months
Get The Print Version
Tired of scrolling? Download a PDF version for easier offline reading and sharing with coworkers.
A link to download the PDF will arrive in your inbox shortly.
When Vince Lebon started his career, his dream was to become a web designer.
For years, he worked as an independent contractor producing web designs, print media and video for clients; yet, over time, designing physical products became an obsession.
Eventually, Vince landed a consulting job for a Chinese trading company designing private label footwear for brands like Steve Madden and Chinese Laundry.
As he gained exposure to designing footwear, the idea of creating his own line of shoes started consuming much of Vince’s attention.
Inspired by his flight attendant wife Kat — who he lovingly calls Rollie — Vince saw an opportunity to develop a more comfortable shoe, one that anyone would be happy to wear throughout the day, even traveling around the world.
In 2011, Vince developed the concept for his own brand and launched Rollie Nation in 2012.
The Australian-founded company combined Vince’s passion for shoes, interest in trends and innovative design skills to create an entirely new shoe concept.
In October, I compared Amazon, our branded website, and our dropshipping channel with retail partners like Nordstrom.
I found these three separate entities were essentially the same in terms of percentage of the brand’s online revenue.
This discovery conveyed that as long as you’re strategically using ads to push toward Amazon, it isn’t a sales channel that requires a ton of maintenance and a high level of effort.
For instance, Amazon itself isn’t a huge extra merchandising effort – all I do is choose the SKUs I believe will work best for Amazon and I ship them there.
That’s why Fulfillment By Amazon is so awesome.
This isn’t always the case with a branded website – at least, not for us.
Rollie Shoes began in Australia and we only recently launched in the U.S. within the last two years.
It can sometimes feel as though we are launching a virtually unknown brand here in the United States.
When working with different third parties on creating compelling social ads, it feels impossible.
In comparison, Amazon is a tight ship.
This could be because I’ve worked on Amazon sales channels for a long time.
I’ve never launched a brand from scratch before.
Let’s be honest, people are already on Amazon. They fully trust Amazon. They are there to do one thing: shop.
You, as the brand, don’t have to do too much to convince them.
Amazon’s done all that work for you.
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s talk about what you, as a brand, need to do to begin selling – and selling well – on Amazon.
We only started selling on Amazon in the Spring of 2018 – and already our sales and success strategy has shifted.
In the beginning, I started selling Rollie shoes on Amazon as a freelancer.
I’ve been friends with Vince, the Rollie founder, for a little while and when started to launch the brand in the U.S., he asked for my help.
Immediately, I was tasked with setting up a catalog on Amazon, which meant having a lot of SKUs.
We basically had the entire Rollie collection on Amazon.
That isn’t what we are doing now.
Now, we’re only selling 6-7 parent SKUs.
A lot of those SKUs have 8 corresponding color options for each SKU but we’ve backed away from selling the entire catalog on Amazon.
In my past experience on Amazon, it’s usually just one to three SKUs that drive the majority of your revenue.
As a result, I really believe in concentrating on selling a smaller number of items.
So, having the entire catalog up was contrary to what I perceived to be a best practice.
Second, and this was something we had no control over, we had a lot of third-party fulfillment issues.
Other than what I knew about best practices, having the whole catalog on Amazon meant there was no way I could send everything to FBA.
I didn’t just have the inventory sitting next to me – nor did I want it just sitting in an FBA warehouse.
Adding to these concerns was the fact that Amazon has very high standards meaning our issues with running out of inventory or not shipping on time just weren’t going to fly.
We needed to be more specific about the SKUs we were able to send to FBA and sell on Amazon.
Finally, the entire reason Vince reached out to me in the first place was that he was thinking about Rollie’s brand presence on Amazon.
He had decided to ask his retailers to stop selling Rollie on Amazon, but he didn’t want Rollie to completely forego its presence there.
Basically, if we had fewer SKUs and fewer fulfillment issues, I could focus on building out the brand page and product detail pages, and think through our Amazon merchandising strategy a differently than I had before.
For instance, on our branded website, how the catalog merchandise looks amazing.
Every color has its own page, and the product detail pages (PDP) are really rich, full of color, engaging, and most importantly, driving conversions.
But on Amazon, things are structured differently. For instance, you want to have as few parent products as possible.
Instead of giving every color its own PDP, you want to display all possible colors for the different styles on the Amazon PDP.
It’s a completely different way of setting up the SKUs, and I needed to be able to think through setting that up and scaling that effectively.
A Note on Asking Retailers to Stop Selling Your Product
The retail partners that were selling Rollie on Amazon were literally some of Vince’s best friends and the other store was one that I worked for more than 9 years. We were fortunate that we could just asked them to stop selling on Amazon and they did.
I completely realize this is not a common situation.
In previous positions in other Amazon projects I’ve done – mostly CPG companies – you have to negotiate differently.
I worked for a company where, for example, you had to offer a specific bundle of an item or an exclusive if you wanted someone cooperate with your requests on Amazon.
Rollie didn’t have to do that, but if you do, focus on what you can uniquely offer that partner to find a balanced solution.
If you are just getting started on Amazon, my best advice to you is to follow their setup rules.
That starts with filling in every possible blank on the files that you upload in the beginning.
That sounds like an obvious first step, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother to fill in item details.
I was at a Skubana event recently and they had a competition with all of the attendees. They asked: tell us your hack for optimizing a product detail page.
You were supposed to come up with a “hack,” but most of the so-called hacks were just basic things.
The one that won the contest and the cash prize was someone who said,
“Ask seller central for your category detail report, download that, and fill in all the blanks.”
That blew my mind because that category listing report is the same as the file that you should be using to create your products in the first place.
What that told me is that a lot of people don’t start from there.
If you set things up correctly in the first place, it’s better in the long run. The two biggest to checkboxes, I say, are:
Follow Amazon’s rules –– all of them: Make sure the size is exactly how Amazon likes it with the conversion written exactly how Amazon likes.
Don’t just copy and paste your catalog copy over: I’m working through the entire catalog to change that copy to be read better for someone who’s never heard of Rollie –– i.e. the Amazon shopper. Saying things like “buttery soft polka dot shoe” instead of saying, “Here’s the polka dot version of our best seller,” is better for someone who has never heard of us for instance.
The Category Listing Report
In the beginning, when you go to set up a product, if it’s an existing listing, you can just add an offer to Amazon and compete for the buy box.
But, if you are the manufacturer and you’re making it from scratch, use flat files (i.e. Excel templates) you can just download. These are files that Amazon gives you to make it a little easier to create a template that’s good for your particular category.
Search for shoes and narrow it down to oxfords and flats.
Download a template just for flat oxfords.
Next, fill in the blanks.
Finally, upload your item.
This is what I’ve always done with footwear in particular because there’s always tons of SKUs.
If you have 5,000 SKUs you want to create, there’s no way you’re gonna do that manually.
The flat file is the best way.
You can’t pretend like you’re going do a huge volume of sales without leveraging advertising on Amazon.
This is where keywords become incredibly important.
When people ask about keywords and their importance on Amazon, the first thing I think of is different types of ads, because different ads put more weight into the title and bullet points, in particular.
To help me make sure I’m always optimizing keywords, I use the tool Sellics.
It helps to ensure that I’ve put in all needed keywords in the bullet points and title.
If you just give Sellics a list of the keywords that you want to be included, the tool will highlight for you what and where you need to add them.
Then, those phases will get pulled in to your sponsored product ads –– and they will work.
Second, how you advertise your product is important.
For ads that lead back to your branded web store, you might try to tell the story of your product and brand a bit more.
Not on Amazon.
For our Amazon ads, the successful strategy I’ve experienced has been more about advertising products people are searching for, and making sure that if something is a trending item, I’m using all of the keywords that are trending in the listing to be found.
And that’s it! Well, that isn’t actually it. The rest of this book is dedicated to helping you sell more on Amazon with deep dives from experts in their field.
But I do hope this chapter gives you the confidence you need to know that you can do it, that isn’t some mythical challenge to unlock, and that selling on Amazon absolutely drives revenue and success for brands of all business shapes and sizes.
Charly is a retail business professional producing double digit growth for brands. Her ideas are diverse and creative, always maintaining an owner's mentality and keeping a close eye on the bigger picture and bottom line. After spending many years in San Francisco, she is currently consulting for young companies in NYC who are looking for new ways to sell their products directly to consumers.