Chapter 2 Is Your Business a Good Fit for Amazon?

James Thomson / 6 min read

Is Your Business a Good Fit for Amazon?

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Amazon has made its marketplace welcoming for newcomers.

New sellers will find a platform where it takes only minutes to sign up, and a few more minutes beyond that to get product listings live on the site.

With Amazon’s intent to attract as much selection as possible to the marketplace, it makes sense that Amazon wants to make it functionally easy for anyone to start listing products on its site.

Yet, the decision to sell on Amazon should not be based just on ease of signup.

Sellers also need a clear understanding of what it takes to have a realistic chance of being successful on Amazon.

While Amazon still attracts general merchandise resellers that offer the same products as many other companies, the long-term success of those sorts of companies is very much in question.

In a battle of margins and trying to differentiate in a meaningful way, sellers may end up working harder and harder each year to generate the same top line sales, and possibly not the same bottom line revenue.

Before we dive in to discuss which types of businesses are most likely to be successful on Amazon, let’s first review a few fundamentals about the Amazon marketplace to help you determine product fit.

Things Sellers Need To Consider When Deciding To Sell On Amazon:

Almost anyone can list products for sale on Amazon.

Unless a brand has tight distribution controls over its product, it’s not unusual to find dozens – if not hundreds – of resellers offering the same products on Amazon.

This crowding creates price competition, as well as incentives to ignore Minimum Advertised Pricing/Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Pricing policies or to divert products at low margins, just to get some margin out of holding a particular brand.

Amazon sets the rules of its own marketplace.

Amazon has the advantage of collecting massive amounts of customer search and customer purchase data which it shares only the minimum amounts with sellers.

This compendium of information gives Amazon’s first-party business – Amazon Retail, i.e. private label – a huge advantage of picking winners over and over when targeting products that it should sell on the marketplace.

Furthermore, Amazon Retail will almost always win the Buy Box, which is the mechanism through which sellers competing on the same product will get ranked to determine who gets the sale when the customer clicks the “Add to Cart” button.

If a seller is competing head-to-head with Amazon on a product, it’s not likely the seller will get many sales, given that Amazon Retail has the Buy Box advantage.

Amazon Retail also has sophisticated pricing software which allows it to lower prices to match prices already lowered by competing sellers. Amazon Retail is content not making any money (or even losing money) on a sale so it is not likely that a competing seller will either get the sale from Amazon Retail or make any margin from the sale.

Bottom Line: Competing directly on the same listings that Amazon Retail offers is not likely to be an effective business model long-term.

Amazon wants its sellers to use “Fulfillment by Amazon” (FBA).

FBA is Amazon’s fulfillment program that’s offered to all third-party sellers.

Sellers put their products into Amazon’s network of fulfillment centers, and when a customer places an order, Amazon does the individual order fulfillment, rather than the seller.

Such products in FBA are eligible for Amazon Prime / Amazon Super Saver Shipping, two programs that have consistently been found to improve most sellers’ customer conversion rates.

While a seller may have comparable fulfillment capabilities of its own, this FBA advantage is granted as part of Amazon’s efforts to ensure the highest quality, consistent shopping experience for Amazon customers.

When a seller on Amazon gets orders, it does not own the customer relationship.

Each sale is viewed as a one-time transaction, and sellers aren’t allowed to market or re-market to these customers after the sale.

So while sellers may have sophisticated CRM capabilities for their non-Amazon channels, almost all of that expertise and technology is irrelevant for customers generated through the Amazon marketplace.

It’s your responsibility to secure distribution.

Amazon makes clear that it is exclusively the responsibility of the brand to secure its distribution.

Namely, Amazon will rarely get involved in helping brands remove unauthorized resellers, thereby allowing anyone to sell any product on Amazon, as long as it is a legitimate product where no harm is inflicted on the Amazon customer.

Every seller on Amazon is required to answer customer inquiries within 24 hours.

This requirement applies to any day of the year.

Amazon holds every seller to the highest industry standards regarding shipping times, confirmation emails, order cancellation rates, and a myriad of other criteria.

For many businesses new to Amazon, these standards may well be beyond what they can handle, and hence the Amazon marketplace may be out of the realm of possibility to sell on.

With these conditions in place, let’s discuss how different kinds of businesses are likely to do on the Amazon marketplace.

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How Different Business Models Work on Amazon

The Reseller: No Exclusive Sourcing Relationships.

Unless a reseller with no exclusive sourcing relationships has a significant pricing advantage, it’s not likely that this type of seller will be able to get any more than its fair share of sales from Amazon.

In other words, if this type of seller is competing against nine other resellers, this individual seller isn’t likely to get more than 10% of the sales –– unless it’s willing to undercut everyone else on price.

A race to the bottom on price eventually lowers margins to an unsustainable level, making it pointless to be selling on Amazon.

For the general retail business considering offering some of its products on Amazon, this channel is likely to be only a secondary channel if your entire catalog is readily available to any number of other retailers.

As an Amazon reseller, it’s critical for you to have paperwork that shows a clear provenance of where your product is sourced.

While some gray market sellers may do well on Amazon, once Amazon’s Seller Performance team challenges them – asking them to provide paperwork showing where the product came from – the seller may not be able to address a claim of selling counterfeit or inauthentic product.

And, even for sellers with solid paperwork from manufacturers or authorized distributors, Amazon may still give the seller a hard time if too many customer complaints come in about the legitimacy of the product.

The Reseller: Exclusive Sourcing Relationships.

If the seller has negotiated exclusive sourcing relationships from specific brands with decent control of their distribution, preventing any number of unauthorized or gray-market sellers from also selling on Amazon, then this seller is likely to do well as it doesn’t have to compete with other sellers for the “buy box.”

While the principle of an exclusive sourcing relationship makes a lot of sense for sellers, few brands understand the dynamics of the Amazon marketplace well enough to be willing to limit who can sell on Amazon.

This lack of understanding can potentially result in less product sold to retailers in the short-term and is one of the risks of selling on Amazon.

Such sellers typically have to agree to represent the brands well on Amazon, by way of improving listing content, ensuring MAP/MSRP prices are in place, and keeping inventory levels adequately stocked for the Amazon customer demand.

With the advent of the FBA program, it is becoming easier for brands to go direct-to-consumer with their own seller accounts on Amazon, cutting out resellers altogether.

For brands that are willing to handle some day-to-day operational responsibilities (or outsource these responsibilities to agencies), they can make retail margins by selling direct-to-consumers on Amazon, rather than securing only wholesale margins selling to retailers/resellers that will, in turn, sell on Amazon.

The Seller of Oversized or Hazmat Products.

While Amazon does allow sellers to offer oversized and hazmat products to Amazon customers, the cost or FBA restrictions may be such that it doesn’t make financial sense for such companies to sell on Amazon.

If you are such a company, we encourage you to do extensive research on Amazon before signing up to be an Amazon seller.

The Private Label Seller.

In the past five years, there has been a huge increase in the number of sellers on Amazon that are building their own brands (often through inexpensive overseas sourcing, e.g., Alibaba).

Combing Amazon product reviews and sales rank data of national brands, these sellers identify product or price gaps they believe they can fill with their own, newly-developed private label brands.

Typically, these sellers can enjoy 3-6 months of decent sales before their products do well enough to be identified by other private label sellers to target for their own private label versions.

If the private label seller becomes effective at evolving its catalog quickly and capitalizing in the short-term on its newly launched products, such a seller can do reasonably well on Amazon.

The National Brand.

If a brand has created decent customer awareness, chances are some share of 300 million Amazon customers have already been searching for the brand on Amazon.

Unable to find it, they move on to a competitor brand.

For such a national brand, it makes a lot of sense to be evaluating Amazon as an incremental sales channel.

If the brand launches a seller account, using high-quality content in its listings coupled with some advertising budget to drive awareness of its presence on Amazon, such a brand can build its Amazon business into a decent channel.

Yes, there may be some cannibalization from its other channels, but we’ve found that the vast majority of sales on Amazon are incremental, given how many Amazon customers there are, and how few of them are likely to have shopped on the brand’s own website.

For brands that have a regional awareness, it will take more time to build up a business on Amazon, but the underlying distribution control is most critical to the brand being able to sell its product on Amazon, without other resellers competing for the same sale.

If a brand is successful with the Amazon channel, then the benefits of incremental sales at retail margins should produce solid financial results for the brand.

Final Word

Any brand of any size on Amazon must recognize that it will earn certain rights on Amazon if the brand has a registered trademark, Global Standards One-sourced Universal Product Code codes, and branding on both the packaging and physical product.

For many brands new to Amazon, they are surprised to learn that Amazon will not always respect the brand’s efforts to legitimize itself as a brand unless it has secured these aforementioned product and legal characteristics.

The day-to-day operations of running an Amazon seller business must be properly addressed, given how high the performance standards are to which Amazon holds its sellers.

In subsequent chapters, we’ll cover how to meet these requirements and put operational processes in place.

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Table of Contents

    Table of Contents

    IntroThe Definitive Guide to Selling on Amazon [2019 Edition]
    Chapter 1 How Rollie Shoes’ Amazon Channel Manager Hit Amazon Selling Success in Less Than 7 Months
    Chapter 2 Is Your Business a Good Fit for Amazon?
    Chapter 3 Reselling on Amazon – Thoughts from The Former Head of Selling on Amazon
    Chapter 4 A Handy Amazon Seller Account Setup Checklist to Drive Sales
    Chapter 5 Amazon Selling Strategies to Get You Started Now
    Chapter 6 Amazon Selling Pitfalls Even the Savviest Sellers Forget [Infographic]
    Chapter 7 If You Aren’t Selling Your Products, Someone Else Is – Dealing With Amazon Fraud
    Chapter 8 The Amazon Buy Box: How It Works for Sellers, and Why It’s So Important
    Chapter 9 How to Master Amazon SEO and Move Your Products up the Search Rankings in 2019
    Chapter 10 How to Successfully Market Products on Amazon & Think like a Buyer [2019]
    Chapter 11 8-Figure Private Label Seller Shares His 9 Steps to Success
    Chapter 12 The Secret Amazon Pricing Strategy to Crush the Competition
    Chapter 12 How to Leverage the Power of Amazon FBA
    Chapter 13 Amazon Seller Fees in 2019: Costs and Metrics to Consider to Increase Profit Margins
    Chapter 14 How to Make $5K an Hour Selling on Amazon
    Chapter 15 The 4 Secrets of Long-Term Amazon Success [including FBA]
    Chapter 15 Amazon Advertising & PPC: What You Need to Know, How to Get Started and a Tool to Help You Along the Way
    Chapter 16 6 Brands Discuss How Amazon Pay Increases Their Customer Experience
    Chapter 17 55 Essential Selling on Amazon Tips to Grow Sales and Win Market Share
    Chapter 18 Using BigCommerce to Sell on Amazon

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    James Thomson

    James Thomson

    Partner, Buy Box Experts

    James Thomson is Partner of Buy Box Experts, a managed account services firm enabling brands to sell direct on Amazon. He is also president of PROSPER Show, the largest US-based continuing education conference for Amazon sellers. Previously, James was the head of Amazon Services (which recruits >99.5% of all new sellers to the Amazon marketplace each year), Amazon's first FBA account manager, a banker and a management consultant. He earned a Ph.D. in Marketing (B2B Pricing and Distribution) from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

    View all posts by James Thomson

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