It’s no secret that Amazon dominates the online shopping market. The CEO’s latest endeavour took him into space… and started a TikTok trend. Amazon is the go-to place for a lot of people. As a customer it’s convenient and easy to use – a few taps on your phone and you’ve got a brand-new dishwasher arriving tomorrow! As a business, if you want to sell products you need to be on there – it’s the ‘Google’ of online shopping.
As a small company, we can clearly see the importance of having a presence on Amazon – and we’ve documented our experience to help other companies as they weigh up the positives, and negatives of the platform.
Getting Set Up – What to Know
Location, Location, Location
The first thing to know is that you don’t list products on ‘Amazon’ and sell them around the world: there’s Amazon US, Amazon CA, Amazon UK… and so on. Amazon platforms are grouped into accounts … so Amazon for the US, Canada and Mexico are all grouped under ‘North America’ and Amazon for the UK, France, Germany (etc.) are grouped under ‘Europe’. You can sometimes access them both with the same login… sometimes.
There are some key things to know and consider:
- Think carefully about which countries you want to list in, each listing takes time and attention & you need to be prepared to either post orders to customers on a regular basis, or to send regular stock to an Amazon fulfilment centre (more on that later!). Translations are required for selling in countries that use different languages.
- Different accounts have separate listings – so you’ll need to list your products in North America AND in Europe if you want them to appear on Amazon on both continents.
- Currency is determined based on the customer location – so even if you have the same listing active for all the countries on your North America account (Canada, US & Mexico), you’ll have 3 different prices (CAD, USD and MXN).
- If you’re using Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) you’ll sometimes be able to just send products to one fulfilment centre (for example in the US) and they’ll distribute to customers in other countries on the same account from there, this is a great advantage to the country grouping system – it’s only 1 set of inventory!
Creating Your Listings
Make sure you consider all the things you usually would when setting up a product on your own website. Key words, clear descriptions, and plenty of relevant pictures are a must. Product images should be on a white background. Amazon also now allows you to put videos on your listings – do it! Be warned: Amazon has LOADS of categories, but try and find one to fit a niche product… or try and decide which one to put a general product in… and you’ll be there all day before deciding “that’ll do”. Make sure you find a category with the correct variation options – such as colour or size.
This might seem obvious to some – but make sure you get your brand name right the first time as it can be really difficult to change it later! It’s certainly worth registering a brand name before you set up your products.
If you’re fulfilling orders yourself you’ll need to be aware of the shipping requirements – these default to very short periods of time, and if you’re a small operation like us you could log on on a Monday morning to find you’ve gone past the deadline on an order that came in over the weekend! Failing to meet these deadlines can have a negative affect on your account rating, reduce your likelihood of winning the buy box, and can even lead to your account being shut down! Amazon don’t like what they deem to be bad customer service – but for small companies like ours we can’t respond to messages and send out orders every day of the week. You can avoid this nightmare by setting your own shipping templates and overriding any unrealistic expectations.
Amazon charge you for selling products. For storing products. For converting from one currency to another. Be prepared for the fees and check what they are. You can see expected Amazon fees for the sale of each product on the inventory tab, and this will include the FBA fee if applicable. But don’t be fooled – these fees are just the basic fees on each sale, if you’re using FBA you should also be aware of storage fees (particularly if they tick over into long-term storage fees) and things like converting currency also incurs a fee. You can learn more about Amazon’s fees here.
Experiencing using Amazon: The Positives
These are easy to come up with – and you could probably guess them already!
- Your products get in front of lots of customers.
- Its a good way to sell in other countries – particularly if you use FBA and just deal with customs once instead of hundreds of individual cases.
- Reaching new audiences – our products are in a niche market and this is one way to reach that audience.
- Although we have our own e-commerce website, Amazon is a way to sell without one.
- Customer confidence – people don’t like giving their name, address, email & bank details to new companies whenever they want to buy something. If they already use Amazon, they don’t have to give details to you as well.
- Quick delivery if you use FBA – this keeps customers happy too!
- If you get it right you can sell a lot. If you’re using FBA you don’t need the dispatch staff to cover hundreds of orders every week – Amazon will do it for you!
- Better experience for overseas customers – they get their products quicker and for lower postage costs.
Experiencing using Amazon: The Negatives
Amazon has a great user experience for customers but ask anyone who sells on there and you will hear the same story – it’s a nightmare! From choosing a category that fits your products to physically getting products to Amazon there are hoops to jump through and issues along the way. This is our experience:
- Change Isn’t Always For the Best… Making a change to a listing is difficult, especially if your listing is used by other people or worse still was set up by a reseller or distributor. We set our products up before we registered our brand name and changing the brand name to match just wouldn’t work. Spend the time to make sure you set things up right first time!
- The Fun & Games of Shipping to Amazon: We have used FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) for our more popular products – this is great for our dispatch staff (who are busy as it is!) and for the customer (who gets their product quicker) BUT shipping to Amazon is difficult, in fact we’ve had 2 recent nightmare scenarios shipping to Amazon in the last few months…
Recent Scenario A
We send 2 parcels to FBA, one gets through just fine, whilst the other arrives with Amazon and… nothing. After waiting the 3 weeks they request to process the parcel I get in contact and am notified that as the parcel was not the expected weight, they could not process it. After a bit of back and forth I discover that the following has taken place:
- Parcel has arrived at Amazon, it is the EXACT weight I declared in the shipment information however…
- At some point (probably recently, since this product has been sent before) one of the other companies people listing our product has changed the listed product weight, and has done so incorrectly. By misplacing a decimal point, they have confused our product listing AND made the Amazon computer decide that my small box of paper cutters will weigh 10x more than it did last time.
- Because it thinks my shipment should be a different weight, said computer deems it wrong. I once again message Amazon (good luck finding the contact details by the way) and inform them of the weight discrepancy on the listing – I am told to change it.
- My change is submitted to the listing – but nothing changes instantly on Amazon, it has to be approved and this takes anywhere from 15mins to 24hrs.
- My shipment information online is updated to say ‘shipment closed’ and I am eventually informed (after chasing it AGAIN) that my shipment has been disposed of and I will be reimbursed with a mixture of stock and cash.
- We are reimbursed for around 1/3 of the missing product and the rest is replaced inventory… we have no idea where from, it seemed to suggest it came from other people selling them! Or maybe they kept some of the stock we sent? Who knows!
Outcome: we didn’t actually lose any money here, but the principle of the amount of timewe wasted chasing Amazon and the waste (and complete disregard for our planet) involved in disposing of completely saleable items because they refuse to open a box if the computer says ‘no’!
Recent Scenario B
We send another parcel to FBA – this time our problem comes with US customs. We’re told that a ‘care of’ address will not suffice and the importer must be in the US. This is not what we’ve been told by Amazon who insist that we are the importer and they are glorified overseas storage. After much to-ing and fro-ing the parcel is returned to us, at our cost, and we have to ship it again, at more cost to us.
Top Tip: if you’re sending to Amazon US from overseas (we’re in the UK), you need to send the parcel ‘duty paid’ – meaning that any import fees will be covered by you, and not sent to Amazon (who will laugh, and send the courier packing!).
- Shipping Time: Amazon’s system will penalise you if you don’t ship within your designated shipping time – but we’ve had this change without us touching it! Make sure you set up your own shipping templates with realistic handling and shipping times for your company – but still keep them as short as possible. Let your dispatch team know to keep an eye on the ‘ship by:’ dates on orders, so you can catch it if the computer resets itself.
- Listing Wars: There’s only one listing per product, so you would think that the manufacturer, or their first distributor, would set up the listing and then ‘own’ it and be able to dictate the information… nope! The Amazon logic strikes again, it collates information from all contributors to come up with what *it* thinks is the perfect listing. The problem? As a manufacturer we’d like to be able to instantly change incorrect listings as information changes, but we’re prevented from doing so and as a result we have sometimes had to delete & relist products.
- Buy Box or Bust: This comes back to Amazon only having one listing per product – great for customers, who get shown the ‘best’ deal. BUT to sell yours you need to have the buy box – so that when customers click ‘buy now’ or ‘add to basket’ they’re buying from you, rather than a competitor. Thing is, the unknown Amazon login decides who has the buy box – there are things you can do but it’s never guaranteed. This means you can lose a serious number of sales to your own distributors, so it’s important to not have too many competitors on Amazon or you end up paying lots in advertising to try and get the buy box! We are a product manufacturer and we have ended up competing against our resellers.
- Who Says It’s Broken? Products that Amazon deem ‘unsellable’ can only be returned within the country of sale. We sell in the US and can’t get our ‘unsellable’ products back. The only other option is to let Amazon destroy them. There is no compensation for these products from Amazon, they won’t tell you why they are not in a resalable state (unless Amazon are the ones who lost/damaged your product). These are usually products that have been returned by the customer.
Will We, Won’t We?
Unfortunately, we can’t not. Benefits to customers are undeniable, and for all we complain about the problems we have working on Amazon as a seller, we’re still ordering a lightbulb on Amazon in our lunch breaks because, for the customer, it’s easy to use and convenient. So Amazon have the customers, which means it’s where business want and need to be. If you can get it right, it’s worth it, because the return can be incredible. Our conclusion? Amazon is worth doing… just don’t expect plain sailing!