Long time no update!
In the past few months I took an adventure and started selling on Amazon. The premise was simple: Use the marketplace to attract more sales and pay Amazon a royalty for being listed in their marketplace.
The result? More headaches. Where to start.
Amazon As A Consumer
I love Amazon. I'm a very loyal Amazon Prime user. I promote Amazon Prime service to friends and family. Their support is great. I use Amazon Subscribe and Save whenever I can replace grocery trips. When ordering products from work, if they are available via Prime (or better yet Prime Same Day in Sand Francisco) I order them almost without thinking.
Amazon Seller Services is the exact opposite.
Amazon For a Seller
Where to start?
- Listing a product is incredibly painful
- Professional seller and the buyer box
- Constant upsell to Amazon fulfillment / FBA
- Holiday performance surprise
- Unfair buyers ratings
Creating a product page is a daunting task. Tindie is pretty easy (even supports Markdown), eBay has gotten better, and Amazon is literally a disaster. Compare these images:
And this disaster of useless category fields, one entire page to share my pain with my readers:
Now, the website isn't even the recommended way and is many, many options. To get those features, you need to use Excel spreadsheets. Wait, what year is it? Are you kidding me? No, I'm not. I haven't dealt with the headache of spreadsheets just yet because I don't think I'll get a ton of payback for the time invested unless I'm a "Professional Seller".
As a result I don't get the buy box. What's a buy box? Everyone on Amazon knows what a buy box is, and when it's not present, the page feels weird. It makes individual sellers look like frauds. Consider my listing. See the red box on the left side and the missing "Add to Cart" option? Yeah. Looks like I'm an evil seller:
See all buying options? People expect to see "Add to cart" and almost appears out of stock.
I'm sure I miss some sales because some people can't figure out this unusual page. I can fix it, but it costs $40/mo. Hard to tell if it's worth it at this point. Maybe I'll experiment over the Holiday season.
Amazon Fulfillment aka FBA
Amazon Fulfillment would allow me to do Prime shipping. A feature that as a consumer I love. But as a seller on a low volume hacker project, cuts a ton in to my already losing margins.
I keep looking at the option to do Amazon fulfillment but haven't made the leap yet. It requires me to print and label each product, ship it to Amazon where they store it in their warehouses. They then charge me storage and ship + handling fees that I can't quite fully wrap my head around yet.
As a low volume seller, if I could understand my costs, I'd love to ship 50 units to Amazon and let them deal with individual fulfillment, but at what costs? That's my beef.
So far it seems the costs look like this:
- Inventory storage per month
- Per unit handling
- Inventory preparation (labeling and other stuff?)
And on top of that I have to do forecasting and ship them stuff at the right time and more surprises. Dealing with retail channels is a pain when my fun is building the products and watching the shipping labels as they go all over the world.
Their site keeps taunting me to investigate FBA it. And I want to, but haven't had the time yet because they keep threatening to shut me off over the holiday season.
The FBA profitability calculator tells me the extra fees break even if sales increase 20% as a result. The result would be much faster shipping for customers and maybe I'd get a buy box or increase volume to upgrade to the professional account. I'm saving this for an experiment to run, perhaps over the holiday season?
Holiday Performance Surprise
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from Amazon telling me I had to meet some performance criteria to not have my account disabled over the holiday season.
My issue is that I just started selling on Amazon, and because they take the biggest chunk of fees at 15% (compared to eBay (10%) and Tindie (5%)) I hadn't been driving traffic to Amazon. Of course. So, I created a sale and easily hit the performance target in the last week.
I understand why they have these performance targets, but it just makes it difficult again for low volume hacker projects like mine to be sold on Amazon.
Unfair Buyer Ratings
This isn't Amazon's fault at all, but I feel backed in a corner with dealing with these. My most recent issue is a buyer who ordered on Sunday afternoon. The product was shipped Monday morning, in USPS's possession by tracking time stamp within ~22 hours. The product was then delivered Friday. Not good enough for this buy, as this individual gave me a 1 star review on Thursday, before the product was delivered, for "slow shipping". Sigh. I write a polite response, but again, a 1 star review on a low volume account is pretty crippling.
Amazon is difficult to use for low volume. If you are bringing your own traffic and buyers, send them to Tindie and be done. Tindie has the lowest fee at 5% take of sales. If you need customers to find your site on their own through the marketplace, consider eBay, which takes 10%. Both have a Paypal fee on top of it.
If selling more then 40 items per month, consider Amazon:
- Aim to sell almost 40 units a month under their premium account. You'll win the buy box for your product and the product page won't feel so weird.
- Learn and use the annoying Excel spreadsheet inventory templates from day 1. The web inventory UI is complete garbage.
- Seriously consider all the upsells to use Amazon FBA, but study the numbers. Their entire service seems to revolve around this. Faster shipping will keep hard to please customers happy.