Amazon, An unbelievable marketplace.

Amazon was the marketplace that threw investors during the dot-com boom because they had a ten year plan, while all the others had a a two week plan if they were lucky. The Year-On-Year growth of Amazon is to be ‘awed’ at and unlike other marketplaces, you never annoy their customers, because its their customers and they’ll kick you off with no chance of getting back on again for upsetting their customers. In short, Matthew aspires to eventually working with Amazon directly as the UK CEO.

Matthew has vast experience with launching merchants onto the Amazon platforms, including ‘Fulfilment By Amazon‘ or more commonly known as FBA.

Matthew is an Amazon expert and can help you leverage this channel effectively. You can contact him on his dedicated Contact Matthew page and see how Matthew can help your business.

Amazon IS Human – They Make Mistakes Too!

Relish in this one, its the first time I have ever spotted a mistake by Amazon.

While checking to see where one of the books I ordered on the 5th was too, I noticed in my email an email relating to the new Jeans Store they are promoting.

After taking little look around, mainly to see if they were promoting anyone else other than their own stocked products, I spotted the first mistake I have ever seen on Amazon for one of their own products.

You can view the item here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0045OW8TS

Amazon Screen Shot

amazon-is-human

Amazon Makes Mistakes Too!

Spotted it yet? Here it is:

Size: #REF!

A common error in excel when the reference is not found.

Matthew’s Top Tip

You can stop mistakes like this by using the ISERROR() function in excel. Lets assume that we want to verify the source in cell B2 is not #REF! or similar (as this function catches far more than just #REF!).

In A2 we would use this little combination function:

=IF(ISERROR(B2),"An Error is Found","No Error Found")

In English this is:

If B2 has an error in it, do "An Error is Found" otherwise do "No Error Found"

See even Amazon can make mistakes too when it comes to data, although I must admit, from literally the hundreds of thousands of items I have seen on Amazon and help create for sellers on the platform, this is the first time I have seen Amazon make this mistake.

Thinking about it, it would be really easy for them to check the data being imported for common errors such as #N/A, #VALUE!, #REF!, #DIV/0!, #NUM!, #NAME? or #NULL and reject it (although if you take this suggestion, please add a decent error code as the Amazon error codes list are far from useful, saying ‘or another problem’ is not helpful at times *stamps feet*).

As Big as Big Boys – How Appear to be Big on a Shoe String

Looking BigLooking big is really quite easy on the internet, all it takes is some time, some cunning and a nudge in the right direction. Follow this step by step guide and you’re look like an established or corporate business in next to no time.

Here are some key page names you need to create and add to your site, ideally linked from your footer area on all pages (except the checkout if possible):

  • Press Office
  • Affiliates
  • Meet the Team
  • Careers, Recruitment or Join the Team at Company Ltd
  • Partners
  • Store Locator (if you have a trade or customer collections site)

Even if you do not have a press office, affiliate network set up, a team (other than the parents & pet cat), partners or a store. Get these pages up.

Get the Email Addresses Sorted
First off, with any decent hosting account you get a load of email boxes or forwarders, create a selection of email addresses, press@, affiliates@, careers@, store@ and forward them all to your main email address. It doesn’t matter that these go to the same email address, its the message they convey.

Press Office
For the press office, write a little blurb, here is a great example, minus the link to the PR company, make the contacts name up or even copy Donna’s name.  70% of that page is one fat image, do the same.

Affiliate Network
Even if you don’t have an affiliate network set up, lob a page up offering 2.5-8% of sales to affiliates, you never know you might be approached before you go looking to join an affiliate network.

Meet the Team
A personal favourite of mine, get some half decent pictures taken, I didn’t say pay for them, you’d be amazed what  you can do with a phone and the grey scale setting in photoshop, just check my about me page. That was me taking the pee in Tesco’s sporting a pack of ‘spam slices’.

Talk you friend, mum and dad to get in as well, a short bio, although if you don’t want to go the ‘family’ route you may want to alter their surnames.

If you’ve got any accreditations, lob them on. I used my MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) logos for my eBay stuff, although for the best part it was pretty much unrelated, but looked FAB!

Careers, Recruitment or Join the Team at Company Ltd
More of a personal preference here, if the company you wish to create has a more relaxed feel, go for the ‘Join the Team @ Company Ltd’ , otherwise name it careers or recruitment.

You know the drill, we’ve all looked at sites we’d like to work for, google them and copy/paste and edit a few lines.

Partners
Always a firm favourite, if you shift, sorry I mean market branded goods, then include a few logos and make the impression that you work with these companies, even if there is someone in the middle (a few times probably). If they’re unbranded, brand them and knock up a logo in paint.

Store Locator
If you have premises, then this is a shocker for both the website and any marketing materials, if the buyer has no intention of visiting, a picture of a shop, office, warehouse or tent will reassure the customer, you’re real. Oh and include a google map, they’re free or just screen shot and paste the image in.

A big tip here is include the phone number and email address in clear sight, customers will normally always phone or email rather getting off their butts to come in.

So your website should have a cracking footer line up now, the above should take no more than 15 minutes per page (thats 5 min’s googling, 5 min’s pasting, 5 min’s editing).

Press | Affiliates | Meet the Team | Careers | Partners | Store Locator

It looks swish doesn’t, almost a ‘real’ professional company that you always were. You’ve now paved the way to these departments in you business structure, all in an hour or two. What its says to the customer, ‘is these people are real’. Get over that hurdle, the rest is easy.

Show Our Age
Talking of easy, thats not the end yet, here is a quality chestnut, under you logo, do just have some cheesy by line, include the date the business was established.

Ask yourself, which sounds better?

  • I Love My Feet
  • I Love My Feet | Trading Since 2006

Thought so, do it. It adds an immediate age to the company and puts the browser at ease, this is a defo a tick if using right under the logo placed in the top right hand corner, no fancy text, just plain Arial or similar font face.

Facebook & Twitter
Include these pages ONLY and ONLY after you beefed it up, spoken to the entire pub and got Aunt Bessie to hit the like button too, get at least 100 likes before trying to promote it to people you do not know.

You’ve seen the pages & invites, ‘come see my Facebook page’, its got 1 fan and some ‘hello’ post, watch the dust balls ride on by, they’re clicking the back button. You want something to model for this, see MyProtein’s facebook page, its got some FB guru company beefing that one.

Warehouse or Store Picture
Take a look here on Google for some ‘warehouse‘ pictures, pick one and include it in your listing, about pages or on the site footer. If you actually have a warehouse and even a team of staff, ike em out and take a picture. Only takes a few mins and the staff get to see daylight.

I’ll stop here, I hope you’ve taken on board the point of this blog post, if you are to be big in business, then you need to give the impression that you are big in business, even if you’re not.

A ‘Merrier’ Christmas on Amazon – Fudge the Item Weights

If Amazon read this, it’ll probably piss on any chance I ever had for working with/for them. But keeping with the no-holes-barred approach I set out here, here is a tip that no-one will tell you, mainly because its dirty and underhand, but hey it works!

The Background

This only works if you know that your competitors on Amazon use weight based rules, its a basic flaw in the way that inventory is created in Amazon, by having lots of people able to edit records, then there is a margin of error, based upon this, we are able to force an error in our favour.

I say that this only works when ‘they use weight based rules’, this is because the Amazon shipping method setup for merchants is very primitive, you essentially get two options, weight based or item based and also only works for non BMVD (media like DVD’s etc) items. You can see the Amazon help pages on this here.

Its also imperative that you are not using weight based shipping yourself, if you do not alter this, then you’re screwing yourself. Again see here on how to alter them.

Spotting if we have Chance to Weight the Odds

You can normally spot what method your competitor is using on Amazon by checking a collection of items, preferably look at something that is intrinsically very heavy and something that is very light and seeing if the postage changes. If it does, Housten, we have a winner!

Altering the Weights

There are a couple of options that we can use, we can either edit records manually one by one, use a script such as an iMacro to alter them in turn, page by page, an update file or use an import/export from your software provider.

My biggest tip is not to go overboard with the weight increases and definitely not to do everything. Instead, pick on a selection of items and alter their weight so that it becomes unreasonably expensive for shipping.

If you have enough time, then picking a single item and working out their shipping with multiple weight edits could be very advantageous, you would know then sweet spots and because to create a simple calculation in excel to push each item over its barrier.

Summary

I hope you have realised how dirty this is, however realised that it could make or break someones Christmas.

The key to this is not going overboard on weight changes, setting something from 100 grams to 1 tonne isn’t going to work (well it may do, but expect it to get picked up) and for gods sake, if using the Amazon update files, ensure you write ‘update’ for the update type, its too easy to wipe data and always keep a backup and a record of the changes made, just in case you need them back later.

Tesco Taking on Amazon, Great Choice!

Tesco Logo

Update: This article has been expanded upon further, see Part 1: Battle of The Giants – Tesco V’s Amazon – Who Will Win?

The PR wheels have been turning for the past few days on the news that Tesco is to take on Amazon. It was interesting reading the comments left by users on the article posted on Tamebay, as they had a distinct eBay feel to them.

Amazon in many ways is almost the perfect model to follow, its core differences between its  marketplace and eBay are reason for its huge success year on year.

The Marketplace Differences

eBay UK LogoeBay facilitates transactions between buyers and sellers, but does not sell or create product to sell on its own marketplace (like a ‘farmer’ hosting a ‘carboot sale’), where as Amazon is its main (note not sole) selling platform which ‘allows’ other sellers to sell along side ‘it’ and to use the Amazon umbrella.

Another huge differences is the way inventory is handled, eBay is still a free-for-all, although a few categories like Sat Nav and DVD’s are moving towards single listings, multiple sellers, but for the best part, its a mess of same items all designed and displayed differently [this is both a positive and a negative] in vast amounts of listings.

Amazon UK

Hey look, Amazon!

Where-as Amazon’s structure is quite different, this is a true single record > multiple sellers environment and its a fight based upon ‘mainly’ price. So instead of creating a listing per seller, its one listing per multiple sellers.

This is not without its complexities over duplicate records and damn annoying duplicate barcodes especially in the media categories (sold a book when it was supposed to be some fancy dress item, grrrr) but generally the system works, if its to work then Tesco need a backend system that can cope with the creation of new records, a way of verifying them on multiple criteria and allow edits to them to maximum inventory creation potential.

Seller Thrashings

Another fundamental difference between the marketplaces is that you can generally talk around eBay and cover up miss-haps. If you piss-off Amazon, then you are screwed. Its their marketplace and if you let their customers down, then you better have a damn good contact list to start bailing on, its extremely rare for sellers to get back on. I know of only perhaps just three in almost 10 years.

OoO Wait, What About Play.com?

play.comIts worth noting here that no-where I have seen has anyone mentioned Play.com, not I think this has a potential in itself. Again for those new to the different platforms, Play.com offer something called PlayTrade and PlayTrade Pro, which allow sellers to sell on their platform along side their existing stock.

Now the biggest limiter (by their own design I hasten to add) is that Play.com have chosen to the stance that ‘if its not in our database you cannot sell it’, which in many ways keeps things cleaner, but also seriously stunts their growth when compared directly to Amazon.

Yes you can ask Play to create new records, but the data better be squeaky clean and its not a fast process by any means as from I know if its checked manually [poor Chris B!].

Processing the Sales Data

The other no-brainer for Tesco is that they can pull an Amazon style javari.co.uk on the data they pull. Again for those who don’t know this, remember you are selling on Amazon’s platform, they sell there too, its their platform. So when they spot a sweet spot, like footwear, don’t be supprised if they do a javari.co.uk or an endless.com with this data. If I was Tesco, I’d be gunning for this data, data that says what sells, when, how and who for, its utter insane when you think that Amazon have been doing this for years and haven’t even started to monetize their data to sub sites.

On a side note, checkout javari.co.uk and endless.com they are super slick and not a patch on what Amazon have released in the Amazon Webstore platform for merchants.

Integrate, Integrate, Integrate!

Now if Tesco is going to open its doors to other sellers, then it better have some ‘common’ tools at its disposal to enable sellers to port data (coff, just like Play.com did) from existing marketplaces (Amazon) and enable its use on their own site.

A few common sense things, like keeping condition codes the same as thats used on Amazon (coff Play.com) and file formats would be a good start. One thing that Amazon lacks on in direct comparison to eBay is that its API isn’t that great. eBay’s API has to be one of, if not the the best documented & thorough API there is.

Working with 3rd party tools like eSellerPro , Channel Advisor, AManPro etc is going to be key to the marketplaces success, I really do not see such a channel taking off if no-one can list data there quickly, especially the businesses that already have great data sat there waiting to be deployed.

Fulfillment By Tesco?

Infact I don’t even want to contemplate this right now, but thinking about it for a few movements, if Tesco are smart enough to take a swipe at Amazon, why not go for the jugular and take some FBT (Fulfillment By Tesco) as well? Buy up a third party like ProFS, bingo instant fulfillment network to take on Amazon’s. See crazy stuff! My head hurts on the sheer potential they have here.

Tesco Affiliates, Amazon Style

Another topic that I have seen absolutely no-one mention and that is affiliates. For those who have never heard of this concept, its simple, you transfer a customer that converts, you get a commission (its what I have been hiding away doing for the past few months on a larger scale).

My point is, Amazon have BOAT LOADS OF AFFILIATES and the crazy thing about their affiliate program is that they offer 24hr cookie where the rest of the industry is around 30 days, but Amazon converts like crazy, times this by thousands and an astore product that is simple to use for community sites and can be deployed in minutes.

Its like an army of sales staff working for you, its crazy.

Note to self, need to find out the figures quoted for Amazon affiliates, I am sure they account/contribute for a massive amount of the total sales revenue of Amazon.

So Matt Your Point Is…

Tesco would be insane to try and copy eBay, by-god thats a dirty marketplace when you compare it to Amazon. I have no idea how this is going to pan out, a new site or a bolt on module to their existing Tesco Direct site at http://direct.tesco.com/ (which again for those did not know it has a proportion of an amalgamation of supplier feeds branded as Tesco, well and some Tesco owned items too I suspect).

If its going to work, they’re[Tesco] are going to have to push their brand name to the limits of what can be pushed. That Amazon logo instills a sense of comfort & trust that just isn’t found elsewhere on the Internet and is going to be extremely hard to get anywhere near to it, regardless of their starting base.

They’re not going to need luck, they’re going to need some damn gifted management heads, every single corporate based tool at their disposal and some fairy dust for good measure.

Exciting times ahead for all of us, be sure of that.

Dan Wilson: What are your nuggets of eBay selling advice?

Online Business Forum eBay

Online Business Forum eBay

An interesting question came up in the LinkedIn ‘The Online Business Forum powered by eBay‘ group by Dan Wilson and I think I am only one probably prepared to spill anything of any substance (I might be wrong by the time this is released), here is the question in full:

What are your nuggets of eBay selling advice?

I was asked last week for some advice regarding online selling by a journalist. The hack in question wanted little known tips for an article he was writing. Needless to say, I had a view. Here’s what I said:

Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Dealing with trouble customers and problems takes time and time is money. Sometimes quibbling over a few pounds is just not time or money efficiently spent. And when it comes to customers, there really are just some people who can never be satisfied, so save your energy and don’t try. Refund and move on. Finance this by making sure you build up a notional fund for such situations. The size of that will depend on what you sell online, but a small levy on everything you sell soon adds up because most customers really are lovely.

Are you getting the best deal on fees?
On eBay, there are several ways of getting better, lower fees. The first is an eBay Shop. Just by paying a subscription, you can get preferential treatment on the fees for BINs in particular and that can significantly lower your outlay if you want to expand the inventory you have available in the marketplace. And don’t forget PayPal. The merchant rate offers lower PayPal fees if you’re taking a lot of money through the system. But you do have to ask!

What’s your best little nugget of online selling advice? Or is it too good to be shared?

After writing what was a hefty reply, I decided it would be worth beefing it out and including it here for all to see. I’ll keep to my two points I could go on a blogging-bender quite easily.

Point 1: Do not devote 100% of your business to eBay

Amazon UK

Hey Look Amazon!

Its a mistake I made a long time ago and will not let clients make the same one. If eBay is taking up more than 40% of your over-all business turnover then you have a *critical business issue* and need to diversify your marketplaces, FAST.

I’ve said for a very long time that I am sure that sure that eBay does what it can to cause maximum impact to sellers to keep them ‘entertained’ with the eBay marketplace. The entire selling process could be a lot simpler and dare I say it less ‘unique’ to each buyer. eBay selling can-and-will hog your time, you need to be wise to this and look for ‘tools’ to aid you to diversify into other channels.

I’ll come back to viable actions for this point later in this post.

Point 2: My other tip is risk Aversion.

The point here is to not rely solely upon a single eBay ID. This could mean breaking ‘eBay policy’ to some, but I see each eBay ID as a ‘business’ in its own right and if done well it acts like one too.

To list on eBay has never been so cheap for pretty much ALL eBay sites, yes ALL sites, not just the eBay UK site. By spreading the risk of selling on eBay into two or more (20 plus is not unheard of now) eBay ID’s that have specific persona’s and product cross overs can be done from well managed backend systems.

Once you have created your inventory in a backend management tool (Channel Advisor ‘loosely’ fills this spot, eSellerPro is suggested [yes I used to work there, hell there is not one part that I didn’t influence. blah blah blah its ace]). The point is that to prepare the data for a second eBay ID is a fraction of the work, to prepare it for many eBay IDs (including on multiple sites) is again ‘a fraction’ of the initial work.

By spreading your inventory groups over more than one eBay ID, loosens the reliance upon a single point of income which in my eyes is a bad thing. It also allows you to focus each business (eBay ID) on to its core role. This does need to be done well and its a whole topic for another day on how to do it well (if I ever decide to divulge this info publicly, actually I doubt it).

Expanding Upon These Points – Real Life Tips

Now here some real life tips you can action really easily if you have the right tools.

Here is a no brainier, did you know that the vast majority of the eBay US categories are exactly the same as the eBay UK ones? That means porting your eBay UK data to a eBay US eBay ID is really quite easy, especially now that both sites are using custom item specifics for almost all categories? The same goes for nearly all the other sites too, they all have a common base, just with a few tweaks here and there.

Settle for the ‘Other Category’ if you have too, if its a decision between actually getting listed and getting the categories right, screw the cats, get the items on. You can sort out the re-categorisation (not mess as I first typed) later.

Also remember that America is massive, buyers are used to orders taking over 10 days to arrive for non expedited services and guess how long it normally takes for a UK parcel to arrive in the US? Yep you got it, about 10 days!

The second is a set of two questions:

  • Do students really cost that much?
  • Does outsourcing your language translation requirements sound really that scary?

Now leading on… eBay Germany [DE] is bigger than eBay UK and they will pay by PayPal (used to be a big issue, as those Germans love bank transfers). Yes thats right eBay Germany is BIGGER than the UK, let that sink in for a moment.

* let the dust roll by *

Sunk in? Here’s an idea for you, use Google Translate on your top 10 products, now search on eBay.de for them, making an excel spreadsheet as you go, then use xe.com to get the latest rate, the numbers work? If you have a Terapeak account, pay the extra and research the foreign eBay sites, I guarantee you, you’ll start feeling sick.

I Need Help Now!

I’d love to, but cannot commit to anything before the new year due to prior commitments. My content creation team is working literally 24/7 currently and its time I start looking at a VA (Virtual Assistant) again. Hey at least I’m admitting my flaws! Are You?

Anyway, its the reason why I have published this in front of the other posts that were due to be released, at least I can help you go in the right direction.

Fulfilment By Amazon Webinar: First steps to get started

Fulfillment By AmazonJust received this in the email queue, defintely worth looking at for anyone whom is considering using FBA:

We are pleased to invite you to this webinar where we will present best practices and tips to get started with Fulfilment by Amazon, including:

– How to select the most suitable items in your inventory to convert to FBA
– How to send your first shipment, avoiding the most common errors
– How to check the health of your FBA inventory to make sure you made the right decisions

This webinar should be useful for:

– sellers who registered for FBA but who are not sure how to get started
– existing FBA sellers who want to make sure they use all the correct techniques and practices to manage their FBA business

Title: Fulfilment By Amazon: First steps to get started
Date: Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Time: 13:00 PM – 14:00 PM UK time

Registration Link:
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/79572300

Amazon Product Advertising API Oct 15th Deadline

Amazon Product Advertising APIFor anyone else who uses the Amazon Product Advertising API, there are some major changes coming that have an October 15th deadline.

The biggest alteration to the API is the removal of customer reviews from being sent, instead a link to the review on Amazon is returned. They are saying this is because of the high load of data being transferred and the keyword of the entire update is ‘Efficiency’, while I do not doubt this for one second, I do suspect that this is a change to give their own site a higher set of results in search engines, by keeping their unique content (reviews) to themselves.

This is no real bust up for Affiliates that actually use proper, unique content. Google has always said (and pretty much kept its word), if you give people a reason to come to the site, they will. You can never go wrong with unique, quality content, its is key to a successful Affiliate (and website) campaign; As I know all to well from the blisters on my fingers from typing so much.

There are some other response groups that have been removed, never used any of them and you can see the full details at https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/main.html

eBay V’s Amazon – Its a ‘Trust’ thing

Well after another quick read of the feed reader, there is an announcement that eBay is to spend a huge wedge of cash sending out some postcards, no not to promote products or sellers found on the site, but ‘Trust’.

eBay really cannot shrug that carboot sales & miss-trust thing they  have got in-ground. Its  major difference between them[eBay] and Amazon. Amazon is thier marketplace and ‘allow’ other sellers to sell on thier marketplace, not a marketplace where the party[eBay] are the facilitators of the marketplace.

So when you buy from Amazon, there is a single point of trust, the Amazon logo, but for eBay, it means nothing, the buyer has to check lots of things about the listing, who are they, where they from, how much, how much shipping, when really they should only be asking ‘is this the right item for me’.

When will eBay take a leaf out of Amazon’s book and start slapping the daylights of the under performers. Amazon really does not take any crap from their sellers, you piss off one of their buyers, wow do you pay, its one of their customers, not a ‘member’ or ‘community member’, one of their customers. You see the fundamental difference between the market places yet?

Here is the homepage for the .com site, nothing up on the UK site, hey we don’t have any ‘trust’ issues here, just a complete Island (Ireland) to deal with the UK & Europe.

eBay Buyer Protection on eBay.com

eBay Buyer Protection on eBay.com

AuctionBytes, such a fab source of the latest news, its unreal, if you’re not signed up for them, you really should be. The article I’m referencing can be found here.

eBay Conspiracy Theory Overview : Part 1

Here are a few things for you to chew over, I’m not saying these are true, they’re probably utter rubbish, but… they do have enough in them to at least be partly true, right?

Here are my eBay conspiracy theories, don’t expect too much detail yet, I’ll beef these out in further posts over the next few days:

  1. eBay does whatever it can to keep the seller ‘entertained’ on the eBay marketplace, so that they are too busy to sell on other marketplaces.
  2. Using best match, eBay throttles a sellers performance, so that their number of sales stay with a 25% or so window of an on going average.
  3. eBay is turning into Amazon.
  4. The ‘Free Shipping’ promotions are nothing but a marketing ploy, to gain more fees for eBay.

I’m look forward to putting forward my flakey cases on each one of these in the next few days. I’d really value your comments and suggestions on these, the comment box is below awaiting your brain spam to join mine.