Think like an Amazon customer

Amazon’s mission is to be “the most customer-centric business on earth”. That’s been key to their success; they learn from their customers. You, too, could probably benefit from leaving products and sales on one side for a moment, and starting to think like your customers.

For instance, think about why your customer has headed to Amazon in the first place, instead of shopping ‘bricks and mortar’.

•      Do they want to get a better price? Or to get a multi-pack?

•      Are they shopping for a specialized product that the stores don’t stock?

•      Do they want to see the full range of what’s available?

•      Do they want to do without the hassle of bricks and mortar shopping, for instance if they need a new pair of jeans that’s the same as they had before?

•      Do they want a bundle of products rather than just one item?

For instance if someone’s getting started out in a new hobby, if they have a friendly local craft store they might go there. But otherwise they might go on Amazon to see if there’s a “Get started painting” or “Beginner decoupage” kit they can order. Or if someone has a new puppy, they can go to Pets R Us, but they can also order everything on Amazon, and it’s less hassle, plus they can see the customer reviews.

Once you’ve thought about why your customer went online, you can tweak your offering to suit. For instance, for specialized products, how can you help them make their purchasing decision? What kind of information will be important to your customers? What do they need to know to make sure they’re getting the right product? If you sell a widget, you might have a video showing “how to measure your XYZ so that you know you’re getting the right size widget”.

Think about why your customer is getting this product on Amazon. They’re not looking for your product or ASIN, most likely, they’re looking for an idea they have in their mind. They want to fix a problem, to suit a mood, to find a present for someone or to treat themselves.

So they may not look for “yourproductname” as a keyword. They’re looking for “help, my tap’s dripping” or “that shocking pink handbag my friend’s got” or “what can I get my Dad for his birthday that’s not predictable?” Some customers will look for dehumidifiers, others will search for “stop damp and mold”.

And once they’ve got your product, what are they going to do with it? Can you help them get more out of it? So for instance if you sell a special lens attachment for phone cameras, have a short video showing clearly how to attach it, and with some ideas for the kind of photos your customers might want to take with it. Or with a set of barbecue skewers, you could include some recipes, maybe with some vegetarian and vegan recipes and a couple of salsas to go with the barbecues.

Another way you should think like a customer is to think about the unboxing experience. What is the customer going to feel when they open up the package? How can you present things to help or delight them? How can you exceed expectations? How can you minimize returns? You might include a small thank you slip as part of the package, or instructions for how to put the product together. For an art or aromatherapy bundle, including a simple leaflet with some ideas for using the different products will not add much to your cost but can really improve your customer’s experience.

This may not help you sell, but it really will help improve your reviews. And in the long run, that will also benefit your bottom line!

One Product For Many Audiences

Imagine you arrive in town with your friends, and you can’t agree where to stay. You want somewhere economical in a cheapo motel, one friend wants to paint the town red, and the other wants to go middle of the road and stay in the Doubletree.

Then you all end up in the same lobby!

In Jack Vance’s SF novel Big Planet that’s exactly what happens – and it’s set up that way so that the town’s inhabitants know who are the cheapskates and who are the big spenders. The product is the same, but it’s marketed differently.

So let’s think how that might apply to Amazon. For instance, you sell a dog harness. Is that a single product?

Nope. Rick the Backwoodsman is not going to buy a pink leash and diamante collar for Grunt, the German Shepherd. Ellie the Wall Street Woman probably gets sensible matte black for Wolfram the Weimaraner. But pink and diamante? Stephanie’s chihuahua Cutesy will love it.

So product varieties are the way to expand. It might just need a difference in marketing; the same product could sell to the hunting, shooting, hound owner that’s bought for a pet pooch, but you’ll need to sell its ability to cope with tough conditions in the field, rather than the comfort and good behavior of poochy-poos at the mall.

Or you might need to offer different colors, different sizes, or different levels of functionality. That’s how camera brands work; you can buy a cheapish compact, or an expensive mirrorless camera with swappable fish-eye and zoom lenses, or anything in between.

You can also offer different price levels. Some brands only play at one price level; Hermes and Louis Vuitton only sell expensive bags. Others offer several different levels. If you think of an auto maker, you’ll see how their products are graded by cost, from the small, cheap runabout to the expensive executive and sports cars.

The problem, of course, is that if a buyer pays more money but gets exactly the same thing, they are nor going to be happy. In this case you need to offer a slightly different package.

A good example here is Pelikan fountain pens. They have pens that run from school pens (Germans still use them at school) all the way up to several thousand dollar hand-painted pens. At each level, you get a nicer box, a bigger pen, a better filling system, and at a particular stage, a gold nib instead of steel. You can use any of them to write with, but few people will say the school pen and the high-end pen are “really exactly the same, so it’s not worth spending the money”.

Most people will, though, have an idea at the back of their minds how much they are prepared to spend on a pen.

Now imagine my idea is I was willing to spend $100. But suddenly, I see that there’s a sale on, and I can get a $200 pen for $100. Do you think I would be tempted?

Guess what? That’s how discounts work!

And you can have your product both discounted and not discounted at the same time. For instance, you can use a coupon offer just to your email newsletter or your Facebook followers, or just use it to people using Vipon. You don’t have to discount it on your regular Amazon listing, and people who go straight on to Amazon will never know.

Hopefully this blog post has provided you with some interesting food for thought. You may never see your products quite the same way again!

Copywriting for Amazon

Writing Amazon product pages is a very specific sub-set of copywriting. You can’t do all the things you’d normally do if you were writing on your own site; the format is very tightly specified and there are certain things you need to include.

But you can still do a better job if you treat the page as a copywriting job rather than a product tick-list. That will lead to better sales, as your writing attracts your readers to the product and motivates them to become buyers.

All good copywriting starts by studying your audience. The kind of writing that will press all the right buttons for a 34 year old guy who’s an ultrarunner will do nothing for a 25 year old woman who wants to get “beach ready” – even if the product is exactly the same vitamin supplement. So make sure you know who your buyers are; look them up on Google Analytics, and see what else they are buying. See what they are reading, too; are you selling to someone who usually reads Cosmopolitan, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, or Hombre?

Read More…

How your competitors discount their products

Do you know how your competitors discount? It’s worth finding out, since it can give you a lot of good information in planning your own pricing.

Most obviously, you need to know what they’re doing right now. If you offer a great discount, but your competitor has a lower price than you, then your discount strategy isn’t likely to boost your sales.

But besides knowing how your price relates to your rivals’ prices, you also need to know how much their discounts stack up to, and how they express them. For instance, if your prices are the same, but your competitor normally has a higher price, a lot of customers will see “30% discount” from you and “45% discount” from them. Guess who they’ll go with?

But you’ll also benefit from a deeper appreciation of their discount strategy. Make it your business to record their discounts and track patterns in their promotions. What percentage of the time do they have discounts? Some companies sell at full price nearly all the time and only offer discounts occasionally, perhaps on Black Friday or in January. Others have discounts and promotional offers all the time.

Obviously, customers who see this will have different feelings about the two companies. They’ll expect a discount from the big-discount company and probably won’t be tempted to buy unless they get one. On the other hand with the full-price company, they may buy at full price or they may decide to wait several months for a discount if they think there will be one coming along.

Sometimes you’ll be able to anticipate competitors’ discount behavior. If your main competitor always has a 30% discount for Thanksgiving, say, then you can decide whether to match it, or to forgo the sales in order to keep your margins high.

You can also sometimes get a good feel for the way the market is going by looking at whether competitors retaliate when someone gives a big discount, or whether they hold their fire. If everyone starts discounting at the same time, that may mean the product niche is becoming much more competitive and less profitable. That could mean it’s time to lighten up on inventory and start looking for new products.

On the other hand if only a couple of rivals discount, but most others keep their pricing unchanged, you probably have a healthy sector. It’s worth taking a look at where those rivals’ products are placed in the rankings; if they’re low ranked, you can guess why they are offering big discounts to leapfrog their way up.

If you see leaders with products in the top ten rankings making big discounts, that’s bad news. It may mean sales have slackened for the whole sector, or even that they’re thinking about exiting it.

You’ll probably also find that each product category sets particular discount levels. For instance, most products may start with a 20% discount at launch. This doesn’t always happen but if it does, that’s probably a level that works. Only offering 10% might mean your product doesn’t get off the ground. On the other hand, offering significantly more could get your product noticed.

Negotiate For More From Your Suppliers

Do you go to car boots and flea markets? If you do, you’re probably used to bargaining a bit.

But if you go to Walmart, you might be used to just paying sticker price. If so, you have a bit to learn so you can sharpen up your negotiations with suppliers.

Great flea market shoppers know there are some basic things that get you what you’re after.

•      Always ask “what else have you got like this?” or even “have you got any flatware?” So often, the seller has more in the back of the car, that hasn’t even been unpacked.

•      If something on a stand catches your eye, even if it’s not quite what you want, take a look around; there’s probably something else you do want pretty close.

•      If you see one good plate, or saucepan, or chair, see if there’s a set. Or if you see a saucer, see if there’s a cup that goes with it.

•      Always ask “Is that your best price?”

•      Or ask “Could you add a little something?” A friend got four bars of olive oil soap as the ‘little something’ to go with a couple of mugs she bought, and reckons the soap is actually worth more!

•      Never pass up the opportunity to learn something about the things you’re looking at and the marketplace in general. Chat to vendors about how the day is going, what’s selling, what makes a particular style more popular, or less valuable.

•      Always be willing to walk away.

So how does that help you with sourcing for your FBA shop?

Well, for instance, if you’re sourcing a floral teapot for your spring kitchen range, ask if there are cups and saucers that match. If the supplier already has matching products, you may be able to expand your product line easily and get a better deal into the bargain.

Always ask your suppliers: “Have you got any other products that are interesting? Any other products that are selling really well right now?” They may already have spotted a trend that you won’t see on Amazon for a couple of months yet. Or they may have a great new product that you’re the first person to see.

If the sample they’ve sent is close, but not quite close enough, see what your suppliers can do to get it exactly how you want it. Bigger pockets in a skirt, perhaps? Or maybe you want more robust fasteners on a cat carrier.

The same goes for price. Is this their best price? There are all kinds of negotiating points. You might buy more, for instance, if they drop the price.

Or can they add something? Sometimes, suppliers can help with shipping costs, or add in a small extra at low cost. For instance, if your skirt design doesn’t use all the pretty fabric, maybe you can have it made up into matching pouches or hair ties.

Remember to ask questions. Your suppliers may have a good understanding of the market. They may be able to explain to you which corners can be cut, and which economies will reduce the value of your product. They may know that some designs sell well in the US but not in Europe. But you’ll never know unless you ask!

It’s the same with advertising. For instance, “Are there any more keywords I should be using?” is always a good question to ask. “Are there any more social media that would work for me?” Or any influencers you ought to know about?

Always ask for more. Because that way, you get more!

8 seconds to get your product noticed

Research shows that you have as little as eight seconds to grab an internet user before they click away from your web page. So you need to get their attention fast.

And when we’re talking about product listings on Amazon, you don’t have a lot of ways to do that. For instance, if you sell a vitamin supplement, on your own pages you might grab attention with the headline “Ten ways Vitamin XYZ can make your life better”. Your reader will probably stick with you at least until number four – you’ve grabbed them.

But Amazon says you have to do this, and do that, and start with the product title, so you have very limited resources.

And you’re not going to get away with words that work well on a blog, like “mind-blowing”, “amazing”, “surprising”, or “unbelievable.” Amazon does not like those at all; unless they’re in a book title, of course, such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (go see!).

Okay. The product title. You actually have quite a lot of space but you need not to waste it. So get the important stuff up fast.

The first important thing: what is this product? It’s a …. camera. Lens. Filter. Cat carrier. Doll. Coffee pot. French press. Stick that right up front.

Only then do do you want to give the detail. So for instance, if the product is a lens for a DSLR, the important words are “Nikon” or “Canon”, “zoom” or “wide angle”, and “lens”. Then after that comes the stuff people will want to check off like how many millimeters, which models it will fit, and specific features. If you put the specific features up front, you’ve lost customers who won’t read any further.

But you can also put qualifiers, and those might go up front. “Blanket” is easy to trump by “Comfy blanket”. However, if you’ve ended up with “comfy furry plush velvety snug romantic soft cute blanket” you’ve gone too far. That word “blanket” is what the user is looking for, and you lost them before they got there!

Then you have the product picture, and the first product pic is the one users will see – the boring one with your product against a white background. It’s tightly controlled by Amazon, but it’s incredibly important. So you need to do these things:

•      Make sure it works as a thumbnail,

•      make sure the lighting is good,

•      make sure the focus is sharp,

•      think about getting the right angle,

•      make sure users can see exactly what it is.

Remember, users might not see your entire product page, just the title and the picture. So these need to work on their own, for anyone who’s using mobile, or comes to Amazon from another site (like Vipon).

Once you’ve optimized these two items you can go on to your product description and here,

•      you

•      want

•      to

•      use

•      bullet

•      points!

Which will let users scan rather than read, so they can find out what they want to know faster.

Numbers always appeal, for instance if a sewing machine has 5 embroidery stitches, or you’re selling a set of 6 garden tools or a pressure washer with 3 attachments, put the number in the bullet points.

There’s a reason ads like “kills 99% of all known germs” and “8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas” are such classics, so do likewise! (Only, of course, if you have a claim you can substantiate. If the ten cats are all yours and your BFF’s, that might not be enough.)

By the way, a number that’s always guaranteed to get attention is the amount of discount a buyer can get! We’ll just leave that there, for you to think about…

Tracking the latest Amazon trends

Your products may not be ‘trendy’, but if you’re selling on FBA, you really do need to track the trends. Even if you’re selling basic items like diapers or dog leashes, every so often buyers will start looking for something different, and you’ll want to know what it is, even if it’s just a new keyword.

For instance, it could be a product that you’re selling as a relaxing, soothing bit of pampering can take advantage of increased searches for ‘meditation aids’. It’s not a big stretch, but unless you’d noticed the new keyword topping searches on Google, you might not have thought of adding it to your list.

Or you might be looking for a new product. Suppose you sell cosmetics, and you see that more and more people are searching for ‘natural makeup’ or ‘glitter eyeshadow’. That gives you a steer that maybe those could work well as new products for your range.

So how do you get started in product research? First of all, make sure you hang out in the Amazon seller forums, to benefit form other sellers’ insights and their knowledge of industry trends. You don’t need to be on there all the time, but it really helps to visit regularly and check out what’s moving (and what isn’t). All the forums are accessible via Seller Central, so you’ve no excuse for not visiting.

Secondly, Google Trends is a great resource. Enter a search term and you’ll get a graph of how often it’s been looked at over the past year, together with interest by sub-region (eg which US states searched for the term most) and related topics or queries.

It’s not infallible. I tried “cat toy” and related queries included Paw Patrol; it’s a toy, and it includes cats, but it’s not really relevant to pet suppliers! Even more oddly, “Dell CPS 15” came up as a related search. But more usefully, I got shown that hairballs and “cat trim” are zooming up as searches, so any way of helping owners brush their cats and trim their claws without temper tantrums is going to sell well.

Google will generally show breakout or fast growing topics, so you can see what related searches are really gaining traction.

Alternatively, you can pick a broad area such as Beauty & Fitness or Finance, and see what’s trending in that area. In Finance, right now, it’s Russian Ruble, and student loan forgiveness application. Not a mention of cryptocurrency!

You can then click on the related search terms that look interesting and follow up related searches, which can give you a really rich idea of the most interesting trends in your sector. Just keep following up links and you may hit pay dirt!

Amazon Seller Central also has an Opportunity Explorer you can use to find profitable market niches. This doesn’t work by single keyword, but rather Amazon defines a product niche as a cluster of different search terms representing a customer need – a slightly different emphasis.

You can filter by search volume, over the last quarter or over the last year, and you can also filter by growth. You might decide you only want products which have grown their volume of search by 25 percent or more over the last year.

You might also cast an eye over the Amazon Best Seller page. However, this isn’t the most useful source, as it’s likely that any products which make it up here will be super competitive. However it’s a quick way to see what’s happening.

Amazon also publishes a Trend Report from time to time, but it’s not really timely or detailed enough to be really useful to FBA sellers. It’s more worthwhile to check if your instinct about an area you didn’t decide to pursue was right, or if you missed a good opportunity.

Remember, even if you do spot a hot trend, you’ve got to make a value judgment on whether it’s going to last, or go the way of the fidget spinner. Because you’ll need to specify, source and market your inventory before the trend collapses, if it’s just a craze and not a long term winner!

January sales or premium pricing?

Once the holiday season is over, it’s the January sales! That’s the way retail always used to play. But the question if you’re selling on Amazon is whether it’s still going to work like that.

Price movements can be unpredictable. Different products behave differently. For instance,  in bricks and mortar retail, you rarely see discounts on staple food products or basic building materials. New cordless drills get discounted – cement doesn’t. Sometimes, particular brands have their prices slashed while others don’t.

Adding to the unpredictability of the situation, lots of Amazon sellers (particularly the mom-and-pop outfits) are taking a break right now. Some of them will have reduced prices before they take time off, others won’t. Whatever happens, they probably won’t be taking much decisive action in the next couple of weeks.

Fortunately if you sell on Amazon you have lots of real-time information coming your way on all your products and on your competitors’ products. So you should use it to the max. For instance, even if two of your competitors are discounting, if you see that your sales are holding steady, you can hold your price. That could make you a lot more profit than trying to match their price.

Of course you’ll want to reduce the price on any holiday-related product you have left. No one wants to buy Christmas cards or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sweaters in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, after all. If you have these kind of products in your inventory, you’ll want to sell them off to avoid excessive storage charges (or even take them out of the warehouse). But for other products a price drop isn’t always in order.

You might use an automatic repricer. If you do, make sure you give it some strict rules. For instance, limit the amount that it can drop the price and make sure it alerts you if the price drops further. That means you can follow small price drops automatically, and you don’t need to track every product manually.

If the price drops further than the limit, you’ll need to investigate what’s happening. If the product is one where prices have been dropping continuously for a while, then you may need to follow the trend. On the other hand, if a competitor’s price drop takes the price way below average, and the trend has been pretty stable, then wait for February and regular pricing to sell your inventory at a better margin.

You also want to think about how much you have in inventory. If you only have a handful of units left in the warehouse, you don’t necessarily want to play the price drop game. If you have excess stock, maybe you want to shift some of it.

But just dropping your price might not be the right thing to do. Once you’ve marked a price down, customers will often take that as their ‘base’ level, and you’ll then see a negative reaction if you try to move the price back upwards again. It might be better to offer a limited time discount. Besides, if customers know there’s a time limit on the discount, that gives them a motive to buy now rather than wait till later.

You might also want to use a coupon discount on Vipon to just add a bit of spice to your sales. (Of course, Vipon can also help with those worrisome overstocks.)

Most importantly, don’t forget to take notes! Then, next January, you’ll be able to see how things played out this time round. The future may not be an exact copy, but those products which were most vulnerable to price pressure will probably be the same ones in 2024 that they were in 2023.

Getting ready for the New Year

FBA sellers have usually been rushed off their feet for most of Q4. It’s hardly surprising they want a rest when they get to the end of the year!

But you can’t take too much of a rest if you want the new year to be a profitable one. For a start, think of all those people who have gift vouchers they want to redeem. For them, it’s still the holiday gift season, just time-shifted!

You’ll also want to be thinking ahead a couple of months, as what you order from suppliers now isn’t going to get delivered till the end of February. So, for instance, if you’re in fashion, you’re already going to see a move away from winter outfits towards lighter clothing by then, except in the far north.

If you’re sourcing new products, remember January 22 is Chinese New Year, so not a lot is going to get done for a week or more each side. If you want inventory coming in soon, order well in advance and make sure your supplier knows you’re keen to get the goods in stock as soon as possible.

There will also be the January sales. As an FBA seller, this is a good chance to look at your products and see where you have slow moving product or excess inventory. You might want to use discounting to move it along or sell your remaining stock of products that have been discontinued, or replaced by an upgraded version. (Vipon can help you if you decide to offer discounts through coupons. Don’t forget, Vipon customers are hunting for discounts and ready to buy when they see the “money off” sign.)

And you’ll want to get your diary Amazon-ready. That means putting in all the dates you know already, such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. Then, for those that are more than two months away, put “two months to go ” and “one month to go” in your diary, to prompt you in good time to source product or organize an advertising campaign.

If you haven’t done an overhaul of your PPC advertising recently, this might be a good time to do so as you’ll have plenty of sales data from Q4. Look at what worked, not just in terms of what advertising delivered sales, but in term of its cost (use ACOS, advertising cost of sales). If your ACOS is 20-30% you’re okay; if it’s as low as 10%, you have room to boost your better performing keywords.

If you have some keywords that just don’t convert, or are way too costly, it’s time to do some weeding out. Don’t forget to reinvest the savings in better performing ads.

You should also take a good look through your products. Often you’ll be able to divide them into three types:

•      growing like weeds,

•      steady sellers,

•      not moving.

Boost the steady sellers with a bit of extra advertising and see if they respond well to it. The inventory that’s not moving? Take a look at your competition and see if they’re having the same slow sales. If not, it could be time to discount those products and see if that pushes your sales up a bit.

By the way, your sales will fall off a cliff on January 1st, if you’re watching your seller account. That’s nothing to worry about – Amazon doesn’t ship on New Year’s Day, except (this year) for Same Day orders. You’ll see your sales pick up pretty quickly the day after!

Have a happy new year. And have a profitable new year too!

Understanding the Amazon A10 algorithm and how to make it work for you

More than 65% of customers start their product search on Amazon, and the A10 algorithm is the way Amazon helps them search. It’s similar to the way Google searches, using different parameters that are weighted to come up with the most likely useful results.

Obviously, one of those parameters is the combination of keywords used. But that’s not all.  There will likely be tons of products that answer to those keywords.

So Amazon brings in different ways of ranking products. These are all differently weighted, though we don’t know the weightings; the exact way a search engine works is always a closely guarded secret, otherwise people can try to game the system. The different parameters that Amazon uses include the following:

•      Your sales history. If you have consistent sales, rather than sporadic sales, you will tend to get a higher ranking. Basically Amazon is saying that if plenty of people buy your product, there’s likely to be a reason for that, so it’s a product that it can push a little further up the search rankings.

•     Organic sales count particularly highly in the A10 algorithm. An organic sale is when a customer uses Amazon’s search, finds your product in the results, and then clicks through and buys your product. This proves that your product fits the search term, that it’s just what the customer was looking for, so it’s a strong indication that the search engine got it right that time, and ought to continue showing your product as a top search result.

•      Your conversion rate. This is the ratio of the number of customers who see your product page to the number who actually buy your product. If you have a high conversion rate, that suggests the product title that customers see on search is highly representative of the product and gives them an accurate result.#

•      Your seller authority. This includes all kinds of information on how good your customer relations are; your reviews, your handling of product returns, how long you’ve been on Amazon. After all, if your product fits the search terms but you have terrible reviews, then it probably isn’t the product potential buyers want to see.

•      Inventory. The algorithm won’t reward you for having excess stock, but if you only have two items left, you probably won’t go to the top of the results.

•      Your click-through rate; how many customers who see your product in the search listings actually visit your page. This is where having a great photo and a good product title really pull their weight, motivating viewers to click through.

•      Sales from the ‘frequently bought together’ box.

So what changed since the last iteration of the algorithm? One thing became much more important than before: customers coming from off site. For instance, someone might come from Facebook ads, from your Twitter feed or your own website, from internet forums, or from a TikTok video. They might even come from a coupon promotion on Vipon. Amazon loves customers who come from off-site. External visibility gets rewarded, so use influencers to increase your footprint.

This is something that should help your sales anyway, but together with the impact on your search rankings, you should get a double whammy from investing in advertising and promotion away from Amazon. Keep doing PPC, but put new marketing money into beefing up your external ads and your roster of influencers. That should get you rocketing up the rankings.