Amazon Account Reinstatement and Suspension Prevention

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May 22, 2016

More Confusion About Using UPC Codes on Amazon.com

Last week’s blog post was full of bad news. Used media sellers can get suspended for inauthentic claims, UPC codes that don’t match the brand will be flagged for inauthentic – a huge source of heartburn for those who make product bundles or who use their own UPC codes for branded products that seemingly don’t have UPC codes. This week I tried to get some clarification from Amazon and other sources. Here’s my answers to your questions.

Q. Does Amazon Want us to Buy Our UPC Codes from GS1?

Yes. They recommend it. But, to be clear, these are UPC codes for YOUR BRANDED PRODUCTS. In other words, if you are selling Cynthia’s Amazing Birthday Boxes which has toys and candies in it, you should register your brand and then buy a GS1 UPC code for it. If you are selling a FROZEN® bundle of beauty products, then you CAN’T do that. You are not Disney and you do not have the right to license their products or bundle them without permission.

brickMortarStore-1In this way, we are different from most retailers. A brick and mortar store can easily take a bunch of branded items and put them into a cute container and sell them to you as a special deal (buy a towel, get a free washcloth and rubber ducky!). If they need a code for the check-out kid to scan, they use an internal code system. The GS1 is a huge database that uniquely identifies your brand in the global supply chain. If you don’t own a brand, you don’t use their codes. It is as simple as that.

If you are a private label seller, then getting a GS1 extension definitely makes sense – although it is not required – because it will be easier for Amazon to help you defend your listings for those who might create bundles or offer for sale your products in some unauthorized way. You can prove you own the GS1 for your brand and Amazon can easily confirm it.

Q. What if I Already Have UPC Codes from Somewhere Else?

frozen-glam-setThose UPC codes should still be OK as long as you are using them for your own unique bundles and NOT someone else’s brand. What Amazon is doing is checking all UPC codes against the GS1 database. Their concern is for brands. So if you are selling a Disney bundle without a Disney UPC extension and/or code, then they will shut you down because your code is invalid. If you are selling your own brand using a UPC code purchased elsewhere, that’s OK.


Q. What is the GS1? Does it Give Us Authorized UPC Codes?

Not exactly. GS1 is three things: 1) a huge database of branded product extensions (the unique digits that identify each brand) that you can search; 2) a system that helps you generate and manage your own UPC codes; and 3) an annual subscription for as long as you want your brands in their database.

UPC AnatomyThink about it this way, if you want to be able to generate and manage 100-100,000 UPC codes (like many apparel companies with all their size and color variations for example), you don’t want to buy someone else’s UPC codes, you want to manage your own. You can make the numbers actually mean something internally rather than being random. You can tell immediately what the item is just from the numbers in the UPC code. In addition, you can track where it came from and when – critical to food manufacturers who have to be able to instantly recall tainted food or drug manufacturers with tampering scares. The GS1 also provides proof of brand ownership and makes it easy to tell if someone has added their own UPC code to your brand…which is what Amazon is doing now.

Q. If I’m Able to Buy a UPC Code with the Same Extension as the Brand I Want Is That OK?

Absolutely not! It is not only illegal, Amazon would likely ban you from the platform without an appeal. Then you would have to deal with the brand’s lawyers. And to the person who asked me how Amazon would find out (c’mon! really?!), you need to know that the big brands have given Amazon a full list of their UPC codes and continue to do so as they add new products. Amazon is not just checking their extensions. See answer below for many of these brands (not necessarily comprehensive).

Q. Does This Mean We Can’t Create Bundles from Others’ Branded Products?

Princess-ShowerYes…and not exactly. If you read one part of SellerCentral, it makes it sound like it is fine to create bundles and use your own UPC codes. If you read another part, it indicates that your bundles may be closed by Amazon as inauthentic. Here is the difference. You can create bundles, but NOT branded bundles (unless you own that brand). So if you want to put together some cute Disney bath items you can, BUT you can’t call it a Disney bundle. It would be: Bundle: Shampoo, Conditioner, Bath Poof, Princess-themed. In the DESCRIPTION for the bundle you can mention that it is Disney Princess® Shampoo, conditioner, etc. But not in the title. In addition, you would NOT put Disney as the manufacturer. You are the manufacturer. Put your brand: Cynthia’s Amazing Bathing Supplies. Attach your UPC code that you bought from GS1.

Q. Can We Get an Exemption from Needing a UPC Code?

Yes. You can get exemptions in certain situations. If your bundle is eligible for an exemption, then you don’t need a UPC code. The trick is to get the exemption first before making a bundle or listing a product. PS. A GTIN is a Global Trade Item Number which includes UPCs, ISBN, EAN and other product identification numbers (because UPC wasn’t enough of an acronym…).

Eligible cases for GTIN exemption

  • Brand, manufacturer or publisher does not provide a GTIN for the products. For example, private label products, or hand-made products
  • Non-branded products that do not have GTINs. For example, wholesale products
  • Parts do not have a GTIN. For example, some automotive parts do not have a GTIN
  • Bundles that do not have a GTIN. For example, customized bundles may not have a GTIN. So if your bundle has a customized element like a person’s name, then you can possibly get an exemption. To create bundles correctly, see Product Bundling Policy before requesting for a GTIN Exemption

Q. How Do I Get an Exemption?

You need to prepare your case for Amazon. You will need:

  1. A support letter from the brand owner, manufacturer or publisher to prove that they do not provide a GTIN for the products or a list of sample products for Amazon to review. The letter has to have the issuer’s name and contact information and state explicitly that they do not provide a GTIN for all the products that you sell. It must include your physical address, phone number, email or website address. It must be in English or the marketplace’s local language.
  2. A website link to view the products. If there is no website, upload pictures to an online image service or Snagit or Google Docs with a link.

Here’s a link to a template Amazon recommends for the support letter: http://screencast.com/t/zJ4GNZuVaY

If you can’t get a support letter, you should submit a list of sample products for them to review using this template. Please note that if your bundles consist of products from the same brand, then use this template. If they are non-branded products, use this template:

Then you apply here.

We’re saved! Bundles galore! Oh wait, it surely isn’t that easy is it? Nope. Because some brands require a GTIN to list. No exemptions. Any ASIN that belongs to any of these brands and does not have a GTIN will be suppressed.

Q. Does Amazon Give us the List of Branded Products that Require UPC Codes?

Yes. Glad you asked! If you desire a UPC exemption in a category, make sure the brand of the item is not included in one of the following lists of major brands that require a UPC. My assumption is that these are the brands that have given Amazon their complete lists of UPC codes, BUT I would not rely on it to be comprehensive. I’m sure new brands are being added every day:

Q. Disney is One of the Brands That Requires UPC Codes. Does This Mean I Can’t Create a Bundle with Disney Products?

You can create a bundle but you can’t list Disney as the manufacturer and you can’t mention them in the title. Preferably you would have your own brand of gift bundles and list it under that. See my answer above.

In food it is clear. I can create a box of goodies from a mixture of brands and brand/label the product as mine (Cynthia’s Excellent Nibblies). If I want to create a multipack of Jelly Belly’s, I can’t. Only the manufacturer can. If I want to private label the Jelly Belly’s and take a 10lb bag and break it out into 10 1-lb bags I can as long as it is follows the health laws and is a private label product. If I want a 3-pack of three different kinds of retail box Jelly Belly’s I can do that. Wait, did I say food was clear? Sigh.

You’ll notice that none of the lists Amazon gave us includes food. I suspect this is because their rules were already set a year ago under grocery category restrictions. You can create food gift boxes with branded items to your heart’s desire as long as the bundle is under your brand.

Q. I Have Lots of Bundled Products on Amazon. What Should I Do Now?

  1. Change the titles. Take out the name of the brands.
    Instead of “Disney Cars® Conditioner and Shampoo Bundle,” call it “Boys Conditioner and Shampoo Bundle.
  2. You can still name the brands in the listing details or keywords
  3. Change the brand name/manufacturer to your brand
  4. Brand your bundle. Cynthia’s Boys Bathtime Fun Pack ¬– Conditioner and Shampoo Bundle
  5. Or, take your listings down if you are worried about getting caught with an invalid UPC code.

Q. What if I Can’t Change the Listing?

If the listing was created by the brand and you just listed against it, you are fine. If this is a listing you created yourself, you can change it. If this is a listing created by another seller, you should be able to change it unless they brand registered it. In that case, they need to change it. You can check the UPC against the GS1 to see if it matches the brand. If it doesn’t, you may want to close your listing until things get sorted out or until you can create your own listing that complies with the new reality. Obviously, if the listing is already compliant you don’t need to worry about it.

Q. If I Can’t Use the Brand Name in My Listing, It Won’t Sell!

Not exactly a question, but my answer is to put the brands in your description or keywords and make sure you have awesome pictures that follow Amazon style guidelines. In this way, your picture will hopefully be enticing enough for a buyer to open your listing and see the details on your bundle. If your items have a particular scent or flavor, you may be able to use that in your title even if you can’t use the brand. Neutrogena Rainbath Pear and Green Tea Shower and Bath Gel is trademarked but “Bundle – Shower and Bath Gel plus Shampoo and Body Lotion in Pear and Green Tea Scent” isn’t. You’ll have Neutrogena in the description or keywords and the picture. It should sell. Naturally if someone else has a similar bundle and they have not converted their listing to comply they may be higher on the search page than you because their bundle is more relevant.

Only you can decide how much risk you can live with. Amazon WILL get around to every bundle eventually.

Q. Is There Some Way Around This so Amazon Won’t Catch Me?

Gaming the system will make it worse for everyone by forcing Amazon to crack down on the brand registry to make it harder to cheat. Stop thinking this way. Focus on how you can comply vs how to get around the rules.

Q. What are the Disadvantages to Creating Branded Bundles on Amazon?

  • You don’t own the bundle. If the Brand decides to sell on Amazon as a seller, they will automatically have control of YOUR listing. They can change it or take it down at will. Once brands realize this, many will become “sellers” on Amazon so they can take over listings they don’t like. Think about that. If Neutrogena starts to sell on Amazon? Say bye-bye to your bundle.
  • Amazon will catch you if the UPC code is invalid.

Q. Is There a Safe Way to Create Bundles on Amazon?

I can never use the word “safe” with Amazon, but it seems like you can protect yourself if you follow these rules:

  1. Don’t put brands in your titles unless you own the brand
  2. Create your own branded bundle: Cynthia’s Bathtime Fun Pack vs. Disney Cars® Conditioner & Shampoo Bundle
  3. Create a FREE bonus or FREE gift. i.e. Disney Cars Shampoo + FREE Conditioner. This allows you to use the manufacturer’s UPC for the shampoo and yet create a bundle. It is one way to avoid the issues with UPC codes. This loophole will probably be shut down eventually.

Q. Amazon Hasn’t Sent Me Any Notifications. Does That Mean My Bundles Are OK?

No. It just means it will take Amazon a while to catch everyone. I expect this to be a long process.

Q. Will Amazon Grant Amnesty to Sellers?

Hah ha ha ha ha ha ha! Thanks for the laugh. Probably not. They only do that when they feel that something is their fault. They never feel that.

Q. What About Bundles That Are Already Up There? Are They OK?

Not if they are using an inauthentic UPC code. It is just a matter of time. I strongly urge sellers to fix their bundle listings NOW. Let’s put it this way, this next week is your amnesty. Use it wisely.

Q. What if Amazon Suspends Me for My Bundles?

Call us. 972-432-6398. Http://onlinesalesstepbystep.com/reinstatementfaq. While it is no comfort to you today, your experience will help other sellers.

Last Word About UPC Codes…For Now

Use your common sense. If you are looking at a familiar brand and want to create a bundle with it, it is probably registered with the GS1. If it isn’t, you are OK for now…but what about tomorrow when that brand registers? It is safer to not use brand names in your bundles. You can check the GS1 database if you really want to, OR create bundles that don’t list the brand as the manufacturer and that aren’t listed in the title.

More About USED Items with Inauthentic Claims

Q. Is Amazon Requiring that we Prove Authenticity for ALL Items Whether NEW or USED?

Technically, they only require we prove authenticity for items where there has been an accusation of counterfeit or inauthenticity…which means, YES. If you can’t prove authenticity when they ask you, you’re in trouble. You can recover from it once (assuming you don’t have a lot of problems with authenticity already in your NEW items), but that’s it. After that, you can’t afford one more claim where you can’t prove where you bought it. Counterfeit is counterfeit, stolen is stolen.

Q. Will They Actually Suspend You for Inauthentic USED Media?

Yes. My client sold a USED CD that got him shut down. I know I already answered both these questions last time, but many sellers are staggering around like deer in a headlight right now and I’ve been asked several times if it is really true.

Q. I Have a Lot of USED Inventory at Amazon That I Bought at Book and Estate Sales. What Should I Do?

So do I. My client had to remove all of his. Some of it he is selling on eBay, etc. This is a risk assessment you have to take for yourself. You can sell out of what you have and don’t buy any more where you can’t get a detailed, printed receipt (no hand-written ones), you can get rid of everything, or you can play the odds. CDs, DVDs and video games are much more likely to be counterfeit/bootleg. There are also counterfeit textbooks.

Q. What About Collectibles Like Collectible Games and Toys?

SDCC-2015-DC-Collectibles-Arkham-Saturday-001I’ve not seen anyone suspended yet for inauthentic collectibles…but it could happen. As Amazon said to us “counterfeit is counterfeit, stolen is stolen.” If they have a reason to believe that your rare game from the 1950’s is a fake, you’re in trouble if you bought it at an estate sale. This is very upsetting to me. I have a LOT of collectible games and puzzles on Amazon that I bought at estate sales for cash. I’m leaving mine up there for now but I won’t buy any new ones.

Also, one thing I’ve seen with collectible games/toys that is already against policy but which I think will really get sellers in trouble now is when they substitute parts for games that are missing pieces. If you can’t find the original piece, DON’T substitute something similar from another game. That is against Amazon policy AND very likely to lead to claims of fake, inauthentic, missing pieces, incomplete, etc.

Q. What About Refurbs?

If you bought your refurbished item (here I am referencing factory refurbs, not YOU re-conditioning an item) from a legit source, you should have an invoice or receipt and be OK. If you didn’t buy from a retail store or direct from the manufacturer with a factory warranty, then you can’t list it as a refurb in the first place. It’s used but not a refurb. Secondly, if you can’t provide an invoice or receipt, you will be in trouble if it is questioned as inauthentic.

Last Word on USED Media…For Now

We’ve not gotten my client reinstated yet. This part of the story is still unknown. Amazon is dead set that the CD was a bootleg which means that it should have been obvious to my client when he bought it that this was not a legitimate CD. Possibly it was recorded in secret (a “Live!” performance). I don’t know. Counterfeit and Inauthentic claims are mostly about perception. The buyer thinks there is something wrong for a reason. Fix the reason and you’ll stop getting complaints. In the case of USED media buyers, we need to be very careful about what we buy that it looks legit and put stuff down that seems a bit “off” for any reason. Sometimes the claims come from the rights holder. They KNOW it is a fake but the seller may have been fooled. In the case of this CD, it is possible that the symphony KNOWS they never made a CD so it has to be counterfeit. In either case, you can’t argue with Amazon, you can only confess and repent. Put together a plan that tells Amazon how you will ensure it never happens again.

Reserve Cut

Springtime in New York…

My business partner Lesley Hensell and I will be in New York next week. I’m speaking at the Feedvisor conference, we’re working with some of our clients and we’re hosting a special event Wednesday night for our clients and friends of the company at the Reserve Cut Kosher restaurant in lower Manhattan – one of the best steakhouses in the city with fabulous atmosphere and great reviews. We are very excited to eat something extraordinary while in the Big Apple. If you are in the area I hope that you will join us! Please sign up now, we have to give the restaurant our final numbers by the end of the day Monday.

May 12, 2016

The 411 on UPC Codes and Inauthentic Claims for USED Media at Amazon

Peering inside Amazon’s black box algorithm is a Kabuki play – full of style, drama and mystery. This week I interpret several new moves in Amazon’s ponderous fan dance including enforcement of UPC codes, inauthentic claims for USED products and a new pricing tool from Amazon.

Embed from Getty Images

Amazon sellers who create bundles and multi-packs are worried. Amazon seems to be saying that they suddenly need a very expensive UPC code and that they have to have permission from the manufacturer/rights holder in order to do it.

People who are using their own UPC codes for multipacks and some bundles are losing their listing privileges. And to further make you unhappy, Amazon’s ability to check UPCs against the GS1 database has a huge impact on inauthentic claims – which are bringing down a lot of sellers of items that do not currently print UPCs on their items.

What Amazon is doing now is automatically checking Product IDs against the GS1 database. So if you are selling a product where you have added a UPC code that you purchased from eBay or some online dealer, basically, it won’t show up in the GS1 database as belonging to you or any other brand. IF this product is YOURS – a private label or manufacturer – you’re fine because you can register these with Amazon or even ask for an exception to have a barcode. In fact, they will give you a universal number for your unique products through the brand registry so you can sell them worldwide on Amazon’s platforms under that one number.

If the product is owned by someone else, then they have their own “product ID” [as Amazon calls the collection of UPC, ISBN, EANs (Europe) and JANs (Japan)] and you need to use that. Again, this is fine if you are selling solo items, but what if you have a multi-pack? You need a separate UPC code for that and if the manufacturer doesn’t have a multipack UPC code…then you can’t create one.

What Amazon says about Multi-Packs:

UPC Anatomy FINALFor most products listed on Amazon.com, a multi-pack listing is only allowed for a manufacturer-created pack with its own unique UPC. You must enter an Item Package Quantity (IPQ) for these products.

EXCEPTIONS: HEALTH & PERSONAL CARE MULTI-PACKS: One of the few cases where you can use 1 UPC code for all multi-packs.

Health and Personal Care Multi-packs — If you are selling more than one of the same product with the same UPC in “packs” (e. g. “Pack of 2”), enter the number of items in the pack into the “Count” field of the HPC template. Please note that you will need to upload your multi-packs in a flat-file.

Basic Bundling Rules:

There are a lot of rules about product bundling and you can read them in SellerCentral. I’m going to focus on the rules regarding Product ID numbers.

  • The bundle must have its own standard product identifier or manufacturer part number. The identifier of any individual product in the bundle may not serve as the identifier for the bundle. Using a UPC from any single product in the bundle to identify the entire bundle may lead to immediate removal of the listing. You are responsible for obtaining a UPC for each bundle you create.
  • Do NOT bundle branded products with generic products. This may mislead customers into thinking that the generic product belongs to the same brand.

If you read the basic bundling rules on Amazon, it would seem to be OK to use your own UPC code…as it has always been in the past. However, we see problems on the horizon.

Here’s the phrase that is causing so much angst:

“The use of false product identification information, including product IDs, is prohibited and can result in your ASIN creation privileges being removed. Product IDs will be confirmed against the GS1 database.”

Clear as mud, right? What is going on?

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. This rule is not new, but Amazon hasn’t enforced it until recently
  2. This is designed to stop sellers from creating derivative products from branded items
  3. It is designed to protect rights holders – a good thing if you are the rights holder
  4. It makes it easier for Amazon to verify authenticity of the products being sold on its platform
  5. It will encourage more sellers to go the Private Label route and….
  6. Yes, sellers will get suspended for not following the rules

We have two clients who are currently unable to create new listings because they lost their privileges.

Amazon started this last year about this time in Grocery. Food sellers were told they could no longer create multi-packs unless the manufacturer was selling a multi-pack (think Sam’s Club® or Costco® bulk purchases or wholesale bags/boxes) and commodity foods needed to be branded.

The interpretive dance at that time around this topic was a) what was a commodity food? And 2) would current listings be grandfathered in? Many current listings WERE grandfathered in. This doesn’t mean that Amazon won’t shut them down one day, but when the rules went into effect, they stopped sellers from creating new listings that broke the rules, but didn’t take down all the old ones necessarily (some came down).

Nobody got suspended at that time that we know of, but I have since seen warnings to sellers who are trying to sell commodity goods without properly branding and packaging their products. Under the new rules there is no piggy-backing on someone else’s listing for a commodity product unless they are buying it retail or wholesale, basically – like Hershey Bars®.

If I want to sell one-pound bags of certain kinds of candy, for example, I need professional equipment to take a 20-pound bag and place it into 20 bags with my brand on them – even it if it is a branded candy like M&Ms®. Someone else selling a 1-pound bag of M&Ms can sell the retail package or create their own brand and packaging. Confusing? You bet. Same with sunflower seeds, coffee or any other commodity. Simply putting it into a polybag or food-grade box won’t work anymore. If you want to make money on bulk food these days, you need to be in the food packaging business, basically.

People who sell bras, shoes and apparel need to particularly keep the GS1 database in mind. Often there is no manufacturer UPC code when you are buying the product at Marshalls® (for example) but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a UPC code for that item somewhere.

In the case of multi-packs, don’t buy a UPC code and use it unless you are SURE there is no UPC number for the item. Just because you can’t find it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That’s why you may need to check the GS1 database yourself if you are selling a branded product where you can’t find the UPC code. Contact the manufacturer first and then check the database. The GS1 database doesn’t tell you every single UPC code out there, but it tells you if your brand has an extension registered with them. This greatly enhances the likelihood that there is a UPC code for that item and that you need to find and use that rather than using your own.

An extension is like the first few digits of a credit card. They tell Amazon and others who owns the codes that follow that extension. For example, if brand X uses 1234 xxx xxx xxx for product ID codes, you know that ANY UPC code starting 1234 belongs to brand X. You don’t need to check all the digits. That is what Amazon is doing when it checks the GS1 database. If your UPC code doesn’t start with 1234 for that brand? You’ll eventually be flagged.

Now don’t even start. I can hear it now. “How long before they flag us?” We don’t know. I just know it will happen because now it is automated. That means Amazon’s searchbots are at work. Resistance is futile. Assimilation is inevitable.

Q. Do I have to buy my UPC codes from the GS1 Now? They’re expensive!

spongebob gift setI don’t know. If you are a manufacturer or private label, I’d suggest you do. When you put your bundles together now, really think through the issues first. As long as your bundles avoid being associated with any one brand, you should be OK – think Cynthia’s Fabulous Gift Boxes vs. SpongeBob Squarepants® Bundle for 8-Year-Old Boys. You probably don’t have the right to sell SpongeBob bundles, but you can sell gift boxes. Semantics? Yes, but think about how the Amazon robots work. They use key words, titles, UPC codes.

Cordelia Blake in the ScannerMonkey group is conducting an experiment with her own GS1 code. Check it out if you are interested.

Q. Why is Amazon Picking on Us?

It is all about cleaning up the catalog. There are too many duplicate pages and too many improper listings. In addition, it is hard to test the authenticity of a product if the UPC in the catalog is wrong. Many major brands (really big brands like Disney and Sony) have provided Amazon with their UPC codes. This means when you list a Disney product that doesn’t match their list of UPC codes, you’re in trouble.

We had one client who used her own UPC code for everything she sold on Amazon.  It was a nightmare cleaning up that situation.  She thought Amazon was like eBay. It wasn’t deliberate, but you can see why Amazon takes a hard line with that kind of behavior. It leads to lots of duplicate listings.

Q. What Bundles CAN I Sell?

productbundleIf you’ve created a bundle of, say, Disney Princess plates, napkins and cups for a party pack, is that OK to sell? Maybe. 99% of those items are licensed rather than direct from the brand. If you buy them from the rights holder (licensee) AND you have permission to re-sell them on Amazon, then you probably can create a bundle. What if you buy them at Target and create a bundle? Probably not. I say that from experience. I’ve been kicked off of listings by Amazon because I didn’t have the right to re-sell part or all of the bundle on Amazon even though I bought them retail at Target.

What if you are selling a gift bundle and it is full of candy and toys? If all the items are branded, you are probably OK. You can have a Hershey’s bar with a package of Minions Mike ‘N Ike® with a SpongeBob toy and a Cars® coloring book with Crayola® Crayons. That’s how I read the rules. In the title you would call it a bundle and not list any of the brands until the description bullets: Bundle: 8-Year-Old Boy Special “Feel Better” Gift Box by Cynthia’s Fabulous Gift Boxes for Special People™.

Last Word on UPCs…For Today

I’ll write more about this topic as I find out more. Currently I’ve not been able to reinstate my clients’ ability to create new listings once they’ve lost that ability. I’m not giving up, however. This enforcement is new which means mistakes will be made and Amazon will improve the process as time goes on.

Bottom line, I predict there will be suspensions and sellers will need to prove to Amazon that their bundle or multi-pack follows policy. It may be that sellers will need to provide invoices for every item in a bundle. If your bundle consists of a bunch of dollar store items, you may have a harder time proving authenticity unless the invoices are detailed and you are buying wholesale from the Dollar Tree® or Dollar Store® vs. retail.

Is Amazon Changing its Policies for USED Products?

Recently I’ve seen inauthentic claims that surprised and worried me as someone who sells used books and media on the platform. My understanding has been that Amazon does not seek authentic sources for used items. They know we are buying this stuff at book sales and thrift stores, etc. – all places that have lousy receipts. In fact, most of my receipts are hand written (disallowed as proof by Amazon). Many of my books were bought in large lots. I used to find CDs and DVDs the same way.

However, three times now I’ve seen Amazon go after a seller (including me) for inauthentic for used media. In previous cases I basically said, “Used media is not subject to the same authenticity scrutiny as new items” and it was OK. My Carl Sagan Cosmos book was allowed.

Last week we got a different response back from Amazon that said, “counterfeit is against policy whether new or used.” OK, but seriously? This was some obscure classical music CD my client bought at an estate sale. I felt a chill down my spine. If this is truly new policy, the implications are horrifying. Nearly all used, collectible and possibly refurbished items on the platform would vanish overnight if sellers had to provide detailed invoices.

What is Going On Here?

We escalated this issue with Amazon to see if we can get a clear answer on policy from Jeff Bezos’ team or someone senior. Rachel Greer and her team at Cascadia Seller Solutions helped us with our research. After a flurry of emails, a member of the senior executive team reviewed the case and told my client, “counterfeit is counterfeit,” and they still want to see invoices.

Here’s the problem. Counterfeit sellers are selling their products as used to circumvent the Product Quality team (who focus on New) so now they’re having to review Used products as well. Category gating has made it harder to list items of uncertain provenance as new, but it’s still simple to list as used. To combat these black hat tactics, used products no longer seem to be exempted from the automated algorithms. And as Rachel noted to me, “You know they’re not brilliant at separating the wheat from the chaff.”

She’s a master at understatement.

We were also told that it was not likely to be a regular thing (even though I’ve now seen three).  Amazon knows that we won’t be able to provide receipts/invoices so how many inauthentic/counterfeit strikes do we get before we’re suspended? Three in six months, five in a year are the numbers I’ve heard before.  I can’t confirm with Amazon, but seems right based on our experience.

Will They Actually Suspend a Seller for Inauthentic Who is Selling Used Media?

Yes.  We have a case currently. It upsets me a lot. If you are selling counterfeit as “used” to avoid inauthentic claims? Your days are numbered. If you are an honest used media and collectibles seller? Those dishonest bastards just ruined it for the rest of us.

What Should I Do if I’m a Used Media or Collectibles Seller?

Assess your situation. 

  1. Do you already have inauthentic claims against you that you couldn’t disprove?
  2. Are you engaging in other violations like listing DVDs in the “Everything Else” category, selling poor quality product, etc?
  3. Do you sell collectibles, DVDs or CDs? They are at higher risk for claims.
  4. Are you buying from sources with poor receipts or invoices?

Determine your risk comfort level and act.

  1. If you don’t have any claims against you now, take a wait and see approach. Going forward, buy from authentic sources. (see my blog post on the Gray Market for more on “what is authentic?”)
  2. If you have product quality, inauthentic and counterfeit claims on your account already, get rid of the high risk items in your inventory and sell them somewhere else or destroy them. Going forward, only list on Amazon products that you would believe to be authentic yourself, as this is really a customer experience/perception issue more than reality.
  3. If you’ve already been suspended for inauthentic claims in the past, time to clear out your inventory. You can’t afford another claim.

New Automate Repricing Tool by Amazon?

In case you missed it, Amazon soft launched in beta its new repricing tool…maybe. I have predicted for some time that Amazon’s insistence that we enter our high-low range for our inventory was the precursor to a repricing tool. Check out these two videos: Amazon beta launch; analysis from Stephen Smotherman and this article from eCommerce Bytes to learn more.

My friends at Feedvisor pointed out to me that this is a rules-based program rather than algorithm based which means it is focused on getting you the lowest price rather than the Buy Box per se. This is the problem with most repricing tools. It isn’t their fault, but generally that’s how it works. They race you to the bottom even if you decide not to go below the lowest price.

Right now you have to be invited to beta test the program. My prediction is that when they launch it officially, many sellers who are currently using rules-based programs will switch. Amazon’s is MUCH simpler and – as near as I can tell – will be free. It will be an awesome tool for smaller sellers and I’m excited to see Amazon offer it. For the high-volume and private label sellers, I think they are still going to want an algorithmicly based tool that allows them to compare their sales against their competition’s.

[Full disclosure: I am a Feedvisor customer. I’m biased…but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.]

May Travels

Atlanta Olympic ParkI’m heading to Atlanta next week for SellerLab’s RESONATE conference. In addition to being one of the experts at the conference, I’m hosting a dinner on Wednesday night (May 18) after the conference ends. Space is limited to 15-17 people. If you are in the Atlanta/Buckhead area, please join us!

The following week both my business partner Lesley Hensell and myself will be in New York City for the Feedvisor Seller Summit. I’ve been allowed to offer a handful of free tickets to this by-invitation-only event to my clients whose volume meets or exceeds $1.5 M annually (100K+ per month). The Miami Beach conference earlier this year was outstanding in terms of content and no sales pitches.

Please sign up HERE for the May 24 Feedvisor conference in Manhattan’s Meat-Packing District. You will be contacted by Feedvisor if you meet the criteria. RSVP cut-off is early next week. I am so delighted to offer this opportunity to my high-volume clients.

brooklyn bridgeIn addition to meeting our clients at the conference, we will be having dinner with our local clients while we are in town. Please check your in-boxes on Friday for an invitation to this very special private party at the Reserve Cut in lower Manhattan. It’s Kosher and supposed to be one of the best steakhouses in New York City. I can’t wait! If you don’t see your invitation by Monday, contact my assistant Lissa at: Lissa@onlinesalesstepbystep.com.

January 15, 2015

January is the cruelest month…

8-ways-to-beat-january-blues-1024x707_1With all due respect to T.S. Elliot, January is the cruelest month for an online seller. There is the post Q4-let down to deal with, the slower sales, the fact that you owe sales tax to every #$%@X state of the union, meetings with your CPA, reporting, 1099 and w-2 forms to get out, new year’s resolutions…I mean, could life be any less fun?

Oh yeah, and don’t forget that Amazon will impose long-term storage fees in a few weeks and it is raising its FBA fees. And the weather has been unusually cold and my dog is refusing to use the doggie door. In short, I’m out of sorts, tired of cleaning up pet deposits, and maybe you are too.

Staying in a funk is not a good idea for long-term success, so what’s a seller to do? This is my fourth FBA January and here are a few strategies that help me slog through:

  1. Plan – Prioritize – Focus
  2. Your heart’s desire
  3. Something new
  4. Take time for yourself

Plan-Prioritize-Focus

It’s a new year and you are filled with goals and resolutions for your business…right? (umm…sure) If you are like me, thinking of new ideas and ways to improve is fun, getting it done is less so. Plus, I tend to be overly ambitious thinking I can handle six impossible things before breakfast every day.

What helps me is to start from a very high level. I write down the top 3 things I wantMagritte to accomplish by the end of the year. This things MUST excite me. Something like “improve my understanding of technology I need for my business”…YAWN! This is an incidental side benefit of something way more exciting like “Increase my sales enough to where I can leave my day job.” These juicy goals are my “big rocks” for the year (if you are not familiar with Steven Covey’s analogy, click here). Remember these are big things, not steps, not pieces. In pursuit of your juicy goals you will likely accomplish many other goals, too.

Next, I commit to these big things. They are in my head now and I’m going to get them done. This is why I don’t recommend more than three. You can always add more juicy goals later if you are successful enough to finish early.

Don’t make my mistake and try to do everything at once. It is a recipe for half-finished projects, despair and chaos. I strongly suggest prioritizing your big rocks. Which one is first, second and third? That means that in January you are only pursuing one goal. This is tough for you overachievers out there, I realize, but hear me out.

You are now going to focus like crazy. First, figure out the steps that need to be done to reach that goal. You can be as macro or micro as you like, just so you know what is next and how to get there. I’m a macro girl. Then, every morning before you do anything else, take steps towards your goal. If it is an hour a day, it is an hour a day. It is your time. The important thing is to accomplish something every day towards reaching your juicy goal. Then, no matter how bad a day you have, you will have accomplished something important. I recommend doing this before checking email and getting distracted – but I realize that you may need to check your email first.

If you focus on one thing at a time, you will progress faster.

Why only one thing at a time? Because you can get a lot more done if you are focused. That is one thing that Covey’s story doesn’t quite get right. He seems to imply that if you do the big rocks first you can actually get everything done, the small rocks, the sand, etc. That’s not really true. The big rocks take a lot of space. You WILL have to give something up, so make sure the goal is juicy AND de-clutter your other activities. What are you spending time on today that is keeping you from getting to your big goals? See how many of them you can eliminate or reduce. This alone will make you happier in the cruelest month.

Your Heart’s Desiretom-cheney-we-can-t-find-a-compromise-between-a-life-of-quiet-desperation-and-life-i-new-yorker-cartoon

Ennui sets in when you lose your spark for your life. I was talking previously about business-related goals, but even the most exciting goal can seem dim and pale if your personal life is suffering. There is joy in work, of course, but you need joy in life to be sustained. It is so easy to get into a routine with kids, making dinner, driving kids and homework….I’m putting myself to sleep here.

The solution is to reach for your heart’s desire. What energizes you? Makes you happy? For me it is travel and vacations with my family. I like to plan them far in advance not only because I’m a planner, but also because it is fun and it keeps me excited for months before the trip. My Amazon business has allowed me to go to San Francisco and the wine country, Tahoe, Disney, the Outer Banks and other fun vacations with my family.

During the short term, I like to have lunch with friends, go to movies and read books. Sometimes I just take a day off to be by myself. I like yoga. When I find myself in the doldrums the first thing I ask myself is “what am I doing for me this week?”

FocusWhat does this have to do with selling on Amazon? Everything! It is NOT about the money, it is about what the money will let you do or get. If your only goal is pay your bills; it is not enough! It won’t keep you humming along with a song in your heart. If you are finding yourself feeling the January mopes right now, make yourself a quick list of what your Amazon money is for – make sure at least one thing on that list is fun and exciting – maybe even a bit crazy.

Something New

After the excitement of Q4, January can seem really dull. All those responsible, necessary tasks…bleh. Time to mix things up a bit. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to check out, learn, try…do it now. I’ve got a couple of software solutions to check out and some books to read to make my business better. I put them off because of Q4 and now I’m excited to finally get to them. This week I’m in a class learning how to better use my Infusionsoft software. Sounds dull, but it isn’t (really!). I’ve been wanting to figure out how to better connect with my readers and be smarter about that side of my business for a long time. I’ve learned so much already that I’m itching to put into practice.

Since last Fall I’ve been getting myself approved in gated categories and now I’m excited to learn about clothing and jewelry. I’ve also got two exclusive agreements with a jewelry designer and a food manufacturer. As the sole seller of these brands, I’m working towards my bigger goal of having a portfolio of unique and/or exclusive products to sell on Amazon. I know I’ll learn a lot this year and I’m excited.

Take Time for Yourself

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. You can’t give from a deficit. If your energy tank is low, your business will suffer, too. Your best bet for getting your sales to hum along is to take care of yourself. Sleep at least eight hours a night. Eat regularly. Take a walk. Groom. Catch up on your laundry. Clean off your desk. Call a friend. All these things will make you feel better.

JoyQuoteIt may be that more is needed to take care of yourself. It may require a change of life, geography, relationships, spirituality, emotions or behaviors. Get outside help if you feel overwhelmed. You are worth the effort. The time you spend understanding yourself is some of the best time you can spend. It pays the most dividends.

OK, if you are reading all this and thinking “WTF is wrong with her? I’m happy as a clam in January!” please contact me. I’m looking for some guest posts on interesting topics and from diverse seller voices.

Just a quick reminder that Amazon’s fees are going up and it will be imposing long-term storage fees in February. Time to clear out your inventory. You’ve got a few weeks to reprice and sell.

What strategies do you employ to pull yourself out of the doldrums? Please comment below!

September 28, 2014

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner!

Nobody puts Baby in a cornerThere are those among us who were very difficult children to raise. If mom and dad said “no,” you wanted it fiercely bad. In this case, Amazon is dad with all its restricted categories where we just KNOW we could make a fortune if we could sell in there. We love our dad but inside our seller chests our heart says “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!!”

For all of you who know this stubborn passion, this blog post is for you. If you don’t understand that reference, you are young my friend and should rent Dirty Dancing immediately.

Recently, the fun folks at ScannerMonkey hosted a live spreecast about how to get approval in the restricted categories. I took notes.

Cordelia Blake and I collaborated on this post and she graciously made the hour-long spreecast available for free to everyone – even if you are not a ScannerMonkey member. Normally, spreecasts are only free during the live broadcasts and you have to be a member to go through the archives – so check it out! It is at the end of this post.

Basically, Amazon restricts categories in order to ensure the customer experience is excellent. In categories like apparel, there are a lot more things to consider like size, color and return policies that are not as relevant or difficult for an appliance or a book. In order to make sure that you will treat its customers as well as Amazon would, big daddy makes you jump through some hoops. These hoops include a questionnaire. Often you also have to provide pictures and a flat file. In some categories like food or health & beauty, you now need invoices. Lastly, you need a track record with Amazon. Unless you are the manufacturer of this gated item, they want to see that you are a good seller first.

All of this paperwork and fiddly rules are quite do-able they just take some work and attention on your part. In most categories when they ask you for something, you need to provide it within a few days. For this reason, Cordelia recommended that you apply for restricted categories in batches – while you are in the application zone doing your pictures and flat files.

In our notes below you will find details for each of the restricted categories discussed. This chart is also available as a downloadable PDF from my free FBA Library. Click to register. or Click here to go directly to the file if you already have your password. The PDF has live hyperlinks so you can jump directly to Amazon’s page about that category.

Restricted Category Chart v2_001

 

Please note that some of this information may seem contradictory. That is because approvals are done by people. Some Amazon approvers are sticklers for the rules, some are more lenient. To be successful, you need to plan for the sticklers. Cordelia, rebel that she is, didn’t always follow the rules and still got accepted but your experience may not be the same.

Before you dive in, one cautionary note: Don’t be evil! Be sure to use your new freedoms for good and follow the rules. This weekEvil-Monkey, a friend of mine had an FBA seller change the category of some food she was selling from Grocery to Apparel. The guy even had the nerve to put the word “Men’s” in the title. For a kiddie snack! We were both incensed.

This kind of behavior is forbidden by Amazon. She totally ratted him out and Amazon fixed the listing back on the spot. It was such a blatant attempt by the other seller to kick her off the listing I hope he got a spanking. Remember kids, this is not the right way to compete with other sellers. If your product legitimately fits in another category (like costumes which are often found in apparel and toys), then you can make your case for a NEW listing being in a gated category, but probably not for an established listing. See our notes in clothing, below.

Seven Steps of Approval Success in the Restricted Category

  1. Be clear about your own motivations and how you plan to use that category. Don’t be evil.
  2. Set aside some time to do this as it will be a busy week or two of paperwork and phone calls with Amazon.
  3. Read all the guidelines!
  4. Follow the rules. Most FBA sellers are approved if they follow the rules.
  5. Have good seller metrics. It is harder for a brand new seller to get approved because you don’t have good seller metrics yet.
  6. Be available. Amazon will phone you during more complicated approvals.
  7. Keep your application simple. Avoid restricted brands even if you have permission from the manufacturer. Get permission in the category first, then provide them proof of your ability to sell that particular brand.

Grocery, Health & Beauty

You need three invoices with very specific information (see online). You also need three separate orders purchased in three separate days and shipped on separate days.  If you are ordering online for resale, you must show the packing slip to prove you received the goods as well.  Walmart, Walgreens did NOT have all the required info.  Drugstore.com had the info needed.  There’s an eBate of 4% cash back for drugstore.com. BJ’s Wholesale Club also works. Submit a scanned PDF of your packing slips to Amazon along with online form.

Clothing/Apparel

Many sellers want to join because of sports cross-overs like backpacks that are sometimes in sports, sometimes in clothing, sometimes in toys.  Costumes are often in clothing, sometimes in toys. Sign up online. They ask if you are the manufacturer. Otherwise they prefer that you buy directly from the manufacturer (fewer problems with counterfeit). Then they ask for the brands, a history of your business and five images that meet Amazon requirements. Make sure they match requirements exactly. These can be of products already for sale on Amazon.

  1. Photos – Read the style guide before you submit. Angle of clothing and positioning is dictated by Amazon. Ironically, 24 of the pictures they rejected of hers were actually taken from the Amazon catalog!  It was a lesson learned. See links to the style guides below.
  2. Cross-browsing items – They went through her listings and found several cross-browsing items (like a backpack in toys that she wanted to list in clothing) that they rejected.
  3. Specific rules about parent/child listings – Parent=style, child=colors/sizes. Karin had one hat in three different colors for this requirement.
  4. Timing – You only have 2 days between steps.  When they give you the flat file (spreadsheet) to fill out, you have two days to return it or they will cancel your application. Cordelia got an extension by talking to them.

BISS

BISS=Business, Industrial, and Scientific Supplies Your flat file requires five images and 40 items in the flat file.  One of the spreecast participants mentioned she is planning to sell those Legos that are in BISS (robotics, etc.).

Handbags

If you are approved, you automatically can sell shoes and sunglasses. Avoid anything that could be considered luggage. Go very small! A lot of ladies handbags are considered luggage. Caution: beware of restricted brands. No invoices required. Amazon requires at least a minimum of five products with at least one Parent/Child. [Note: Cordelia submitted hers with no Parent/Child and it was accepted].

Luggage

Very easy. One seller just did totes and got approved easily. Images of handbags that are considered “luggage” can be used too. Check Amazon website to see what category they consider the bag to be. No invoices required. Amazon requires at least a minimum of five products with at least one Parent/Child relationship (which can be a size or size/color variation). [Note: Cordelia submitted hers with no parent/child and it was still accepted.]

Watches

All you need is five images. Easy. But Amazon is fussy about the images.

Jewelry

Currently closed for an extensive audit. While we don’t yet know what the requirements will be for new sellers, one seems fairly certain – you have to be authorized by the manufacturer. They are stamping down hard on knock-offs and counterfeiters. It seems unlikely that we will be able to do retail arbitrage for jewelry.

Automotive

Give examples. State that you are not interested in creating new listings but in accessories, like Chilton manuals. Emphasize your good metrics and seller statistics. If you truly want to create listings and/or sell more extensively in automotive, then you will likely need permission from the manufacturers you want to represent.

adultimagemedSexual Wellness

Need five images, no flat file.  One of the chat room attendees said “Follow the guidelines or you’ll be sending in dildo pictures until the cows some home.” If you want to join these brave sellers in the contest for the most embarrassing shopping basket…this is your category. You should see the pictures they post online!

Collectible Books (Cynthia’s experience)

Very easy if you are already a bookseller on Amazon.com and have a good history. I filled out an online form and was approved in a day. If you are already a rare book dealer, then it is a snap. Basically, collectible books are first editions, those signed by the author and those extremely rare. They have a different lingo and condition requirements. Collectible book buyers are just as fussy as any Black Label Barbie collector. You’ll want to protect your collectible books in bubble wrap and/or poly bags, describe them in detail (maybe even an added picture) and be patient. I only got into the category because some of the used books I sent in were gated as collectible only. You have to read all the rules and agree to them, basically. I sold a very much used first edition Julia Child cookbook for a fantastic price even though it was in the lowest condition. There’s no accounting for what a collector wants, but be sure to take care of it the best you can.

Miscellaneous Tips and Resources

  1. When sending in your flat file, it needs to be an Excel file even though they specifically say “tab delimited” in their directions.
  2. If you are afraid of spreadsheets, get someone to help you so you learn it – you’ll use it a lot with Amazon.
  3. The items in the flat file do NOT have to be items you have for sale right now. The flat file does NOT create listings for you. This is simply to give Amazon an idea of the types of products you want to sell.
  4. Get your flat file templates here.
  5. ASINtoUPC.com – will tell you the correct UPC code for anything in the Amazon catalog – helpful in doing your flat files.
  6. You can use your Amazon storefront for wholesalers wanting to see your site and Amazon when it requests to see your storefront. Cordelia has a URL with a permanent redirect to her storefront for use with wholesalers.
  7. Once you are in the category you can sell anything in the category. You are not required to sell the items you submit.
  8. Keep your application simple. Avoid restricted brands even if you have permission from the manufacturer. Get permission in the category first, then provide them proof of your ability to sell the product.
  9. Go to these links for photo style guides:
  10. Go here to learn more about creating parent/child relationships.
  • Parent: [Brand] + [department/(and Special Size if applicable] + [product name] (e.g. “Anne Klein Women’s Petite Glen Plaid Blazer”)
  • Children: [Brand] + [department/(and Special Size if applicable] + [product name] + [size] + [color] (e.g. “Anne Klein Women’s Petite Glen Plaid Blazer Small Black”)

Don’t let Amazon put you in a corner! You now have the tools to get into many of the restricted categories. Do a sexy dance with your sweetie in the living room!Dirty-Dancing-dirty-dancing

You’ll notice I didn’t list wine and a few of the more obscure restricted categories. That is largely because they are highly regulated categories. If you are a winery, you are well familiar with these legal restrictions. Most of the rest of us can’t apply.

Still got some questions? ScannerMonkey had some lively discussions HERE and HERE if you are a member. Otherwise, ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!

I’m a member of ScannerMonkey exactly because of these kinds of topics which they cover regularly and the highly active facebook discussions. If you are not familiar with them, come join them on a free Thursday night spreecast and see what you think. You can click HERE to learn more about the group or go directly to http://www.scannermonkey.com without an affiliate link.  I only recommend products, services and groups that I have personally investigated or use myself.

Spreecast is the social video platform that connects people.

Check out Gated Category Approval on Spreecast.

March 14, 2014

The Big Prime Brouhaha

Amazon’s decision to raise its rates on Prime membership affects so many Americans (est. 20-25 million); people were talking about it all around me during lunch today.  The folks at my table agreed that it wouldn’t affect us – we’ll still be Prime members – but there’s a bit more to the story than that.  Amazon is being sued because some customers claim that the free shipping isn’t free (read the ABC story here). They are claiming fraudulent pricing practices and that Amazon is encouraging third-party vendors to increase their prices to Prime members by the amount they charged others for shipping.  I know my fellow FBA sellers are silently chewing on the irony here.  So what’s going on with all the Prime Brouhaha and how does it affect us as FBA Sellers?

First of all, the new price of Prime.  This is a tempest in a teacup and we can ignore it.  While it is quite likely that some current Prime members won’t renew and numbers may drop instead of the sharp upward trajectory we’ve seen in the past few years, the fact is I made money selling on Amazon three years ago when the number of Prime members were a LOT smaller than today and I’ll continue to do so.

The people who continue their Prime like my friends at the table (and me!) are rabid fans of Prime.  Twenty dollars more a year is nothing.  Many of us pay more in annual fees for our AMEX cards than for Amazon Prime.  The typical Prime member today (who most likely signed up when they bought a Kindle Fire) buys 10 or fewer items a year.  These guys will most likely drop off unless they are also big consumers of the free streaming video and the free Kindle books and games for Prime members.

I can easily place 10 orders on Amazon in an average month with much more during the holidays.  I’m the Prime member that buys all your stuff.  I’m also the third-party seller that helps Amazon offer Prime on over 20 million items (up from 1 million when the program was introduced). While we won’t really know until the new prices go into effect, my perspective is that the heavy Prime users will spend even more than they do today.  In addition, while Prime memberships may temporarily drop and slow down, Amazon will continue to add incentives to make it a super deal for customers.

Prime is the gateway drug to full-on Amazon addiction and they aren’t going to mess with that.  They’ve done their research and concluded they could raise their prices by up to $40 more a year and still continue growing.  If it turns out to be Amazon’s “New Coke,” they’ll fix it.  So pay no attention to this particular Prime bogeyman. He’s toothless.

Next, the lawsuits about the Prime program.  These are worrisome because Prime is that gateway drug and we want the whole world to shop on Amazon, right? However, there isn’t much we can do about it so I suggest: 1) Try not to think about it; 2) Be suspicious of any phone calls where people ask you a lot of questions about the Prime program and; 3) Don’t join the class action suit (it only encourages this kind of behavior and is kind of hypocritical if you are an FBA seller…).

Amazon has not answered any of the claims yet so right now it is mostly saber-rattling on the part of the plaintiffs. Lawsuits are filed all the time against huge wealthy corporations in the hopes of a settlement of some kind.  As FBA sellers, we know the claims are incorrect.  Amazon’s policy on price-fixing is quite clear and enforced.  At one time or another I’ve read just about every word on SellerCentral and not once does Amazon give advice on pricing beyond providing its FBA calculator so you can decide for yourself whether to use FBA or merchant fulfilled.

Amazon does not directly encourage us to raise our prices to include the shipping costs charged by merchant-fulfilled sellers. We do that because the opposite is true.  The extra dollars are going into our capitalist pockets.  And yet the lawsuit claims Amazon advised FBA Vendors to include the amount they would have charged for shipping in their item prices in order to maximize total revenue and profit margins. Amazon disguised this price increase by giving priority to FBA Vendors, showing their items first in the results of a Prime Member’s product search.” [Emphasis is mine]. If this can be proved, then we can all wring our hands and be upset because Amazon’s reputation is so important to our business model. The reality is we all tell ourselves about this strategy because it makes us more money. Check back in to the issue in a year or two. These cases never move fast.

Oh, and to answer some questions I got this week.  No, don’t change your prices because of this news.  You’ve done nothing wrong.  If the day ever comes that third-party sellers are required to price a certain way, Amazon will tell us….but it won’t happen.

This will certainly not be the last time that Amazon draws fire for something or other.  Traditional brick and mortar and other online retailers are furious/jealous of Amazon’s success with the Prime program. They see the writing on the wall and they don’t like it. Attempts to discredit Amazon.com will be ongoing as the company continues to grow.  Many of us remember the brouhaha about the Amazon warehouse workers. Some people quit selling on Amazon because of it. Obviously, I was not one of them.

Every business with which I’ve been involved over the past 20+ years has had some hiccups. I’ve never represented the perfect corporation.  My job was reputation management so I’m perhaps more jaded than most. However, I have learned that there are at least two sides to every story and usually four or five. A lot of the stuff you see in the news was made up by someone like me and the agenda is pretty obvious once you know that. A fire or cute rescue dog will beat out a complicated business story any day of the week. When you see a story heating up online and on the news, remember that their job is entertainment and attracting followers. Everything else is far down the list.

As an FBA seller, your best bet for success is to keep your head down and work.  Avoid the noise. Don’t get sucked in and sidetracked. If a particular activity isn’t pushing you towards your financial goals, eliminate it or push it down the priority list.

Take it from a recovering workaholic. You are worth your full attention. Your family is worth it. Your work is important.  Your life is important. All this other stuff is noise and distraction.

When another Amazon storm whirls in, compare the importance of the issue to your FBA business and financial goals. Most likely, there won’t be a correlation. When Amazon informs you that you need to do something new or different, then it’s important.

Happy Selling Y’all!

August 28, 2013

Find Sales Gold on Amazon.com with Liquidation Stores

When people ask me, “Is it hard to find inventory to sell on Amazon.com?” I always say “No! There is more out there than I can possibly buy.”  Three years into it and I’m still discovering exciting new sources of inventory. Recently I read Jessica Larrew’s book Liquidation Gold and my eyes were opened to a totally new source of inventory as well as two new categories – grocery and beauty. I waited to write about this until I tried it for myself. Since I was a newcomer to the idea of liquidation stores, I believe my experience will be similar to yours.

In her book, Jessica explains how liquidation stores work and the types of products they sell.  Armed with this knowledge, I found several stores in my area that fit her description. She had warned me in the book that they are dirty and boy she wasn’t kidding about that. Imagine the dirtiest third-world grocery store you can imagine with no pretty displays and you get an idea of what they are like.  Don’t touch the floor. Just saying. One of them wasn’t even air conditioned…in Texas! That was a tough day. The prices, however, are fantastic.

What I found were huge warehouses with rows and rows of food in cans/boxes/bottles. There is no fresh produce and generally no meltables (one store had a refrigerated case). There are also other items like you might find at a drug store from shampoos and soaps to over-the-counter drugs.  I found everything from dog food to a large singing fish on a wall plaque (sold the first day it hit Amazon’s warehouses). I bought cheap toilet paper (it is impossible to leave without a few things for your own household), hair frou-frous and even a pink sponge for removing deodorant from your clothes (who knew?). I found wallpaper stick-ons, books, bags of all sorts, and lots of food.

Each store was completely different with different foods and brands. Inventory changes daily and they likely will never have the same item twice. It is not a typical grocery store where they stock regular items. They are buying their items in huge truck lots – often sight unseen – and then putting them out on the floor for sale at a deep discount. What this means is you are unlikely to be competing with a lot of other FBA sellers when you find a good deal. It also means that you better buy ALL of them because they won’t be there when you go back. I bought cases of food, not just a few cans or boxes.

The trick with food is the expiration dates. A lot of the food you find in these places is too close to the expiration date to send in to Amazon. Jessica says she looks at the expiration date first and then scans and I did the same.  Also, many of the items are sold in packs and cases on Amazon so you have to figure out how you plan to sell it and buy enough units at the store to fit into how you plan to sell it. For example, I found a brand of Matzo crackers that was selling online in packs of eight so I purchased eight, bundled them together and sent them in.  Jessica has helpful information in her book and on her blog how to package multiple units in such a way that the folks on the warehouse don’t separate them. Also, she reminded me that Amazon insists that we put the expiration date on top of the package in a large font.  I used my Dymo printer to create the expiration date stickers.

Some of the items sell both as “solos” and in packs. I sent in one item as mostly cases and then I regretted it later as all my solos sold out in the first week and the cases are still sitting up there. I may have Amazon return some of my cases so I can break them up and sell them as solos. There is enough margin in this item that paying to have it sent back and then re-shipping it back in is well worth it.  In the future when I have a lot of cases of something, I plan to send in solo and cases and see what sells faster before sending in everything. Luckily for me, this particular item was small, lightweight and the cases were not oversized.

Jessica’s book comes with a handy “cheat sheet” of expiration dates that lets you know whether or not an item is worth buying. Most of the items I bought expired at least a year or two out so that wasn’t a problem, but if you are within six months, you’ll want to check her cheat sheet to make sure you can sell your items before they expire. Amazon clears items out of the warehouse approximately two months before their expiration dates.

Now, the fun part – sales! I packaged everything up and sent it in to the many warehouses that Amazon dictated (sigh) and I had sales right away! Besides the singing fish, I had food and bags flying out of the warehouse. I’ve got a few listed below to give you an idea.

lentil soupsI paid $6 a case for the soups (50 cents a piece) which I sold for $29.99 on Amazon.

mincemeatThe mincemeat was 50 cents per box.  I sold it in a pack of six ($3 total) for $45.99

NocciolataThe fancy Italian chocolate sauce was $12 a case. I’m selling it for $39.99.

kitty litter linersI bought these kitty litter liner bags for 50 cents each and sold them for $9.99 on Amazon.

There were things I couldn’t buy because they were potentially hazmat like certain cleaning supplies. What I mostly looked for were specialty foods that may be hard to find in a typical grocery story. I bought mincemeat and organic pumpkin puree, fancy chocolate and holiday ham sauces, sardines, organic vegan soups in vacuum boxes and vegan chick’n bouillon. As a vegetarian, I was drawn to things that I know are expensive and hard to find in the stores.

I’m still learning what is a fast-selling rank in grocery and beauty and what isn’t.  Jessica gives her guidelines for rank in her book which I followed. What I’ve discovered so far is that any item that Amazon is already selling, sells fast.  I had soups that were about 36,000 when I bought them and the first case sold in less than a week (and they are still selling).  Some items have been up there for several weeks and still haven’t sold – like the dog food. It was closer to the high-end of Jessica’s suggested range.

Overall, I learned a lot from Jessica’s book and I’m thrilled to be selling in two new categories. I don’t mind dirt and the margins are terrific. I was buying cases of products for $5 a case that I’m selling online for $35-$50. Even with the extra shipping costs (cans are heavy and bulky when sold by the case), there is huge margin to be made. I found a liquidation store not far from my mother-in-law’s house so you can bet I’ll check it out when we visit her next.

If you are interested in learning more, you can buy Jessica’s book HERE. I make a small commission if you buy through this link, but you will pay the same price if you go directly to her site at www.jessicalarrew.com. I occasionally take advantage of commissions as a way to help compensate me for the time I put into my blog, but I won’t recommend products/services that I’ve not checked out first.

May 31, 2013

What’s New on Amazon.com

Chris Green was in the Dallas area recently to talk to a large group of online sellers about the opportunities offered by Amazon.com for feisty entrepreneurial types like us. In addition to talking about FBA, of course, he described many other ways to make money on Amazon’s marketplace including book publishing, apps, music, specialty websites and more.  I wrote down a few points that I thought you would find interesting.

We’ve only just begun – Chris pointed out that the opportunities on Amazon today didn’t even exist four years ago. The company is changing and growing rapidly. Our future revenue streams may come from activities and products not even dreamed of today.

Amazon is the online heavyweight – Amazon did $61 billion in sales last year.  While Walmart did over $466 billion, only 2% or $9 billion was online.  Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in online marketplaces.

They sell stuff you don’t even know about – In addition to products online and their own Kindle product line, Amazon sells cloud services/servers, websites, digital products, apps, book production/manufacturing, cell phones and service, Amazon coins (fake money that turns into real dollars) and more. Even better, we get to leverage the entire platform. We are not restricted to just selling and fulfilling products.

We are 40% of their growth – Third-party sellers like us and merchant sellers make up 40% of all of Amazon’s sales.  Wow!
We are really important to Amazon’s growth strategy.

Amazon has the best websites in the world – They offer cheap, very professional seller’s branded websites that are slick and completely integrated with your inventory. You decide what products appear on the website – FBA or merchant fulfilled. Your brand and colors, not Amazon. This is an excellent strategy if you sell a line of specialty products like equine accessories, tools, home goods, toys, unique bundled gift items or much more.  It is your site completely integrated with Amazon on the back end including seller central.  Your products are on Amazon and the website. You can drive potential customers to the website and they’ll only see your offerings and brand, or they can find them through Amazon. Amazon fulfills and removes items from your website automatically as they sell. Un-freakin’-believable.

Fulfillment – of course there’s FBA for our Amazon customers, but did you know you could use Amazon to fulfill your sales on other marketplaces? That’s right. No more shipping out to eBay, Etsy or other marketplace customers. You have the inventory at Amazon’s warehouse, let them know when something sells, and they send it to your customer.  You can offer overnight and 2-day shipping at amazing rates. This allows you to sell your goods on other platforms higher than your competition and it means you don’t have to go to the post office all the time. Pretty slick.

CreateSpace means no one needs a publisher or music label any more – Amazon’s publishing services are amazing and cheap. You can get your book produced as a softcover, hardcover and Kindle version for dirt cheap and it is very professional looking. Want to sell your mp3 album or an audio book? Create Space can do that for you, too.  Plus, everything is available immediately on Amazon and you never need to stock books. The big publishing houses find CreateSpace very troubling – and they should. Authors/musicians/performers make more money with CreateSpace and get all the Amazon marketing perks as if they were big-time publishers. CreateSpace will even help you post your content on non-Amazon sites and formats so you can cover all your online bases, not just Amazon.

Apps – Got a smartphone app you want to sell?  Sell it on Amazon’s App store! They make it easy and their app marketplace is quickly becoming one of the biggest for both platforms (no surprise there).

Amazon’s End Game – They want to sell every product on the planet through their marketplace. They need us to do it. They want to be the most customer-centric company on earth. They need us to do it. They want to deliver in 2 days or less. They don’t need us for this. 🙂

Kindle is the gateway drug to Amazon – Optimized to use Amazon’s digital products and services. Aimed at Prime members – get three months free…you’ll be hooked. Kindle Fire users are buying all kinds of digital content and shopping on Amazon all the time.

New Amazon phone could change the cellular landscape like Kindle changed books – Stay tuned for more on this. Should be introduced later this year. There are a lot of rumors that sound pretty exciting, but nothing official yet.

New Android/iPhone app makes it dead easy to shop on Amazon while in big box stores – the new “Amazon Flow” product (download it for free) allows you to hold up your phone and it will quickly scan and identify all products within range and give you the Amazon price on it. This is a tremendous consumer tool – one that will revolutionize retail. You don’t have to key in anything, look up anything, take a picture of anything. It is fast and easy. We saw a demo and I downloaded it on the spot. Not all the data a seller needs but amazing for consumers.

The Hustle – Scan Power has a new members-only facebook page that will talk about all the opportunities open to us (the “hustlers”), not just selling.  Go to:  www.facebook.com/hustle

If any of you are authors like me, leap to your keyboard now and grab your vanity URL on Amazon for your author page. I now own:  www.amazon.com/author/cynthia for my books.  Yep, my first name. Just like Madonna and Beyonce. My author page has info on my book, my latest blog posts, reviews and now my super star URL. That’s how new the program is. Guess who owns www.amazon.com/author/chris? Jump in!

Listening to Chris Green for a night is like drinking from a fire hose. It is overwhelming in a cool kind of way. He is full of great ideas that will make people who are willing to act on them money.  He shared that he had told a lot of people to write guides about selling on Amazon and I’m the only one who did it. I think that is true of a lot of things in life. There are many opportunities out there and no one can grab at all of them, but if you can run with a few of them, you could have a nice business going for you. I happened to already be a professional writer so it was easier for me to run with this idea than many folks. What are your strengths? It is possible that there is an Amazon opportunity that plays to them.

In my writings, consulting and teaching, I try to keep things simple and focused so people can be successful selling on Amazon and not get in the weeds too much until they have a firm grasp on things. Once you feel comfortable with FBA selling, however, don’t be afraid to try publishing (on any topic!) if you enjoy writing, or to create a website with Amazon and sell unique products or create a digital product of some kind (music, video, audio books, etc.). Amazon is an amazing marketplace and we drive 40% of it.  Amazon needs us as much as we need them. They have an amazing platform, we have amazing ideas, creativity, products and drive.

I can’t talk to all of my readers one-on-one from a time point of view, but I so enjoy the comments, questions and helpful suggestions I get along the way. Together we all make the industry better and more understandable. Chris helped me because he felt that it was worthwhile to have smart sellers on the Amazon platform with him. That we can all be better together. Hearing him the other night inspired me not only with the possibilities but because it all seems possible. I’m inspired and encouraged in a realistic way. This is not some pipe dream or MLM nightmare that I have to sell to my friends and family. Selling (almost anything!) on Amazon is attainable for all of us who have the desire and persistence to make it happen.

My readers have already grasped this and have jumped into the FBA program. If you are ever interested in publishing, let me know. I consult on that, too. Have a great week everyone, I hope this recap has inspired you to think even broader in your business!

March 22, 2013

Kabbage Brings The Green

Have you ever thought “if I only had more money for inventory, my business would really take off?”

A few months ago I heard about a company called Kabbage that provides money to online businesses like ours based on our sales history rather than a huge long application form and pledged collateral. I was intrigued and decided to try it out…but also wary. The business model sounds a bit like “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and I expected to read a bunch of fine print and find hidden fees and caveats galore.

I was quite pleased to be wrong.  Kabbage is simple and straight-forward. They give you money, you pay it off over six months or sooner and they get a fee for this.

You can use the money however you like in your business – there are no stipulations – but the way I used it is to buy inventory.

Your Kabbage account is connected to your Amazon account so they can see your history. They also connect to eBay, Etsy, Yahoo! and Shopify if you also sell there. In addition, you can attach your PayPal, Authorize.net and Quickbooks accounts for a greater possible advance.

They extend funds based on your history, level of sales, and a patented algorithm of their own making. This means that people with good sales may qualify for some level of funds even if they have some dings on their credit.  In fact, the founding inspiration behind Kabbage was that they knew online sellers often had money tied up in inventory and sometimes had cash flow issues.

I asked a company spokesperson about how much history they need to see to extend funds and he said a minimum of six months, so this is not a solution for start-up cash, but rather a way to speed up your growth once you are an established seller.

Unlike a bank line of credit or a credit card, Kabbage does not charge interest. Instead, they charge a fee based on the amount you borrow and how quickly you pay it back. It is set up so you fully repay the loan in six months, if not sooner. They take the money out of your bank account. If you pay it off sooner, you save money on fees which is really cool.

For my experiment, I advanced $500 to buy additional inventory for the Christmas rush. My fee was calculated to be $35 for the first month which means I now owed $535 to Kabbage. I turned that $500 into a $1,200+ profit so it was well worth the $35 fee minimum.

Here’s how they figured my payback:

Month 1 – $118.34 plus $35.00 fee.

Month 2 – $118.34 + $5 fee.

Month 3 – $88.34 + $5 fee.

Month 4 – $88.34 + $5 fee.

Month 5 – $43.32 + $5 fee.

Month 6 – $43.32 + $5 fee.

I’m paying it off this week so I won’t owe the fees for months 4-6. The minute I made my first payment, I had funds to spend again. I don’t have to wait until the whole thing is paid off to pull out more money. In addition, my good repayment history and level of sales qualifies me for more funds.

One of the things that impressed me about Kabbage was how easy it was to get started. They promise on their website seven minutes or less to sign up and they weren’t kidding. I had money allocated to me in about five minutes. The walk-thru screens and directions to attach my Amazon and bank accounts were easy.

I like the Kabbage approach, too, because they are not a credit card. In the past, I’ve been burned badly by the card guys who would hike up my interest rate because I was late on someone else’s bill and dirty tricks like that. Aside from my AMEX, I don’t have credit cards today and I don’t ever plan to again because I hate those guys. Living on a cash basis has other benefits, too, of course.

Anyway, a straight fee that I know about in advance is very appealing and business friendly.

Kabbage is currently available in the U.S. and the U.K. While Kabbage is not free money, it is cheap money and a great option for people who want to grow their sales. Having gone through it myself, I can recommend Kabbage wholeheartedly. Assuming you have a history of success in the business, there’s no reason not to take their money and grow faster. At the time of this writing, they are offering a $50 gift card to new sign-ups.

If you decide to give Kabbage a try and click on one of the links in this article, I will get a gift card from them. My decision to try out the program and write about my experience came long before I learned about their referral program, however. You can go to their website without my link here: www.Kabbage.com.

March 13, 2013

Rank, Risk, Reward: Amazon Sales Rank

Peter Valley is a large-volume Amazon seller who sells in all categories although books and media make up a significant percentage of his inventory. I learn so much from other sellers and recently read his new book Amazon Autopilot: How to Start an Online Business with Fulfillment by Amazon and Let Them do the Work for his perspective on how he sells successfully on Amazon.

In his first year, 2007, Peter sold over $138,000 worth of goods on Amazon. His business model is strongly influenced by Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Workweek (a big influence on me, also) and he talks about the ways he puts his business on autopilot so he can travel and have a life outside of work.

I was intrigued by his examination of ranking and asked him to share an excerpt from his book with all of us. Ranking is confusing for new sellers as everyone gives different answers. Because Amazon doesn’t share how rankings are figured or the volume it sells in individual categories, we can only guess. Most sellers create their own “rules” or philosophies based on experimentation and experience. Ultimately you will, too.

Cracking the Code on Amazon Sales Rank

Among the biggest mistakes I see Amazon sellers make is misunderstanding sales rank: Either ignoring it altogether, or overemphasizing its role in buying decisions. I wrote this article to get down to the question of sales rank: What it is, what it’s not, and how to interpret it accurately for maximum profits.

The Definition of Amazon Sales Rank

For every category (excluding, for some reason, many consumer electronics items), there is a number in the product description called “sales rank” that aims to capture an item’s popularity.

I can define Amazon sales rank in one sentence:

“The period of time since an item last sold.” 

That’s it.

What does that mean? It means that starting from one hour after an item sells, its rank will start to rise until it sells again. The longer the gap between sales, the higher its sales rank grows. When the product sells again, it will drop significantly and then begin to rise again an hour later.

Amazon does not disclose their algorithm that determines sales rank. This article shows how I interpret that number using other information on Amazon.

The sales rank “safety zones” for each category.

I’ll give most of my focus here to interpreting sales rank for books and media, but I made a chart (this link goes to an easier-to-read PDF) to help Amazon sellers of all products answer this question: Should I buy, or should I pass? Or more accurately: Is there a demand for this product?

 

To make this chart, I calculated the top 1%, 5%, and 15% in sales rank for each category. Once you decide your comfort zone (Are you risk tolerant? Risk averse?), you can use this chart to know at a glance if a potential purchase likely to sell sooner, or much later.

For example, the top 1% is safe territory in any category. You can read from the chart that a sales rank better than 15,000 in Patio / Lawn / Garden is in the top 1% (at least at that moment), and buy with comfort knowing it will almost certainly sell.

What’s important is to have a buying formula that works and stick to it. When I’m out sourcing, I don’t like pausing to make small decisions hundreds of times throughout a day. I like to know the numbers I need to see on my scouting app if I’m going to buy, and then go on autopilot.

That’s where your formula comes in: Are you going to be a risk tolerant buyer, and purchase items outside the top 10% (or outside the top 30%)? Or play it safe every time, aim for quick turnover, and keep it in the top 1%? That’s where this chart comes in. Know your target percentage bracket, know the sales rank you need to see in each category, and go to work.

How I made the sales rank chart

The formula for arriving at the numbers in this chart was simple:

  1. On Amazon, I used the drop down menu to select a category.
  2. I left the field blank, and hit “Go.”
  3. The number of results is the number of items for sale in the category.
  4. From there, I determined the top 1%, 5%, and 15%.

You can print these out and keep them in your wallet (or just memorize them) so you have a quick reference for interpreting sales rank when you’re “in the field.”

Wait: It gets complicated.

How can this chart mislead you? Here’s how: The top 10% in Books means something entirely different than the top 10% in Grocery. We’re going to look at some familiar categories to illustrate.

Amazon has listings for:

950,000 movies (VHS and DVD);

4.5 million CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.

Calculating the top 10% of products selling in these categories brings us to these rankings:

95,000 in movies;

450,000 in music.

This is where it gets complicated. I know I sell a lot more movies ranked worse than 200,000 (way outside the top 10%) than CDs ranked 200,000 (inside the top 5%). I read this as Amazon simply selling a lot more movies than CDs, which makes a lot of sense. This is an example of how relying on a sales rank “safety zone” can be deceiving. Some sellers might fight me on this point, but in most instances I wouldn’t touch a CD ranked 450,000, but never hesitate to pick up a DVD ranked 95,000.

A book ranked 100 on Amazon could be selling 500 copies a day. However a case of vegan raw food bars ranked 100 could be selling 75 units a day. Different categories, different sales volumes, same rank.

The same holds true for percentage brackets. The top 0.01% selling DVDs on Amazon might average 200 units a day. In Lawn & Garden, that same 0.01% bracket might average 20 units. People buy more DVDs than garden hoses. Pretty simple.

How relying on sales rank alone can be deceiving.

There is debate about how much sales rank should factor into a buying decision. On one end, those who say that the only thing that matters is your profit margin, meaning if a book costs 25¢ and it’s going for $25 on Amazon, they’re buying it — even if the sales rank indicates it hasn’t sold a copy in five years. On the other end are those who need solid proof a book is in heavy demand before they’re spending one cent, no matter if a book is selling on Amazon for $500.

What do I think? Operating in either extreme is just a function of laziness. Particularly in books and media, there is a (somewhat subjective) formula you can apply to determine if a book has a small but steady niche demand, or it is merely obsolete. It’s not all left to the whims of “the market.” By asking a series of questions one can ask to assess if that copy of “Algorithmic Architecture” ranked 3.2 million is just steadily selling one copy a year, or is so irrelevant it will literally never sell another copy for the rest of time.

I developed eight factors I use to separate the obscure and valuable from the merely obsolete. Going into that formula may be outside the scope of this post, but the message here is: Sales rank isn’t everything. Look at ALL of the available evidence to make a determination as to the potential for an item to (eventually) sell.

How I was a victim of sales rank myths for years.

I started out selling books on Amazon very part time in 2007. For literally the first four years I considered any rank worse than 500,000 to be the black abyss of sales into which books would vanish and never be seen from again. Fact was, I didn’t know how to interpret that number, and how often a book ranked 500,000 was actually selling.

This myth was reinforced by most of what I’d read, which advised not to touch anything ranked beyond 1 million at the absolute worst, if not 500,000.

The reality check came when I started a small side business publishing. This allowed me to see exactly what a sale of a single copy did to sales rank, and track exactly what one, two, and three days without a sale did. What I learned was mind blowing.

A single sale will cause any book to jump to a sales rank of approximately 100,000. Maybe 70,000, maybe 120,000. Two sales in a day will bring it up to around 30,000. The actual rank can be on either end of these estimates, depending on how many other books have sold that day on Amazon.

None of what I publish sells well enough for me to be able to offer personal tes­timony beyond what two copies sold in a day translates to. But the available info says that a book ranked steadily at 5,000 is selling about 11 copies per day. A book with a steady rank of 100,000 is averaging a little more than one copy per day.

After a sale, the rank starts its downward decline. If no other copies sell, the next day the rank will be approximately 250,000. After two days, the rank will hit somewhere around 400,000 (again, ballpark figures here).

Most Amazon sellers still believe in the “sales rank abyss” I spoke of, and put it somewhere around 1 million. As in: “Anything ranked worse than 1 million will never sell and is a waste of your time.

If 500,000 means that a book sold three days ago, what does 1 mil­lion mean? Keep in mind almost none of the Amazon literature I read will advise you to buy books ranked worse than 1 million. Let’s take a closer look. How long ago did a book ranked 1 million sell?

Have a seat.

A book ranked 1 million sold about ten days ago. That’s it.

Picture holding two books. According to your scouting app, the book in your right hand has a rank of 100,000. The book in your left, a rank of 800,000. Both will cost you 50¢, and sell on Amazon for $10. Most sellers would run to the counter with the 100,000-ranked book. Most would pass on the 800,000-ranked book. But the only thing that separates them is about five days.

The folly here is that there is no such thing as “a book ranked 100,000” or “a book ranked 800,000.” There are only books with those ranks at that moment. That 100,000 book could be 800,000 in a week. And that 800,000 book could be 100,000 in five minutes. Sales rank only tells you one thing: How long it’s been since an item last sold.

 In conclusion

This is a brief look at demystifying sales rank. Both ignoring and being a slave to sales rank will hurt you as an Amazon seller. Print the charts, study them, then read the feedback (as expressed in your sales) to know what works for each category.

 Endnote

To oversell my point, four weeks ago I sent in a shipment of 110 books (salvaged from a university library dumpster) with an average sales rank of 4 million (only four were ranked better than 2 million). From this shipment, I’ve sold four books in four weeks – books that most sellers will tell you “will never sell.”

I will add to Peter’s article that you never know exactly when the next sale will be. Is a book on its way up to 5 million or will it sell a copy tomorrow? That is really hard to tell sometimes which is why it is important to have rules and stick with them. It would be so exhausting if we had to deeply analyze each buying decision or relied on any one inventory item to make our money.

That being said, my “rules” have evolved over time. I, too, have sold highly ranked books (mostly textbooks), but I’m currently working to have a bigger inventory of fast-selling books and smaller of long-tail. There is no wrong or right with this – just what YOU are comfortable with, your level of risk and your available dollars that can sit in inventory for a while.

From my own experience, my book is – as of this writing – ranked 123,777. I normally sell about 20-25 copies a month on Amazon.com. I’ve seen the rank crawl up to 400,000+ and drop down to under 80,000.

I would remind everyone reading this that Amazon is constantly adding new product to its catalog. If you are going to use Peter’s chart or your variation of this chart, you’ll want to update your numbers on a regular basis. While books are by far the biggest category, other categories are gaining momentum as more and more people turn to Amazon for all their shopping needs.

As you can probably tell from this article, Peter has a strong point of view. I did not agree with everything he writes in his book – I steer clear of activities that Amazon might frown on – but I learned new sources for inventory, ranking and how to make a trip pay for itself with FBA. You can check it out for yourself. He offers 30 pages from the book for free here: Amazon Autopilot: How to Start an Online Business with Fulfillment by Amazon and Let Them do the Work. As a final note, I am not an affiliate of Peter’s and receive no compensation from him for writing this story or for any book sales from it.