Amazon Account Reinstatement and Suspension Prevention

Retail Arbitrage Tag

There’s a lot going on with Amazon right now. Amazon is getting closer and closer to shutting down retail arbitrage and online arbitrage on the platform. The customer dissatisfaction metrics are due to go live at long last in October. A new paid Seller Support program promises better support for those willing to pay. Sellers have discovered new tricks to manipulate seller reviews…and Amazon is catching them.

We are opening new markets in China and the UK to help sellers learn and implement best practices in their businesses including a conference on August 29 (ShenZhen, China) and on October 26 (London). We hope to meet our international clients!

Lesley will be speaking at SCOE. Cynthia will be speaking at ShenZhen (Seller Summit at the Sheraton) and Hong Kong, CES IV, the Feedvisor Conference in LA on September 12 and at the Retail Global event the next week in Las Vegas – please join us for dinner or drinks!

The End of Retail and Online Arbitrage?

Four reliable sources informed us that Seller Performance will no longer be accepting receipts as proof for anything. This has already happened in the groups that ungate categories and it has been slowly happening in practice at Seller Performance as they refuse more and more receipts from retailers (online and brick & mortar), even places like Disney.com or Coach or Nike outlet stores.

While we have seen this coming for a while, what surprised us was that the rumored planned date for implementation is “sometime in October.” If true, that’s awful news as it would be happening right before the holiday sales season. What’s yet to be seen is how Amazon plans to enforce this new policy. It could be disastrous as many sellers have already sent inventory to FBA for Q4 that they purchased from retail stores. This gives sellers very little time to shift gears to wholesale or private label.

Officially, Amazon stated that there are no “immediate term plans” to change how they accept receipts.  This is the difference between a casual conversation and what a public company will say out loud before they are ready.  My hope is this also means that we are looking at Q1 next year rather than Q4.  Regardless, it is my opinion, based on observation and working with the seller performance team that this change IS coming.

Why is Amazon moving in this direction? To protect the customer experience. Basically, they don’t consider items bought retail and resold to be

By shutting down arbitrage, they will also have fewer complaints from rights holders and big brands. Goods will likely be in better condition as many will be shipped in pallets.

Regardless of WHEN it happens, here’s the implications for sellers as we see them today:

  • More buyers will go to eBay as they realize it is the only platform for USED, COLLECTIBLE, discontinued and hard-to-find/exclusive NEW goods normally only found in retail stores.
  • Long-tail sales items will disappear from the platform.
  • Sellers will be taking a high risk if they sell USED media on the platform. Used items will decline.
  • It will be harder for sellers to start an Amazon business because more capital will be required.
  • It will be even easier for evil sellers to take RA/OA sellers down. We expect there will be a lot of bad behavior for a while.
  • Brand restrictions will increase and become even more common. Sellers will need to be pre-approved for many, many brands and prove they are buying from authentic sources as a matter of course.
  • OA/RA sourcing and scanning tools won’t be needed. This will be a financial blow to the industry.

Our Recommendations:

This is based on what we know today. Things may change. It is possible that Amazon won’t actually start suspending on this new rule until next year (that would be so nice). In the past, they warn in Q4 and suspend in January. Let’s hope that is true.

  • Make sure all your inventory is perfect, pristine and packaged properly for rugged travel.
  • As long as you never get inauthentic or counterfeit claims, you should be OK.
  • If you get an inauthentic claim and it is your first claim, Amazon will likely forgive you even though they won’t accept your receipts. If you get a claim, you will need to remove your other RA/OA inventory at that time.
  • If you’ve gotten three or more inauthentic/counterfeit claims in the past year, you will want to consider moving your inventory through another channel like eBay once the changes take place. You may not have any chances left. You can still use Amazon to fulfill your off-platform sales.
  • Sell off your RA/OA inventory as quickly as possible or move it to another platform.
  • Find new sources from wholesalers/distributors or directly from the manufacturer. Make sure all invoices are detailed and your sources are legit.
  • Understand that USED books, CDs, DVDs, etc. are susceptible to inauthentic claims same as NEW items. Most USED sellers don’t have good receipts let alone invoices.

What about the first sale doctrine?

The first sale doctrine says that you are allowed to resell items you bought in stores and other places and that brand owners can’t stop you from doing this since you paid retail when you bought the item. If you buy Coach bags from the outlet store and resell them, that’s arbitrage and is perfectly legal.

Just because it is legal, doesn’t mean Amazon has to allow you to do it on their platform. All it means is that the rights holders can’t stop you from re-selling goods you bought from these sources.  Coach can’t forbid you from reselling a Coach bag you bought at their store.

Amazon has the right to not accept receipts as proof of authentic. After all, they have no way of knowing for sure where the other stores got their merchandise.

What about you? Do you see other implications? Have questions? My mind is still processing all this. Ask your questions below and I’ll try to answer them.

Colleagues who attended the Women’s Conference in Seattle this week indicated that Amazon still seemed supportive of the RA/OA model.  I imagine this is true. What we’ve learned in our work with Amazon is that Seller Performance is different from the rest of the company.  It is quite possible for one group to not know what is happening with another.

Paid Seller Support Program

At the women’s conference this week, Amazon rolled out some interesting ideas. One of them was a paid Seller Support Plus program that will allow you to escalate your issues for $400 a month. Here’s what they said:

Seller Support Plus (SS+): A value-added service that gives you access to an experienced single point of contact (Seller Success Manager) to simplify your selling experience and allow you to focus on your business.

For a monthly subscription fee of $400, you will be able to escalate important issues to your Seller Success Manager for advanced troubleshooting and time-critical resolutions. By understanding you and your unique business, the Seller Success Manager will seek to remove persistent technical barriers and offer coaching opportunities during the course of your escalations. For more information, please send any questions to Seller-Support-Plus-Inquiries@amazon.com.

I was able to find out more today and basically, this is still Seller Support which means they can’t help you with Seller Performance issues like suspensions, listings take downs, policy violations, etc.  They will forward your email to seller performance and act as a “liaison.”  I have not seen that be particularly helpful in the past.  It is possible that these guys have a special queue with seller performance, but I wouldn’t bet my account on it.  They will help you get ungated and get a faster response from Seller Support.

In addition to the subscription service, they are offering basic training for new sellers for $100 to help them understand FBA, creating listings and stuff like that.  They have three different training modules (each $100). In listening to the description (we talked with one of their coaches), it is VERY basic. I think this will be helpful for new sellers but not anyone who has been selling for a few months unless you have a gap in your business like creating new listings.

Dissatisfaction Metrics To Go Live

Since last year Amazon has been tormenting sellers with the metrics of customer dissatisfaction rate and return dissatisfaction rate. At first they were going to go “live” in January, then February and then May and now…October. We’ll see if they really mean it. I’m glad they waited because a lot of my clients were failing the two metrics for lack of enough responses to make a statistically valid ratio of negatives to positives.

Assuming this intel is correct, what does it mean to you? If you are a MF seller it means that you need to really be on top of these metrics. If your metrics are poor now, think about how you can bring them up by October. In other words, how can you get happy, happy customer responses?

We’ve been helping some of our MF clients to create customer service templates that encourage buyers to leave positive responses or at least not to leave negative ones if they are unhappy.  You can contact us at customerservice@onlinesalesstepbystep.com to learn more. It is part of our Get Clean Stay Clean services.

Product Review Manipulation Still Rising

We continue to see sellers suspended for using product review companies that violate Amazon policy – even when the reviews are off the Amazon platform. Amazon is very serious about cracking down on paid reviews of any kind, fake reviews, overly enthusiastic reviews, those that are written before the buyer gets the product and reviews that don’t use the disclaimer. As an example of what Amazon is suspending for, in the past few weeks we’ve seen sellers who hired writers to create hundreds of fake Amazon buyer accounts and write fake reviews.

This kind of behavior led directly to Amazon’s new rules about reviewers in that they CANNOT leave a review unless they have bought at least one full-price product on the platform for more than $5.00. One client had literally thousands of reviews from people who opened an account JUST to leave a hyped-up review for their product.

While those examples may seem obvious, sellers need to know that ANYTHING that smacks of gaming the system is suspect. AMZ Tracker has been directly named in numerous suspensions but that hasn’t changed their business practices. This is a letter they sent their sellers recently. See if you can spot the problems:

Hey,

I know that all the analytics in the world won’t help if you don’t have any sales or reviews for your product. That’s why we set out to create the ultimate review network for you. We knew that AMZ Tracker wasn’t enough. We knew we had to help our users kick start their sales and reviews, so they could start climbing the ranks and begin making money with their products on Amazon.

We’ve created an ethical review network for paid subscribers called Amazon Review Trader where you can offer heavily discounted and free products in exchange for reviews.

This is the perfect way to get reviews when you’re just starting out. We literally have thousands of potential reviewers just waiting to review your product. These reviewers have the freedom to leave any type of review they want, but 99% of them will always leave 4 and 5 star reviews.

We monitor our reviewers’ profiles, and boot them out if they leave too many negative reviews. We only want reviewers who are eager and upbeat about trying new products.

If you don’t have at least 15 reviews (or more for more competitive niches) with an average of a 4 star rating or higher, you could be suffering as a result.

Check out Amazon Review Trader now in your AMZ Tracker paid account, so those analytics start showing GROWTH in sales!

To your Amazon success,

AMZ Tracker Team

Our postal address: 20th Floor, Central Tower,, 28 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong

Several things to note: 1) they seem to be moving away from AMZ Tracker to a new service that seems to be the same; 2) they kick out reviewers who leave negative reviews; and 3) they guarantee 4- and 5-star reviews. All of these are against Amazon’s terms of service. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing suspensions shortly from this new entity. Because they are located in Hong Kong, it is hard for Amazon to go after THEM, but they are certainly able to go after the sellers who use them. Beware.  Amazon has recently started suing sellers as well as service providers.

What everyone needs to understand about product reviews is that Amazon can see EVERYTHING. The data they have is breathtaking. It is pointless to lie or try to fool them about your reviews. When they ask for your non-compliant reviews, they already know the answer – they just want to see if you will be honest about it.

There are other reviewer groups that have the same rules as AMZ Tracker and we’ve had clients suspended for using private Facebook groups to giveaway product. While the client’s post may have been compliant, the instructions to the reviewers in the group by the administrator was not.

Be very careful who you work with. Don’t take anyone’s word for it that they are compliant. Instead, compare their programs and reviewer messages to Amazon’s terms of service. Ask questions. Find out what they are telling their reviewers. Be suspicious of anyone who offers you “guaranteed page one” and other rosy promises. To get you there probably involves gaming the system or manipulation of the platform as Amazon calls it.

People ask us constantly who we recommend.  There is enough gray language in Amazon’s TOS about reviews that I can’t declare that any company is 100% compliant and so I don’t name names or make guarantees.  However, there are plenty of companies who are clearly NOT compliant.  We see their customers suspended over and over again.

If you plan to use a service, be sure you see everything that they say to their reviewers and that their process meets Amazon TOS for giveaways and discounted products. Remember that paid blogs are not acceptable to Amazon and they are tracking them.  Next, if reviewers are coerced or “encouraged” to contact the seller first before leaving a negative review, get away from that service as fast as you can.

In case you missed them, here’s links to my previous blog posts on product review services. The second one has a comparison chart:  Safe Product Review Program and More About Product Review Programs.

New Product Review Audit Service for PL Sellers

Because we’ve had so many suspended sellers for product reviews, we’ve created a proprietary software solution and approach to help identify which reviews are non-compliant in our clients’ accounts. This is especially helpful for our clients who are suspended because we can give Amazon a detailed list of non-compliant reviews and tell them WHY they are non-compliant. It goes a long way to getting our clients reinstated.

For clients who are not suspended but are concerned that their reviewers may not be following policy, we have an on-going audit service where we check their reviews each week for compliance. It is part of our Get Clean Stay Clean services.

If you are interested, send an email to: productreview@onlinesalesstepbystep.com. We don’t have official sign up forms yet but will get back to you. Pricing is based on the number of orders you’ve had over the past 3 months.

International Events in China and UK

Cynthia will be in China at the end of August speaking at a huge Amazon seller summit on Monday, August 29 at the Futian Sheraton in ShenZhen and at a special Amazon sellers’ meet-up in Hong Kong on August 31.

Register to attend this free conference now – seats are filling up. An all-star lineup of speakers includes WorldFirst, Wal-Mart, Jet.com, SlickDeals, Anker, SellerLabs, Marketplace Ignition, MerchantWords and much more!: Cross Border Trade eCommerce Seller Summit

Sign up for the meet-up here:

Lesley and Cynthia are co-hosting an Amazon seller conference in London on Oct. 26 with SellerLabs and MerchantWords. The conference will cover two tracks for both newer sellers and high volume sellers. Topics will cover compliance issues, avoiding suspension, private label, product giveaways/reviews done right and more. Early bird special is running now! Click here to sign up for the UK Seller Conference.

Let’s Meet!

In addition to these awesome conferences, you will find us traveling the US over the next two months:

  • Seattle – SCOE. Lesley is speaking on the latest suspensions from Amazon. Use code CYNTHIA for $175 off! Join Lesley for dinner at the exciting Crow restaurant downtown. RSVP required.
  • Nashville – CES IV. Cynthia is talking about risk management in your Amazon business. Join her and Lesley both for dinner at Flyte restaurant downtown on the strip! RSVP here. Space limited to 20.
  • Los Angeles – Feedvisor conference. Cynthia is talking about the latest challenges facing high-volume sellers with Amazon suspensions. Sign up here for a $75 discount! (First 20 signups only. Expires 8/28/16) Use CODE LAVFC75.
  • Las Vegas – Retail Global conference. Sign up for $100 discount with code: STINE100. We will be co-hosting a meet and greet happy hour and dinner Thursday night Sept. 22 with the ScannerMonkey group. Register here – it’s free!

quotes-courage-is_14280-2One of the most frequent questions I get in my classes, my blog and online is a variation of “How do I know this is a good deal?” With new sellers in particular there is a natural fear of the unknown. You read up on Amazon FBA and it all sounds great but there is this voice at the back of your head saying “yeah…but…” because it seems almost too good to be true. Before you put down your hard-earned dollars, you want to know that it is going to be worth it, that you are going to get your money back out. While I’ve covered this topic in the past, the fact is there are so many more resources today than when I got started. It is time for an update.

Early on in my Amazon selling career I would find myself standing in front of a shelf somewhat anxious. I was looking at a book or toy and wondering if it was a good deal. I didn’t have anyone to call for a reality check or to think out loud with. So what happened? Sometimes I bought the item sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes it was wonderful and sometimes it was a huge mistake. Through these experiences I learned a lot. I tried really hard to learn each lesson just once…but sometimes I’m a slow learner. Hopefully that is NOT the case with you!

Why are you hesitating?

When I stopped to pick apart my anxieties later I found that there were 10 common reasons why I would hesitate:

  1. Amazon is selling it for less
  2. Rank is higher than I sold at before
  3. It has no rank or, perhaps, wasn’t even in the catalog
  4. I don’t know how to price it
  5. Item is oversize
  6. Item cost “a lot” and is, thus, riskier for me
  7. Condition is iffy – slight box or cover damage. Can I sell it as new?
  8. There are a lot of other FBA offers
  9. There are penny sellers (in the case of a book)
  10. Analysis paralysis

Today I have a lot fewer anxious moments not just because of experience and good tools, but also because of personal rules I’ve made for myself over time. I will say up front that if you disagree with my rules or have different rules of your own based on experience, we are probably both right. Personal rules are about comfort and about streamlining the decision process for yourself. I offer mine up as a helpful insight, but NOT as a commandment. Only use what works for you:

dilbert_strategy

Amazon is selling it for less

This is not always a deal killer which is why I hesitate. I sell a brand of shower gel, lotions and soaps that is very popular. Amazon sells them for $8-$9 a bottle/bar and I sell them for $13.99-$14.99. I buy them for $3.99. I know from experience that Amazon regularly sells out of this brand and that mine will sell quickly when they do. How did I learn this? I naively bought a bunch and sent them in thinking that Amazon didn’t sell it (this was before tools like CamelCamelCamel – see below). I sold a few units a day and then it stopped because Amazon was back in stock. I waited Amazon out and I sold the rest of my inventory. Today I can see the sales history for an item and know that Amazon sells out regularly. If I’m OK with selling it in bursts every month or so, then great. This strategy works best on low ranked items, obviously.

Sometimes Amazon will have a sale to compete against another retail offer or it is a seasonal thing like when they discount all their calendars in January (don’t worry, it is only for a couple of weeks!). Back in the day, it was a much bigger risk to buy something that Amazon was selling for less. Today I have tools to help me and so I don’t dither. I can see Amazon’s normal price and decide if it is OK for me. I can see how often they have run out in the past. Read on to learn more.

Rank is higher than I sold at before

Sellers who take my live classes get a fairly conservative range of sales rank from me. I want to make sure that the stuff they buy on our trip will sell relatively quickly and that they realize success. New sellers usually have limited dollars for inventory and need to build up before they take on a lot of “long-tail” deals. If your whole inventory is long-tail payoff, you will not be able to pay your bills today, basically. For that reason I’ve usually given them category ranks in the 1%-5% range.

Peter Valley wrote a guest blog for me once about sales rank where he included a chart of suggested ranks that many sellers have found useful, but PLEASE don’t write me and tell me it is outdated. It was outdated the second I published it because new items are constantly being added to the catalog. My suggestion is to use this as a guideline when you are getting started and to update it yourself from time to time. It is easy enough to figure out the top 1%, 5%, 15%, etc., in a category. One last PS to this chart, I rarely buy books over 1 million in rank any more. This is my rule for me. Other book sellers may feel differently.

OK, Cynthia, but what about when you see something with a high rank that you just know is adorable and should sell? Or maybe it is a seasonal item like a textbook or a pool toy or Halloween costume? This is where the anxiety drift begins. Also, if you decide “I’m not selling books above 1 million” and then you find a high-value book for 1,100,000….what then? My first step when I see something with a high return that is outside of my normal comfort zone rank-wise is to check CamelCamelCamel. ScanPower, FBAScan, ProfitBandit and other scanning tools provide direct access to CamelCamelCamel (CCC) from your view screen. You can also type in www.camelcamelcamel.com in to your phone’s browser if you are using a tool that doesn’t have direct access to CCC.

If you’re not familiar with CCC, it keeps track of Amazon product rank and prices over time. To me CCC is like a miracle drug. I’m totally addicted to the data. Yesterday I sold a textbook for $35 that I bought last year for $4.79. When I bought it in September I was fairly confident that it would sell either by the end of September or in January because textbooks are seasonal. But let’s pretend I had no idea and I was totally new to books. I would have still bought this book if I’d checked with CCC first.

CCC price

CCC shows you first off price history data for your item. It will default to Amazon (green) unless Amazon doesn’t sell it. Then you will see 3rd Party New (blue) or 3rd Party Used (Red) checked. Otherwise you will have to check them yourself. In this case, my book is used-very good so I clicked the red price type. What I note immediately is that Amazon is selling it for $165 and has been selling it around that price since last August. This is good news for me – lots of room to undersell them.

CCC Price changes used

Third-party used has been all over the place. I am not discouraged by the $1.97 price because that is Merchant Fulfilled and I’m going to be FBA fulfilled. When I bought these books (I bought two), there were no FBA sellers at all which meant my offer was the most attractive with free 2-day shipping. I priced both of them at $35 even though one is used-very good and one is good. My customer is impatient.

Why doesn’t my $35 price show up under “Last 5 Price Changes?” My price has not changed, for one thing. It is not the lowest for another. You can see there is at least one MF seller racing to the bottom over the past week. This heavy textbook is going to cost him his shirt. I don’t get it. Why doesn’t my price show up in “Current?” Because it is not the lowest and it is not in the Buy Box. I was never in the Buy Box at the price I was offering because it is used and the Buy Box is for new items (as of this writing). This is one of the ways books are very different from toys or other categories. The Buy Box is not as important. Someone who wants a used book and/or who wants Prime shipping will search by that and not by the Buy Box. I aimed my offer at the impatient Prime buyer not the tight-waddy student willing to wait two weeks to save a few bucks.

sales rank

Now here’s the money shot! This is the sales rank over the past year for this product. Each spike represents a sale. Some sales are so close together that it looks like a thick green line. Green for money, my friends! Right now the rank on this textbook is around 10,000. History shows us it is likely to drop as low as 5,000 over the next week or two. There are some book sellers who won’t buy a book over 500,000 in sales rank. If they scanned this book on December 2 on 2014, they would have missed out on a really great deal.

CCC is really helpful if you are buying out-of-season items at a huge sale price like I recommend.  You’ll be able to see when the peak sales are. It also helps if there is a high ranked item that is out-of-stock. It might be that the rank is so high because there are no units for sale or it might be that it is so high because no one likes it very much. CCC can help you see what a normal sales rank might be.

There is no rank and/or it is not in Amazon’s catalog

CCC isn’t much help if there is no Amazon history. When I’m teaching a class, I’ll usually tell my students to put down an item that has no rank and to look for something else. Again, I’m conservative and I want them to be successful. I’m clear that I do add items to the catalog, but I don’t recommend it for brand-new sellers. The reason for this is that it can take a while for sales to pick up on a new item in the Amazon catalog. Skip McGrath told me once that it usually takes a month to six weeks to see the first sale on a new item that he adds – and he is highly experienced with launching new products on Amazon. Also, there is no guarantee that an item will sell at all. Take the risk when you have some money you can afford to lose.

If an item has no rank, it has never sold a unit on Amazon except for all the exceptions. For example, electronics (CE) is riddled with exceptions where they won’t show you the sales rank or you can only find the sales rank in the sub-category, not in the overall category. Why does Amazon do this? I have no idea. I’ve sat at my computer and looked at the top 100 sellers on Amazon in CE and found all kinds of items that showed no sales rank. Crazy! Usually if you do a CCC search on that item, it will show you the rank unless it is too new to have a history.  In that case, I might look at a similar item from the year before for an idea of its potential popularity (think about Dre headsets or a Bose speaker). If you are looking at a name brand electronic item and it shows no rank on Amazon but has offers, dig deeper. I’ve heard that apparel can be like that too.

Maybe the reason no one is selling it on Amazon yet is because it is brand new. When Inkoos were a hotinkoos toy, I bought a bunch of different kinds of Inkoos and added them to the Amazon catalog. My other Inkoos were selling well and I was confident that these other versions would sell well, too. And they did. The great thing about adding an item to the catalog is that you are the only seller for a while and so I sold most of my Inkoos before other sellers jumped in with their units.

Another tool that I use from my scanner is eBay completed auctions. This helps me answer the “I wonder if anyone will buy it from me if I put it up there?” question sometimes. If the item has been sold on eBay recently that tells me that there are buyers out there. Pricing on eBay for me is a starting point. Often eBay listings are cheaper than I can price it for on Amazon.

You can also do a Google search on your phone’s browser (or from the scanner) to see the other online sites where it is for sale and what they are charging. If the product is nowhere to be found online, then you have to decide if you think it will sell and if you are willing to take the risk. If you are hesitating, then maybe you should keep looking for a deal that has already proven to sell on Amazon.

I don’t know how to price it

Maybe you are hesitating not because you are worried about selling the item, but because you don’t know what to charge and/or if you’ll be able to get the price you need to make it profitable. I’ve done that before with rare and discontinued items that are hard to find. They were sold out on Amazon and this was before CCC so I couldn’t consult with price history. What I did in that case was I checked eBay sold and Google.

eBay sold

This particular item wasn’t anywhere. It was discontinued and sold out. It was a major brand and I took a chance at $35 each. I started selling at $150 and my first one sold the day it reached the warehouse. I raised my price to $175. Eventually I was selling this Harley Davidson comforter set for $250 each. Each time I found more, they sold instantly. I thought about selling them higher but I felt shy about it. I’m over that now. If I had the same deal today, I’d start at $499 and test my price from there. At the time, I didn’t understand the value of what I had. People really wanted these comforter sets and they were nowhere to be found.

Other times I’ve done my searches and found that it was selling on eBay and other sites. I had to assume that Amazon might come back into stock and decide what I wanted to do. Could I compete close to the prices I was finding online? If not, it was probably too risky.

Item is oversized

I’m not afraid of oversized items, but there’s oversized and then there’s OVERSIZED if you know what mean. The problem isn’t whether or not I’ll make money off it – my scanning tool gives me an accurate net price – but how much it will cost me to ship it to Amazon.com. Will it need a special box? If it is oversized I already know it is going to a special warehouse and that I won’t be able to combine it with smaller items. With all the changes in Amazon’s fees, it is less and less profitable to send in big items.

FBA sellers used to sell large-screen TVs and dishwashers on Amazon just to give you an idea of how things have changed over the past few years. Now the determining factor for me is often whether or not it will fit in one of my boxes. I buy 24 X 12 X 12, 20 X 20 X 20 and 22 X 22 X 22 boxes regularly (along with book boxes). These sizes cover bedding, grocery, appliances, and collectible games. Amazon also sends me a huge supply of smaller boxes that I break down and keep for smaller orders (if they are still in good condition). If I don’t think it will fit one of my boxes, I usually put it down. The cost and hassle factor go up a lot at this point.

Bedding and appliances are well worth the extra costs for shipping and boxes (usually one bed kit fills a box by itself to give you an idea) because my ROI is so high. This is not always true of oversized toys and groceries. I often carry a tape measure with me so I can measure before I bring home an item. If you don’t have one with you, sometimes a store manager can scare one up. My friend Lynn refuses to buy anything that won’t fit in a Walmart moving box. That’s her rule. I buy from Uline and I have more choices, but I also have a minimum number I have to buy to get a reasonable price. Plus the warehouse is at least 30 minutes away. Know your boxes.

Item costs “a lot”

This one is perhaps the hardest one to overcome because it is an emotional rather than analytical response. It comes from a place of fear. What is “a lot” to me is different from someone else. It is purely subjective. You are naturally afraid of losing your investment. It might feel a bit like gambling in the beginning even with all the tools. What I can tell you is that nearly every seller I’ve ever talked to about this topic has told me “I wish I’d started buying more expensive items sooner.” I feel the same way. That is usually where the best profits are to be made. You can buy a $1 item and flip it for $7 and make a few bucks, but for the same amount of time and effort, you can buy a $25 item and sell it for $130, which is way more exciting and makes you money faster.

Johann-Wolfgang-Von-Goeth

Here is my suggestion for you. If this is during your first six months of selling and you feel nervous about an item because it costs a lot, put it down. Buy smaller deals that you are comfortable with and get experience selling. It is more work for you to process a lot of lower cost items but you’ll still make money. After you’ve been selling for a few months, make some rules for yourself like, “I will spend up to $25 per item if the rank is X.” I suggest that X be a fairly low rank in the top 1% of Amazon sellers. After you’ve tried a few of these and learned from them, then you should feel more comfortable upping your game. Having a game plan takes a lot of the worry and hesitation out of your shopping trip so you can focus instead on the good deals.

The good news about our business is that there will always be good deals out there. I find that there is more opportunity than I can afford to buy. Don’t feel bad if you miss out on an occasional good deal – another one is right around the corner.

Maybe “a lot” isn’t about the per-unit cost but about the number of units. There are 30 units of what seems like a good deal but I’m hesitating to spend $750 on it. If I don’t buy them all and they turn out to be good sellers – someone else will have probably bought them all in the meantime and I’ll be kicking myself. In most cases I’ll usually buy the items but I won’t send them all in at once. If I send a few up there and they stagnate or a bunch of low-ballers come in and undercut me, then I can easily return the ones that are in my house and use the money for something else. The rule in this case may be “if I don’t sell a unit in two weeks from receiving at the warehouse, I’m returning the rest,” or whatever time frame feels right to you. Obviously this only works in stores with a generous return policy.

Condition is iffy – slight box or cover damage. Can I sell it as new?

damaged_box2If you are asking the question, you already know the answer. Probably not. In Amazon’s world, new is new. Anything else is used or “Open Box” or “Collectible.” Have I covered up small tears in shrink wrap with a sticker? Yes I have. Is a Big Wheels box different than My Little Pony? Yes it is. Large Big Wheels (and other large toys) boxes are meant to be shipping boxes as well as descriptive boxes. A slightly crushed corner is normal. The bottom line for me is if the person receiving it would consider it new, then it is new. If they would think it is dirty, old or slightly damaged put it down. If a Barbie collector would have a fit, put it down. They are only going to send it back. It’s not worth the negative feedback and possibly unhappy customer. Don’t spend too much time with these iffy’s, they’ll give you heartburn.

There are a lot of other FBA offers

My general rule is to put something down if there are “too many” other FBA sellers. How much is “too many?” It varies depending on rank and category. The higher the rank, the fewer competitors I want to see. I have a great repricer in Feedvisor so I feel pretty confident about my ability to compete with other sellers of new items BUT the single biggest problem with seeing a lot of sellers on an item is the race to the bottom. The price might look OK today, but it is like an avalanche. One scared snowflake/seller starts the race and everyone else tumbles down the hill after him.

In books, most other sellers have one or two units at the most. In almost any other category they might have dozens to hundreds of units each. I have some candy that I bought for $1 that was low ranked and only had one other seller besides me and my shopping partner. Unfortunately, this guy didn’t run out for more than four months and he was selling his candy at a stupidly low price. He’s finally out this week and my friend and I are selling our units, but if I’d realized ahead of time just how many units he had, I gp2would have never bought this candy. My mistake. I could have found out before I bought several hundred units but I didn’t. I thought “One seller! No problem!” In this case, a lot was just 1 guy (curse you, Red Baron!). In other cases, I can successfully compete against 4-5 sellers without much concern. I see this in Baby a lot and I think it is because most of us have limited quantities (we are all buying from the same closeout stores) and I have a dynamic repricer which keeps me in the Buy Box a significant percentage of every day.

It is OK to buy items that have other sellers. It helps to have a rule of thumb for yourself about how many is too many.  If I see five other sellers at a price lower than I want to sell, I usually put it back down.

There are penny sellers (in the case of a book)

penny bookIn the past I would look at a book and if there were one or two penny sellers I might still consider the book. Sometimes I might even buy their books and resell them. My thought was that they would sell out and mine would sell at a higher price. It doesn’t work that way as much as I’d like and I don’t sell penny books any more. A penny book is one where the merchant fulfilled price is 1 penny plus shipping. That means an FBA seller could sell that book for $4…right? Nope. Remember that panicked snowflake? I’ve seen FBA sellers sell penny books for $1. They are losing a lot of money on each one and I don’t get it. A repricer gone crazy? Someone who doesn’t understand the business? Maybe. I’m following Nathan Holmquist’s advice on book selling now and I’m much happier about my book sales. I want the MF price to be at least 49 cents and then I’ll look at the FBA offers. He taught me that if the MF is lower than that, there will likely be a lot of FBA sellers. Check out my blog post if you want to learn more about Nathan’s approach and rules around books.

Analysis paralysis

The dark side of having so much data and having such powerful scanning tools is that sellers can get bogged down by analysis paralysis. Using scanning tools, having personal rules, all these things are designed to make your decision-making process easier and more efficient. During my classes I will often see students spending a minute or more per scan. I see this particularly in the programs where you are required to enter your cost in order to get a net price. This is not how scanning is supposed to work. Scanning is all about getting to the “maybe.” The data you immediately pull up on your phone should be enough for you to say “No” in most cases. And in most cases the answer will be no.

If you are using a Scanfob or other Bluetooth scanner then it should be a quick “no, no, no, no [lots more no’s]…maybe.” That maybe is the one that you’ll check out in more detail. If it looks good on my phone, I’ll usually click through to CCC and to see all the FBA listings on Amazon. This way I don’t find out later that there are a ton of other sellers and I get a feel for how quickly it might sell and at what price. After I do that, the answer may still be no. That’s why it is important to scan a lot – hundreds of items in a typical shopping trip – and to have a way to quickly eliminate the many, many deals that don’t fit your profile. If you find yourself spending a lot of time analyzing each scan, check your personal rules and check your tools.  You need to streamline your process.

Florida Trip in Februaryflorida

I’ve set my dates! I’ll be in Southern Florida/Fort Lauderdale area on Friday and Saturday February 27th and 28th. I’m tentatively planning on two sourcing classes but can schedule another one on Monday March 2 if there is sufficient interest. My classes are limited to 10 people. I’d rather have two smaller classes than one too-large one. I have gotten emails from 10 people thus far indicating interest so don’t delay. Click HERE to reserve your spot now! I have a special early-bird gift for those who sign up by Sunday.

Just a quick reminder for those FBA sellers approaching their first long-term storage fee assessment…be sure to sell, dispose or remove by end of the day Friday or else you will have to pay extra fees. If you are willing to pay, that’s OK, just make sure you know what you are paying for. Check out my blog post on long-term storage fees from last year if you need help dealing with your inventory.

Amazon is an amazing platform that has made my family’s life easier…AND they drive me crazy sometimes. Do you ever feel that way? They are constantly working on their platform which is good and bad. I tend to work out my frustrations through writing so I thought I’d tackle those damn listing errors. You know what I’m talking about here. Total crazy making. I had a client who was recently concerned that her sales had come to a standstill. When I looked at her inventory, over 80% of it had listing errors – no wonder! Once we fixed those, her sales picked up again.

What’s with all the listing errors?

First of all, it happens to everyone. Don’t assume you’ve made a mistake. It is just as likely to have been Amazon or the internet. You just want to be able to fix them when they happen. If you are a newcomer, you may not yet realize that your items will show redline errors in SellerCentral until they are properly shipped in to Amazon. If you are taking a few days to prepare a shipment (which I often do in the case of books), then don’t worry if you see listing errors for products that are not yet at the warehouse. Those will correct themselves once you ship them in.

This also explains why you may have listing errors for products you never actually sent in. Perhaps you listed it in ScanPower or InventoryLab, looked at it, decided you didn’t want to sell it after all and deleted it from your shipment. I’ll do this with books. Sometimes I’ll get home and decide that I’ve changed my mind about a book I bought. Maybe it is in worse condition than I thought or suddenly there are a ton of bottom feeder sellers. I donate it instead.  I’ve also had new merchandise where by the time I’ve priced it, I see that Amazon is now selling it for a low price. I decide to return the item, but the partially created listing is at SellerCentral.

A similar situation for me is that I buy something, go home, scan it into my software and then decide it is a better eBay item. I have a collectible Pinocchio Game right now where I did that. I deleted it from the shipment I was creating, but the partially created listing stayed at SellerCentral.

The fix for these listing errors is easy – archive them and don’t worry about them anymore.

The listing errors I’m talking about are the ones that occur with products that are already at the warehouse – products that should be selling and aren’t. These are the ones that drive good sellers mad….

There are three main reasons for listing errors:

  1. A problem with using your third-party software provider
  2. A feed issue (could be either end)
  3. Something at Amazon’s end

Knowing this helps you figure out how to fix your errors and preserve your sanity.

Third-Party Software Provider

If you use InventoryLab, ScanPower or one of the other listing programs you are basically creating your listing inside of Amazon in real-time with the help of the software that makes it faster, easier and more efficient. What you also get with an outside software provider is the ability to more easily correct your mistakes and make changes to your shipment up to the last minute…and there’s the rub. What ScanPower and InventoryLab do – and I assume the same for the others – is send the final, complete feed at the very end when you press “Finish Shipment (SP)” or “Send Products Feeds (IL).”

If you don’t press that button and instead go directly to the shipping queue to process your boxes, then your entire shipment will have listing errors. This is perplexing because the shipment looks normal when you go through the Shipping Queue…but it is not complete. The system is confused because the shipment is still considered open. If you’ve done this – don’t despair! The fix is easy. Simply go into ScanPower (InventoryLab, whatever system you are using) and close out your shipments officially and properly. This should fix those errors within a few minutes. Be sure to refresh your SellerCentral browser so you can see if they all got fixed.

finish shipment button rev

This is from InventoryLab’s support page:

Note: Your product listing feeds have not sent to Amazon until you do the following: Choose “Send Products Feeds” once your batch is complete (this is going to take your batch to the Send Products Page where you can edit, add, or delete the contents before submitting the batch). Once you have reviewed the batch and are ready to send it choose “Submit” (you will be prompted to confirm that you wish to complete the batch, and for FBA shipments you will check the box next to Create FBA Shipment in the pop up screen) and hit “OK”.  Now your product listings have sent and you can continue to create your shipments. 

The private workflow has many advantages, but it’s important to understand that you will not have a product listing until you tell InventoryLab to upload them. Therefore, since you are labeling items as you go, but you have not uploaded any product listings,  all inventory will be listed with a redline error until you complete your batch and send the product listing feeds. 

I imagine that the other listing programs are similar to Scan Power and InventoryLab since this is an Amazon requirement (how the feeds are sent).

A Feed Issue

This is a problem between your software provider and Amazon. It could be from either side. It could be a glitch in the internet (“glitch” is the official term for “we can’t explain it.”) If most of your shipment has no listing errors but there are one or two items that do have listing errors, then there are three fixes for you:

1) re-send the feed from your software program;

2) re-list the product on Amazon’s Seller Central; or

3) talk to Amazon. I’m going to talk about how to re-list (#2) under the next heading.

To re-send the feed from ScanPower, you need to go under “Settings,” “List” and then scroll to the very bottom of the page. There you will see a long list of your most recent shipments. Click on the shipment that had the errors and the feed will be re-sent. This should fix most feed-related errors. Wait about a minute or so and then go to SellerCentral and refresh your browser. If the problem is not fixed, then it is something at Amazon’s end.

old shipments

I don’t know how it is done with all the other software, but there should be an easy way to re-send feed if you ask or look at the company’s FAQs.

If that doesn’t work, the problem may be either that you are somehow restricted from selling that product or it needs to be re-listed through Seller Central (see below). Product restrictions are varied and something you sold before may now be off limits. It may be, for example, that you are no longer allowed to sell in that category. That happened to some folks with grocery recently. Amazon changed the rules and this is how they tell you.

If you look at your “Stranded Inventory” report on the “All Inventory View” page of SellerCentral, it will show you items that have inventory at the warehouse but are not selling. If you know you’ve sold these items in the past, then it is possible that the product manufacturer convinced Amazon to restrict third-party sellers. This can happen at any time and the effect is immediate.

In the case where you just don’t know what is going on, you will need to talk to Amazon. You can either have them call you or you can send them an email to find out what is up. I prefer phone myself although my assistant does a lot of corrections for me by email. Either works. To get Amazon to call you, go to “Help” in SellerCentral and look for the “contact us” button about half-way down the right-hand side of the page. Follow the instructions for sending an email and fill in the details of your problem. At the bottom of the form is an option for Amazon to call you. Fill in your phone number and they will call you within seconds. They will explain and walk you through the fix or at least tell you how to remove/destroy the product if that’s the answer. I first learned how to re-list products from a friendly FBA support person.

Something at Amazon’s End

There are several reasons that things may have gotten messed up on Amazon’s end – usually while your shipment is being processed, although I’ve had listing errors pop up from products I’ve been selling for a while. Rather than trying to figure it out, I fix it. If relisting doesn’t work, then I have two options – 1) ask Amazon to fix the listing for me through email or 2) call them to find out what is going on.

When I went to create my Step-by-Step I learned that Amazon had changed the way you relist products which was really annoying because I had just learned how to do it the other way. Basically what you are doing is completely recreating your listing on Amazon.com. When you do that, you have to be mindful that you use the exact same merchant SKU, condition, etc. that you did before or your problems will multiply.

Gardening listing error 2

I created a Step-by-Step for Listing Errors HERE in my FBA Library which is free to all my readers. In addition, you can click Listing error troubleshooting for a copy of Amazon’s instructions.  Mine has more pictures.

If you are like my friend Lynn who says, I don’t want to learn one more damn thing! then I suggest using the Easy Button and send your problem listings in batches of three to an email to Amazon. They will fix them for you.staple-easybutton Be sure to give them all the information you want in the new listing including price, condition, MSKU, etc.

What usually happens when they are recreating listings is they give them weird prices like $999 or $500 so you have to go back later and reprice. They’ll send you an email to let you know when they’ve fixed your problem.

Another option is to turn over the whole mess to your virtual assistant and say “make it so.” This is my preferred option because I don’t have to worry about follow up or repricing later. Shem takes care of it all for me.

What To Do

Here’s my suggested approach to listing errors:

  1. Remember, a huge percentage of listing errors are feed errors. Try re-sending the feed first.
  2. For the errors that remain, check to see if you ever sent those products in. If not, archive.
  3. For the errors that remain, either recreate the listing or send to Amazon.com to fix in batches of 3 per email.
  4. Repeat.

It is up to you as to how often you deal with your listing errors, but I suggest looking at them regularly. The last thing you want is a bunch of inventory at the warehouse that is not selling for you. The first time may take a while, but if you do it regularly, it won’t take long at all. Since the majority of errors are feed errors, you can fix those in a snap. My free Inventory Listing Errors Step-by-Step has more pictures with arrows and instructions to help you figure out why your inventory is languishing. If the above link doesn’t work, just login to the FBA Library and look under “Bonuses” for the Step-by-Step page.

PS. If you’ve not noticed, I’m trying to offer more live classes in and out of Texas to help people prepare for the Christmas selling season. I’ve got my Texas classes posted and am working on three classes in Chicago (it is such a big area) at the end of September/early October. I also try to leave time for at least one or two face-to-face private sessions in each city as well.

I was recently in Atlanta and Wilmington, NC. Want me to come visit your town? Let me know! To make the trip I need at least 8 students per class since I will have travel expenses. We have just over 100 days until Black Friday…are you ready?

Books on a shelfThe Fall book sale season begins this weekend for those of us in the DFW Metroplex.  The Friends of the Plano Public Library sale starts on Friday and it is a big one.  I’m offering two classes in the next month to help folks take advantage of the upcoming book sale season and make some nice high-margin money. With Amazon’s new $35 minimum for free shipping, you will sell a lot of used books during the holidays as folks pick up something for themselves in order to get free shipping for their gifts.

I love books and sell books every day.  They are cheap and yet can be very profitable. They are easily found and stack nicely. The trick is to find the ones that have that wonderful combination of desirability and rarity.  I’m not talking about penny books here, I’m talking about books you can sell for $7 and up.  My average is $10, just to give you an idea.

I wrote a blog last year about how I work a book sale that you might want to review before heading to your next sale.

If you are wondering where I find sources for books, check out this blog post.

Want to join my class on Friday or in September? click here.

In addition, I will be leading a retail arbitrage class on September 3 in Dallas at a Target near the CES II hotel (for those 300+ of you coming to town for it!) and classes in Austin, San Antonio and Houston later in September.  Click here for all those classes.

My classes are small so I can provide lots of individual attention and answer everyone’s questions. Book sales are limited to 6 people and retail arbitrage are limited to 10 so don’t wait too late to sign up.

Next week look for a longer post from me about fixing listing errors. For some reason it is taking me a long time to write it…

Happy hunting my friends!

 

PLEASE NOTE CHANGES SINCE ORIGINAL BLOG POST! Steve Lindhorst is no longer selling his book that I mention below.  I’m leaving this blog post in my archives, however, because the strategy he taught is sound and I recommend that sellers consider how they can time their purchases and sales for maximum advantage:

The three most important pillars of selling on Amazon’s FBA program are margin, turnover and timing. If you get those three things working together, your business becomes a perpetual motion money machine. Easy, right? OK, maybe not always easy, but not impossible. Margin is about math and understanding the true costs of your business. Turnover is about economics – supply, demand, price – mixed with intuition. Timing is about logistics and planning.

Some of you are wondering “what about inventory? Isn’t that important, too?”  It is, but if you take care of margin, turnover and timing, finding the right inventory takes care of itself.

Over the course of the summer, I’m going to revisit these topics regularly to help get you ready for the big holiday shopping season which begins in August…no pressure. Since I’ve not covered it as much as other topics, I’m going to start with timing.

On my “Helpful Books and Websites” page I list several authors/big-time online sellers from whom I have learned including Steve Lindhorst.  Recently he put out an ebook called Retail Flipping where he focuses on the role of timing in his business success. I bought it last week and immediately wanted to tell everyone all about it. Although the premise is simple enough, the fact is most people don’t do it in an organized way – including me!  In the book he talks about how your real success in selling on Amazon really comes when you buy to sell on Amazon. It is like real estate that way.  If real estate is about “Location! Location! Location!”, then buying new Amazon inventory from retail stores is about “Timing! Timing! Timing!”

If you buy items at their very lowest possible price and sell them for a good margin, then you are going to make money. Also, if you know in advance when the peak demand for a certain product or category is going to hit, then you can have your goods up there a month or two before the peak and giggle all the way to the bank. The trick is knowing when you are most likely to get those rock-bottom prices and when they will sell for the higher prices.  That’s what Steve’s book is all about.

For those of us who aren’t as familiar with the inner cycles of retail, he explains sales and how they work at most stores as well as some specifics from places like Target and Walmart. He explains when new models come out for certain categories of goods and why retailers will suddenly dump perfectly good merchandise for amazing prices. He tells you how to know if that item you are interested in will be 50% off tomorrow based on the store’s sales policies which is a really good thing to know. Over the years, he has built a calendar for himself that tells him when certain items are most likely to be at their cheapest prices of the year.  For example, did you know that January and most of February (except Valentine’s Day) are the least popular times of the year for weddings? That’s also when wedding-related items are at rock-bottom prices.

What Steve’s calendar has done for him is allowed him to make his sales more predictable. He not only knows when he should buy, but also when will be the peak time for selling which is important so you don’t leave money on the table, either.  Off-season an item might sell for $50, for example, but during peak time it sells for $75. While you may be happy to sell it off-season at $50, you’d be sad to miss out on the peak selling season and leave $25 on the table, right? That’s what your calendar can do for you – tell you when stuff is going to sell at top dollar.

We all know that toys sell the most from November through the end of December, for example, but what about all those other categories? The worst time to jump in to sell something is when it is already “hot,” because your window is rapidly closing. I sell textbooks and what I know is that June, August, September and January are the peak months for textbooks with the August/September time-frame being the busiest.  So when should I buy textbooks (whenever the price is right – gotcha, trick question in this case), and when should I make sure they are all up at Amazon? (July, December, May).

Steve gave me permission to share his calendar for July so you can do some planning of your own for next month:

July

  • This is a big month to buy toys. Retailers need to clean the shelves to get ready for this year’s holiday season. Many Christmas shoppers begin buying in earnest after Labor Day, so watch for big, often lightly advertised, clearance deals in July
  • Watch for wedding-related items around this time of year. June is the most popular month for weddings followed by a lull in July. By this month, most brides will have purchased what they need for their weddings. Retailers will begin dumping this year’s inventory.
Computers:Intel and AMD start ramping up for new stuff in July. Back-to-school sales get pretty good here, too, because kids are getting their first and/or replacement computers.
Furniture: August is the second time of year that new furniture comes out so you can get good deals the month before as manufacturers are trying to get rid of the old stuff.
Grills: This is an example of a product demand that dies off during the season of its use. By July, the folks who are going to buy a grill have probably gotten theirs. So the stores are now going to make room for fall items.  Grills and grilling accessories will begin to be marked down – but people are still going to be grilling for a few months so buy up!
Music Players:iPods are refreshed around the end of August/beginning of September.  The old models suddenly become boring to many shoppers. But as with cameras and other electronics, a lot of people like the established versions since the bugs have been eliminated.
Toys:This is the big clearance to get ready for the fourth quarter, holidays. If you haven’t seen what kind of profit toys bring at the end of the year – you really need to work at this one. It pays off big time.

 

His calendar is a great foundation upon which for you to build your own. Because it focuses on general categories like “baby” and “wedding,” you will want to add specifics for yourself as you learn more about your local stores.  For example, our Half-Price Books has several big sales every year at the same time where not only is everything 20%-90% off, I can also stack coupons to get an even better deal. There is also a special fall sale on textbooks that takes coupons as well as the category discount. You better believe those sales are on my calendar. Babies R Us and Toys R Us have certain sales every year to spur holiday shopping. Big Lots has several 20% off sales a year that have saved me hundreds of dollars each time.  Tuesday Morning has yellow sticker sales where you can buy new items for pennies sometimes and re-sell for $15.  Find out the sales patterns and put them on your calendar.

I shop for used as well as new so my calendar includes more than retail outlets. When are the best book sales in your area? When will students at your local university most likely be ditching all their textbooks? Does your state offer a sales-tax-free weekend or month for energy-efficient appliances? There will be sales during and after that time-frame to clear out inventory.  Scouting with a strategic plan can make a huge difference in your sales results. Steve also talks about how he leverages coupon stacking as well as frequent shopper programs to get the best deals. He has a list of several couponing sites that he uses to find great bargains on new merchandise.

Unless you are one of those super-organized people who already have your own calendar and strategic scouting plan (how I envy you!), this book will be helpful to you. He offers a 30-day guarantee like I do on my ebook and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It is short and smart.

Since Steve is no longer selling his book, I strongly suggest you spend some time thinking about what you buy, and/or what you’d like to buy and when would be the best time for you to shop for those items. Create your own scouting calendar so your inventory acquisition trips will be more hits than misses. Think outside your normal categories so you can sell all year round. We just had Father’s Day. What do you think is on sale in most stores today? Yep. Manly gift items and every golf-related or tool-related thing you can imagine.

Strategically planning your scouting expeditions like this will help make sure that you are at the right place at the right time for profitable scouting and big discounts.

What about you? Do you have a process or tool that you use to time your retail purchases for maximum profit? Please share in the comments below!

Take two or three - you'll need them!

Today I’ve asked my friend Lynn Rafter to tell us about scouting at Target. You may have read part of her story in my book. I never thought of Target as a great outlet for inventory until Lynn introduced me to some hot toy deals this past holiday season. Even though the season has passed, she still sells a lot of Target merchandise every week. She uses FBA Scout on her Android phone to help her find the most profitable deals. She sells new items exclusively.

Hi there, I wanted to give you all a few tips and ideas on how to pull profit out of a Target, or any big-box retailer. Even though there may not be tremendous sales going on (just wait until November!) there’s always profit to be made shopping at these stores.

Before you go, don’t forget your Target credit card, which gives you 5% off all purchases. Bring your sales tax ID #, and coupons, too. Target has coupons on Target.com, and they take manufacturers’ coupons.

I buy toys, video games and small house ware items. I mostly sell toys because I LOVE TOYS! I can spend hours analyzing the toy section of a store (just ask my family), learning about the merchandise and figuring out what is a hot seller.

One reason I shop Target is because they focus on HOT SELLING ITEMS! They have limited shelf space and will quickly dump items that don’t sell well. Go ahead and scan almost any item, and you will see that it ranks high on Amazon. Your job is to find the item that will bring you the maximum amount of profit, regardless of whether it is on clearance, been discounted or is selling for full price.

Electronics

When I shop Target, I start in the electronics section. I hit all of the clearance areas, and each Target usually has an electronics clearance section located one or two aisles away. Scan ALL the items marked clearance; you will be surprised at what sells at Target for $14.95 may be selling on Amazon for $65.

While I’m in this section, I will scan the merchandise for new items. Many times Target carries items before Amazon, and you can make a nice profit scooping up a few games or electronics for full price that are selling for 3X−4X that on Amazon. Be cautious though. I usually don’t send up more than three of any item if I am unsure of whether it will sell or not.

Toys

Next, I head into Toys. Target usually has multiple clearance toy sections and will have good discounts on toys throughout the department. I have shopped Target so many times I am immediately aware of new merchandise and always scan new items to see what they are retailing for on Amazon. Again, new items at Target may not be available on Amazon, so you could make a nice profit before Amazon gets a chance to sell it at a lower price. Again, don’t be put off by the retail price. You never know!

If you find an item at Target that is on clearance and will make a nice profit for you, check out the other Targets in your area, as they usually have the same items on clearance. Be aware though, one Target may list a video game on clearance for $4.95 and another Target will clearance the same game for $14.95. Even though all Targets carry roughly the same items, they set different prices based on the store location.

Double-check all prices before purchasing, and don’t feel too bad about returning items that don’t fit your margins; Target has a great return policy. You can even return items without a receipt if you have the credit card with which you purchased it.

Target Exclusives

One thing you should look for is the “Only at Target” sticker. Items with this sticker are exclusives and not available to be purchased by Amazon. They are usually only sold by FBA sellers on Amazon for a nice margin. You can do this too!

If you find something that you’d like to sell, please do not get into a “race to the bottom” price war with other FBA sellers. Know what you need to price your item at to get the return you need. With Target exclusives, there is no reason to go nuts – your units will sell because there are no others. Amazon won’t come in and compete with you; you are only cutting your own prices for no reason. This “race to the bottom” strategy hurts all FBA sellers, and customers come to expect everything to sell cheaply no matter what – it is no way to run a successful business, believe me!

Stick to Brands

Another bit of advice that I follow is to stick to name-brand items. Target and other stores carry items that are “private label,” meaning that Target has developed this product to be sold only at their stores. Wal-Mart does this a lot, too. Although less expensive than its national brand version, it will have a generic name and label. Think “Thomas the Tank Engine,” a name-brand item, vs. something like “Toot Toot Train,” a name that means nothing to most Amazon customers. The generic version is cute in the store, but Amazon customers won’t buy it.

Trust Your Instincts

I will spend the rest of my scouting trip looking at baby items and small house ware items. I look for anything that has a recognizable face (Elmo, Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, etc), is on clearance, or just seems to be wrongly priced. After a while, you will be able to guesstimate in your head what you think an item should be selling for, so if you see an electronic baby toy that retails for $7.95 and you think would sell for much higher, go ahead and scan it. Odds are you’re right! Target carries many baby “must-haves” that are “luxury” items, at a low price.

Amazon customers don’t shop at Target as much as I do, and are happy to pay a higher price for the convenience and great service from Amazon.

Hope this helps you navigate around Target more efficiently. Have fun and make money

How about you? Do you have insider Target tips to share or fun experiences scouting? Please post them!