For more than 25 years I’ve helped companies successfully compete in the marketplace as well as competed myself against other PR firms, marketing agencies and small publishing companies. There are two truisms of competition: 1) You have lots of competition all the time and 2) You have something that the other guy doesn’t.
I can’t tell you how many of my high tech customers would tell me about their latest gee-whiz product and how they had “no competition.” Hee hee hee. Except for whatever it is that people did before the gee-whiz and except for all the other guys that are addressing the same need with their products…yeah. So remember, even if you have no competition for a particular product listing on Amazon, you are still competing against everything else that consumers might do instead of buying your product/solution/gee-whiz. There is always competition. After I crushed their enthusiasm by proving they had lots of competitors, I would then talk to my clients about what they had that no one else had…themselves. That’s where we would put our stake in the ground and start the real work of competing.
Just because Microsoft is not as big as Apple doesn’t mean that they are packing up Windows and going home. Six Flags doesn’t close down because they have to compete with Disney. What most companies realize is that there is a place for more than one product on the marketplace. Just because you naturally know that yours is the best, doesn’t mean it is the best for every single person in your marketplace. Big companies distinguish their customers and target their offerings to those specific customers rather than chasing after the whole planet of potential computer buyers, smartphone buyers, etc. The more targeted and exact the message, the better their sales. This is counter-intuitive to the “I sell to everyone” crowd…any maybe you? Maybe you are wondering what this has to do with selling on Amazon.com?
With Amazon.com we are not necessarily invested in the success of any one product beyond how many units we have at the warehouse. Today I’ll sell Disney princess sheets, tomorrow it will be Hello Kitty or Avengers and I don’t really care what you are looking for as long as you buy mine when you come out to the listing, right? Sort of. You want to sell your product at the highest price the market will bear, right? Yes! You don’t want to survive on a 10% margin do you? No. You want to sell popular, fast-selling products, right? Yep. And as long as you have the lowest price, you win the Buy Box, right? No. Wait, wha…???
That’s right. The Buy Box is not determined by price alone. I have one client, for example, that is the lowest price on all his Amazon offerings but he does not have a single Buy Box. Why is this? Poor seller metrics. I’m working with him to fix the problem and I’m confident we’ll have him back in business again, soon, but his sales plummeted to the floor when he got four negative feedbacks on one day and lost his good standing.
To look at competing on Amazon.com, let’s go back to Truism #2: You have something the other guy doesn’t. Believe it. Own it. You have yourself and that is a lot of resource. Your business will be different from anyone else’s no matter how similar your inventory might be. You can compete by using your smarts and knowledge creatively:
- Be in good standing. The better your seller metrics with Amazon, the more frequently you will get the Buy Box over someone else with poorer metrics selling the same product. You can even charge a higher price and still beat them because you are a strong seller. Watch after your metrics carefully. Address unhappy buyers swiftly, solicit positive feedback to counterbalance negative feedback and generally just be a good, honest seller who is willing to do your darndest to make Amazon’s customer happy. It pays.
- Sell in categories not available to every other seller. If you are approved in apparel, for example, you can sell a lot more costumes than folks who are only approved for toys. When adding new products to the Amazon catalog, you need to be honest about where it goes, but there are quite a few ambiguous products that could go in multiple categories. If you are approved for automotive and want to sell Chilton manuals in automotive instead of books, that’s perfectly OK. Chilton manuals are sold by part number as well as ISBN#s. They could go either way. Disney Princess backpacks can go in toy, luggage…you get the idea. It is OK to pick what works best for you – after all you went through all the trouble to get approved in these categories for a reason! I’m in grocery, beauty and collectible books with my eye on some other categories to pursue after the holidays.
- Use better tools. Whenever sellers tell me that something I use or do is “too expensive,” I’m happy to hear it as a competitor. My scanning tools, my repricing tools, my listing tools have all been described as expensive and that’s OK with me. I know they make me a better seller and it is worth the cost for the return I get – especially given the limited time I have to spend on my business. A lot of new sellers who take my classes, for example, don’t have a Scanfob yet. It can take them hours to scan 30-40 products with the camera in their phones. In the same time I may have scanned 300-400 products. That’s why I find more at stores than they do right now. In the beginning we all have tight budgets, but I strongly encourage serious sellers to upgrade as soon as they can afford it. Until then, they have to work harder than I do to find anything.
- Focus on what you know. To sell the whole world of Amazon can be overwhelming. Most successful sellers start with something they know and expand outwards as they grow more confident. The first time I shopped with my friend Susan years ago, she went right to the pet department. Even though I was teaching her, I had never bought anything in pets before. She pointed out some popular dog toys and dog training tools and I expanded into pets that day. Because she loves animals and has multiple fur babies, pets were a natural for her to start with. Do you have a hobby, medical condition, dietary requirement, sport or other special interest? That may be a good place for your business to begin. Rather than shop the entire Target for merchandise, start with your area of interest and scan it thoroughly. Go to specialty stores that are having sales. Buy wholesale if you have that interest and expertise. Start from your strength.
- Use your notes strategically. Think about the ways you can distinguish your product from the next guy’s. My product notes might say, for example, “sealed in plastic to protect from dust in the warehouse.” Now you as a seller, you know for a fact that everyone’s product is poly bagged on that listing because it is an Amazon requirement. But the customer looking at several listings at similar prices might decide to choose the one that seems the most clean and cared for – mine. You may not want to take time with each listing to create notes, but perhaps if some of your products are languishing, you might want to look and see if you can zip them up a bit description-wise. Also, most third-party listing programs allow you to create notes and then have them automatically added to your merchandise with no extra effort.
- Be smart about the listings you create. When you are creating the listing for the first time, there is a lot you can do to help increase your sales. Be sure to spend time on your listing and give it the best picture. Use tools like Merchant Words to help you choose the best keywords for your product. They are the Google search tool of Amazon.com, basically. Use your five bullet points and paragraph description to not only inform customers but to help them understand the experience they will have using this product: “Breeze through tedious mopping with….,” “Play for hours with…” “Experience the thrill of…” While it is true that future sellers may also sell under your listing and benefit from your efforts – it is only fair. You’ve sold on their listings, too. For the short term, you will be the only seller of this product – do everything you can to encourage buyers to buy your product instead of some similar product that might be on Amazon.
- Buy low. Seems obvious, but not everyone is as strategic about this as they could be. If you buy costumes in early November and save them for next year, you will make a lot more money at Halloween next year than the other guy who didn’t think about that – and there are hundreds of examples of this in all different categories. I wrote a blog post about timing your purchases to buy at the absolutely lowest price. Think about this, too, if the other guy paid more for his item than you, you have much greater flexibility in repricing and a better chance of making your margin. Also, some of these costumes are going to sell great at Christmas as little girls still want to be princesses and boys still want to be superheroes or wear Minecraft heads. If you know when the peak selling time is coming for your category, then you can make sure you are stocked up in plenty of time for the sales. We are all in Christmas frenzy right now. Who among us is thinking about Valentine’s Day? You should be. You’ll want to have your VD inventory at Amazon by mid-January at the latest.
- Create unique products that are hard to duplicate. This is a bit advanced for the new seller, I realize, but in time you will naturally start thinking about putting products together to sell on Amazon. This happens a lot in food as you see folks selling cake mixes and frosting together, for example, but it can happen in any category. I have a unique product on Amazon that cannot be duplicated. I sell my book and DVD as a bundle. Since I’m the publisher, I’m the only one who can get the product new and cheaply enough to re-sell online. There are thousands of other possibilities out there. You don’t have to write a book to have a unique product offering.
- Understand your customer. In this case I’m thinking about the customer who might buy your unique products or most expensive, most profitable items. How can you target your offering to that person? What are they looking for? Can you be more strategic with your personal description? Can you update the key words to draw more customers overall to your listing? If you tend to sell niche products (pets for example), maybe you want to communicate your love of pets and the fact that you sell many other pet products to your customer. You can’t put a note in your package like you can with eBay, but you can communicate with your customer through Amazon’s own platform. As an example, Feedback Genius* is helping me communicate in a more meaningful way with my customers to encourage them to buy from me again – as well as increasing the number of positive feedbacks I’m getting from my customers. I can customize my follow-up emails based on category, ASIN, condition…so many ways!
- Amazon advertising is easy, cheap and effective. If someone clicks on your ad to go to your listing, you will be in the Buy Box when they get there. Obviously, you don’t need to advertise a product where you only have a few units, but if you have a lot of an item and you have competitors, this is one way to edge them out and get more sales from the Buy Box. I have several items that I buy in bulk and advertising makes sure I’m selling them every week. Check out my previous blog on advertising to learn more about how it works and how to set up your own ads.
In addition to these positive, proactive things you can do, there are a few things you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t be evil. The last few days I’ve personally experienced several nasty tactics by competitors messing with my listings by trying to switch them to ridiculous categories, changing the descriptions, deleting my pictures and other dirty tricks. Their hope, I guess, is that I’ll get unhappy customers who think they are buying one thing and get another instead. Or they want Amazon to suspend my ability to sell my grocery item because it is now in Apparel (really? C’mon!). What they don’t realize is that not only can I dispute their changes, but I can file a policy violation if I think their actions are deliberate. Is it really worth losing your selling privileges on Amazon.com? Don’t be evil. It’s not worth it.
- Don’t lie to your customer. Amazon had to shut down the Jewelry category and sales of Frozen items because of rampant counterfeiting. Both will eventually be back up after an extensive audit but the fakers and shady people ruined it for themselves as well as everyone else by not playing by the rules. We are all going to miss out on a lot of great potential sales this holiday season because of the behaviors of some liars and cheats.
- Don’t break the rules. I know of several people who lost their selling privileges because they either weren’t familiar with Amazon’s policies or didn’t care. If you remember nothing else about selling on Amazon, remember this – Amazon sides with the customer and the customer’s experience nearly every time. Don’t think about yourself when something goes wrong, think about the customer. It is better to suck up some losses and keep selling than lose your ability to sell altogether.
- Don’t lower your price unnecessarily. This one is a tricky one. Amazon is delighted if we all lower our prices and sell our products at a loss or very low margin. It is good for the customer. It is bad for you and other sellers, however. In most cases where there are multiple offers for a product, you will be sharing the Buy Box. The question is, at what price? If you match your competitor rather than lowering the price, you will still both share the Buy Box BUT you will both make more money per item than if you lower it. Lower prices do not necessarily equal more Buy Box time unless your prices are a LOT lower. People who tell me they can’t make any money on Amazon are often selling at rock bottom prices where there is no margin. They feel they have to price there in order to compete but that is not true in the majority of cases. If they would wait a few weeks, they could often get the higher price they crave and the fast sales. Also, now that you know of some other ways to compete, you may be able to sell your product now at a higher price than your competitor.
Many of you saw my outraged post on Facebook about the person or people who were targeting me and messing with my listings. I unintentionally created an atmosphere of fear when I did this as people thought, “if it could happen to her, what about me?” I would like to state emphatically that nothing absolutely nothing should deter you from selling on Amazon. If this business is supporting your dreams, making it possible for you to reach your goals and improving your life, don’t let anything stop you. Not even evil doings by other sellers.
While it made me angry, I’ve been in business long enough to experience dirty dealings in pretty much any field I’ve ever worked in. Some people are liars, cheats and evil competitors. The best way to deal with them is to keep succeeding despite their attempts to bring you down. Let your anger drive you to better performance. Make them choke on their evil, black hearts. Uh…still working on the Zen and centered calm thing there. But the lesson is relevant. There will be people that make you super angry with their bad behavior. Turn it into determination and you will have the last laugh.
A few years ago I discovered a seller who was copying my inventory. She and I had more shared inventory than I had with my closest friends and my father – all of whom I shop with and share deals with. I was indignant and mad at first. I considered sending her a nasty email through Amazon.com (I had her store name after all). In the end I not only did nothing, I stopped caring and stopped looking. I realized that she was stupid if she was letting me do her thinking for her. She didn’t know why I was listing the inventory I was or for how much I bought it. She was going to lose her shirt on a few items that I got for free or at garage sales and maybe then start thinking for herself. Or not. I don’t care.
I was angry because I felt she was stealing from me and my hard work, but in reality I’m doing just fine. I’m still here years later helping to support my family with my Amazon business. People who try to cheat their way to success usually end up getting what they deserve. People who are so jealous of your success that they try to undermine you are pitiful and pathetic. They will never succeed and their jealousy will eat them alive. I’ve seen this before and I know one thing – I’m still here.
Some of you were so kind to share your stories with me about others who attacked you, tried to mess with you, etc., and I was not only horrified – some of you have been through much worse than me – but also inspired because every generous person who took the opportunity to call me or email me or PM me had the same encouraging message. They’d been through it and were on the other side. They were still selling. They are more aware and wiser…and also better and stronger. This outpouring of kindness and support moved me greatly and deflated the anger. Here’s a whole community of my so-called competitors willing to support me. How can I stay angry after all that? I am lucky and blessed.
If you are discouraged right now about competition and selling on Amazon right now, please take heart from my experience and remember there are truly wonderful people in our business who see you as a colleague rather than an enemy. They will help you find answers and do what it takes to be a better seller. They realize, as I do, that it is in all of our best interest to have Amazon populated by serious sellers with integrity. You might be Microsoft and I might be Apple but that doesn’t mean we are enemies. There is room for both our approaches in the marketplace.
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