Amazon’s 2018 Seller Summit, Boost with FBA Sizzles In More Ways Than One – Lessons Learned While I Sweated
Last week I took two of my consultants with me to Amazon’s Boost with FBA conference. Among the three of us, most of the topics were covered and we spoke to a lot of Amazon sellers. We also asked questions. Roy Miller – with input from Brad Tucker and me – put together this week’s blog for all of us to learn.
Amazon’s Boost with FBA has never been hotter. Seriously.
Last week’s Boost with FBA in New Orleans was hosted at Mardi Gras World, a great venue filled to the gills with sellers of all types. And yes, the A/C went on the fritz, so sellers were doing more than sharing and learning. They were doing a good deal of sweating as well. Regardless, the education, strategic direction from Amazon and the best benefit of all – meeting hundreds of sellers – was well worth the 2-day stay in the Big Easy.
Here are some of the highlights.
It’s amazing what an Amazon seller will share when you tell them you specialize in ASIN and account reinstatements. At times, I felt like I needed a red cape and super powers. No doubt, sellers are increasingly stressed by the fumbles and foibles of an Amazon that still doesn’t seem to hear one of their top constituents: third-party sellers.
Sellers are worried about lost inventory and suspensions that come out of nowhere. Be it an ASIN or an account, a few sellers shared their woes about their own suspension journeys. Some shared how friends had given up and moved on. Others shared how they chose to stay the course and hope for the best. One seller shared how she lost $40,000 to scammers who promised turnkey logistics, distribution and product management support in conjunction with Amazon. The scammers took the money and ran. All she got was empty pockets.
As a Boost with FBA newbie, I chose to use my ears more than my mouth. I left the summit with a greater awareness that sellers need champions to guide them, encourage them and drive their accounts to greater success. I’m glad I can be part of that.
The main focus of this summit was to get Amazon’s take on “what’s next” for sellers. The big themes seemed to be going global and the ongoing mantra about Customer Obsession. Here are the Big Things we heard at the conference:
Get In On Going Global. Today, less than 25% of sellers are global. Going global means sellers can tap 180 countries through 13 different Amazon Marketplaces, with 31 countries in Europe. Going global also helps your sales extend sales peaks since they have different holidays and different seasons.
Troublesome Taxes. Taxation issues are already hitting sellers hard. More so now than ever in the United States and Europe. One Amazonian said every seller in the UK and Europe needs to quickly deal with VAT issues. We’ve seen this in our practice. Because of the Finance Act of 2018, hundreds of sellers are being suspended while the VAT issues are worked out. And just days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court is making taxation a bigger national issue for sellers as it allows states to come after us even if we don’t have nexus in a state. Be prepared. Be ready.
Checkout What’s in The Euro Checkout. Interesting to note that listings in Europe, when the final cost is shown, do NOT include any taxes related to the product’s final price. The speaker said to MAKE SURE your pricing strategy accounts for the taxes BEFORE you list the product.
New Seller Central Dashboard provides product quality insights and new metrics. Amazon demo-ed its new dashboard, “The Voice of the Customer,” that is likely to roll out at the end of summer. Beyond typical performance metrics, the new dashboard will give you deeper insight into buyer complaints, product quality issues and which ASINs are in danger of getting shut down by Amazon. Instead of hunting through spreadsheets, buyer-seller messages and seller feedback to find out what buyers are telling you about your product, the dashboard will pull it all in to one place. Amazon will rank and highlight ASINs where problems are building up so sellers can address them before the ASIN is suspended. It’s a fantastic tool for sellers. We signed up for the beta – stay tuned.
Cynthia notes this is one of the biggest and most meaningful changes to the dashboard Amazon has made in years. It is the kind of information that sellers desperately need but have trouble pulling together on their own because of all the reports and cross-checking required. We do this weekly for our clients and know the effort involved. In the future we will be able to focus more on how to fix the problem and not spend so much time each week pulling reports.
Account Services for Sellers: You Mean A Live Human Being at Amazon? Sellers facing account and ASIN difficulties often find seller performance and seller support to be inadequate, if not downright misleading and impotent. Call three times and get three different answers.
Amazon sellers will now be able to hire a dedicated Amazon account manager to help navigate their business and resolve issues. Costs, terms and scope weren’t definitive, but it looks like sellers will pay anywhere from $700 a month to $5,000 per month for these services. Again, the scope of deliverables, number of hours of service, types of services, etc. weren’t specific.
The Amazon presenters did specify on at least three occasions: Amazon account managers CANNOT reinstate your ASINs or accounts, or get you brand approved, or gate your brands, but they can help navigate the processes.
Cynthia’s 2 cents – it would be a huge conflict of interest and highly unethical if Amazon were to profit off suspending sellers. From our clients’ experiences with a strategic account manager in the past, we know they are firm about not stepping over that line. Do not hire an Amazon account manager because you hope they can fix all your policy violations or ASIN/Account suspensions. Hire them to help you grow and expand your operations.
Amazon is also likely going to be reducing the human workforce dedicated to regular sellers. They touted their new technology to use increased AI and bots to scan messages and create more templated responses [insert sigh here – Really? MORE templated answers?!?]. Amazon is putting the human touch at a premium and offering it for sale, basically.
Supply Chain Connect: It’s Coming. This pilot program will centralize all communications and interaction, so a seller can better manage its suppliers, all from one place, one portal. This centralization, per Amazon, eases the inefficiencies and discrepancies inherent within the supply chain. If a seller has “registered” all of its suppliers into one place, that makes it easier to research, confirm and recognize suppliers that produce authentic and authorized products…or so we thought.
Cynthia’s thoughts: When I asked them if Amazon was going to use this system to help prove authenticity and reduce inauthentic claims the answer was a big “NO.” Right now, it is only a seller-filled database. They have no immediate plans to integrate it into seller performance, use it to vet suppliers or use it to reduce counterfeit and inauthentic on the platform. Womp-womp.
Regardless, this should still be a useful tool for sellers, and it is free. Many sellers use outside software to manage their suppliers. This may make it possible to replace some of these more expensive solutions. Time will tell.
Helping Brands Grow-Wholesale sellers are not going anywhere anytime soon. But Amazon is investing heavily in tools and resources to help REPUTABLE private label brands grow. Amazon is pushing to drive brands to use enhanced brand content, Amazon exclusive listings, Amazon storefront and intellectual property to register your brand. Although these tools can be used for generic white-label items, brands that invest in and develop unique products with engaging histories will have greater levels of support and promotion from Amazon.
Expectations for Continual Improvement-Amazon is rolling out incredibly useful tools to help you stay in touch with the needs of your customers, which is both good news and bad news for sellers. Amazon’s expectations of third-party sellers are higher than ever. You will likely need to have dedicated staff in place to respond to multiple channels of customer interaction and be prepared to have continual improvement plans in place.
Cynthia notes that we already handle the demands of 24/7 customer service for some of our clients – especially those selling on international platforms – so they can sleep at night. These new tools will help us help our clients, but we are also aware it means Amazon wants all sellers to up their game. I would not be surprised to see changing customer service metrics (12-hour response rather than 24 hours?) and new ones added to our dashboards.
Amazon met with roughly 2000 sellers face-to-face at a quality event full of enthusiastic, zealous entrepreneurs seeking to improve their businesses and engage their peers. These sellers came to listen, share, question and, yes, complain. Amazon listened. The interaction with the Amazonians at Boost with FBA was amazing, and it was the best reason for attending. There were 180 Amazonians representing more than 20 programs, new initiatives and beta programs.
The Amazon message remains loud and clear: Customer obsession. Innovation drives the success flywheel, and sellers have more opportunity than ever to succeed. I left inspired, educated, sweaty and wishing there had more focus on supporting sellers’ efforts towards suspension prevention.
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