Originally published on Forbes.
At the end of 2020, Amazon boasted a $1.6 trillion valuation and employed more than 1.1 million people. In a blog post by Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s former CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, Amazon reported that they delivered over 1.5 billion products worldwide during their biggest holiday season ever. According to Marketplace Pulse, nearly 200,000 new third-party sellers hopped onto the Amazon bandwagon in 2020. In 2020, investors sunk over $1 billion into companies focused on acquiring Amazon-centric brands, such as Thrasio, Heyday, and Perch.
With Amazon’s scale and the shift toward consolidation within the marketplace, brands not yet on Amazon may be wondering if they’ve missed the boat. Is 2021 too late to enter the Amazon game?
No. But, the boat is very crowded. Gone are the days when you could “build the plane on the way down.” In 2021, you have to enter Amazon ready to hit the ground running.
My company has served over 4,000 brands and helped launch thousands of products on Amazon. Drawing on that experience, here are 5 critical steps that I would suggest your brand take before you’re ready to start selling on Amazon in 2021.
The first step is deciding what you want to sell on Amazon. How you decide may differ depending on whether you are expanding an established brand to Amazon or launching an Amazon-exclusive line.
If starting with an established brand, you could take your top sellers and evergreen products to Amazon. Alternatively, you could differentiate your Amazon offerings from your other sales channels, listing different colors or sizes than what’s available elsewhere, online-exclusive bundles, or new products. You could even use Amazon for liquidation, selling end-of-season products and excess stock.
If you’re launching an Amazon-exclusive product line, then you can take the traditional route of researching consumer interest, competition, and costs to identify which products and features offer the greatest potential.
Perhaps the least glamorous step, filing the appropriate paperwork is nevertheless critical for success. As soon as you’re able, you should file for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as it takes around 6 months to complete. While you’re at it, also file for a patent, if applicable. Having a trademark will enable you to enroll in Amazon’s Brand Registry program, which provides access to additional marketing services and brand protection tools.
You should also obtain universal product codes (UPCs or colloquially, bar codes) for every product in your catalog through GS1.
Last but not least, you must conduct safety and product testing. Amazon’s compliance requirements are often stricter than federal requirements. In my company’s experience, the most restricted Amazon categories are Baby, Beauty, Health & Personal Care, and Grocery. You should have your product tested in a reputable lab, such as Intertek, UL, CTT, or Bureau Veritas. Such labs often provide a regulatory analysis that can help you determine all relevant compliance requirements for your product.
Next, it’s time to map your supply chain. Connect with your manufacturers to discuss lead times and material accessibility so you can account for it in your demand planning.
From the manufacturer, the product’s next stop is a warehouse, which means you need to secure a warehouse solution that can store inventory and take returns. The obvious choice here is Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), but as 2020 showed us, it’s dangerous to keep all your eggs in one basket. You’d be wise to create secondary solutions that can supplement FBA in the event of Amazon-imposed shipment restrictions to FBA warehouses. This may involve creating a dropship solution or using a third-party fulfillment provider.
You’ve selected high opportunity products, filed the necessary paperwork, and planned your supply chain. Now, you’re ideally positioned to create an Amazon Seller account. Though they are infamously easy to ignore, you should take the time to read Amazon’s Terms of Service so you understand your rights as a seller.
Once your account is created, you can start creating product listings on Amazon. Create these listings in advance, but don’t publish them until your first round of inventory is in stock.
As you near the finish line, it’s time to focus on your marketing strategy, which is essential to your success on this crowded marketplace. Start with the basics: Research 5-15 competitors on Amazon, then perform a SWOT analysis to identify opportunities. What features do they highlight in images and copy? How many reviews do they have and what do they say? What are their prices? Are they running ads?
Once you understand the landscape, create content that highlights your differentiating factors. Amazon is only growing more saturated, so you need high–quality images, videos, and search engine optimized copy to stand out. A+ Content and Amazon Stores are also helpful assets. To help generate brand awareness quicker, you should create an active social media account for audience engagement.
You should also allocate a sizable marketing budget for Amazon advertising. Sponsored Product Ads are the highest converting ad types on Amazon, but Sponsored Brand Ads and Sponsored Display Ads are also useful for increasing brand name recognition. Using a mix provides the best results for new brands, in my experience.
Launching on Amazon is exhilarating, and you’re likely eager to see some immediate results. But still, be patient; building relevancy for SEO and advertising takes time. Amazon is a flourishing platform that has enabled tremendous growth for many brands. Starting with these five steps is a great way to become another one.