This article was originally published on Forbes on June 22, 2020.
Selling on Amazon is full of challenges, but some of those challenges are unnecessary. I lead a company that’s helped over 4,000 brands sell on Amazon over the last 12 years, and during that time, we’ve seen a lot of mistakes, some of which are shockingly common. To help remedy this problem, I’ve put together the seven most common mistakes we see brands make on Amazon and how to fix them.
When brands first embark on Amazon, many have the belief that having more sellers equates to more sales, which in turn equates to more purchase orders. While brands may receive more purchase orders, we’ve seen this approach lead to unforeseen problems hundreds of times.
Having too many sellers, especially if you’re not collaborating closely with each, creates the “too many cooks” problem. Since any seller in the listing can edit listing content and set their own price, inconsistencies and inaccuracies can quickly appear. Low-quality images and poor wording misrepresent your brand, and fluctuating prices can make shoppers question product authenticity. Sellers are likely to compete on pricing, risking a race to zero, which hinders their ability to place future purchase orders.
There are also problems for marketing: When multiple sellers run marketing for the same listing, their ads compete, driving up costs without generating more sales.
To fix this issue, we advise two steps: 1) Work with one or only a few sellers so you maintain control over your brand’s online representation, and 2) ensure that your contracts limit to whom buyers can sell your product, helping mitigate the risk of unauthorized sellers.
Running marketing only on Amazon is a tactical error because it leaves opportunities on the table. Running off-Amazon marketing — such as paid search, paid social, and influencer marketing — increases the number of shoppers you can reach and the number of touchpoints guiding them to purchase. By leveraging both on- and off-platform marketing, brands create a feedback loop of more visibility, which leads to more traffic, which leads to more sales, which improves organic product placement, which leads to more visibility…and the cycle continues.
This is a much more grievous sin. Halting marketing during the off-season is a serious mistake because Amazon marketing takes months to gain good traction. By turning off marketing during slow sales seasons, brands are essentially surrendering ground to competitors. When their sales season comes back around, they have to claw their way back to where they left off instead of being positioned to capture new market share.
To fix this issue, don’t ever turn off marketing completely. It makes sense to reduce marketing spend during slow seasons when competition isn’t as fierce, but you should never completely fall off the radar.
Another common error is failing to align your Amazon strategy with your overall brand strategy. For example, a brand may run promotions off Amazon that are not carried through to Amazon or produce new stunning images and brilliant copy for their website but don’t update their Amazon listings with them. Amazon is a growing marketplace and needs to align and complement your overall strategy if you want to maximize your online sales.
It’s never been a good idea to make misleading or inaccurate claims in product listings. Such claims result in suppressed listings and account shutdowns, which can cost a brand thousands in sales.
This mistake is likely to become an even bigger issue, as Amazon faces increased scrutiny. Before the coronavirus captured our attention, congress was considering the Shop Safe Act, which would hold Amazon responsible for counterfeit or noncompliant products sold on its platform. Based on our own data, we saw the early indications of how Amazon would respond in February when it tripled their requests for proof of product testing.
If your listings contain unsubstantiated claims or have not passed U.S. safety testing, then you need to fix that.
Selling on Amazon is not like traditional retail, and neither are the profit margins. These three factors are commonly overlooked or misunderstood:
1. Amazon fees: Amazon collects a sales commission as well as shipping, storage and fulfillment fees. These fees take a large chunk out of profit margins.
2. Inventory errors: Sometimes, Amazon’s fulfillment centers lose or damage inventory, overcharge fees or underreimburse. While its automatic systems catch most of these errors, it misses some. Those errors add up, eating into profit margin.
3. Marketing: Marketing costs money. Some brands see that and stop there. But if your marketing is effective, the profits exceed the costs, sometimes dramatically so. If your profit margins are narrow, you should consider investing in marketing to widen them.
Addressing these issues starts with gathering data. You don’t know what you don’t know, so start by pulling reports and analyzing data. If you discover a red flag, you can seek help. There are many agencies, consultants, and software applications available that help optimize shipments to Amazon, identify reimbursement cases and improve marketing efficiency.
All too often, we see brands sending way too much inventory into Amazon warehouses without realizing that Amazon will charge long-term storage (LTS) fees, especially around peak seasons. On the other side, we also see brands sending in too few units, resulting in out-of-stocks. Running out of stock harms marketing performance and organic product placement, creating a domino effect that can be tough to bounce back from even when stock is replenished.
To fix these errors, you or your seller needs accurate sales forecasting, which is typically obtained through software.
Amazon truly is like navigating a jungle, but there are many experts who can help. Alternatively, you can push up your sleeves yourself and dig into the many resources about selling on Amazon. The Amazon opportunity is too great to ignore.