As a First-to-Market (FTM) brand, you carry the exciting burden of readying your products for a successful expansion onto the marketplace. Being the captain of your fate can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming, especially when breaking ground in a foreign market.
If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that anything can happen. It’s important to understand that there’s no ‘silver bullet’ for launching a new product or brand, but there are proven tactics recounted here to help you successfully navigate the ecommerce seas.
Amazon is turning into a marketplace that is well positioned for brands, as having made strides to keep brands safe on the channel through programs like Brand Registry. Amazon seems to understand and hold stock in the fact that brands invest in research and development, advertise through other media outlets, engage with customers, and create a shopping experience that excites folks so they come back for more.
The Two Types of FTM Products
An FTM launch will look different for each brand, but we can divide the launch types into two very broad buckets: emerging products and established products.
Often, an Amazon launch consists of a manufacturer creating a product or products with specific intent to sell them on the Amazon channel only. We would call this an emerging product.
Established products, on the other hand, are products that have been selling for years in small brick and mortar stores, large box stores, Etsy, direct websites, and even farmer’s markets, and the brand now wants to transition their catalog to online marketplaces.
Brand genesis is an important factor that will play into a brand’s overall FTM strategy, so it’s an important distinction.
For those brands who do have some form of exposure already, be it online or in a physical store, step one will be determining which products from your catalog will be added to Amazon.
With the pandemic forcing many brands to look to online platforms to maintain profitability, there’s been a rapid and unique shift in the ecommerce landscape, so again, remember that the FTM strategy will look different for all brands.
For manufacturers that are looking to create a product line exclusively for Amazon or ecommerce marketplaces, there are fewer ‘keeping everyone happy’ hoops and more ‘what products can I rely on to sell’ hoops, which is just as tricky of a situation.
With roughly 12 million items on Amazon.com, you need to know who and what is out there before you drop your anchor. There is a range of free and paid options to help research product opportunities, which are highly recommended for existing brands and new products alike.
Company owners often turn to index & rank checkers and search volume tools to ascertain what products currently sell well on the channel, then further research whether the items are viable for production, and then finally, launch.
Getting That Paper. (Not the Green Kind. Yet).
We’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t the sexiest section of this guide, but it could be the most important. Having your general business in order is key to avoiding frustrating lag times during set up.
The enclosed checklist is a fantastic aid for maneuvering through this section, since the majority of the tasks discussed below will require you to work with government agencies and third parties to compile the necessary paperwork. We’ve included helpful links that will take you exactly where you need to go.
- Secure your trademark with USPTO. In totality, this process can take 6 months, so the earlier you begin, the better. You will need to have a trademark in order to file for the Brand Registry program on Amazon.
- Secure UPC codes (synonymous with barcodes and international EAN) for every unique product in your catalog. This includes product variations, like size or color.
- Certain products require testing and material information in order to be approved for resale on Amazon.
- Set up processes for tracking, storing, and filing sales and use tax. Once you are a registered business within that state, you will need to file a report annually with the Secretary of State and track the expiration date of your license so you can renew, as needed.
- Pull together all contact information, identification, and accounting paperwork necessary for opening an Amazon Seller Central account.
- Determine your fulfillment strategy, as the route you take will determine whether you get the highly sought-after Prime delivery badge.
Download our free First-to-Market Checklist to see if your brand is ready to launch new products on Amazon.
Next up, it’s time to plan how you’re going to get inventory from point A to point B in the most effective and secure way possible. This became quite a bit trickier in 2020, which strained supply chains at every juncture. As such, approaching these steps with care is even more important.
Plan Early with Your Manufacturer
Start planning with your manufacturer early to confirm availability of raw materials and start calculating cost of goods. Confirm lead-times with your manufacturer to assess timing for your initial shipments into Amazon, as well as align your future inventory planning ability for stock replenishment and gauging timing for any new product development.
Apply Amazon-Compliant Packaging during Production
For sake of efficiency, having your product packaging modified for Amazon compliance during production is highly recommended. Be sure to include expiration dates, shelf-life, age restrictions and UPC/barcode on the product packaging for Amazon.
- If you plan to launch on Amazon Global marketplaces in the future, include multi-language packaging and product directions
- If you sell temperature sensitive products, note that Amazon removes any meltable product from warehouses April-October
The actual product packaging (the box the product comes in), it doesn’t have to be pretty! Feel free to shave off some costs and use a plain brown box that has a scannable barcode on the outside. Or, if you choose to polybag the product, then you’ll need to make sure your warehouse can apply all product prep to be acceptable at FBA.
Secure Your Distribution Contracts
For brands that are established in the market already but looking to expand into the Amazon marketplace, you should notify your distributors and develop parameters to ensure other resellers do not become instant competition. Having iron clad online distribution policies and strict MSRP will be extraordinarily useful as your brand gains momentum on the channel and outside parties become interested in claiming a piece of the pie.
There are legal resources and consulting partners that specialize in strategy development to keep online channels clean, such as Amazon Sellers Lawyer, that can help you understand your legal options and reduce the chances of channel conflict or price degradation post-launch.
Create a Warehousing Plan
Begin building relationships with a warehouse solutions partner quickly. Many brands will use an independent warehouse solution to hold stock that has been manufactured domestically or imported to reduce monthly storage fees to Amazon. Most often, independent warehouse partners will have a competitive fee structure compared to Amazon FBA.
Product that sits at FBA longer than 12 months will be subject to increased fees under their Long-Term Storage policy. Other brands may lean on established supply chain partners like Deliverr to facilitate storage and shipping which guarantee Amazon compliance.
Send a Small Initial Shipment
Your initial shipment into Amazon should be small to help troubleshoot any unforeseen issues and reduce fees as you ramp up sales velocity. Roughly 20-50 units should suffice, with a secondary shipment sent 1-2 weeks after. Once product has been selling on Amazon for 30 days, subsequent shipments should include roughly 4-6 weeks of coverage, increasing upwards of 8-12 weeks during relevant seasonality.
Time Your Launch Strategically
Having time is a luxury. But timing is a necessity. Do not rush a launch for sake of excitement. Examine your product and pick your launch timing with intent. Will your catalog align with the back to school season, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.? Kick off the main event when the opportunity is greatest.
Keep the Learning Going with our Free eBook
The above only tips only scratch the surface. Deep dive into everything your brand should do before launching on Amazon in our free eBook, “How to Launch New Products on Amazon.”