Your online store is your home base, where you showcase your brand, connect with your audience and ultimately sell your products. That said, there are now many ways to reach and sell to existing and new audiences with Shopify channels.
In particular, Shopify’s new Amazon integration offers you the opportunity to connect with potential customers searching on its marketplace. With all of your products managed in Shopify, you can create Amazon listings, link already existing Amazon listings, sync inventory, and fulfill orders. For more details on setting up Shopify’s Amazon channel, use this step-by-step guide and install the channel here.
Shopify’s integration with Amazon is exciting news for many brands, and it’s okay to have questions: Why should I sell on Amazon? How do I manage pricing between my Shopify store and Amazon? What does it take to grow a business on Amazon, and for the long-term? What options and programs are available on Amazon that I should utilize?
The goal of this guide is to tackle these questions and help you understand how to create and grow a profitable and sustainable business on Amazon. I’m a former Amazon Category Manager, and now run an ecommerce consultancy that helps dozens of brands sell on Amazon.
I believe in growing your business for the long term, and not wasting time on short-term hacks that can put your account at risk for getting suspended or terminated. I certainly believe that things can be done quickly, since that is especially required in ecommerce, while at the same time be on the right side of the terms of service and guidelines set by Amazon. If this interests you, keep on reading.
While it’s nearly impossible to create an all-encompassing guide to Amazon, by the end of this guide you should have a better understanding of how to optimize your time and what key things you have control of in order to build a business on Amazon. This includes both strategic and executional guidance, as I believe the ‘why’ is just as important as the ‘how’. So let’s get started!
The Opportunity in Marketplaces
Branded store vs Marketplace
Often times when I meet an entrepreneur or someone representing a large brand, they tell me they “only sell on their own website” (often referred to as ‘direct to consumer’), or they “only sell on Amazon.”
When I follow up and ask why, they believe it’s best to only focus on one channel. I typically hear responses like: “I want to own the entire relationship with customers,” “Amazon seems like such a headache,” or “I focus on Amazon because no one can find my website.”
While I’m not entirely ruling out this ‘all or nothing’ approach since it work for some brands and sellers, I’m a big believe that most brands can profitability grow their business if they do both: have their own branded store and sell on marketplaces (i.e. Amazon).
A commissioned study by Forrester Consulting found that marketplaces are likely to boost customer loyalty, increase average order values, and build trust.
Several reasons are listed below, but in summary you can use both a branded web store and marketplaces to complement each other. It reduces customer dependency on a single sales channel, but also provides customers an option for additional discoverability and buying features. Many customers are die-hard Amazon customers (example: I buy everything from my toilet paper to cereal on Amazon), so by exposing your products to these regular Amazon users, there’s a higher likelihood, they’ll find you and purchase from you through the channel they’re already comfortable with.
Those with less allegiance to Amazon may enjoy the experience of browsing your website and engaging with your brand. Your email subscription offer, remarketing ads and social media profiles make it easier to stay in touch with these more brand-focused shoppers.
The point is that many successful brands use both their branded web store and their presence on marketplaces to sustainably grow their business and that’s why the Shopify-Amazon integration was created.
4 Key Reasons To Sell On Amazon
1. Shoppers Often Begin Their Search on Amazon
A recent study by BloomReach stated that shoppers are twice as likely to start product research on Amazon than Google.
As this trend continues, it’s inevitable that customers will search for your product on Amazon, whether you decide to sell on its marketplace or not. Nearly 9 out of 10 customers check Amazon even if they find a product they want directly on a retailer’s site.
I have seen dozens of instances where selling on Amazon led to growth on branded sites. We’ve all been there: just before purchasing an item we pull out our phones to check the reviews on Amazon.
2. Amazon is a Great Additional Sales Channel
While conventional wisdom is that you should focus solely on a “direct” relationship with your customer, and mitigate reliance on retailers generating most of your revenue, as discussed, Amazon is a great sales channel to utilize in addition to your own Shopify site.
Often the worry is that Amazon will cannibalize all of your sales but the reality is that you can often maintain a healthy branded website in addition to Amazon. If done correctly, Amazon can become a great complement to your Shopify business very quickly.
3. Amazon Can Help Shoppers Discover Your Brand
Amazon can help build a sales funnel of potential customers that can eventually shop on your branded site. Many successful brands have launched on Amazon, and eventually get customers to purchase the same or additional items on their own site.
For example, Casper Mattress has healthy reviews on Amazon, but has almost 9x more reviews on their own site. The positive reviews on Amazon give Casper strong credibility for those considering buying on Casper’s site, and it also helps Amazon customers discover Casper’s recommended products. Additionally, there are several value-added services offered on Casper.com that can win over customers from purchasing on Amazon.
4. Amazon is an Open Marketplace
If you don’t create a listing for your brand on Amazon, than be prepared that a third-party seller can create it.
Should you trust an unknown party to manage the content, pricing, and exchange with customers on behalf of your brand? I assume most of you are shaking your head saying “no”, and with good reason.
For example, below are customer complaints about a Shark Tank product being sold by a third-party seller with no affiliation to the brand, and with a list price nearly 3x the price on the brand’s store.
What You Need to Sell on Amazon
There are several things to keep in mind before you start selling on Amazon, and I will try to highlight several of those key areas below. For one, keep in mind that not all categories are currently available for the integration between Shopify and Amazon, so review your catalog to ensure that you understand which product categories are currently eligible.
Secondly, you can get overwhelmed with all of the different terms, acronyms, programs, and requirements to sell on Amazon. I recommend you start off with a few products and test the waters before exporting all of your eligible products to Amazon as there will naturally be a learning lesson along the way. Finally, it is worth understanding what available options are out there for your products and which to pursue.
Making Your Way Around Amazon (Basics; Vendor vs. Seller)
While this guide is meant to summarize key strategies and initiatives you can use to grow your business on Amazon, let’s go over a few of the basics, starting with the difference between selling on Amazon (‘seller’, ‘3P’, or ‘marketplace seller’) and selling to Amazon (‘vendor’).
1. Amazon Seller Central with Fulfillment Options
When you’re a seller on Amazon’s marketplace, you own the inventory until a customer receives it. You can opt in to have Amazon facilitate fulfillment and customer service to customers or do it yourself (see below). In most cases, being a third-party seller is the easiest and least expensive way to start selling on Amazon. Sellers utilize the Seller Central portal, with some different features available than the Vendor Portals.
As a seller, you have two different fulfillment options:
- Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA). You send inventory to an Amazon Fulfillment Center (FC) and they manage shipping and returns from customers. You can control how much inventory to send to FCs as needed, and you pay storage fees for the product in addition to a fulfillment fee for every unit sold to customers. Keep in mind you, still own the inventory until a customer receives it.
- Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM). You fulfill directly to customers and manage shipping, returns and customer service. This is a good option for made-to-order products or for products that require a longer lead time for processing.
2. Amazon Vendor Express and Amazon Vendor Central
As an Amazon vendor, you sell direct wholesale to Amazon; they then own the product once they receive it. The available options are Vendor Express, which is open to anyone, or Vendor Central, an invite-only program.
Benefits of being a vendor:
- Vine program
- Self-service promotions including Gold Box Deals
- Marketing placements on category pages, corporate emails, etc.
- Access to additional category initiatives such as Gift Guides, Holiday Collections, etc.
- Access to programs such as Prime Now, Fresh and Pantry
- Lower chance of account being suspended for unknown reasons
Disadvantages of being a vendor:
- Less direct control over pricing
- Fulfillment is more complicated and offers less control
- Slower payment terms
- Typically is the more expensive model
- Increased reliance on Amazon Vendor Manager and Retail teams
While there is overlap between features available on the Seller vs. Vendor Portals, we will primarily focus the remainder of this post on features available on Seller Central since this is the focus of the Shopify-Amazon integration.
Account Suspensions & Listing Removals
While Amazon encourages sellers of all size to sell on the Amazon marketplace, it is laser focused on the customer experience and thus has the ability to warn, suspend, or block a seller account for poor performance metrics or for behavior it deems outside of its Terms of Service (‘TOS’).
It is critical that you maintain healthy performance target rates (i.e. order defect rate, late shipment rate, etc.) to prevent customers from having a poor customer experience. Amazon will typically give you notifications and warnings if you fall below those thresholds, and it may sometimes suspend the offer of a specific listing while it asks you to remedy any current issues. If the issues continue to exist, it can result in an overall account suspension, which then requires you to submit a Plan of Action (‘POA’) to plead why you should have your selling privileges restored.
Another, and more common, reason for account suspensions is for engaging in activities that Amazon states is a violation of their TOS. Examples include incentivizing unauthorized reviewers with free products or money, selling counterfeit items, rights owners notice complaints, soliciting only positive feedback from reviewers, and more. Additionally, opening up a second account without approval for multiple accounts could lead to a suspension.
In summary, once you launch your account it is your responsibility to ensure your performance metrics are healthy and that you ‘play by the rules’ – even if it seems like your competitors may not be (i.e. buying reviews from review clubs, posting fake reviews on competitive products, etc.). Your goal is to have a healthy and active account not only for now but also for the future.
Making Your Way Around Amazon: Additional Programs
There are no shortage of programs and opportunities for brands on Amazon. While we won’t be able to review every potential opportunity in this guide, we will summarize several of the key areas that you may be able to utilize to grow your brand.
Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA)
FBA is a service provided by Amazon where you can leverage Amazon’s fulfillment and customer service capabilities for your products. FBA allows brands to send product to Amazon Fulfillment Centers to be stored and fulfilled to customers.
Amazon also handles customer service and returns for FBA products, and the products become Prime Eligible as a result of the FBA program (this makes your products eligible for Free Two-Day shipping for Prime customers or Free Standard Shipping for Non-Prime customers).
The reason this is so important is that Prime customers spend considerably more than non-Prime customers, and many customers use the ‘Prime only’ filter when searching for products. A study from Piper Jaffray estimates that nearly 1 of every 2 households in the US has a Prime Membership, and several estimates from other firms claim that Prime Members spend at least 2-3 times more than non-Prime members.
In summary. if you do not use FBA, then you are responsible for storage, fulfillment, customer service, and returns for your product. Follow these instructions to connect Shopify with Fulfillment by Amazon.
Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP)
Many brands are unaware of the SFP program and that they could potentially qualify for making their products Prime Eligible through their own direct fulfillment to customers. To qualify for SFP, you need to meet a high performance bar and meet several metrics during a trial period required to enroll in the program. For example, you must be able to ship 99% of orders the same day you receive them (if orders come in after 2PM local time, orders can go out the next business day). Additionally, you can make your products Prime Eligible in certain regions if it is too costly to be Prime Nationwide. Keep in mind, if you’re in an eligible city, you can use Shopify’s integration with Postmates and Uber to provide same-day delivery to your local customers.
Amazon estimates that SFP listings that became Prime Eligible for the first time saw an average sales lift of more than 50%. Also worth noting that there is no additional cost to brands to enroll in SFP outside of the shipping cost.
Subscribe & Save
FBA Subscribe & Save allows customers to purchase eligible products at a discount through a subscription program. There is a wider range of categories that allow for Subscribe & Save, and it is a great option for products that customers buy regularly. This allows brands to build greater loyalty with customers, and reduces the chance that your customer will buy a competitor’s brand. To enroll for eligible products, your FBA account must be in good standing, have a feedback rating of 4.7 or above, and the account has to be active for at least 3 months.
The Brand Registry program has gone through several recent changes at Amazon, providing private label sellers with registered trademarks access to a variety of new tools. Namely, brand registry now requires a brand to register their character/word trademarks with the USPTO (or relevant government trademark office), and that the trademark must match the brand name printed on products or packaging.
This allows brands to utilize the brand registry tool to report and better manage their registered copyright or trademark infringements. Additionally, brand registry is now a requirement for several new tools that are opening up to sellers, including EBC (see section below), Amazon Stores (a new storefront for brands to showcase their brand and products, Headline Search ads, and more.
Because of the recent requirement for all brands to have a registered trademark in order to be eligible for Brand Registry, there is reportedly a long wait time for the USPTO to provide you with your registration number when you get approved, so if you are private label brand I highly encourage you to look into this very soon.
Seller Central has a rich interactive dashboard that allows you to track several key metrics including sales, traffic, and conversion rates (note traffic and conversion rates are not available to Vendors currently). It gives you the ability to look at this for several different time ranges and rollups, identify sales trends and new opportunities, analyze refunds and negative feedback, and much more. I highly recommend spending some time getting familiar with the reporting options as you will inevitably uncover data that will influence your approach to growing your products (i.e. products to increase traffic via ads, items that have product issues or high returns and need to be improved/discarded, etc.).
Category and Product Restrictions
Because of a variety of reasons including reducing counterfeits, as well as increasing quality and safety, several categories require special approval in order to sell those products. The categories list can be found on Seller Central, and in order to gain approval you may have to be ‘ungated’ and provide invoices from your supplier, government agency documents (i.e. FDA), etc. In most of these cases you will need to register for the Professional Selling Account option for Seller Central.
Additionally, Amazon restricts certain products and categories, so if you believe that your product may fall in a ‘grey area’ it is best to research this ahead of time on Seller Central.
North America Unified Account
Through this program, Professional Sellers have the ability to easily cross-list their products on Amazon Canada and Amazon Mexico. In a matter of minutes, you can export your listings to the other country marketplaces, adjust pricing rules, exclude products that you do not want to sell, and much more.
It is recommended to verify each listing that you export to ensure everything looks right, and that your pricing logic makes sense. There is much more information available on Seller Central, but the good news is that this does not require creating a brand new account in other countries (as is the case with non-North American Amazon marketplaces).
Amazon EU / Global Selling
Amazon has a variety of programs to make it easier to sell to its marketplaces across the world, particularly in Europe. A great opportunity to start gaining exposure to the EU is through the Amazon European Fulfillment Network (EFN). This gives you the ability to send inventory to one FC in a local marketplace in Europe (most often the UK), and then via the FBA program that FC will then fulfill to the customers of the other four European Amazon Marketplaces, including returns, and show up as Prime Eligible.
Thus, you can fulfill to customers of Amazon Germany, France, Spain, or Italy through your Amazon UK inventory. This also simplifies the need for only a single VAT for the ‘home’ country you select, until you pass a certain sales threshold in which case you will need to collect tax and register for a VAT in each corresponding country.
Exclusives is a pre-approved sellers-only program on Amazon that helps showcase brands of exciting and innovative products that can only be found on Amazon and that brand’s site or store. Brands that are approved into the program gain access to several opportunities to drive traffic and conversion to their Amazon pages, including incremental merchandising and promotional opportunities, promotional tools, enhanced detail pages including product videos, and a Brand Development team to assist with managing your Brand on Amazon.
There are several qualifications needed to gain access to the program, including an exclusivity clause where brands won’t sell wholesale during that time period. The cost of the program is 5% over their category referral fee.
Multi Channel Fulfillment (MCF)
MCF is a growing program in which Amazon allows you to utilize your FBA inventory to fulfill orders to other channels, including your own Shopify store. The costs of the program have come down over time and this may be a good opportunity for brand owners to fulfill orders from their Shopify site or alternative marketplace via Amazon, even if only on occasion (such as during holidays or spikes in demand).
Competitor Analysis – How to Win the Buy Box
The first step in promoting your Amazon listing is to understand what you’re up against. For most categories, you can learn a tremendous amount about what customers want and don’t want based on competitor pages. Additionally, reviewing complementary products regularly can alert you to best practices and promotional opportunities. Analyze competition with the following factors in mind.
Customers are very clear on what their preferences are, and often times can lead you to future product enhancements or ideas. Are customers complaining about packaging? How many customers mention price in their reviews? What other products have they mentioned trying in the same category?
How often are competitors updating product content, pictures, or other content? Are they cycling through seasonal photos (i.e. Christmas or Halloween themed?) Do they have clearer messaging of product benefits and usage than you do? How often are they changing pricing and what effect does that seem to have on their Best Seller Rank?
For complementary categories (for example, memory cards and cameras), what are those brands doing well in? Is there an opportunity to cross-promote with them? Are there any insights on their customer reviews about what lead them to that purchase and how that may affect how they search for your product? Does it make sense to target those category keywords on your Sponsored Product campaigns?
Make an Action Plan
Move quickly. If you see a competitor is out of stock, that may be a good time for you to lower pricing and increase ads. If you see that competitor reviews are increasing at a faster rate than you, try to figure out the cause. Look for new and innovative ideas such as images or product content from broader categories, and implement them before your competitors.
One additional area of competition to keep in mind is against yourself. I have often heard fears from brands that they worry Amazon will undermine their own brand and force them to play the low price game, in turn lowering their prices elsewhere.
While every category can be different, for most categories you can create a strong brand on Amazon without having to be the lowest cost player. If you are a premium brand, for example, you may not have to always compete with other brands on price but perhaps by review quality, assortment, availability, etc. In many categories you will notice that the Best Sellers aren’t necessarily the lowest cost options. Solid State Drives, for example, are commodity products that you would likely believe customers would always turn to the cheapest product. As in this example below, Best Sellers that have built enough reviews and customer trust are able to charge a premium versus other competitors.
If you have been selling on Amazon or have started researching becoming a seller, you have inevitably come across the term ‘buy box’. The concept is simple, although the execution to manage it can be much more difficult.
Nearly every detail page has the option for other qualified sellers to also list their offer for that ASIN (Amazon’s sku identifier). So even if you are the manufacturer of a product, another seller could potentially undercut your price on the same item and be the default option on that detail page – or ‘win the buy box’. The exception is for brands that have brand gating, which is extremely difficult to get approved.
As you can see on the screenshot below, ‘DreamWater’ is winning the buy box for this ASIN but there are several other sellers listing an offer on the “Other Sellers on Amazon” section.
The algorithm for who wins the buy box is proprietary, but the main components are price, prime eligibility, shipping cost, quantity, and seller rating. As you can probably guess, price will have a major impact, but being Prime Eligible and having a high seller rating can sometimes be the difference between you winning or losing the buy box.
Technically, each unique product should only have one ASIN (one UPC to one ASIN), but sometimes you will see several different listings for the same product, which is a confusing and frustrating experience for customers. Amazon continues to crack down on duplicate listings and gives Brand Registered sellers the ability to merge duplicate pages, so it’s best to play by the rules and avoid looking for ways to create a separate page with less competition.
Product Listing Optimization: Amazon SEO, Getting Reviews & Pricing Strategy
How Amazon SEO Works
Spend enough time searching for tips on how to optimize your Amazon business and you are sure to come across dozens of SEO and keyword tools out there. Some of them promise hacks that are guaranteed to get you to a top ranking, others say they ‘trick’ the search algorithm to feature your product first.
Typically, I’m weary of black hat tricks and hacks that promise to outsmart the system. While some of the tools come in handy in certain scenarios, what I would recommend is to approach Amazon SEO from Amazon’s viewpoint. More than 80% of customers never scroll to Page 2 of a search, so how can you ensure that customers are happy and continue to purchase on Amazon? By providing relevant products that have a high possibility of converting into purchases.
A simpler interpretation: show customers products they want to buy. This factors in what keywords customers are searching for, conversion rates, related products, recent sales history, pricing, stock, and much more.
Thus, what keywords do you think customers are searching for when they are discovering your product? Have you included those terms in your keyword field when setting up your product (i.e. ‘backend’ keywords)? What products typically show up for your desired search terms, and how are they priced and how many reviews do they have relative to your product? How can you increase sales velocity in a short amount of time (i.e. Promotion) so that you move up the rankings?
Also, keep in mind that going out of stock is like slamming the brakes on your momentum, especially if there aren’t any other resellers on your listing. Being out of stock will hurt you with rankings and search relevancy during that time period, and gives customers another reason to try a competitor’s product. One tip: If you do run out of stock on your FBA inventory, create a FBM offer to mitigate the potential lost traffic.
I have seen hundreds of examples of brands that showed up on the first page of search or were even a Best Seller in their category, but after going out of stock for a few days lost that positioning and it sometimes takes weeks or months to regain that position. In those cases, a competitor’s listing increases visibility and unless you have extremely strong brand recognition, it is difficult to convince customers to switch back to your product after they bought/used another product.
FBA storage fees in most cases are small enough that I would highly recommend having a 2-3 month buffer of inventory available at all times (or at least when possible).
Get Your Pricing Right
Finding the right pricing for your products is tough enough as is, but add Amazon’s complexities and an open marketplace for other sellers to compete with you, and you have quite a handful. However, if you keep some key considerations in mind, you can hopefully prevent other larger issues from arising.
Your selling agreement with Amazon includes a pricing parity clause. Your item price and total price can’t be lower at any other online sales channel according to the ‘general pricing rule’. This includes your own Shopify site. Avoid a potential account suspension for not following this mandate and ensure that you price Amazon as low as your other channels.
Since Amazon is a marketplace, you may very well be competing against other third parties to ‘win the buy box’. There are several repricing tools available on the market, and Amazon recently released the ‘Automate Pricing’ tool on Seller Central to help you automate pricing decisions. For example, you can set a rule to beat the buy box by 2% until you reach a certain floor.
Ensuring you are winning the buy box regularly, and being alerted when you are losing the buy box, is essential to growing your Amazon business. Note that pricing for Vendors has a different process from Marketplace Sellers.
Promotions are a great way to increase visibility and gain reviews. Lightning Deals, price discounts, best deals, coupons, buy one get one offers, discount codes etc., are all great opportunities to offer and highlight a temporary discount to your product. This benefits you by not only allowing you to sell more units in a short amount of time, but it also temporarily lifts your baseline business post promotion (i.e. you move from #50 best seller to #10 when your promotion ends, likely increasing your run-rate temporarily at your regular price).
Another thing to keep in mind is that unlike in physical stores, having a ‘high-low’ pricing model often does not work well in the long-run for Amazon sellers. For example, at a big-box Retailer it is common to see the price of a product at a high price, say $50 for the first three weeks every month, and the price drops on promo to $25 the final week of the month. While there are some inherent benefits for stores to do this, this would probably hurt you on Amazon.
The reasons why this is not recommended, and instead a stronger everyday price (‘EDLP’) is preferred, are simple. For one, this creates a huge range and arbitrage opportunity for other sellers to buy your product when you are on sale, and undercut your price to win the buy box when you are not on sale.
Additionally, many online shoppers are savvy and utilize pricing tools to track pricing. If it is obvious that you lower the price dramatically once a month, customers will simply wait until your price drops.
Finally, because the Best Seller Ranks and Search Algorithms are constantly updating, you may drop in search results when you are not on sale, and increase when you are back on sale. If this is the case, you are probably better off limiting the high-low model and moving to a stronger everyday price so that you can build momentum in your rankings over time and continue to gain more reviews.
Optimizing Your Product Listings Detail Pages
Ecommerce shoppers, particularly on Amazon, make a decision within just seconds on whether they want to further engage with a detail page or go back to search results. How do you pass this initial hurdle so that a customer goes below the fold and seriously considers purchasing your product? Start by making it simple for them.
Product Titles Matter
Does your title clearly describe to customers what the item is and if it is compatible with their needs? Does it mention the brand name? Does it clarify what the use case is or primary benefit? And most importantly, does it do all of this concisely so it isn’t too long to skim? For example, a succinct yet complete title such as below probably works better than simply “Maximus Outdoor Light” or even than a 3-4 line long title that looks more like spam than a product title.
It was commonly believed that adding as many keywords as possible into a title would help with SEO, but if you look at most best sellers in popular categories, their titles are usually no more than 10-20 words. This is likely because customers have a hard time quickly scanning long titles, and they may even get annoyed with titles that are displayed this way (not to mention titles may get cut off while searching on mobile or on deals).
Bullet Points are your Elevator Pitch
Make sure to hit all of the key areas that customers need answered before they have to scroll below the fold on desktop or to additional sections on mobile. Mention key facts like if there is a warranty or customer service available to troubleshoot issues. Also avoid having bullet points that are more than a few lines long since most customers are skimming this section.
Clear Product Image
Your main photo should clearly show what the product is before zooming in. Additional photos should provide additional angles of the product, and if relevant lifestyle imagery. It is also probably worthwhile having one image of the ‘back of the box’ showing ingredients and instructions. Also, ensure the images are high quality so the customer is able to zoom in and out.
Concise Product Descriptions
Remember that customers are skimming so a 20-line long paragraph probably won’t do the job. Use your brand voice here and reiterate key selling points while mentioning any supporting facts that can help customers understand why they need to buy now.
Variations allow you to easily display to customers the various size, color, style, etc. options you have for your product. While each product will still have it’s own unique ASIN and detail page, variations present customers the ability to quickly switch between options of a product, and equally important pool reviews amongst those ASINs. For example, if you are selling an iPhone case in black, blue, and silver, a variation will allow customers to easily hover over the various color combinations, and the reviews for all of those options will be pooled together (i.e. the black gets 5 reviews, blue gets 3 reviews, and silver gets 2 reviews, the review count displayed for all options would be 10).
Here is an example of a detail page before and after it updated the key items to maximize conversion.
Enhanced Brand Content (EBC) – NEW
Now available for Brand Registered Sellers, EBC is a version of A+ content, which allows you more room on the page to add visuals and text to increase customer engagement and tell a better product and brand story. The potential benefits are increased conversion, lower return rates, and increased brand following. A+ content was originally only available to Vendors but the recent roll-out to brand registered sellers is a huge opportunity for sellers to better showcase their products on Amazon.
Here are some additional key items to keep in consideration when setting up or updating detail pages:
Write for Humans, Not Search Algorithms
Don’t play the keyword stuffing game. Approach it from a customer’s perspective on information they need to be convinced it’s worth the purchase. Amazon has stated its mission is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company…” and that is a great way to approach incorporating keywords into your page contents rather than gaming the system with irrelevant keywords.
Regularly check your pages for questions and new reviews. Many customers spend more time reviewing customer questions and reviews than a brand’s published content, so be sure to regularly check and respond to these as necessary.
Encourage Getting Reviews
It’s no secret that reviews are extremely important. We have likely all bought something on Amazon, and in many of those cases the decisions came down to which product had the better reviews, even if it had a higher price. Furthermore, as I mentioned at the beginning, reviews on Amazon will have an impact on other channels, including your Shopify site, since customers tend to do research on Amazon first.
On that note, Amazon recently made a change to its review policy. In short, Amazon is banning reviews for discounted or incentivized products. Previously, many brands would provide discounted or free products to customers through a variety of channels including review sites in exchange for a review. A recent study of over 7 million reviews showed that the average rating for incentivized reviews were meaningfully higher than non-incentivized reviews.
The good news is that the recent change makes things more of a level playing field since brands were essentially penalized for not getting incentivized reviews if their competitors were.
So, what can you do to get reviews? Start with email follow-ups.
Sellers are allowed to send follow up emails to customers related to a specific order, and there are several automated services available that can help you manage this process.
The guidelines are here, but in summary you may not:
- send emails with marketing or promotional messages
- have links to other websites
- demand, ask for, or incentivize positive reviews
You can, however, send a few emails confirming you have received an order, and also following up on an order requesting them to leave a review or seller feedback.
There are tons of best practices out there, but I’d recommend sending no more than 2-3 emails: one during the order confirmation or delivery phase, and one a few weeks after the product was received. Avoid making your emails feel too ‘spammy’ or aggressive, and give customers an outlet to share negative feedback directly with you prior to writing a negative review.
Another way to encourage reviews is through a product insert, following the same guidelines as the follow-up email (i.e. not incentivizing reviews, directing the customer off of Amazon, etc.). Bonus points if you have make your insert fun and memorable so customers want to leave positive feedback.
Yet another way to get reviews is by asking previous customers (or ‘backers’ if you were crowdfunded) to leave you a review on Amazon. As long as you are not incentivizing people to leave a review (i.e. “I’ll give you a $5 credit” or “You’ll be entered into a sweepstakes”), this is a safe and legitimate way to garner reviews. Customers don’t have to actually buy the product on Amazon to leave a review (although those show as ‘verified purchases’), so a customer who has purchased your product elsewhere such as your Shopify store is eligible to leave a review for your product on Amazon as long as they have an account.
Finally, Amazon does offer programs such as the Early Reviewer Program, and there are rumors that it has just started to roll out the Vine Program to select sellers, so both are potential opportunities to encourage reviews.
How to Increase Amazon Sales with Sponsored Product Ads
Run Sponsored Product Ads
Amazon has a robust ad platform that allows you to market your product to customers on Amazon.
Amazon Sponsored Product Ads is a PPC (pay per click) model that allows you to promote your products along search results. Placements on desktop can be above, alongside, or below search results as well as on product detail pages.
Placements on mobile appear below search results and on product detail pages.
I could write an entire guide about Sponsored Ads but here are three important steps to get up and running quickly:
Step 1: Start with automatic targeting. This allows Amazon to use its powerful search algorithms to suggest an exhaustive list of potential keywords for you. This requires you to pick a flat default bid across all keywords, but the goal here is to get data on how various keywords perform.
Step 2: Once you have at least a few weeks worth of data (the longer the better), start evaluating your automatic targeting campaign to determine which keywords performed the best. You will want to transition those over to a manual campaign, where you can now focus on only the most relevant keywords that performed well for you. With a manual campaign, you have the ability to adjust bids by keyword
Step 3: Continue to iterate your manual campaign for keywords and bids. Data is your best friend, but if you feel strongly that you should include additional keywords that haven’t yet performed well, test various bid amounts. Different bid amounts can yield various placements and yield varying results, so continue to test until you find something that works well.
There are several keyword and additional third party tools out there to help build a relevant list of long-tail keywords, but again I believe starting with above could get you relatively far without getting overwhelmed or requiring to invest in incremental headcount to get your ads up and running. You can certainly take these steps further to optimize your ads depending on your resources, but if not this is a great way to get the process started quickly.
Note: Keep an eye out on the keywords that are working best, and be sure that your detail pages are utilizing these words in some regard. For example, if ‘organic’ is a keyword that is converting well, ensure that ‘organic’ is in your detail page title.
Additionally, during manual campaigns you have several phrase types to choose from including ‘exact’,‘phrase match’, and ‘broad match’. The system gives you a detailed explanation of each but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you don’t need to include common misspellings even for exact match. Also, ‘exact’ is a good starting point to find words that work well and that won’t eat up your budget, and you can eventually work your way up through broad matches keeping in mind that these will spend your budget much quicker.
NEW – Headline Search Ads released to Brand Registered owners. Headline Search ads display on top of search results and are a great way to increase visibility to your products while customers are searching or browsing through results. I suggest utilizing keywords that work well in your Sponsored Product campaigns as a starting point for Headline Search, and iterate bids, copy, and keywords as you see fit.
Take Advantage of Promotions
Promotions including Lightning Deals are a great way to sell units at an increased velocity, ultimately leading to more reviews. Lightning Deals are flash sales that are featured on the Amazon Deal Page, one of the most frequently visited pages on Amazon. Not only do they help increase discoverability of your product, but they help you increase sales during the limited time sale and even after the deal is completed. This is because you often increase your rank and search relevancy due to the increased units sold during that flash sale, and this carries over for a period of time once the deal complete, sometimes for several weeks.
Lightning Deals for most sellers are invite-only in a sense since you can only run them when they show up on your ‘see all recommendations’ section of the screen on Seller Central, and there is often a nominal cost associated with running this deal. For big events such as Prime Day and during the Holidays, Lightning Deals can be very successful in selling hundreds to sometimes thousands of units in a few hour period, and also helping new customers discover your brand, even if they don’t buy it immediately.
The goal is not to always be on promotion or providing deep discounts, but if you can sprinkle these in occasionally, including towards the beginning of your product lifecycle on Amazon, it is a great way to gain additional reviews and build relevancy so other customers can find you.
As you can see in the example below, Lightning Deals are run across many different categories, including health and personal care, home and kitchen, consumer electronics, fashion, grocery, and much more. Again, this is a great way to not only sell units in the short term but also for trial and to win new customers for future purchases.
Drive External Traffic
Many brands forget about this part, or reserve all external channels to point to their online store. While there is obvious value in directing traffic to your own site with ads, those same tactics will also work to promote your Amazon listings.
Strategically decide which channels make sense to direct to Amazon. For example, bloggers, vloggers, and other influencers often love directing traffic to Amazon because they can collect an affiliate commission on any customer’s’ purchases that come from their custom link. There are two different programs to do this, Amazon Associates and the Amazon Influencer program.
You’ll find most bloggers will be familiar with Amazon Associates as it’s designed for a vast array of businesses. Amazon’s new Influencer Program however has been developed specifically for social media influencers with large audiences. As a brand owner and Amazon seller, both programs can be highly beneficial to the long-term health of your business. Additionally, you can create discount codes to share externally such as on your social media channels to encourage customers to buy on Amazon, and hopefully leave reviews.
Selling on Amazon Tips: What Not to Do, Pitfalls, and Myths
There is no shortage of so-called ‘Amazon experts’ out there, but unfortunately much of the information I have seen published is either incorrect, gives false hope, or approaches the topic in a roundabout way. Here are some key points on what not to do:
A study by Shotfarm found that 87% of consumers are unlikely to shop with a brand again after purchasing an item misrepresented but its product description, and 42% of US consumers have returned something due to discrepancies in product descriptions.
Unless there is a supply shortage on your end, going out of stock kills your momentum, rankings, and sales potential. FBA short-term storage fees are cheap, especially for small products, and in almost every case it is worth having excess inventory available at Amazon Fulfillment centers to buffer spikes in demand. There’s also the backup option of Fulfillment by Merchant. Do what you can to avoid going out of stock.
Not Checking on Details and Customer Feedback
Amazon is an extremely fast paced and active site, so in the few days that you forgot to check your page you may have lost the buy box to another seller, went out of stock, had a pricing error, or had your pictures updated to something that you didn’t request.
Additionally, you may have missed out on the recent influx of negative customer reviews that complain about a product issue that you weren’t aware of due to a recent shipment of bad product sent to Amazon. Understanding that as a seller or brand you may have hundreds or thousands of pages, it is critical that you at least check your top selling pages frequently and invest in technology that streamlines these tasks across your entire catalog.
Disregarding Amazon’s Terms of Service
Amazon is very protective of its customers and avoid having them feel overly pressured or like they are receiving spam. They have strict guidelines on what you are able to say on follow up emails (i.e. you’re not allowed to incentivize reviews), what inserts you are able to put in your packaging, etc. If you’re always looking for a shortcut and to boost your rankings in the short-term by engaging in something that is a violation of the Terms of Service, you are jeopardizing your account and credibility on Amazon.
Not Responding to Customer Inquiries
You have 24 hours to respond to a customer, and there are automated tools out there that can help you with at least providing an initial response. If you do not respond in a timely manner to customer and Amazon inquiries, you risk getting negative feedback as a seller and to your product. If you are going out of town or unable to be responsive for a short period of time, update your listings to vacation mode and have someone else jump in and ensure that customer inquiries are being responded to.
Not Removing Incorrect Feedback
Amazon encourages you to work with a buyer who has left you negative feedbackto see if you can address their issue. You have the ability to, and should, contact that buyer to resolve their issue and hopefully they will remove the negative feedback. The same goes for incorrect feedback. While you may not always be successful in getting these overturned, you will be surprised at how many times simply asking in an appropriate and respectful way will result in a buyer removing negative feedback.
At first glance, Amazon can seem like a challenger to your business; a global marketplace, a massive audience, a go-to destination for consumer search. However, when approached properly, Amazon can actually help your brand take-off. Listing optimization can help you get discovered by a global audience and unlock new markets for you. In-Amazon promotions can elevate your brand atop the competition giving you centerstage in front of a highly qualified audience.
Your online store is your home base and Amazon is your opportunity to reach massive new audiences. Strategic planning, experimentation and some hustle will get you a long way to successfully selling on Amazon.
Use Shopify’s step-by-step guide to open up your new Amazon sales channel and refer to this guide as you begin launching your products on Amazon. As Shopify and Amazon work closer together on this integration, they’ll be making more categories and functionality available for Shopify users. Check back here and keep an eye on the Shopify blog for updates to the Amazon channel.
If you’re ready to start selling on Amazon, install the sales channel now.
Fahim Naim is the CEO of eShopportunity, an ecommerce consulting firm, and he was previously a Category Manager at Amazon, managing one of the largest categories at Amazon. He founded eShopportunity in 2014 to help brands better understand and manage their online businesses.