PART I: Not sure about what to sell on Amazon?

Unless you already have an established product or brand, the decision to choose which product to sell on Amazon can be the single most important decision that determines your success. So whether you have absolutely no idea of what you want to sell or a long list of ideas that you want to narrow down, this lesson could be a good way to zero in on some great product choices for your store on Amazon.

What is a good product?

There are some clearly good and not so good product choices on Amazon based on the costs and risks involved.

Read our 10 point checklist below on what defines a good product and why.

1. A good product should be lightweight (less than 3 pounds is ideal) and easy to transport. It should not be fragile or likely to break or perish in transit. This will reduce storage and shipping costs, not to mention complaints, returns, and related costs.

2. It should ideally be in demand all year round. Products like Christmas trees, raincoats, or Easter eggs are seasonal in nature and will not sell consistently over the year. It also means that there is never sufficient data to estimate inventories needed and higher opportunity and/or wastage costs even with the best laid plans.

3. It should be priced somewhere between $10- $50. This sweet spot allows for impulse purchases where customers do not spend too much time in deciding on or researching the purchase. It also means that you keep your own investment costs low and your risk factor is low too.

4. It should have at least a minimum 100% mark-up or a 50% margin. Some people swear by at least a 75% margin but, as a thumb rule, if you cannot sell a product for double or thereabout, you CANNOT make money on it. This is because there will be several other costs down the road.

5. A good product allows for multiple purchases by the same person. It is far easier (and cheaper) to convert an existing customer than to find new ones.

6. Your product category should already enjoy a bestseller rank of at least 5000. Getting some idea of customer response on similar products can give you a good idea of how well you can expect the product to be received by users.

7. Your product should not require extensive set up, maintenance, or an instruction manual longer than 3 pages. These can be a headache to service and will eat into your profits. Outdated or inaccurate manuals can also lead to frequent customer complaints.

8. A good product will ideally not be in direct competition with an established brand or a Top merchant on Amazon or, worse, Amazon Retail. No point in starting with an obvious disadvantage.

9. Your product should NOT be a counterfeit of a trademarked product. It should meet all stated quality and performance parameters. The legal hassles are avoidable, to say the least, and, if nothing else, the returns and reviews will kill you.

10. A good product should offer a clear and simple advantage to users over the existing listings within the same product category. The ability to differentiate from the competition’s products is non-negotiable and, if you don’t know what that difference is, chances are neither will the customers.

The above 10 points are simply a framework or set of filters to help you whittle down your list of choices or avoid a particularly bad one. They do not guarantee success.

The best of products can fail if described, priced, or positioned incorrectly.


PART II: Finding reliable, wholesale suppliers for products

By now I hope you would have a shortlist of a few product options or even a definite product or product category in mind. The next step is crucial – you need to be able to find 3-5 reliable and verified suppliers of the said product(s).

While there are several wholesale platforms, we recommend trying out 3 online trade directories of verified UK and global wholesale suppliersLimiting your search to a few reliable directories helps you focus more on appraising and testing the quality of the suppliers that you shortlist rather than wading through hundreds of names. At the end of the day, your product and reputation are only as good as the vendor you put your trust in.

I will show you how to shortlist suppliers for rose scented soaps on eSources as an example, in 5 easy steps.

1. Click Suppliers on the top bar and keep applying all the logical filters till you get to a manageable list of the names.

2. Now, create a generic message with all the possible pre-requisites on a separate document. I’ve created a sample that you can modify with the specifics of your product and location.

Hi – I need a large supply of rose scented soap and bath supplies for my business in Miami, US. May I request you to send me your price list for all varieties and sizes available along with shipping and payment related information? We have been supplying health and beauty products for 2 years on our website and our 4 brick and mortar shops, we can be an ideal partner for your brand.

Please also let me know if you would be able to send me a sample and how much it would cost.

Thanks,
Sarah


Now scroll down the list on eSources, click on ‘Contact Supplier’ and then just cut-paste this message and send out to the suppliers one by one, customising it where needed.

3. You should start receiving messages within a few hours and it is a good idea to give preference to those that respond earlier. It could simply be a matter of time zones but you will need suppliers with a low turnaround time.

The first and biggest point of comparison will be the prices quoted but you will also get an intuitive sense on the basis of their communication and stated terms. You need to just have 2-3 suppliers that you feel comfortable enough to buy samples from. Regardless of how low you manage to negotiate the sample cost, the shipping alone will put you back by as much as $25-$50.

Now you wait for the samples to arrive!

4. The next step is appraising the samples. Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are:

a. Is this what you expected? Does it fit the description the seller sent? Is anything missing? Is it a good product?
b. Does it look cheap for the price you have in mind? (At least double if not triple of what you paid for the sample)
c. Is there anything at all that a customer may object to or be unhappy with if they ordered this from you?

In case the samples meet the above conditions, it is still important to use the product yourself. Bathe with the soap or gift it to someone who you can ask for feedback. Many people will suggest ordering and selling a test batch at this point but it is simply not worth the trouble OR the risk. Soaps can disintegrate, cause a rash, or simply not lather enough. You’d rather be the first to know than staking your reputation in public.

5. If you are fully satisfied with the product quality, we suggest you place a test order and start selling the product on Amazon. Once sales and reviews start coming in, you can increase the quantity accordingly. Be sure to have multiple suppliers at hand for the same product at all times so that you can meet demand as needed.


PART III – SELLING ON AMAZON

By the time you reach this step, you’ve done your research, got a few reliable suppliers that can provide you with a supply at 25%-50% of your estimated sales cost, and are in possession of a small test/sample inventory to get you started.

This is where the real fun begins. With the Fulfilment by Amazon or FBA as it is commonly referred to, you just need to create a listing and ship products to Amazon and let it take care of the rest.

So how does it work?

1. You list a product on Amazon.
2. You ship the products to Amazon’s warehouses.
3. Once received by Amazon, your listing becomes LIVE as a Prime eligible product.
4. Your customer gets the product as early as 2 days without any additional shipping costs if they are Prime eligible.
5. You look forward to great reviews and repeat orders.

The benefits, you ask? You can scale your business as much as you want without the need to increase storage. Free of the daily stress of shipment tracking, you can simply send your products to Amazon and go on a vacation. Most importantly, without the additional cost of shipping and handling, your pricing becomes far more competitive, making your business profitable much faster.

So now the only thing left to work on is the listing. How do you make your listing stand out among the hundreds of others? Read our secrets to making listings that sell.

1. Use the right keywords in your title and product description: It is important to use words that accurately describe your product while making it attractive to your consumers. These keywords should be ACTUAL characteristics of your product. For a rose scented soap, these could be herbal, essential oil, handmade, or floral if you think that is what people who are likely to buy a rose scented soap may be looking for. One easy way to figure this out is to type one word in amazon search and see the auto complete options that come up – these are the most common searches users are making. Missing out on relevant keywords can mean missing out on complete customer segments that would have been a good target for your product. Like hotels or luxury spas.

2. Include a great picture: Without the ability to see or feel the product, the biggest credibility for a product comes from its picture quality. The colours, the resolution, even the angles from which the picture is taken will determine the overall impression that the product listing creates. A simple bath product can look luxurious and exclusive or tawdry and cheap just by the way it is photographed. Have you ever bought a product whose picture you could not see or did not like?

3. Showcase your features: Even a simple product like a simple bathing bar can have a variety of differentiating features that make it sound more appealing. Use of words like handcrafted, organic, 100% natural, velvety texture, to name a few, can uplift the sensory appeal of the product and trigger a desire purchase. Pictures of an elegant box can elevate it to a gift item while a discount on 3 bars can motivate purchase in bulk. Be creative. Once again, the features described MUST be accurate.

4. Talk about the brand: While it is possible that your brand is new with little or no recall, branded products enjoy far more credibility than non-branded ones. Adding a few lines on your vision or providing information on the artisans that create the soaps can go a long way in differentiating your product favourably from others. It also creates higher credibility in the minds of customers.

5. Ask for and receive product reviews: While building reviews is an organic process and not 100% in your control, you can simply try asking people to share their experience with your brand using a simple email follow up. Also, make it a point to read reviews that people are writing for your product category in general. What irritates them? What makes them give 5 stars? How do they respond to imperfections in handmade products?

PART IV: Tips and Mistakes to Avoid

With the amount of business being transacted daily and the potential to grow, we realise that there are several winning strategies as well as common pitfalls a seller needs to avoid at any cost to succeed on Amazon.

Tip #1 Play by the rules: One of the reasons for Amazon’s success is that it ensures clear rules and guidelines that allow for a fair marketplace for sellers and customers. I advise you to follow all terms and conditions to the letter. But to follow rules, you must know them and this requires reading all updates and notifications carefully. In case you cannot do that for any reason, it is better to take down the listing rather than risk not responding to a communication from Amazon or, worse, the actual customers.

Tip #2 Stay competitive and Win the Buy Box: After a search, several results come up. When a buyer clicks on a product listing, the page that comes up is the buy box. Per statistics, courtesy Amazon, nearly 80% of sales are made via the buy box making it a critical success parameter.

There are actually 2 ways to guarantee a buy box win:

• Be the lowest price including shipping.
• Sell an item that no one else has or package it such that it stands apart from the competition.

Tip # 3: Optimise product details for search: The first step to being considered is showing up in a user’s search results. The importance of using the right words and categories cannot be overemphasised. Continue to research high volume keywords and add them to the product listing where relevant and useful.

In case you think keywords as a concept are too complicated, think of them in terms of the customer segments you want to target. What are these people likely to type when they search for products like yours? A rose bathing bar needs to be optimised for a lot more than just ‘rose.’ Floral, natural, herbal, organic, natural, fragrant… all of these are options to consider.

And now the cardinal mistakes to avoid at any cost. The mistakes that could unravel your carefully built business on Amazon.

Mistake #1 NOT Contesting a Bad Review: In case someone gives you a bad review, it can either be or not be your fault. In more cases than you can imagine, it is actually not and you should contact Amazon immediately and work with them to get the review removed. Ensure that you also contact the customer and explain what happened.

It is a little trickier if you did goof up. We always recommend reaching out to the customer with an explanation and an apology, a free replacement or even a gift card against their next purchase. Once things have been smoothed out, you can try and request the customer to remove the negative review if they have not already done it by themselves.

Mistake #2 NOT taking advantage of all Marketplace services: Selling on Amazon is a big business for countless people and there are several tools and service options that can help you re-price listings, find keywords with the best search volume and do other things to ensure that your products are able to compete. While e-books and free tools are a good place to start, make sure to be on the lookout for and proactively invest in services that can keep you ahead of the game.

One of the biggest game changers can be the use of FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon) which allows you to focus on the part of the business where you have the maximum control. There will also be promotions like lightning deals or Deal of the day that you can use to grab some extra eyeballs and rid yourself of piled up inventory.

Mistake #3: Forgetting your taxes: This actually is one of the most common mistakes that new sellers make. Forgetting to account for, plan for, and then pay the relevant taxes. Amazon sellers incur a tax liability irrespective of the fact whether they collect state and local tax on online sales or not. Not planning for this can translate to a huge year end liability that can really eat into your earnings.

Amazon offers a paid service of collecting state taxes on seller orders. Just make sure to fill out the ‘Tax Settings’ in Seller Central when you sign up before you start selling.

We hope you found these lessons useful. For more information, reply with your comments below.