Practical Ecommerce

Common Mistakes from Amazon Sellers

My agency is often called on to do formal audits of Amazon seller accounts. In the last 12 months, we’ve audited more than a dozen small-to-medium sized accounts, from companies that sought improvement on how they sold on Amazon. All fell into surprisingly similar patterns, with common mistakes.

Compare your own situation against this list.

Neglected Brand Registry

According to Amazon’s Seller Central, the Amazon Brand Registry is a program for those sellers that manufacture or sell their own branded products.

It is surprisingly common for a small-to-medium sized business with their own products to not claim their own brand or know about this program. Businesses often put off registering because of the red tape involved, expedience trumped completeness as they first got up on Amazon’s platform, or they simply do not know about the program.

Brand registry comes with the exclusive right to edit one’s branded listings. Otherwise, the norm is that the first company who lists a product controls that listing.

Controlling the details on a listing allows you to make sure details are correct and the right benefits are emphasized.

This may be unusually important to your bottom line. Margins often differ across a product set offered by any seller on Amazon, with branded products usually have the highest margins.

Amazon Titles Not Optimized

Consumers search on Amazon using language that may or may not be consistent with the product titles in your database or on your website.

Your chances of appearing in the Amazon search results depend on many factors. One of them is how well your titles are resonant with Amazon searchers.

Some sellers have problems optimizing titles for technical reasons. Their Amazon titles may be automatically populated from website title fields with no opportunity to change or optimize them for the Amazon environment.

If that is your situation, find a way to inject an interim step in your procedures where you can include Amazon-appropriate titles. Because Amazon selling tends involve several departments in small-to-medium companies, including sales and distribution, marketing, and development, the solution may be as simple as distribution or marketing communicating the database need to your developers.

For example, say you sell a tote bag that consumers often use for trips to the beach. If “beach bag” is a term that consumers actually use in searches, title your product “beach bag” instead of “tote bag.”

If "beach bag" is a term that consumers actually use in searches, title your product "beach bag" instead of "tote bag."

If “beach bag” is a term that consumers actually use in searches, title your product “beach bag” instead of “tote bag.”

When optimizing, consider the point of view of the searchers. What terms would they use on Amazon to find your product? What does Amazon autosuggest as you start to type in searches about your product? Research what other companies are doing in your field, especially those successful on Amazon and even on Google Shopping.

An All or Nothing Mindset

Maybe you sell 15 products on Amazon. Maybe you sell 450,000.

Once your products number in the thousands, it is difficult to make sweeping changes across your entire set, to correct your file if an optional field is missing, or your titles are not well optimized for Amazon.

Too often this results in no updates made instead of a prioritized set of changes.

The 80/20 principle holds true for Amazon. A disproportionate amount (80 percent) of your revenue comes from your top (20 percent) products. Do not let perfect be the enemy of good: Prioritize your work and at minimum make sure your top revenue products have appropriate updates and benefits.

In restaurant ownership there is a saying: “It is easier to make a good Saturday great than to make a bad Tuesday good.” On Amazon, it is similarly true that exaggerating your wins beats pushing sales through marginal products.

Products with Bad Parent-Child Relationships

Proper parent-child relationships in Amazon product info allow you to sell to shoppers easier.

If someone finds your listing and has an interest in your product, there’s no need to leave your listing to find a different color or appropriate size if your parent-child relationships are set correctly. On mobile, where every additional thumb movement matters to a sale, this is especially important.

Because parent-child relationships are set correctly, all three color variations for this tote bag occur under one parent listing. An interested shopper does not have to leave the page to see color options.

Because parent-child relationships are set correctly, all three color variations for this tote bag occur under one parent listing. An interested shopper does not have to leave the page to see color options.

Instead, businesses often list each variation of a product as a separate listing. That can ease a workload and streamline internal data processes — a tempting move, given the common pressure to get products on Amazon fast. But this hurts your product set in ways beyond color choice or size availability.

Your family of products will seem more attractive to Amazon and get more attention if one ASIN — Amazon Standard Identification Number — gets all the credit for sales, rather than dividing credit among several product variations. The sell-through of an ASIN carries power. Dilute that ASIN’s potency and you affect how often you appear in the search results.

Neglected Inventory Management

If your products sell well and you fail to keep them in stock, it obviously leaves money on the table.

It would be rare for a company to not know about the Inventory Dashboard or Selling Coach in Amazon.

However, ignoring that information is commonplace.

The most effective way to force attention to proper stocking is to quantify the financial loss when inventory is not maintained. Numbers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars motivate, and, yes, numbers do, in fact, commonly add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of missed opportunity.

Inventory management problems go beyond simple inattention, though. Reactive inventory management also is a trap. Sometimes companies dutifully maintain stock by reacting to dashboards, but they ignore predictable seasonal fluctuations.

Review what your Amazon seasonality was last year. Make sure this year’s inventory planning takes last year into account.

Incorrect Categorization

You can post products to Amazon even if your product categorization is wrong. Amazon will not prevent this.

Some businesses put their entire product catalog in the same category. If a business’s products fall mainly in one category, it’s tempting to ignore categorization for the outliers.

Amazon will not prevent this, but Amazon will indirectly penalize you.

Apparel as a category has additional approval requirements. So it’s tempting to post tote bags in an incorrect category, such as listing them as reusable grocery bags in Home & Kitchen. However, searchers won’t find them as easily if they are posted incorrectly.

Tote bags, like handbags, are apparel according to Amazon's categorization.

Tote bags, like handbags, are apparel according to Amazon’s categorization. Click image to enlarge.

If you post in incorrect categories, you are not going to have any subordinate information for your products, such as size, weight, colors, and other details — recognizing that those fields differ greatly among categories. Without that foundational information, it will be harder for your products to be found on Amazon, and harder for you to convey the benefits that sell your products.

Buy Box Ownership

The economics and strategy of the Buy Box on Amazon could warrant its own article. Yet an alarming amount of businesses do not even consider the impact.

Clicking "Add to Cart" for the Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo, automatically defaults to buying this product from "Market Candles On Line," even though several other sellers offer the product — see "Other Sellers on Amazon," at lower right. Click image to enlarge.

Clicking “Add to Cart” for the Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo, automatically defaults to buying this product from “Market Candles On Line,” even though several other sellers offer the product — see “Other Sellers on Amazon,” at lower right. Click image to enlarge.

Here is a good example. Note that if you click “Add to Cart” for the Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo, shown above, you will automatically default to buying this product from “Market Candles On Line,” even though several other sellers offer the product — see “Other Sellers on Amazon,” at lower right. You’d have to go out of your way to buy from anyone else other than “Market Candles On Line.” This is a significant advantage for that company, as a seller.

The dramatic revenue impact of Buy Box ownership is not often understood or properly quantified. As a result, there can be great hesitancy to lower prices in an effort to secure the Buy Box, even though being the lowest price vendor is a prominent factor determining Buy Box ownership.

Indeed, there are complicating factors when lowering prices on Amazon. But prudent math shows that overall net revenue or profit on Amazon is often higher – much higher – with a lower price. The Amazon Buy Box can yield hundreds of times more traffic, making the overall business picture much more favorable at the lower price.

Rob Sieracki

Rob Sieracki

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  1. Chantal October 5, 2016 Reply

    Great article Rob!

    As an experienced Amazon seller, I agree with mostly all of the points mentioned here but did want to point out a couple of things, should it affect anyone else reading this article.

    In the Brand Registry section:
    “Brand registry comes with the exclusive right to edit one’s branded listings.”
    This is actually not true. Every Amazon listing is owned by Amazon, not any one seller, Brand Registered or not. No one has “exclusive rights” to a listing even as a Registered Brand unless you have some exclusive agreement with Amazon (which most of us don’t, think Bose, etc.). Other sellers can list against your brand, edit your details pages, etc. It is up to you as a seller and possible brand to police this but there is not exclusivity guarantee.

    We struggled with this a lot in the beginning, especially with counterfeiters, so I wish I would have understood this a lot sooner!

    And in the Parent-Child section, note that Amazon is notorious for merging products and some times incorrectly. So not only is it important to list your SKUs correctly (agreed!), but it is important to monitor them and submit any incorrect merges to Amazon right away. Usually it is an algorithm that merges them and a Seller Support rep can differentiate right away. Again, something that we’ve seen all too often and might help prevent a future headache for another seller!

    Hope this helps!

    • Nick October 5, 2016 Reply

      I really enjoyed the article! Very informative.

      Chantal, I think in Rob’s section about brand registry he’s talking specifically about being able to edit products that your brand owns.

      By “owning” your brand you own the rights to edit the product information (where this is typically controlled by the first person to list the product), and that allows you to control the important aspects of the listing, such as the title, images, bullet points, etc.

      Other sellers are still allowed to sell your product. (There’s no way to prevent this)

      As for counterfeiters, that’s an issue that Amazon has a hard time policing. There are ways to get counter fit products / sellers removed from your listing. That’s not controlled by the brand registry, however and a good conversation for another article!

  2. Rob Sieracki October 5, 2016 Reply

    Chantal, thanks for your comment. I appreciate that you took time to read the article, and carefully, too.

    That’s a useful distinction you’re pointing to.

    Perhaps the word “own” was ambiguous.

    You don’t literally legally “own” the content on Amazon’s site, I assume.

    And yes, other sellers can sell your product. I didn’t mean to imply that branded registry provided exclusivity where they could not. And, that includes counterfeiters, too. There’s been an uptick in counterfeiting in the last year that we’ve seen, and I imagine our experience is alike in that way.

    Control was my intention when I said “own”. You should apply for branded registry so you can control your branded listings is my main point. Amazon’s Seller Central says that as the registered brand owner your increased influence allows you “to specify the correct titles, details, images, and other attributes for your branded products”. (That matches my experience, too.)

    That’s what I meant, if I was unclear.

    And, the benefits of that mean that titles, details, images and other attributes won’t only be correct but will serve you best for your marketing purposes. That can greatly influence how items sell. and how much money your branded items bring in.

    It sounds like a nasty problem if you have been granted brand registry and still end up in a tug of war over listing details for your branded products. That hasn’t occurred for us, but I honestly feel for you if that’s been your experience. The stated goal of the branded registry program is to make it easier for sellers to manage their brands, and allowing that certainly counters their intention. Ouch.

    Also, control comes up in branded registry in one additional way that I didn’t go into because of the length of the article, but can make processes much easier for a company that secures branded registry: You can “specify an alternative key attribute that you can use to list your branded products instead of a standard product ID (UPC or EAN)”, per Seller Central.

    To be able to control the listing in that way can make a difference in how fast or how many items you can reasonable get up in Amazon, for instance. (The second stated goal of the branded registry program is to make it easier for sellers to list their products on Amazon.)

    Lastly, I didn’t mention it in the article, but yes, in entertainment areas (you mention Bose for instance), the rules of branded registry can skew a bit and I know additional hoops may exist or branded registry is stated as being off limits. Years ago I worked at a record label and distributor in Chicago. I’m aware for instance that music, CDs DVDs, and the like are examples of categories currently not eligible for branded registry. The books category is another big one in entertainment not eligible.

    my best,

    Rob

  3. Jeremy October 5, 2016 Reply

    This certainly should go down as an Amazon Sellers “Guide To How You’re Likely Blowing It” Great stuff here.

    • Rob Sieracki October 7, 2016 Reply

      Jeremy, I like the way you think! And, I like your sense of humor. Thanks for the comment!

      -Rob

  4. Andrew October 6, 2016 Reply

    Sometimes I don’t have as much time to focus on Amazon but this is a great list of fixes to help increase sales!

    Thanks Rob!

  5. Dawn October 6, 2016 Reply

    This is a great article. Being new to selling on Amazon (about 6 months), the owners of my company did a massive upload and now I am in the wonderful world of ASIN merge emails. I am trying to focus on creating parent/child relationships and locating the correct categories for those items that somehow made it onto some obscure classification, I keep getting pushback from above. I will use this article to back up my decision to correct these issues. Thank you.

    • Rob Sieracki October 7, 2016 Reply

      Hi Dawn,

      If you have any specific questions, I’m happy to help. Post them here, or hit me up via email or LinkedIn (it’s in my bio).

      If this is helpful, I offer some free advice. Take for what’s it’s worth.

      Success breaks down to two really diverse sets of skills (maybe three)….

      1) the red tape set of skills

      (This is why we have the senior process engineer from FedEx who was in charge of the SmartPost data and process stuff hired and doing Amazon work, at our place.)

      Red tape on the process side, looks like this;

      – It’s following instructions to a T, to get items listed

      – It’s translating what error codes mean, even though they are vague

      – It’s setting up processes internally to get items listed

      – It’s learning the patience required to talk to Amazon, and how to ask them questions

      – It’s manipulating the processes to deal with counterfeiters

      – It’s learning what those Amazon spreadsheet fields mean, and learning not to be intimidated by them, so you can upload products quickly.

      …and, this general set of skills has another flavor, too. Red tape on the data side looks like this:

      – It’s learning what those Amazon spreadsheet fields mean, and learning not to be intimidated by them, so you can make sure the data is correct

      – It’s maybe learning a bit about how SQL works, because that’s often involved in fixing data sets in an efficient way, or talking to the people at your company who store the data, bridging the IT and marketing gap

      – It’s maybe learning a bit about macros or even VBA, to get data correct efficiently

      and then there’s the whole other side…

      2) the strategy skills

      (And our place that may mean a whole different person’s attention on an account.)

      – It’s the buy box discussion, in the article.

      – It’s optimizing the bullet points and marketing points, like mentioned in the article

      – It’s using competitive intel, poking around Amazon with your eyes open, brainstorming

      – It’s figuring out how to get people to buy from you, not Amazon, on re-buy

      – It can touch on merchandizing itself

      – It’s using competitive intel programs, like Terapeak

      – It’s fun, I think

      It must be, because my enthusiasm has made this quite the long response!

      Thanks again for commenting.

      -Rob

  6. Ashley October 6, 2016 Reply

    Great article Rob!

    My company only exists because of Inventory Management. I would add that the current ability to manage inventory in Amazon Seller Central is highly deficient.

    Seller should plan to learn Amazon policy, where their inventory is going and if they’re being reimbursed for issues. Once they know this, they need to hire/train someone or get a third party service to turn the data dumps Amazon provides into actionable insight.

    • Rob Sieracki October 7, 2016 Reply

      “Seller should plan to learn Amazon policy, where their inventory is going and if they’re being reimbursed for issues.” — Indeed, that’s a great tip. Thanks.

      Regarding inventory, for most folks researching Amazon FBA vs FBM and making good decisions about that can also lead to statements akin to your “My company only exists because…” comment. It’s move-the-needle kind of thinking regarding inventory.

      About this… “get a third party service to turn the data dumps Amazon provides into actionable insight” — I know there are two approaches, out-of-the-box kind of solutions, and custom programming by innovative interface programmers.

      Are there any third party services you’d particularly recommend, if I may ask?

      -Rob

  7. Rob Sieracki October 7, 2016 Reply

    Hey, Andrew!

    I suspect you’re thee Andrew from Ohio I know via smart and witty email exchanges, and I thank you for your comment and your attention. It’s my first article here, so it means a lot!

    -Rob