For many ecommerce merchants, the holiday shopping season is the busiest, most critical time of the year. On Amazon, things can get crazy for sellers, even if they have been through a holiday shopping season or two.
While there is much talk each year about just how much inventory an Amazon sellers should carry for the holiday shopping season, my focus here is on addressing those often overlooked issues that are root causes of significant lost opportunities and post-holiday pain suffered by sellers every year.
7 Overlooked Holiday Tactics for Amazon Sellers
1. Listings. While you still have time, in September and October, make sure that the data on your Amazon listings is in good shape. It’s not a bad idea to continue checking the data every week through the November and December period, just to make sure none of your listings has been artificially hurt by recently changed data that confuses customers or reduces the product’s search performance.
Within Seller Central, use two underutilized reports.
- First, the “Listings Quality and Suppressed Listings Report” helps you figure out if there are any errors or data omissions on your product listings. While not all “errors” in this report are critical, you definitely want to look for products that have no product description or images. These sorts of issues should be addressed immediately, as they greatly help customers make better decisions about a product — and improve conversions to the seller.
- To supplement this report, use the “Category Listing Report” to review all of the data that you have submitted on your listings, including tax collection codes on your products. To access this report, contact seller support and ask to turn on this “Category Listings Report” — it will be made available for only seven days at a time, and can be renewed.
2. Performance metrics cleanup. Your ability to win the Buy Box is driven in part by the level of negative feedback and return rate you experience. Well before the holiday shopping season, make the data-driven decision as to whether to continue carrying these specific ASINs, or whether to hold back from selling them during your busiest and most important time of the year. You don’t want any item to result in your account being suspended or your Buy Box eligibility being hurt.
Your ability to win the Buy Box is driven in part by the level of negative feedback and return rate you experience.
Identify SKUs that account for a disproportionate share of either the negative feedback or returns. Use the “Customer Concessions – Returns” report to figure out your high-returns products.
3. Managing inventory levels, FBA. Review inventory levels at least every two days during the holiday shopping season. If you’re in a position to buy extra inventory, do it. Keep in mind that there are items you’ll likely sell after the holiday season.
Try to buy enough inventory to keep you going through end of February. If you sell through it faster than expected in December, you’re much more likely to have enough inventory on hand to avoid too many stockouts before December 25.
While you don’t have to send all of that extra inventory into Fulfillment by Amazon right away, you’ll at least have the inventory available, should demand for your products in December be higher than expected.
If you aren’t using inventory management software to run your Amazon business, now is the time to set the “Set Replenishment Alerts” in the Inventory section, so as to be notified when falling below certain quantities in FBA. This is a rarely-used tool that scrolls through your entire FBA inventory. It can save you a lot of time.
…now is the time to set the “Set Replenishment Alerts” in the Inventory section…
Order most of your holiday inventory before mid-October, and ready for your own warehouses by the third week of November and for FBA facilities by the end of the second week of November. Keep in mind that FBA facilities can very busy by mid-November, and it may take 5 to 7 days for your products to be received and ready for sale. Be sure your items have been received and are salable before Thanksgiving.
And with the ever-creeping Black Friday sales starting earlier, be ready for increased demand at the start of the Thanksgiving holiday week. While some sellers lament the increased storage fees of using FBA services in the fourth quarter, the opportunity cost of running out of stock is usually hundreds of times greater than the extra cost of sending in inventory a few weeks earlier in November.
Even if you are fulfilling most of your orders yourself, it’s worth considering sending some inventory of each fast-moving SKU to FBA in order to take advantage of the extra 2 to 3 days of guaranteed pre-December 25 shopping that Amazon offers FBA sellers.
Depending on how days of the week fall on a particular year, Amazon communicates to customers that FBA products purchased up to 2 to 3 days before Dec 25 will arrive in time for Dec 25. If sellers fulfill products, Amazon doesn’t allow the same messaging. So sellers of self-fulfilled products typically lose out substantially to FBA offers during the few days just before December 25, a time when significant purchasing is still done.
…sellers of self-fulfilled products typically lose out substantially to FBA offers during the few days just before December 25…
In the final five days of shopping, consumers typically buy only items that will get to them by December 25. So make sure you have some strategy for using FBA during the holiday shopping season, even if it’s for only the few days before December 25.
4. Clear out old inventory. By mid-December, you’ve got an excellent window to clear through old inventory by cutting the price — just as consumer demand for most anything is at a peak for the year. If you’re sitting on stale inventory, this is the time to sell it.
5. Post-holiday stockouts. Too many sellers end up with out-of-stock inventory right before or after December 25, resulting in lost sales after Christmas, even though demand does not typically fall completely until early January. Order enough inventory to carry through at least mid-January, when most suppliers come up for air again after the holiday season. Have product available in January, even if it’s not delivered to you until mid or late December.
6. Pricing. Since many shoppers are buying gifts, consider pricing your unpopular inventory competitively to appeal to them. Reduce your prices on slow-moving inventory after December 12 to 15 to clear it out, so you aren’t left holding it after Christmas, when demand for both popular and unpopular items falls significantly.
Amazon has rules about price gauging, and those rules kick into high gear during the holiday shopping season. If you price products more than 10 to 15 percent above the stated list price, Amazon likely won’t let you capitalize on your Featured Merchant status for those items, even if you are selling the item through FBA. Charging more than list price during times of high demand is therefore a tradeoff between higher margins and lower visibility of your products.
Amazon has rules about price-gauging, and those rules kick into high-gear during the holiday shopping season.
7. Returns. A small miscalculation in demand could cause you to be stuck with a lot of inventory after Christmas,. Discuss well in advance with suppliers to find out what they will take back as returns after Christmas.
If you have a generous return policy with your suppliers, it’s worth stocking up a little more for the holiday shopping season. And if you don’t have a generous return policy — or any return policy — definitely look at liquidating items that are moving slower than expected, starting by December 12 to 15, so you aren’t left with so much product that it would take you many months to sell through it during the post-holiday shopping season.
How will you handle the increased number of customer returns in January? With so many more orders in November and December, expect many more returns in January — especially with Amazon’s 60-day return policy on FBA orders purchased in November and December.
Be ready with staffing to process returned items and send them back to suppliers. And because customers don’t always return products in new condition with original packaging and materials, develop a process for reselling returned items in used condition — on Amazon or other channels.