eCommerce Strategy

9 Mistakes to avoid when selling on Amazon

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In a smart move for your eCommerce business, you decided to start selling products on Amazon. After all, about half of all eCommerce transactions in the US happen there. If you’re trying to reach as many customers as possible, using Amazon as a key sales channel seems like a no-brainer. But, if you want to keep the relationship as profitable as possible, there are certain mistakes you need to avoid. I learned those the hard way, by working with dozens of sellers over the years. So let’s skip the pain and lay these Amazon seller mistakes out so you don’t have to make them. 

Mistake #1: Assuming that selling on Amazon will be easy 

If you’ve sold products online before — or you’re already running a successful eCommerce operation on other sales channels — it might be tempting to assume that setting up an Amazon seller account and listing your product(s) is easy. After all, selling on eBay is pretty easy. Selling on Facebook? Easy. Selling on Shopify? Easy. But Amazon? That’s a completely different story. Here’s why. 

Many sales categories on Amazon are “locked.” This means you need to provide proof that you can sell a product in this category. What kind of proof? You’ll need to provide an invoice or proof of purchase from the manufacturer at a minimum. If the product isn’t on Amazon already, you’ll need to work to “unlock” the new category by applying to sell in that category with your company information. (You’ll need to fill out an application.)

So even though getting set up for Amazon sales doesn’t have to be painful, don’t go into it thinking you’ll have everything set up in a few hours. It can often take several days to just get your account set up before you can begin listing.

Mistake #2: Listing duplicate products in your Amazon store

Spoiler alert: there’s a good chance that the product you want to sell is already for sale on Amazon. Amazon is no different than eBay: anyone is welcome to sell just about anything. (Well… alcohol, fine art and cars are among the current exceptions.) So if someone has your products, they can technically sell them. 

Many of my clients are surprised to learn that every product on Amazon has a “have one to sell” link: 

I’ve worked with several companies who were very surprised to see their products were already listed and for sale on Amazon. That’s why it’s important to do your research, have your Universal Product Code (UPC) ready, and make sure you’re not listing a duplicate product. If you do come across someone selling your product already, then you’ll be adding information to that listing and competing with other sellers to “win the buy box”, like these sellers:

Source: Amazon

Mistake #3: Ignoring the complex relationship between UPCs, SKUs and the Amazon Catalog

Before listing your products on Amazon, you need to understand the relationship between Amazon and Universal Product Codes (UPCs), Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) and product variations such as size and color. 

A UPC can be impossible to change. I’m currently working with a client who “recycled” some of their old UPCs. Amazon, however, retained the old data in their catalog and have refused to update or change it. Instead, they’re insisting we either match the data in their catalog or use a different UPC. So if you have UPCs, use them as product identifiers on Amazon. This will help protect your brand and product in the long run. 

SKUs, on the other hand, are simpler to change. You can use different SKUs and — if you don’t have one — Amazon will assign you one. Once the SKU is entered, you can change it without deleting the product. This, however, doesn’t protect you or your products. 

Mistake #4: Skipping out on keyword, competitor, or category research

The majority of the clients I help on Amazon have already listed their products but don’t feel like they are getting the traffic and sales they should be getting. Most of the time, this all comes down to the same reason: Amazon is a hyper-competitive marketplace. If you want to be successful, you have to “fill in the blanks.” 

What blanks? Your category, competitors, and the keywords you’re going to target. You also need a strategy to “win the buy box”.  

To help, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you start selling on Amazon. (Or if you’re already selling on Amazon and want to improve your results.)

  • Who is ranking for keywords similar to my product?  
  • How many reviews do they have?  
  • What price point are they at?  
  • How can I beat them?
    • Can I build a better listing?  
    • Can I have better pricing?  
  • Are my competitors on Amazon Prime?  

Do your research on how Amazon weighs your keywords based on placement and use keyword tools like Ahrefs or Helium 10 to optimize your listings. 

Mistake #5: Ignoring Amazon Advertising and other seller tools

I always recommend to my clients that they use every tool available to them from Amazon. Understand and use tools like:

The more tools you use, the more chances you’ll have to beat the competition and understand the Amazon marketplace better. For example, I had a client who — after years of selling on Amazon — finally decided to take advantage of FBA and saw his sales increase by 50% in just one month.

Mistake #6: Going in without a strategy for growing sales and customer reviews

I see far too many sellers add their products to Amazon and just sit back and wait for magical things to happen. Unfortunately, if you do that, growth will be predictably slow. That’s why it’s important to have a strategy in place to grow sales and traffic.  

One of the best ways to get a new product to rank on Amazon is to get your first 10 Amazon reviews as fast as you can. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these reviews will just come in.  You need to have a strategy in place to get your first reviews — and continue to get reviews —  if you want to outpace the competition on Amazon. 

My top two recommendations for getting customer reviews on Amazon are to:

  1. Enroll your products in Amazon Vine right away. 
  2. Include a personal note with every product. Thank Amazon’s customers for their purchase. Let them know you’re there to help if they have any problems and that you’d appreciate a review if they love the product. These notes are becoming more and more common as it’s nearly the only “touchpoint” you’ll have with an Amazon shopper. (Just make sure you adhere to Amazon’s policies: you can ask someone to leave a review but you can’t incentivize them in any way.)

Mistake #7: Assuming you won’t have to fight the competition

If you have a popular product, someone will try to copy your success. It doesn’t matter how unique your product is. It doesn’t matter if you have trademarks and patents in place. Because Amazon is an open platform, eventually other sellers will start competing with you using painfully similar products. That’s why you need to take the steps and protect your products — and your brand — on Amazon as soon as you start selling. 

Mistake #8: Building a sub-par listing

Following on the heels of mistake #5 and using all the tools available to you, you should also make sure you’re building the best product detail pages possible. (Ignoring this is probably the biggest mistake I see people making.)

You can use tools like Helium 10’s product optimizer to make sure your listing(s) are looking good. However, it’s also pretty certain that the top-selling product in every category has to check all the following boxes so you can get started without fancy tools. Here’s a quick punch list:

  • Add a detailed Product Title. Your title should include the most important keywords for your listing. Different product categories have different title lengths: FBA product titles have a  maximum of 200 characters but don’t be afraid to stretch that to its limit. (As a rule of thumb, front-load your keywords: the more important the keyword, the closer to the start of the title it should be.)
  • Make sure your bullet points sell. Amazon’s search reads the bullets and the title. That’s why it’s crucial to include top-performing keywords in your bullet points: make sure you touch on all the sales points the customer is looking for.
  • Use high-quality, zoomable images and at least one video. Visuals sell. Show off your product from all the best angles. 
  • Don’t ignore the A+ content.  While —as far as Amazon tells us— they don’t “read” the A+ content for product ranking, it’s crucial from a customer perspective. Add high quality images and use the copy to sell your product. (Use your reviews and customer questions to identify key selling points.)
  • Use a competitive price. While you shouldn’t compete on price alone, Amazon customers do price shop. 
  • Get as many reviews as you can. Reviews are a huge part of the buying process: customers compare the number of reviews and the number of 4 and 5 star reviews. Keep encouraging customers to leave them, as much as Amazon allows you to. 
  • Don’t forget to optimize your listing. As your product sells, go back and re-do your keyword research and update the description to match what you learned. 

Mistake #9: Creating a thoroughly forgettable customer experience

This mistake is quickly becoming my biggest pet peeve. Making your customer experience unforgettable is one of the easiest things you can do as a seller and one of the few parts of the Amazon experience you have total control over.  

Yet so many companies just package their products in plain boxes and sell them without a second thought. Your product should knock the buyer’s socks off the moment they open the box.  If you want to grow on Amazon you’ve got to provide some ZING and let that customer know they matter. At a minimum, there should be a personal note from the founder or CEO. If you’re in a highly competitive space, consider including a free gift and a note.

So what happens next?

Amazon can be a powerful sales channel for the smart seller. It gives you access to a whole new market. If you use it correctly, it can be a potent opportunity. But it is also a highly competitive place so as you set up, keep these common Amazon seller errors — and how to avoid them — in mind. 

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