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Starting Amazon FBA on a shoestring

You really shouldn’t let a shortage of funds delay your getting started on Amazon. The sooner you start, the better – you’ll begin to generate profits more quickly, and you can then reinvest those.

Most new sellers start with $4,000 or so. But you can still get started for a really small amount – as low as $500 in capital cost upfront if you really bootstrap, but more commonly, around $2,000 for a private label business.

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Getting the best out of Pay Per Click

Pay Per Click advertising can be quite a substantial investment, so you want to make sure you are getting a good return. Fortunately, Amazon gives you all the tools you need to do this – though you’ll need to invest a bit of time and effort in getting up to speed.

The first thing to do, if you have an existing PPC campaign you want to optimize, is to cut out the waste.

For instance, if you’ve run out of stock, stop the ads (or as the skinflint said when his taxi drove off a cliff, “If you can’t stop the car, at least stop the meter!”) There’s no point advertising something you can’t deliver!

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How to answer customers’ questions

This sounds like an easy thing to do. It’s not. Answering customer questions can have a big influence on your sales, but you have to do it right.

First of all, don’t use a script or a canned answer. People notice. It makes you look like you can’t be bothered. Answer each question with a fresh answer. Take the question seriously and answer it specifically.

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How to rewrite your product page

Everybody thinks they can write, but copy-writing is a skill that has to be learned. Good copy-writing can make a huge difference to your sales, because it makes the difference between getting your customer excited about your product, and leaving them unimpressed. At the same time, you’ll want to get your keywords into the page so that search engine and human readers both get what they need to know.

A lot of copy-writing is not about beautiful writing but about getting the structural basics right. These are:

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All you needed to know about shipping

You need to get your product from the supplier to Amazon’s warehouses. Put that way, it sounds easy. But it might involve quite a few different steps – it’s not as easy as sending a letter to your mom by USPS.

•    ‘Incoterms’ stands for ‘international trade terms’, a bunch of standardised arrangements for shipping. That means you don’t have to negotiate every single little thing, and it also means you know who is responsible for the goods at each stage of the journey. Let’s sum the incoterms up in a list.

•    EXW means ‘ex works’. Once the factory has the goods on the loading dock, their responsibility is at an end – they don’t have to load the truck, get the goods to the port, arrange for the shipping or customs. You also take on the risk when it leaves the factory, so you need insurance.

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How to get the most out of trade shows

The first key to getting the most out of trade shows is to prepare properly. Eighty percent of your returns will come from doing the right prep.

Don’t just turn up. Pre-register. You’ll get a confirmation you can print out, which will save you queuing. You’ll also most likely get access to more information by pre-registering, which will help your preparation.

Research the exhibitor list. Decide who you want to see, and try to set up appointments in advance, mentioning your main interests. That way you are expected, someone will already have prepared appropriate materials for you, and you’ll get to see a salesperson, not someone who’s just paid to hand out brochures.

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GETTING TO NUMBER ONE

Everyone knows that you really need to rank on the first page for Amazon search. But fewer people realize just how important it can be to have your product grab the number one spot on page one.

According to one survey we’ve seen, click through rates for the top ranked product are more than double those for the second rated product. The top ranked products get nearly a third of total clicks. The third, fourth and fifth ranking products get smaller portions, but the fall isn’t nearly so steep as it is between the two top products. So the message is; if you come first, you get the lion’s share of click-throughs.

It’s worth fighting as hard as you can to get to number one. On the other hand, it’s not worth duking it out to go up from, say, four to three.

Okay, let’s say you want to do “zero to hero” in just a couple of months. Can it be done?

Yes, it can. And here’s how.

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Hacks to improve your productivity as an FBA seller

When your productivity suffers, your business suffers. A lot of the time, you’re probably spending your effort on things that don’t need it. So here are a few tips for improving your profitability.

1. First of all, have a disposable e-mail address. Sometimes, just contacting a supplier means you’ll be getting all kinds of special offers and newsletters from them for ever after, even if you don’t end up doing business with them. Use a disposable address for first contacts and then you can always junk it; keep your real email for real suppliers and customers (and Amazon, of course).

2. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words. Skitch from Evernote is a great tool that lets you create images and, even better, easily provide input on images – for instance drawing an arrow to show the crucial aspects of a product or ringing the letter that’s wrong in the product name. Particularly if you’re dealing with suppliers for whom English isn’t a first language, this is a great way to get your point across. It’s also a fantastic tool for brainstorming with team members.

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Marketing hacks to improve your FBA sales

So often, a product is just ticking along quite nicely on Amazon when it could be a real barnstormer. Or it’s not doing anything much, when it could be selling steadily. The difference is in the detail – so tweaking your sales listing and advertising could do the trick and help it achieve its potential.

First of all, look at your listing title. You have up to 250 characters there, so if all you’re saying is “tea towel”, you’ve given up prime real estate with nothing to show for it. Have a think about what tea towel buyers want – they want to know what color, is it cotton, will it fit their interior design style? So take up some of those 250 characters and let them know, it’s blue and white striped, 100% cotton, French cottage or farmhouse style – zap! You’re selling!

The same way, “lucky horseshoe charm” doesn’t convey nearly as much information as “SweetiePie brand lucky horseshoe charm for bracelet – hallmarked sterling silver jewelry” which gives your brand, what the charm is intended for, and the fact that it’s real sterling silver (or “925” – that is, 92.5% pure silver).

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Creating a purchasing strategy

Many FBA sellers get started with a single product. They spend a lot of time researching suppliers, get a shortlist, get samples and T&Cs, choose their supplier, and get the product shipped. And then for their next product they go through the whole process all over again.

That can be really time-consuming. Imagine if you spent hours going through your shopping list and deciding which supermarket to visit for each item. You’d never get anything else done! So you need a long-term purchasing strategy.

First of all, unless you’re a very fast-moving business trying to grab trends quick and exploit them fast, it makes sense to build long-term relationships with your supplier. That’s the same whether you’re buying through Alibaba, from a Chinese manufacturer directly, or in the US or elsewhere.

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Your Amazon Storefront

Your Amazon Storefront is a micro-site within Amazon which showcases all your products and has information about your brand. It’s really useful if you have a particular niche such as stationery and art supplies, pet products, or cookware, or a target customer such as DIY enthusiasts or lovers of the outdoors.

It gives you a place to do a bit of storytelling about your brand and its values, to assert your credentials and to get potential buyers interested.

While your product pages have to obey strict rules, such as photos against a white background, you have much more control over the look and feel of your Storefront. With 2.4 million sellers on Amazon, this is your chance to stand out!

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Learning from mistakes – Epic FBA Fails

We usually focus on success stories. But it’s fair enough to say that a lot of FBA businesses do just about okay, and some are really quite epic failures.

We’re not going to be negative. We’re actually being quite positive here, because the really big failures usually stem from one of a relatively small number of problems – and when you know what the mistakes are, you’re much less likely to make them!

Let’s take the two most dangerous mistakes first. (This is our version of learning how to put the brakes on before we let you out on the highway.) They are the dangerous mistakes because they can lose you a whole lot of money. Other mistakes will usually just stop you achieving a profit or a worthwhile profit (working for a year to establish a business turning over $100 a month is pretty sad).

First, spending on PPC advertising without setting some targets and some limits. If the problem lies elsewhere, no amount of advertising is going to get you sales – but it will cost you money. Setting a limit is easy to do, so do it!

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Bundles for Amazon

If you own a brand on Amazon FBA, you can bundle your products to create an all-in-one package. That’s an advantage that unbranded sellers don’t have, and it can help you sell more product at better margins.

First, think of your customers. What are the experiences that are likely to lead them to want a package? For instance, “I just got a new puppy, what do I need?”

If you’re in this space, a chew toy, harness and leash, litter tray, food bowl, water bowl, collar with name-tag, and puppy bed all packaged together could make a great package for first time dog owners.

“My granddaughter’s moving into her own apartment…what can I get her?” If you have kitchen products for instance, a gift pack bundling things she’ll find useful with some appealing items – spatula, measuring cups, pans, a recipe book and some spice packets – could sell well.

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Fads versus Trends

Fads can make you a fortune fast. Two kids who were among the first to sell fidget spinners in 2016 made $350,000 in just six months.

But the problem with fads is that they can die very quickly. First, the big guys notice the market, create their own products, and use their immense economies of scale to bring the price down. Fidget spinners started at $25 and ended up selling for $5 each by mid 2017.

And eventually, a fad has nowhere to go. I saw a market trader trying to sell some a while back – three for a buck! (I wonder what he paid for them?)

So how do you spot a fad, as opposed to a trend?

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Groceries on Amazon

It’s true – more and more people are buying groceries on Amazon. Partly because of Covid-related concerns about visiting big stores, or because of local lock downs, partly for convenience – particularly for people who are working at home, and partly for choice.  A year ago, about a third of US customers had bought groceries on Amazon – now it’s well over 40%.

Some specialty foods are particularly difficult to get if you don’t have much choice where you shop – for instance for those living in small country towns. Gluten free, Kosher, and Vegan specialties aren’t always available while many consumers want to know they’re eating Fair Trade or Organic food. These could all be good niches.

But selling groceries on Amazon is a bit tougher than selling dog chews or pencil sharpeners. Amazon needs to know you’re not going to poison anyone, and it also needs to know you’re a reliable distributor. So first of all, check whether you’re automatically approved (if you have a good track record, that could happen), or get approved by providing a purchase invoice from a manufacturer or wholesaler for at least ten units as well as live photos of the product and packaging.

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Amazon Business Reports – the Four Essentials

Amazon Seller Central provides far more data than most sellers ever use. It will tell you about your stranded inventory, it gives you advertising reports, sales totals, page traffic, FBA fulfillment reports. There’s a whole lot there, but you need to cut through the plethora of data to get to the essentials.

Essential 1. This is your conversion rate, shown as ‘unit session percentage’. A conversion rate of 5-10% is good; that’s better than most websites, as people tend to go to Amazon when they are ready to buy, not just looking for general information. If you have a conversion rate lower than 5% then you have an issue.

That could mean your listings page isn’t good enough. Do you use A+ content? If you qualify for it, you should definitely use it. Do you have great images and a good video?

It might mean you have bad reviews. You’ll need to do something about that. Or it could mean your price is too high – check comparative listings.

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What You Need To Put On Your Packaging

Packaging design is partly about branding – and we’ll get on to that later. But there are also a few things that need to be on your packaging, and without which, you won’t be able to sell – or worse, you’ll be doing so illegally. Don’t worry, it’s not too difficult to comply with the regulations, as long as you carry out the following steps.

1. One of the most important things that needs to go on your packaging is your FNSKU – the stock number that Amazon issues you when you create your listing. You could ask your supplier to put it on with a sticker, or actually print it on the packaging (for instance if you’re using a cardboard box).

You can also get Amazon to do it – but that costs money. It’s much better to get it done by your supplier. (You’ll need to generate a pdf file from Seller Central, where it says ‘Print item labels’.)

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Get Your Launch Off To A Good Start

There are a good number of ways that you can kickstart a new product. That’s good, because Amazon is a very, very big marketplace and it’s not easy to get your product noticed.

For instance, you could use a ‘deals’ site to promote your product. Use Seller Central to create your coupon codes, and give those away via the site. For real impact, try half price, or even 70% or 90% off, just to get the ball rolling. Remember, this isn’t a loss making product, it’s a marketing investment.

The idea is to get people who would be “kind of” interested in your product at the regular price to say “hey, at this price it’s a no-brainer”. You’ll be able to rack up some sales quickly that way. However, ensure you set a maximum order level to prevent people being naughty and buying your product to resell at a profit!

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Managing Inventory For Better Margins

Managing your inventory better can save you a lot of money.

If you want to know how well you’re managing, first stop is to go look up your IPI score on Amazon. This will give you a broad view of how well you are managing. If it’s not too good, then there are a number of actions you can take to improve your inventory turnover and reduce your storage charges.

First off, identify any items in long term storage – that is, over 365 days. It’s a pretty simple calculation to compare this with your sales figures to see how long it will take to sell off all this stock. If it looks like it’s going to take a while, then you need to take action now.

You could, for instance, run a promotion or reduce the price. It’s pretty simple to calculate your break-even price for selling the stock against paying another month’s storage charges. (Of course, that assumes you do sell the stock.) If your product is just slow selling but ticking along, this is the right thing to do.

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Make ‘long tail’ keywords work for you

Keywords have a demand curve, like any other good. If you imagine it starting right at the top left side of the chart, there is a huge number of searches for a single overall keyword. As you get more and more specific, the number of searches falls off – but so does the amount of competition for that specific keyword (or, if you’re advertising, the amount you’ll pay for it).

Let’s take an example: “dress”. There will be millions of searches for “dress”. What’s the chance you’ll be at the top? Zero. You can’t afford it.

“Black dress”. Not quite so many searches, but still a lot. And this is a keyword where big sellers are going to dominate, and the keyword’s really expensive if you want to advertise.

“Little black dress”. Fewer searches, more specific.

“Little black dress Azzedine Alaia.” Then “Little black dress Azzedine Alaia size 12.” Now you’ve got a very specific keyword. Anyone who wants Chanel, Givenchy, Saint Laurent… you’ve excluded them. And you’ve excluded the customers who want another size.

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