The Seller Abroad

Using FBA to sell on Amazon from abroad… can't be that hard!

Category: Marketing

Demand Trends

Demand Trends and Consumer Behaviour

In this post I’m going to explore a few demand trends I’ve noticed. Demand effects pretty much everything you do to make money online. It determines your stock levels, your sell price, your profits and ultimately your business’s success. Matching supply with demand is every seller’s biggest challenge. Demand TrendsDemand is this funny variable that never stays constant and is incredibly hard to predict accurately. That said, there are certain trends that demand tends to follow. These trends are based on consumer behaviour. I will touch on a couple of trends I’ve noticed along the way and I encourage you to post any relevant demand trends you have come across as comments.

Consumer Behaviour

Consumer behaviour is a term used to try predict when and how much your potential customer will buy and what influences their decision. Knowing your consumer’s behaviour will give you a good understanding of demand. A good way to attempt to predict consumer behaviour is to look at past demand trends and determine major factors that influence purchasing habits. Here are two significant ones I’ve noticed:

  • Public Holidays – I have found that consumers are less likely to buy physical products just before, during, and just after public holidays. I would put this down to fact that public holidays tend to have their own set of expenses and events that take away from a customer’s normal purchasing habit. The obvious exceptions to this is public holidays that promote gift giving, such as Christmas, and if you sell products that are particularly targeted at a public holiday, such as Easter bunny toys. Apart from these exceptions, I’ve found that the 3 to 4 days before and after a public holiday tend to be much quieter than normal.
  • Seasonal Trends – I have found that there are certain months that consumers are more likely to buy physical products. In general, I’ve found that mid Jan through to end of March is much quieter than usual. Potential reasons for this is: customers have just spent a lot of money during the holiday season and are in saving mode, or customers have made a new year’s resolution to save better or spend money in other areas such as health and fitness. It normally takes a month or two to snap out of this lull. March has yet another factor in that it is tax time in the US, meaning people are more aware of their spending habits and tend to reign it in. On the flip side, Sept through to Dec tend to have higher sales than usual. Whilst Nov and Dec have the simple explanation that everyone is in spending mode in the lead up to the holiday season, I don’t have a great explanation for Sept and Oct being so good. It may be that potential customers are more willing to spend after restricting their spending habit for the majority of the first half of the year. Another reason may be that children go back to school, giving parents the time to shop. The first half of Jan tends to be okay sales wise possibly due to overspill of the spending mode during holiday season. I do not have direct experience, however I have heard from colleagues that information products do not suffer as much from seasonal trends, in particular not experiencing as much of a lull from mid Jan through to March.

I’ve touched on a couple of points above however there are many more variables that effect consumer behaviour and demand, hence it is so hard to predict. There are great, somewhat complex, formulas to predict demand within a couple of standard deviations based on past information, however this requires some proper teaching of how to use models based on past data. These models can even unearth seasonal trends when analysed properly. That however is two subjects in an MBA or Masters in Data Analysis degree, which in my opinion is overkill for online sellers that are only starting out with one or two products.

How to use this information

Okay, so now you know a couple of trends, but what do you do with this knowledge? Demand trends are super useful. Here are a couple of ways you can make use of trends that you’ve noticed for your product:

  • Control stock levels – Ensure you have sufficient stock during the busy months. Make sure you do not over-order and sit on a large pile of stock during slow months. Even Amazon has a stock keeping fee that will sting if you are not making sales.
  • Profitability calculations – Understanding trends will help you better estimate your profits and performance. If you thought the busy period was normal, you would grossly overestimate your profits; vice versa if you thought the slow periods were normal.
  • Pricing and promotions – You can utilise busy periods to ensure you keep your price at a premium as demand is high during this time. You may wish to discount or promote your product more during slow periods to ensure you are still turning over an adequate amount of stock.

Hope you find these demand trends helpful. Make sure you observe your sales patterns and try unearth trends that are more specific to your own product. There may be micro trends that you stumble on. The most important thing however is that you make use of this knowledge to maximise your profits and sales by taking the appropriate action. Again, if anyone has noticed any general trends, please feel free to share it as a comment. I believe it would be super helpful for everyone reading.

Is Your Amazon Sponsored Ad Campaign Profitable?

Assessing your Amazon Sponsored Ad Campaign

In this post I’m going to address how to determine if your Amazon sponsored ad campaign is working. Is it a worthy investment? This is a short but very important post for maintaining good profitability. At the end of the day, it’s all about the money money money…. You get what I mean!

Okay so now you’ve been selling for a few weeks and your product has slowly worked its way up in page count for your desired keyword’s search results. This is fantastic news because now more and more eyes are getting to your listing organically, without any paid advertising. So when is it okay to stop using the Amazon sponsored ad campaign? After all, these ads have drastically increased your page views. In my case, even once my product reached page 1 for my desired keyword, the sponsored ads increased eyes on my listing by about 150%. That is huge right… well that depends.

Testing The Amazon Sponsored Ad Campaign

See, In my case I noticed that I was spending a lot of money on sponsored ads with the cost accounting for about 21% of my sales (Refer to the ACoS figure on your ad campaign page). This was a big deal for me. It meant that this large chunk came straight out of my margin on each product. For a niche product, this basically cuts your margin in half… or more. In light of this, I decided to experiment with the ad campaign by narrowing down on key words that worked and did not work in generating sales. I slowly dropped unsuccessful key words based on the number of sales it resulted in. To find this statistic,

  • click into your sponsored ad campaign,
  • click on your ad group,
  • then click on the keyword tab.

Keep in mind that I dropped keywords off the campaign over a period of a week each, to assess the performance properly. My benchmark was that if the keyword didn’t bring in sales and had an ACoS of over 10%, I would consider dropping it. At the end, it turned out that the only really effective keyword for advertising was my main desired keyword. Now that’s fantastic, only I was already on page 1 of this keyword search results! From here I decided to stop the advertising campaign to see what happened and as expected, sales were hardly touched. I may have lost about 2 or 3 sales a month, but retained profits.

Bottom Line on Amazon Sponsored Ad Campaigns

Amazon sponsored ad campaignIn summary, my advice on this one is that it is not worth advertising for any keyword with a ACoS over about 10%. More importantly, it is not worth advertising for keywords for which you already rank on the first page, as you will most likely get that customer viewing your listing without the ad anyway. So why pay for the view instead of getting it for free? Don’t answer that… it’s a rhetorical question! This analysis of your ad campaign can be super effective as you will get rid of your unprofitable sales. Now keep in mind that I do not recommend doing this until you’ve been selling consistently for about 2 months. The reason being that when you start out, volume of sales is more important that profitability for metrics such as search rankings, BSR and also helps with seller feedback and reviews as well.

Now go forth and multiply…profits that is!

How to Price Your Product

In this post, I explore how to price your product to extract maximum value. I went through a steep learning curve with pricing my product and hopefully I can spare you some of that pain.

Price Strategy

There are a lot of websites with solid information on different pricing strategy. The most intuitive is that you add up all your costs and then apply a mark-up that will result in a healthy profit margin for yourself. Now this sound kinda logical right… but is it that simple? Of course not! You can actually end up leaving a lot of money on the table if you do not consider other factors.  Let me elaborate on a simple few of these:

Competitor Pricing

In most cases, you are going to be selling a product into a niche market that already has a few players in it. Sure, your product will have a unique point of difference, but how do you price accordingly? It is important that you gauge your competitor’s products to unearth a gap in the market. This may not be a very obvious gap, however given you will be competing in a niche market, there should definitely be some sort of gap. For example, with my product, I realised that there were a lot of low end products and a hand full of premium products in the market. If I were to throw a few numbers at it to clarify, let’s say the low end products ranged in price from $20 to $35, and the premium products ranged from $59 to $80. There was very little that sat in that nice gap just under the high priced products. So rather than competing in the dog fight at the lower price point or competing against potentially established brands in the premium range, I decided to go with a value-for-money proposition and price in the lovely gap just under the premium products. There was very little competition in this gap. So running with the numbers I mentioned above, I would price the product somewhere between $45 and $55.

Value Proposition

There are basically three ways you can go about proposing value to your customer. You can have a cheap product with little differentiation that creates demand due to price alone; You can offer a high quality, well differentiated product at a premium price, which generally creates less demand but offers a better profit margin and helps create a strong brand; Alternatively, you can offer a value for money proposition, where you have decent quality, differentiated product for sale at a medium price point, which sits between the other two options with regards to demand and profit margin but still allows you to build a strong brand. Either one of these can yield a lot of success. My advice is to stay away from competing with a cheap product on price alone. The only winner here is the customer who gets lower and lower prices as everyone undercuts each other to have the cheapest price. Both the premium and value-for-money proposition are better in the long term, particularly due to the additional benefit of creating Brand Value over time.

Launch and Reacting to the Market

Okay, so let’s say you’ve surveyed the market, decided on your value proposition and decided on a price range that you are comfortable with. When I say comfortable, I mean one that generates adequate profit to justify your venture. How do you know where exactly in this range you should price the product? Do you use a different price for the launch and once the product is established? In theory, if you have great patience and are going in with one of the two recommended value propositions mentioned above, it is best not to change your price point for the launch as it shows strength in the brand and product. That said, I did launch my product with a price point at the lower end of my range. This helped create a little bit more demand initially before I stepped the price back up toward the top of the range I had initially established. If you choose to start at the lower end of your range and step up, ensure you do not make many steps. Make 1 or 2 changes and do not change the price any quicker than 2 week intervals, or a month if you can help it. You may notice a dip in demand as you increase your price. This is price elasticity at play and it is expected. Price Elasticity Demand CurveCheck out this Price Elasticity Demand curve. It is fairly typical of how price changes influence demand. If you see sharp movements in demand, then maybe you are below the apex of the curve where small price changes greatly influences demand. If you find there is little movement in demand, you are probably above the apex of the curve where price increases do not diminish demand as much. You be the judge of which exact price point you want to settle on. Consider price and demand impact on your profitability in making this decision.

Discounting

I’d tend to say do not do any discounting. Discounting is done so often these days that all it really does is devalue the product. It basically says to the customer that the discounted price is what the product is actually worth so just wait till I discount it again before you purchase it. If you wish to discount the product, do it with a goal/purpose in mind and ensure this is communicated well. If you wanted to run a festive season discount promotion, ensure you highlight that this is for the festive season only and it is special. I recommend that through the year, you keep discount campaigns down to one or two only. What you tend to see with discount campaigns is that your demand increases significantly during the discount period and then falls below your average demand straight after the discount promotion is finished, before finally resettling to normal levels. This is due to the discount campaign encouraging people to buy more during the discount and stock up or due to people seeing the brand as a discount brand. Overall, you may get the same amount of sales through the whole year but you made less profit because a large chunk of them happened at a discount. That said, discounts can be powerful if used sparingly and communicated well. I myself have not done any discounting except in order to get reviews, which is a whole other topic.

The main point I’d like to stress is that you need to think about all these factors when finding your price point. In most cases, if you’ve picked your niche well, you will find that you can charge a higher price than you had first anticipated. This will allow you to have the optimum value exchange with your customer; offer maximum value and extract maximum value.  It’s a win-win situation.

 

Post Highlights for how to price your product

  • Consider your costs and profitability
  • Survey the market to find a pricing gap that you can exploit
  • Be sure of your value proposition to the customer
  • Do not change price unless you have to
  • Avoid discounting as much as possible
  • Everybody wins!

Generating More Sales

Generating More Sales

Let me take you through my learnings and best practices for generating more sales to keep the momentum going.

Now that I had experienced the euphoria of getting my first organic sale and the low of not getting heaps and heaps more, I had to figure out a way to get my listing to make more sales. The issue was that my product listing was on page 4. In order to get consistent sales, I had to get more eyes on my product listing, meaning I had to somehow get myself to page one when my desired key words were searched. As Amazon’s algorithm doesn’t favour new listings as such, this is difficult to do. Don’t worry, there is a way around this, but like all shortcuts, you have to pay for it.

Amazon Sponsored Product Campaign

Amazon allows you to use a pay-per-click service to get your listing front and centre when someone searches for related key words. This service is called Amazon Sponsored Product Campaign. This is a great way to get more eyes on your listing. More eyes = more sales = more reviews. More sales and more reviews = ranking higher for your desired key words. As this is a paid service, you have to be prepared to invest. I’d advise that you take this step after you’ve got about 10 reviews plus. To start off with, I recommend letting Amazon automatically pick the key words based on your product. You can do this by picking “Automatic Targeting” when creating the campaign. Amazon will come up with a large number of key words that match your product listing and advertise on search results for those key words. You will have to set up your maximum bid per click. $0.75 is a typical bid. You might have to bid higher if you are in a more competitive market. You won’t pay that amount each time, however you can bid up to that limit to outbid other advertisers. You also have to set your maximum daily budget. I initially left this at $20. You can vary this as you go depending on results, however $20 is a good starting figure. Again, this is the limit of your daily spend so you usually will not spend that much every day.

Amazon sponsored Ads is a great way to get your product sales rolling. I’ll touch more on optimising your sponsored product Ads in another post down the track. Once you’ve set up your initial Ad campaign, wait a week before you start analysing your results as things have a delayed effect. If you are going to check it every day as I did, be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster ride!

Super URL

Another neat trick/hack to help you rank higher on searches is to use a particular type of URL link for all your marketing. Say for example, if you were to send a link to a reviewer to access your product, you’d want to use this particular type of URL. I hear it referred to as Super URL a lot. The premise of this URL is that it makes Amazon think that the person clicking on the link has manually searched for your suggested key word and found your product. This in turn feeds the Amazon algorithm, the logic being that people searching the key words chose to buy your product over the hundreds of others, so it should rank higher for that key word search. Makes sense right… Now to setting up this so called “Super URL”.

Super URL

As mentioned above, the Super URL mimics someone buying your product out of the hundreds that showed up during a key word search. So the trick to this is that the URL has to contain directions that show the key search terms. A simple way to set up a Super URL is to use the following format: http://www.amazon.com/dp/[Insert ASIN Here]/keywords=[Insert key words in format “totally+awesome+product”] where you fill in the red text with your product ASIN (found on your product listing page) and your key words using the “+” sign instead of spaces. So finally it should look something like this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/BIWK9846D/keywords=totally+awesome+product. Now to what extent a Super URL works is hard to judge, however it does help. While this simple method works well, for best results, it is worth doing what I did and use a service such as AMZ Tracker which provide Super URLs with time stamps on it (a bunch of letters and numbers that indicate the time at which the link was clicked). This is hard to do manually as the time stamp constantly changes with time, however it does provide more comprehensive information to the Amazon algorithm. The assumption is that the more natural and comprehensive the information you feed the algorithm, the better it works for you. AMZ Tracker also shortens your Super URL so that the link doesn’t look so messy and long. You can check out AMZ Tracker here if you are interested.

Now sit back and relax for a week or so while the system turns over. Hope the results work out as well for you as it did for me with this approach. Don’t forget to celebrate the little wins!

 

Post Highlights for generating more sales

  • Use Amazon sponsored Ad campaign (Pay Per Click Service)
  • Set up a Super URL using AMZ Tracker or another similar service
  • Be patient… you may have to wait a week before you see the results you are hoping for
  • Once the sales start coming in, celebrate the win!

Getting Reviews, Generating Sales

Your Listing is Live. Next Step, Generating Sales

In this post I will explore how to generate sales at an accelerated pace once your listing has gone live.

That moment of excitement when you realise your stock has finally arrived at the FBA warehouse, immediately followed by the nervousness and fear of truly finding out if your hours of research and efforts have been worth it. Yup, I went through that too. It’s amazing how many emotions you can go through with this thing! After going through that experience, here’s my two cents to help you through it.

It is okay to not get sales on day 1…. or day 2, 3 4 or 5. When your listing first goes live, depending on how competitive your niche is, you can be on anywhere from page 4 down to page 20 and onwards. The key is to not get down when you don’t immediately get sales. If you’re lucky you’ll get sales straight off the bat, but more often than not, you will need to give it a kick start. The best kick start you can give your product listing is a few sales, some seller feedback and verified reviews (this is where the item is reviewed by a customer that purchased it). Now keep in mind that soliciting reviews or getting reviews without a purchase are against Amazon’s policy and anything that goes against Amazon’s policy spells trouble. Amazon can either delete the review or give you a formal warning.

Getting Reveiws

Here is what I did and it worked really well. I did a small give away of products discounted down to $1 each in exchange for unbiased reviews. There are sites that boast review communities that let you offer products at a discount in exchange for reviews. This is currently in line with Amazon’s guidelines and does not cause issues unless one of the review wording itself breaches one of the Amazon Review Guideline conditions. The one I used is AMZ Tracker. After doing much research, it seemed to provide the best value for money. AMZ Tracker offers a community of reviewers to which you can offer your product at a discount in exchange for a review (Although you can offer products at any price, $1 offers work best). The site works completely organically so they cannot guarantee a review however I’ve always got 100% conversion of reviews. They come down hard on reviewers that take discounted product without leaving a review. Keep in mind that these reviews will be unbiased, which is why you need to make sure you have a good product! There are additional perks with AMZ Tracker in that you can track your product, competitor products and also potential future products on parameters such as sales, search rankings and Best Seller Ranking (BSR). Full disclosure, although a lot of AMZ tracker’s tracking features are free, access to the review community is paid. Something I thought about twice before signing up for, but worked out well worth it once the product reviews and seller feedback started to result in product sales. You can check out the website here.

customer reviews - generating sales

I gave away 9 products at a discount to get 4 seller feedback and 5 product reviews. Took about 10 days to get the reviews in. Once they were in, the sales started trickling in slowly. I don’t think I slept during the first night when I got my first organic sale! Much to the annoyance of my wife, I was checking my seller account almost every hour hoping for the next sale to come through… of course it didn’t, not till the next day. Patience is key, but so difficult!

The next step is increasing your sales per day. Stay tuned for the next post…

Post Highlights for getting reviews

  • Be patient with sales
  • Access review communities such as AMZ Tracker to roughly 10 reviews to kick start your sales
  • Reviews will be honest so ensure your product is good
  • Do not break Amazon’s policy requirements by soliciting reviews
  • Be patient…. Again…

Optimising Your Product Listing

Here’s What You Can Do to Optimise Your Product Listing

Now comes optimising your product listing to give yourself the best possible shot at making sales quickly. I’m going to go with the assumption that you have a basic product listing done as described in the Logistics post. So your item specifications and UPC are all entered but little else. The Amazon algorithm is this mysterious beast that feeds on a range of parameters such as Sales, Reviews, Questions answered and a number of Product Listing based inputs. When starting out, it is difficult to feed the Sales, Reviews and Questions answered parameters while your stock is in transit. The Product Listing, however, can be made as appetising as possible prior to your product reaching the FBA warehouse. There are a few key points to address with your product listing:

  • Make use of as many characters in your Title as possible. Do a bit of google keyword research here (you can create a free AdWords account to access the keyword planner tool) and try merchantwords.com here (Allows 5 free key word searches), which claims to offer keyword search frequency from Amazon itself (I’m not 100% sure how accurate it is). Find keywords with the most search frequency and make sure you include them in your Title;
  • Make use of all available bullet points in the item description. Write all important features in here. If you run out of important features, write any other feature that you think might be enticing (even if it is not unique);
  • Maximise the number of high quality images. Use up as many of your image allocations as possible. And ensure you only use high quality images. Worth doing a photoshoot with your sample in every possible position and angle. Make sure you use a DSLR or high quality mirrorless camera. If you don’t have one, borrow a friends… it’ll be worth it;
  • Use as many characters as possible for your long description. If you run out of things to say, talk about what benefit the product will give you (such as a quicker cooking time and more time to spend with the kids, ect.)

A great way of finding the right key words and description style is to have a look at the top 2 or 3 product listings for the product you intend to sell. The fact that they are in the top 2 or 3 means they are doing a fair few things right. The product listing is likely one of these! Get an idea for the style of writing that best converts visitors into sales and keywords that best feed the Amazon algorithm. Check out this example of a quality product listing.

Optimising your product listing with descriptions

On top of a nice big Title and full use of the bullet points, check out the number of high quality images this product listing has used.

Optimising your product listing with high quality images

No wonder this product is number 1 when you search “Wireless bluetooth speaker”. Sure the brand, reviews and number of sales plays a big part, however this seller has definitely given themselves the best possible chance at ranking high by working on their product listing.

Post Highlights for optimising your product listing

  • Research high hit rate key words
  • Use many key words in the title
  • Use maximum number of high quality images
  • Read highly ranked product listings to learn the style of writing that converts visitors to customers
  • Maximise description bullet points
  • Maximise number of characters used for long description

It’s All About The Brand

If my research and business studies have told me anything, it is that building a brand is very difficult and you have to play the long game. And like many things that are difficult to achieve, establishing a brand has tremendous upside. A brand brings increased customer awareness and positive associations that can be stretched across several SKUs. To give you an idea of how powerful this can be, pick a well-known brand…. Say BMW. Now picture how easy it is for BMW to launch a new car. As soon as new car is launched, it automatically inherits the BMW quality and performance regardless of actual features. See what I mean? Now obviously building a brand like BMW is a very farfetched example but it does a good job of highlighting the benefits behind building a brand albeit an extreme case. Check out the image below with a bunch of brands on it. I bet you recognise these brands so well, you even know the ones where the image is half cut off!

brand_3

My approach to branding was to create one based on my first product. My logic was that once I did all the hard work finding a product, I had to leverage that with a brand that can then be transferred across to new SKUs in the broader market (when I’m ready to roll them out). On a superficial level, branding can be done in several ways: logo, packaging, pamphlet inserts, personalised cards with each order, etc. Let your imagination go wild on this one. I myself stuck to a logo, a name and a pamphlet insert for starters to get the product going quickly and on a budget. I created both of these on Word and went with a very simple design. You can of course get a lot more creative if you have the designer’s touch. The other option, often recommended by my mentors, is to use a graphics company such as 99designs. This company gets graphic designers from around the world to compete for your business. You can check this service out here. The good thing is you do end up with some pretty awesome logos and inserts through these guys.

Now here’s the hard part, building a brand means you have to stick to your brand message for a very long time, whether it be premium, value for money or intimate customer experience. Take my word that you will be tested time and time again to compromise your brand message to try turn an immediate profit or due to the effort required. In my short tenure selling, I’ve already second guessed myself a few times.

So in short, build a brand, it will be worth it. It will take a long time so stick to your brand message for as long as it takes to catch on. Easy right…..

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