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Brands and Manufacturers are always looking for more effective ways to manage the Amazon platform. Whether it’s unauthorized resellers, MAP violators or inaccurate detail page contributions, there is a solution for brands to control the Amazon platform.

Join me as I host James Thomson, former Business Head of Amazon Services, partner of Buy Box Experts and co-founder of PROSPER Show as we discuss the many benefits and necessities of Amazon and the Single Seller Model.

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Webinar Transcript

Shannon: Hello and welcome to the webinar. My name is Shannon and I am your host and the founder of Marketplace Seller Courses, designed to help brands, manufacturers and private labels start and grow their business on Amazon. With me today is special guest James Thomson. He’s a partner at Buy Box Experts a managed services agency supporting brands selling online. He’s also the co-founder of PROSPER Show, one of the largest annual conferences for Amazon sellers. And he’s a recent author of The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma which was written for brand executives seeking to control their brands on Amazon.

Formerly, James was the business head of Amazon services recruiting thousands of sellers to the Amazon marketplace and also served as the first fulfillment by Amazon Account Manager. He also have a PhD in Marketing from Northwestern University and is a frequent lecturer at business schools around the world, has been featured on Forbes, CNBC, USA Today and is considered by many to be a leading authority on Amazon. And when James was an FBA Account manager at Amazon he used to send out over 30,000 emails to Amazon sellers every month.

James, thank you so much for joining me.

James: Thanks for having me, Shannon.

Shannon: So, today we’re going to be talking about Amazon and the single seller model. And one of the things that we know about Amazon is Amazon’s goal is to have the largest online platform where anybody can list any product and anyone can sell on that listing at the lowest possible price. But that’s not always what’s best for the brand. And so, one of the most frequent inquiries I get is from brands and manufacturers who are struggling to control the brand on Amazon and I believe for many, the solution is a single seller model.

So, James, just in broad terms we’re going to delve into this in more detailed. But in broad terms, why is it important for brand owners to understand the benefits of a single seller model?

Building Brand Equity

James: Let’s start – let’s start by asking the question, what do I as a brand owner, what do I want to get out of my brand? I want to build a brand that has long-term brand equity. What that means is I have a mechanism by which whatever investments I made into my brand, I can get somebody to pay more for my product than one would cost to buy that generic.

So, for example, if I sell like kitchen doodad maybe it’s a pancake flipper, a very, very simple example. If I sell pancake flippers, the generic might cost you know $2. But if I have invested in marketing and in communicating my brand message to customers over time, I want to be able to sell that same pancake flipper with my brand name on it, I want to sell it for $10, let’s say. And so, that difference between what I would pay for buying the generic versus buying the branded version, that’s what we call brand equity. And I want – as a brand owner, I want to create brand equity because that’s really where I’m going to make really good margin.

So, if I started the mindset, I’ve created the brand so I can make more money and I’m investing in the brand to make more money, how do I continue to be able to invest in that brand and not be messed up by somebody coming along and deciding that “Actually, you don’t get any brand equity, I’m going to sell your product at $2 instead of $10.” So, I know that sounds a little bit theoretical but at its core, if we build brands, we’re trying to make more money than selling generics. So, if I have a brand, it doesn’t matter what the brand is whether it’s a kitchen doodad, whether it’s a beauty product, whether it’s a sports product, whatever it is, the moment I put a brand on it, I’m trying to get more money for it than I would if I sold it as a generic.

So, with that as a foundation, let’s go on to Amazon and let’s start looking for products as a consumer. The reality is there’s whole bunch of products on Amazon where the customer has never heard of your brand name. They have no idea who you are. They have no idea because they never purchased the product, they may never have stumbled upon the product, and along comes your product, shows up nice and high in search and as a customer, I looked at the product, I click on the page, I see “Oh this looks interesting. Oh look, they have nice images. They have nicely described their product. They’re doing a really good job answering all of my questions that I might have before I buy this product. I’m feeling good about this whole experience. Now, I’m going to click the Add to Cart button. I’m going to buy this product. And I’m going to buy your pancake flipper for $10 instead of $2 from some other guy who’s selling a generic.”

If you, the brand owner, can succeed in getting to me click an ad that button, or excuse, me add that product to the cart and pay the $10 for the pancake flipper, there really could be, you know the same functionality, I could buy for $2 from a generic. You the brand owner have succeeded, you’ve definitely succeeded and you’re going to make more money because you’ve done a good job investing in your brand. You can’t just invest in a brand, you have to protect that brand equity.

And what happens on Amazon is for a lot of brands, they will basically lose control over distribution. What that means, there really multiple companies selling that exact same product and they’re all trying to beat each other up on price because that’s the fastest way to win the Buy Box. And for folks who were on the phone, or who are watching the video, as you know, winning the Buy Box I really what at its core is important here. So, if you and I are both selling the same item, even if it’s branded, if we’re both selling the same item, I want to beat you so I can get the sale. So I’ll lower the price and then you’ll lower the price to beat my price and so on and so forth.

And in the end, whoever the brand owner is, is going to say, “Why is my $10 pancake flipper being sold for $3.75? Wait a minute, it’s supposed to be $10.” And oh by the way, it’s being sold for $10 in every other channel offline or online. And then here on Amazon, it’s being sold for $3.75. Hmm, so all the other retailers in every in every other channel carrying my product can see that it’s wildly cheaper on Amazon and they’re going to say, “You know what? I’m not going to bother carrying your product because if the customer really wants this product they’re going to end up buying it on Amazon.”

So now, as the brand owner, you have a big problem. You have two problems in fact, you have a problem of, you don’t have control over distribution and more than one company are selling your product on Amazon plus you have the problem that customers are more likely than not going to find your product on Amazon and not buy it in every other channel where you’ve invested and trying to get distribution. When you lose all your other retailers and you don’t have distribution in all these other channels, that’s bad for your long-term brand growth.

So, it’s bad for brand equity, it’s bad for growth when you lose control of the pricing. And the easiest way to lose control over pricing is to have multiple companies trying to beat each other up on the same site trying to get the sale. When you look at online marketplaces, you have this rather unique characteristic in place where inside the channel there are multiple companies selling the same item. If you walk into a Target store, and you take the product off the shelf, there’s only one company selling that product. It’s called Target.

Shannon: Right.

James: And if you now go to Amazon.com your same product, if you have no control over distribution, I mean it could literally have hundreds of companies selling the same product. And so, as a customer, you may not differentiate between which customer, excuse me, which seller is selling you the product. You care more about – well, is this product the right product for me? Or should I buy some other products? And at the end of the day, if I can get – as a customer, if I can get that product for cheaper, because there’s a bunch of companies beating each other up on price, yeah, the customer wins. But in the long run, the brand definitely loses.

Shannon: Yeah, that’s a really good point. A couple of things to point out there, first of all, we look at Amazon as a branding platform and not just an e-commerce platform. So, over 50% of all products searches start on Amazon. It’s a product research tool that not only customers use but also distributers will use. So even for newer companies, it’s vital that your brand is well represented on Amazon. And I have clients that say, “Well, I don’t necessarily like Amazon or I don’t know if I want to sell on Amazon.” That’s totally irrelevant because if your product is good and gets brand equity and sales volume, your product will be sold on Amazon by somebody.

James: Yes.

Shannon: And there’s a lot of – you can capitalize on to make sure that it’s done well and correctly. So, let’s start to dive in to some of the specifics. Typically, I see that there are three categories that most brand owners fall into. The first is basically a free for all that they’re just allowing anybody to sell on Amazon. They may or may not sell on Amazon themselves as a seller. The second one is that they try to allow multiple authorized resellers so they’ll sort of have this model where they’ll designate like five or seven authorized resellers who can sell their products on Amazon. And the third one is the single seller model. Either the brand themself is selling on Amazon or through Amazon or they selected a single designated authorized seller.

Quality Product Guarantee

And in each case you face various challenges but what I want to do is start going down the list and talking about the benefits for a single seller model. Why it’s so important, why it’s so critical for brands. And the first one is quality product guarantee. So, the biggest challenge that I think a lot of sellers face is when you have 10 or 15 or 20 sellers selling on a listing. You can have essentially no way to control the quality of the product. In some cases, it may be legitimate but it’s retail arbitrage. The product expired or close to expired, maybe it’s refurbished or used or in some cases, it’s a complete knock off or imitation product being sold on a legitimate listing. And there’s virtually no way to know if you track of that if you have 15 to 20 sellers.

Let’s talk a little bit about quality control of the product and what that means for single seller.

James: Well, let’s go back to what is brand equity and what is branding? Branding is basically a set of brand promises, or promises of the brand, promises to deliver to the customer, functionality or features that the customer will come to expect from buying your products. And so, it’s absolutely critical that whatever you’re going to use to define quality or what I’ll call features and benefits that are working to the customer, that’s what the customer is paying for. And if you can’t confirm that those features and benefits are consistently in place, the way you want them to be in place as a brand owner then you have a problem.

So, let’s put counterfeit aside for a minute because that’s a whole ugly side of marketplace selling. But let’s assume first and foremost that you have all legitimate products on your site. Even if it’s all product that doesn’t have an expiration date or doesn’t have used product mixed in with new. Let’s assume it’s all legitimate. Basically, your sales team has received 10 purchase orders from 10 companies. They filled all the purchase orders without asking any questions. Now, 10 different companies are selling the product on Amazon.  And they’re all beating each other up on price. And now, you as the brand are expected to – if you’ve got some sort of manufacture warranty, or you’ve got some sort of quality standards that you’re trying to maintain.

You’ve got 10 different companies selling your product and you probably also have three or four other unauthorized sellers also selling the product because you probably don’t have what’s called an online reseller policy with anti diversion language. So you probably don’t have a legal document that says, “Here’s who’s allowed to sell on Amazon and by the way, all of you who buy products from us, you’re not allowed to divert product to somebody else who will then sell under DBA and we have no idea who they are. We have no idea who they got the product. And by the way, they will probably end up cutting price anyways, so even if we have a pricing policy, those guys are going to mess up everything for everybody else.”

So, in the end, if you are trying to maintain quality and you have – let’s say you have some sort of a guarantee, your warranty for customers, it costs money to maintain that. And if all these different companies are trying to beat each other up on price because only one of them who get the sale at any given time, it’s only a matter of time before again, your prices going to drop and you’re going to be in a situation where your brand isn’t worth $10, it’s now worth $3.75. And if you have any unauthorized seller showing up, who don’t pay attention to whatever pricing policies you might have. Or, it might not go to 3.75 but it’s certainly not going to stay at $10, you’re going to have a situation where it only takes one bad seed to mess things up for everybody else.

I’ve work for companies that do have very, very strict MAP policies and they enforce the MAP policies. But here’s the problem, you’re going to only enforce MAP policy with companies you know. And so, if you’ve got 10 companies selling your product and three or four or even one that you don’t know, and that one could lo and behold be your distributor who’s operating a side business using if your business has name and is happy to make a few quick bucks selling products, you have a big problem here because the 10 companies that are following your pricing policies, they’re all losing. And they all have an incentive to cheat because quite frankly, they don’t want to be left holding the bag, holding your inventory while you say, “Oh, gosh guys, you all have to abide by certain pricing policies.” It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.

And so, that’s why we very quickly get to a model where if you are the brand and you have one company representing your brand on the marketplace and you work closely with them, much closer than you would with a standard retailer, you just actually say, “Listen, Mr. or Ms. Retailer, if you’re going to represent our brand, I need you to more than just sell. I need you to do a proper branding, make sure you’ve got concise, correct, accurate, clean information on a brand. I need to make sure that you’re doing the right things to the right advertising. And then you can focus on sales.” So it’s branding, advertising and sales. It’s not just sales which is what most retailers do. You need to focus on all three parts of that. And it’s much easier to do that when you’re working with one company who’s acting as your retailer and your advertising wing and your branding wing than if you’ve got 10 different companies all doing this.

Shannon: Yeah.

James: The same companies that will do – they’ll try to play this a little down, some say, “Well, listen, we’ve got lots of really good of brick ad mortar partners and some of them were selling online. So, we’re going to split our catalog. We’re going to give half the catalog to one company to sell online and half the catalog to the other company to sell online. That will keep everybody happy.” Well, my response to that is, it may keep both retailers happy but you need to understand something as a brand what’s best for you as the brand is very rarely what’s best for the retailer. And what’s best for the retailer is very rarely what’s best for you and the brand.

On Amazon, you want your brand to over index on traffic. You want more than your fair share of customers looking at your product versus competitor’s products. And Amazon does have programs that I’m sure many of your viewers are familiar with. Things like brand registry. They have sponsored product ads. Well, brand registry, you can designate one company to be the company that is your agent submitting content from you. So, if you have authoritative content and you – let’s say you’re my designated seller, I’d say, “OK, Shannon, it’s all you. I want you to load my whole catalog, get it loaded and locked down. And oh by the way, do all that hard work and I’ll let you sell only half the catalog because I’ve got another guy that I want to sell the other half of the catalog.”

Shannon: Yeah.

James: You may be a nice guy but you’re going to say, “Wait a minute, come on. Give me a break. Even if you give me a pricing discount, a wholesale pricing discount for doing this work, I’m now responsible for making sure that the other guy is part of the catalog is fully optimized? Come on. Give me a break.”

Then if you put branding aside what happens in the situations where I’m doing advertising and you happen to actually be the other seller and we’re actually competing on the listing. So, now I’ve got – well, listen, the model – rather than splitting the catalog, I’m going to have two sellers selling everything on my catalog just because I want to keep them both on us and oh by the way, one might go out of stock so I want the other guy to be back up supply.

Well, here’s the problem from an advertising perspective, if you’re advertising and I’m advertising, that’s great. And it works fine if we’re both really good in advertising. But rarely are all sellers really good at advertising and even so, a sponsored product ad program at Amazon, your ads are only going to show up when you’re winning the Buy Box. And my ads are only going to show up when I’m winning the Buy Box. If I want my advertising to show up and I want to get the sales, I have every incentive to cut price to try to undercut you.

So we’re back to the same problem of pricing keep getting discounted because I have an incentive to sell more, I have an incentive for my ads to show up and so as a brand, the brand loses out when there’s two companies competing on the same listing and they lose out when there’s two companies who will split the catalog and no one company is actually doing a good job managing the whole catalog from branding perspectives.

Shannon: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true and I’m working with a couple of brands right now and they’re experiencing that where they try to have multiple authorized sellers but only one of them has the ability to do enhanced brand content.

James: Yes.

Shannon: And only one of them has the ability to do headline search ads. With the headline search ads, you’re not required to win the Buy Box nor to run those but again, that seller is paying to drive traffic to other listings that somebody else is making money on. There’s no incentive there to do that. And the bigger challenge as you mentioned in terms of inventory is, one of the sellers, they had send in you know thousands of units into FBA but because other sellers were winning the Buy Box, they had to basically recall all of that and it was a loss of thousands of dollars because you have multiple “authorized resellers” all competing and there’s no way you can share the inventory and everything else. So, I haven’t seen that model worked though I’ve seen a lot of companies try to make it.

James: Although we’re talking about multiple authorized sellers, for the vast majority of brands, the bigger problems is unauthorized sellers. And how do you manage unauthorized sellers off the channel? The reality is you can have all the people work that says, “All right Shannon, you’re my guy, you’re my designated authorized seller. Go do what you need to do, to do branding and advertising and sales in my channel. And oh by the way, I don’t really have control of distribution so there might be some guy that show up and actually compete against you.”

Shannon: Yeah.

James: Several years ago, I was an Amazon seller and I had an exclusive selling a brand and I was spending at least once a week on the phone talking to the brand owners, trying to explain to them that unless they were willing to invest in channel clean-up, I was wasting my time. I was literally doing all this work, branding, keeping product in stock, making sure advertising was in place, only to be consistently undercut by somebody that the brand didn’t know, I certainly didn’t know and the brand wasn’t prepared to do the legwork to figure out who are these unknown sellers.

Now, I don’t have a problem with unauthorized sellers, so don’t get me wrong here. If somebody is an unauthorized seller and they’re finding a way to make a buck, that’s fine. But if we’re representing the brand, we’re trying to help the brand clean up its presence on the channels so they can secure the brand equity with the bonus that they want in order to say they are a designated brand. They’re getting that premium. You know, the reality is the brand has to step up and say, “We will make decisions that may hurt our short-term sales meaning we won’t fill every purchase order that – purchase order request that comes on the door, we will say no and we will slap retailers on the hand if we find that they’re diverting product or they’re in fact selling stuff online when they don’t have permission from us to do that.”

Unless the brand is willing to do that, they’re going to get in the situation where they’re out of both sides of their mouth, “Yes, we want to sell on Amazon and be really you know big sales.” But on the other hand, you know you have to respect our MAP policy and do what we tell you even though you don’t really have control over the brand. So, it’s this constant dilemma where if you’re serious about being a brand owner, getting your brand equity selling on Amazon or any other marketplace for that matter, you need to be in a position where you say no. You say no repeatedly to sellers who are selling product online without your permission.

And you know we haven’t got into this part of the discussion but there are a lot of legal mechanisms that brands can use to structure their trademarks so they have legal rights to go after unauthorized sellers. I’m not a lawyer but I worked with law firms that will help brands put together his online reseller policies with antidiversion language. That’s a much more forceful mechanism than saying, “Hey, we’re a brand and we have a MAP policy, please abide by it.”

Shannon: Right.

James:  MAP policy literally isn’t worth its weight than on the paper it’s written. So, for many brands they view that as we think this is a useful way to control resellers but the bigger problem, a MAP policy only helps you with authorized sellers that you can identify.

Shannon: Right.

James: The bigger problem is the unauthorized sellers who are typically supplying product by your known distributors or your known retailers. Or, they maybe in fact be the same company operating a secondary company under Doing Business As name. So, I want to point something out here that may not seem obvious it’s – if you’re a brand of any decent size and you’ve got a Sales Department, the Sales Department’s job most of the time is to sell, to sell, sell, sell, sell, sell. It’s not to sell while helping to ensure the long-term brand equity in secure. Meaning the sales team doesn’t have to check to make sure that everybody in fact is reselling the product where the brand wants it to be sold. And so, just because I want to hit my quarterly numbers as a sales person and fill every purchase order that comes my way, it does not mean should be allowing me to do so because once the product is out there and somebody has this, game over,  that product now becomes a problem for me on the  marketplace.

And not only does it become a problem for me in the marketplace, the moment pricing starts dropping on the marketplace, if my product is sold on other marketplaces, or it’s sold in brick and mortar channels, Walmart is going to match the Amazon price. Walmart.com is going to match the Amazon price. Target.com is going to match the Amazon price. And now you have a problem where even if Amazon is 5% of your total sales, if prices are being matched in other channels where you’re doing much more volume, now you don’t have pricing at the level you think you do across all channels. It’s no longer an Amazon problem.

Let’s flip things around. Let’s say, you do have fairly concise control over what’s happening on Amazon. You’re selling your products to Amazon in retail and lo and behold Walmart decides to do a 20% off sale and you haven’t worked with Walmart to ensure that they don’t do this kind of thing. It takes about 15 minutes for Amazon’s computers to scrape a Walmart.com site and they will match that price. And worst yet, let’s say you’re not supplying Amazon, let’s saying you’re selling through third party sellers on Amazon. If the Amazon finds that the price on Walmart is too much lower than what it is on Amazon, Amazon may stop revealing the Buy Box on your listings on Amazon.

Shannon: Yeah.

James: And that’s a protective mechanism to say, “Hey, Amazon customers, we don’t have a Buy Box because we’re not sure this purchase experience is the best thing for you. It’s so much cheaper somewhere else and we don’t have a mechanism for lowering the price to match Walmart.com has as a current price.” So, this is no longer, “Let’s just make sure we have an Amazon strategy.” It’s “We need to have an Amazon strategy and understand how our actions impact our other online channels both marketplaces and non-marketplaces. And our offline channels where we may have a completely different part of the team in our brand riding off to try to secure distribution rights.”

So, it doesn’t take long before the offline sales team and the e-commerce team within your brand that they are probably implicitly competing against each other. When they realized that you know a product that’s sold for offline is now leaking into the online channel and creating unauthorized seller inventory that’s causing problems for your online sellers that are authorized to sell your product, you now have a situation where within your brand because of your lack of controls and your lack of consistent incentives, you have created a problem that you need to untangle. And that may require time out, hang on, we’ve got the wrong incentives in place. We don’t have the right checks and balances to make sure that we’re securing that inventory goes to the channel where it’s supposed to go and stays in that channel. The pricing across channels remains consistent so there isn’t an incentive for a customer to jump from one channel to the other.

Until you do this, make these decisions and then consistently enforce them and make sure that the folks within your brand team understand that there are short term action of selling some unknown guy who wants a thousand units for his little store in Idaho like, are you kidding me? It’s not going stay in the store. It’s going to go somewhere else. So, those are the types of issues that brands need to work through and they need to be very, very consistent.

I’ve seen – just one of the things Shannon to mention, I’ve seen brands say “OK, we’re going to buckle down and we’re going to make sure we’ve got control over all channels.” And then they turn around and say, “Oh, we just got ourselves a European distributor. No, I never met the guy but he sounds like he knows what he’s doing. Well, now our product is going to Europe and guess what? It never even physically left the Unite States but it was routed to Europe and it got re-imported back in the United States, it got diverted to somebody else, and now you’ve got a situation where your US market is being all messed up because you’re working with the distributor in another country that you’re not properly managing with the same standards you manage your US distribution.

Shannon: Yeah, there’s all sort of quality controls issue with that I mean different countries have different standards so product maybe approved to sell on Asia or the UK and then instead like you said it’s basically getting on a boat and coming back around US. I think a lot of this comes down to trust like you said it’s your brand equity and if you can’t ensure a quality product and quality customer service experience for the customer, you effectively lost control of the brand. Because on one side we’ve got companies that we work with that have a great quality product but sometimes you don’t necessarily have the best customer service. You have to make sure that whoever is selling your product is going to be ensuring that same high level of customer service. So, if you have 10 sellers even if they’re all selling at the same price, they’re all abiding my MAP.

James: Yeah.

Shannon: One of them has got some great customer service in place but the other four or five don’t, that’s going to be a huge problem. So, the ability to ensure not just the purchase but the post purchase experience is really, really critical.

Amazon Customer Communication

Let’s talk specifically about – we’re just kind of go down the list here. Let’s talk specifically about customer communication. Because again, this ties in very closely to customer service, for example but it could be everything from answering the questions, that comes through an Amazon detail page. And I’ve seen situations where you know the brand is given an opportunity to respond but other people are jumping on and answering those questions and the information is completely inaccurate. But even in the pre-purchase and post-purchase follow-up, how important is it for a brand to be able to have direct customer communication with Amazon customers?

James: Well, coming back to you do you want correct complete information to be sent to the customer? If the customer whether they’re a prospective shopper or simply prospective customer or an existing customer, in either case, they’ve got a want to learn more about your product whether that’s about a product they just bought or product they’re thinking about buying. They want to have their questions answered. And so, if you have unauthorized sellers, good luck expecting the unauthorized seller to care about your product in anyway beyond it being just one more widget in their catalog. If you got multiple authorized sellers selling your product, inherently, they’re not going to be equally good at answering questions. And even if you’ve given each of them a set of you know, here’s the 20 most common questions you’re going to have answered, even if you’ve given them that kind of a guide, it doesn’t mean that all these groups are going to be equally confident and responsive to customers.

If you have one company that is your reseller then you can basically hold their feet to the fire and if a question gets answered in the wrong way, and you end up with content on the Amazon site that doesn’t make sense or you as the brand can review periodically and say, “Hmm, there seems to be a communication gap here. We’re not actually sharing the right information with customers through this authorized reseller.” At least there’s something you can do about it as a brand. It’s awfully hard to figure out often and who’s doing what to your brand when you’ve got lot of different chefs, lots of different cooks in the kitchen.

So, that’s – again, back to the inherent problem of who’s responsible for the brand on the marketplace? If it’s a single designated, authorized reseller, and you’re actively working with them in a way much more extensive than you would with the standard retailer and you’re feeding them information and you’re saying, “Hey listen, if you get a weird question you don’t know how to answer, don’t try to answer yourself. Go to Bob in our Customer Service Department, Bob will answer that question and he’s on point to get back to you in 12 hours and now you have proper information you can share back with the customer.” That’s a good situation to be in.

But if you’ve got 10 sellers even they’re all authorized, all 10 of them following up with different levels of responsiveness possibly with your internal customer service contact, possibly trying to figure out themselves because “Gosh, I’ve been an Amazon seller for 10 years and I know how to answer any question out there.” Those are the type of issues that are going to get you in trouble.

So, there’s one more model we haven’t talked about which is what happens when the brand becomes the reseller? What happens when they go direct to consumer and they say, “You know what? We’re not going to allow anybody else to be the authorized seller of our brand on the marketplace. And we’re going to control what happens to our branding, to our inventory, to our sales, to our advertising. We’re going to manage all that ourselves. Or, we may hire an external company to do that for us but at the end, it’s our seller account, it’s our inventory and we’re going to keep track of all the stuff and we’re going to make sure that everybody else who maybe retailer of ours in other channels may stay away from Amazon.” That’s a model that I’ve definitely seen brands also use and allows brands that traditionally been B2B brands to get much more knowledgeable about consumer issues.

If your brand of any decent size, you probably don’t know a lot about your customers because your customers today are retailers, they’re not consumers. You need to know consumer information, leverage Amazon for what it offers you around consumer knowledge. If you’re the seller of record, or you’re working with a single authorized reseller, there’s opportunity to collect all sorts of information and learn about “Hey, why is my product liked, why is it not liked? Where is it flawed? And where could it be improved? What are the types of defects that we’re seeing? What are the types of opportunities to make new types of products that will meet secondary needs for customers?” All that kind of information you can get a lot more easily using marketplace than you can if you’re going through a brick and mortar store and say, “Can I buy some scanner data?”

So, leverage Amazon for what it offers you rather than saying “Hey, Amazon is an evil place where my pricing gets cut and I don’t really know who’s selling my product.” OK, well that may be the status quo today. But as a brand, you can make some tough decisions and you invest the time in controlling the channel and working with the right kinds of companies who will control your branding, you’re in a position where you can leverage the channel to learn an awful lot that will help you become an even better brand that serves even more customers.

Requesting Amazon Product Reviews

Shannon: Yeah. And that actually leads right into our next topic which is product reviews. So, I noticed from my experience that you know it only takes a handful of negative product reviews. Typically, those are product reviews coming from unauthorized resellers but there was a problem with the product and you don’t have the ability – you don’t even know who the customer is. They certainly didn’t buy from you. And well, seller feedback, you can actually request that the customer remove or update their seller feedback if you fix their mistake or issue. It’s actually very, very difficult to do that with the product review. It’s almost impossible to get a product review removed unless for example it specifically violates Amazon policies. So there’s no guarantee in it or it contains personally identifying information. Those Amazon will remove.

But otherwise, if you have multiple unauthorized sellers selling on your listing, and they don’t care about the quality of the product, because they’re not doing things in the correct way, those product reviews stick and it can be really, really painful for the brand owner to try to figure out how to recoup that. Along with that is also the ability to request product reviews which currently Amazon allows. They do allow people to opt out of messages but they’re offering back tools that you can use to reach out to the customer. And we typically say first and foremost, “Hey, did your product arrive in excellent condition? Were there any issues with it?” That allows you to fix the problem first before the ever get to the product review stage.

And then secondarily to reach out and say, “Hey, you had your product for you know two or three weeks or month. How do you like it? Would you take you know just a few seconds to give an honest review on Amazon?” And typically, those models coming from the brand owner or from an authorized reseller that’s taking care of quality product, quality customer service and then you know verifying that review. We tend to see a much better increase in positive reviews over the long haul. Any thoughts on that aspect of it?

James: Well, if you’re a brand who’s not used to interacting with customers, I should use the words consumers here just to be clear with. If you’re not use to dealing with consumers to get real time feedback or have a conversation back and forth with consumers then that can be a very challenging transition for brand to make. But whether you’re using unauthorized reseller to be your designate voice to customers or whether you yourself are in fact engaging in conversation with the customer.

In both situations you have to leverage that opportunity because quite frankly, most brands don’t have the opportunity to talk to the end customer. And so, why are you missing out on that opportunity? So, it’s not just “Hey, I want to make my customer even happier.” It’s also figuring out if I’m really good at demonstrating that I care about the customer, on a marketplace like Amazon, it’s all about transaction after transaction. If I’ve demonstrated that I’m actually pretty good at engaging with the customer and keeping them happy, I have all be it a small but I have nonetheless a smaller opportunity – or a bigger opportunity than the next guy to create a repeat purchase.

Shannon: Absolutely.

James: That today, you know it’s very difficult for most brands on Amazon. So, yeah, I believe in product reviews, I believe in proactively asking for them. I also believe in using the product review process as a mechanism to deliver value after the sale. So, if I’m the brand or I’m working with an authorized seller of the brand, how do I create a mechanism where I’m not only asking for questions around you know did the product arrive on time? Was it high quality? But create videos that say, you know here’s – in 60 seconds, here’s how you get all the functionality of your product. Here’s how you clean your product. Here’s how to maintain your product. Here’s how to store your product. Here’s when you know there’s time to repeat purchase the product.

You know, all these types of videos, this is extra value that you can deliver after the sale that still meet the terms of service for Amazon but will further engage – allow you to further engage with customers and make them happy and promote the likelihood that [A] they will leave you feedback or product review and [B] that information that they give you will be high quality and will help to reinforce that your brand is differentially better than every other brand out there selling the same pancake flipper.

Shannon: Absolutely and we’ve used videos very, very effectively and our services that allow you to post videos on Amazon and in fact, I have a handful of clients that it’s all in beta right now, of course, but when they are allowing through enhanced brand content certain select invite brand registered owners to be able to upload videos as part of their enhanced brand content. So we know that that’s coming eventually as part of that rule out. Hopefully that will be released to all sellers. But you do it to add videos to Amazon to be able to direct consumers and keep them on the Amazon ecosphere. It’s incredibly important with the Amazon policy. But we’ve seen that probably be one of the biggest benefits to decreasing negative customer feedback, decreasing returns and increasing positive customer satisfaction probably more than anything else.

Amazon Sponsored Campaigns and Headline Search Ads

We touched on this earlier James but I want to come back to it. Let’s talk it briefly again about sponsored campaigns and headline search ads and how that works for a single seller and how it’s utterly disastrous when you have multiple sellers because again, only a brand registered owner or a brand registry assignee will be able to run headline search ads. And the campaigns, they only work if you win the Buy Box. And so, even if you have multiple sellers, we find that a – brand sales will increase if they’re using Amazon campaigns specifically for their brands, specifically for targeted keywords. But they really start to experience exponential growth when you go after those generic terms that aren’t necessarily specific to their – you know they’re specific and applicable to the product but you’re going after the generic terms which largely increases the audience that you’re going to be reaching.

And if you have you know some sellers who are very you know advanced to doing campaign management and others aren’t, you know when these sellers win in the Buy Box, the campaigns are running full speed and when you know seller B is running the campaigns it’s only sort of hit and miss here or there that are budgets are set differently could be really challenging. Let’s talk briefly about that and then we’ll cover the next couple of topics here.

James: So, these are – well, let’s separate you know AMS headline ads from third party sponsored products. Let’s start with third party sponsored product campaigns because that’s the most common type of advertising that we’ve seen for most brands. Situation where you know you, as the seller, you go in, you setup a campaign. It’s either going to be on terms that you select or terms that you say to Amazon I’d like you to do what’s called automatic targeting, you will find the terms Amazon that are going to be most effective at converting sales in my product.

What we’ve seen in the past with sponsored products is if I’m setting up a manual campaign that’s to say a campaign where I designate, “Hey, these are the generic keywords that I want to bid on.” If you don’t have those generic keywords in your product listing somewhere, whether it’s on the listing or in the backend of the generic keyword section, if you don’t have those terms, your ad is not going to show up. So, you know, I make pancake flippers, if I don’t have you know silicon flipper, if that’s the term that I’m going for, if I don’t have that term somewhere in my listing, then I can’t setup an ad, sponsored product ad for silicon flipper. I can set it up and it’ll never show up. It’s still – it’s not just – how do I make sure I’ve got the representations or ads? But how do I make sure that there’s tie-in and a learning cycle that says “Hey, if certain term for showing up is being relevant for helping to sell my product with the automatic targeting campaigns. How do I make sure that those terms get put in to my backend terms so that I can show up and those ads can show up when you’re manual targeting?

So, the person who’s managing your branding on the site also has to be learning what terms are making most sense out of your advertising. So, it’s not just, “Hey, I got one company that manages my brand content. I’ve got another company that does a really good job with advertising who actually need there to be a feedback loop.” So, the content optimization and the advertising efforts those in fact, you learn from each other and you can further improve your SEO as well as make it easier for terms or for certain types of ads to reveal themselves because you’re doing the right kind of SEO work on the backend. So…

Shannon: Yeah. And there’s something that I want to go back and mention that you’ve mentioned a few minutes ago and that’s in terms of the product reviews and leveraging the platform. So, one of the biggest thing that we know is if you’re listing a product maybe for the first time or your optimizing your product, go to the bestsellers and Amazon makes it very easy to search the positive and negative reviews and find out what customers are mentioning. Find out what’s most important for them, what do they like about these products, what do they not like about these products. We have companies that we use that’s been also on their product once they have enough reviews, typically you know 50 to 100 reviews or plus. They’ll be able to do that customer research to say, “Hey, what’s most important to our customers? What are our customers…” and I say, our customers loosely, they’re Amazon’s customers. But what are the people who are purchasing our products on Amazon. What do they like about it? What do they not like about it? What do they not understanding? What are they missing here?

And then we’ve taken that same strategy. We’ve taken that feedback, put it into the listing to optimize the listing, create videos specifically to address those issues, add them to the detail page and again, a close loop, yeah, with the single seller allow you to do that. If you have it split out between multiple sellers, it’s going to be almost impossible to do that. And for the campaign management you mentioned, even if you have two people running or three people running campaigns simultaneously and as they rotate to the Buy Box, their different campaigns pops up. You’re splitting the learnings from those between three different sellers. And it’s going to be much more difficult to be able to optimize and say, “Hey, this term has you know generated this amount of loss, it’s not converted to sales. We need to add it as a negative phrase or negative exact match.” It’s going to take you three times longer to establish that basis if you’re splitting the campaigns among multiple sellers.

James:  I agree.

Amazon Detail Page Control

Shannon: Let’s talk briefly about detail page control. This is something that I’ve seen – we kind of three tiers that sort of – three step hierarchy for detail page control. The most basic is if you’re any seller selling on Amazon on that listing, you’re contributing content, Amazon can use that algorithm to update the detail page. So that sort of level one. Tier two is going to be brand registry which gives you a higher level of detail page control. And then level tree is typically vendors central or Amazon considers retail contributions.

The challenge that we’ve seen is one, if you can only assign brand registry to one company then either they have to monitor everything – but even in those situations I found that if you have multiple sellers contributing even though one seller has brand registry, we have to go back and fix the listings at least every couple of months because somebody uploads a new picture, it overrides and we have new product features, our images disappear. And we have to continually go back and you know contact the catalog department and go to the retail department or request removal of contributions or push our changes through. And it basically becomes a continual clean-up process, whereas if you are able to keep one seller the detail page control is much, much more consistent.

What are your thoughts on the detail page control?

James: Oh, let’s go back to the analogy of you sell your product in a Target store and you have shelf space and your people go in and stock the inventory on that shelf. Well, they know how to organize the product on the shelf and make sure that it’s properly stocked and there’s enough inventory and the boxes are turned around to face the customer. You got one person on point to do all that. Well, what happens on Amazon, if you’ve got five people who are all going into the Target store, all stocking the same shelf with their own inventory and some like the box to be turned this way and some turned it that way and some of then say, “You know what? I’m going to put you know the big size of this product in front of the little ones and I’m going to make sure that you know we always have the big version in stock and I don’t care if a little version goes out of stock.” You’re going to have for the free for all.

And basically Amazon is like a bazaar, and we’ve got five guys selling the same product at the bazaar with tables next to each other and the customer comes along and says, “What the heck is the difference between all of this?” So Amazon tries to make sense of that chaos. But as you said, when you’re not looking, one guys claws over the other guy and says, “No, no, we’re putting this product at the front.” Once guy says, “No, no, we’re putting this product in the front. We’re going to organize it and communicate to customers that these are sets of brand promises.” And it becomes a little chaotic.

When you talk about you know having one company be brand registered and be your agent as the – for brand content and for other companies still selling a product and potentially being able to upload content and create problems. The two areas we see the biggest problems are number one, it is still doable even if you have brand registry. I can come along and I can untwist an item, meaning if there’s variation, I can submit a load that says, “The green, red and blue versions are now all going to be shown on one page or I’m going to split them apart. If I split them apart well, you may lose control as a brand registry owner of one of those child ASINs and now I can go mess with it.”

The other problem is what if I come along and I create a duplicate listing using a bogus UPC. Well, even though you’re the brand registry owner, until you’ve submitted in contribution on this duplicate listing that I’ve created, I can do whatever I want with that listing. And so, you’ve got a situation where you think you have ultimate control because you’re a brand registry. Hooray, hooray, the crowd is on your head but you haven’t actually got control of your empire because there are people adding new things to the catalog, willy-nilly often low quality or they may inadvertently be creating duplicate listings or they may have some internal policy at the reseller where we never used manufacture UPCs. Well, let’s get our own UPCs and load them ourselves.

Yeah, OK. Well, that’s not allowed but it happens all the time. As you mentioned, there’s actually a third way that brand registry will apart and that is if you take a listing and it’s got a title, it’s got images, it’s got five bullet points, it’s got product descriptions, it’s got a bunch of generic keyword fields, if you, the brand registry owner, don’t fill in some of those fields, I can come along and I can fill those fields as a secondary seller, I can do whatever a lot of those fields. So, until you take control of all fields but putting some content in all fields, someone else can come along and add their contribution.

Shannon: Yeah.

James: In the end, the bottom line here is just because you’re the brand registry owner doesn’t mean that you solidified the long-term branding of the product. You need to continually go back and check and see what’s going on. I’ve seen some companies build little programs that will tell them whenever some of the public-facing data has changed so they can go away and they can say, “Oh wait a minute, the title of that changed, how did that happened?” I’m less worried right now about how did it happen and more being made aware that it did happen so we can do something about it immediately. Figuring out how it happened, that may take a longer diagnosis period.

But let’s us at least know that some thing has happened. Because guess what? If you’re the retailer, you don’t sell one product, you sell hundreds if not thousands of products. And keeping your eye on every bullet point for every one of those SKU’s where you think you’ve got brand registry fully locked down, the reality is it’s a constant battle and that’s why being a seller is a full-time job. It’s not something that you just sort of poke every evening, every other evening and say, “I’m going to make some money here.” No, that’s a full-time job because there are so many things in flux.

Shannon: Yeah. And there are some tools that do that really well. We have some on our tools page that will notify you, send you an email or text message within 15 minutes if anything, updates on your listing.

James: Yeah.

Controlling Pricing/MAP Enforcement on Amazon

Shannon: So, some great resources out there. I want to hit two more topics real quick. We’ve already addressed this a little bit but we’ll just get it very specifically. In terms of controlling MAP pricing, and specifically MAP enforcement. As you mentioned, when it’s a free for all it’s a race to the bottom and everybody looks to Amazon. So, if Amazon pricing is out of control, every other retailer is basically in limbo, and they’re likely to challenge you to fight you on price or to say we’re not going to carry your product, which hurts your, you know long term online strategy.

So, in terms of MAP enforcement, the other key thing that is important is MAP is only enforceable with authorized sellers who have agreed to that MAP. So, you can’t send the seller, who you’ve never heard of before and who you don’t know and say, “You’re violating our MAP agreement” because technically they don’t have an agreement with you. So, any last thoughts here in terms of the pricing control and MAP pricing when you have multiple sellers trying to sell on a listing?

James: Well, the US law says there’s something called the First Sale Doctrine where I can buy product and I can resell it as long as I bought it through a legitimate source. You, the brand, can’t tell me where I can or can’t sell the product when I choose to resell it, which is probably the reason why retail arbitrage it’s just enforces certainly on the Amazon market books. The reality on MAP policy is very weak because as you said, all it allows you to do is to control or have an active conversation with a very specific subset of retailers. That is to say retailers who have – know who they are and they have chosen to say, “Yes, I will abide by the MAP policy.”

But the bigger problem for almost every brand is unauthorized seller specifically the seller they don’t even know who they are. Sellers who’s identity is like deals, deals, deals or acted deals, deals, deals I have no idea and good luck figuring it out So, until you subpoena Amazon and you get the true identity of deals, deals, deals you know you don’t really have any action that you could take. But even if you do figure out who that seller is, it’s much more powerful from a legal perspective to be able to reframe the discussion and make it a trademark violation rather than a MAP pricing violation.

And so, that’s where you’re going to need to talk to an IP lawyer to figure out how best to modify the way that you create your trademark so that you can enforce it in a much more powerful way. I think of it this way, if you show up on the MAP policy, you try to enforce what’s happening on Amazon with a MAP policy, that’s literally like showing up with the sling shot to a gun fight. That’s nice with the sling shot and you might get the odds success but you’re not fighting the battle with the right instruments. On the other hand, if you’ve got a designed pattern, you’ve got proper IP production, you’ve got trademark clearly in place and you’ve identified all sorts of forms of trademark that you can enforce, you’re showing up to every battle with a tank and keep in mind what is the ultimate goal here.

The ultimate goal when it comes to unauthorized sellers is put enough speed bumps in the road that these guys would go find somebody else’s brand to bastardize. They don’t care about your brand. It’s just a widget they make money selling. And so, treated as such and make is more awkward for them carry your inventory and to try to make so many reasonable margin. If they can’t make any margin either because you forced them to not sell it or there’s so little margin available for them to make any money, they’re going to go find some other brands. So don’t just use legal mechanisms, also use business mechanisms to make it less interesting for them to pick on your brand or to somebody else’s brands.

Shannon: Yeah, we got a great webinar on copyright and trademark infringement that discuss the aspect of using warranties and that sort of thing to create a material difference and not – that’s one of the ways that allows brands to enforce their trademark aspect.

Duplicate ASIN’s on Amazon

But, the last topic I want to touch on briefly again, we’ve covered this generically but that’s the idea to duplicate ASINs and unauthorized seller. So, on one hand, you can have duplicate ASINs and I just worked with the company, we cleaned up about 30 duplicate ASINs and probably about 20 of those – there’s an additional 20 that were just straight up copyright or trademark infringement. But when you have duplicate ASINs and sometimes brands are like, “Oh, it’s fine to do multiple bundles. It’s fine if this seller has this listing and that seller has that listing.”

Here’s the challenge that it creates. You’re not able to aggregate the reviews or the customer experience or the conversion rates for all those and you essentially spread out your sales among all these listings and we found after cleaning this up it was a number one best seller. But the problem is we would never have known that if we allowed those 50 listings to remain and just kind of allowed people to sell the 50. So, it’s so important to think of it in terms of that aspect of, “Hey, if you want the number new release or number one best seller long-term, you got to have focused, you know sales and you can’t have 50 bundles and variations to your product because you’re basically diluting the brand and you’re spreading it out.”

James: So, a couple of thoughts. Number one, we’ve talked about brand registry which helps you manage what I call micro catalog issues, issues on particular product listings. But who’s doing our macro catalog management? Who’s looking to see, what are all the listings on the Amazon catalog for my brand, whether they’re from an authorized seller or not? Who’s going and pulling that all that data and saying, “Let’s dedupe. Let’s make sure we don’t have duplicate listings. Let’s make sure that we don’t have garbage listings that should be – you know that the six child ASINs out there they should all be combined into one.” But someone has got to do that macro catalog work and that has to be done on ongoing basis because it only takes one seller to do a single Excel upload and completely mess up the amount of catalog you have.

I worked for a grocery brand four years ago. They had over 5,000 duplicate listings in their catalog. The amount of time spent just figuring out what were all the duplicates and getting them all combined by Amazon especially in the lovely world where Amazon let’s you do all the five pairs of combinations at once when literally have boil half the ocean to get a cup of water, it was ridiculous. But somebody has to do that and keep an eye on the macro catalog issues so you end up with highly consolidated traffic on specific skews. There’s good reason why duplicate listings get created.

And often it has to do with there’s an Amazon 1P option and that’s the one who’s getting all the traffic today. So, some guy has got his hands on product that’s the same, he’s never going to win the Buy Box when it’s being Amazon retails. He creates the duplicate listing, he tries to redirect a little bit of traffic so he can try to make a decent sale of that product and he might well sell it in the price higher than Amazon retail selling it. If he can succeed you know I understand why he’s doing that. It’s not good for the brand but I understand why he’s doing that.

Think of yourself when you go into Target. I’m going back to Target example. I walk in, I’m buying dog food, I go to the dog food section and lo and behold, the brand that I want to buy is out of stock. But what if you told me, “Hey listen, go to a completely different part of the store an there might be the same dog food sitting on the shelf.” Oh wait a minute, no, it’s in the third place and the fourth place and the fifth place. Well, I’m a customer I’m used to go to the dog food section to buy this product and if it’s not in the shelf, it’s out of stock, I buy competitive product. If you’re now telling me that I need customers to run around the store and go find whether it’s in stock in other parts of the store that’s a bad customer experience. And we’re trying to minimize the bad customer experience of shopping online.

And so you’ve got to consolidate all these offers on the same listing so that customers do get a clear view of what is all in stock, what’s available, what are the best prices and so on and so forth. That’s what we need for a good customer experience. Think of yourself as a parent looking for or trying to buy the best toy for your kid and the toy is out of stock or worse yet, it’s kind of the eBay model, I click in and I type something and there’s 10 versions, 10 listings of the same item. Well, what’s the difference between them? OK. There’s different prices, wait a minute some come from different countries, oh, some have a warranty, some don’t, some come in original packaging, some don’t. Gosh, this is really confusing. I’m going to have to click through all these 10 different things to figure out what I want to buy.

On Amazon they say, “Let’s put it all in one place and let’s put some algorithm in place that helps to figure out which listing should get the Buy Box.” Amazon is actually doing a great favor to the brand by consolidating all that but the reality is the brands still needs to step up to make sure that some of these fearless secondary listings don’t get created, and if they do, they quickly managed back to the core listings that the brand ultimately wants to have using as representation of its brands.

Shannon: Absolutely and there’s a couple of thoughts on that. One is that a lot of these resources are not going to do the work to optimize a listing, right? They’re not going to use legitimate UPC codes and probably won’t even use the brand name. A lot of times they’ll use generic or their own brand name for the brand name. So just clicking on your brand won’t necessarily show you their listings. And there’s a couple of ways to be able to – one is obviously searching for your brand both on the frontend of Amazon but also in the beta tool that’s offered on the backend for brand registry 2.0 is much more effective at finding your brand that’s buried within different listings. You can also upload images to be able to see where your product images are being use because again, they’re not likely to go out and take their own images. They’re not that invested. And the list…

James: Or, they use their iPhone and take a super low quality one on their bed sheet or something and you end up that’s the visual representation being used and it’s pretty terrible.

Shannon: Yeah, and not only that but they’re likely be – they’re going to drive traffic to it using the sponsored campaign. This is causing your CPC to go up and it’s diverting traffic from you optimized listing to this you know poor quality reseller. So one thing that I’ve noticed and this is really important for brands to remember: With a clean listing with a single seller, it is infinitely easier and more manageable to keep a single seller clean listing than it is to have 20 sellers and try to keep off that 21st seller. So, if you have five or six authorized sellers, to have somebody who jumps on, you when you say “Hey, sorry, you’re not authorized.” They’re going to basically blow you off because they don’t care and they feel invincible. One, because the Amazon would like to protect their anonymity but two, they feel like there are six or seven other sellers why should I get off?

But we found with a single seller, it’s much, much easier. We’ve done this very effectively both with brands with brand new launch. And if you effectively keep unauthorized sellers off that listing typically, they feel a little more vulnerable. If they’re number two, if they’re the second seller on that listing and within 15 minutes they did a cease and desist immediately.

James: Yes.

Shannon:  They’re likely going to jump off because they realized nobody else is on this listing, this brand, one, is on top of it and you must be very good at keeping people off. It’s not worth it to them. The goal is to make it as challenging as possible. But two, once we get those brands down if you have you know 15 or 20 sellers and narrow it down to one it’s much, much easier to keep a clean listing than it is to try to sort of manage the chaos of multiple unauthorized sellers. And I’ve seen it done effectively. I know you guys have been able to do it as well but it’s much, much more effective than trying to manage multiple authorized or unauthorized seller on any given listing.

James: I’m going to leave you some final thoughts here. If you manage a brand, the reality is number one, you need to have an Amazon strategy. You need to have an Amazon strategy about who’s managing your branding, who’s managing your sales and who’s managing your advertising. I didn’t say you have to sell everything in your catalog on Amazon but you need someone to manage your branding, you need to know what’s being done to communicate your product through sales or what’s being done to communicate your products through advertising. If you’re not doing those things at a minimum and proactively doesn’t have somebody your company to keep an eye on what’s happening on Amazon, then you’re going to lose control of your brand on Amazon. And once you lose control of your brand on Amazon, it starts to negatively impact what happens to your brand in every other online and offline channel. And so, it doesn’t take long before you basically build a house of cards that will come all falling down.

And, I like to take the mindset of you know what does a private equity company do when they invest in a company? They say, “I want to maximize brand value in the next four to five years.” Well, if you’re still fortunate is you’ve got an investor whether it’s private equity company or it’s angel investor, whether it’s family and friends, they’re all looking to make a lot of money on the work that you’re doing to create and secure brand equity over time. And when you don’t do a good job of managing you Amazon strategy, the reality is you don’t have any brand equity or if you do, it’s a random walk as to whether you’ll be able to realize the brand equity you think you’re going to get.

And so, when you think about what is the long term exit from my brand when I sell it for gazillion dollars, well, you’re not going to get a gazillion dollars because actually you haven’t done a good job securing pricing, you haven’t done a good job securing distribution, the branding is inconsistent, you don’t have good advertising and you don’t have good selection or catalog in situations. So, across the board you’ve got a lot of things to keep an eye on if you’re a brand and you’re selling online. And the reality is you got to start out with Amazon because at least here in this country, what happens on Amazon impacts every online and offline channel where you have representation.

Buy Box Experts

Shannon: Absolutely. James, talk a little bit about Buy Box Experts, the type of clients that you guys work with and what brands might most benefit from the services that you offer.

James: So, Buy Box Experts is a firm that I work with my business partner Joe Hansen, we work with brands that are typically selling about a million dollars plus a year on Amazon. We help them with the first party or third party management of their brand, all the day to day activities including advertising, inventory management and so on. We also have a lot of our brands go international whether that’s on Amazon or to other types of marketplaces.

One of the things we do talk about today was how do you secure your brand overseas and having consistent branding in other countries, that’s a whole other cattle or fish to deal with another day.  But we work with let’s just say with lots of different types of brands, some are multinational, some are national, some are very big brands, some are massive brands that have grown fairly quickly but don’t know how to play the Amazon game. The way I like to think about is Amazon has its own set of rules, if you’re playing a game that has its own set of rules then you should be working with companies that understand those rules and understand how those rules actually keep changing on a regular basis. So that’s the value that we bring to our – bring to our clients today.


Shannon: Absolutely. Talk a little bit about PROSPER Show which is an annual Amazon seller conference that you hold.

James: We have a very strange hobby, it’s called PROSPER Show. It’s an educational conference as you say, running once a year. We draw primarily top 1% Amazon sellers and we provide intensive two-day continuing education for those sellers. Typically about 25, 30 different speakers will come and talk about issues that we believe are the most important issues today facing Amazon sellers. Some of those issues are not very sexy but are topics that need to be discussed.

A couple of years ago, we had a whole discussion on sales tax just as things start to get kind of ugly for Amazon sellers. We do stuff on things like how to secure wealth long-term if you’re an entrepreneur. We’ve done a lot of unusual topics that we think are relevant for entrepreneurs running large Amazon seller conferences. We just finished our 2018 edition back in March and we’ll be announcing 2019 edition fairly soon and look forward too to being able to continue the education.

Shannon: Wonderful! Well, James, thank you again so much for joining me. I think this has been a huge benefit I think to all the brand owners who’ll be watching this. Again, you could find resources on the Tools page of MarketplaceSellerCourses.com both for PROSPER Show as well as James’ book The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma. James, thanks again for joining me. And if you have questions for Buy Box Experts, that link will be below on the website or also on YouTube. And we hope you join us together for our next webinar. James, thanks again.

James: Thanks for having me, Shannon.

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