Today we are sharing with you an interview with Leslie Hensel, an Amazon FBA expert. In this interview, Leslie talked about Amazon, and everything to help you get started, make your first few sales, and ensure your Amazon store is long-standing, revenue-generating, and profitable. This is an exciting article for existing Shopify sellers looking to expand on Amazon or even new beginner sellers trying to get started on Amazon.
Q: Can you give us a quick overview of who you are, and what you do, before we get into the fun stuff?
I've been a seller on Amazon since 2010. I always say that makes me feel like a grandmother on the Amazon platform. I'm not a grandma in real life, but on Amazon, sure, I am. I've been consulting with other Amazon sellers and vendors for about eight years, and my company primarily helps people when they get into trouble. So if someone gets suspended from Amazon, their ASINs are taken down, they come to us, and we help them solve that problem, and then we have some other services that allow them to grow.
Q: So let's imagine any scenario. I'm an e-commerce shop owner; I'm doing about $200 000 in sales for a niche product, and I want to get started on Amazon, so what should I do? What should I know? What are the initial steps?
So right now, because of a new program with Amazon, you've got a couple of options. One of those options is to dive into selling on Amazon, and the other is to think about Amazon's new buy with the Prime program, which can be part of a Shopify store. It'll work with some other platforms as well. Essentially, you're using Amazon's fulfillment and their checkout, but the orders are still coming to your store, and you own the customer list. Whereas if you go into Amazon as an additional channel, they own those buyers and that customer list, so you can't market to that list.
So the first question for someone on Shopify or another platform is, "Do I feel like I'm driving enough traffic myself to my store, or do I need the power of Amazon?" Is it one billion Prime members here in the U.S. and millions more around the world? Do I want to leverage that to drive more traffic to my listings? So you have pros and cons; it's a tough decision.
Q: How does Amazon checkout work for Shopify sellers? Because I initially thought it would be very smooth, but then, from some people, I heard it could be smoother than others may think. It would be best if you logged in. They redirect you somewhere you need to log in, and so forth.
You're correct because you're essentially logging in as the buyer logging into your Prime account. The trade-off that Amazon is banking on is that merchants will want to have this because, as an Amazon customer, if I buy with Prime, I know I will receive the product faster. If I don't know your storefront or you're an independent storefront, it's probably going to take me two or three weeks to get my product, or a week, or whatever that might be. When I see that item with a Prime badge, I'm going to say, "Incredible! I'm going to get it fast!" and there are more straightforward returns because Amazon has an extremely liberal return policy. That's supposed to give me enough confidence that I will choose to make that purchase on your storefront. That's Amazon's sales pitch. But it's not as simple as just putting in my email address and my address because I do have to log into that Amazon account.
Q: But, if I understand correctly, the checkout will not only be Amazon checkout, such as Prime checkout, which will be one of the options and how they can complete the purchase. Would that be the case, or would it be completely Prime?
You can choose. So it's just like when you go to a website now and see they've got PayPal as an option and then their credit card processor. So it is one more option to choose from because you don't want to limit yourself so that you can't get purchases from non-Amazon customers or non-Amazon Prime members.
Q: So like, once you are on Amazon, let's say you figure out that, you only want to have Amazon an additional sales channel, so you have your Shopify store and also list your products on Shopify. How would you then advise someone to proceed from that point on?
So Amazon has incredible reach because of its advertising and online power, but it's also very competitive. It's important that if you have an existing brand, you move on to the Amazon Channels and spend some real time researching your competitors who are already on Amazon in your niche. It would be best if you saw the quality of their listings and how many sales you're estimating that they might have, and there are tools out there like Jungle Scout and Helium10 that will give you an estimated number of sales for an ASIN or a niche. And you can figure out whether these guys are moving ten units a month or a thousand units a month because that does matter.
You're going to look for weaknesses in their listings. Many people treat Amazon almost like eBay; they throw a product up there with one picture, a title, and a couple of bullets, and they think it will move. It only works that way. You have to invest time in great keyword research, and you need to use all seven images you're allowed to add to the listing. Where you have lifestyle photos and infographics, you can upload a video. Videos are super important on Amazon. Amazon favors listings with video in its search results on mobile. So there are all these ways that you can have a killer listing that can compete against national brands if you invest in your listings, and they don't cost that much.
Q: What are some quick, actionable best practices or tips, or perhaps common mistakes people make at this stage, such as not devoting enough time to the listing with perhaps something more specific or something else you'd like to suggest here?
The mistake that people make is not having enough inventory available to meet the expected demand. Because here's what you don't want to happen: when you put a new product on Amazon and do a launch, you have a honeymoon period of about 60 days. And Amazon sees anything positive that happens on your listing or with your sales as super great for those 60 days. Everything you do is perfect, and it is indexed. It doesn't treat it the same as, you know, if you get five sales, it doesn't treat it the same as a product that's been on the market for ten years that gets five sales. They treat it like it was $500 in sales. It's all fascinating.
So what you don't want to do is not have enough products available to have a successful listing. Because if you run out of items to sell or are unable to fulfill orders, you will lose the entire honeymoon period. It's gone. Because when you stop selling, you lose your best-seller rank fast, and it's over. So if you're going to do a launch, have the inventory available either to ship yourself or with a 3PL or ideally sitting at an Amazon warehouse where it's FBA. Buyers trust FBA more than they trust you because they don't know you, so you want to have the products at the warehouse and then have backup units that you can ship yourself or with a 3PL. So if you are successful at launching, you do not lose any of those beautiful gains that you make by running out of product.
Q: Okay, unique, and then in terms of niches because, like, in the e-commerce world, the concept of a niche has changed. That's one of the most exciting topics, but on Amazon, are specific niche price points more successful and better than others?
Yes, so the price point is essential to consider, especially if you're using FBA. Now, Amazon's fulfillment, many times, is not that much more expensive than if you were using a 3PL or if you had your own warehouse and you were storing goods. But you have to build in, you know, the long-term costs. If you have to keep things, all kinds of extra fees can hit you. So you have to ensure that you're selling products at a price point where you can afford those fees and still be okay. Most people will tell you, you know, $15 unless you're going to make a lot of money or it's a teeny tiny product that you're shipping yourself. You want to look for $20, $25, or more, and if you're above $25 and it's not an oversized item, that's when you're going to do well.
As far as niches go right now, I think it is an excellent time for e-commerce sellers who sell niche products because of the economy. Large stores and big-box chains are not buying specialty goods right now. They are buying necessities because their customers are buying necessities. For the time being, many niche products will only be available at big box retailers and the shops down the street. At the same time, there's this whole reordering of goods after all of the problems we've had in the supply chain and the downturn in the marketplace. So if you've got a good niche product right now, it's time to be on Amazon and not in a retail store.
Q: Let's say I already have a product selling well on Shopify. What should my listing be structured like? You mentioned having videos; you have seven images. Is there maybe some unique formula used for descriptions? Yeah, I'd like to hear some more info on that.
You must have a benefits orientation in the description, and I should say something other than the description. Amazon technically has this description so low in the listing that most people never get to it. The bullets at the top are what the majority of us readers consider to be those bullets.It is also critical to have a benefits orientation on those bullets. With too many listings, it's like you're talking to yourself about your product and how cool feature A and feature B are. The buyer doesn't care. You've got to push benefits on titles as well. You cannot create an eBay title. You cannot create a title that is extremely long and contains every keyword, as this is known as keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing isn't just frowned upon at Amazon. It's enforced against Amazon; they will take down their listings. So you really need to say what it is, but with enough description, and then focus on the benefits, and then the next most important part is those images that are right next to the bullet points. Having lifestyle images like dogs, babies, and hot women in your lifestyle images will sell products. And I do not say that lightly; it is the truth. You can ask any of the companies that specialize in listing optimization. They will do anything to get dogs, babies, and hot women into your photos.
Q: So let's say somebody sets up their listings. They're getting some traction; they've been running their Amazon listings for about two months, and they're getting these sales, like the inventory. Everything is good there. What should you do next, such as how to scale and make Amazon your primary source of revenue for your e-commerce venture?
So then, it's time to focus on refining your PPC campaigns. So there are Amazon ad campaigns that are native to Amazon. It is all pay-per-click, and it is crucial to spend the time to refine and see which words are working for you. So Amazon will do this, where you can go into PPC, and anyone who's never run an ad campaign can set up a PPC campaign in five minutes. Because they will suggest keywords, spending, and everything else to you. Who do you think benefits more, you or Amazon? It benefits Amazon. So you need to do the same keyword research that you did on your listing. It's time to do the same research and refine the keywords you're using in PPC because PPC campaigns on Amazon can eat up all of your margins. You'd be surprised at how many bills people accumulate and don't think about if it's not set and forgotten. I love long-tail keyword campaigns because you can get cheap keywords with them, and over time, those help build your listing, especially if you can find ten excellent long-tail keywords.
Q: What do you mean by long-tail keywords?
It's like having the keyword "headphones" versus a keyword like "headphones for airport planes" or "headphones for professionals." And it's exactly like when you do Google auto-complete right when you're searching for something on Google, and it pops up the suggested words. You can do the same thing on Amazon. So you're thinking about how someone would buy your product. Such keywords include "backpacks for more minor children," because some people have tiny children who need short backpacks or backpacks for heavy school books. I mean, these keywords have very low bids, but as a mother, I can tell you that I have Googled backpacks for heavy books or something similar because my kid likes to bring all these books back and forth.
Those campaigns are cheap. They don't generate a ton, but they generate enough that it makes sense, and if you have enough of these long-tail campaigns, you can sneak in under the radar of some of your competitors. These do take work because you have to think about every way your product could be searched for every use and do analysis all the time, but to me, it's like a treasure hunt. It's enjoyable.
Q: How do you do that keyword research? Is it just you brainstorming and just going inside a consumer's mind and just trying to search, or are you using, let's say, tools or, for example, Google Trends? How do you do the keyword research?
So when you are researching your product and you're searching for relevant keywords, you can use the autocompletes, and you can also use these keyword research tools. They will tell you quite a bit about how people are typing in these phrases when you use software tools, and you have to get more creative. So if you look at competitive listings and you see that they are targeting a specific demographic, like grandparents or pet owners or whatever that might be, you need to start thinking, are these people using my product?" What are some long-tail keywords? Start typing in on Amazon to get some autocompletes for that demographic, and then try some PPC campaigns to match.
Q: From what it sounds like, Amazon's PPC is very similar to what Google would be in terms of keyword research and bidding on those keywords. What are the key differences and similarities between the two platforms?
So with Amazon, you're actually more likely to go to Target. My business, Riverbend Consulting, advertises on Google, and there are many more false positives on a Google search than you're going to have on Amazon. A great thing about Amazon is that it is the same as Google. especially the more detailed your keywords are. While you cannot use someone else's copyrighted terms in your listing detail page or your backend keywords, you can use them in your PPC campaign. So it's more effective than Google.
You can pop up their products when you're putting in a competitor's product name or brand name. You will see if you go on Amazon and try it out. You're going to put in, you know, an anchor battery pack or something, and it's going to pop up competitors. You'll see the same competitors across all their listings that they are chasing, which is super effective on Amazon. In general, you'll find that the targeting can be better, but the potential to overspend is also much higher.
Q: What do you think of this tactic? I've heard that some people do this, where once they launch a product, they don't add it, maybe in a super competitive category. Let's say you're selling headphones and don't add them under Electronics -> Headphones. You had it under Electronics headphones with, I don't know, small or large ear cups, like a category within the category, so can you make it easier for yourself to sell well in the category so you can get the best sellers badge? Is it like a tactic that you know Amazon is trying to combat? Is it still active, or should you use it as well?
Going to over-the-ear headphones instead of just headphones in general if you can drill down and have it in there is completely valid as long as you fit in the subcategory. The only time you're going to be in trouble or have a problem is if you then throw it into something entirely irrelevant just because it's a small category with that much competition. And over time, that will work against you because the search terms are not going to be nested the right way; you're going to be on the wrong node, and it's going to want to send headphones to the correct browser node, not over there in children's or something. So as long as it's valid, it's an entirely reasonable strategy.
Q: So what would be the one piece of advice that you would give to your 20-year-old?
That's easy. Stop worrying so much about what other people think about you because other people aren't thinking about you as much as you think they are.
Q: So, Leslie, where can people find you?
So you can find me at RiverbendConsulting.com. We have forms you can fill out to reach us, and we have an actual phone number with human beings who answer the phone, which I know isn't cool these days, but people love to talk about their problems. And then, if you head over to LinkedIn and look for Leslie Hensel, I post content about e-commerce and Amazon almost daily. Please come to RiverBend if you've had problems with an Amazon account or for news sellers. Sometimes you get hung up in this so-called "verification," where Amazon won't verify your account, and we can help you get through that process.