Amazon Marketplace Sets Record Growth in Q1 2021

After a record-breaking 2020, the Amazon marketplace shows no signs of slowing down. In Amazon’s quarterly earnings report for Q1 2021, the results show the marketplace is only growing larger and third-party sellers remain the backbone of Amazon’s signature retail platform.

It’s estimated that third-party Amazon sellers were responsible for 55% of all products sold on the Amazon marketplace, matching Q4 2020 and up from 52% from a year earlier. Even more encouraging for Amazon sellers, that percentage hasn’t budged even as the amount of products sold has risen.

Overall, Amazon reports $52.9 billion in retail sales in Q1 2021. For comparison, that number represents 44% year-over-year growth from 2020.

Emphatically, the record-breaking numbers are encouraging in any context. However, the sales data becomes even more impressive when taking the events of the past year into context.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns that pushed customers online, it goes without saying Amazon sales would dramatically increase. If there were any doubts on if customers would ditch digital shopping once restrictions loosened up, this quarter serves as the first indicator of e-commerce’s staying power.

While the year-over-year results may be partially skewed due to the pandemic only impacting the last month or so, the numbers represent a significant increase from Q2 and Q3 2020, when the pandemic and its subsequent restrictions were more prevalent.

Regarding what’s ahead for Amazon, the company projects year-over-year growth between 24% and 30% for Q2 2021. This projection is company-wide and not solely for the marketplace. With this in mind, the Amazon marketplace continues to thrive and appears poised for continued growth for the foreseeable future.

Without a doubt, there’s never been more opportunity to make your entrepreneurial dreams come true on Amazon.

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Can Amazon Be a $3 Trillion Company in 2024? This Analyst Thinks So, Citing Marketplace, Advertising Health

Is Amazon stock (Ticker: AMZN) headed #ToTheMoon? One notable analyst thinks so, citing the strength of its marketplace, advertising, and AWS.

Are you on the fence about starting your own Amazon business? Concerned you may be late to the FBA party? According to one of the most notable stock analysts in tech, Amazon has plenty of room left to run, powered partly by its massive marketplace.

Brent Thill, a Wall Street Analyst at Jefferies, presented the case for Amazon’s stock price rising to $5,700 over the next three years. In April 2019, Thill speculated that Amazon stock could skyrocket from its then-price of just above $1,800 to more than $3,000 within two years. Amazon stock would reach $3,000 comfortably within Thill’s forecast, doing so in July 2020.

Currently trading at $3,399.44 a share, this would mark a 70% uptick for a company that already owns the third-largest market cap in the S&P 500.

Unless you’re an Amazon stockholder, the gaudy valuation may seem unimportant for the typical third-party Amazon sellers. However, the reasons for Thill’s $3 trillion figure should cause sellers’ ears to perk up.

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While Amazon is renowned for its far-reaching services, three Amazon pillars stand out as a cause for optimism for the foreseeable future: Amazon Web Services (AWS), its advertising platform, and of course, the marketplace.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Perhaps just as eye-popping as the $3 trillion valuation, Thill believes AWS alone could be worth $1.2 trillion in three years. Since its inception in 2006, AWS has shown accelerated growth as cloud computing gains popularity.

The growth of AWS was brought to the forefront months ago when Andy Jassy, the CEO of AWS, was tapped to replace Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO.

Already boasting an impressive portfolio of clients, AWS appears perfectly primed for scalability as the need for computing, web security, and data storage grows.

Certainly, Amazon’s bet on AWS is paying off in spades and serves as a landmark achievement for Amazon diversifying its revenue streams at a massive scale.

The Amazon Marketplace

While other retail chains stumbled at the onset of the pandemic, Amazon’s retail marketplace soared to new heights.

If there were any concerns about these new heights being a peak before shoppers return to brick-and-mortar retail, Thill’s analysis doesn’t see it that way.

“Prime adoption and a broader shift to e-commerce have driven an acceleration in growth,” Thill wrote. “We believe the length of the pandemic has served to ingrain consumers’ increased reliance on e-commerce.”

Thill estimates the value of the marketplace in three years at $1 trillion. Better news for third-party sellers, $700 billion of that is forecasted for them.

The healthy market conditions for third-party sellers fuel an entire industry built on buying Amazon businesses, with hopes of positioning themselves for the continued booming business. Over the past 12 months, more than $3.5 billion in capital has been used to aid Amazon business acquisitions.

Even as e-commerce boomed in 2020 and into 2021, the analysis of the marketplace’s strength over the long run should be plenty of reassurance for sellers.

Amazon Advertising

Overshadowed by the announcement of Jeff Bezos departure from Amazon CEO but not overlooked by Thill, Amazon’s most recent quarterly report revealed a shocking amount of revenue generated from advertising.

Per MarketingDive, ad revenue growth rate of 64% outpaced growth for third-party seller services (54%), subscription services (34%), AWS (28%), and its online store (43%, which reported record revenue.

The ramped-up growth tells the story of an emerging asset for the company, and more importantly for sellers, which will become a much larger tool for sellers in the near future.

As the marketplace grows, it only makes sense that the value for visibility for sellers increases with it. Amidst the pandemic, e-commerce steadily became a more popular shopping option globally. The pandemic transformed e-commerce from an option to a necessity for many, and customers are unlikely to stop shopping online, with even more projected expansion.

A leading argument for the staying power of Amazon advertising is that it’s an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship between the marketplace, sellers, and customers. In a system where the marketplace sells valuable retail space, leading to satisfied customers and profits for sellers, everyone wins.

Back to Thill’s valuation, he believes Amazon’s advertising could be worth more than $600 billion in three years, behind only Google and Facebook. Recent updates and new features to the advertising platform are actions that display Amazon’s budding emphasis on advertising.

For third-party sellers, this means advertising should be at the forefront of your growth strategy. In an industry where trends are here one day and gone the next, Amazon advertising isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, the optimistic outlook from a respected analyst has to make Amazon sellers feel good about the future.

Much like following market trends within Amazon can help sellers find winning products, following company trends can give you a great idea of the next big thing in the industry.

Thill’s analysis should be a tremendous sign for the future of the Amazon marketplace and indicate that advertising should be front-and-center in future strategy.

With e-commerce forecasts, Wall Street analysis, and venture capitalists looking to enter the space, the future of the Amazon marketplace remains bright.

If you were on the fence about starting an Amazon business, there likely will not be a better time to start than now.

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Amazon Sends Major Reminder Regarding GTINs

On Thursday, Amazon Seller Central shared a reminder regarding GTINs that could result in products becoming invalid.

In a recent Seller Central update, Amazon reminded sellers that unique GTINs (Global Trade Item Number) are a requirement for its marketplace in most categories. Amazon warned that listed products without an acceptable GTIN would be removed if corrective actions aren’t taken in time.

As the update states, “GTINs are considered invalid if they are not GS1-vended or not recognized by the brand owner.”

The reminder arrives as Amazon continues to ensure its marketplace is up-to-code and worthy of consumer trust. Above all, GS1 provides standards for industries to allow products, services, and information to move efficiently and securely to benefit of businesses and consumers.

What You Can Do

Sellers can check to see if their products are in danger of being considered invalid due to the GTIN policy by visiting the Fix Your Product tool in Seller Central.

Affected listings will be displayed in the At Risk listings section.

[RELATED: UPC Codes for Amazon: Everything You Need To Know]

If you don’t have any at-risk listings, no further actions are needed.

To fix any affected ASINs, you can submit a letter of authorization or a licensing agreement that meets the following criteria:

  • Includes the name and address of the brand’s rights owner
  • Legible: it is not too blurry and not too light or dark
  • Displays the manufacturer name and contact information
  • Includes the seller’s legal business name or the seller name that corresponds to your Account information page in Seller Central
  • Includes the seller’s physical address
  • Must be in English
  • Includes a GS1 certificate
    Note: We recommend that you obtain your GTINs directly from GS1 (and not from other third parties selling GTIN licenses) to ensure that the appropriate information is reflected in the GS1 database. For more information on licensing EANs or UPCs from GS1, refer to the GS1 website.

Also, it should be noted this is not a change of policy, but a reminder of the rules and guidelines. For the official statement from Amazon, please refer to the Seller Central statement.

Lastly, be sure to check your status within Seller Central immediately to avoid any future complications.

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The Amazon Product Documents Program Explained

Amazon’s latest seller program aims to cut down on returns, increase customer satisfaction, and improve the buyer and seller experience.

Recently, Amazon unveiled its Product Documents Program, a helpful resource for sellers to upload electronic documents for potential customers to view.

Safety information, user guides and manuals, fact sheets, and instructions for use are just a few of the vital documents that eligible sellers can upload to improve their customer experience.

Previously, sellers needed to include these documents as inserts with their purchase, making them only available to customers who had already made a purchase. Now, this information can visible to customers as they shop.

Amazon describes the program below.

These are customer-facing documents that will be shown on your product detail pages. They are intended to provide pre-purchase information and post-purchase support content to customers. Adding product documents to your product detail pages can result in higher conversion rates, lower customer support costs, increased sales, and fewer returns when used effectively.

Amazon’s About Product Documents

Of course, with any new program, there are questions. Below, we’ll answer a few of the initial questions to help you get familiar with the new program.

Why does this program exist? Who does it benefit?

Customers and all eligible sellers who utilize the program benefit by increasing the quality of seller-to-buyer communication.

Before purchasing, customers can see important information about the product they’re purchasing. For instance, a customer may purchase a product that is more difficult to assemble than they anticipated, contains materials they don’t approve of, or be sized differently than anticipated. Typically, these transactions end with some combination of an unsatisfied customer, a return, or a poor review.

Amazon Product Documents allow sellers to be more transparent with customers regarding crucial product information. As a result, a more informed customer is more likely to be a satisfied customer. Additionally, a seller that is more transparent about product information is more likely to make a sale, avoid a negative review, and generate brand loyalty.

All in all, the program is mutually beneficial for the seller and the buyer.

Who Can Participate?

Registered brand owners in the Amazon Brand Registry program.

The Product Documents Program is the latest perk of being brand registered. While purely speculation, we’d imagine this is unlikely to become available for non-brand registered sellers any time soon.

[RELEVANT: A Guide to Amazon Brand Registry]

How much does it cost to join?

That’s right! There is no fee to join the Amazon Product Documents Program.

What types of documents can be uploaded?

At the moment, this is a complete list of the types of documents and formats allowed as a part of the Amazon Product Documents Program:

  • Safety Information (PDF)
  • Certificate of Analysis (PDF)
  • Certificate of Compliance (PDF)
  • User Guide (PDF)
  • User Manual (PDF)
  • Specification Sheet (PDF)
  • Comparison Chart (PDF)
  • Product Documentation (PDF)
  • 2D CAD (PDF, DWG, DXF)
  • 3D CAD (PDF, EDRW, EPRT, IGS, SLDPRT, STP)
  • Application Guide (PDF)
  • Brochure (PDF)
  • Compatibility Guide (PDF)
  • Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) (PDF)
  • EUA Amendment(s) (PDF)
  • FAQ (PDF)
  • Instructions for Use (IFU) (PDF)
  • Fact Sheet (Patient) (PDF)
  • Fact Sheet (Provider) (PDF)
  • Safety Information (PDF)
  • Size Guide (PDF)
  • Troubleshooting Guide (PDF)

How do I get started?

Amazon provides the following instructions for uploading documents from start-to-finish!

To upload documents for your product in Seller Central:

  1. Go to Inventory > Manage Product Documents.
  2. Click Upload New Documents.
  3. Choose a name for the document you are uploading. This is only for your reference. Customers will not see this name.
  4. Select a document type from the list of allowed document types.
  5. Choose the language or languages that are present in the document you are uploading.
  6. Choose a file to upload. Files must be:
    • Less than 10MB
    • PDF format except for CAD drawings
    • CAD drawings may be in PDF, dwg, dxf, igs, eprt, edrw, sidprt, or stp format
  7. Search by ASIN or product name and follow the on-screen prompts to associate one or more ASINs with the document you are uploading. At least one ASIN must be applied to the document for it to be uploaded.

Once submitted, your content may take seven business days to be reviewed for adherence to below mentioned Amazon guidelines for product documents. It may take longer during peak times. Documents that do not adhere to these guidelines will be rejected.

Once approved, it can take up to seven business days to publish on the detail page of the ASINs to which it applies. If the document status is “Not approved,” view the rejection reasons by clicking Edit for a specific document and make the changes.”

Conclusion

Above all, the Amazon Product Documents Program appears to be a great option to improve customer experience. For eligible sellers with applicable documents, we highly recommend joining this program as soon as possible!

As always, any opportunity to stand out from the competition on Amazon is an edge worth exploring. Uploading product documents with important information may boost consumer confidence and increase the likelihood of turning a click into a conversion.

Even more likely, these document uploads are likely to be an incredibly helpful resource for customers that will decrease the probability of a return and/or negative review. Recently, Amazon has taken much of the onus of customer satisfaction out of the seller’s hands. While this creates less work for sellers, it also takes away control for sellers.

Furthermore, by uploading your own documents and making them easily accessible to potential sellers, you have the chance to gain control back. As a result, you can turn would-be 1-star reviews into 5-star reviews by giving the customer everything they need for a happy transaction.

Amazon News & Updates: Amazon Launches Marketplace in Poland

The e-commerce giant continues its global expansion in Europe.

On Tuesday, March 2nd, Amazon expanded its reach by launching its Polish marketplace, Amazon.pl.

Upon launching, Amazon.pl boasts more than 100 million products across more than 30 categories, making it one of the company’s most expansive launches yet. As global e-commerce continues growth accelerated by the pandemic, the launch of yet another marketplace signals the world’s largest online retailer is still growing.

“We are thrilled to launch Amazon.pl and to be able to offer Polish customers a selection of more than 100 million products, including tens of thousands of products from local Polish businesses.”

Alex Ootes, VP of EU Expansion at Amazon, to Reuters

[Relevant: 5 Reasons To Start Selling on Amazon Europe]

While not without competition from e-commerce companies such as Poland-based Allegro, the arrival of Amazon into any marketplace or industry undoubtedly changes its landscape.

The Amazon.pl home page.

For Amazon sellers, it’s worthwhile to monitor Amazon’s steady expansion into new countries, as they often provide an opportunity to get your brand in front of a global audience. In most instances, Amazon’s fulfillment network makes it convenient for existing sellers to be listed in international marketplaces.

Additionally, making your products available sooner on any Amazon marketplace could pay off handsomely if the new market adopts it as the e-commerce marketplace of choice. If you’re a seller looking to grow internationally with Amazon, you can get started here.

The addition of an Amazon marketplace in Poland brings Amazon’s total marketplaces to 19, spanning North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The 19 Amazon Global Marketplaces as of March 2021

The Amazon Poland Launch comes less than six months after the arrival of Amazon Sweden. While no announcements regarding further expansion have been made, we’ll be monitoring Amazon’s ongoing expansion efforts.

[Recommended: Find International Products with Product Discovery!]

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4 Notable Amazon Updates & What They Mean for Sellers

Jeff Bezos is obsessed with providing the best customer experience possible. In fact, he was recently quoted saying, “We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” 

As a shopper on Amazon, this means an overall better experience. We can all appreciate a seamless shopping experience and super-speedy shipping. But as an Amazon seller, every update to the algorithm, every policy change, and every feature roll-out can directly impact your bottom line. In order to adapt, maintain sales, and grow your business, you should always understand how recent changes are affecting you.

Here at Viral Launch, we live and breathe Amazon. And right when they make a change, we set out to help you understand what it means for you. In today’s news roundup, we’ll go through 4 updates you should know about. And if you want to keep an even closer eye on changes, follow along on social media where we share the latest news and success tactics in real-time.

1. Product Inserts Policy Mixup

The news: Many sellers were shocked and frustrated after receiving an email on 10/31 reminding sellers that product inserts may not ask for a review of any kind. This email contradicted the official policy on their site that only prohibits product inserts that ask for a positive review. Amazon quickly corrected the error with a follow-up message reading: We want to remind you that Amazon policies prohibit box inserts and product packaging that direct consumers to write a positive review, even if no incentive is offered for a review. 

The email that caused confusion, neglecting to clarify that you cannot ask for positive reviews.

What it means for you: Because Amazon corrected the error, there is no change in policy here. However, it’s a good opportunity to ensure you’re in line with Amazon’s terms when it comes to product inserts and reviews. Your product inserts cannot ask customers to take an action based on a positive or negative experience, which means you can’t ask them to contact you instead of leaving a negative review. And remember, you cannot review your own product, incentivize reviews in any way, or use third party services that offer free or discounted products tied to a review. If you have any products already in fulfillment centers and are in violation of the policies, you’ll want to create a removal order to proactively remove your inventory and avoid any trouble.

2. Communication Guidelines Simplified

The news: Effective on December 3rd, Amazon has updated its Customer Communication Guidelines. The company says they’re not changing the policies but are refreshing the language to make it clearer after hearing complaints from many sellers. In summary, the guidelines state that you may contact a buyer who has purchased from you on Amazon only to complete an order or to respond to a customer service inquiry. You may not contact buyers in any way for marketing or promotional purposes, including via email, physical mail, telephone, or otherwise. Read the full policy.

What this means for you: This is another scenario where Amazon is making it crystal clear that it is not allowed to contact buyers for anything other than support. While no drastic action is needed, you’ll want to review the policy to make sure you’re not in violation. Historically, Amazon has made small changes that lead to suspension sweeps, so if you’re currently promoting your brand to past Amazon customers, take this as an opportunity to make changes that align with TOS.

3. Request a Review Button

The news: In Seller Central, you may have noticed a new button on the “Order Details” page labeled “Request a Review.” When you click it, you’ll see the following message: 

And after clicking Yes, you’ll see a popup that says, “A review will be requested for this order. (Note: We will suppress this request if a review has already been requested for this order).” For now, it seems Amazon is testing this button on the Amazon US marketplace, and it’s only available once per sale.

What this means for you: Amazon has also recently removed sections of a customer’s contact information, such as last name and shipping address. The “Request a Review” button falls in this same effort to keep buyer-seller messaging in-house. It’s definitely worth requesting reviews from your buyers to see if you’re able to generate reviews quickly. With the ask coming from Amazon, customers may be more inclined to act. However, as more and more sellers become aware and abuse this button, it could mean that Amazon pivots again or simply that the button will lose effectiveness. Either way, we’ll keep a close eye on how the market is responding and will update via our social media channels. 

4. “Posts” in Beta

The news: Under the Amazon Advertising umbrella, Posts let Amazon sellers use curated photos to inspire shoppers to engage with their brands and products on Amazon. Focused on a brand-shopping experience, Posts help shoppers discover new products and see what’s new from brands by browsing feeds of brand-curated content. They’re currently US only, free to participate in, and include engagement metrics, including views, clicks, and clickthrough rates. Learn more.

What this means for you: Amazon understands the power of social selling and branding. They’re putting resources behind it, so as a seller on their platform you should too. You’re probably no stranger to the value of growing a following early on a social media platform. Of course, Posts may not explode the way Instagram did or TikTok is (in fact, they just shut down Spark, a discovery shopping feature launched in 2017). But, if you’re running social media for your brand anyways, it may be worth testing whether or not Posts will pay off for your brand. They show up on your own detail pages, detail pages for related brands, feeds for related posts, and category-based feeds… all of which are prime real estate. 

Make Small Changes for Big Results

By being the first to know about Amazon updates, you can stay ahead of other Amazon sellers and ensure your products are positioned for success. But you’ll also want to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered when it comes to the basics. For example, are your Amazon advertising campaigns adding to your bottom line, or are you confused about how to make them work? We understand how important it is to get the basics right, so we recently launched two free Amazon courses. Yep, they’re free! 

From Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Sell on Amazon: Follow this step-by-step process to learn the basics of Amazon, confidently build an online business, and unlock your full potential as an entrepreneur. Enroll for free! 

Amazon PPC Playbook: Follow this step-by-step process to make sponsored ads work for you, receive bigger payouts, and get one step closer to freedom. Enroll for free!

Stay in-the-Know

As Amazon continues to make changes, the Viral Launch team will be the first to make sure you’re aware. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for immediate updates.

Follow us on Twitter for real-time Amazon updates!

And if you have any comments or questions about the most recent updates, let us know in the comments below!

Latest Amazon Updates: The Week in Review – October 22-29

The month of October has been quite the whirlwind for Amazon and its sellers. October 3rd, Amazon released a ToS update that banned incentivized reviews, kickstarting a season full of updates and policy changes.

To recap the latest Amazon updates:

  • August 28: Amazon enacts massive restrictions on certain brands, preventing 3rd party sellers from selling without approval.
  • September 1: Amazon announces in an email to sellers that, effective November 1st, US Seller fulfilled returns will be automatically authorized, and Amazon will provide prepaid return label on the seller’s behalf. Read more here.
  • October 3: The new Terms of Service prohibits providing a free or discounted product in exchange for a review unless it’s through the Vine program. Read more here.
  • October 10: Amazon closes the door to Fulfillment by Amazon for new sellers during the Q4, 2016 period. See here under the orange button at the bottom of the page.
  • October 21: Amazon clarifies Promotional Content in Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers in wake of the new review policy. Read more here.

This past week continued this month’s trend with Amazon’s mass seller email regarding reviews and the introduction to Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program..

 

Amazon’s Incentivized Review Mass Email

Many sellers reported receiving an email on October 24th from Amazon with a strict warning about moving forward with incentivized reviews:

“We recently updated our policies to prohibit incentivize reviews, including those posted in exchange for a free or discounted copy of the product. You are receiving this email because products you sell have received incentivize reviews in the past. If you attempt to acquire incentivize reviews going forward, your Amazon privileges will be suspended or terminated.

We consider a review to be incentivized if you have influenced or can influence the review directly or indirectly, including by monitoring whether a review is written and providing or withholding any benefit based on whether a review is written or the content of the review. Below are a few examples where a review is considered incentivize and is not permitted:

  • You provide a free or discounted product, gift card, rebate, cash payment, or other compensation in exchange for the review.
  • You provide or withhold free or discounted products or other benefits in the future based on whether the customer writes a review.
  • You use a review service where reviewers’ continued membership depends on writing reviews.
  • You use a review service where you can rate customers based on their reviews.
  • You use a review service where customers register their Amazon public profile so that you can monitor their reviews of your products.

Incentivizing customer reviews violates our policies and may violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The following actions are generally allowed, provided you comply with the above restrictions:

  • You might offer discounts that are generally available to all Amazon customers, such as Lightning Deals.
  • You may give out free products at tradeshows, conventions, or other similar venues where you are unable to monitor whether the recipients write a review or provide or withhold any benefits based on whether a review is written or the content of the review.

The above changes apply only to product categories other than books. We continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advanced review copies of books.”

The initial seller response was shock and a bit of fear. After all, getting called out by the Giant itself is a bit intimidating. However, through this email, Amazon is really just confirming what our CEO, Casey Gauss, mentioned in our initial blog post about the ToS change and our follow up blog post clarifying the policy. Casey posed two large takeaways on October 14th:

  1. “It is okay for 3rd party websites to distribute discounted claim codes on behalf of Amazon merchants.”
  2. “It is okay for merchants to follow-up with the discounted buyers asking for a review, so long as they abide by all other review policies and stipulations (ex. Don’t ask for only a positive review, do not force the customer to leave a review, do not monitor whether or not they were able to leave a review, etc.)”

These statements still hold true, even through this email. Yes, in the past you may have used a review service to receive a review in exchange for a discounted product. But, you weren’t in the wrong. In fact, you were in line with Amazon’s policy at the time. The policy isn’t retroactive, meaning your Amazon privileges should not be suspended or revoked because of those past reviews. *However, we have witnessed that Amazon is retroactively removing thousands of reviews left with a disclaimer.*

This mass email was sent to many sellers who have run promotions in the past, and it serves as a method to make sure that all sellers are well-informed on the new policy. The carefully-worded email instructs sellers on the new do’s and dont’s of offering discounts and receiving reviews, which actually gives some insightful clarification to the update.

So sellers, don’t interpret the email as, “I’m getting kicked off of Amazon, and I’ll never ever be able to sell anything again.” Read it as, “Amazon has notified me that past actions are now against policy. I now have to abide by the new policy, which they’ve just informed me of.” Moving forward, it’s important to abide by these policies. And yes, product promotions are still compliant with these policies. As we mentioned in a blog addressing the review disclaimer a couple of weeks back, “Viral Launch is not giving products in exchange for a review. We are not providing compensation to buyers to leave reviews, nor do our buyers have connections with you as a seller/marketer.” Product giveaways through Viral Launch are still permissible, as we are not providing a product or any compensation for a review, we are not providing products in the future based on whether or not a customer leaves a review, we are not using reviews as a membership requirement on our buyer site, we are not allowing you to rate customers on our buyer site, and we are not registering our buyers’ Amazon public profiles in order to monitor reviews.

All that to say, rest easy, friend. We’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that we are in line with the new policy change. This email may have appeared to be intimidating at first, but as long as you continue to move forward within the Terms of Service, you will be in good shape.

 

Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program

Yesterday, on October 27th, Amazon announced the introduction of its new Early Reviewer Program. After banning sellers from incentivizing reviews, Amazon itself will start rewarding and incentivizing reviews. It is believed that the program is currently in beta testing and will likely be enacted at the start of November. Amazon describes the program on its Site Features:

The Early Reviewer Program encourages customers who have already purchased a product to share their authentic experience about that product, regardless of whether it is a 1-star or 5-star review. Amazon shoppers depend on reviews to learn more about products, and this program helps to acquire early reviews on products that have few or no reviews, helping shoppers make smarter buying decisions. Customers who have purchased a product participating in the Early Reviewer Program may be asked to write a review and those customers who submit a review within the offer period will receive a small reward (e.g. a $1-$3 Amazon.com Gift Card) for helping future shoppers.

This new program should (hopefully) help sellers who are bringing a brand new product to market. Doing so over the past month has been a bit like the chicken and the egg scenario; you need reviews to get sales and you need sales to get reviews. Where the heck do you start? One of our main recommendations has been implementing a stellar email follow-up sequence to capitalize on all sales, trying to get as many of those oh-so-important initial reviews from the get-go. But with this move, Amazon may be trying to smother follow-up review sequences. Think about it from a consumer standpoint…if you are bombarded with emails every time you make a purchase on Amazon, you might end up with a bad taste in your mouth about Amazon as a whole. It may seem like a bunch of review hungry sellers who only want you for your review. But, if Amazon can be in control of who reviews, and if they can make email follow-up sequences seem pointless when they’re bringing in higher review rates, Amazon wins and the customer wins. And for Amazon, that’s a win-win.

As we get more information on the Early Reviewer Program, we’ll be sure to share it. For now, we’ll say that it should hopefully be good news for sellers looking for initial reviews on new products. It does seem a little ironic though, doesn’t it? Amazon bans incentivized reviews and then incentivizes reviews…Well, when you live in Amazon’s world, you’ve got to live by Amazon’s rules.

More information from Amazon concerning the Early Reviewer Program can be found here.

 

Conclusion

The latest Amazon updates have caused quite the buzz within the Amazon seller community. While it may seem hard to keep up, we’re here to comb through the changes and guide you through the wonderful, hard, rewarding, and sometimes stressful process of selling on Amazon. We’ve been busier than ever this month, and I’m sure you have been too. But isn’t that part of the fun?

Continue to stay informed and make decisions that are in line with Amazon’s (ever-changing) policies, and you’ll be okay. While selling on Amazon may be confusing and messy at times, it can surely be rewarding. Although it may be a bit tougher to bring a product to market, it definitely isn’t impossible. In fact, we believe that with the right strategy, you can definitely still be incredibly successful as a private-label seller. Amazon makes the rules, and everyone has to live by them. If you can figure out how to do it best, you’ll be in great shape. And as always, Viral Launch will be here to help inform and clarify along the way.

We would love to hear your thoughts and questions on the latest Amazon updates. Feel free to post in the comments below!

Always Moving Forward – Amazon TOS Change 2016

We all saw the writing on the wall didn’t we? Today marks yet another Amazon TOS change that set the private label world on fire and sent everyone into chaos. 24 hours later and it looks like things have largely subsided. While many of the industry’s leading review services have posted their interpretation of the rules and how they wish to proceed, I am still not completely convinced of their conclusion and I’ll explain it all.

So what does it mean for you as a seller? What does it mean for Viral Launch and its platform? What does it mean for the Amazon market in general? 

In this post we’ll cover the facts we know around the Terms of Service change, what this policy update means for you as a seller, what it means for the Viral Launch community, and what it means for the private label world as a whole. 

While we are not 100% sure, nor do I think we will ever be (Amazon can be pretty ambiguous with their terminology and can lack uniformity in how they enforce and interpret their rules), I do think we have a pretty good grasp on the impact this TOS change will have moving forward. We will continue to update this blog post with new information and case studies as they come up, but at the very least I wanted to comfort some nerves and hopefully add some peace to the frenzy that has ensued. 

Facts Around the TOS Change

So let’s begin with the actual content posted on Amazon. Firstly, the post that has caused the chaos. Thanks to our friend Chee Chew, VP of Customer Experience at Amazon, we have this “blog post”/“featured post” from mid-day EDT on Oct. 3rd: 

Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions, and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job. In just the past year, we’ve improved review ratings by introducing a machine learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews; applying stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge; and suspending, banning or suing thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.

Our community guidelines have always prohibited compensation for reviews, with an exception – reviewers could post a review in exchange for a free or discounted product as long as they disclosed that fact. These so-called ‘incentivized reviews’ make up only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of reviews on Amazon, and when done carefully, they can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.

Today, we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program. We launched Vine several years ago to carefully facilitate these kinds of reviews and have been happy with feedback from customers and vendors. Here’s how Vine works: Amazon – not the vendor or seller – identifies and invites trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products; we do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written; and we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product. Vine has important controls in place and has proven to be especially valuable for getting early reviews on new products that have not yet been able to generate enough sales to have significant numbers of organic reviews. We also have ideas for how to continue to make Vine an even more useful program going forward. Details on that as we have them.

The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.

Thank you.

– Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience

The post can be found here

If you follow the link to the Community Guidelines as referred to by Mr. Chew, you’ll see some updated language. Previously, Amazon had very specific language regarding giving discounted or free products in exchange for a review and the stipulations around it such as making sure the product was offered before the review was left, etc. 

If you read the customer guidelines for yourself, you will now see the updated language which attempts to dispel any kind of hope that products can still be given away at a discount in exchange for a review with language such as: 

Promotions and Commercial Solicitations

In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:

  • Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services.
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your competitors’ products or services.
  • Creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products) or on behalf of anyone else.
  • Offering compensation or requesting compensation (including free or discounted products) in exchange for creating, modifying, or posting content.

To answer all questions more definitively (well for the most part), we also have in the FAQ section of Seller Central these relevant FAQ’s. 

FAQ

Why are we making this change?

Please see our recent announcement.

Can I use third-party services to provide free or discounted products to reviewers? 

No. The policy applies regardless of whether you provide compensation to reviewers directly or through a third party.

When and how will this policy be enforced? 

The policy is effective immediately. If you continue to offer free or discounted products in exchange for a review, your Amazon privileges may be suspended or revoked.  

Can I continue to offer discounts and promotions to customers? 

Yes. You may continue to offer discounts and promotions as long as they are not offered in exchange for reviews. 

What constitutes a review “in exchange” for a free or discounted product?

We do not allow any benefit to be offered, requested, or provided in exchange for a review.

 

Looks pretty black and white, right? 

So according to this: As sellers you CANNOT give free or discounted products away to reviewers in exchange for compensation, BUT you CAN offer discounts and promotions to customers as long as they are, again, not offered in exchange for reviews.

The only way to know exactly how Amazon will choose to enforce these rules is time. Time enough to understand just how they distinguish promotional giveaways from a product awareness standpoint versus giveaways in exchange for reviews.

Mr. Chew mentions that all ‘incentivized’ reviews are prohibited unless they are run through their Amazon Vine Program. The Vine program is expensive, open only to Vendors, limits the number of products a brand can enter, and has a ceiling of around 100 units to give for a review depending on your product’s category. This is obviously a significant difference from what some sellers are used to, especially in competitive markets.  

He also mentions that there will be updates to the Vine program coming soon, but is not very specific as to what it will entail. Will they remove the Vendor requirement to join the program? 

TechCrunch also published an article giving a statement from an Amazon Spokesperson saying, “reviews that were received prior to the policy change are only being retroactively removed if they are excessive, and don’t comply with prior policy.” As well as, “if it [Amazon] finds anyone is attempting to manipulate reviews by tying reviews to discounted products, it will take action against them, starting today.”

What does “tying reviews to discounted products” mean exactly? To me it sounds like you better make sure that customers receiving a discount do not leave a review. Again what does “excessive” mean? 100? 1000? A function of the percentage of monthly organic sales? We’re left to chance to find out only once the line has been crossed.

Why I Have A Hard Time Trusting The Current Industry’s Interpretation of the Amazon Policy Update

My biggest apprehensions are two-fold: 

  1. How does Amazon know the intent of the seller handing out coupons? 
  2. And, just because now reviews won’t have the disclosure “I purchased at a discount in exchange…” in them, doesn’t mean that the reviews are now legitimately unbiased. If you pay $1 for something, you are going to be inevitably biased in how you review the product. So that would mean Amazon’s new TOS update served no purpose but to remove the disclosure from reviews essentially. Seems sneaky by Amazon to hide the fact from their buyers.

I am in no way advocating the behavior mentioned in this paragraph, but for example’s sake let’s say I run a promotion giving discounted products to customers without asking for reviews and 30% of them choose to leave a review of their own choice. That seems completely legitimate according to both Amazon’s terms and how review services are interpreting Amazon’s policy change. But, how does Amazon know whether or not you told the customer they were receiving the product in exchange for a review? If that is the case, then theoretically, a seller could still give thousands of products away at a discount in exchange for a review without getting in trouble just so long as the reviewers do not state in the review that they received the product at a discount in exchange for a review. 

Amazon cannot be in on every conversation on the internet to know whether a product was given in exchange for a review or not. To Amazon, a review left on a discounted product looks the same whether it was offered in exchange for a review or not (so long as the customer does not state the fact of course). So how are they able to enforce this rule if a seller coaches their own VIP list not to leave the disclosure in the review? They can’t!

This leaves two possibilities. 

  1. Amazon released this statement as a show of good faith to their large consumer audience. The holidays are coming up, so it is an important time for them to reassure buyers that reviews are still priority when making informed purchasing decisions. However, as I mentioned before, reviews from discounted purchases are likely still biased even under the new regulations. Although they may not be able to enforce it to the standards they speak of, they still want to publicly display their position.
  2. Amazon is not interpreting the terms the same as our industry leaders (and Viral Launch) and may start to enforce these new updates in ways that are likely unfavorable (suspensions, etc.). 

Why Amazon Will Not Suspend You For Getting Reviews From Promotional Sales

Again, this is all my interpretation and logical thought process on the information I’ve received. We are currently running 200+ launches a day and will have enough data to talk in definitives here soon.  

I have a hard time seeing Amazon punishing sellers who are running promotions that just so happen to also generate reviews. If that were the case, the door would be flung wide-open for competitors to use  “ghost-accounts” (accounts that have been well seasoned by sellers to appear legitimate to outside eyes) to post reviews to their competitor’s listings after purchasing. This would be hard to detect whether it was a legitimate customer or not and could be devastating. 

Another example: let’s say you run a 30% off holiday discount and a percentage of those buyers leave a review because they love your product. Is Amazon going to punish you? Seems unlikely.

What History Tells US About Amazon TOS Changes

For those who don’t recall Amazon’s, “the sky is falling announcement” back in August of 2015 we recap it here. There was just about as much chaos and concern caused by their latest TOS announcement, but how did affect us? What devastating impact did it have on us and our clients? LITERALLY NONE!! Sure it had an impact in terms of fear, etc. But it did not actually affect any of us. We saw not one complaint to our clients running white-hat honest businesses. 

So for better or worse, it eases my concerns as to the impact this change will have. From what we’ve covered already, I don’t see this as having too much of a real impact on the Viral Launch platform and our clients directly, but we’ll get into that more further along in this blog.

How This Affects You As A Seller

Are Review Services Dead?

So does this mean that review services with 80%+ review rates that were requiring their user bases to leave a review in order to get access to more products are dead? Yes. After reading Amazon’s TOS, I’m not sure how you can interpret it any differently. A few times they mention ‘incentivized reviews’ as being prohibited while explaining that ‘incentivized reviews’ are reviews posted in exchange for a free or discounted product. In Amazon’s FAQs (listed above), they very explicitly state that you cannot give products away at a discount in exchange for reviews.

The majority of review groups that have announced their interpretation of the policy change and how they will proceed will continue running promotions but are removing the requirement to leave a review post purchase. They will no longer hand out coupons with the agreement that the product is being given in exchange for a review. The services are now focusing on leveraging promotional sales to focus on “sales velocity”. 

If you sell in markets where a competitive number of reviews on page one is around 100 reviews, or even under 500 reviews, then this update doesn’t seem like it will have much of an impact on you. Sure it may slightly decrease the speed at which you can get a product up and selling at a high level organically, but with a little extra time, strategy, and work, you’ll get there just the same. 

If you sell in markets where a competitive number of reviews is in the thousands…it looks like you have your work cut out for you. Impossible? Not at all. More expensive and time consuming? I am afraid so. Making intelligent decisions on which products to source is now more crucial than ever! We have a new tool dropping by the end of the month to help you do just that! (Don’t worry we’re not trying to replace any current tool you’re using like Jungle Scout!)

The days of giving away thousands of products through review groups (Viral Launch is not a review service) to compete with page one sellers in a matter of a month or two are likely over. 

Adjustments To Make..

  • Make sure you do not have any “drip” campaigns running on review services (not Viral Launch) still giving products away in exchange for a review which you are currently subscribed to and cancel any campaigns that are supposed to kick off soon. 
  • Keep your eyes out for new information! Facebook groups are incredible news aggregators for Amazon news. I will also be updating this post with new information and case studies as they become available.
  • Be weary of rumors!! Oh goodness how rumors spread in this space. We actually have a whole blog series planned on busting common myths in this space so watch for those! But check your facts and even feel free to check with our free-of-cost Account Executives if you have a question regarding a rumor. Unfortunately we see a lot of sellers misled by “authorities” in the space that are sometimes misinformed themselves.
  • OPTIMIZE YOUR FEEDBACK SERVICE’S EMAIL FOLLOW-UP SEQUENCES!!! – I cannot stress enough how important having a highly optimized feedback service is! If the only way to generate reviews now is through organic sales, you better put everything you have into converting those organic sales into customer reviews!

Is The Gold Rush Of Amazon Private Label Over?

So overall what does this mean? Are we/sellers going to pack our bags and go home? Is the Amazon gold rush over? Are your chances of a self-sustaining Amazon lifestyle business over?

NOT AT ALL! And I really hope I don’t hear that from any of you. As entrepreneurs it’s our nature to overcome the obstacles we find before us! We can’t give up because the rules of the game we’re playing change. If that’s your mentality in life, you’ll never survive. You’ll never achieve your dreams of running a successful business no matter if you’re selling on Amazon or working in another industry. We have to fight for our success!

When changes arise in the market, we have to look at it as opportunity. Yeah, things are shaken up and may seem to be more difficult for you, but they are shaken up for everyone and just as difficult for your competitors as well. That means you have to figure out the new rules of the game, adjust with tact and move forward full steam ahead. If you hang on to the past, you’ll be left behind. 

I’m extremely confident that we’ll be able to successfully navigate the market after Amazon’s new policy update to launch products to success! We always will! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the mindset of true entrepreneurs. I hope that you’ll ascribe to that way of thinking with me!

How This Affects the Viral Launch Platform

Short Answer: This has a very minimal affect on us and the effectiveness of our platform. For starters, we are so much more than a promotional giveaway platform now. We have also never been a review service. We have never required our users to leave reviews. Our focus in promotional giveaways has always been on providing a platform for sellers to help drive promotional sales targeted at improving keyword ranking, and we will continue to operate almost exactly the same! (Read below to see what change will be made)

Looking at Amazon’s FAQ…

Can I continue to offer discounts and promotions to customers? 

Yes. You may continue to offer discounts and promotions as long as they are not offered in exchange for reviews. 

It looks like everything is good to go for promotions to drive traffic and promotional sales which we all know help improve a product’s keyword ranking in search results.

We have completely removed all language around reviews on the Viral Launch buyer’s side. We never required or incentivized reviews as many of the review services did. We did however offer a kind reminder for coupon grabbers to leave a review on the products they purchased, but that has now been removed. Therefore, based on Amazon’s direct language, the Viral Launch platform should be compliant with Amazon’s new TOS update.

I have to say “should be”, because with any rule made by Amazon, they are ambiguous, or at the least, leave unanswered questions. 

Two of those unanswered questions: 

  1. By “…promotions to customers” are they referring to a specific set of people? 
    1. By “customers” are they referring to your past customers? 
    2. Amazon “customers” only? Meaning lightning deals, etc. 

I think I may be thinking too hard about it, but at the same time with how vague Amazon can be, I’d rather be safe than sorry. 

  1. How will Amazon determine whether or not the discount was offered in exchange for reviews? How do they know the intent of the coupon distributor?

My honest inclination is that they do not care so long as the reviewer is not posting in the review that they got the product at a discount in exchange for a review AND so long as you are not actually offering products in exchange for a review.

Questions I continue to ask:

  1. Are they looking at the buyer account of product’s purchased at a discount? Meaning if it is a buyer that frequently leaves a review on a discounted product, Amazon assumes it was given at a discount in exchange for a review? Seems grossly inaccurate and unlikely. 
  2. Are they looking at products that have reviews posted saying, “…purchased this product at a discount in exchange for my unbiased review”? Again seems grossly inaccurate, but more likely. If this is the case it’s likely just one method of identification. The largest issue here is if sellers coached reviewers not to leave the disclaimer, they could potentially rack up thousands of reviews very quickly still.
  3. Are they monitoring referrer traffic? Meaning, “did this purchase just come from reviewsite.com? Okay it must have been in exchange for a review.” This would be the worst case of the above mentioned because it would be incredibly inaccurate and would be devastating for a lot of sellers and service providers.

 

What If You Lower The Price Of A Product For A Couple Hours Then Run Traffic To The Product So Reviewers Can Buy For Low And Still Leave A Review?

We will absolutely not being doing this! This seems like review manipulation and we are not that type of company. This is the type of activity that seems to have a high probability of you ending up being sued, suspended, or banned from Amazon. Viral Launch will stay far away from this. 

Moving Forward

If all of the hype is exactly as it seems to be (no reviews left in exchange for a discount), we are going to be coaching our clients on a completely new launch strategy designed to help you succeed with a new set of parameters. For seasoned sellers with a solid review foundation, the launch strategy is unlikely to change. For sellers just bringing a product to market, depending on what that market looks like, we will put together an updated launch strategy which we will be covering later this week. Getting off the ground successfully without the ability to gain traction with initial reviews is going to change the name of the game, but it will be your ability to adapt that will help you beat out competitors trying to do the same thing. 

This is an opportunity for those of you who are focused on building a well rounded business to overcome those sellers who were spending money to take the shortcut. The Viral Launch arsenal is now more valuable than ever, allowing you to build an incredible private label business from the ground up. If you were looking to take shortcuts, you were already in trouble. Its time to double down and get ahead by doing everything better than your competitors.

We are working harder than ever to help optimize email follow-up campaigns to help increase the review rate driven by feedback services. We’ll keep you updated as we see advances. In the meantime, we highly suggest finding a feedback service that works well for you and optimizing it to drive as many reviews as possible from organic sales. 

To Summarize

I know this was about 10X longer than most posts, but I’m more of a skeptic and with the limited amount of data we’ve been able to gather over the last 24 hours, I want to make sure we do not mislead anyone. I also think it’s important to question and discuss the market we all work and thrive in to constantly increase our perspectives of it. It is only going to help to make you a better seller and entrepreneur in the space.

  • Viral Launch will continue to give coupons without incentivizing reviews as before, but will be coaching reviewers on Amazon’s new review policy guidelines.
  • We will continue to monitor the space to help enhance our perspective and hopefully reinforce our confidence in our interpretation by providing definitive data or cases. 
  • Optimize your feedback sequence! We’ve always pushed email follow-up sequences, but now is the time to leverage a feedback service with a killer email sequence to maximize the number of organic reviews you are able to drive.
  • Should go without saying, but don’t give products away for free or at a discount in exchange for a review.
  • Now more than ever, the key to success on Amazon is not a silver bullet. You need an arsenal to effectively attack every aspect of private label selling on Amazon. You need to focus on each element of your business to outsell your competitors.

At the end of the day, it’s our mission to help our clients achieve success. You can guarantee we will be vigilant in staying on top of this situation, but if history repeats itself (which it often does), then we are all pretty safe and know exactly what is going to happen moving forward. 

Our focus at Viral Launch is to be your launchpad to success, whether that entails promotional giveaways or simply coaching. We’re are an incredibly dynamic team of 15 with a large breadth of skills, experience, and knowledge in the Amazon space. This is our focus and we are here to help in anyway possible.

We would love to hear your thoughts, your perspective, and your interpretation of the update and our position on it in the comments! I’ll be open to talk as always!