The updated guidelines go into effect on November 3, 2020, so sellers have a few weeks until these changes go in place. Sellers would be wise to familiarize themselves with these changes ASAP, as not to be left behind during this hectic Q4.
Any sellers who violate these Communication Guidelines risk limitations being placed on Permitted Messages or even a suspension of their selling privileges. It’s important to remember these guidelines exist to maintain the mutually beneficial relationship between sellers and buyers on Amazon.
Perhaps the most significant, actionable update, sellers maintain the option to directly ask customers for a review or feedback.
“You may send proactive Permitted Messages for the following reasons: resolving an issue with order fulfillment, requesting additional information required to complete the order, asking a return-related question, sending an invoice, requesting product review and/or seller feedback, scheduling the delivery of a heavy or bulky item, scheduling a Home Services appointment, verifying a custom design, or any other reason where the contact is required for the buyer to receive their purchase.”
In terms of timeframe, sellers can only send messages to a customer within 30 days after the order was placed. You are also allowed 1 message per order placed. After 30 days or your first message, contacting them is a no-go unless they are to place another order with you.
You retain the option to include instructions or warranty information, but no more messages that simply say “thank you” without an approved attachment.
Sellers can breathe a sigh of relief, as sellers can still utilize third-party applications to help simplify the review generation provided those third-party applications utilize Amazon’s “Request A Review” button. Viral Launch’s Review Automation tool, included inside of Market Intelligence, automates this process to make it simple and effective for sellers to maximize their review boosting efforts.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Amazon still handles much of the communication with sellers to set a standard across the marketplace and streamline the buyer and seller experience. Amazon requests that sellers promptly confirm shipment of all orders, which is primarily completed in the Manage Orders feature. Once you’ve confirmed shipment, Amazon fires off a confirmation email to the buyer.
What’s NOT Allowed?
While most of the updated policy remains the same in practicality, it’s well worth reviewing as a refresher to make sure you’re abiding by Amazon guidelines.
One of the eye-catching notes also included in the policy is that “spelling errors or grammar issues” may not be included in messaging.
As always, it might be worth running your messages by a second person or through an app such as Grammarly to make sure you’re figuratively crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s when it comes to spelling and grammar.
If you sell internationally, Google Translate is a free app that may come in handy. This is especially notable for those who sell outside of their residence and may not be fluent in the customer’s language. Sellers must respond to buyers in the customer’s Language of Preference.
The updated guidelines dictate that no tracking pixels or images, links to opt-out of messaging, or external links (unless they are secure working links) are allowed for formatting purposes. Additionally, approved message and graphic sizes are specified in the guidelines, so ensure your layout is within Amazon’s recommendations.
For any questions on specifics to your communication methods, it’s best to contact Seller Central Support before the changes go into effect to avoid any complications.
Verify your messaging templates are in line with the updated Communication Guidelines by November 3 to optimize your selling experience! Be sure to drop your email below to stay informed about the latest Amazon updates and news.
According to reports, Amazon Prime Day 2020 has a start date at long last. The biggest day in eCommerce is slated to last 48 hours, starting on October 13th.
The long-awaited signature shopping holiday from Amazon typically occurs in July but experienced a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its complications. Instead, Prime Day 2020 will kick off an absolutely loaded Q4 in mid-October.
Amazon Prime Day 2019 was the largest shopping event in Amazon history. Lasting 48 hours, Amazon offered over 1 million deals leading to over 175 million items sold, more than the previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
With just a few weeks to prepare, sellers should take all possible precautions to handle an influx of sales, such as ensuring inventory is adequately stocked and replenishing the warehouse as sales. Sellers who are not on Page One for desired search results pages have a little bit of time to increase their organic rank through promotions, PPC advertising, or other methods to boost visibility and take advantage of the inevitable increase in traffic.
The mid-October start date beats other retailers to the punch on the upcoming holiday season. In an ordinary year, Black Friday is known for being the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season. However, Prime Day will steal some of Black Friday’s thunder as customers flock to the Amazon marketplace looking to take advantage of the massive markdowns and limited-time Lightning Deals.
While traditional retail suffers from COVID-related restrictions and customers opting to stay inside for their shopping, 2020’s Q4 has all the makings of a hectic holiday season that will present unique challenges and provide tremendous opportunities for sellers.
Sellers who are able to successfully navigate through the potential roadblocks in these unprecedented times will reap the immense benefits. As this holiday season becomes more imminent, it’s as critical as ever to have the data in your hands.
Be sure to follow us on Facebook and YouTube to stay up-to-date as we march toward Amazon Prime Day 2020 and a holiday season like no other. We’ll be sure to keep you posted with the latest Amazon news, along with tips and insights to make Q4 is your best sales season yet!
On Friday morning, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced plans to ban downloads to TikTok and WeChat effective Sunday, September 20th.
Users who have already downloaded the apps will retain access for the time-being, but will be unable to download updated versions of the app in the future under current restrictions.
“The only real change as of Sunday night will be [TikTok users] won’t have access to improved apps, updated apps, upgraded apps or maintenance,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Friday morning on Fox Business.
For Amazon sellers, the restrictions to the apps may present a roadblock — and not because it complicates their ability to upload their version of the latest TikTok dance craze.
Many Amazon sellers who use manufacturers abroad in countries such as China rely upon WeChat for communication with their suppliers. Any disruptions in communication could be crucial for Amazon sellers, especially as a loaded Q4 awaits.
While those with WeChat already installed will maintain the ability to use the messaging, social media, and social media, US servers carrying data will no longer work. This means messages will be sent through servers overseas, which will likely take much longer and complicate communication.
Affected sellers would be wise to establish another means of communication to exchange messages with manufacturers as soon as possible. There are quite a few WeChat alternatives to choose from:
WhatsApp: Perhaps the mobile chatting platform most similar to WeChat, WhatsApp allows quick and easy messaging without pesky SMS charges. WhatsApp is a stripped down version of WeChat that focuses more on chat and less on being a social media and search engine.
Slack: As more and more companies opt to go the remote route in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Slack has become an integral part of businesses in 2020. Slack is commonly at the top of the list for collaborative productivity tools as it contains seemingly endless integrations to fit the needs of professionals.
Line: The Japanese-based messaging app is free and gives users the ability to communicate via chat, voice, or video.
Telegram: With an emphasis on end-to-end encryption to keep your messages between you and the intended recipient, Telegram can be used via app or desktop. Telegram is expected to announce end-to-end encrypted group videos before the end of 2020, and its popularity could see an uptick soon as a result.
Weibo: Usually referred to as the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Weibo has over 500 million active users and gives you the option to post publicly or send private messages.
Facebook Messenger: Chances are, you already have a Facebook and utilized the handy Facebook Messenger app with family, friends, or coworkers. Facebook’s messaging app is free to use with a Facebook account and is American-owned, so there’s less risk from potential U.S. governmental interference.
With an unprecedented Q4 ahead, avoiding potential communication hazards will be increasingly critical to your company’s ultimate success.
As with much of the recent news regarding the availability of TikTok and WeChat, the situation remains fluid and is something Amazon sellers should be keeping tabs on.
Amazon states the change has been made to “help customers learn more about the businesses of a seller and the products that they are selling. We are making this change to ensure there is a consistent baseline of seller information to help customers make informed shopping decisions.”
The change is the latest in a series of moves to increase accountability and deter the sales of counterfeit or unsafe goods on their platform.
For third-party sellers, this is significant as many don’t operate from a traditional office location. Seller Central requires an address when registering for an account, and it’s common for third-party sellers to post their home address.
All sellers, but especially third-party sellers, should take a few minutes to make sure their account is set up to their liking for this impending change.
While this change is new for the US Amazon marketplace, it’s consistent with practices for international markets such as Europe, Japan, and Mexico.
This screenshot, taken from a Seller Profile page on Amazon.co.uk, is an example of what to expect for American sellers beginning September 1st.
The address will be available to be seen by any shoppers, but customers would have to do a bit of digging to find it. Your business name and address will only be displayed on your Seller Profile page, which for most sellers generates sparse traffic.
To find this page, a customer would have to click on the seller name in the Buy Box or under the Additional Sellers if an item has more than one seller available.
At the point of purchase, customers can view Seller Profiles by selecting their name in the Buy Box, or by selecting a seller’s name after viewing other sellers for that listing.
If you sell from home but don’t want your home address listed, you may be interested in registering for a PO Box or setting up an alternative such as a UPS Mailbox to maintain personal privacy.
Seller Central added in the advance notice that customers remain advised to use Buyer-Seller Messaging to communicate electronically, so an influx of mail to your business address is extremely unlikely. Still, it would only make sense that sellers may be interested in establishing a line of demarcation from public and private information such as a home address to avoid any potential complications.
To ensure your information is up to date and what you want publicly displayed, Amazon recommends taking the following steps:
1. Login to your Amazon seller account.
2. In the Settings menu at the top right corner of Seller Central, click Account Info to view the Seller Account Information page.
3. In the Business Information section, click the links for the information that you want to view.
4. To change your business name, click Display Name and to change the address, click Business Address. Enter the new information or edit the current information.
5. Once completed, click Submit to save.
Be sure to stay posted on the latest Amazon updates by monitoring the Announcements section of Seller Central and checking our blog for those updates and how they affect you!
According to multiple reports, Amazon is planning a special “Summer Sale” slated to begin toward the end of the month. Along with this news, it appears that their signature Prime Day sale will be postponed.
The spontaneous sales event signals that a return to normal is imminent, and presents an excellent opportunity for sellers to make up for lost sales at the onset of the pandemic.
There has been no formal announcement, so more details are sure to emerge in the coming days. Until then, here‘s what we know about the upcoming sales event:
What is it?
Unlike Prime Day, which features site-wide deals, this special sales event appears to be exclusive to fashion brands. Amazon has requested that sellers submit deals for items with a discount of at least 30% to jumpstart interest and sales.
“The Big Style Sale is slated to take place later this month and will include seasonally-relevant deals from both established and smaller fashion brands,” confirmed an Amazon spokesperson to CNBC. “We are delighted to help brands connect with our vast global customer base for this event.”
It’s unclear if this sale will be exclusive to Amazon Prime users, but with over 150 million Prime subscribers, massive traffic is inevitable.
When is the Summer Sale?
According to the same CNBC report, the seasonal sale will begin Monday, June 22, and is expected to run 7–10 days.
The extended length of the sale compared to traditional Amazon promotions is certainly something to monitor in the coming days as more information is revealed.
Why is this event happening?
While Amazon was better positioned to handle the pandemic compared to brick-and-mortar retail, they were not without COVID-related complications.
The Summer Sale makes plenty of sense to drive up excitement and sales for a situation where sellers, consumers, and the company all win. This promotion gives sellers increased opportunity to boost sales and unload seasonal inventory squandered by the pandemic and Prime Day’s postponement.
Which retailers are participating?
This event appears to be invitation-only, with Amazon having sent invites to select sellers. If you’re a seller who didn’t receive an invite, that doesn’t mean you’re entirely left out!
If Prime Day is any indicator, it’s highly likely that the sale will bring an influx of shoppers looking for a deal, so there’s plenty of opportunity for sellers to crash the party by running their promotions.
Be sure to stay posted on the details of the event, as more information is sure to come!
Did you receive an invitation to the Summer Sales event? How do you plan on preparing for the sale? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re an Amazon seller with nonessential products ready to ship into FBA, we’ve got some good news for you. This week, Amazon will start accepting shipments of nonessential items into their warehouses once again.
In fact, some sellers reported that they have been able to create new shipping orders as early as last week (the freeze started on March 17 and was supposed to end on April 5). Like most changes, Amazon seems to be gradually rolling out this ability.
Here’s what a company spokeswoman shared, “Later this week, we will allow more products into our fulfillment centers. Products will be limited by quantity to enable us to continue prioritizing products and protecting employees, while also ensuring most selling partners can ship goods into our facilities.”
Amazon is taking these steps so that we can move forward with our businesses, even amidst the uncertainty and frustration. It’s time to buckle down, take action, and ensure your business endures (and hopefully even gets stronger) during this season. Luckily, there are some small steps you can take to set your business up for success now and in the future. Let’s get into exactly what you can do.
How to Check if Your Products are Eligible
You’ll first want to see if your products can be shipped into Amazon. To do this, you will create a standard FBA Inbound Shipment in Seller Central. As you’re selecting your Shipping Plan options, you may see the following message:
The alert reads: We are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers. For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. We are taking a similar approach with retail vendors.
Through our testing, we were still able to create an inbound shipment even while this message was present. If you can complete each of the steps below without getting an error message, your product is once again eligible for inbound shipments to FBA.
7 Steps to Creating an Inbound FBA Shipment
Go to the Manage Inventory Tab
Select Send/Replenish Inventory for the chosen product
Create a new shipping plan
Set the quantity of units
Select who will prep the goods: you or Amazon
Print labels, if needed
Review the assigned Amazon warehouse
If you do get an error message, try lowering the number of inbound units. Due to the increased demand from Stay-and-Home orders during COVID-19, Amazon is placing limits on how much inventory can be shipped in.
We recommend testing this every day until you’re able to successfully create a shipment, especially if you have inventory waiting to be sent into FBA. You never know when the company will flip the switch for your specific products, though you should have the ability within the coming days (if you don’t already).
Other Notable COVID-19 Updates for Amazon Sellers
COVID-19 has rapidly changed the way we live and operate as a country… and as a world. Sometimes it feels hard to keep up with the news, the changes, and the best practices moving forward.
Here at Viral Launch, we’re dedicated to helping third-party sellers navigate the Amazon seller journey, no matter how messy it may get. Here is a condensed list of the most important Amazon updates you should be aware of.
Keeping Up with Demand: You may have noticed that Prime delivery dates have been pushed back by up to one month. Amazon is slowly gaining control and reinstating 2-day delivery as they’ve filled 100,000 new jobs since March are adding 75,000 more to keep up with demand.
Waived Fees: In March, Amazon announced they would waive the April 15 long-term storage fees plus two weeks of inventory fees for products stored in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, Amazon Lending direct loan repayments are on pause until at least April 30.
Account Suspension Pause: Earlier this month, Amazon temporarily paused suspensions related to supply chain and fulfillment issues. This is in effect until at least May 15.
Delayed Prime Day: Amazon normally hosts its annual sales extravaganza in mid-July, but this year Prime Day will be delayed (likely until August 2020 at the earliest).
Major updates are typically added to the “COVID-19 Related Announcements” News thread in Seller Central, and we will be sure to update the community frequently with pressing information.
How to Move Forward
If you’re a little bit uneasy about the state of the market right now, don’t worry. You’re not alone. COVID-19 has put all of us in uncharted territory, and so moving forward, all you can do is your best. As always, the team here at Viral Launch is here for you with the latest news and advice on which steps you should take to ultimately see success. In the wake of this pandemic, here are three ways you can make the best use of your time:
1. Study the process.
While some things have changed, the principles of success have remained. Think about it… there are more people than ever shopping online right now. And Amazon is doing everything it can to support the infrastructure that allows you to meet that demand. As an Amazon seller, you should familiarize yourself with the strategy behind a successful Amazon operation. This may look like brushing up on your skills with a free A-to-Z Amazon Course, or it may look like networking with like-minded people in an Amazon seller Facebook group. There is always something to learn, and like Oprah says… when you know better, you do better.
2. Research the impacts.
Essential items are obviously seeing a dramatic increase in sales. But there are other products that are seeing positive movement, too. This includes home workout equipment, homeschooling activities, gardening products, and more. Now is the time to analyze which markets are being positively affected and which are hurting. A research tool like Market Intelligence shows you graphs of sales movement for individual products and across entire markets, so that you can make predictions about the future to determine which markets you may want to enter and which markets you want to steer clear of moving forward. Start your free trial to begin researching.
3. Add to your product line.
Lots of countries are completely shut down, but many Chinese manufacturers are back up-and-running. And as Amazon gets a better grip on the magnitude of orders coming through, now actually isn’t a bad time to add to your storefront. It’s also more important than ever that you understand exactly what to expect in a market, so you’re not selling out in the first week or left with hundreds of products left sitting in a warehouse. With a reliable product finder and a robust market research tool, you can pinpoint markets that are ripe with opportunity now and make the most out of an otherwise crummy situation. Start researching for free now.
How has COVID-19 affected your business? And what are your plans moving forward? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Remember… we’re all in this together.
Being an Amazon seller has always come with its hurdles, but as the world grapples with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, sellers face a new kind of challenge. This guide will walk through what changes have arisen, how all of this affects you as a seller, and what you can do about it.
The Coronavirus has caused lawmakers at state and local levels to encourage and enforce that citizens stay inside their homes for anything other than essential activities. As the world works from home out of necessity, the eRetailer is the go-to source for delivered goods (the eCommerce giant already owned 52% of all online sales in 2019). Household staples and medical supplies are running low, and Amazon is racing to keep their digital shelves stocked to meet surging demand. “Getting a priority item to your doorstep is vital as communities practice social-distancing, particularly for the elderly and others with underlying health issues,” said an Amazon representative in an Operations blog post.
Amazon has recently made a few drastic changes that impact millions of third-party private label brands. While it’s something to definitely understand, don’t lose hope. There are still options, and you can get through this. You are an entrepreneur, after all. And we are relentless.
Changes that Amazon has made amid COVID-19
With its origins in China, Coronavirus has been on Amazon’s radar since mid-January 2020. The company announced changes to its fulfillment network and workforce in mid-March to address growing concern and meet surging demand.
1. Sellers cannot initiate a new FBA shipment for non-essential products
Amazon sent the following notification to all active sellers:
Temporarily prioritizing products coming into our fulfillment centers We are closely monitoring the developments of COVID-19 and its impact on our customers, selling partners, and employees. We are seeing increased online shopping, and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock. With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers. For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. We are taking a similar approach with retail vendors. This will be in effect today through April 5, 2020, and we will let you know once we resume regular operations. Shipments created before today will be received at fulfillment centers. You can learn more about this on this Help page. Please note that Selling Partner Support does not have further guidance. We understand this is a change to your business, and we did not take this decision lightly. We are working around the clock to increase capacity and yesterday announced that we are opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in our fulfillment centers across the US. We appreciate your understanding as we prioritize the above products for our customers. Thank you for your patience, and for participating in FBA.
For third party sellers, this means that you cannot create shipments to be received at an Amazon fulfillment center in Seller Central until at least April 6th. Only essential items will be accepted as inbound shipments. Essential items are listed within the following categories (but not all items are considered essential):
Beauty & Personal Care
Health & Household
Industrial & Scientific
If your inbound shipment was created before March 17, Amazon will check it in. For existing non-essential inventory in Amazon’s warehouses, you can still expect Amazon to pick, pack, and ship your products, but the process will likely be delayed as essential items are prioritized and shipping carriers race to keep up with increased demand.
If you do sell essential items, beware that Amazon has a zero tolerance policy for price gouging. The marketplace has removed thousands of listings and even threatened legal action against sellers seeking to profit from a global pandemic.
2. Amazon is strengthening its workforce to meet demand
With the surge in online shopping, Amazon is experiencing unprecedented labor needs. Because of this, the company is opening 100,000 new full-time and part-time positions in their fulfillment centers and delivery network across the U.S. Amazon extended an employment invitation to those who have been economically impacted in industries like hospitality, restaurants, and travel.
Amazon will also pay their employees an additional $2 per hour worked from their current rate of $15/hour or more, depending on the region, at least through the end of April. The company seeks to keep health and safety a top priority. “We continue to consult with medical and health experts, and take all recommended precautions in our buildings and stores to keep people healthy. We’ve taken measures to promote social distancing in the workplace and taken on enhanced and frequent cleaning, to name just a few,” said an Amazon representative.
How Coronavirus is Affecting Amazon Sellers
Amazon sellers have mixed feelings about the recent changes. Some are angry with the eCommerce giant, convinced that the moves will put them out of business. Others respect the decision and see all of this as an opportunity to pivot and grow. And most are somewhere in between, hoping for the best and making operational changes with each announcement.
Here are a few of the varied Amazon seller comments posted in response to Amazon’s inbound shipment freeze:
Amazon just put tons of businesses out of business. Destroyed thousands of jobs amidst a crisis. Horrible joke. Absolute joke. No warning. Expect major lawsuits coming from sellers who now will go bankrupt.
This virus is not a joke, and I am sure Amazon didn’t take the decision to suspend FBA shipments, just because they felt like it. Have you considered the fact that the Amazon employees are affected also? Some of them might even be sick, quarantined, have kids at home because of closed schools? It is not about you, it is not time to be selfish. This is a matter of life and death for many people around the globe.
It is not doable. Most of us do not have the infrastructure in place. We do not have the boxes or packing material to do this. Amazon should have had the basic integrity to give us a few days notice so that items that were low or out of stock could be sent.
Overall, it seems that Amazon sellers are unsure of how the future will play out. With online sales rising but no opportunity for non-essential products to reach their normal fulfillment avenues, there will definitely need to be pivots made in the short-term for sales to continue.
Many sellers are calling on Amazon to pause inventory loan payments and selling plan fees for those who are ineligible to fulfill through FBA. But because Amazon’s focus is always on the customer, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that this will be prioritized.
Because there seems to be new developments every few days, it’s important that Amazon sellers keep an eye on the news and Amazon announcements in the coming weeks. Just as we are all making decisions based on the information we have, Amazon’s executive team is pivoting as needed.
For now, here are a few action steps you can take to sustain your business and prepare for the future.
1. See if your products are still eligible for FBA shipments
Many products in the following categories are still eligible to be sent into Amazon’s fulfillment centers: Baby, Beauty & Personal Care, Grocery, Health & Household, Industrial & Scientific, Pet Supplies. If you sell within these categories, head to your Shipping Queue within Seller Central and attempt to create an inbound shipment. This way you’ll know what products you need to enact (or create) a Plan B for. Please note that many sellers are experiencing hang times when creating shipping plans because of the increased number of people trying to do this in a short period of time.
2. Outline your path(s) forward
Whether it’s pivoting your sales strategy for your existing business, planning for your future product, or even exploring options like dropshipping, you need to understand your options so that you can make an informed decision on how to move forward. It’s okay to wait and see how things unfold in the next week or so, but outline your possible paths forward so that when it comes time to make a decision, you’re ready to act. Big changes like this affect everybody, and someone is going to come out on top. But it’s going to take a dedication to the process and pushing through obstacles for you to be that one.
3. Pivot your fulfillment method
For those of you with non-essential FBA products, you’ve got three options when it comes to fulfillment: find a Prime-eligible third-party fulfillment partner, switch to Fulfilled by Merchant, or pause operations until Amazon opens their fulfillment centers to your products. Again, do your research now so that you can make the best decision for your business. You may find that a third party fulfillment partner is just as cost effective as FBA was, or you may discover that it’s best for you and your family to wait out the storm.
4. Prepare your next product
Although Amazon is only allowing certain products right now and there have been disruptions in the supply chain, this won’t last forever. Now, especially if you have some extra time on your hands, is the perfect time to use historical data to research which product you might bring to market. If you’re an existing seller, keep an eye on how your competition is handling the situation using Competitor Intelligence. And if you’re a new seller, begin the process of sourcing your very first product. The first step of the Amazon seller journey is finding a product that sets you up for success. Product Discovery makes that process incredibly easy, and it can be completed during this time. That way, your product is ready to stock when the shelves are ready.
We’re in This One Together
The fact that this blog post exists means you are not in this alone. There are a lot of uncertainties right now, but there are also new opportunities to take advantage of. Maybe the excuse used to be, “I don’t have time to work on my business.” Many of us now have time, but the circumstances have shifted. If there were ever a time to buckle down and figure it out, it’s right now.
Find out how your products have been affected. See how sales are trending in your market. Map out your options. Dig in and figure it out because that spirit is exactly what got you into this business in the first place. We’ll be here for you along the way updating you of the news. If you want to see how other Amazon sellers are handling the situation, get advice, and stay up to date on the most recent changes, join our community on Facebook: Amazon FBA Data Hunters. We’ll see you in there.
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.
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!
For those enrolled in the Brand Registry program, you’ll likely already be familiar with Brand Analytics. It’s a free analytics reports located within Seller Central and has been set up to provide brand owners with helpful data they can use to be more competitive. It provides a feature, Amazon Search Tools, which gives sellers a list of the top one million searched keywords across Amazon as a whole. The list also provides the top three clicked ASINs for each of those keywords.
That feature is now being joined by two brand-new ones, Item Comparison and Demographics, each of which give sellers some wildly insightful data on the market and potential customers that we wouldn’t have expected Amazon to share. All of this can serve as a foundation for boosting sales and rank, and potentially help you grow your audience outside of Amazon as well. Let’s examine how you can take advantage of what each new feature has to offer.
Note: If you’re part of Brand Registry but don’t have a Brand Analytics account, you can create a ticket with Seller Support requesting access. Anecdotally, this has worked for a few sellers but may not work for all.
Item Comparison: Get to Know Your Top Five Competitors
Success doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Knowing how well your products are performing hinges on understanding the market you’re competing in.
What Item Comparison Provides
The Item Comparison feature shows your product along with the top five products that consumers also viewed during the same session. The feature also provides, as Amazon describes, the “percentage of times this product was viewed by the customers who viewed your product within the same day.” If it’s 50%, that means half of the time throughout the day, consumers checked out both your product and a competitor’s.
By scrolling horizontally through the list, you can see which ASINs are getting the most attention and even compare title keywords.
How to Benefit from Item Comparison
The feature provides sellers a helpful advantage for product-targeting ad campaigns. It offers exact data on which products consumers are considering for purchase in your market, so you’ll know where your sponsored ads should appear. Placing sponsored ads on those product pages should increase your visibility, and if you have a better offer, you have a great pathway toward boosting sales.
Note: For more information on how important product-targeting campaigns are and how to start one, check out our in-depth Amazon Product Targeting guide. To learn why product targeting is the most efficient traffic source, watch this video hosted by Viral Launch CEO Casey Gauss and R&D specialist Andrew Field.
The list of top five ASINs may include products that might not be obvious competitors, allowing you to expand the scope of products to target. With a greater number of products to consider targeting, you have a greater chance to get your ads in front of more consumers, increasing your chances at driving conversions.
By comparing your product with others, you can also get an indication of your overall performance. If it’s clear that you’ve been left in the dust by competitors, you can revisit your price, product photos, or descriptions.
Keep in mind that if your product has variations, such as items in different colors or sizes, you’ll likely see these variations appear as compared products in the Item Comparison list. This will allow you to see your most popular products and how they’re faring against the competition.
Demographics: Get to Know Your Consumers
Knowing your audience is a crucial task for any business, and it’s a never-ending process. Amazon is known for not providing audience data to its sellers, forcing brands to use tactics outside of Amazon to gather information on their customers. That’s changing now with this unprecedented Demographics tool within Brand Analytics.
What Demographics Provides
The Demographics feature provides the following data on your customers:
Sales per age group: You have a breakdown of six different age groups (shown below), ranging from 18-24 up to 65+, along with their sales totals.
Sales per household income: The stats here start with <$50,000 and end with those who make over $250,000.
Education: The categories here cover people at all stages of education, from “Less than High School” to those with Master’s degrees.
Gender: Do men and women equally buy your products or does one gender dominate? The graphs and table will give you an answer.
Marital status: The age, income, and education data will hint at your consumers’ marital status, but this section provides percentages of how many of your customers are married or single.
How to Benefit from Demographics
With the above characteristics, you can assemble a portrait of who your customers are and understand what stage of life they’re in.
Although the demographics data may not be directly actionable, there are two useful applications. The first falls to new product development. When building out additional products for your brand, you now have a much better idea of who is purchasing current products and, likely, who will be purchasing future products.
The second application is advertising outside of Amazon. Running Facebook ads based on better insights into your target demographic can help you run more efficient and effective campaigns with a more targeted audience. YouTube and Instagram also provide advertising options to consider, or you could go the search-engine-based route, such as using Google AdWords. By combining this feature’s data with a creative approach, you have the opportunity to increase your product’s visibility.
Note: The Demographics feature isn’t an exact science. It includes an Information Not Included category, for any instances in which it can’t provide a complete range of data. As an example, it might convey that 33% of your customers are married, 15% are single, and then the other 52% will fall into that Information Not Included category.
Brand Analytics: Building Your Data Foundation
For third-party sellers who are a part of the Brand Registry program, Brand Analytics can be a valuable data resource. In conjunction with Amazon Search Terms, Item Comparison and Demographics give businesses a massive foundation that they can then build on.
With this power trio of features available, one can’t help but ask, how do I make all this useful? Navigating the Amazon marketplace is a challenge and in the months to come Amazon may be rolling out even more Brand Analytics features aimed at giving brands the opportunities to gather more data.
The challenge is being able to extract insights from this data and craft an actionable plan. The team at Viral Launch specializes in creating effective data-driven strategies and delivering results that increase ranking and conversions. Our suite of software tools can help you determine the markets where you can compete and earn long-term profits, not short-term gains. Whether it’s PPC management, listing optimization, or keyword-focused product launches, our team will partner with you to achieve (and possibly exceed) your business goals.
To learn how we can help you gain insights from this Brand Analytics data and drive your brand’s success, contact us at Solutions@Viral-Launch.com
What change did Amazon make? If you’ve been in the Amazon seller space for any longer than a month or two, you should be no stranger to change. This past weekend was a reminder of how frequent and inescapable this change can be.
Mid-day on Thursday Dec. 13th, Amazon pushed a code change upgrading the technology behind some of their internal APIs. One of the APIs that was recently updated had been feeding a few software providers (including Viral Launch) with exact and broad match search volume, as well as product relevancy data. This change removed these metrics (search volume and relevance) from the API, leaving software providers without the ability to grab fresh search volume data directly from Amazon.
Did Amazon remove these metrics in spite of software providers? While there is no way of knowing for sure, my assumption is that through the process of upgrading this API, Amazon found no need to continue sending these specific metrics, as they were not being shown in any of Amazon’s user interfaces. It seems unlikely Amazon would change the technology behind their APIs simply to remove the data. My guess is that they decided to stop showing any “unnecessary” information through the upgrade process.
What Does This Mean For You, as an Amazon Seller?
While it’s no question that the lack of access to updated search volume is disappointing, the playing field has been leveled as your competitors have also lost access to fresh search volume.
The opportunity now exists to find the new advantage and best solution to identifying and prioritizing your keywords. With change comes opportunity.
The best solution to identifying and prioritizing keywords comes in two forms:
Using software capable of leveraging historical data and sophisticated means of forecasting and estimating
Using PPC and organic performance data to understand how buyers respond to your product.
I think it’s important to note that we will never try to downplay the importance of search volume on our listing optimization, PPC, and SEO/ranking strategies. With that said, search volume alone has never been the complete answer.
Understanding metrics per keyword – like PPC conversion rate, average selling price and review quantities for top ranking products, etc. – have all played a significant part in our keyword strategies in the past and will continue to in the future. Being able to understand and interpret this data actually becomes that much more important.
How This Impacts Our Tools & How We Can Help You Gain an Advantage
The Viral Launch data science and engineering teams have been working incredibly hard to bring a sophisticated, data-driven solution that is capable of accurate forecasts and providing the transparency you need to logically get behind our new models.
A major focus of this new solution is transparency. In order for you to trust our new estimates and feel comfortable making informed business decisions, we want to help you understand how we are arriving at our numbers. And it’s this level of transparency that we are integrating into our new solution.
With sales estimates, sellers can validate or invalidate the accuracy of the data by comparing the estimates to their own product’s real sales. But with search volume, there is no absolute way to validate or invalidate the data. When a tool provides a search volume estimate, it is more or less saying, “Hey, trust us… this is good!” I want to shift that ask of trust to, “Hey, here is the process we’re using, and this is why we believe this is the right number.” In essence, don’t trust what we are telling you, trust what we are showing you. Allow us to walk you through it.
The Future of Search Volume Estimates
We are beyond excited to share that our current models are forecasting at 75-85% accuracy depending on the keyword. (I’ll talk through our validation strategy here)
At the conclusion of this blog we added a Deep Dive section where we go into the specifics of our new search estimation process. We want to help you understand what we’re doing at a high level to be able to achieve such great results.
One of the major saving graces here is that we have a full year of historical search volume data for many keywords! (We started tracking volume on Dec. 12th 2017 and things closed down on Dec. 13th 2018).
This historical search volume is incredibly important for a couple of reasons:
We will consistently show sellers the historical search volume trend so you can see what the exact volume was at the same time last year. This way you will always be able to use “exact” numbers in your decisions versus our in-house estimates.
It will be the baseline for our search volume estimates moving forward, as typically the best indicator of what will happen in the future is what has happened in the past.
While historical volume is a good indicator of the past, it would be foolish to think that search volume is going to remain the same in 2019. For this reason, we will use other data sources to help us estimate the amount of change in consumer shopping behavior.
One data source that improves our forecasting models is change in estimated sales volume for a keyword’s top ranking products. We are not looking at the number of estimated sales. We are looking at thetrendin estimated sales month to month.
For some keywords, Amazon search volume and sales volume are highly correlated, making changes in sales a great indicator of changes in search volume. Here is a simple illustration (not the actual model):
We’ve overlayed the graphs of Amazon search volume for “sprinkler” and estimated sales volume for the same keyword. They trend very similarly throughout the year for the same keyword. In this case, it means we would use Amazon sales behavior as a means of forecasting, while also using our historical data for this keyword.
In other instances, the trends of Amazon search volume and sales for the top ranking products are not statistically correlated. (basic example, not a statistical model):
We take this same approach for other data sources such as Google search volume trends, etc. Using our massive swath of historical and real-time data, our data science team is capable of using machine learning to programmatically discern which data sources are good and which are bad for each keyword at scale.
The beauty of this approach is it allows us to figure out which data sources are reliable predictors on a per-keyword level, so we never use a data source that would be misleading.
Here is what the new user interface looks like:
As you can see in the image above, transparency is the focus. We show the changes in external factors so you can begin to understand how we arrived at our new estimates. You are also capable of comparing our new estimate with the historical exact volume.
Versus keeping our new search volume algorithm secret, our hope is that this allows you to make the most informed decisions possible by seeing historical data along with how we’ve arrived at our new estimates!
As we continue to identify additional data sources, new statistical/forecasting models, or come up with new and clever ideas, we will continue to improve our search volume estimates with full transparency.
This is a large scale engineering and data science effort, so you will see this change rolling out in our Keyword Manager and Keyword Research tools beginning at the end of next week and propagating over the next few weeks to all words within our database.
The Future of Relevancy Score
We are extremely sad to see this metric go as it had wide-sweeping implications for some of our tools and our ability to help boost sales for our customers. Our short-term plan of action is to show historical relevance score for products we’ve already analyzed, while removing it for those we have not.
While we are sorry we will no longer be able to show you this metric for now, relevancy score is a just a proxy for an even more important metric you will see soon in another tool we have in the works.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” – Benjamin Franklin
The longer you have been in the Amazon seller space, the more change you have experienced. When building a business on top of another platform, one of the keys to success is adaptability. The sellers that focus on the opportunity that comes from change, versus those that lament over what was, will have the most success now and in the future. Sadly, I know massive sellers that were devastated by Amazon’s TOS update around reviews in Oct. 2016, where they went from making millions on Amazon to almost nothing within a year because they were unable to adapt. Conversely, I know plenty of sellers that took advantage of the newly evened playing field and have built massive 7-8 figure Amazon businesses since that same review update.
There will be plenty more changes in the future. Your success will be dependent on how well you’re able to leverage your network, team, and resources to turn the new dynamics into a competitive advantage! And we hope we get to help you do that!
When building any type of model, whether it’s sales estimates, inventory forecasting, or search volume estimates, you should use 70-80% of the data to train the model. This is what the machine learning model uses to “learn” and then test the new model against the reserved 20-30% data set. This ensures that you are overfitting to data your model has already seen.
In our search volume validation testing, we took a subset of a keyword’s historical data (example: take 9 out of our 12 months of data), used that to train the model and understand correlations in our external factors, and then predicted out the next three months. In those predictions on the next three months, we were ranging between 75-85% accurate!
Here are a couple of forecasts where our model only knew the first month’s search volume and, as you can see, the estimated volume (blue line) is never more than +/- 10,000 searches per month off from the actual (orange line) search volume.
We’ve been incredibly impressed with the results, and we are confident these new estimates will be critical to your competitive advantage in selling on Amazon in 2019.
WE LOVE FEEDBACK!
We took a bit of risk by being the first to offer a solution; a solution focused on transparency. We’d love to know what you think! Our goal is to help you make the best data-driven decisions possible to have success in your Amazon business. Did we succeed here? Please let us know what you think in the comments!
Why Not Use PPC Data, Auto-Complete, or Bing Data?
As we brainstormed potential data points that could or would lead to superior estimates moving forward, we considered a significant variety of metrics. We wanted to help you, the seller, understand why we did not use some potentially “obvious” metrics, and why we DID use others.
Why Not Use Amazon PPC Data
Amazon PPC data was one of our first candidates for data points to use in building out our new search volume estimation model. In talking with our R&D team, we realized how these metrics could be quickly misleading.
PPC Impression Data
The idea is simple. If a product’s ad is being shown at the time of search, then it should show (receive an impression) approximately the same number of times as it was searched right? So search volume and ad impressions should be pretty similar right? Hardly.
On mobile devices, a sponsored ad only receives an impression when the ad is loaded. On mobile, generally there is only one ad at the top of the search. After the first sponsored ad, ads are dynamically loaded once the shopper scrolls deep enough into the search results. Meaning, if we don’t have PPC access to the first ranking product for every keyword, then we will miss a significant percentage of impression volume.
On desktop, a sponsored ad receives an impression each time the ad’s page is loaded; however, consistency is the key. In order to get an accurate feel of impressions, we would need to have PPC access for a product running sponsored ads on the first page of each keyword, all day (doesn’t run out of budget), every single day (whole month). One search can also be counted as multiple impressions as users click in and out of listings, sponsored products shown as suggested in detail pages, and add to cart pages, etc.
Having the necessary access to data is a significant challenge. We believe we have the world’s largest set of data next to Amazon, but even we don’t have the necessary data to use search impressions at scale as an accurate indicator of search volume.
PPC Bid Data As An Indication of Volume
We originally tossed around the idea of using suggested PPC bid cost as a proxy for search volume (the more searches, the more people bidding, the more expensive it is). One of the major hurdles here is that suggested CPC can range quite a bit depending on how relevant Amazon deems your product for the keyword. Meaning that Product A with a high relevance may have a suggested bid cost of $.50 per click, while the less relevant Product B may have a suggested CPC of $1.25.
Why Not Use Amazon Auto-Complete
Amazon autocomplete is an ancient technique of using the Amazon search bar suggestions as an indicator of popularity.
The previous thought has always been that the suggested words populate in order of search volume. This would mean that suggested keyword #1 has higher search volume than suggested keyword #2, which has higher volume than suggested keyword #3, and so forth.
As we dove into the suggestions and worked to validate that Amazon was in-fact giving us suggestions in the order of highest searched keywords, we found that was not the case. In the example above, Amazon’s third suggestion is “fish oil for kids”, which has somewhere around 3,000 searches per month.
While Amazon’s fourth suggestion, which is “fish oil for dogs”, has a search volume of around 9,500 searches per month.
We found countless other examples where Amazon was not suggesting keywords in the exact order.
Deep Dive Summary
All in all, I hope this helps you understand some of the logic behind why we did not go with some of the seemingly most “obvious” metrics for our search volume estimation model. Again, transparency is crucial for us during this process!
We have undoubtedly been able to prove that our model is effective and accurate at predicting/forecasting/estimating search volume, leveraging our vast amounts of historical data.
If there is anything that you think we did not consider, or something we may have overlooked, we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas! Again, our focus is on providing you the best data possible to make smart business decisions.
Now that we have a solution, let’s not focus on what has been, and let’s focus on the incredible opportunities that await us in 2019!
Excited to help you kill it this coming year. 🙂
Let us know what you think in the comments below and feel free to share this post with any of the larger Amazon community!