Disclaimer or No? FTC Guidelines on Reviews Left on Discounted Amazon Purchases

We are back with more information surrounding Amazon’s latest TOS update. I really don’t intend on “milking” this subject, but there is simply so much misinformation/rumors, it’s crazy. This misinformation leads to poor decisions and more misinformation, so I would like to do my best to clear up everything as quickly as possible. The team and I have had a good number of questions/comments around the FTC’s guidelines for reviews on products purchased at a discount. While I am not a lawyer, it seems pretty clear to me that reviews left on discounted purchases DO NOT require a disclosure statement to be left. Below, I break things down a bit further with quotes from the FTC.gov website, specifically pages around Endorcements.

As always, I do not expect you to believe me simply because I’ve said it. I am obviously a biased party here, so I have included links and quotes to help you make informed decisions and interpretations for yourself (but again, it seems pretty clear to me)!

 

Logical Breakdown

At the heart of it all, the FTC is concerned with reviews that are left by experts/bloggers/reviewers/etc. who were provided some type of compensation for the review. The intention of promotional services is simply offering discounts on Amazon products, period. Whether or not those buyers happen to leave a review is beyond our concern. Obviously we hope they leave a review for your sake, but it is beyond our company’s scope. To comply with Amazon’s TOS, we simply cannot track whether or not a buyer leaves a review. This is also not to get confused with email follow-up services, which are completely separate.

Think about popular deals websites like Slickdeals or RetailMeNot. Do you find any kind of language on their sites that let you know, “If you use one of the many coupons you find on our site and chose to leave a review, you must use a disclosure or else you will be violating the FTC’s guidelines.”? No, you do not. Nor do you see stipulations when reviewing products on other websites (ex. Walmart.com) that require a disclosure on products purchased with a discount code.

So simply by omission, I can assume that a disclosure is not required if you did indeed purchase/select the product yourself. The only reason this was ever a thing on Amazon is two-fold, 1) Amazon’s terms required it, and 2) when products were given away in exchange for a review, the FTC saw this as an endorsement which then warranted a disclosure statement.

If the product was given in exchange for a review, you were provided some form of compensation before or after, or you have some type of connection to the company, then the reviewer HAS to leave a disclosure allowing the reader to know the given circumstances.

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. Therefore, there is no need for buyers of discounted products on Viral Launch to leave a disclosure statement.

 

Quotes From the FTC

This one seals the deal in my mind. On a very clear and concise page that covers common questions around endorsements on the FTC’s website, we find this question under the headline: “WHEN DOES THE FTC ACT APPLY TO ENDORSEMENTS?“.

For the sake of our topic, replace the word “blogger” and “blog” with “reviewer” and “review”. (The highlighting/bolding is my emphasis.)

“I’m a blogger. I heard that every time I mention a product on my blog, I have to say whether I got it for free or paid for it myself. Is that true?”

No. If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers.

The FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays you or gives you something of value to mention a product. If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered. Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them also are covered.

 

As you can see, it is pretty clear that there is no need for a disclosure if the buyer/reviewer pays for the item. There is also no need to provide a disclosure if the product is given for free, so long as it is not given with compensation or in exchange for a review.

Hopefully, that makes you feel comfortable with the fact that the FTC does not require a review to contain a disclosure statement if the reviewer purchased the product at a discount from sites like Viral Launch.

As further examples, I’ve included a couple other quotes from different pages on the FTC’s website.

 

If you visit this link here, you will be taken to the U.S. Government Publishing Office discussing “GUIDES CONCERNING USE OF ENDORSEMENTS AND TESTIMONIALS IN ADVERTISING”. This is a bit harder to understand and has the traditional lawyer speak that you may expect. Going through all of their given examples under the headline “Consumer endorsements” and “Disclosure of material connections”, you will find only examples where compensation is provided either before or after the fact. There are no examples provided in which a customer purchases the product at a discount and is required to leave a disclosure.

 

On a page labeled “THE FTC’S ENDORSEMENT GUIDES: BEING UP-FRONT WITH CONSUMERS”, we find these two quotes.

 

Quote 1:

“… marketers who are compensated to promote or review a product should disclose it.”

Quote 2:

“The Endorsement Guides also state that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”

 

These both show that only when compensation is provided or the product is given in exchange for a review is the disclosure statement needed.

 

Using Follow-up Services

Is it within Amazon’s terms of service to solicit a review after a customer has purchased a product? YES. As I mentioned in our previous blog post, we have confirmation from Amazon’s legal department that following up with a buyer asking for a review is completely within Amazon’s TOS so long as it is done correctly. How do you follow-up correctly? That is another post in itself, but briefly, do not incentivize, require, or manipulate the review/reviewer in any way.

One thing that I want to point out is the fact that you should NOT tell reviewers that they cannot leave the disclosure statement in their review. By telling a reviewer they cannot leave the disclosure, in my mind, you are manipulating the content of the review by telling the reviewer what it can/cannot contain.

Our approach to this situation is to inform the buyer that Amazon’s TOS is no longer requiring the disclosure statement, “I purchased this product at a discount in exchange….”. We also let them know that the product was not given in exchange for their review and that they may choose whether or not they decide to review it.

It is simply a question of semantics, but can be critical when adhering to Amazon’s TOS.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully this brief discussion on the FTC’s rules clear up any rumors and/or misinformation that has been floating around. As always, it’s our goal to help you make the most informed decisions possible when it comes to operating and growing your Amazon business.

Overall, it looks like this is further proof that a major intention of Amazon’s latest policy update was simply to rid reviews of the disclosure statement so as to improve the perceived integrity of their review platform to consumers.

 

If you have any other questions, curious about rumors, or anything of the sort, please post them in the comments down below so I can address them for you!

As always, I wish you the best in growing your Amazon business!

An Update on the Update – Clarification on the Amazon TOS Update 2016

In my original post, I posed a lot of questions around how exactly Amazon would interpret and enforce their latest TOS update moving forward. As is too common in this space, we’ve heard an insane amount of rumors. Be careful what you believe and guard who you trust. Thanks to a friend of mine with direct contact to Amazon’s legal department, we have some much appreciated clarification. I’ll update this post in the next couple of days with a link to a post by this friend where he will give exacts from the conversations he has had directly with Amazon’s legal department.

To many, the clarification mentioned below was already common assumption. Personally, I prefer to speak on the facts and make decisions based on data, which we simply did not have just 24 hours after the TOS change was posted.

So what is the clarification? What is the information directly from Amazon’s legal department? 

 

The two largest takeaways are:

 

  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.)

 

What does this mean? Well, for Viral Launch specifically, we will continue to operate as we have for the last year or so. Fortunately, we had the foresight to position ourselves away from the review group model, which has had incredible benefits for our customers. Largely the only change we had to make post TOS Update is the removal of all language from the site around “reviews”.

What does this mean for you as a seller? Hopefully this helps to ease concerns and increase confidence in the fact that Amazon allows you to run promotions and to ask customers for reviews after purchasing your products at a discount. Hopefully this helps to convince you that the private label world is not dead. That there is still plenty of hope in a bright future moving forward!

As history has shown and as time progressed, we have come to find out that another TOS update did not have such severe an impact as we initially expected. With that said, the landscape has definitely changed, and depending on your previous launch strategy, launching a product has become quite a bit more difficult. As we’ve always preached, you need to do all things GREAT in order to outsell your competition (and sometimes even survive), now more than ever! If you find yourself having a difficult time getting ahead of the competition, launching a product, or even maintaining sales, look around to see just how well you are executing every aspect of your private label business.

So all in all, the dust seems to have settled for the most part and we are all free to go on our merry way, building scaleable private label businesses on the world’s largest commerce platform! Sounds like a great time to be an entrepreneur to me! 🙂

Side Note: With all of this, I feel like this news has definitely confirmed the suspicions I posed in our initial blog post regarding what net affect this would actually have on the market and what Amazon’s true intentions are (you can read them in here).
As always, we will keep you updated as new word comes out and we wish you and your business the best!!

Amazon Success Guide Step 1: Sourcing A Great Product At A Great Price

Let me first begin by saying just about every product available to sell on Amazon as a private label product is a GREAT product to source, so long as it fits into your business’s strategy, you have the resources, and it makes sense for you as an entrepreneur. So the difficult thing is not finding a product to source. Go to Amazon.com’s home page, and you’ll see plenty of sourceable widgets. The difficulty lies in finding a product to source that fits You and Your business.

In this article, it’s our goal to help you identify what makes a product great for you, so you can build the foundation for the level of success you are looking for!

 

Identifying What Private Label Success Looks Like To You

While we are largely going to try to help you identify how to choose products that fit your ideal success model, we are also going to be challenging your definition of success. We’ve seen many many sellers succeed, and unfortunately our fair share of sellers fail despite our efforts. With the experience and data we have, we’d like to help you avoid the pitfalls we’ve seen others make.

So what does success look like to you in the private label world? Are you looking to hit a couple of home runs with some high volume products that profit you $10,000+ per month each? Are you looking to source a variety of low volume products that when added up bring in a hefty profit each month?

This is a decision you will have to make for yourself. If you expect to profit $5,000/month on a single product, but get into a product market where the average sales price is $10 and the average sales volume among the top sellers is around 500 units per month, you will be severely disappointed. If you are looking to source 5 products that add up to a monthly profit of $5,000/month, then this very well may be a good choice. See how expectations and how you define success matters?

Obviously we would all like 100 products that profit us $20,000 per month, but so does everyone else, which means you are going to be competing with a ton of other sellers. So in order to appropriately define your definition of success, you also need to understand how plausible your ambitions are given your current resources both financially and time-wise. Do you have a big team? Do you have thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, a million+ to invest in your Amazon business?

Questions To Ask Yourself In Determining What A Successful Product Should Look Like

How Much Money Do I Want To Invest?

Do you have thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, a million+ to invest in your Amazon business? The amount of money you have to invest will determine how much inventory you can afford. This may influence the products you select based on their per unit cost. This also has an impact on how large of team you can build initially (if necessary). The quantity of inventory you are able to purchase also has an effect on the amount of promotional units you will be able to give, having major implications on your ranking strategy. 

How Large Is My Team? How Large Of A Team Do I Want To Build If Necessary?

Some sellers prefer to not grow any larger than themselves and a couple of VAs they hire hourly. Other sellers are willing and ready to build a massive infrastructure of warehouses and employees. Obviously this is not a question if you are just getting into the business, but for some later stage sellers this may be a barrier to growth if growing a large team is outside of your comfort zone.

What Kind Of Profit Margin Am I Looking For Per Product And Collectively?

Are you wanting to go deep on a few high volume products? Are you looking to go wide meaning going after a larger variety of low to mid volume products? There are pros and cons to each, and we’ll outline those down below!

In total are you just wanting to add a few thousand dollars to your bank account each month or are you looking to build a mammoth $1,000,000/month Amazon business?

How Many Products Am I Looking To Sell In the Next 3-6 Months?

For sellers just getting started, again, this is not a question you can answer accurately right now. It is also highly dependent on your capital. Some sellers are okay launching just a couple of products and reaping the benefits each month. They don’t want the added stress and pressure of continuously launching product after product. Keep in mind the amount of profit you are looking to make total. Going after a couple of products that may add $1,000 of net profit will not get you to your total goal of $5,000 if you are only wanting to sell two products in the next 3-6 months.

What Is My End Goal With This Business?

Is this going to be a lifestyle business for you or are you looking to maximize sales to shoot for an acquisition?

This may or may not have an effect on how you choose your products. For example, from our experience with Amazon business acquisitions in the private label world, companies are looking for strong brands. So selecting products that will allow you to build a cohesive brand will be important. With that said, Amazon businesses that are purchased solely for cashflow purposes do not typically put emphasis on having a unified brand(s). Either way, it is an important consideration in how you will position yourself for acquisition if that is your goal.

How Things Will Change With the New Amazon TOS Update

Post TOS update, from our perspective, sellers must be more precise in selecting a “good” product because the playing field has been leveled. Pre-update, it was very easy to give away a large amount of product in exchange for reviews. Doing so generated a competitive number of reviews and built a sales history that got that product ranking for each and every keyword that the seller selected.

So if you had a super competitive product, you were okay so long as you had the money to run enough promotional sales.

Post-TOS update, generating a competitive number of reviews becomes much more difficult. Generating reviews today rests solely on having a killer product that customers want to review and leveraging a killer email follow-up sequence to ask your customers to actually leave a review.

So how will this affect your decision making in selecting products to source?

You need to be drastically more concerned with the number of reviews page one and two competitors have. While there is some misinformation in the space around a “magic number of reviews” needed to generate organic sales, our data shows us that the key to selling well organically is having a “competitive” number of reviews relative to those listings you find yourself around.

What that means is, if the page one sellers have reviews that look like this RUN FAR AWAY!

 

 

 

Here is a screenshot from the same keyword, “vitamin c serum” that shows how important having a competitive number of reviews is. The listing ranked 6th has 10,000 reviews and is selling 3,000+ units per month. The next guy, although ranking really well for a very high level keyword, is only seeing 270 sales per month. At the 8th position they have a decent number of reviews, especially compared to the the 7th and 9th position, so they are seeing a moderate volume of sales. At position 9 the seller is hardly seeing any sales at all because they have 0 reviews! While there are multiple factors that come into play when a customer decides which product to ultimately buy, reviews and price typically have the most substantial effect.

 

Are Home Runs Dead?

The short answer is no. Not at all. If you have already been working on a home run type product (home run = high volume product), then definitely don’t give up. Depending on where you are at in the product launch cycle, you may need to adjust your strategy, but don’t worry, success is still a very attainable goal.

If you are just getting started with a home run and it is your first product on Amazon, beware. It is likely to be a long and costly battle depending on what the market looks like. It can be best to get started with a relatively simple product to understand the market, the processes, and the expected results.

Our suggestion for new sellers is to get into markets where a “competitive” number of reviews is below 500. Ideally you could find a product where page one sellers ranking between #3 – #12 have a sales volume of 500-1000 units/month and have around ~250-500 reviews. These products are much easier to break into the market with and allow you to learn a lot of the ins and outs of selling on Amazon without investing too much money.

 

Keys To Sourcing Great Products Regardless of The Amazon TOS Update

  • Find a quality product!
    • Reviews are king on Amazon! If you have a poor quality product you are going to find yourself with a product that continues to generate poor reviews. Before too long you end with a product noone wants to buy. There is nothing worse than having thousands of dollars in unsellable inventory.
    • Quality products can result in the sales boosting effects of word of mouth, positive reviews, and repeat customers (depending on the product of course).
  • Find a product at a great price!
    • If you are sourcing your product at a 25% higher cost than your competitor(s) for the same exact product, they will always be able to beat you on price. You can quickly lose to the competition on listing price, promotion capabilities, etc.
    • Product sourcing Guru Alan Basinger has a quote that I love! He says, “You have to win on the buy!” It is spot on. Alan has a logistics company that helps bring products into the US as well as sourcing directly from manufacturers in China.
    • Go to China directly! The Viral Launch CEO recently went to Yiwu with a group called SourceInAsia as a mentor and saw just how powerful working with manufacturers directly can be to negotiating quality product at a great price.
  • Find a product with great margin!
    • Margin is a huge consideration for product price. Make sure there is a great margin between the price at which you source and the price at which you sell is key! If you’re not making much money per item what is the point in selling? The other fear is if the market decides to start competing on price you want to make sure you are not priced out. We’ve seen this happen all too frequently over the last couple of months.
  • Watch Out For Name Brands
    • We’ve seen a couple of sellers get into products that are largely dominated by name brands. This is common in baby/children’s products. For example, sourcing crayons as a private label product can be insanely difficult because the first couple of pages are almost completely dominated by Crayola. Good luck competing with them.
    • Also be weary of sourcing a product where the main keyword(s) is also a brand’s name. Ex. “Yeti Mug”. It can be very difficult to outrank a brand if the main keyword is the search term. Amazon attributes a LOT of rank power to the brand’s name.
  • Consider product size, weight and durability!
    • Knowing how the size and weight of a product will affect shipping is crucial to estimating margin and expense. Work with your sourcing agent or manufacturer to understand the costs associated with shipping your product into the country, to your warehouse, and/or FBA.
    • You will also need to know what Amazon’s FBA fees associated with shipping will be. For that you can use Amazon’s FBA Revenue Calculator which will give you a good idea (don’t bank on the accuracy of the fees).
    • Durability is key to providing a good customer experience and avoiding customer returns. You may want to avoid easily damaged items.
  • Long-Term Brand Building Or Revenue Generation
    • Are you looking to build a long lasting brand or just looking to solely focus on increasing revenue (not that building a brand won’t help you generate revenue)? If you are looking to build a brand, make sure to choose products that will allow you to easily add products that make sense such as a yoga mat, and some yoga massage balls. The added benefit here is you can take advantage of bundling and upselling. It also saves you time and money by allowing you to pay to have one brand created (logos, label/package archetypes, etc.).
    • If you are looking to simply grow revenue you can be very selective in the products you decide to source. Meaning, if the numbers make sense, source it. Sellers who take this approach end up selling products as different as a eye cream and a pet bed.
    • Either approach is great so long as it aligns with your idea of success in running a private label business.
  • Make Sure Your Product Is Created With Customer Approved Materials
    • You don’t want to source a cream that is going to cause rashes.
    • If you say your product is organic/natural/paraben-free/etc. make sure that it is. If all of your competitors are able to make such claims, you will miss out if you cannot, but don’t lie to your customers. Trust me, they will find out if you are!

Tools To Use When Product Sourcing

Jungle Scout

The Viral Launch team uses the Jungle Scout Chrome plugin religiously when putting together launch strategies. This tool is great at allowing you to quickly analyze the most important stats of products that rank for a given search term without clicking into each listing (at least that’s how we use it). Jungle Scout also has the most accurate sales estimates overall I’ve seen.

When sourcing, Jungle Scout also allows you to easily compare how a style of product is selling better than others. For example, let’s say you are wanting to sell grill/cooking gloves (which I would advise against due to the amount of competition). You would want to know if you should invest in the type of gloves that have 5 fingers or the mittens that have one slot for your thumb and one for the rest of your fingers. Choosing incorrectly could have major implications.

We also use Jungle Scout to estimate the number of units we will need to give in promotions to achieve keyword ranking and to help give for reviews. With the TOS change these numbers will differ (which we will get into in a different section of this guide), but having an idea as to the number of units you will want to use for promotion are crucial to understanding the total costs associated with launching a product.

Greg at Jungle Scout has plenty of tutorials on how to effectively use the tool. We personally use the tool for a very limited scope of its total potential!

Project Sourcing Success (Name To Be Announced Later)

Viral Launch has seen too many sellers lose thousands of dollars by making bad sourcing decisions. By the end of October of this year we are planning on launching a new tool that will help you make more intelligent decisions around product sourcing. It will go wonderfully along with Jungle Scout or similar type tools.

If we can help our clients avoid bad sourcing decisions, we will gladly seize that opportunity!

 

Conclusion

It would take us many blog posts to effectively cover the entire ins and outs of product sourcing, and to be honest, we are not the best company to handle how to source end to end.

With that said, our extensive knowledge, data and experience in running over 11,000 product launches and working mega sellers doing 50-100 million a year in sales on Amazon, we do have plenty of beneficial tips and knowledge that can help you avoid some major pitfalls that can have serious repercussions.
At the end of the day, you need to make sure you are selecting products that appropriately align with your idea of success and your resources. What is a good product for the next guy may not be a good product for you.

 

If you have any questions, we will be happy to answer them in the comments! If you have any feedback, we would love to hear it as well!

Ultimate Amazon Private Label Guide to Success – Post Amazon TOS Update 2016

The Amazon space has changed and while we are still waiting for the dust to settle, there are some basic truths we do know like the fact that we CANNOT give products away at a discount. No more 80%+ review rates from discounted product sales. It’s going to change the fundamentals of how sellers can quickly get products up and selling. So the Viral Launch team is putting together a comprehensive Amazon private label guide to successfully launching products on Amazon with the new rules brought about by Amazon’s latest Terms of Service update. It’s epic and incredibly beneficial to all levels of experience on Amazon.

Spoiler Alert! Selling on Amazon Is NOT Over! It’s Not “Too Hard” Now. If That’s Your Mindset, Change It! Life As An Entrepreneur Has Its Challenges. It’s The Strong That Survive, And Together, We’ll Help You Thrive!

Each day we will feature a new step in the process of selling private label products on Amazon with specifics on how each step has been affected by the TOS change. We are super excited to help you navigate the process based on our extensive knowledge and experience in the space of running over 11,000 product launches and working with high level sellers selling between $50-$100 million per year on Amazon.

You can find our Ultimate Amazon Private Label Guide to Success landing page here. Each day we will add a new section and topic! Our first day we discuss product sourcing and how to make intelligent decisions when souring especially with the new market conditions following the TOS update. The page can be found here!

Are you excited about our guide? What topics would you like us to cover?

The New Viral Launch Has Landed

Originally Posted: 7/28/2016

 

“If everyone is moving forward together; then success takes care of itself.” –Henry Ford

In order to compete in the expanding market that is today’s Amazon, there is no magic bullet for success. In this market you don’t need a bullet, you need an arsenal.

Today is the Day! As promised we have a huge announcement for everyone regarding the future of the Amazon Private Label World and what I believe to be the future of building a successful business within this space!

Launch Day Is Here!

On behalf of the entire Viral Launch Team, I’m super excited to announce that starting today The New Viral Launch Has Landed (note: you may have to refresh the page once to clear browser cache 🙂 ). I’m proud to introduce the world’s first comprehensive Amazon marketing and promotion platform designed specifically to meet every aspect of your businesses and listing needs. We have developed a true end-to-end platform designed to partner with you along every step of the Amazon sales process. Starting today you have full access to this huge scope of world class services.

The New Viral Launch | Your Launchpad For Success.

As of this moment, in addition to our industry leading product launches, we have dramatically expanded our services to become your customized solution for every aspect of your product and listing needs.

Introducing the new Viral Launch suite of creative services and data driven solutions.

Breathtaking Commercial Quality Product Photography. Successful sellers know that DIY product photography is no longer cutting it. Now you can easily get stunning professional product photography for all of your products in one convenient location.

Professional Graphic, Label, And Package Design. As Steve Jobs was fond of saying, “design is marketing.” Cheap graphic design and bad use of typeface is an Amazon epidemic. We are now offering exclusive packaging and label design that will make your products boldly stand out from the competition. As more and more shoppers make the switch to e-commerce, their expectations for design are increasing to rival those of box store brands. Now you can meet and exceed those expectations taking your brand to a whole new level of success.

Keyword and Conversion Driven Listing Content. Customized keyword research and listing content that is optimized for your product and category’s unique needs. Listing content optimized for both elegance and effectiveness is the key factor in boosting conversion and improving keyword ranking.

Data Driven Email Follow Ups. Email follow ups are an overwhelmingly wasted opportunity for sellers. One of the largest competitive advantages on Amazon is reviews; a calculated email follow up campaign is a highly effective way of driving new reviews and curbing negative reviews.

Viral Launch Flight Crew. A revolutionary new profit sharing model that will give your business unlimited access to all these features at no upfront cost to you. Flight crew members will enjoy exclusive access to new features as well as front row access to powerful new software tools that are currently in development.

Over the last two years I’ve had the privilege of developing Viral Launch into the premier Amazon promotional platform that it is today. Along the way I have learned countless lessons from sellers, insiders, and yes, even competitors. With all the lessons learned and over a billion data points acquired, I am convinced more and more each day that there is no single secret to Amazon sales success, rather there is a precise and diversified plan of attack and excellence.

Truly successful sellers are not merely checking off boxes on their to-do list but investing time, creativity, and passion into every element of their brand, listing, and product presentation. This process can sound overwhelming to some which is why we are so thrilled to be able to announce that help and partnership has arrived. Not a magic bullet or one time sales gimmick that promises overnight success, rather a true partnership.  A full creative and data driven arsenal that addresses every angle of your branding, marketing, and customer experience.

The new Viral Launch is obsessed with creating the most outstanding photography, the most eye catching designs, and the most keyword driven and sales inducing content available. We believe that excellence in all these areas is the key to dividends beyond your wildest dreams.

As the Amazon market continues to evolve, truly competitive sellers are going to have to evolve with it. That is why I’m so thrilled to unveil what I believe is your jumpstart to a long-standing successful business on Amazon!

Related Posts:

What a Billion Data Points Has Shown Us About Amazon

Originally Posted: 7/26/2016
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

Working with thousands of brands across Amazon has been an incredibly insightful journey. We’ve generated over 1,000,000,000 data points and garnered an incredible amount of experience. We’ve worked with thousands of sellers in a wide variety of capacities. Sellers ranging from $100’s/month in revenue to $100m/year in revenue and capacities ranging from simply running promotional giveaways to managing entire accounts. It’s this data and experience we leverage to build insights into the Amazon market and make decisions for our clients and Viral Launch as a company.

How Amazon is Shifting

(I want to first preface with the fact that these insights are largely regarding private label merchants and product manufactures as they comprise approximately 97% of our customer base.)

A few years ago selling on Amazon was easy. If you sourced it, they would come. Meaning, if you threw a product up on Amazon, with little to no work, you could capture a healthy portion of the market. Standing out in the spacewas easy.

Fast-forward to present day and now everyone and their mother is in on the gold rush called Amazon PL. With some search terms having thousands even millions of results (please save yourself a mistake and thousands of dollars and do not get into the cell phone case market), standing out above the competition can be insanely difficult.

Go back to 2014 when simply having your product ranking on page 1, meant you were selling well. Back then what was the trick to ranking page 1 for your keywords? Keyword stuffing your product title, running some decent PPC campaigns and getting a couple of friends and family to buy and review your product. Depending on your market, it could take anywhere from a week to a couple of months to get a product up and selling well.

In late 2014, Viral Launch and other promotional giveaway services came into the market and started to expedite the ranking process by driving high volume sales. At this time landing your product on page 1 almost always meant a major increase in sales. We were literally helping people get rich overnight!

At present day, landing your product on page 1 no longer guarantees a major increase in sales. Has Viral Launch become worse at doing our job? Not at all, we’re actually really good at this and have become more effective as you can read here.

How Viral Launch Fits In

Viral Launch’s job has always been to increase the keyword ranking of your product, which can still do quite easily. By improving ranking, we increase exposure to potential customers and give your product more opportunity to sell. Driving the actual sale depends on a multitude of factors, only you as the seller can control.

We’ve seen it time and again, and more frequently, where a product lands on page 1, but the product does not take off in sales.

We’ve also seen older products and brands watch their sales start to slip and new competition moves in and quickly dominates the market.

Standing out becomes even more difficult when you realize that the majority of your competitor’s products are relatively the same. If you search on Amazon for fish oil, you’ll see 100,000+ search results. Most of those results are relatively the same offering at approximately the same price.

Amazon’s Magic Bullet

So what is the secret magic bullet to getting your product to stand out and sell insane amounts of units? Why were you never able to turn your existing products into successful big earners? Why is competition passing you by? How can I streamline my product launches?

We have the data and experience to tell us exactly what that magic bullet it is.

We’ll give you all the answers tomorrow…(and hint: there is no secret magic bullet..)

Talk again soon!

Related Posts:

Houston, We Have No Problem – Amazon TOS Update 2015

If you are looking for the Amazon TOS Update of 2016 that can be found on our in-depth post here!

 

 

 

 

Our Position on Amazon’s Update to their Terms of Service and the Chaos that has Ensued

Originally Posted: 8/30/2015

Amazon is constantly changing and transforming. We were reminded of that this weekend as they discreetly updated their Selling Policies, specifically their “Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions” page.

If you have not read for yourself here are the excerpts from the updated page:

Reviews:

“Reviews are important to the Amazon Marketplace, providing a forum for feedback about product and service details and reviewers’ experiences with products and services — positive or negative. You may not write reviews for products or services that you have a financial interest in, including reviews for products or services that you or your competitors sell. Additionally, you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance. No refunds are permitted after the review is written. You may not intentionally manipulate your products’ rankings, including by offering an excessive number of free or discounted products, in exchange for a review. Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”

Misuse of Sales Rank:

“The best seller rank feature allows buyers to evaluate the popularity of a product. You may not solicit or knowingly accept fake or fraudulent orders. This includes placing orders for your own products. You may not provide compensation to buyers for purchasing your products or provide claim codes to buyers for the purpose of inflating sales rank. In addition, you may not make claims regarding a product’s best seller rank in the product detail page information, including the title and description. “

So what does this mean for you as a seller? What does it mean for your future with Viral Launch? There have been more than enough rumors and opinions posed as facts, so we would like to break things down as best as possible for you. We’ve launched over 2,000 products, consulted $50m/year Amazon businesses, and tracked 10′s of millions of data points all in the last 10 months. This is not to brag (hyperbole marketing and telling others how great I think I am is not my style 😉 ), but to illustrate the interesting perspective we have obtained, and while we have no absolutes, here are our thoughts.

Our Position

For those with limited attention spans, or simply want the short version, I want to pose Viral Launch’s official position here at the beginning. I will elaborate and explain in greater depth our position throughout the rest of this post.

Our goal is to provide our clients a long-term solution to promoting their products, gaining exposure and building their businesses. If that means taking calculated precautions so as to ensure we are 100% ToS compliant and without possibility of being accused of manipulative or fraudulent behaviors, then we will take the appropriate actions to do so.We would never want our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Although we do not believe that Amazon will be cracking down on sellers for running promotions through targeted URLs or begin penalizing sellers for running promotions giving more than 50, 100, 300, etc. in a day, the fact of the matter is the language of the new policies deems these actions strictly in violation of policy. For that reason Viral Launch is repositioning itself as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure capable of driving buy-ready traffic to your product in a powerful yet controlled manner. We have an audience that wants to buy your product. Simple as that. Under the hood, everything will remain essentially the same. However, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. You can checkout our new page at https://viral-launch.com.

No One Knows Anything

The thing is, in the Amazon marketplace Amazon creates the law, enforces the law and answers to no one.They write their policies to be broad and vague so that they may interpret as they wish and enforce them as they please. There is no knowing for certain their intentions when crafting these policies. Even if one did know the intent of a rule, the language is so loosely written that they can turn around and penalize sellers on completely different grounds.

-Will Amazon penalize, remove, or suspend you for running promotions through a SuperURL or any other type of targeted URL? The short answer is probably not. However, they can very easily see that you are sending traffic through an unnatural URL, the customer has a new session, and by tracking the referrer tag from the referring URL.  I will say that our OrganicURL satisfies these three issues, but then the question comes down to whether or not Amazon perceives this as an attempt at ranking manipulation, which in my opinion I can very easily see Amazon interpreting this an attempt at ranking manipulation. My opinion does not matter, it is how Amazon decides to interpret and even more importantly how/if they choose to enforce it.

I will say that one leading service in their position announcement made a point trying to “geek-out” and use programming language (the sample code they used was definitely not written by a programmer as it had some major issues and is nothing like what Amazon uses but that is besides the point) to illustrate that Amazon could very easily disallow keyword ranking boosts from launches using the SuperURL. I would like to disagree. I am a developer myself. I hand coded the entire Viral Launch platform, and have experience working with advanced machine learning (AI) algorithms similar to those employed by Amazon. This gives me a unique perspective on the A9 ranking algorithm. The ranking algorithm is not a simple script that allots keyword ranking to products after a sale through a specific keyword like the previously mentioned service believes. We are talking about a brilliantly complex algorithm architected to take into account a myriad of data points with logic constructs that are not easily adjusted. I believe Amazon has intentionally decreased the ranking effects of SuperURLs because they are well aware of launching services using them and Amazon does not like it. So why has Amazon not done away with the ranking effects of the SuperURL altogether? Frankly because at this point, they simply cannot. Think of an intricately designed spider web. It may be easy to remove just a couple of supporting threads, but if too many are removed or adjusted the spider web will collapse in on itself. The A9 Algorithm is just such a spider web, a very complex construction which services millions. It is not easy to completely change how it operates (allotting ranking) while continuing to service such a high volume effectively.  But I digress.

-What is “excessive” in Amazon’s eyes? Who knows, but my assumption is A TON. I am referring to numbers in the thousands. You will see why we believe this in the next section. That being said, Amazon could very well interpret giving 100+/units in a single day as excessive. Do I think you should be concerned with giving more than 100 units in a day? No, but I think it is important to  simply be aware. We have sellers who have been giving 200+/day since the updated terms have launched and thus far nothing has changed. Amazon tells us the term “excessive” is referring to giving an “excessive” number of discounts of the same product to one individual.

-Does running promotions constitute as attempting to inflate sales rank? I think the keyword here is “inflate”. There is a difference between improve and inflate. Inflate, according to Merriam Dictionary refers to excess, which is again a very subjective term. From speaking with Amazon we are led to believe that when the policy refers to “sales rank” it is in direct reference to Best Seller Ranking. Again, we do not think you should be concerned with Amazon accusing you of inflating sales rank, but we want you to be completely informed.

What We Know of Amazon

Amazon prides itself on its review system. The quality and legitimacy of reviews are vital. If consumer confidence plummets in its review system then sales will suffer. From some of the largest brands on Amazon as well as Amazon themselves we are being told that Amazon is far more concerned with review manipulation than they are sellers sending promotions through unnatural targeted links.

Amazon does not care who is at the top of the keyword rankings, no matter who it is, they are making their money all the same. However, as soon as the consumer base loses faith in the integrity of the reviews posted on Amazon, their bottom line will take a hit. That is not acceptable.

That is not just our view, but the shared beliefs of some of our largest allies who have been on Amazon for 10+ years and are each hitting in the ten’s of millions every year.

I think it goes without saying, but you must be uber careful when it comes to reviews. Be wary of promotional services that require their users to leave reviews. They incentivize their users to leave reviews by telling them they can get more deals after they leave their review. I cannot help but view this as manipulating reviews, that is why we have never employed such methods ourselves. Although the methods were more black hat, Amazon recently took legal action against review manipulating companies and I imagine there will be more to come. Amazon is cracking down.

What Amazon is Telling Us

As you know talking with seller support and the info received from them is not exactly the most reliable. Despite this being the case, there were a few points that were offered almost uniformly.  We also have some inside connections with Amazon along with powerful friends with inside connections. Even so, after speaking with many Amazon representatives in various departments, we have no definitive answer and very little clarification on the language used and exact intention of the updated policy.

Here is what we have been told:

  • Incentivizing or manipulating reviews is against policy (duh).
  • Those that abuse or infringe upon this policy will first be warned before action is taken.
  • Amazon does not want you sending multiple units of the same product to the same customer.

We have been told almost uniformly that these new statements are simply an extension of an existing rule working to thwart black hat rank boosting efforts. We have friends of friends who will have a “customer” make hundreds of purchases on a single product at a discount to boost their keyword ranking. There are sellers sending thousands of products to fake accounts and fake addresses. There are ways sellers are working to manipulate the systems, and it is these instances we feel Amazon is largely targeting. Don’t do that.

This is Not the Death of Promotions!

Amazon relies on merchant run promotions as an avenue for driving new customers to the Amazon marketplace. Without promotions, how would one get started in this space. It would be incredibly difficult, and would take a toll on the marketplace’s overall performance.

If Amazon did not want you to give products away at a discount (or free) in exchange for reviews they would not state, “If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review.” The ability to create these promotional codes would be no more. So all the rumors you have heard telling you that you cannot promote your product or else your account will be suspended are absolutely false!

Repositioning

Viral Launch has always prided ourselves on being an honest company and being 100% compliant in our approach. We really care about the success of our users (if you have ever reached out for advice or help you know this first hand). In order to ensure compliance we have to make changes in how we operate and how we advise you with promotions.

1.) First, we are changing our positioning as a company. We no longer want to be lumped into the category as those “blast” sites. In the past we prided ourselves on our ability to raise products from no sales to $10k, $25k, $35k/month after just a couple of launches with only our standard packages. We have been able to boost keyword ranking at will, however, so as to avoid jeopardizing the accounts of sellers we work with, we will now be positioning ourselves as a promotional marketing platform designed to increase market exposure to your products and services. While most things under the hood will remain the same, and you will continue to see the same effects, we believe that it is important to change our positioning so that there is no doubt that we are running a completely compliant service. We feel this is imperative to offering a long-term solution to promoting and growing your products and business.

2.) Second, we offer ways to spread or stagger your launch promotions through multi-day launches in a very controlled manner. We have always found that this receives better results and is much more likely to help you feel compliant in terms of not being “excessive.” We will continue to offer this and educate sellers on the best launch strategies for them.

3.) Thirdly, you will now have the choice as to whether or not you wish to use our OrganicURL for your launches.  As stated previously, we do not believe any seller will be penalized for using targeted URLs, however, for your sake we wish to give you the choice.

4.) We have updated our pricing model to better reflect our intentions going forward. As you are familiar with Pay Per Click models on other promotional platform such Google and Amazon, we want to emulate just that. You can view our new pricing on our landing page.

5.) Finally, we have updated our landing page to remove all language that could be interpreted as rank & review manipulating practices. No more talk of boosting keyword ranking and beating the algorithm. We would never want the opportunity for our actions to negatively affect our customer’s good standing in the eyes of Amazon.

Our Warning to the Wise (and everyone else)

We are in a space of super marketers. They know the exact language needed to make anything sound appealing or appropriate. They will brag about themselves and self-impose superficial titles to sound more authoritative just to get your money. They have no problem claiming you NEED something that just so happens to require you to pay them more money in order to be successful. When they fail to deliver, they blame you. To some services, all you are is money, and they will stop at no expense to get as much of it as they can. They do not care about your success they care about their bottom dollar.

Now more than ever, be skeptical. Only work with the people, services, and companies you trust. It is very easy to be swept up in pretty talk and superlatives. Only do what you are absolutely comfortable with. It is not worth losing the business you have worked so hard to build. Viral Launch is no exception. If you are not 100% comfortable with what we are doing ask us questions. If even then we do not ease your concerns, then I encourage you to find a company which better satisfies your needs and aligns with your perspectives. 🙂

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Do not pay for reviews. Even if they are video reviews.
  • Do not require or incentivize reviews. Using services which require their users leave reviews on the products they get is included in this. Telling users that they will have access to more deals if they leave a review is incentivizing them to leave their review. This is strictly against Amazon’s policy. There are many many services out there that do this. Please be skeptical and use caution.
  • Be weary of services that allow you to pick and choose which users will be reviewing your product. This is a lot like manipulation.

Ultimately, we will continue to work towards providing the best long-term solution to building and growing your business. We are continually building out new features and services that allow you to effectively and efficiently grow while ensuring the probability of your long-term success.

Wishing you the best,
Casey Gauss
CEO/ Co-Founder