The Amazon Marketplace is intensely competitive. With a low barrier to entry and a level of seller convenience that has never been higher, you need to understand before you try to make it as an Amazon seller that the odds are stacked against you — but if you really plan ahead and cover all your bases, you can beat those odds.
To come out on top, you need to look to a point far in the future, decide where you want to be, and work backward from there. Ideally, you’ll come up with every step along the way and anticipate every obstacle. Every top Amazon seller has a great plan. Here’s what to do:
Decide your long-term USPs
For an Amazon brand to have a meaningful identity, it must have things that set it apart from every other seller in the marketplace: its unique selling points (USPs). A big mistake new sellers often make is paying too much attention to what does make them different instead of what could make them different.
Over time, your business will change. It’s unavoidable. We’re looking at the next 12 years here, and almost everything about you and your operation will be different in some way after that amount of time. You will have 12 years of additional experience, for astart, and 12 more years to learn about which parts of the selling process you enjoy, which parts you hate, and what kind of person you want to be in the sales world.
So look far ahead and ask yourself what you want to be remembered for. The cheapest prices around? The most premium products? The best customer service? The funniest product descriptions? The glossiest product photos? You might even decide that you want your long-term hook to be something you’re not all that great at right now, and that’s alright because you have plenty of time to get great at it — but it will only happen if you work at it over time.
Allocate your resources sensibly
You need to be very careful indeed about using whatever finances you have available to support your launch because you're aiming for sustainability. Online sales fluctuate for many reasons—some predictable (seasons, sporting events, etc.) and some not (freak weather conditions)—and if you don’t keep some funds in reserve to keep you going when the chips are down, you’ll risk losing all of your progress.
Now, you obviously don’t need to stretch your current savings out to 12 years but make a habit of leaving some leeway in every annual budget so you feel adequately covered. How much you’ll need will depend on the format of your business. If you exclusively sell dropshipped products, you won’t need much because you’ll be able to stop trading for a while in the event of an emergency and not have to deal with stock issues. If you have a local warehouse and your own shipping operation, however, you’ll need as much as you can afford to keep in reserve.
It’s a good idea to follow some Amazon seller blogs to learn about how they budget for their businesses. Should you find yourself in need of some money advice, try reaching out to the Amazon seller community for support. You’ll find that people will be perfectly willing to help out.
Diversify your product range
The top Amazon sellers have massive product ranges inside their niches, typically tens of thousands of different products. This kind of diversification is very important for operational stability. As fads come and go, certain items can catch fire, sell in huge numbers, and then drop massively in value, and having more products accomplishes two great things: it gives you more opportunities to take advantage of hot products, and it protects you from relying too heavily on specific products that could lose popularity in the blink of an eye.
I’m not suggesting that you bulk up your inventory with products that have nothing to do with your core business, because that would only dilute your brand. Rather, take care to provide as many relevant options as possible. If something doesn’t add much cost to stock (or list as a dropshipping option) and you think it’s a solid product, it’s worth including even if it doesn’t currently sell well, because it might sell well in a few years.
Build up social proof
Social proof has a snowball effect. The more positive reviews and recommendations you get, the more sales you make, and the more sales you make, the more positive reviews and recommendations you get (provided you’re offering good products, but let’s assume you are!). That’s why it isn’t something you can leave for later — you need to implement it right out of the gate and start gathering that feedback. That way, in a few years, your prospective customers will have the immediate reassurance of seeing thousands of positive comments about your brand.
To do this, make sure you ask for feedback because a lot of sellers forget and just assume that customers will make use of Amazon’s review options at their leisure. They won’t. If you take care to send every customer an email asking for a review, you’ll get a lot of extra data for free. Just be careful about when you ask: there’s no use in asking for a review from someone who hasn’t even received the item yet!
You might be able to start out as a one-person operation, but you won’t be able to stay that way if you really have aspirations of growing your business into a flourishing brand. Sooner or later you're going to need to delegate some of the work, whether to full-time employees or freelancers.
As time goes by and you get more comfortable with what you’re doing, put aside some time to review your processes and identify inefficiencies and slowdowns. Are you getting stressed from overwork? Are you not doing enough marketing? Whatever you need to be done, you can always look to sites like UpWork to see what you can outsource.
There’s no use in building a sustainable business model if you can’t endure it and end up losing sight of what made you want to become an Amazon seller in the first place. Look after yourself, be very careful with your workload, and you’ll be in much better position years from now.
Branch out whenever possible
Being an Amazon seller doesn’t prevent you from selling elsewhere as well — in fact, it fits very neatly alongside that option. By setting up an external store and syncing the inventory with your Amazon storefront, you can give your business some much-needed customization options and protect yourself from any changes to Amazon’s third-party seller terms while still focusing on Amazon as your main target.
It’s easy to find an eCommerce CMS with native Amazon integration (such as Shopify’s cheap shopping site creator), and any major retail CMS without it is likely to implement it in the near future (Magento has a full Amazon integration in early access at the moment), so give this option plenty of thought as you get your operation running smoothly.
Stay ready to pivot
As noted, the world of eCommerce is very unpredictable. Who could have seen the rise of fidget spinners coming? The sellers who find lasting success on Amazon do more than nail their USPs and plan carefully — they stay flexible, ready to totally change their operations in the event of a significant shift in the foundations of online retail.
Over the 12 years following the launch of your Amazon Marketplace brand, you may keep your primary product lineup fairly static, or you may need to change it many times to keep up with the zeitgeist. You can’t know ahead of time, and that demands that you keep an open mind. Stay ready to pivot your methods and targets, and when the next fad hits out of nowhere, you can reap the benefits while your competitors are left wondering what just happened.
12 years is a very, very long time in the online retail world, and only the smartest sellers can thrive for that long. You need to be adaptable and pragmatic in how you approach business. If you can follow this broad plan, and customize it with details specific to your operation, you can find the success you’re looking for. Good luck!