#35 Amazon Sourcing - Big Picture Strategies with Peter Zapf of Global Sources (interview part 2 of 2) - British Amazon Seller - the UK Private Label Specialist
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#35 Amazon Sourcing – Big Picture Strategies with Peter Zapf of Global Sources (interview part 2 of 2)

 Peter Zapf of Global Sources has 15 years’ experience of sourcing from his hot seat in the action in Hong Kong.  He spoke with me at the end of March about all things China Sourcing related. In Episode 34, he discusses tactics. But in this half of the interview, he discusses some big picture strategies with huge implications. Required listening for the ambitious Amazon Entrepreneur!

SHOW NOTES FOR EPISODE #35

1)      Product strategies: 

a.       commoditized light vs. differentiated heavy 

Many people are using the same Criteria for product selection,  e.g., light, small, can be air freighted, etc.

The problem is that if everyone uses the same product criteria, you end up with huge competition.  Yes, they’re easy products to start with, but the space ends up crowded.

There is  nothing wrong with starting with RA (retail Arbitrage)  or commoditized products – it’s a great way to learn about importing, working with Chinese suppliers, creating a product listing, PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising etc.  It just doesn’t seem like a long term business to Peter.

If for example you choose large, heavy products, you have to use ocean shipping, which means there currently is a lot less competition.

You’ll order need to place a larger order to make the logistics make sense.  So there is more capital needed upfront and it is tied up for longer sitting on the ocean.

These are problems to solve but they are also barriers to entry.

  Your own design is the next step as an even bigger barrier to entry.

In retail Arbitrage, you’re competing for the buy box with the exact same product.

With private labelling, at least you are not competing for the buy box. But If the supplier designs the product, you are competing for ranking with essentially a commoditised product that others can sell.

Your design will protect you more from the competition if it is harder to copy. For example, a longer or thicker yoga mat is not a very hard difference to copy.  Often this depends on the amount of money you have or are prepared to invest.

If you need for example to use a designer, get regulatory compliance checks done, use lawyers and legal contracts with manufacturer, the supplier needs to make a new mould…this all adds to the cost and complexity and makes it harder to duplicate.

This then becomes more about how to minimize your upfront risk. Say if you create 8 new products, how can you set things up such that you only need 4 to succeed to break even, rather than say 5?

There was a famous example of a company called “Quirky” which went out of business recently.  They spent $400,000 ( http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/24/8488531/quirky-invention-powered-by-quirky) designing a blue tooth speaker – and then sold 30 units!!

Trademarking and Patent protection can be complex.

But Trademarking is much easier, faster and cheaper than patents. It might be that you can get a U.S. trademark something for a few hundred dollars. Worth checking with a company like Legal Zoom

How to minimize your risk/reduce costs

Think about reducing supply chain costs:

  Logistics:  use ocean shipping to improve your price competitiveness (or have more margin to put into advertising).

How can you fill a container to make the max use of the space?

Can you spend $200 to have the pallets of goods delivered from US port to an Amazon warehouse in California rather than $hundreds to go across the US?

Reducing supply chain costs by removing a step:

Flexport recently explained to Peter there are two options:

Option 1: Have freight forwarder take freight all the way to a specific Amazon warehouse (so set up on Seller Central BEFORE setting up freight from CHina) or

Option 2: Freight Forwarder will usually have own warehouse, so get it sent there rather than FBA Inspection etc. then on to the various Amazon Warehouses.

Ocean shipping: If Amazon asks you to send products to say 3 different USA warehouses, if you set that up before finalising your freight/shipping, you can get your supplier to break it into the right number of pre-packed pallets. This means your consignment won’t need reworking inthe USA.

This saves a step/time but also reduces costs: Your supplier is likely to do this at no/low cost.

Order quantity: Order large enough quantities to get a reduced price per unit and economies of scale in the supply chain.

Packaging – can you reduce the costs?

3)      China Suppliers competing with you on Amazon:

There are manufacturers already selling on Amazon. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of them don’t always want to commit a lot of money and energy to it because they are used to getting paid upfront; on Amazon, they have to wait a longer time for their money! Also, they are not usually so good at listing copy and photos, custom service and the other marketing functions.

HOWEVER there are a lot of domestic China Private Label Sellers (not manufacturers) selling from China.

Peter has talked to them and they say their disadvantage is that they don’t understand consumer needs.

BUT they are very good at commoditized products e.g. Power Banks for mobile/cell phones. So be wary of commoditized products!

Some are creating their own brands and competing on price.

You advantage is understanding your local (national) consumers better, so you know what product changes are needed. To the extent you can take advantage of that, you have an advantage.

Knowing your own customers helps greatly with product selection.

Also you have native speaker language skills, knowledge of good product listings, photography etc.

4)     Differentiating your  products: 

Basically you may need to make some kind of upfront investment to really differentiate your product (time and/or money). Then the key becomes mitigating risk.

Here’s a possible strategy:

1. Crowdfunding- get a design then post it up in Kickstarter or Indiegogo. This validates the idea and you can get the money upfront for an initial production run.

2. Make sales on Amazon to prove product acceptance, margins, sales volume and customer response (reviews)

3. Sell to brick and mortar retailers, leveraging feedback from Amazon volume, revenues and reviews to convince the retailer it’s a great product.

Retailers will also need to know you can replenish inventory within say two weeks. So you would need local warehousing (as your supplier would probably need about 3 months to manufacture and deliver a new consignment of product if you are shipping by ocean).

Parting words:

Don’t let setbacks hold you back. Learn from them, then move on.

For example, an “incorrect” product selection can be frustrating.

But  you’ve still learnt so many skills: product research and selection, finding suppliers, communicating with suppliers, setting up supply chain, creating Amazon listings, PPC marketing, keywords etc., etc., etc. So you can take those skills and move on to the next product.

If looking for products, try Global Sources!

For more help with the sourcing process: go to www.smartchinasourcing.com, which is another website run by  Global Sources.

Global Sources is also running a Smart China Sourcing Summit co-located with their Hong Kong trade shows.  Danny McMillan will also be speaking there.  Information at http://www.globalsources.com/summit

There are many guest posts – look at the links to the authors and follow them, to get more info on particular topics.

For actionable tactics from this first half of this interview, go to Episode 34.

To ask Questions for Peter for his follow-up interview,  go to our Facebook Group.

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For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is: http:// amazingfba.com/feed/podcast.

For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of this page.

If you have any queries, just go to www.amazingfba.com/ask.

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right on yt sentence.

For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is: http:// amazingfba.com/feed/podcast.

For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of this page.

If you have any queries, just go to www.amazingfba.com/ask.

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