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239 10 Lessons from a Freight Forwarder C***-up

We’ve all made our share of mistakes. I know I have. I've recently run into some troubles with Amazon freight forwarder. That’s why today I’m stepping away from the customary formal interview format of the show to try to show you examples of problems that can be solved in our mastermind groups. Other people’s experience can be immensely valuable, especially if you can apply it to your business and avoid making some of the same mistakes. Read More

146 FBA Inventory Management with Jeremy Biron of Forecastly Part 3 of 3

Maintaining Ongoing FBA Inventory

There are many things that you have to take into consideration. You have to think of your lead time and everything that goes into it. Also consider receiving time at Amazon. It might take awhile for them to check it in. When planning a strategy for your FBA inventory, you should plan for the worst case scenario. There could be issues with it getting backed up at port or issues with your supplier.

Using Software to help FBA Inventory Management

A great thing about using software for forecasting, is that they can keep track of that, whether it’s Jeremy’s Forecastly or another piece of software. It tracks inbound inventory, current inventory, what you have in manufacturing, and true sales velocity.

You also need to consider spikes in sales. You may have consistent sales every day, but a couple times a month your sales spike. This is why you need to build in a safety stock. That gives you a cushion so that if you get a surge in sales, you have enough stock to cover it until your next shipment gets there.

Forecastly

Forecastly has many business that use its service. The software can then use this anonymous data to make predictions about Amazon as a whole. It takes ASIN level data over the past 30, 60, and 90 days to makes prediction about future sales numbers.

Their main focus is demand forecasting. It considers your recent sales including stock out periods. If you were out of stock, it can determine what you would have sold had the product been available. It also tracks the variability of demand which is something you can’t do in a spreadsheet.

The main thing you have to be conscious of when managing your FBA inventory is, what do you need to replenish, when do you need to replenish it, and how many units do you need to replenish. Forecastly tracks all that while monitoring your inventory and will recommend your orders.

Many sellers want to use a 60 day trend to determine their sales velocity which is a bad idea. If you selling in an upward trend, meaning your sales are growing, then your sales were much lower 60 days ago. This will make your average too low. Forecastly uses a 30 day trend to get the most up to date projections.

False Rule of Thumb

We, here at Amazing FBA, love a rule of thumb. Unfortunately, when it comes to FBA inventory, many sellers follow a rule of thumb that won’t help them, and could hurt them. It’s the idea that you need to have X amount of days worth of inventory. Whenever they place their order, they bring it back to this magic number.

For example, if you wanted to maintain 90 days of inventory and you order monthly with a 30 lead time. When it’s time to make an order, you have 60 days of inventory. Based on this, you would order 30 days of inventory.

You don’t need that much inventory. You wouldn’t need to order for another month because you have a 30 day lead time and you’re tying up cash in stock you don’t need. The rationale behind this method is security. The attempt to avoid stock outs by keeping a large amount of stock on hand.

Future of Amazon according to Jeremy Biron

Amazon will continue growing their own private label brands. So Amazon is now your competitor. International markets are growing. The European markets are booming. If you’re having success in the US, you’ll want to take those products to the UK and the rest of Europe. That isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to come up with a separate replenishment strategy as well as deal with the tax regulations. There is an opportunity, though. Especially in Germany where 40% of the sellers are non-German, and very few are American. That means they are willing to buy from foreigners, but not many Americans are there yet.

As Amazon grows, the more warehouse space they will need. They are investing in new space, but they don’t want to overdo it. You will likely see seller-fulfilled-prime see some growth as a solution to this problem though will come with its own issues.

The inbound process is likely to change. It used to be that you would just slap on a UPS label. Then you had to also do the Amazon label. Now you have to do box contents. It’s going to get more and more complicated as Amazon continues handling more inventory.

If you want to receive a free tool for launching new products, head on over to Forecastly.

144 Amazon Inventory with Jeremy Biron of Forecastly Part 1 of 3

Amazon inventory is a crucial but neglected area for all Amazon sellers.  We have Jeremy Biron with us today. He’s the founder of Forecastly. He has been selling on Amazon for over 10 years so he has a really deep understanding of the marketplace and of Amazon inventory management and the issues that can involve.

He was one of the first FBA sellers in the office supply space running a multi-million dollar operation. Jeremy has a strong knowledge of Amazon and what it takes to maintain your Amazon inventory.

Tell us more about yourself and how you got started.

Coming out of college about 15 years ago, Jeremy was working in the corporate world doing marketing and sales. Quickly realized that the corporate life wasn’t for him. He got into selling  Amazon inventory  part-time while working the corporate job. He happened upon office supplies. Not the sexiest products but he found a place. He realized that he could make more money selling on Amazon than in his full-time job and he enjoyed it much more.

He started selling full-time 8 years ago. Then, about 2 years ago, the office supply space wasn’t going in the right direction. He heard from a lot of other FBA sellers about their Amazon inventory issues. Jeremy had the answer. He had custom software they used in-house. He decided to take this software, improve it so it could be mass-distributed, and began Forecastly.

What prompted you to create this custom software for Amazon inventory?

It was a combination of stock-outs and excess Amazon inventory. At first, they were just using the reports you get from seller central. It shows how much you have in stock and how much you sold in the past, like 30 days. It would be 30 days later, after he had placed all those orders, and looked at his profit and loss and think that he should have sold more. As it turns out their estimations were off. He knew from the beginning that using the inventory reports from Amazon wouldn’t cut it.

Tell us about how you used the Amazon inventory reports and what the limitations were.

A lot of the time, those aren’t accurate. Looking at your current Amazon inventory and your inbound numbers. You inventory is usually right, but your inbounds number aren’t. They didn’t know exactly what was going into Amazon. What status was it in. Even looking at your existing Amazon inventory, you can’t tell if it’s being labeled, is it moving around the country, or is it reserved because it’s already been sold. If I have 100 units, and 10% has already been sold, I really have 90.

The other piece of it is figuring out your sales velocity. That’s not as easy as many people think it is. Let’s say you sold 50 units last month. If you don’t know if you were in stock the entire time, your don’t know your true sales velocity. If you sold 50 in the last 30 days, but you were out of stock half that time, you should have sold 100. However, those reports are saying you sold 50, and if you want a 30 day supply, you should buy 50 more.

The last piece to this is taking that demand forecast and building a replenishment strategy off it. Knowing when you’re going to run out of stock.There isn’t an Excel spreadsheet that will tell you if you’re going to have a spike in sales. The only way to do that is by using a database and running some crazy statistical calculations.

Coming back to why this matters. One thing you mentioned was demand forecasting. Basically, you have to think about this before you place your very first order, if you’re new to Amazon. Or when releasing a new SKU. How do you work this out?

This is something Jeremy sees a lot of mistakes with. Even if you’re an experienced private label seller and you’re bringing out a new product. It’s tough trying to figure out how much to order. Some things you want to think about when releasing a new product

How long, from the time I tell my supplier that I want to place an order, to the day it actually arrives at the Amazon warehouse. There is a lot that has to happen in the time-frame.

Lead time

You want to consider payment processing. Your money doesn’t show up immediately. Sometimes it takes a couple days to process your payment with the bank. The suppliers won’t do anything until that payment processes.

Manufacturing time

How long will it take for the factory to actually make the product. Is it going to be reliable? Will it take the length of time they quote you.

Shipping time

Preparation of shipping. If you’re placing a large order, it’s going to take time to process that shipment. Then sea or air time. Then is has to come through customs. There can be a lot of delays here. Then is has to be sent to Amazon where it will sit on their dock until they can receive it. If you send it to your house first, or a third-party preparer, all that takes time.

People will underestimate their lead time, and throw off the whole process. That goes for existing products as well.

Just to underline how important this is, it will always take longer than you expect. If a factory quotes you 2 weeks, it will likely take longer. They will tell you what you want to hear. If you send it to a prep facility, it could sit there for 3 weeks. Don’t underestimate receiving time at Amazon if it’s around Christmas or other holidays.

Is there someone magic trick that you use to determine actual time frames when a manufacturer quotes you?

In terms of reality, it’s going to come down to you putting some pressure on them. Communication is key. Contact them saying that you’re going with them. You like the communication so far. How likely do you think we’re going to hit that three week mark? Should I account for an extra week in there? They’re people too. It will put them at ease knowing that they got the order and don’t have to tell you what they think you want to hear. There really isn’t a magic formula because each supplier is different.

You can add in a late delivery penalty. Let them know that it’s your company’s policy that there is a 10% penalty for every week past the deadline. You see this difference between new and veteran sellers. If you ship an order to Amazon and it’s late, you’re going to be hit with a charge-back. This is also dependent on your payment agreement. If you pay everything up front, you can’t go and take that back. Whereas if you make a partial payment before delivery, it’s a bit different.

The main point is to get a straight answer out of them. They are likely to be more honest if they will get less money if they try to be overly-optimistic. Most terms I recommend is 70% up front, and 30% balance.

One point Jeremy wanted to make sure to hit on is about new product and why lead time matters. It’s not lead time for your first initial order. It’s thinking ahead to your next order. Let’s say your very first order arrives today and you have a 45 day lead time. Now you have to think about your next order. If you didn’t order enough units to get through 45 days, you will run out of product. Even if you place a PO today.

You don’t want to place another order for 30 days. If you have a 45 day lead time, you have to order enough for 75 days of inventory. You don’t want to over-order inventory, but you really don’t want to run out. There are a lot of sellers that always order 100 units, or 1000 units. They’re just making up a number. Jeremy recommends looking at JungleScout. If you’re shooting for a rank of 10,000 in the office products category, you can look on JungleScout and estimate how many units you’ll sell in a day.

So simple formula is LEAD TIME + 30 day. That way you have 30 days of data in which to base your estimate?

Exactly. They have a free Excel spreadsheet that you can get at forecast.ly/amazingfba. It’s a simple sheet that tells you what your lead time is, and when you’ll want to place your next order. The last piece on top of that is safety stock. That is a complicated thing so we won’t go into too much detail. Essentially, it’s insurance against a stock-out. If you think you’ll sell 10 units a day for those 75 days, then you’ll buy 750 units as your initial order. Depending on your level of cash, you’ll bump that up. You may want 10% safety stock. So you’ll add 75 units, just in case sales are higher than expected.

#80 How to prep for Amazon UK with Greg Jones – Part 2

What are the major freight paperwork and how do we overcome those?

If you are using a courier or one of the freight professionals, they do all that for you. You don’t have to worry about the various paperwork, custom claims, etc. This is a skill these guys have been working on for years, they can do it better and more efficiently than you, so let them do it. UPS is around £11 per shipment for customs clearance. DHL is right around there as are most of the others. Since you’re importing the product, most of the paperwork is done by the exporter and you’ll end up with the VAT and the duty. Both of these are calculate off the commercial invoice.

One thing the Chinese like to do to be nice, is send the shipment as samples. If they are a sample, that’s fine. However, if you’re shipment is 500 units, that clearly isn’t a sample. At some point, the guys at HMRC are going to catch on and you may end up with penalties as well as your future shipments getting more scrutiny causing delays.

You have a proper business, so you want to make sure you do things by the book. It may cost you more in duties, but you want to build your business on solid ground.

Another they offer is to lower the cost of the invoice to stay under a certain value at which point things become more complicated. Is that something to avoid as well?

At the end of the day you’re evading taxes, which simply put, is wrong. Also, if you get caught you may end up getting put on a list which will further delay you in the future. If one of the customs officials gets to digging around and realizes your products are valued at more than what was declared, they will put you on a watchlist. Ongoing shipments will be inspected and paperwork will be scrutinized which will hold up your shipment.

Do you need to instruct your suppliers about commercial invoices or will that be checked by DHL or UPS?

A commercial invoice is just like any other invoice. It will detail the value of what your purchased, the goods you purchased, the delivery address, the importer on record’s address, and the commodity code. That is a global code that details what the product is classified as which you can find on the HMRC website. So when the shipment comes in they can charge import duties.

Is that something the Chinese supplier will automatically put on the invoice and get right?

Well… they’ll put it on the invoice. It may not always be right and there is no way of going back and saying this is wrong, so you’ll just have to double-check it and next time you order tell your supplier that they put the wrong commodity code on it. Which could save yourself some money since the import duties can vary depending on this code. It can range from 0-12% on top of VAT.

How is VAT calculated? Is it the value of the goods only? So if I have 500 units that cost $2 a piece, is VAT calculated on that $1000?

It is the commercial invoice value + freight + duty. VAT is calculated on the total of all three.

Is there anything else we need to get on the commercial invoice? Say I order a shipment, sent to your prep company, do I need to make sure all that is on the invoice and how do I communicate that to DHL or whoever?

It does need to be on there, but in Greg’s experience if doesn’t matter. It seems to be a daily battle with FedEx, or DHL trying to get the person on the commercial invoice or airway bill. It doesn’t matte who the consignee is, Greg seems to always get the bill sent to FBA Pep UK at his address. If you look at the paperwork that comes with it, it clearly states the correct customer but they seem to ignore that.

How do you handle that, when you get the invoice in stead of your customer?

It depends on the customer. Some will just pay it which is fine. Even though it’s FBA Prep UK on the bill, they can’t sort it out. The customer has to contact them and tell them that they will accept that invoice.

The biggest takeaway seems to be that it’s best to just use a freight forwarder or use your courier and make sure that your name and the company name is on the paperwork.

Those guys are the professionals. They are doing this day in and day out. Sure you can learn it, but that’s time better spend on your company and sourcing more profitable products.

Another thing you have to worry about is your EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification scheme) number. Which is a number supplied by the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). You can’t apply for one unless you have a shipment coming, and you can’t get your shipment into Europe until you have it. It takes about 3 or 4 days to get it, so as soon as your supplier gives you all the detail on when the shipment is coming from, where it’s going to land, the size of it, the vessel number, take that information and you can apply for your EORI number online.

Small samples should be ok, your couriers can take care of it. Once you start getting bigger shipments coming in, you’ll want to get your own number. It simply for statistical purposes of what come in and goes out of Europe.

On a side not, outsourcing is vital! It’s a waste of time trying to do everything yourself. Some of the simpler tasks, or task that need expertise can be outsourced freeing you up to focus on growing your business. Here is just one example:

This is a 15×15 grid of everything that needs to be done with products. This is why you shouldn’t order 15 different things from AliExpress and why you need help with prep.

For more ambitious sellers what are the biggest challenges when trying to scale up?

What about people who want to import a lot of one product?

Factoring time scales. If your coming by air now, you’re looking at 7-10 days from China to yours or your prep company’s hands. As you scale up you’ll have to start coming by sea which is about 35 days from China to the UK. Then the ship has to be unpacked which is another 5 days. It’s about 40 days from the time the supplier delivers it to the time you take delivery. Obviously, this is something you have to consider. If you’re doing you analysis to determine when you will need more product, you’ll have to add another 30-40 days onto that or risk running out by the time the ship arrives.

If you’re used to doing your own prep, as you scale up the deliveries will get bigger. You’ll start getting them in pallets rather than loose boxes. If you plan on continuing to do it at home, you have to consider how you’re going to offload the truck. It’s no longer going to be a van or small truck, it’ll be coming in artics so access becomes an issue. Also, you have to request a truck with a taillift if you don’t have a forklift. That will cost another £40.

What about those who want to go from a few SKUs to say 10 or 20 but not a huge quantity of each one?

This is common with things like pencils. Where you have one type of product, but 5 or 10 variations. i.e. different colors which Amazon treats as completely different products. Having the product description on the boxes is a huge help. That way if there is a problem with a particular SKU, it’s easier to identify which ones they are without having to open every box.

Whether you’re ordering 500 unit of one product, or 50 units of 10, the challenges are the same. Where the challenges would come and the cost would rise, is if your importing products from different suppliers. Now, there are services that will consolidate for you. You can have four or five different suppliers send everything to these consolidation warehouses. They will consolidate those and export them as one shipment saving you money.

What do you see coming up in the Prep side of Amazon as a problem?

Amazon will start requesting detailed contents of boxes. You can do it now, as an option, and in the US they have started requiring it. Usually if it happens in the US it will happen in the UK. So you will have to communicate that with your supplies to be more clear about what’s in each box especially of you ship directly. They will also requiring packing notes, so when they open the box, they know what’s in it to speed things up on their end.

Brexit will likely have an impact on shipping in Europe.

Amazon announce recently that they will have an air fleet of about 40 planes to ship products themselves. It’s unknown if freight will change much since it’s a fairly stable and established system. However, Amazon will likely try to takeover that.

How can people get hold of you?

Facebook Group
Email: greg@fbaprepuk.com
FBAPrepUK.com

#79 How to prep for Amazon UK with Greg Jones – Part 1

Greg has sold on Amazon for about 2 ½ years now so he has quite a bit of experience with selling. Greg saw an opportunity while he was selling. He hated doing the prep work. It took a lot of time and kept him away from what actually made him money, sourcing and working with suppliers. So he started FBA Prep UK almost two years ago as a solution for Amazon sellers.

Why bother with prep at all? Why not just send directly from China or supplier to Amazon?

First of all, things happen to products. It’s more common with air, there’s a lot more handling and a lot more opportunity for packaging to be damaged. From the supplier not doing what their supposed to, then sending it to the plane, loading and unloading from the plane, then to the Amazon warehouse.

Sometimes the products show up without packaging. It may have been repackaged by the shipping company because it was in such bad shape. Amazon won’t accept that. They have very high standards for what they expect and if it arrives damaged, they will not accept it. It will either be removed or destroyed.

To avoid all this, you’ll want the products to be inspected before they go to the warehouse. You can do this yourself but you will soon realize how much time and effort it takes to go through everything.

So what prep do you need to do for Amazon?

Obviously, everything will have to have a scan-able barcode, i.e. EAN or UPC work fine. Most products that come from China do so in a poly-bad or a plain white box with no identification on it. Amazon cannot accept that. They are a massive operation that cannot deviate from their processes. Prep companies, being smaller and working with you directly, have the flexibility to ensure the products are packaged correctly before Amazon gets them.

For the items that come in the poly-bag, can you repack those?

These bags are quite brittle and are too thin so they don’t meet Amazon standards. They have to be sealed or they have to have a suffocation warning label is the opening is more than 5 ½ inches. These aren’t Chinese regulations, so unless you specifiably request this, it won’t be done. Sometimes it won’t happen if you do specify it. Keep in mind that your supplier is likely not to comply with your instructions. There is very little chance of getting your money back should they mess up. Typically the only recourse is a discount on your next shipment.

If you hire an inspection company and everything checks out at the factory, what are some other things that can go wrong?

If it’s in a poly-bag, it’s pretty much ok. The problem starts if you have it in a box that gets thrown in to a shipping container. By sea is better because there is less handling. It doesn’t get handled much until it arrives gets put on a pallet.

Greg recommends contacting the supplier and having them ship extra boxes. Many times some of them will get hit by a forklift and the packaging gets messed up which will be rejected by Amazon. The products are fine but because the box is messed up it becomes unsaleable. If you don’t have extra boxes you have to contact the supplier after the fact. The supplier will likely not send you the extras until your next shipment which leaves you with 10-15% of your products sitting around until you’re ready to order again.

Greg’s standards are whether or not he would be happy to receive it. If he order an item off Amazon, would he be happy to receive it in that condition? If not, he would send it in until it gets repacked. This is also to protect you. Amazon shoppers are picky. They will rate a product low based on the packaging. Even if the product is great but the packaging was awful, they might leave a poor review. So it’s worth it to wait to send it in rather than risk a poor review.

So if you bother with prep, why use a Prep company?

It depends on your circumstances. Whether or not you have the space and means of handling them. Make sure to receive the samples at home so you have a change to inspect them before making a large purchase.

Some people don’t realize how large their orders are. So when you try to prep 100 or 150 units, you realize that you don’t want to be doing that for 500 or 1000. 1000 units, you’re probably looking at a pallet. You have to make sure you have a place to put a pallet.

Greg had a customer call him one time about 2000 piece order that was about to dock and he was told that it was going to be two maybe three pallets. He hadn’t realize how large it was going to be and was planning on fitting it in his two-bedroom flat on the 16th floor. This would not have been remotely possible to do on his own. He had to have the help of a prep company that has the means to handle such an order.

Also, this is almost required for some sellers that do it as a side gig and they have full-time jobs and they do their sourcing and dealing with suppliers in the evening. They have no time to be messing with prep work because they have their full-time job. It’s not feasible for them to do it on their own.

What are the main steps you go through to prepare for Amazon?

  • Check cartons
  • Unpack & Check boxes
  • Inspect outer cartons and items themselves
  • FNSKU barcodes
  • Have a report/structured record
  • Inbound Shipping to Amazon

What are the biggest mistakes you’ve found sellers make with freight that you’ve come across?

The story before, about the guy that didn’t know what he was going to do when it arrived. There is a scam going around where the supplier offers you shipping terms. They offer FOB prices to the port in China and CIF prices Felixstowe.

To clarify some terms, FOB is “Freight on Board”. The Chinese will pay the expenses to get your goods from their factory to the port of departure. CIF, Carriage, insurance and freight, is the exact same thing to the UK ports. So they exported the products, put it on a boat, and it will arrive at the docks in Felixstowe or South Hampton. From dockside, you have to organize onward freight and customs clearance. In Greg’s experience he got the same price for FOB in China and the CIF in the UK. It got to the UK and it seemed like it was all a part of the service, but after talking to he Freight Forwarding partner he was told it was a scam.

When it gets to the UK, the handling agents have to pay the shipping charge. It’s not free, it just gets passed on the UK agents who then pass it on to you. You then, also have to pay your normal VAT import duties, and custom clearance duty fee. He has heard figures of £600-1000 just to release the product. If you don’t pay them, you don’t get your product. They then start charging you storage fees and the costs just start rising.

What are the warning signs to look out for?

The supplier will offer you terms that look remarkably good. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Ask for prices from other freight forwarders. Even if it just to give you an indication of what the cost might be and if the Chinese guys stack up and looks about the same, you should be fine. But if it’s considerably cheaper, then at least you know what prices you can expect.

What are some basic dos and don’ts of working with a prep company?

The biggest thing is trust. At the end of the day, you’re sending a large investment, thousands of pounds worth of product, to someone you don’t know. You don’t know if they exist. As an entity, they could just be a website and an email address and you end up sending your stuff to them. Make sure your happy with them, call them up, look for social proof. Just make sure you’re real.

Keep in mind they are an extension of you, they’re not the importer on record. They don’t have importing responsibilities, they are simply a delivery point for you. You need to tell your supplier that. Greg has gotten invoices coming in with his name on them. Then DHL, or whichever shipping company will send him an invoice for the duties. He will send that on to the customer, but the invoice is in his name. So that makes it difficult for the customer to put it in their accounts.

Even if you’re out of the country, they will be your delivery point. So it will be your name, your company, at their address. So the invoice will go to the prep company who will then forward it to you. If it’s been agreed, they will pay the duties.

Tell them it coming. As ridiculous as it sounds, inform them of it’s arrival. The worst thing for Greg is to receive six pallets of products and have no idea who it belongs to. All they have is his name on the invoice.

2

#53 China Sourcing for Amazon: Keep money safe, Quality Control and Freight – with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo – Part 2 of 2

(Part 1 of this interview for more from Manuel)

#53 Manuel Becvar interview – part 2 of 2:

How do you keep your money safe?

When you place order, tell them you’ll send an inspection team when 80% of production is finished, you’ll have to redo the goods and pay for the reinspection, and you’re not getting the rest of the money until the inspection is passed.

So never do 100% upfront payments; always pay 30% upfront, 70% when the goods are passed. 

Even if you just order $1000, please get an inspection; there are companies that will do an inspection with a 20 page report for $100 for one man-day, eg Trigo  if it’s simple. They send someone to factory and send report. 

Others are more like $300 for one man day eg Asian inspection for difficult products like electronics. But no use for say a comb or a brush.

How do you approach Quality Control for electronics particularly? The advice famously is to avoid electronics from China. [I had about 10% defect rate]

Manuel has 17 years’ experience in electronics, knows what certificates are needed and which components to inspect. He doesn’t recommend it as 1st or 2nd product.
But just get certificates, experts in electronics inspection. There is a higher defect rate – Manuel’s is about 4%. Lots of customers just don’t know how to deal with electronics, so they often send it back even though it’s working perfectly.

Is there a way to reduce defect rates?
Take reviews and customer complaints – Speak to supplier – 5/10 of reviews have this issue, can you improve on this? Also speak to inspection company and have them focus on those issues in future inspections.  

But Manuel does all this and still has 4% defect rate. Anything below 5% is okay  in electronics. Above that, consider abandoning the product.

FREIGHT

Air freight vs air courier -what’s the difference?

Air courier means someone like DHL, UPS, Fedex etc. They have special customs clearance channel and they handle the whole process for you. So it’s more expensive. An “All in” solution – where to pick up, where to deliver.

Air freight is same process but it’s usually a logistics company that works with big airlines e.g. China Airlines. There is more paperwork involved and you need to be involved. You need a customs bond, you are the ultimate consignee. You need to know the process.

Manuel has had rates for air courier of $4 /kg and for air freight of $2.30/kg so it can be a $2 difference.

Simplest solution is to ask the supplier about air courier or freight. Or ask their freight forwarder. Give them USA/UK address, tell them you need duties/import taxes upfront.
If supplier has no Freight Forwarder, just look on Alibaba or Google.

If you have to do DDU [Delivered Duty Unpaid], how do you avoid problems?

Suppliers usually have no idea how to deal with freight etc. – they are experts at manufacturing. Manuel works with a Freight Forwarding company DDP [Delivered Duty Paid]-it’s all in. They pick up at factory, they ship it direct to Amazon. He doesn’t get involved in customers clearance or amazon pickup appointments.

In the beginning he had to explain how to book appointments with Amazon.

So you ship direct to Amazon?

Yes. Always directly from China to Amazon warehouse.

What do you do about damage to packaging from Air Freight?

It’s a small %age. Always put a label saying “Fragile, handle with care” – this helps.

How did you train your Freight Forwarder?
They are based in Shenzhen head office. They knew how to deliver to USA -but they had never delivered to Amazon. Manuel chose based on price and helpfulness but had to train them in delivering to Amazon.  He gave them a clear workflow. After 2nd order, no more hiccups. 

So you don’t want someone who doesn’t know about exporting to USA?

True. If you can find someone with great price and knows about delivery to Amazon, even better.  Manuel recommends Dolphin Logistics, based in Shenzhen. Reach out to Manuel if you want more info.

How did you get $2.30/kg air freight price?

$6 for air courier is average. Manuel gets good prices because he ships 28 m3 a month!

To make it simple, give your air freight forwarders a clear business process. Tell them they need to deal with Customs brokers and make appointments with Amazon.

They can set up a Vendor Express account with Amazon to set up appointments (they can’t just turn up at an Amazon warehouse!)

How do you send inventory direct to Amazon from China? I guess you save money with intermediate steps but what are the risks and how to you mitigate them?
Manuel thinks  it can all be done cheaper in China. Get them to put FNSKU barcode on inner packaging, prepare cartons according Amazon requirements e.g. size, send them the shipping labels from Amazon seller central and you’re good to go.

If you have more than 20 cartons, the supplier needs to palletise the boxes in China, otherwise Amazon will give you a hard time!  If you have fewer, it’s okay for Floor Loading.

How else can you speed up your supply chain?

Don’t take care of the details yourself. If you have 10-15 products and have customer service, taking photos, etc etc – outsource everything you can to inexpensive VAs.

Focus on growing your business:  

  • New products
  • Optimising listings. 
  • New eCommerce Channels
  • Retail! Go to local store and ask if they want say 50 units.

Tell us more about expanding business – selling to retailers

Manuel actually started own business selling to retailers (through his time in HK) because he just thought Amazon was another eBay. It’s easier to start on Amazon, built a brand, built a reputation for products then reach out to retailers, DIY stores etc etc to sell wholesale.

Any other tips on the best way to approach retailers?

Start locally. Look into smaller importers that set to big brands at an exhibition & approach local distributors. If you can’t go physically go to exhibitions, go to exhibition websites and check then names of companies that exhibit, check them out and email them!

“My name is X, this is my brand, I’m importing direct from China, are you interested in buying?”
  

Are there other ways other than unique products and high quality to protect your brand against competition?

One thing is to have Amazon brand registry. Other than that, be better in terms of quality. Don’t give the competition grounds to attack you – quality, customer service – try to be an awesome company. Even if first few months not highly profitable, eventually it will pay off.

What is your prediction for competition in the next year or two? How do we protect ourselves?
Manuel had 6 enquiries last month in his sourcing company for a product that everyone is selling! Nobody has any imagination, it seems!

Be unique, have expertise in your product and be creative. Yes, competition is increasing but so is the market – Amazon has 51% of the (USA) online sales. There will always be a customer for [good] products. The USA population is about 300 million people!

CONTACT

How can listeners find out more about you or learn more from you?

Go to importdojo.com – there is a contact us page – or email mail@importdojo.com.

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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 away.

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2

#52 Working out UK Import Duty, Using Amazon Inbound Shipping – Q & A Tuesday no. 5

#52 Q and A Tuesday no. 5

Q1 : ANILA: For products coming from China to UK, how do you work out the duty value to put on the boxes to estimate for the taxes? Not a VATable product

MICHAEL:  Basis for duty is Commercial invoice value = Manufacture cost plus freight (if your supplier is handling freight, it will probably be on the same document). AKA Total Landed Cost (TLC). Then put that value into the dutycalculator website. 

Any freight experts here, please feel free to correct and or refine this statement.

If you are using a Freight Forwarder or even just a Customs broker, obviously ask them how it works and check any nuances for your own product.

Q2: BEN: Hi gang! Thanks for your help with my previous question. Here’s another one. I’ll shortly be sending my first delivery to Amazon. I haven’t finished the ‘send/replenish inventory’ section on seller central yet (as I’m not ready to send yet), but when i am, I presume I’ll end up on a page that tells me how to organise delivery with one of Amazon’s preferred carriers?

Otherwise…the Amazon help pages aren’t very helpful in detailing how I actually get my stuff from my house to their warehouse! I understand that amazon’s preferred carriers offer discounts for going to amazon…which I presume I book through seller central, rather than parceforce.com, for example.

MICHAEL:  Yes that’s right. Amazon’s preferred carrier is just the one, UPS. They give Amazon amazing shipping rates. Something like £1 a kg or less. Get a quote at the Post office or from a courier yourself and you’ll realise how cheap they are.

STUART: Unless, I have missed something but my experience of using Amazon’s preffered carrier, UPS, only applies when shipping from within a particular country.

For example, rates are fantastic when shipping from UK to FBA in the UK. However, when shipping from UK to FBA in the US, there are no special rates. I have found using Transglobalexpress to be very competitive, and they use UPS as well as other carriers.

MICHAEL:  Thanks for the hint, Stuart. May I ask why you’re shipping UK to US in the first place? Is it sending stock from UK you already have here in order to test the market for that product in the US?

STUART: That’s correct. I merchant fulfill in UK, and have sent stock to US FBA to test market.

Q. 3 BEN: Guys, I’d be interested in your take on this idea. Especially MICHAEL:  after the last two podcasts… I have heard some stories of people sending off their branding to suppliers to get branded samples, and then when they choose another supplier, the un successful suppliers have gone and made stuff with heir branding and sold it on to other people, or just gone ahead and stuck it on Amazon themselves.

What are your thoughts on getting samples made with ‘test’ branding. e.g. my branding with watermarks over the top. That way I can still see the quality of the printing/branding process and can still see roughly what my branding looks like, but I’m protected…

MICHAEL:  thanks for raising this point. A few thoughts:

yes that is a danger. It does happen.

Firstly, short-term, nobody really cares about your brand yet. So I wouldn’t over worry about it yet.

However, I like your idea in that you are testing the quality of printing but protecting your brand.

For that matter, if all you want to see is the quality of printing, you could use a different brand altogether!

But The only thing I would say is that by doing this, if you decide to go ahead with a supplier, you probably should get another sample done with your actual logo. Which will delay the process.

You could just trust them to do it well and get it done, I guess.

Overall, I’m basically in favour of your approach.

However, I would say this: I’m not sure how much back and forth you’re doing with Suppliers with samples. But it is really important in the PL market now it’s so crowded to move fast when you spot an opportunity in the market.

SO for speed, I would get my 2-3 samples from suppliers upfront without worrying about branding. Just check out the quality of the product. That should take max 7 days from order to having it in your hand.

Then choose a supplier on the back of that.

If you want to then check the quality of the printing of logos etc from your chosen supplier at THAT point, I would then order a proper sample with your real logo. Unless they really mess that up, I’m going to place an order. If there are minor defects, I’ll have them correct it and then send me photos of the corrected sample.

Then get the order placed and in manufacture

Please understand: There is nearly ALWAYS a trade off between speed and quality.

Yes, it’s good to have a professional process in place and yes you should protect your brand (reputation) and IP (Intellectual Property).

However, if it takes you 6 months to get to market with a good, but not amazing product, which is frankly pretty much the same as everyone else’s, the competition will often have killed off the profit in that market.

You’re better off getting your good but not great product to market, learn about the realities of trying to sell, listing optimization, handling Adwords etc etc and get some feedback from customers.

You may then simply choose

  1. to abandon that product, if quality is too low or it’s not profitable OR
  2. you could go back to your supplier and customise the product in response to customer

3, or if quality and sales and profit are all good, just go back and reorder!

Either way, you get MOMENTUM. Do not underestimate the importance of this.

“Money Loves Speed”. Quality, sadly, does not.

An eternal conundrum. My advice (as a perfectionist): “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good”

Good luck .

BEN:

Thanks for the excellent and in depth response – it really is appreciated.

I have decided that this week I’ll be sending a ‘test’ version of my branding to three suppliers for samples. I expect to get them in 7-10 days, and then I’ll trust the best one to go ahead with the first full order using the real branding.

My ‘test’ version is close enough to my ‘real’ version that I’ll know what it looks like from the sample (it’s basically my branding with a ‘test’ watermark over the top, but in such a way that they can’t remove it’.

MICHAEL: Sounds perfect, good process. I like the thinking.

BEN: Only issue now is finding the guy who is going to design my packaging…wink emoticon

MICHAEL:  By the way, don’t assume that the Chinese will care about the watermark. If they spot a product that will sell, they will be interested. Period. Part of doing business in China. Yes protect your IP to a degree, plus make it clear in your paperwork that they are not allowed to use it. But then you’ve done what you can in practice. Then move on!

Also don’t spend much money on design before you know if the products are worth selling.

First check the sample quality before you invest time money or energy in it.

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 away.

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