Want to start selling on Amazon? Where to start?
The standard answer for a few years has been – by plunging straight into private label.
As that’s how I started myself – and eventually succeeded, until recently I taught that myself.
I’m no longer convinced
But after 18 months of mentoring people trying to start selling on amazon, and a year of masterminds mostly focussed on those, I’ve seen the struggles up close. I’ve seen inside too many businesses and too many minds. It’s a hard way to start.
All business has challenges starting. That’s a given. You need a tough mindset. I just happen to think that in late 2017, the old model just isn’t cutting for those who are trying to start selling on Amazon now.
Are you still focussed on Private Label?
Yes I am. I believe private label on Amazon is still a big opportunity. I have many friends making loads more money than me to back that up. It’s not theory.
So I believe that Private label – and even better, developing unique products -works on Amazon.
However, when it comes to how to start selling on Amazon, that’s a different kettle of fish.
I think the irony is that by prematurely plunging into private label, many sellers actually miss out on properly executed private label. How can that be true?
It’s simple really. They blow their budget on the first budget. They bust their confidence in the business model, and indeed in themselves. And then they quit too early – and miss out on $10s or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue per month
I’m not talking about what the overall goal is – rather, it’s about how we GET there!
Also I’m increasingly happy with whatever WORKS rather than being puritanical about business models.
As I’ve talked over the past two years to many Amazon experts, it’s clear from the sharper people (especially the master himself, Will Tjernlund ) that there are several models that can work. And you don’t have to start with private label.
Focus is good and learning a particular set of skills- but so is PROGRESSION:
from simple to advanced; from low-risk to higher risk; from quick wins to projects that take months to come to fruition.
There is a natural progression in terms of risk in the various business models available to ecommerce sellers in general, and ways to start selling on Amazon in particular.
It’s like my old job of piano teaching.
Sure, I can teach little Johnny to seem like an accomplished pianist by teaching him or her three specific pieces and about 10 scales. You get a certificate, you look good, the parents are happy.
Trouble is, he doesn’t know his way round a piano, he can’t read the music, he can’t play by ear, he doesn’t understand what he’s playing or why…in short, he’s not becoming any kind of real musician. Or any kind of real pianist.
He’s aping the real thing. But he’s basically little more than a trained monkey.
Put him in any situation that demands real understanding of music, or real control of a piano, and he is finished.
My experience with Amazon sellers who try to learn how to start selling on Amazon with Private label is remarkably similar.
Indeed, it mirrors my own journey as an Amazon seller myself. And it also mirrors my journey as a piano student/musician to a frighteningly similar degree too.
That’s not surprising. There are a lot of vested interests in trying to “pre-package” business building skills and mindset. Same as there were in pretending you can become a pianist, with 20 minutes’ practice a day and three pieces at a time, with some bullshit “grades” scale.
(By the way, I have 7 years’ higher education in classical music, I’m engaged to a pianist – so this is not the ranting of an amateur. On the contrary. It’s the ranting of an ex-professional).
Both things, I’m afraid, while much better than doing nothing in terms of progressing, are basically based on a totally false premise. The false premise being that you can learn the piano by aping much better pianists’ external results – or by aping the actions of advanced Amazon sellers.
Instead, what I’ve seen overwhelmingly is that all of us entrepreneurs need to develop the right mindset and skills. And those come from experience.
The truth is that there is no substitute for learning overall business strategies and tactics. Nor is a substitute for learning by experience.
You need to learn to understand what you see in the data; to READ the data. You need to learn the landscape of a marketplace. Everyone has to learn how the mechanics of production, freight and amazon work. You need to get familiar with Amazon’s internal processes.
All this takes time and practice. It doesn’t need however to be a painful, high-risk, uncertain gain experience, like that of the big private label approach.
Practice makes you better. Planning for months, selling nothing, then sending half your life savings across the world suddenly…well, that is NOT such a great way to practise becoming a better online seller. Nor to start selling on Amazon specifically.
Am I saying private label is dead then? Is it true that nobody should start a private label business on Amazon? Is private label only for the rich or the super-experienced online maverick?
No, no and no.
That is NOT what I’m saying. I want to be super clear. I think the opportunities to make a ton of cash and have the satisfaction of becoming a real entrepreneur (and mastering a tricky but addictive craft) are very real with private label. And even better with original tweaks to a product.
But both models take serious investment of money, time and energy into each product line.
That is fine, even very important at the right point in your development as an Amazon seller, or as an entrepreneur.
But you don’t have to START learning to mountain climb by training in a gym for 3 months, studying maps and theory incredibly hard, then attempting the Himalayas as your first set of mountains.
Sure it’s been done – I read about exactly that in the news a while ago.
There’s a clue here. It’s news – because it’s the exception to the rule!
You don’t have to START selling on Amazon by scaling a private label mountain either.
Again, yes there are exceptions. Again, we read about them and the buzz goes around. Because it is NEWS. Because -I’m sad to say, after trying this way for so long with newcomers – it’s unusual to succeed that way.
So is this a reason to be depressed and quit?
Maybe – if you are the sort of person who quits easily. In which case, please don’t attempt to become an entrepreneur.
Most people shouldn’t scale the Himalayas and most people probably shouldn’t be entrepreneurs either. And that is absolutely fine.
Most people don’t have the mindset, stamina or sheer hunger of an entrepreneur, and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m not a rugby player – despite being forced to play it (very badly) at school. Yes, I admire good players – but I don’t feel a failure because it doesn’t suit me (my sports teachers at school had a go of course…)
Most people who are a right for a profession build skill, fitness and experience one hill, one mountain at a time. If they get on well, they move to the next natural level.
Business is no different – and Amazon is no different to business. Just because Amazon has built the world’s most amazing traffic and conversion machine shouldn’t blind us to the fact that normal business rules still apply.
The economics and business principles are the usual:
Supply and demand. Risk-reward ratios. Opportunity cost.
The mindset and skills needed are the usual ones too:
The skills of assessing the supply and demand balance in a market; assessing risk vs reward; weighing up opportunity cost (if you go for one opportunity, you tie up the money and time that could go into another);
The mindset of a blend of vision and opportunism; pragmatism with some theory and imagination; discipline with flair and improvisation……and so on…
I personally think anyone wants to have a serious crack at building a business and becoming an entrepreneur has never had such opportunity at their feet. And if you want to go for it, I think you should go for it.
There is no reason for anyone to exclude themselves from becoming an entrepreneur.
But wait – isn’t that against everything I’ve been saying in this post?
I want you to have the maximum chance of success, not to exclude you from the club.
What I am saying is that starting an Amazon business with private label does not maximise your chances of succeeding.
Instead, what you should do is read my next post and consider a much lower-risk way to learn your craft as an Amazon seller!
(Now there’s a cliff-hanger…!)
Thanks for reading.
(By the way – well done for reading to the end. Now there’s a hint that you have some stamina. You’ve passed the first test, oh Jedi. If you’re British, Click here – I think you may have what it takes to join the real business builders.)
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist putting a little teaser at the end too! I’ve got to have fun too, you know…)
Antoni Watts got into the Amazon business after running his own sourcing company in China. Today he’s going to teach us about how to import Chinese products.Read More
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
This is one of the biggest issues with Amazon inventory management. It’s something everyone deals with. Sometimes a product doesn’t as well as you expected. Once again, there is no crystal ball solution.
It might seem obvious, but one thing you can do is to look at it from a marketing perspective. Take a look at what you can do to improve the conversion rate. Can you improve your images or other aspects of your listing? Pay-per-click ads. It’s an investment. It will take time to perfect it. Is there anything else you can do as a last ditch effort to recoup your investment in the stock?
If you have already considered the marketing aspect, you could try a completely different route. You can wholesale it or sell it on a different channel. You’d be surprised how many people will buy lots of inventory on eBay other sites that will help you with that. There are sites that help you with bulk sales. You can work with a service that does flash sales, like touchofmodern.com. They will flash sales household products that are high-quality. If you want to leave it on Amazon, you could lower your price. Even if you take a loss on the sales, at least you’re putting money back into your pocket.
Proper Amazon inventory management is very difficult. You have to think long and hard and it really comes down to a plan. In the case of excess inventory, many sellers just go on a whim. One seller is dealing with excess inventory because they bought 3000 units of a product they’ve never sold before. Their main reason was that they got a good cost on them at 300 units.
The cost isn’t as important on that first order. You’re really trying to prove the product is viable. Then on your second order, you can get the cost right once you know the product will sell. It might be difficult for a first-time seller since your money is tied up but you’re not making much profit. However, you are lowering the risk if the product doesn’t take off.
One tactic that you might consider is ordering small amounts of several different products knowing you are likely to run out. Then you can see which one takes off. This isn’t a great strategy. If you find a good product that takes off, you will jump in the sales rank. Now you have a high ranking product with no inventory. Let’s say it sells out in a week but you have a 45 day lead time. Now you’re going to be out of stock for 45 days unless you can negotiate with your supplier and spend more money to have it expedited.
One issue you might run into is a minimum order quantity (MOQ), where suppliers will require a large order otherwise they won’t accept it. You can try to negotiate with them saying that you will be ordering from them for awhile, but it’s company policy that the initial is smaller.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s just a matter of contacting the brand when you find an ugly looking Amazon listing. It takes 60 seconds to do a Google search to find their contact information and send off an offer. It doesn’t make sense when people say that they’ve been eyeballing a company for two months and can’t decide whether or not to pull the trigger. Just contact them and move on. If there is something that you need to do that is causing you anxiety, just pull the trigger and do it.
Vendor Express is for everyone, anyone can sign up. Vendor Central is invite only. They are basically the same. Instead of sending inventory to Amazon and waiting for it to sell, Amazon will place purchase orders with you. As soon as they place the order and you ship it to them, it’s already sold. For some companies, especially bigger companies, it works better with their cash flow. This way their inventory only leaves their warehouse after they’ve been paid rather than sending off $40,000 worth of inventory and waiting three months to get the money.
Plus, once you’re in Vendor Central, it says your product is shipped and sold by Amazon. You get invited to Amazon marketing services that allows you to put videos in your listing. It allows you to make your listing an A+ listing where you get images in your description.
Some companies have negotiated it down to 30 days, but for the most part Amazon pays you every 60 days. Some of these old-school U.S. vendors still have 60 and 90 day payment terms. So if you can get one of these vendors, you can grow on vendor central forever. You can buy $100,000 worth of product from the distributor, sell it to Amazon for $130,000, then you don’t have to pay the vendor until you get paid from Amazon.
This works well for bigger, established companies that can have unpaid accounts. But if you’re small, not getting paid for 60 days can kill you.
Unlike Seller Central, you can’t edit your images and description whenever you want to. If it’s, something like 90 days old, you have to email them and ask them for permission to edit the listing. It’s annoying that you have to contact them to do stuff, but the plus side is that when you contact them, they are willing to do a lot more. If you’re on Vendor Central, then you’re seen as more of an established company rather than some random seller on Seller Central. They trust you more and that you’re trying to do what’s best for the company rather than trying to find loopholes.
They’ll combine duplicate listings, it’s easier to take down people that are selling bogus stuff. There was one company that had a cheap product for people to retail arbitrage. It had about 30 listings for the same product from all these different sellers. Will went to Amazon, had them combine all of them into one listing. It’s now the #1 listing in its category. It had 3,000+ reviews from all the different listings. Then they went and gated that listing, kicked off all the other sellers, and the company he’s working for is making a lot of money from this product, whereas before, they weren’t making anything.
You can make parent-child a lot easier on Vendor Central, if you have a high ranking product already. Or under one SKU, you can bundle together multiple ASINs. If you’re selling a fishing rod, and the parent-child, comes with different fishing lines. Those are two different ASINs, and they’ll actually combine those in Vendor Central. Whereas on Seller Central, you would be sitting there trying to do giveaways. Or I can take it seriously, wipe out the competition, add all the bestsellers to the number one listing, and really take this thing to the next level.
The one or two unit orders are just going to happen. Especially, if you have a small catalog with only one or two SKUs. If you have 1000 SKUs, then one or two units of each product isn’t that big of a deal. The main issue is price control because you don’t know what Amazon is going to sell at. With a lot of these brands, they want to know they their products are selling at the right price because they don’t want to screw over their brick-and-mortar stores. Whereas Amazon will sell it at whatever price they want, even below cost.
Another big issue Will had with a client, was that there was a hot seller in that category, and then they have Amazon basics, and they had the third best one, and Amazon quit placing purchase orders. They had someone in Vendor Central, and they had their AmazonBasics, they didn’t need another. Now that one listing, they also had on Seller Central. If Amazon doesn’t order it, then it’s not in stock. If it’s not in stock, then it can’t be prime. Then they can’t run PPC. Since it didn’t sell, Amazon wouldn’t order it. It was a vicious circle. To fix it, they had to kick-start it on Seller Central, generate some sales to remind Amazon that it actually does sell.
The best thing is to sign up immediately. Amazon wants a lot of SKUs, they don’t really care about the price. So if you have a catalog of SKUs, like 100, then Amazon will get a lot more excited than if you had just one.
Minimum number of suppliers. Good luck having 50 SKUs, from 50 different suppliers. However, if you have one supplier that has 50 SKUs, then they add 50 more. Will’s brother added a supplier with 10,000 SKUs. He put then on Vendor Central and Amazon order one of each. He sold 10,000 units that day.
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.
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