Buying wholesale from a brand owner is still viable for sure; someone which owns one brand. As far as a wholesaler, that distributes several brands, it depends. They have to make their profit too, and there might not be enough margin to go around. They are also likely to be selling to other Amazon sellers which would cut into your sales.
If you go to Back Country, they would carry the Black Diamond brand, as well as many others. Will wouldn’t buy from them but rather buy directly from Black Diamond.
One of the big reasons Will got into Vendor Central is that he hates launching products. It’s much easier to start with a product that already has 10,000 reviews. His philosophy is not to do something that’s hard just because it’s hard. So many people are worried about building a brand and launching products from scratch. It’s a lot easy to just make money first. Then, when you want a challenge, build your brand.
One recent product launch Will and his team did, was they got ping pong accessories from China. Got them in, slapped labels on them, no real packaging to them. They sent them into Amazon. There was four different types that they bundled in two and four packs. They’ve sold about 357 units in a month in a half and they just got their first review.
They spent $1000 on PPC to make $4000 so their A-cost is about 25% which is about break-even but gets them some traffic. It’s selling about seven units a day at $6 or $7 and he did nothing more than throw it up on Amazon. It’s all because he picked the right niche with the right keywords. He knew he could compete only on price.
If you are trying to go after a product that has 1500 reviews, then you will need 1500 reviews just to compete. What’s your strategy for getting 1500 reviews? If you do 1500 giveaways, that’s not sustainable. If someone wants to sell dog leashes because they love dogs, what can you do with that? You can’t put your love of dogs in the title. You can’t work with that. However, if you want to sell leashes because you see a gap in the market of seeing-eye dog leashes. They’re all 20ft long which makes no sense if the person is blind. It needs to be 4ft long. Great! You found a gap in the market. You found a specific keyword. There is a way to differentiate yourself and add value. Also, you didn’t need to do some crazy manufacturing. Just make a shorter leash.
No. No one really has that app on their phone. A lot of people will go out of their way to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart. Just Google “people of Wal-Mart”. There is a negative stigma. Much like eBay. Will they take a portion of the market? Yeah, but they won’t be a major competitor. People like the simple Amazon experience. Plus, if you’re going to buy something from walmart.com, why not just drive down the road and get it right now? The only real benefit Will sees from walmart.com is that if your product does well on their website, they might try to sell it in the stores and then you’ll be able to sell it in all the big-box stores.
Will was recently talking with a hedge-fund manager that owns a part of eBay who said that eBay looks good compared to other retailers. Who are the competitors? Macy’s who’s closing thousands of stores. Sears who is closing thousands of stores. Of course their going to look good in comparison when the competition is about to go bankrupt. They may grow 3.5% year after year, but the S&P average was 18%. 3% isn’t that cool. The numbers of people that get online in America grows at 3%. So eBay is growing at the rate of the internet and slower than GDP.
You will want to find a product in a category that Amazon isn’t sourcing and selling already. Then they will want to get their hands on it. Plus, if you have sales history on top of that, Amazon will love it. If you find that Amazon isn’t selling in climbing ropes, but they are selling 9 of the 10 dog leashes, then they’re not too excited to get anymore dog leases. Buying wholesale is a good way to start this.
It really depends on a lot of factors. It depends on how much cash flow you have, what kind of distributor you have, what the competition is like. Let’s say you have one Chinese supplier that you buy iPhone cases from. They’re the only ones that are waterproof and you buy 10,000 at a time and you have $100,000 in the bank. From they, maybe you build momentum in Seller Central, then move it to Vendor Central so they see the momentum. In Seller Central, you might be ranked in the thousands for iPhone cases, but in Vendor Central you might be rank 1 for waterproof cases.
There is a company in Hong Kong that does Vendor Central so they don’t have to pay taxes in each state whenever they sell in Seller Central. There is all sorts of different scenarios that will affect the decision. Amazon pays for inbound shipping when they order from you in Vendor Central. So if you have a large product that is expensive to ship, you can save a lot of money by using Vendor Central.
So 2017, third-party sales will still grow from 2016. However, at the same time, Amazon will condense. If you look at their earnings report, the number of items offered for sale has gone down; the number of items fulfilled have gone up. Amazon is clearing up a lot of junk sellers. You have people like Will going through and condensing their listings. Once they get rid of the riff-raff, it’ll be much more simple, and you can tell who the private labelers are that care, and who’s selling junk. Eventually, the junk ones will phase out. The sales of third-party sellers will go up, but the amount of third-party sellers and third-party products may fall over time. So, by the time 2018 rolls around, everyone will try to find a way to differentiate themselves because the third-party selling will become a thing of the past.
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.
Just over 3 years ago, Coran and his wife left Australia and their corporate jobs and began traveling. They had online businesses at the time and soon began buying and selling websites to fund their traveling. He liked the process of building a company to sell it rather than building to for the income. He struggled to keep his attention on one thing.
For this interview Coran create a package of tools for Amazing FBA listeners at http://thefbabroker.com/amazing. So do check that out.
About a year ago he got into the brokerage side of things after people began asking him to review and vet websites that were for sale and help negotiate the sales. As of about a month ago he has been dealing exclusively with FBA businesses.
Most people do this backwards. They build up a business and it’s making money and then they decide they want to sell it. Maybe they want to focus on something else, maybe they want to cash out and pay off the investment. That’s a terrible time to sell. Odds are, you won’t be structured in a way that is attractive to sellers. The first thing you need to think about is who you are going to sell to and what they are looking for.
Let’s say you have a private label business that’s been operation for an year and half to two years. So you have a bit of history and you beginning to think about exiting. Reasons that Coran decided to sell his companies were that he might need the cash flow for something else or he was getting bored with the business.
Coran breaks Amazon businesses down into three types, retail arbitrage/wholesaling, private label, and unique or proprietary.
For retail arbitrage/wholesaling, unless you have exclusive rights to selling on Amazon, the chances of your income being taken away is very high. What an investor is looking for is a return on investment. They will pay a certain multiple for a business with the intention of getting that money back first. So with wholesaling, for almost all cases, your only asset is your inventory, so if you lose your means of selling it, you’re just stuck with a load of stock.
Private label is the most popular way to sell on Amazon. There is a barrier of entry so your products have a shelf life of 6-12 months. That means that if you have one product that you haven’t differentiated, you just stuck your label on a product and built the brand, it’s not super defensible. So it will sell at a lower multiple. You can definitely sell these companies, you just have to put a little work into it.
Unique or proprietary products are much more defensible. You may have taken negative comments on your products and tweaked them. So you might have a unique mold or something that makes your product unique, that will sell at a higher multiple. The more you can make a private label product better or unique, the better it will be when it comes time to sell.
For example, Greg Mercer at Jungle Scout ran a case study where he made his chop sticks a little longer. While not super defensible, it is unique, and if you build your brand around that it sets you up in a better position.
There is a debate among brokers as to what the minimum amount of time is. For Coran, a year is still young. You certainly want 12 months of history. There are a few reasons for this. One, you want to see if there is any seasonality involved. An investor wants to work out their return on the longest history possible. There is also something to be said for a product that takes time to gain traction. Seems a bit counter-intuitive but an investor will look at a product and think, “What’s to stop me from doing this myself?”, so a product that takes time to get established show the investor that this company is worth buying because it will take that much more time to get it going if he/she wanted to start from scratch.
Most importantly, when it come to age of a company, you want the company to be established. For online companies, that typically means 3 years. Compared to offline, like brick and mortar businesses, 10 years is a long time.
Even if you’re not thinking of selling your company soon, now is the time to start preparing for it. A year, year and a half out, you want to make sure your products are defensible and that you have products that will add value to your company when it comes time to sell.
Coran is working on two businesses, trying to get them ready to be listed. One business is completely private labeled, very little in the way of differentiation. It’s just brand. He has 20 products. That business is attractive because of the wide range of products. Out of the 20 products, most of the income comes from three products. It is all on Amazon and bringing in a million in sales a year.
The other company has only one product that is unique. It’s is their own formulation and their own brand. 70% of their income is coming from Amazon. They also sell on Amazon US and Amazon UK. 30% of their income is coming from their Shopify store. So they have several layers of defensibility.
The gold standard, according to Coran, is a third company he is working with. They have 10+ uniquely formulated products. Multiple sales channel. 70% through their e-commerce channel, 30% on Amazon.
The less reliant you are on one thing, the better. Multiple products, multiple sales channels, multiple traffic sources. So if you have a private label and don’t want to focus on unique products, focus on finding sales channels outside Amazon. That way, if one thing takes a hit you have hedged your bets.
You need to look at it from an investors perspective, they are looking for a return on investment (ROI). Their in for $1,000,000 and their making $200,000 a year on it, that’s the ROI. They way we value Amazon businesses is net profit. The best way to look at this is: what is your annual net profit. If your business has been around a year and making decent profit, that’s not as attractive to these kinds of buyers. The important thing to consider I: what is your profit right now? When working with clients, Coran finds that most people over-estimate their profits. Oftentimes it’s as much as half of what they thought it was once they put in their numbers. If you want to find out what your business is worth, use Coran’s tool for that.
The longer your business has been around, the better
The more profit you’re bringing in, the more attractive your business will be
Diversified traffic sources
The strong the competition, the more wary investors will be
Profit and Loss Template – Use this spreadsheet to help determine how much money your are actually making.
It starts with your total sales and revenue. From there it takes out the cost of sales. This is your Amazon fees, packaging, shipping, etc. All the costs associated with selling that item. Then it takes your operational costs out. The is refunds, ads, web hosting, salaries and other drawings, etc. All the costs that are associated with running your business. In the end you’re left with your net revenue.
In regards to salaries and other drawing from your business, when it comes to selling the business you can add that back into your profits. The reason is that your investor might not want to draw anything from the business. So you want to present them with the profits including what you are drawing from it. Then they can decide what they want from it. If they are looking for an income, they can look at the net revenue and determine how much they can draw. If they are looking for growth, they might want to leave everything in and use that to grow the company.
If you don’t add back your salary, it makes it much more difficult for them to find it. You want to make it as easy as possible for your buyer.
Today we are continuing with our giving-up list. What are you going to give up in 2017? Before you start doing something, you need to stop doing something else. You must free up your time, money, and mental focus. Today we will be discussing sponsored ads, or Amazon ads. Amazon calls them sponsored ads. Broadly speaking, they are one of a few ways you can that drive traffic that is moderately guaranteed to work.
If you have a product with terrible conversion rates and a decent amount of reviews and that’s not shifting over time, and you’re driving traffic with pay-per-click, then you have a problem with your product or listing. But if you have decent sales and the conversion rate isn’t terrible, not below 10%, then what is going to determine your profit will be the balance between the sales price and the cost of goods sold. A big percentage of that is your Amazon ads.
If you increase your price you could negatively affect your sales, however, if you reduce your cost, by reducing money spent on Amazon ads, then you will increase your profit while maintaining your sales. Which is obviously a big win for you.
It is very important to use negative keywords if you’re using auto-campaign. I always suggest using auto-campaign to start with because you can gather a lot of data and tune the algorithm to your listing. But after a while (say 1-2 weeks usually) you shouldn’t be spending a large bid-per-click on that.
Go through your search term report, and anything you’re spending a lot of money on, that doesn’t bring you sales, is something you want to put in negative keywords fairly soon.
How soon? Well, if you are really serious about your products, you have signs of good success on your hands, and deep pockets, you might want to run a loss on that campaign for a rather long time in order to gather data.
If you have 50 clicks on a keyword and no sales, that pretty certain that it’s not working. You’ll want to make sure that’s a negative match keyword. However, to get 50 clicks, you likely spent a lot of money and you might want to have a cutoff at 5, 10, or 20 clicks.
The next thing you want to look at is the keywords that are making sales. These are probably going to be a small percentage of all the keywords you’re using. Over time, you’ll start gathering your long-tail keywords, but starting out, it’ll likely be around 10-15. That all depends on how much you’re willing to spend before you make sales.
Unless you want to be really harsh, after two to three weeks you’ll have your 10-15 keywords that are making you sales. You’ll want to look at those and reduce the bids on those which are costing you too high of advertising cost of sales.
One caveat, don’t allow advertising costs of sales to be your main guiding point. When you launching products, you’ll be raising your prices over time. For example, if you’re spending $10 on advertising on a product you’re selling for $10. That’s 100% ACoS (Advertising Cost of Sales). Over time, you might raise the price to $15 which change that ACoS dramatically. So I wouldn’t recommend using that as a metric. It can be misleading until you land at a stable price.
What I would recommend looking at is the overall spend on advertising divided by the overall sales. A very simple, robust metric that you should monitor weekly at least.
This isn’t something Amazon will give you because they want you to spend money on advertising.
It’s very simple to calculate. Get the same time period for both; you can get your advertising costs from the seller central “Advertising” tab, and you add up how much you spent. Then you go back to your business reports, and add up the sales you made in the same exact period period. Then just take your advertising costs and divide them by your sales.
The main thing is that it’s not about the advertising cost of sales, it about profit. If my profit margin on an item, before advertising, is $3, then I can spend $3 on advertising before it becomes a loss.
Another thing to consider, is that, if you have a decent selling product, you may be willing to run at 100% ACoS. That is, you’re running a loss on those sales from ads. You will still rank organically because of the ads, and you can make your money from organic sales.
I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not being aggressive and really looking to grow your sales volume. I prefer to keep my ACoS where it is break-even. Let’s say I am selling a widget for $10, and my total cost before Amazon ads, including Amazon fees and fulfillment costs etc, is $7. That means, before ads, my profit margin is $3. I would not want to spend more than $3 per sale averaged over all my ads. That means that all sales gained via Amazon Ads are at breakeven or better, and that all organic sales represent profit.
I know this is complicated and it’s not really meant to be an instruction guide for pay-per-click ads. If it’s the sort of thing you need help with and you want to get in touch with me, I do offer a one-off call with you through Clarity FM. It’s $2/minute so it’s an expensive way of working with me. You’d be better off joining my mentorship program if you want ongoing help. Although I’m pretty strict about who I work with, I do have room for one or two more people. If you’re interested, still apply, and don’t assume I won’t work with you. Just read the guidelines and FAQs first though.
Another, inexpensive, way to work with me, as well of several others, is to become a part of the mastermind group. The London mastermind is in full swing and we’ve had meetups with about 6-10 people, which is perfect. We have dates set from January to June if you’re interested in working with me and up to 10 other people.
One last word on pay-per-click, I am trying out some software called PPC Entourage which they claim will help you manage your pay-per-click very quickly and easily. I haven’t had a chance to really dive into it but I will give it a test run and report back to you. If you want to try it, you can get a copy at http://ppcentourage.com/.
Need more personalised input on issues like this? Live in the UK in or near the South-East? You might want to consider joining us for monthly meetings where we can thrash out all the issues like this one for YOUR business. Check it out here.
This 2nd way of increasing sales is so neglected, you can get ahead simply by implementing anything in this area!
The simple idea is to increase the AOV=Average Order Value.
It can be more difficult to implement on Amazon than just getting new customers but is potentially much more profitable.
If someone usually buys a $10 widget at 50% margin, you get $5 profit per sale. If you usually sell say 10 orders of 1 $10 widget a day, your profit per month=$5X10X30=$1500
If you can increase the AOV by say just $1, you would end up with $11X50%X10X30 profit=$1650. $150 extra ie 10% extra.
Multiply such effects across several products and it can add to your bottom line quickly.
The simplest way to increase your AOV is simply to increase price! But you have to weigh up against conversion rate changes etc. to see whether that increases or decreases your price.
Another way is to bundle together products physically eg a 3-pack, 4-pack, 6-pack etc etc. Easy and very very easy to sell on Amazon.
Another way that is even easier is to offer a discount via a promotion code. Eg BOGOF (Buy One, Get One Free) or buy 3, get 10% etc etc.
If you set things up wrongly, you’ll make less profit, not more, so know your numbers going into this! Done right, this is a simple way to edge up your profit margin.
A harder way but possible on Amazon, is to do cross-sells eg “this is also bought with X” (spatula with slotted spoon for example). It’s possible to influence this again using promo codes – you can offer a 25% discount off a slotted spoon, for example, when you buy a silicone spatula etc.
Another way that is hard to do on Amazon but possible, is to upsell eg from a $5 spatula to a $25 frying pan. Same kinds of methods.
Increasingly, we are looking at strategies that will work best when you have control – in other words, you start to build your own email lists (and other assets like social media subscribers/followers etc.).
There is one more basic way to increase sales that is used least of all by Amazon sellers but could be the most powerful of all…read on…to the next episode…
To find out more about the Amazing FBA London Mastermind mentioned in the episode, click here
Mannan Shah, the senior account manager – 6 years’ experience as Trader/dealer
What 3-5 factors are most important to consider to help predict future relationships between currencies?
The main determination for currency movement is the key interest rate for that particular country. For the US, if the Federal Reserve says there will be a major hike in interest rate by December 2016, it will struggle against other currencies. The expectation of the interest rate is the main factor.
The second thing is economic outlook and future growth expectation in that particular country. The US regularly release a jobs report that will give you insight into where the economy is heading. Manufacturing, retail sales, and inflation can weight a lot on the currency movement.
The third thing is political balance and uncertainty in that particular country. The GBP has dropped 28% since Brexit. Even though the UK is still currently within the EU, the uncertainty of the situation has had an effect. In the next couple days, the US election will play a major role in the deciding the USD movement as well.
What particular 2-3 factors are you looking at to help you predict the Pound to USD relationship over the next two months (Nov/Dec 2016)?
The biggest factor will be the election. Donald Trump is causing major volatility in the stock market. Depending on how the elections turnout 8 November, we could see a lot of volatility. In Mannan’s opinion, if Donald Trump gets elected, we could see the sterling spike to upwards of £1.30 per dollar overnight because Trump himself, is unpredictable.
Another factor that could affect it would be that in December 2016, the Fed plans to raise interest rates. According the Mannan, the election will determine what the Fed will do in December.
The euro and the dollar relationship is quite important for UK sellers since they often sell in Euro to the rest of the Eurozone but buy their products in dollars from Chinese suppliers. What’s your prediction on the future of the Euro vs. the dollar?
The euro and the dollar have been trading in a tight range for about a year and a half. It has been trading between €1.08 and €1.14 range. Going forward, he doesn’t see that changing much. The main expectation is on the US side now; looking into 2017 and seeing what the Fed does. Recently, the euro dipped to €1.08 but has bounced back to €1.11. If the Fed decides to raise rates in 2017, we could see the euro drop to €1.05 and possible €1.03 for every dollar.
The euro will remain much more stable against the dollar than the sterling because of Brexit. Brexit will continue to drag the value down for another year or two if not more, as everyone waits to see what deals the UK makes with other countries once they are out of the EU in 2019 or whenever that happens.
When you have speculation in the news all the time, that reflects in the currency markets with volatility so the rates keep shifting. Is that correct?
Yeah. Generally, the way the currency market moves, it looks for what is coming next rather that what has already happened. What is usually on Bloomberg or other news sources is what has already happened. So the big article will be that the Fed says this, but the market has already moved based on expectation. If the outcome isn’t what the market expected and there is a big shock, then the market moves dramatically. Much like what we had when the Brexit vote came in. Just before the results were announced, it was believed that the people would vote to remain in the EU, but 4 hours later the market dropped 1100 points.
To sum that up, if something is expected, that has already been priced into the market. It’s the unexpected events that causes weird volatility. For example, if the markets expect the UK to leave the EU with almost no rights to access it, such as no passports for the city of London, and so forth, then that will already be priced into the currency exchange. But if May comes out of the meeting and actually, the EU will be generous to Britain, and they have done something special, you could see the pound suddenly get much stronger.
Exactly, as long as the expected happens, you won’t see much movement. For example, in the US election, Clinton is expected to win. If Trump comes out as the winner, that would be a shock to the market and you might see the S&P drop 5-7%.
What can we, as small businesses, do to help mitigate those risks in a practical sort of way over the next couple months? Taking into account the US elections, Federal interest rates, and the UK politics surrounding Brexit.
Take advantage of forward contracts to lock in currents exchange rates and avoid any uncertainty. If your feel that your margins are good enough, you can make sure that, regardless of what happens, you will have that same rate. Then you can work your pricing on the product.
Can you share your best practices?
The first thing you should do is get yourself set up with a free e-tailer collection account. This will help avoid expensive conversion costs.
When you are buying stock from your suppliers, don’t use banks for supplier payments, use Currencies Direct. This will save you money on currency exchange, which lowers your cost and improves your margin. Not only do banks tend to hit you with extra charges, they sometimes take three or four days to send currency whereas currency exchange specialists will generally send it within 24-48 hours.
Take advantage of your account manager. They can help you set up forward contracts if needed, as well as contact you if there is a notable movement in exchange rates and you can set up notifications so that you are always up to date with what’s going on.
Is now a good or a bad time for UK sellers to be targeting the USA?
Now is the best time to start targeting the USA. Exchange rates haven’t been this low in 30 years. Since the GBP is weakening against the USD, that means you get more pounds per dollar, and you have to sell less to make the same amount. Many of Oriana’s clients are acting quickly trying to capitalize on the lower exchange rate.
Let’s say I have £4,000, or about $5,000 and I want to start an Amazon business. I will be selling in the US with USD, and buy product from Chinese suppliers in USD. Is that a good situation to be in, considering the state of things?
Yes. You’ll be making more money in the US, but might be losing a bit buying in China. It will balance each other out, and the account managers at Currencies Direct can help mitigate some loss and offer guidance.
Oriana Marcolongo is the ecommerce partner manager at Currencies Direct. Currencies Direct are Currencies Specialists and Oriana is very experienced at explaining the the technical side of this area via webinars etc to ordinary business people.
Why do we need to think about Currency as small business owners?
Cross-border trade is the norm now, so small business owners do need to think about currency. If you look at the business cycle, there are three key stages where it has an impact.
The first stage is that it affects the price of buying stock from overseas which will determine the cost to the business. The second part is when you’re selling products. The foreign exchange rate will determine the margin you get from your sales. Thirdly is when you need to convert those profits back into your home currency.
Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to tight margins and can mitigate the FX risk by using a currency specialist like Currencies Direct
At what point should a company start looking at FX when considering to trade overseas?
Oriana sees this as two key areas where a company should look at this.
One is at the strategic level. Business need to decide which markets they want to sell into, and currency’s a factor. So if a market is weak, they might pause selling into that market for a while or decide to look at other markets that will be more lucrative for them.
The other is at a tactical level. Companies need to consider currency from the planning stage. If they’re trading and source stock again, the FX cost will drive the cost of the products, and directly affect the profitability. If they are selling solely in foreign currency, then the cost of converting the sales could be a concern as well as the change in revenues due to the moving exchange rates.
Since Brexit, sellers in the UK have lost buying power in China since the GBP has lost quite a bit of value to the USD. Before Brexit, £1 would get about $1.48. Immediately after the vote, it would only get about $1.33. Recently, every £1 we exchange gets us just $1.22. Now, when we go back to the supplier to re-stock, it going to cost us a lot more.
Can you give me any tips on reducing my foreign exchange fees in the global marketplace? I want to expand my business internationally, but we are worried about the cost of foreign exchange.
To give everyone a bit of silver-lining, when you sell in the US, you will be making more money back.
In terms of foreign exchange fees in global marketplaces, when you sell internationally, you need to bring your money back; there is a conversion cost. Using a Currencies Direct collection account, you can cut your exchange fees in half. It works especially well if you’re selling into the Eurozone, US, or the UK. It’s free to setup and account and you can be up and running in 48 hours.
Currencies Direct will assist you in getting the profits you earn in foreign market, back into your home currency. So if you’re selling in the US, they will help you get it back into GBP.
Is it possible for me to pay suppliers through Currencies Direct? If I’m selling in the US, and I want bring the dollars back to the UK as dollars, that way I can pay my suppliers in USD and stay in the dollar economy.
If you want to pay your suppliers through your collection account, the money will first have to go back into your bank account before they can be passed onto other suppliers. Their account managers can help you with this to make the process quick and efficient. You can pay suppliers directly through Currencies Direct, or you can do that through your own bank account.
How can we maximise US dollar sales when repatriating them to the UK?
There is a cost with repatriation which will affect your entire sales turnover. So in order to maximise you USD sales, they recommend setting up a collection account, which will save you money. On Amazon, you will be looking at around a 4% conversion rate, they are about half that. If you’re trading £100,000 and saving 2%, that’s a substantial amount.
I’ve noticed lately, that with the uncertainty of the pound, it can fluctuate substantially in a short period of time. What are the main tools to help protect your profits from foreign exchange movements?
There are simple tools that will help you with this. One of them is called a forward contract. This enable you to fix exchange rates you see today, for use later on. If you see that the dollar rate is really low, you can contact your account manager and buy a lot of dollars today and use them by the end of January.
How do forward contracts work? We’re placing an order for about £5,000, about $6,000 at the moment. We’ve split it, like you normally would, 30% down payment and 70% after the production period. In this example, if you wanted to lock down the exchange rate for the whole deal, how would you go about doing that?
There are three elements to a forward contract: the amount, the rate, and the time. For this, you would call your account manager. Tell them that you want to lock in the rate of, whatever it is today, 1.22, for example, and purchase $50,000, or for our example, $6,000, and that you finish the payments by the end of the month. They may ask you to put down a small deposit today to secure that rate. Then you would need to make the final payment at the end
To give an example of that looking at pre-Brexit. Let’s say you placed an order with them on 1 June for €10,000 and you wanted to use them by 10 August. The rate had dropped massively by that point. If you had waited, the products cost would have gone up by about 15%. By securing the rate pre-Brexit, you would have saved significant capital.
Is the contract between me and Currencies Direct, or the person I am ultimately getting the money to, i.e. the Chinese supplier?
The contract is with Currencies Direct, not with your supplier.
Then, in theory, I could exchange £10,000 to $12,000, or whatever it is, until July of next year, and effectively keep that money on hold, and when I exchange it, it will be at that price. Is that how it works?
Yeah. You will pre-agree with your account manager what the time-scale will be and how/when you’re going to pay it. As long as you have the rate, the amount, and the final date secured. However, you may not want to hang on to it that long.
Let’s say I wanted to exchange $50,000 at the current exchange rate, say 1.22, and I wanted it to go until the end of January, would that enable me to send it to any Chinese supplier that I want, assuming I’m paying them in USD?
As long as it goes back into your bank account, your account manager can work with you to get that done. That is one of the benefits of working with Currencies Direct, you have a dedicated account manager that will walk you through any process so you’re not alone at any stage. There are a lot of compliance issues that their account managers are experts in, that can save you quite a bit of hassle and legal issues.
Are they worth using for small orders, say a few thousand pounds or a few thousand dollars?
Realistically, it’s not worth doing for less that $25,000, but there is no reason why you can’t. Your account manager can give you some guidance.
Kevin King part 3 of 3 show notes
What’s working best in your business now?
Kevin encourages people to focus on Amazon. It is the biggest platform for online shopping and if you focus on maximizing on Amazon first, it will pay off. People are already there with their credit cards out wanting to buy. Since Amazon is always changing things, you need to keep tweaking your listings to keep up with the changes. You can’t just post your products, sit back, and watch the money roll in. It doesn’t work like that.
Once you maximize on Amazon, what do you do to expand off Amazon?
Kevin is working on getting into some big-box retailers as well has having his own Shopify site. Kevin has also found success using JoeLister. Using this tool is Amazon items are automatically submitted to eBay. Any sales from eBay are sent to Amazon for shipping and sends the customer the tracking number. It’s all automated. It does a relatively small amount of sales, roughly $1000-2000 a month. However, since it is all automated he doesn’t require any additional time and effort to get those sales. It’s free for the first couple listings and after that it’s only $29 a month.
He also has his own branded site to go along with his Shopify site to add legitimacy to his brand. That way if first-time buyers try to look him up they will see that his are valid products. However, these are just tools that support his Amazon business. Again, the main focus should be Amazon.
Another great tool is Amazon Assistant for Firefox. This is a plug-in for Firefox that allows you to download your reviews from Amazon as well as the video reviews. He then takes those videos and puts them on his YouTube channel and links those back to the product listing.
Kevin has found that Amazon is a great way to refine and improve your products for another stage. He is looking into getting into big-box stores like Sears or Wal-Mart and has been taking feedback from his Amazon customers to make sure his products are at the highest level. The last thing you would want is to get into a big store like Wal-Mart and have a low quality product. You are going to have a lot of returns and the stores aren’t going to want to carry your products anymore. So use the feedback you get from Amazon and tweak and improve your products.
His long-term goals is to create a strong brand in these big-box stores so that he is covered if something happens with Amazon. If you’re looking to make this a full-time job then at some point you will need to expand beyond Amazon because at anytime Amazon could decide to unlist you. Therefore, in order to survive elsewhere, it is important to build a strong brand. Kevin is looking to take his brand to $10 million a year by the end of 2018 and he is well on his way to reaching that goal.
Kevin explained that he doesn’t want to have a huge business with a lot of employees. He tries to take care of as much as he can by himself because bringing on other people will really eat into his bottom-line. So he isn’t a big fan of outsourcing too early. However, many people don’t have the same background and might need help with shipping and freight and will need to rely on outside help.
Kevin is also looking to expand his business into the UK. Once he gets his VAT number he will be ready to test the waters in Europe. Europeans have very similar cultures to that of the US and are just as willing to spend money. The UK has the highest ratio of online shopping to income in the world. That means that they spend more of their money online than anyone else. Plus there are 60-70 million people buying that have similar cultures and buy similar products, so the UK is a great opportunity for expansion.
A big advantage to selling in the UK is that it will be much easier to expand into other parts of Europe. Customers in, let’s say France or Germany, will have the opportunity to have their products shipped from the UK. When his sales reach a certain point, he will have to open accounts in each of these countries, but until that point he can base it all out of the UK.
A word of warning is that you need to make sure that your products can have a high enough margins because your costs may be higher when selling in other countries due to regulation cost, but more importantly, currency exchange rates. For Kevin, he will be buying everything in USD, but selling them in the UK with GBP. If he has a slow moving product and ships 1000 units, it may take him a year to sell through them. In the meantime the pound gets stronger against the dollar and now he’s losing money. For UK sellers, certain political events are having an effect on pricing, e.g. the Brexit.
What can listeners do if they want to get a hold of you, or find out more about you?
Kevin has considered consulting but doesn’t feel strongly about continuing that. He recently offered a free 15 minutes session and got about 30-40 hits on it from all over the world. Over a few days he worked with each of them, looked over their listings and helped them improve. He quickly realized that you can’t do both. You can’t do consulting as well as selling. For Kevin, consulting isn’t scalable. He can’t make money while sleeping unless he makes a course. At the rate Amazon is changing the course will quickly go out of date so he will focus on that. He is considering starting a mastermind group in the future where people can come in for a four hour session but that would be it.
Other than that you can find him on several of the American Amazon FBA groups on Facebook or just look him up on Facebook, Kevin King in Austin, Texas.
What do you see coming in 2016 and 2017 in the future of Amazon?
Do you have any final words for Amazon sellers?
If you are willing to work hard, put in the time and dedication, and have a little money to play with, you will succeed. Just stay positive. take your failures as they come; learn from them and get better.
**WARNING: Contains a bit of swearing & A Lot of Truth!**
How did you come to be selling on Amazon?
Entrepreneur since age 4 when resold bubble gum to friends! Not had a job as an employee since age 17. Direct marketing background not SEO. Sells calendars directly to consumers, also wholesale.
Been selling on Amazon since late 1990s – e.g. old CDs, DVDs etc.
Also in calendar business signed up for Amazon Advantage – media only e.g. CDs, DVDs
In Q4 gets purchase orders. Start of season 3-4 a week; end of season say 1000 a week.
That alone pulls in six figures – and everything else on top of Amazon orders is 100% profit.
So Kevin has seen the power of Amazon grow.
2 years ago he looked into the PL model but didn’t jump on it, which he regrets.
Started doing it May last year – doing some Retail Arbitrage – see how shipping and systems work. He realised RA is too much work and not scaleable. Race to the bottom.
Why do PL?
Calendars are seasonal. He had pay-per-view TV revenue stream but the internet had killed that off. Plus Kevin’s Background matched all the skills needed, including:
developing packaging, product development, online marketing -plus sourcing from China and Korea. So he went for it.
Kevin’s philosophy is to prove a product on Amazon then take them into retail on other channels.
Amazon is the bulk of his revenue. This is problematic long term because they could in theory shut your account down or suspend your best selling product at any point.
Recent example: Amazon wrote to Kevin saying they’re suspending his best selling product because of an image violation. They didn’t even tell Kevin what the violation was!
Kevin worked out it could be cartoons or extra elements in the images that he had put in. So he was able to deal with the issue. But it was a reminder that you’re vulnerable to some robots or some employee doing things by the book.
Where would you get started as a newbie with Product Selection?
How much money do you need to start in Amazon PL?
Product selection depends on how much money you have to start with.
Even Scott Voelker and other people say unrealistic things about how much you need to start. Kevin says you need a lot of money. There are stories of someone who started with $300 and made a lot of money. Some of the stories are untrue, some are true. But what’s missing: five days later that person took a loan from the uncle for $10,000 & 10 days later put $20,000 on the credit card. etc.
It paints a false picture. Some people get lucky, but it’s very rare. It takes a lot of work and a lot of money. If you just want a bit of extra holiday money you could do one of two products. But to make a living demands serious money, determination and hard work. Even Kevin didn’t realise how much money it takes even with his product.
Do you believe in staying in one Amazon category and building a brand? Or do you pick each product on its own merits/just follow the numbers?
In Kevin’s case, he started five brands because he came from a product background so he was a aware one might not work. So he wanted to increase odds of success.
Launching second product won’t double sales unless it’s just an add-on or extremely complementary. So he’s not so worried about potential complementary sales.
However, if you can, do get them. An example is that Kevin started in the makeup category. The problem was massive competition because it was easy to get into. Now for example he sells makeup tools instead of makeup itself, and many of those are complementary [cross sales potential].
How do you go about picking products? If you had $5000 to start out but potentially use credit card later?
If it’s capital intensive, what’s your approach to finance?
Kevin will make use of available credits. For example at bankrate.com you can get find credit cards listed. Like City and Chase which will give you know percent balance transfer and also wash purchases for about 15 months
If you have good credit and some good history, there’re other places like a deal struck on deck etc. If you have a pro seller account for a year and the metrics look good, Amazon will offer you a decent rate on loans as well.
How do you differentiate your products on the competition?
In some cases, Kevin sources products that are straight up private label from Ali Baba. But he makes a few changes. Every product has retail packaging.
A lot of people will take the brown box that is given by manufacturer, but customers care about the look of packaging.
Kevin doesn’t do an initial order under 1000 units – if he doesn’t have confidence in the product he won’t buy it. He believes he can sell out over time if it was a dud product. It may take a year and tie up cash but you can sell anything on Amazon in time. So the risk is not that great.
Kevin picked his first product in May 2015 it took two months to get products out but that was okay because he used for long photo shoots and made a really beautiful products and packaging.
Three Product Examples.
Example 1: Product for dogs, just wanted to do it, the research tool said no but Kevin wants to do it anyway. It’s doing well because it’s a great positioning and marketing.
He went to www.upwork.com for CAD design in Argentina which he had sketched on paper.
He went to one factory that messed it up; 2nd factory however made new moulds.
Kevin rarely has a hijacker because they are original. The only time that ever happens to him is when you sell the products for $0.99 to people who have accounts on review groups. So they probably have 10 accounts and they basically use it today bit of retail arbitrage..
Example 2: Kevin spent $30,000 dollars on creating a mould and tooling. But where the best seller is selling a product for $10, Kevin is doing it for $100. BSR doesn’t matter to Kevin for that reason.
The competitor is making only $1 a sale, Kevin is making $20-$30. Because Kevin has differentiation against the high end to compete, BSR does not matter to him, also at the high end of product quality and price there is less competition.
Example 3: Kevin recently launched another product in the dog space. He did use tools like: ASIN Inspector, Jungle Scout, other tools including Merchant Words and UberSuggest. However, all these tools are just guesses. The only numbers you can totally trust are Amazon ads results.
Again, most of the competition were playing at the low end. They were the equivalent of McDonald’s, whereas he wanted to create a product that was equivalent of the best steak house in town/French chef. It’s a smaller market but enough to make it work. They were using cheap packaging, where is Kevin created a kind of cigar box type packaging.
Kevin’s product is twice as expensive as the main competition, and has half the number of products e.g. five treats instead of 20. On Friday it was put up with no promotion. He had 3 sales with no reviews. He started PPC (one sale) but it is already selling at a high price point without it.
Differentiation and going for the High End
Kevin makes sure to be different and go for the high end of the market [less crowded/more profit].
Kevin may sometimes go to Alibaba and source an existing product. However he will add pieces to it change things so it is different.That might be thought of as bundling, but Kevin things it’s bigger than that. It is about changing things so it is different from the existing products.
He does not go into the model of getting it in fast and then get it shipped. He is in for the long haul, not “get rich quick”. People preach that model but Kevin doesn’t buy that.
Differentiation and building a brand is an end to end process. It is no good skimping on the product or if you have issues, even if the packaging is good, it will still go wrong!
Building on email list from your Amazon customers
If you use a manage by stats, they will take your Amazon customer’s postal address is match them up email addresses. This is not perfect, but 30 to 40% should match up.
Testing your market and their views on products
Kevin recently send out an email to 100 people on his email list. He had 20 responses and he email he sent out 20 units from his competitors, In plain packaging.
He got great feedback on the pros and cons of different models. He also got the sales copy for his bullet and title. And he knew what was a good product.
Those who raved, he went back to and asked them for reviews. He had up a dead listing for the product said that it could have reviews on. So it actually had eight reviews on it before the product went live.
Reviews – numbers and discounts
It is a myth that you need 50 or hundred or 500 reviews. However, now you really need verified reviews. If you sell it out over 50% discount, it won’t be a “verified” review. Customers are also getting savvy.
Kevin now sorts by verified reviews when he is searching on Amazon, and other Amazon customers are probably starting to do the same.
An example of this is that Kevin got a product that got five stars reviews across the board from giveaways. But after it was used for real, the real reviews went down fast.
How to maximize positive reviews – Email followup tip
Kevin has the first email which does not even offer anything, it contains tips and suggestions and checks. For example if it is a potentially dangerous product, it tells the consumer to be careful when opening it.
The timing of this email is crucial. Assuming that most customers use Prime, they will receive the product two days after ordering. So Kevin times this email to arrive one day off to the order. In other words it is after the order but before they receive the actual product.
He puts the question in the PS: “Why did you choose us?” And offers a free gift if they onto this question. Always put something in the PS if you want someone to read it.
This gives an important psychological insight before they have a product in their hands. From this he can change the listing, bullet points etc. and he gets a lot of verified reviews. About 10% respond. It gives great insight into why they hit the buy button. The product itself can negatively or positively influence them.
You start to see patterns here.
What are your main points? Photos? Title? Bullet points?
The title is really important. The reviews the second most important thing including a video on page 20 possible. Images are also very important. If somebody’s shopping for a well-known brand, the images not so important. But for private label, they are crucial.
Packaging is also very very important. If you have great packaging, it can help you make sales with the photo of the packaging itself.
An example of improving packaging: Kevin started with a $1 box. The new box cost $2.20 but he was able to raise the price to $40- $50, his customers didn’t feel ripped off, they felt they were getting a good deal. This is what to aim for.
If you look at high-end products like Apple Samsung, the packaging is absolutely critical especially somewhere as competitive as Amazon. It gives the customer confidence even if it’s not fancy, it can be a couple bucks but the spelling must be good and it must look like something they can get in a retail store. In a retail store if you think about the people by based on packaging anyway.
You can use great packaging in your photos to catch the eye and differentiate your product.
Careful who you listen to
The figure of “ 50% of full price figure to get verified reviews” comes from Kevin’s own testing and people who know what they are saying.
Kevin warns that some people don’t have a clue are giving advice, in Facebook groups and even some podcasters. Some give great value but a lot of the podcasters don’t have a lot of experience selling. It varies a lot. It’s best to trust the guests are doing the numbers.
[Michael does not claim to be an expert in doing big numbers, which is why these days he focuses more on more on getting in guests who are doing big numbers, and focusing on what they have to say]
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