Time Management for e-commerce is an absolutely critical skill area. Time management can be the single biggest block to even starting an e-commerce business. And for an established, busy e-commerce business owner, managing time is just as critical.
In this episode, we focus on the learnings from the wonderful book (and also audiobook) –
“7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey
New Trade Tariffs have been imposed by the US government on imports from China.
President Donald Trump escalated the trade war with China on Friday, imposing new trade tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, now at 25%, up from the previous 10% rate.
There has been a new twist in the ongoing US-China Trade War. Trump said in a Sunday afternoon Twitter post (5 May 2019) that the current 10% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will increase to 25% on Friday.
He also threatened to impose 25% levies on an additional $325 billion of Chinese goods “shortly.”
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He had planned to bring a large delegation to Washington on Wednesday to hash out a trade deal.
There had been talk in recent days that something resembling a deal could result.
Instead, two sources briefed on the talks said the Chinese side may consider backing out of this week’s negotiations.
Trump’s new threats, they said, threaten the six-month truce. In return, Trump may have made them after Beijing threatened to renege on some previously discussed commitments.
One source had said the Chinese vice premier would likely cancel the trip he’d planned for himself and a 100-person delegation. This was for the final round of talks that U.S. officials had previously said could yield a deal by Friday.
In September 2018 Chinese officials canceled a trip in similar circumstances.
A second source said Trump’s decision to more than double the tariff rate on $200 billion of goods was meant to send a message to Liu to not come to the U.S. with more “empty offers.”
The Chinese spokesman would not elaborate on the number of people on the Chinese team, the length of the trip, or the date of departure.
He also emphasized that such back-and-forth in the trade negotiations have happened before. He underlined that the latest round of talks saw “positive” progress.
Major sticking points between the U.S. and China have been intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. The two superpower also disagreed as to whether tariffs should be removed or remain in place as an enforcement mechanism.
“The very fact that it’s a nuclear threat brings people to the table,” said Warren Buffett on CNBC. “But you don’t want to have too many nuclear threats out there because someday somebody may feel apt to fulfil one.”
World markets, including the S & P 500, the Shanghai and the Hong Kong stock exchanges dropped sharply on the news. However, later they all rebounded substantially on the basis that this was probably a negotiating tactic rather than a realistic future plan.
The response of US businesses over the last months to the trade war has been strong:
A number of US businesses have been relocating factories to Vietnam from China. More recently, many businesses have been importing and stockpiling goods as a pre-emptive measure in case the threatened tariffs materialise.
It should be possible for UK/EU or US based 3rd party sellers to start selling on the platform immediately.
Amazon has plans to open a new new fulfilment centre in Kegworth, East Midlands, UK.
They are about to start recruiting for over 500 new permanent jobs.
Amazon’s new FC will help meet demand, expand selection and enable third-party sellers to scale up their businesses.
Stefano Perego, Amazon’s Vice President of UK Customer Fulfilment, said:
“We are thrilled to begin recruitment for 500 new permanent roles in Kegworth, with competitive wages and comprehensive benefits starting on day one. We are delighted to expand our operations in the East Midlands. With capacity to expand our workforce to over 1,000 permanent positions in the future, this new team will play a crucial role in delivering a first rate level of service for our customers.”
Kegworth will be the fifth Amazon fulfilment centre in the Midlands, the other ones being in Coalville, Daventry, Rugeley, and Rugby.
The first dedicated UK “receive centre” opened in Coventry in 2018.
This functions as a central hub that receives and sorts millions of products each year that are sold on Amazon.co.uk.
We’ve all made our share of mistakes. I know I have. I’ve recently run into some troubles with Amazon freight forwarder. That’s why today I’m stepping away from the customary formal interview format of the show to try to show you examples of problems that can be solved in our mastermind groups. Other people’s experience can be immensely valuable, especially if you can apply it to your business and avoid making some of the same mistakes.
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.
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.
There is a triple metaphor here. Simple stuff but still true:
2. Know where you are going. How does your business fit into your life? How does it serve your goals?
3. When you are literally having goods transported from one side of the globe to another, check all the details twice. Where is it going from? Where to? Exactly? Have you got the commercial invoice, purchase order etc. all sorted?
Freight is one area where just doing it needs to be tempered with double checking all the details!
Which of these areas is your biggest block to progress? Let me know at http://amazingfba.com/fb !
What are the major freight paperwork and how do we overcome those?
If you are using a courier or one of the freight professionals, they do all that for you. You don’t have to worry about the various paperwork, custom claims, etc. This is a skill these guys have been working on for years, they can do it better and more efficiently than you, so let them do it. UPS is around £11 per shipment for customs clearance. DHL is right around there as are most of the others. Since you’re importing the product, most of the paperwork is done by the exporter and you’ll end up with the VAT and the duty. Both of these are calculate off the commercial invoice.
One thing the Chinese like to do to be nice, is send the shipment as samples. If they are a sample, that’s fine. However, if you’re shipment is 500 units, that clearly isn’t a sample. At some point, the guys at HMRC are going to catch on and you may end up with penalties as well as your future shipments getting more scrutiny causing delays.
You have a proper business, so you want to make sure you do things by the book. It may cost you more in duties, but you want to build your business on solid ground.
Another they offer is to lower the cost of the invoice to stay under a certain value at which point things become more complicated. Is that something to avoid as well?
At the end of the day you’re evading taxes, which simply put, is wrong. Also, if you get caught you may end up getting put on a list which will further delay you in the future. If one of the customs officials gets to digging around and realizes your products are valued at more than what was declared, they will put you on a watchlist. Ongoing shipments will be inspected and paperwork will be scrutinized which will hold up your shipment.
Do you need to instruct your suppliers about commercial invoices or will that be checked by DHL or UPS?
A commercial invoice is just like any other invoice. It will detail the value of what your purchased, the goods you purchased, the delivery address, the importer on record’s address, and the commodity code. That is a global code that details what the product is classified as which you can find on the HMRC website. So when the shipment comes in they can charge import duties.
Is that something the Chinese supplier will automatically put on the invoice and get right?
Well… they’ll put it on the invoice. It may not always be right and there is no way of going back and saying this is wrong, so you’ll just have to double-check it and next time you order tell your supplier that they put the wrong commodity code on it. Which could save yourself some money since the import duties can vary depending on this code. It can range from 0-12% on top of VAT.
How is VAT calculated? Is it the value of the goods only? So if I have 500 units that cost $2 a piece, is VAT calculated on that $1000?
It is the commercial invoice value + freight + duty. VAT is calculated on the total of all three.
Is there anything else we need to get on the commercial invoice? Say I order a shipment, sent to your prep company, do I need to make sure all that is on the invoice and how do I communicate that to DHL or whoever?
It does need to be on there, but in Greg’s experience if doesn’t matter. It seems to be a daily battle with FedEx, or DHL trying to get the person on the commercial invoice or airway bill. It doesn’t matte who the consignee is, Greg seems to always get the bill sent to FBA Pep UK at his address. If you look at the paperwork that comes with it, it clearly states the correct customer but they seem to ignore that.
How do you handle that, when you get the invoice in stead of your customer?
It depends on the customer. Some will just pay it which is fine. Even though it’s FBA Prep UK on the bill, they can’t sort it out. The customer has to contact them and tell them that they will accept that invoice.
The biggest takeaway seems to be that it’s best to just use a freight forwarder or use your courier and make sure that your name and the company name is on the paperwork.
Those guys are the professionals. They are doing this day in and day out. Sure you can learn it, but that’s time better spend on your company and sourcing more profitable products.
Another thing you have to worry about is your EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification scheme) number. Which is a number supplied by the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). You can’t apply for one unless you have a shipment coming, and you can’t get your shipment into Europe until you have it. It takes about 3 or 4 days to get it, so as soon as your supplier gives you all the detail on when the shipment is coming from, where it’s going to land, the size of it, the vessel number, take that information and you can apply for your EORI number online.
Small samples should be ok, your couriers can take care of it. Once you start getting bigger shipments coming in, you’ll want to get your own number. It simply for statistical purposes of what come in and goes out of Europe.
On a side not, outsourcing is vital! It’s a waste of time trying to do everything yourself. Some of the simpler tasks, or task that need expertise can be outsourced freeing you up to focus on growing your business. Here is just one example:
This is a 15×15 grid of everything that needs to be done with products. This is why you shouldn’t order 15 different things from AliExpress and why you need help with prep.
For more ambitious sellers what are the biggest challenges when trying to scale up?
What about people who want to import a lot of one product?
Factoring time scales. If your coming by air now, you’re looking at 7-10 days from China to yours or your prep company’s hands. As you scale up you’ll have to start coming by sea which is about 35 days from China to the UK. Then the ship has to be unpacked which is another 5 days. It’s about 40 days from the time the supplier delivers it to the time you take delivery. Obviously, this is something you have to consider. If you’re doing you analysis to determine when you will need more product, you’ll have to add another 30-40 days onto that or risk running out by the time the ship arrives.
If you’re used to doing your own prep, as you scale up the deliveries will get bigger. You’ll start getting them in pallets rather than loose boxes. If you plan on continuing to do it at home, you have to consider how you’re going to offload the truck. It’s no longer going to be a van or small truck, it’ll be coming in artics so access becomes an issue. Also, you have to request a truck with a taillift if you don’t have a forklift. That will cost another £40.
What about those who want to go from a few SKUs to say 10 or 20 but not a huge quantity of each one?
This is common with things like pencils. Where you have one type of product, but 5 or 10 variations. i.e. different colors which Amazon treats as completely different products. Having the product description on the boxes is a huge help. That way if there is a problem with a particular SKU, it’s easier to identify which ones they are without having to open every box.
Whether you’re ordering 500 unit of one product, or 50 units of 10, the challenges are the same. Where the challenges would come and the cost would rise, is if your importing products from different suppliers. Now, there are services that will consolidate for you. You can have four or five different suppliers send everything to these consolidation warehouses. They will consolidate those and export them as one shipment saving you money.
What do you see coming up in the Prep side of Amazon as a problem?
Amazon will start requesting detailed contents of boxes. You can do it now, as an option, and in the US they have started requiring it. Usually if it happens in the US it will happen in the UK. So you will have to communicate that with your supplies to be more clear about what’s in each box especially of you ship directly. They will also requiring packing notes, so when they open the box, they know what’s in it to speed things up on their end.
Brexit will likely have an impact on shipping in Europe.
Amazon announce recently that they will have an air fleet of about 40 planes to ship products themselves. It’s unknown if freight will change much since it’s a fairly stable and established system. However, Amazon will likely try to takeover that.
How can people get hold of you?