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Researching Your Competition

135 Greg Mercer on the Best Products to Sell On Amazon – Part 1 of 5

We have Greg Mercer on the show again. You can listen to our previous interview on product research, as well as one on supplier negotiations. Greg studied civil engineering at university and had a corporate job that he hated. He began selling on Amazon as a break from his day job. He managed to quit his day job and just do FBA full-time. He did that for about two years when he was frustrated by trying to find products to add. The best way to scale your Amazon business is by adding more products. Greg didn’t have a lot of capital to throw around so he wanted to find ones. Out of this need, Jungle Scout was born. Now he joins us to help us find the best products to sell on Amazon.

Today, Greg is still selling on Amazon. He has released a few products in the last few months. He’s been working on Jungle Scout, and that has expanded into a quite a tool for Amazon sellers. There is Jungle Scout, which a research tool. Jump Send is a deal site to get you additional sales, as well as a follow-up sequence. Splitly is an AB testing tool for Amazon sellers. Fetcher, which is profit analytics. It calculates what you’re really making after refunds, promos, etc. All the numbers Amazon likes to hide from you.

Let’s start with the one thing that every struggles with: finding something to sell. What is your first step to finding the best products to sell on Amazon?

That’s a common issue. Everyone knows how good of an opportunity Amazon is, but it’s finding products to sell that is a struggle. The best products to sell on Amazon are ones that have existing demand, that means Amazon customers are already searching for it. You want products that have low competition and that have good margins. Those are the main things. Other things you may want to consider are whether they may infringe on any patents, and they don’t need to be licensed. Think of liability; if a person can hurt themselves with it, you may want to steer clear. Lighter, smaller items are generally less complicated. They are easy to ship and you don’t have to worry about oversize storage limits.

Jungle Scout was created to solve that issue, but you can look on the Amazon’s best sellers page. You can get ideas from Pinterest, look at what people pin a lot. You can hang out in big cities where trends start first. Once you do that, make a list of product ideas and go to Amazon. There is actually a free way to find out how well a product sells. You can click on a listing, then look at the best sellers rank under the product description. Then you can go to junglescout.com/estimator. It’s a totally free tool, you don’t even have to put in your email. You put in that sales rank and it will give you an estimated amount of units that product sells on a monthly basis and see what the demand is.

You say you want high demand and low competition, can you define that in some way, and how do you find that out?

For demand, you want to look for products that are already selling on Amazon. A beginner mistake is that people “know” that a product will do well if it gets on Amazon. A small percentage of the time, that might be true, but more often than not people are wrong. It’s much safer and less risky to go with something that is already selling.

I want to see 2000 units a month, being sold on Amazon. Let’s use a coffee cup as an example. If you search “coffee cup” on Amazon. Then take the top 10 listings, or however many are relevant. Let’s say 8 are selling coffee cups. Then click on each of the listings, get the best sellers rank. This is helpful because it tell us how well this product is selling. This number, by itself, is very difficult to interpret. However, at Jungle Scout, they have come up with an algorithm that can estimate how many units are sold based on that number. It changes on a daily basis and they have a full-time data scientist that is always updating this. So, get that number for each listing, find the units sold on Jungle Scout and add them up. If it’s more than about 2000, then the demand is there.

One issue that many people have had, is regarding the monthly sales number. Some sellers have noted that the estimate Jungle Scout shows differs than the actual numbers when they lookup their own products.

The first thing is to look out how they drive these algorithms to estimate the sales. Depending on the category, they collect between 200,000 and 500,000 data points every month for that category. This is the relationship between the unit sales and the ranking number for that day. Then they run a regression analysis and they come up with a line of best fit to estimate the sales based on the rank.

The best sellers rank changes on an hourly basis. The way they estimate sales is that if a product continues to sell as well or as poorly as it has for the past few days, this is how many units will sell in a month. If, last week, your product was selling 10 units a day, but this week is selling 1 unit a day, Jungle Scout will estimate based on the 1 unit per day. So you’re sales might be 60 units that month, but Jungle Scout will only estimate 30. It’s the best they can do with the limited data Amazon gives out.

Some people will get on there and see their products are 10% more than Jungle Scout’s estimate and will conclude that you need to add 10%. That’s not true. If you look at the regression analysis, there are some points that run above the line, and some below. They’re taking the average of hundreds of thousands of products in a particular category. So, your 1 product may not fall on that line, but if you average the whole category, it will be on that line.

People seem to put too much faith in tools. You can give me the best painting supplies in the world and I still could paint a good picture.

Exactly. People get caught up, too much, in the tools. Keep in mind this is still just an estimate. You’re using this tool to determine a ballpark range on a product’s sales. Jungle Scout may estimate that a product does 900 units a month. In reality, it might be 800 a month, or 1000 a month, but you know it’s in that range. It helps with forecast and it help determine if there is good demand in there.

Let’s go back to the 2000 units a month number. I had a product that, on Cyber Monday, sold 103 units. Now, the same product is selling 4 or 5 units a day. How do you account for that, especially this time of year when sales volume tend to be low?

This is difficult. One tool that helps is Google Trends. This tool allow you to see how a search term has trended over the years and seasons. This is a fairly good gauge of how items will sell on Amazon. As many people know, Greg has done public case study selling bamboo marshmallow sticks called Jungle Sticks. Based on Google Trends, you can see how the sales have changed based on the seasons. January to February are the slowest times. July and August were the highest times. And if you look at the sales, you can see that matches up. So can look on Google Trends to determine if this is a high season or a low.

The reason I like to use the 2000 or 3000 units, is because people like to answer “It depends”. It’s too arbitrary if you’re a beginner. At the end of the day you’re looking for the item with the biggest spread between demand and competition.

As you know, sales tend to spike in December, plummet in January, then even out the rest of the year. Would you try to take account of that?

If I was a complete beginner looking to sell my first product on Amazon, I wouldn’t worry about that. That’s more higher level strategy. Focus on getting your first product up on Amazon and learn the rest later.

If you’re already have your products on Amazon, and you’re trying to figure out forecasting, that is a good idea. Two good resources are Google Trends, and Keepa. Keepa has a really nice, free database of how sales rank has trended. A lot of products have two years or so of data. You can look at the and see how the sales rank has trended over the months and seasons. You can try to start estimating how well your product is going to sell.

Some products you can tell by common sense. If you’re selling lawn products, then the summer months are going to be the best. Other products, like the marshmallow sticks, it’s not as clear when they’ll sell well and Google Trends can help with that. If Google Trends shows there is twice as much searching for marshmallow sticks in the summer months, then you know to order a little extra inventory.

How do you measure competition?

Reviews are a great indicator of competition. That’s probably the biggest thing to look at. On top of that, the quality of your competitors listings. If they have a poor listing, like one picture, a really crappy title, than that is someone that would be much easier to outrank. As opposed to someone with a really good listing.

The first thing to look for is how many reviews they have. Older, more mature products that have been selling consistently well, are harder to outrank.One way to tell how mature a product is, is how many reviews it has. An older product that sells well, is going to have more reviews. A product with 1000 reviews is going to be much harder to outrank than one with 15. A rule of thumb is to look for something, where 3 or 4 of the top reviews have under 50 reviews. That signifies that it’s probably a young niche.

Tell me about the relationship between the average review and the number of reviews. I had a product that had a 4.9 average but only 22 reviews. It was selling quite well against competition which had 700 reviews. Is that a one-off thing or is there a correlation between the average review?

One thing to understand is how Amazon ranks the listing. They use keyword relevance. The sales velocity probably makes up about 50% of the algorithm. That would be the number of sales per day. Another factor is the conversion rate of your product. Now the sales velocity and the conversion rate depends on a number of factors. Those including the quality of your pictures, the price, the social proof, the average star rating. If you competing against other listings that have a lower rating, then you’re probably have better conversions and more social proof. People would much rather buy a product with a higher average rating than one with more reviews.

I’ve noticed that if a product goes from 4.9 to a 4.6 average, the conversion almost halves.

Yeah. Visually, if you have a 4.9 average,Amazon displays 5 stars. But a 4.7, they show 4 and a half stars.

126 What Really Makes Ama­zon Shoppers Buy

I wasn’t planning on recording any podcast for a few days but I just had an experience as an Amazon buyer that is very important for Amazon sellers to understand.

Psychology is very fascinating to me and it should be to you as well. There are different parts to the Amazon supply chain and psychology plays a major role in many of these. The aspects that I am most fluent in are negotiations and selling/marketing. What makes consumers buy and what makes consumers attracted to your projects?

Recently we talked about message to market match and that if someone is looking to buy a red dog bowl and you are specifically selling a red dog bowl then they are much more likely to buy your product. This is a very powerful concept. This can be the basis for an incredible business. The other thing we talked about was Know, Like, and Trust.

Seeing this from the Buyer’s Perspective

The other day, I was going to print some music from my Brother printer and I was getting an error telling me to change my toner. I didn’t want to deal with this but I knew I had to take care of it and not be lazy. Notice, I’m reacting to a problem. I’m not thinking this through like a business transaction. It’s a consumer purchase, I’m not a print shop, I’m just a musician that occasionally prints some stuff. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t know about it and I didn’t want to do it but it’s a necessity. I was motivated by urgency.

Urgency as a Driving Force

That’s often the case with consumers on Amazon with all types a products. From things as mundane as a printer cartridge or as urgent as forgetting to get a birthday gift for your spouse. If I had more time I would go down to the shop and buy the cartridge or item I needed. However, I just so busy, I need to buy it quickly on Amazon and get on with my day.

In my urgency and need to be done with this quickly, I almost missed the mental processes that took place. So, I get on Amazon, search for the printer cartridge I need and scroll through the listings. I got to about the fourth one down and immediately decided that’s the one I want, almost missing what was going on in my head.

The Value of Bundling

The first listing was £9 and it looked like a compatible item, but I scrolled past it until the fourth or fifth which really caught my attention. It was such an intuitive process that I had to slow it down and ask myself, “why am I about to but this?” First off, I’m not in a price comparing mood. It was way cheaper than I was expecting. I was expecting £40 or £50 for an actual Brother cartridge and the listings were in the £9 to £15 range. My price resistance was way down because I was prepared to pay almost 5 times that amount and move on. Since it was so much cheaper, I wasn’t going to sit there and compare prices.

What set the listings apart, and what won it for me, was the one offered a two-pack. If I were to reverse engineer my buying thought process, the first thing that got me was that it was a two-pack and bundling brings out the value thinking. The price compared to the top listing. I could see that it was a value to get the two-pack over the one pack. The my frustration of running out. Since I didn’t want to be in this situation, I would want to buy the two-pack so I wouldn’t have to go through this. This is true for a lot of stuff. If you are selling anything renewable, bundling them brings value to the buyer because they don’t want to run out in a month or two.

The Value of Message to Market Match

The next thing thing that won me over was that it specifically said it was for a Brother printer. The listing said exactly what I wanting to see rather than almost what I wanted to see. That helped push me over the edge and buy it.

Psychology of Sales

Even as an Amazon seller, I was almost taken unaware with the way selling works. If I didn’t spend my life working on Amazon and teaching others how to sell on Amazon, I would have completely missed how the psychology of this process works. It came down to three things.

  1. The price, relative to the other listings
  2. The bundling value
  3. The exact match of what I was looking for

The last thing I noticed that influenced my decision want the ratings. The top listing had 39 reviews and 4.5 stars. It was that little bit of imperfection. Whereas the one I bought had 16 reviews and a 5 star average. If I were being objective, I would calculate it. The one listing had many more reviews and likely had just as good overall satisfaction. Some buyers will do this, so it is a very important aspect to be aware of. However, in these urgent situations, consumers tend to be irrational and see 4.5 stars compared to 5.

123 Are your products beautiful?

Are your products beautiful?

If you are selling on Amazon, you are likely private labeling products, probably from China. Although, if you are in America then you might be looking at other alternatives in light of Trump’s plan to raise tariffs. For now, let’s assume you are importing from China. China makes some of the world’s worst products. China makes some of the greatest, such as the Apple iPhone. It’s equally possible to create terrible products as it is to create amazing ones since 80% of the world’s manufacturing happens there.

Have you got a design that is interesting? If not unique, is it at least beautiful? Are you sure you are really checking the quality of your manufacturing?

From the consumer stance, simply put, is your product beautiful? Does it work beautifully? Is it reliable? Is it amazing?

Today, I was out in London and came across the amazing building. It was once a school for choir boys that is now a youth hostel. What makes it truly beautiful is the detail. They put so much care into the details that it is immediately striking. When you really look at the detail, it is magical as well.

Now my question, is your product doing that for your customers? If not, you need to get on that. I am, by no means, an expert in product design, but my business partner and I have some products on their way from China and we are very excited about them. We order samples from about six suppliers and got eight samples from some suppliers. We went through a lot of trouble. We reviewed 60 suppliers! Some were dodgy and their prices came tumbling down from $15/unit to $3; some didn’t have solid business credentials, and we rejected them.

We have a whole complicated system that we use to check out a supplier thoroughly, and I can go into that later if you are interested, but the big thing is to get a sample! Check through different photos on Alibaba, or wherever. Get out of Alibaba, do some Googling, go out and get some samples in real life. Whatever you need to do to get a vision of what would be your perfect vision of you product.

Keep in mind what your market wants. I’m not saying to create something in a vacuum. Never do that! Do research. Look at demand. Look at demand depth. If here a lot of sales in training shoes, but 90% is Nike, forget it. If you want a company that you can sell down the line for two or three times yearly revenue. If, you want a brand that people are willing and excited to buy. When people see your product in their search results, they should immediately be drawn to it and want to click. If you want a product where people will be amazed when they scroll through your photos and want to buy it. They you have to work and sweat and make your product beautiful.

Don’t stint on samples!

I hear complaining all the time about how suppliers want to charge for samples and whether it’s worth paying for. Let me tell you, it is. If you are going down the private label route, you’re going to be spending thousands of pounds, tens of thousands, don’t be cheap about the research. Don’t go too far and get 20 products when you know the 10th is really really good, but take the time to find that 10th products that is really really good. If you can’t afford to get the proper samples, can you really afford to get into private label?

The room is not mass producing cheap crap, it’s being the Apple iPhone of your category. China is the kings of cheap products, but there are still manufacturers where the designs are fantastic and the quality controls are rigorous. Even if you don’t design your own products,at least you can pick one that is still good.

You either have to do research designing your own product, or you have to do research in looking for a great design. Regardless, you have to do the work. Warren Buffett used to say, “You can either create value, or find value.”

#105 Finding a Killer Amazon Product part 5: Competition – Reviews and Listing quality

Competition - Photos and Reviews

Competition – Photos and Reviews

Everyone gets a bit obsessed with the wrong things when it comes to Amazon competition.

The first mistake is to get blinded by sales volume and ignoring the competition and what that will do to your profit margin.  If you can’t produce a differentiated product, don’t go into a market.

However, you need to assess the competition correctly.

REVIEWS  – WHAT REALLY MATTERS

The biggest red herring is to worry about the raw number of reviews the competition has without looking at the quality of the listing and of those reviews.

But it is true that you won’t look credible with 5 reviews if the nearest competitor has 200. A rule of thumb was that you want to aim to get at least 50% of the same number as your nearest competitor.

I’m not really convinced any more. Given that it’s also harder to get reviews than ever in the USA, I would focus on quality more than quantity. Still, it’s worth avoiding markets where you’re going to have to get more than 50-100 reviews unless you have really deep pockets, in my view.

More important is the average review, ie the average no. of stars. If everyone has 4.7-5.0 stars average, you’ll struggle to compete unless your product is amazing. If everyone has 3-4 stars, it makes me wonder whether you are just asking for trouble – read the reviews in detail and find out!

A sweet spot is when quite a few page 1 products have 3-4 star reviews and lots have 4.5-5 stars. This implies there are winning and losing products. Investigate – what makes the winners win? Can you solve the issue from the low rated products with a better product?

If the market looks over competitive, at this point I would just walk away unless I had really deep pockets and lots of Amazon experience.

COMPETITION ANALYSIS  – MAIN PHOTOS AND PRICES 

If the market still looks viable, I would investigate the competition in great detail. First, I would review the page 1 photos and price points. Are there crappy looking products selling for a decent price? It’s unusual but if so, you may have found a niche that is underserved. More likely, can you see a way to produce a more beautiful product?

IN DEPTH COMPETITION LISTING ANALYSIS

If, and only if, the market still looks viable, I would then look at every listing on page 1. How many of the (usually 9) available photos do they use? How good are they? Do they have lifestyle shots? (showing the product in use) Do they use models?

Photos are crucial on Amazon, so I’ve stopped worrying too much about the Bullet points looking great. But great photos make a huge difference.

Remember: it’s not going to be enough these days to do decent photos. You’ll need to have a genuinely better product to command solid prices and take sales off the competition! Don’t delude yourself about the power of photography in mature markets. Good photography is a price of entry now, not a way to win.

#104 Finding a Killer Amazon Product Part 4: Check Competition!

Competition - Brand Dominance

Competition – Brand Dominance

The next thing to do IF your product has good demand at a fair price (so probably over $30 at least), the next thing to do is to check the competition.

Here we look first at brand dominance. This comes in two forms:

  1. A big, well-known brand which takes a lot of the market at the higher price points

If you’re in the Cookware space, for example, if you see a product like “Russell Hobbs” and you can see that the spread of prices is $15-30 but only Russell Hobbs is commanding $25-30 a unit sales price whereas the rest only make $15-23, I’d be wary of entering that space

2. A private label type brand

You may well be able to beat these guys because they don’t have a large brand. But you need to have a really really visually differentiated product. Otherwise – you’ll just end up getting shopped on price. Amazon ads costs go up  – selling price comes down – profit disappears.

This is an incredibly common pattern – do not ignore differentiation! If you don’t think you can beat similar competition that is well established with a genuinely different and better product, DO NOT go into that market!

If you are considering selling price, I’d advise aiming for $30-40 upwards. It leaves a decent profit margin after Amazon ads, and means you’re less likely to enter into wars on price because price was not your main selling point in the first place. Both of which protect your overall profit margin.

Just because a product may cost more per unit, doesn’t mean that the upfront costs will require a huge budget. Most MOQs (minimum Order Quantities) from Chinese suppliers are in reality more like minimum amounts per order. So as long as you are spending $2000+, you can often get away with much lower MOQs than advertised.

Next we look into projected P & L in more detail.

But remember: Eliminate before you Investigate! Don’t spend valuable time analysing products you should just eliminate.