Amazon sells $283,000 worth of goods every minute. That kind of spending can catapult your brand to success almost overnight. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to get swept away by the competition and buried ten pages deep.
I sat down with Amazon expert Mike Sitrin of Riverboat to understand what separates the success stories from everyone else. Mike shares priceless tips about how long it will take to get traction, how to use Amazon’s advertising products, common pitfalls to avoid, where to do research, why you need to register your brand, and whether you should use FBA or self-fulfillment. You’ll walk away with a much better idea of what it takes to successfully launch on Amazon.
Let’s get into it…
Tell us a little about you and Riverboat.
Answer: Before founding Riverboat I worked in the Bay Area in consumer tech. Combining these experiences with time spent in the corporate advertising world, Amazon seemed like the logical space for me — a platform so all-encompassing that success often requires a number of proficiencies.
The idea behind Riverboat is in its name. The Amazon Rainforest is the largest on earth, and the best way to navigate through is by riverboat. The goal was to take my experience and help innovative food brands navigate the largest ecommerce ecosystem in the world.
Would you recommend a brand sell on Amazon and their website from day 1? If not, what comes first and when is it time to add sales channels?
Answer: Yes, although sales will be slow in the beginning. For any unestablished brand on Amazon there will be an initial period when momentum has not caught traction. This will be the case regardless of your presence on other channels, so it is better to start on Amazon early and begin building from day one.
That said, an Amazon page and company website should complement each other. Amazon is a mass market, where a few best sellers can flourish but ultimately you are a guest on the platform, playing by their rules and restrictions. A company’s website allows brands the forum to list more offerings and dive deeper into the product benefits.
What do you recommend for most companies, FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon) or self-fulfillment?
Answer: Ideally FBA, which is proven to drive sales and establish a ranking. FBM (fulfilled by Merchant) is a good way to support this approach, easily turned on if a company runs out of FBA inventory to avoid going out of stock.
Can you share some common pitfalls you see brands hit when launching on Amazon?
Answer: The biggest thing is brands who start to advertise before they are retail ready. To be “retail ready” is ultimately subjective, but it involves having proper images, good copy, smart pricing, and a solid base of organic reviews.
Amazon cares first and foremost about customer experience, and for this reason they factor in conversion rate to their rankings. A new brand advertising before they are retail ready can earn a lot of clicks, but might not convert these impressions to sales. Amazon will take this failure to convert into account and the company will essentially have paid to see their ranking lowered by Amazon’s algorithm.
How can a brand gauge the market, sales potential, and competition on Amazon? Can you recommend any tools or resources?
Answer: There are a number of good tools that can help a brand understand their market on Amazon. Helium 10 is one that I’ve gotten good use out of. An important thing to remember when researching sales potential: Amazon is not the platform to grow a market so much as to capitalize on one that already exists. Amazon is really more of a search engine so keywords matter, and if customers don’t know that your brand or even your category exist, then they won’t know to search for it. If you hope to hit a certain sales goal, then use resources like Helium 10 to understand if it’s viable on the platform, otherwise you might need to realign yourself or else drive your own traffic onto the site.
What’s a good estimate for how long it will take to start seeing traction and sales on Amazon?
Answer: Typically we see brands gain traction after 3-6 months. This gets back to starting on Amazon as early as possible, because the time needed to get listings ramped up and sales velocity rolling is not really negotiable.
How should a new brand (on Amazon) use Amazon’s advertising offerings?
Answer: Like I mentioned before, the most important thing is to ensure that your listings are retail ready before advertising, otherwise the very attempt might be detrimental to growth.
The best way to start advertising is to have sponsored product ads set up as “auto campaigns.” This means that Amazon will reach out to audiences they think your product will fit using keywords that pull from your category and your listing. Not only might you learn something about your own product in terms of how customers at scale think of and search for certain items, but you will then be in a place to take the more successful keywords and create “manual campaigns” that you believe reflect your product.
How much budget would you recommend allotting for a brand launch on Amazon?
Answer: On average around $1,500-$2,000 a month to start with. Brands with more product-types will want to dedicate more budget, since each product (multiple flavors count as one product-type in this case) should have its own ad campaign reaching out to different customers using unique keywords.
What is Brand Registry and is it important for a new brand on Amazon? When should you consider brand registry and what are some of the benefits?
Answer: To be brand registered is a must have for any brands on Amazon. To get on the registry you will need to hold a trademark for the product you’re selling. Brand registry allows companies to set up a brand store where customers can go to see all offerings, as well as A+ content which can attach to individual listings as a way to show brand story and cross-promote products. These two features make brand registry hugely beneficial for advertising: those keyword campaigns which are driving impressions to specific listings will in turn drive impressions to your other offerings via A+ page and brand store.
In addition to the upside, brand registry can help you control the downside by keeping full ownership of listings. If and when third party sellers pop up in competition with your own product, being brand registered allows you to keep control of what the listing looks like when non-registry players might otherwise adjust the content.
Are there any characteristics common across brands that are successful on Amazon?
Answer: The simple answer is that they have a quality product. Obvious, yes, but Amazon is a capitalistic platform, and by selling a good product for a good price you will be recognized with positive reviews and increased ranking, which in turn leads to more sales, more positive reviews, and so on.
On a more operational level, successful brands keep their Amazon inventory in stock. Time on market, quality products, good advertising strategy, these are all important, but their common goal is to build sales velocity and momentum. To run out of inventory can bring your momentum to a full stop, and it doesn’t take long for a listing to fall off of search results if there’s nothing for customers to buy. It’s nothing that can’t be overcome, but in a marketplace named after the world’s highest volume river, keeping your momentum moving with the current is your best bet for success.
How can people connect with you?
Answer: We focus on shelf stable natural food products. Feel free to reach out at riverboatco.com
Mike surprised me in several spots. I walked away from the interview loaded with insights for clients and the CPG brands I mentor through PROOF. My top takeaways I’ll be sharing with them…
- Make sure you’re “retail ready” before spending on advertising.
- Expect it to take 3-6 months to gain traction.
- Start with sponsored product ads set up as auto campaigns when you’re ready for advertising.
- Register your brand through Amazon’s brand registry! This is crucial for promotion and protection.
- Keep your products stocked.
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