The Beginner's Guide to Selling on Amazon for Small BusinessesBeth Thouin
In 2017, when Amazon ran its annual sales extravaganza, Prime Day, sales grew by more than 60% — surpassing Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined. In 2018, during the same event, that record was smashed again, with over 100 million products purchased by Prime members in just 36 hours.
These kinds of sales figures help the company sell close to $180 billion in products every year. And get this: half of all those sales come from small and medium-sized businesses, like yours.
According to Amazon, more than 20,000 SMBs surpassed $1 million in sales in 2017. There’s no reason why your business can’t join them.
In this post, we’ll show you how to become a seller on the platform, as well as some Amazon selling strategies to drive success. We’ll cover:
- The benefits of selling on Amazon
- How to set up your Amazon seller account
- How to optimize your product listings
- Ways to market your products to increase sales
- How to win the Amazon Buy Box
- How to use Amazon Ads to increase traffic and sales
By the end, you should have everything you need to start running a profitable small business on Amazon.
The benefits of selling on Amazon
More than one million small businesses in the U.S. sell on Amazon. Yes, that means you’re going to encounter some competition, but it also tells you a lot about the platform — businesses love it.
Selling on Amazon has made all the difference for all kinds of businesses. Like Little Flower Soap Co.
“Since we started selling on Amazon in October 2016, our sales have nearly doubled. Due to our success, we have been able to hire new team members from our community, including full and part-time jobs,” said co-owner Holly Rutt in a statement. The business even got to feature in its very own Amazon ad.
Little Flower Soap Co. Amazon Ad
Then there’s Michael Ward, who took his business Best Costumes and Deals over to Amazon from eBay in 2011 and saw revenue jump from $1.3 million to $10 million. And James Fend who grew his business from $0 to $50,000 a month in just eight months by selling jogging pants, body measuring tips, and dog collars.
There's also Cards Against Humanity, which became the most successful Toy & Game private label product on Amazon EVER, taking its creator Max Tempkin from regular college kid to business owner with over $1.5 million in monthly sales.
We could list a hundred more success stories like these, but you get the point: if you’ve got something to sell, Amazon is a good place to sell it.
Selling on Amazon gives you...
- The chance to reach millions of customers. Over 300 million people buy from Amazon. Achieving that kind of exposure via your website would cost millions of dollars in marketing and advertising spend.
- Trust and credibility. People are familiar with Amazon and they’re comfortable purchasing from there. For a small business selling solely from a website, this level of trust can take years to build.
- No heavy lifting. Through Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon), you can have all of your storage, packing, and shipping taken care of. Amazon even includes free shipping to its 100 million U.S. Prime members and streamlines exportation, returns, and customer service. According to Amazon, 71% of FBA sellers say their unit sales increased by more than 20% since signing up to the program. With a big focus on Amazon Prime, small business sellers should make the most of the FBA offering.
- The ability to grow your business quickly. Through product recommendations, a large affiliate network, and a customer-base that no other e-commerce website could ever compete with, Amazon allows you to scale fast, without spending a ton on marketing.
- Excellent support. Amazon does a brilliant job at supporting small businesses, helping them get up and running without any of the issues like tax and payments. “Amazon has a great back-end infrastructure to support selling,” Will von Bernuth, co-founder of Block Island Organics told CIO. “This means everything from inventory tracking to tax collection (this can be a huge pain, particularly for states like California where taxes need to be calculated down to the zip code) to credit card processing is possible with Amazon's platform. It's all there for you. No need to figure out how to do all the setup yourself.”
As an existing small business, you’re already one step ahead of a large number of people that sign up to sell on Amazon. You know your brand and you know what you’re selling. A lot of sellers don’t figure that part out until after signing up. This means you’re ready to hit the ground running.
Setting up your seller account
As you’d expect, Amazon has made signing up for a seller account as straightforward as possible.
Before registering, you’ll need to choose a selling plan. Amazon offers two plans depending on how you’re going to use the platform:
- Individual plan — For fewer than 40 items sold a month. No monthly subscription. Instead, individuals pay $0.99 per item sold plus other selling fees, which vary by category.
- Professional plan — $39.99 monthly subscription fee plus per-item selling fees, which vary by category.
You can find out more about these pricing plans here.
If you plan on using Amazon to grow your small business (which is what this post is all about), the Professional plan is the one to go with.
Seller plan decided, the next step is to get signed up.
Go to services.amazon.com and click on “Start Selling.”
Next, you’ll be asked to login to your Amazon account or register for a new account. If you’d rather keep your Amazon seller account separate from the one you typically use for purchasing, sign up for a new account using a different email address.
Once you’re logged in or registered, you’ll need to give Amazon the details of your business and verify your information via SMS or call. Have all of your billing, deposit, and tax information handy when completing this part of the process, as well as details of the products you’ll be selling.
A few things to note as you work through these five steps:
- Your Legal Name is the person who’ll be paying the taxes. If you have a legal business name, enter that. If not, enter your individual name including any middle names. You can switch the account over to a business name at any point, so don’t worry too much about it at this stage.
- If you’re signing up as an individual, enter your SSN as your Tax ID. If you’re signing up as a company, enter your EIN.
- Do not attempt to register more than one seller account. Doing so will violate Amazon’s user policy and have your account removed. If you already have a seller account, use it or delete it before registering for a new one.
When you’ve completed the five-steps, click “Complete Registration” and that’s it — you’re officially an Amazon small business seller. Time to put the shutters up and start welcoming in those customers.
After registration, you can start listing products one at a time, or if you’ve signed up as a Professional, in bulk.
There are two ways to do this:
- If you’re selling products already listed on Amazon, find the product and input the quantity you have to sell, condition, and shipping options.
- If you’re selling products that aren’t already listed on Amazon, you’ll need to input the UPC/EAN and SKU and list product attributes (title, description, etc.).
When your products are listed they’re available to buy immediately. Now is where the real work starts — optimizing and marketing your listings so that shoppers can find them.
Driving new customers with Amazon SEO
When was the last time you visited Amazon and purchased a product with no reviews, no description, and no images? My guess is never. You’ve probably never even seen such a listing. But they exist. They’re just buried deep within Amazon’s endless amount of product listings.
Listing a product is easy. But for that product to sell, the listing needs to be optimized in a way that a) makes it easy to find, and b) gets people to buy it.
Amazon has its own algorithm that it calls A9, which is designed to serve up products that best match customer queries.
Here’s what Amazon has to say about A9 on its website:
“The better we understand the meaning of a query, the better we can help customers find the products they want. So we focus on the words and the intent behind those words. When a customer tells us they are looking for “Harry Potter in books”, we distinguish in their query the title: “Harry Potter” from the category information: ‘in books.’
Once we determine which items are good matches to the customer’s query, our ranking algorithms score them to present the most relevant results to the user…Our catalog’s structured data provides us with many such relevance features and we learn from past search patterns and adapt to what is important to our customers.”
The only real difference between optimizing your website for Google and optimizing your listings for Amazon is that you’re dealing solely in products. Amazon serves up products to get sales, whereas Google serves up results to answer questions. In both instances, however, your aim is the same: create great content.
How to optimize your Amazon product listings
Optimized listings get your products to show up when people enter related search terms. The more your products show up, the more sales you’ll get, the more reviews you'll receive, and the more you'll appear on that all-important first page.
Find the right keywords
Keywords are the most important part of your optimization strategy. You need to choose keywords that not only match your product, but mirror the searches of users.
Take a look at the top results for the search term “Bluetooth headphones.”
You can see that they’ve all got the phrase “Bluetooth headphones” in the product title. What’s more apparent, though, is the bunch of other keywords sellers use, terms like “wireless headset” and “earbuds” and “noise canceling.”
This is something you need to copy. Think of every possible keyword you can to describe your product and any related keywords that you think people will search for.
Here are four ways to find the right search terms for your products.
1. Go to BuzzSumo and enter the name of your product. In the results page, click on Filter Domains and type in “Amazon.com.” You’ll then be shown a list of the top results from Amazon, all of which will be filled with keywords that you can use.
2. Go to SEMRush and enter your keyword into the search field. You’ll then be shown a list of the most searched for related terms. Use these results to find terms that are relevant to your audience.
3. Use Amazon’s autocomplete feature to get an idea of what people search for. Enter a word in the search field and Amazon will begin guessing what you’re searching for based on the most popular related products.
4. Check out your competitors. Type in the name of your product and study the most popular results. Those ranking highly for items in your niche are sellers that have a good keyword strategy in place.
Use hidden keywords
You can use your keywords in the titles and descriptions of your products, (which we’ll get onto in a moment) but also in the backend, where users can’t see them.
These “hidden” keywords are used to help “enhance the discoverability” of your products and should be generic. To use Amazon’s example: “if you’re selling headphones, your search terms can contain synonyms such as 'earphones' and 'earbuds'.”
Amazon has some best practices for using these backend search terms:
- Don't include product identifiers such as brand names, product names, compatible product names, ASINs, UPC codes etc.
- Don't provide inaccurate, misleading or irrelevant information such as the wrong product category, the wrong gender, out-of-context words etc.
- Don't provide excessively long content
- Don't provide redundant information that has already been captured in other fields such as title, author, brand etc.
- Use a single space to separate keywords
- Don't include statements that are only temporarily true, such as, “new”, “on sale”, or “available now”
- Don't include subjective claims
- Don't include common misspellings of the product name
- Don't include terms that are abusive or offensive in nature
- Abbreviations, alternative names, topics and key characters (for books, movies etc.) can be included as search terms
Create informative titles
Depending on the category, titles can be anywhere from 50 to 200 characters (including spaces). You should use as many characters as it takes to include:
- Brand name
- Product name
- Standout features
Amazon recommends that titles stick to the following guidelines:
- Capitalize the first letter of each word
- Spell out measure words such as Ounce, Inch, and Pound
- All numbers should be numerals
- Ampersands should not be used in titles unless part of a brand name
- If the size is not a relevant detail, do not list it in the title
- If the product does not come in multiple colors, the color should not be noted in the title
Create feature-heavy descriptions
The product description is where you lay out the top features, benefits, and unique selling points of your product.
The bullet points below product title should feature your top keywords and get the main points of your product across.
As well as features and benefits, bullet points should inform readers of:
- What’s included
- Size or dimensions
- Guarantees or warranties
- Care instructions
- Details of settings
Most people won’t bother to scroll beyond these bullet points so make them count.
The main description is shown further down the page and gives a little more information on why users should buy your product.
According to Amazon, product descriptions should...
“...be written in paragraph form and in complete sentences that are easy and interesting for the customer to read. Content of the product description should cover the major product features and positioning within its category, and expand on the details listed in the bullet points. Information on the materials and construction, controls and settings, and included parts and accessories is critical in the buying decision. Also be sure to include accurate dimensions, particular care instructions, and warranty information.”
Use high-quality images
Accurate, high-quality product images are essential to your listing. Customers want to see what a product looks like before purchasing and while words do a good job of describing, they can’t make up for lack of photos.
Aim to include at least six product images for each listing:
- 1 main product image on a white background
- 2-3 product detail images highlighting features on a white background
- 1 USP image
- 1-2 lifestyle images
Amazon guidelines state that images must:
- Be the cover art or professional images of the product
- Not be drawings or illustrations
- Fill 85% or more of the image frame
- Be 1000 x 1000 pixels for best results
- Be TIFF, JPEG, GIF or PNG files
Cost-effective Amazon selling strategies to drive traffic
With optimized listings, you have the foundations for selling success. Now you can start driving traffic to your products knowing that customers have all the information they need to make an accurate buying decision.
Here are four ways to market your products without throwing a bunch of cash at marketing.
Getting websites to link to you is a great way to send people directly to your products. Research industry blogs and publications to find opportunities for getting featured.
Sites often publish gift guides and articles on reviewed and recommended products for their readers. Search for “best + [your product]” in Google and look for sites that you can pitch your product to for consideration. For example, here are some of the sites that came up in a search for “best Bluetooth headphones”:
You’ll probably have to start low before you can target big consumer sites, but as soon as one or two respected websites have featured you, more will follow.
You can also create blog posts on your own website or write guest posts for other blogs in your niche and link to products that way.
Partner with influencers
Influencers are a big deal in modern marketing. Studies show that 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations and every dollar spent on influencer marketing campaigns earns $6.50.
Find out who the influencers are in your niche. Come up with a list of key players with a large social following and reach out to them. Offer free products and purchase incentives (discounts or rewards for referrals) in exchange for promotion across their social channels.
Promote listings on social media
Social media offers the easiest way to put your products in front of buyers. Create posts for your listings that can be used across your social channels, but do it in a way that’s helpful to your audience.
- Create promo codes that give your followers discounts on products
- Share blog posts and videos that relate to your products with a link to your listing
- Run competitions and giveaways offering prizes to followers that share your Amazon listing
Integrate Amazon with your ecommerce site
Amazon offers an open API so that you can easily integrate your Amazon products on your website. Users that visit your website will be able to purchase and review products, giving you another way to increase sales and boost Amazon performance.
What’s more, you’ll be giving people that are unfamiliar with your brand or website the comfort of purchasing via the safety of the Amazon platform.
Securing the Amazon buy box
The Amazon Buy Box is the white box that shows up with the “Add to Cart” button at the right side of listings.
Because Amazon has no limits on the number of sellers who can sell the same item, it means there are multiple Amazon resellers (sellers that don’t sell a proprietary item) offering the same thing at the same time. And with so much competition, securing the Buy Box is one of the few ways to really stand out from the competition.
The results of winning the Buy Box are huge. 82% of all sales happen through the Buy Box, and the percentage is even higher on mobile.
But it’s not easy. Amazon doesn’t give this prime real estate to any seller.
To secure the Buy Box you need to be a professional seller that sells new items, with a low order defect rate, solid performance metrics, good customer service, and decent length of service. There also needs to be inventory for the listed item.
Amazon is tight-lipped about how its algorithm specifically determines which sellers are chosen for the Buy Box but there are a few known ways to strengthen your case.
The sellers that feature in the Buy Box tend to be those with the lowest landed price. This means the cost of the item plus shipping.
Amazon loves serving up competitively priced products for customers. Always monitor other sellers for any changes in price to ensure you remain competitive.
Amazon FBA sellers are always favored over FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) sellers. If you’re selling something at the same price as your competitors, but you’re FBA and they’re not, that’s a good sign.
Amazon isn’t about to give a seller the Buy Box if they have a track record of letting customers down. Feedback score is all about keeping customers satisfied. This means selling them products they’re happy with and providing outstanding customer service by responding to messages within 24 hours.
To grow a good feedback score in your early days as a seller, it’s a good idea to focus on selling products with historically low defect and return rates — things like phone cases over items of clothing or shoes, for example.
Essentially, winning the Buy Box is about being a reputable seller over a long period of time. Pricing your products competitively and receiving good reviews, while letting Amazon take care of fulfillment will help you do just that.
Using Amazon advertising to get your products noticed
For the new Amazon small business seller, Amazon Ads are the fastest way to get eyes (and clicks) on your products.
Amazon Ads are sponsored posts that show up in search results when a user enters a search term related to the product:
They also show up in individual product pages:
According to Sellics (who have a great guide on Amazon PPC), ads also help your organic rankings.
“Using Amazon ads can have positive effects on your product’s normal ‘organic’ ranking. This is in part due to extra sales that have been generated by ‘Amazon AdWords’ enhancing the sales history of the product. Sales history is a very strong ranking factor. If a product sells better, then Amazon will place it higher up in the ranking of search results. Furthermore, we’ve repeatedly seen that organic ranking has been considerably improved for those keywords that were used successfully in Amazon PPC ads.”
Types of Amazon ads
Amazon offers several ad options to promote your brand and listings:
- Sponsored product ads — Keyword-targeted ads that display at the top and bottom of search results, as well as product listing pages
- Headline ads — Banner ads that display at the top of search results
- Display ads — Interest and product-targeted ads that appear to the right and at the bottom of search results, on listings pages, marketing emails, and on customer review pages
Before you start
There are three things you should do before creating your ads:
- Set the right goals. If your goal is to boost brand awareness, focus on running cost-per-click ads to increase impressions (the number of times your ad is shown). If your goal is to get sales, focus on setting Advertising Cost of Sale (total ad spend divided by total sales) goals to meet sales targets.
- Choose the right products. Amazon recommends starting with Sponsored Products. This will mean focusing on your best priced and most highly stocked items.
- Make sure your product listings are fully optimized.
We recommend checking out Amazon’s guides to getting started with ads. There's a ton of helpful information there to help you get familiar with the advertising platform.
Optimizing your Amazon ad campaigns
Regardless of which type of ad you choose, you can optimize them in the same way. Here are a few ways to get bang for your buck.
Create campaigns for each product category
Rather than have one overall ad campaign, create separate campaigns for each of your main products, then create ad groups within those campaigns.
So, let’s say you sold iPad accessories and your best-selling products were keyboards and cases. You should make your main campaigns for “iPad keyboards” and “iPad cases” and within those have two ad groups. For keyboards, this might be “wireless iPad keyboards” and “wired iPad keyboards.” For each ad group, create a list of around 10-20 keywords and 2-3 ads.
Doing this means that your ads are always relevant, which results in a lower spend and better ROI.
Keep ads specific
You won’t always have the same luxury with ad titles that you do with regular listing titles. Ad copy needs to be more concise, focusing on only the most important information.
Amazon’s ad for its Fire HD 8 tablet is a good example of this, giving the user information on display size, color, and storage in the headline:
Target keywords of popular brands in your niche
The keyword research that you do in optimizing your Amazon listings will be useful in helping you choose words to bid on. But there’s something you can do with ads that you can’t in your product titles or descriptions: target competitor brand names.
For example, if you’re selling iPad accessories, you could bid on popular names like Belkin or Grovemade or Logitech — all popular brands that are often searched by buyers. By bidding on brand name keywords, your ads will show up when people search for these brands, leading them to assume that you’re also a big player.
Take a look at the image below for the search “norco razor blades”:
Rather than an ad for Norco’s razors showing up, we see an ad for Narco’s rivals, Gillette. That's competitor keyword targeting at work.
Use negative keywords
Negative keywords are keywords that stop your products being shown when a user enters a certain word or phrase.
For example, if you sell laptop computers, you’d only want your ads showing up for searches related to laptops, not “desktop computers” or “personal computers” or “PCs.” Because if your ad shows up when someone is looking for a desktop and they accidentally click on it, you’ll be charged, with no sale to show for it.
Focus as much on the words you don’t want your ads to show for as those you do.
Wrapping it up
Amazon is a platform where any small business can thrive. There are no limits on how much money you can make or how far you can grow. Regardless of what you sell, the tips in this post will help drive traffic and increase sales.
Take the time to properly flesh out your product listings with keyword-friendly information and strong images, and focus on providing good customer service. These are the foundations that will help you stand out from the competition and cement your place in the growing list of Amazon success stories.
Feature Image: Unsplash / Christian Wiediger
All screenshots by author. Taken February 2019.
Screenshots 1-4, 7-10, 12-16: Via Amazon
Screenshot 5: Via BuzzSumo
Screenshot 6: Via SEMRush
Screenshot 11: Via Google