Welcome to Part 2 of our Selling on Amazon series. Previously we talked about how to compete with other Amazon retailers by winning the buy box for your products. Today, let’s back up a little and discuss how to get your products onto Amazon in the first place. Amazon offers three basic ways to submit your listings: the Add a Product tool, Seller Desktop, and a flat-file upload. Let’s look at each of these, and then talk about ways to improve your automation of the process.
The Add a Product Tool
When you are approved to sell your products on Amazon, you are granted access to their Seller Central web interface. Seller Central allows you to control most aspects of your business as conducted through Amazon: listing and de-listing products, managing your orders, providing shipping notices, collecting payment from Amazon, viewing statistics and reports, and managing your Amazon storefront, policies, and promotions. Under the Inventory tab, you’ll notice a link labeled “Add a Product”. This process begins with a simple form that allows you to located the product already on Amazon, which is necessary due to Amazon’s single product page per product. (If the product doesn’t already exist on Amazon, you can create a new product.)
After you enter your search terms, Amazon will return with a list of products in their catalog that match your search. Click the “Sell Yours” button beside it, fill in your information, and you’re off.
This is great for a couple of products, if that’s all you have. But sooner or later you realize that by the time you’ve listed all 3000 of your products, you’ll be dead – and your range of products will have changed a couple of hundred times anyway. After all, most of us have products come and go from our catalog all the time!
Seller Desktop is a free desktop application that gives you a GUI for listing your products. It is almost always quicker than doing them one-by-one through the Add a Product tool. With Seller Desktop, you can list products, create variations, and upload everything to Amazon when you’re ready. However, if you work on a Mac you’re out of luck: Seller Desktop is for Windows only. It’s also pretty slow when you upload your listings, especially if you have a large catalog.
So while Seller Desktop is much better for larger merchants than doing products one-by-one, you’ll also want to take a look at the flat-file upload.
Upload Products via a Flat File
Here’s where my saving grace came in when we first starting selling on Amazon. I realized that with the first two methods, I was basically reinventing the wheel when it came to my data. I already had almost every piece of data already in my shopping cart catalog. If I just made some custom fields to fill in the missing data (like a certain format for recommended ages, the UPC code, and the vendor SKU) then I could export everything from my catalog into a tab-delimited flat file and upload that to Amazon in one fell swoop. Hallelujah!
The flat-file format is pretty daunting, so this might be easier than it sounds. The format depends on the category of items that you’re selling and the revision number of the flat file format. The format I use has 92 (yes, NINETY-TWO) individual columns. And many columns have a very limited set of allowed values. But we used a feed module to easily generate this file. Once the definition was originally set up, the click of a link was all it took to produce the file. Then we logged into seller central, uploaded the flat file, and waiting while Amazon processed it. (Usually inside of an hour.)
Moving to True Automation
A single pain point still existed for us, though…inventory management. When the holiday shopping season begins each year, our own website and our sales on Amazon start competing with each other for our inventory – and if something sells out on one site, we want to make sure we don’t oversell it on the other site! Up through last year, we were uploading inventory-only flat files and just dealing with errors when they occur. This year, (warning: plug coming) we’ve got an automated feed management service call FeedExact, something NetBlazon has developed in house, that will sync up the inventory on a schedule we determine. Perfecto!
Obviously, the method you choose for managing your products on Amazon will depend on the size of your catalog, how frequently it changes, your budget, and your patience level. Fortunately, we have options, so it’s just a matter of finding the one with the fewest pain points for your business. Here’s to happy retailing on the world’s largest e-commerce site.
Stay tuned, our next post will be about understanding seller metrics and how they are affect your ability to reach customers on Amazon.