Options for Successful Management of Your Amazon Business

You may have heard that Amazon is now 50% of the overall e-commerce market. That’s huge for Amazon business owners!

They are still only 5% of the overall retail market in the United States, however, so Amazon has plenty of room to grow.

Do you feel confident you know what it takes to succeed in using Amazon to support your Amazon business goals? If you don’t, you may be looking for a partner to help you grow. There are a few options: hiring someone in-house; hiring an agency partner; or working with Amazon directly via their Marketplace Growth Program.

If you’re looking to hire in house, we have a fantastic detailed course with coaching and real world examples to help employees learn the ropes on Amazon.

We are, of course, an Amazon focused marketing and advertising agency. But we’ll get to us in a minute… first, we’ll talk about Amazon’s program.

At first blush the program seems really nifty, and in some regards it is. But in practice it doesn’t always meet expectations, as I learned when I had a chance to sit down with a seller who is currently participating in this program for their Amazon business.

We’ll look at the nuts and bolts of the program as advertised by Amazon, and then we’ll explore how user-friendly it really ends up being, as we talk with an actual participant.

Part 1: The program as offered by Amazon, based on their sales and FAQ pages.

What is Amazon’s Marketplace Growth Program?

The Marketplace Growth Program offers education on new ways to grow your online Amazon business, and take advantage of all the tools available to you on the Seller Central platform. Receive one-on-one coaching from a dedicated Account Manager who is by your side to help you deal effectively with issues that crop up, and dial in your sales performance to ensure you’re doing all you can to meet your sales goals.

What kinds of things will I learn?

You’ll learn all about the various Amazon promotions that are available to you, like coupons and Lightning Deals.

Another important skill you’ll learn is how to effectively leverage the Seller Support team to ensure your metrics stay well within range and your message is heard. Participation in the Marketplace Growth Program also offers you access to Premium Seller Support, where you’ll be able to take your more complex and business critical escalations.

How much does it cost?

The fee you pay is relative to your annual sales volume and can be as low as $2500 for sellers doing less than 1 million in sales per year. You are charged on a monthly basis, the fee taken out of your disbursement. If your disbursement doesn’t cover the fee, they will just charge the credit card number you have on file.

Who provides support?

Your contact is an Amazon Account Manager, and you are given their direct email. You talk to them one time per month, and can schedule other calls depending on your needs. Though it’s not guaranteed, you might even be able to go to Seattle for an onsite visit!

The cool thing about this is that it’s offered on a category-specific level. So in other words, the Account Manager is familiar with the ins and outs of your particular Amazon category. Thus they are able to offer targeted advice for your specific Amazon business based on their specialized knowledge of your category.

Participation in this program also means that you are shortlisted for future Amazon pilot and beta programs.

Where can I apply?

You can learn more and apply here: http://go.amazonsellerservices.com/marketplace-growth

Be aware that you must have had an Amazon selling account, in good standing, for at least 12 months prior to application. If you have multiple accounts and wish to sign all of them up, you must do a unique application for each. And, right now it’s only for sellers on the US platform. (The program is currently only available to sellers, not vendors.) Hopefully in the future it will be available to EU sellers too.

What kind of commitment are we talking?

The whole program is 12 months long, and Amazon requires a commitment of at least 6 months. This is enough time for ads to gain traction and knowledge to begin offering new insights. There is no free trial period or promotion offered with this program, and services cannot be chosen a la carte. It’s a package deal.

Part 2: The program as experienced by a seller.

How would you describe your overall experience with the Marketplace Growth Program?

I had the pleasure of sitting down with a Marketplace seller we’ll call Jake, for a discussion on how the Marketplace Growth program has been working out for his Amazon business. Jake was a few months into his participation in the program, and I wanted to know his thoughts so far.

The first thing Jake did when I asked him to describe his experience overall, was laugh… and then indicate it was “interesting”. He said they (as a company) were very disenchanted with Marketplace Growth during the first couple of months.

But to be fair, it’s worth noting that the program was brand new when they started.

Anyone familiar with Amazon knows their new programs tend to have bugs to work through, so their assigned Amazon Account Manager (AM) set expectations that there would likely be issues, which Jake already knew would be the case anyway.

In light of this shared understanding of the kinks to be worked out, Jake noticed that sometimes the AM went above and beyond their obligations to make things work, and he was impressed by this.

Steep fees for the results

Even so, Jake said it ultimately did not end up being a very positive experience for him or his Amazon business… the value they were anticipating just wasn’t there.

To participate in the program they were paying $3500 per month, which in hindsight would have been a nice full time salary for a local person. That person could have helped out with ads and content, management of account issues, and a lot more.

As you already know if you visited Amazon’s info link at the beginning of this blog, there is not a whole lot of information provided before you’re offered a signup form. Yet it turns out to be a pretty steep monetary commitment, and Amazon really wants you to stick around for a full 12 months to realize all the benefits. Ultimately they require a 6 month minimum, and after that a 30 day notice is required to cancel.

As for his status in the Marketplace Growth program, he ended his participation at the 6 month mark. With that said, he told me they do feel they have derived benefit from the program, but not nearly enough to justify the cost.

Do you feel your AM was helpful to your Amazon business?

At first Jake was very frustrated with the AM, so he expressed that. Since that time they’ve been trying to be a bit more helpful, but it seems that the AM isn’t so much the problem, but that the job function itself is very narrow.

He indicated that the vast majority of communications from the AM were general opportunities to participate in beta programs that Amazon is rolling out. Which wasn’t really what he expected.

He did take part in a photography beta, which he found interesting. There was also an international selling beta program that he thought was helpful. Included with participation in the Marketplace Growth Program was a monthly newsletter, which he also found useful and informative.

He indicated they wrote a “business plan” for him, and presented it as a thing of value, but it’s just a repackaged version of the survey answers they gave at the onset of their enrollment. He just didn’t find it helpful.

Maybe Marketplace Growth wasn’t a right fit for your organization?

That was exactly what he’d got to thinking as well, so he gave feedback to Amazon that this seems to be geared more toward large sellers with very broad appeal, like sellers of iPhone cases, power cords, etc.

Jake’s Amazon business is very niche, so he got to thinking that was part of the problem… most of the program’s offerings just didn’t fit his company roadmap; he wasn’t looking for participation in beta programs, he was looking for advice and education on how to grow on Amazon, which was never all that forthcoming.

A couple of months into his participation in Marketplace Growth, he had received no help yet with advertising. But when he inquired with his AM about ways he could better his advertising, they again just referred him elsewhere.

As it happened the AM referred him to contacts he’d already worked with before, so it turned out fine because he’d loved working with them previously. But once again, the AM was a middle man and nothing more. Jake could have used his existing Amazon contacts and likely would have eventually.

At one point Jake gave feedback that they don’t offer any assessment/reporting on current detail page content and performance, advertising campaigns, etc. Since then they have sent him a few reports, one of which is an assessment of top rated/best selling items in his chosen category (Home and Kitchen, for example).

A report like this is of no use at all to him because Jake is a brand owner. They are not in competition with these sellers.

In fact, of all the reports they send to him, most are totally useless for one reason or another. It’s like they are trying to fit every seller into a one size fits all program, but that’s never going to work. He wants reports that are actually relevant, which seems like a fair ask. But that’s another place where the seeming narrowness of the job function itself seems to come into play.

If the AM is only expected to be a clearinghouse of sorts for the seller, then it’s unlikely they are expected to have such an intimate and informed perspective on these accounts.

And if they indeed aren’t expected to have that level of understanding, it’s hard to justify participation in Marketplace Growth for that cost.

Once a month he and his AM would have a phone call usually lasting 30-45 minutes, and that has at times been enlightening. If the program were 500-750 per month, he might consider keeping the program because “every once in a while something cool happens” and at that price point he feels it would be more worth it.

Does your Amazon business get premium support with Marketplace Growth?

Not exactly. You still have to go through regular Seller Support first. If after 5 days the problem is not solved, it can then be transferred to a premium support team.

He indicated these teams are generally in the US, and more familiar with the structure of departments so they can more readily get problems in front of the right people.

He said they tend to be native English speakers, so he felt when explaining a situation that they understood the problem better, but did not feel in general that they are better problem solvers.

What was your favorite thing about the Marketplace Growth program?

Jake owns two Brand Registered brands, these companies are his paycheck… and a lot of people’s paychecks too… so sales matter. His favorite thing is that he got special approval for video on his EBC pages.

The leverage this extra media has given him has noticeably and positively impacted his conversion rate, which is wonderful.

And what was your biggest frustration about the Marketplace Growth program?

There have been times when he’s had a serious issue in his Amazon business and there have been no good options for resolution, even with the “insider” help.

These are the times when it’s really discouraging and it seems the program is a complete waste of time to be a part of.

Jake’s seen a lot of review abuse on his Amazon listings. For example, recently one of his competitors went through and “helpful” voted all the negative reviews so those rose to the top. So Jake contacted his AM, and the AM of course pawned him off on someone else and told him to start a case to Seller Support via Seller Central.

After 5 days it had gone nowhere, so he was now allowed to send it to Premium Support. Premium Support came back with an infuriating response: The issue was affecting about 200 reviews, so Premium Support told him he had to go back to Seller Central and create 200 cases, one for each review, because they can only deal with one at a time.

Another instance involved two pallets of product Jake had dispatched for delivery to Amazon, which was electronically confirmed delivered and then promptly lost on Amazon’s watch. It took Amazon a month to figure that out, him managing the whole case, because no one else would help.

According to Amazon’s records, he had been informed the shipment was lost, but he indicates that is not the case at all. They had referred him to UPS, where he chased his tail for a while, until Amazon realized their mistake. Escalations to his AM, and other management, went nowhere.

Let’s talk bottom line. Give me some last thoughts.

“It’s not at all what I expected.”

“I wish I had more information going in. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have participated.”

“Amazon is always making changes, and they are open to feedback. I like that.”

“May be a better fit for a bigger company with broader appeal.”

On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with the program overall? 2

What about the personal attention you received? 2

Why did you leave? Not worth the money.

What does it offer that you think people might be interested in knowing about? Nothing specific.

Ouch.

Part 3: Do you need management of your Amazon business?

Are you looking for Amazon account management, but wondering if Marketplace Growth is the right fit now that you know more about it?

Do you feel confident you know what different kinds of account management there are?

What about your confidence level in what services or attention you might need?

Account management as defined by Amazon seems to be how their Marketplace Growth program is taking shape.

However, a lot of agencies in the Amazon outsourcing/consulting space define their services in different ways. One reason for this is to set themselves apart from the competition and define themselves along different lines, but another reason is that there are different types of management that you should be aware of.

Typically you’ll find in this consulting/management space, three different types of agencies: specific task outsourcing, specific specialty outsourcing, and full service account management.

Specific task outsourcing refers things for which you have a solid SOP, or are easy to teach remotely. Things like generating reports, answering customer service emails, and processing refunds are good examples. The most well known agency for this type of work is Freeeup. This is a network of Virtual Assistants who are available at many different price points and who can cover a wide range of tasks you may need assistance with. Other companies with this type of model include SKUTask, Upwork, FBANurse, Solutions4Ecommerce, and any independant VA that you might hire from your local Craigslist or classifieds.

Where specific specialty outsourcing companies are concerned, typically there is an area of focus, such as suspension help. These companies possess in-depth knowledge to help you with specific issues. You’ll find eGrowth Partners and eCommerceChris to be great examples of this type of agency. Additionally, there are many specialists in advertising or marketing only. So if there is one specific area you need help with, it could really behoove you to do some internet research into whether an agency exists that can help you. You might be pleasantly surprised!

The last category is full service account management companies, and these operate at various levels and sizes. Some full service companies focus on the top revenue companies on Amazon Marketplace, while others focus on young businesses or businesses new to e-commerce, like Cascadia does.

If you’re in the market for a full service account management company, everyone has an area that they are more consistently successful in or perform better.

Cascadia offers:

  • Strategic guidance on sales growth and strategy
  • Expert feedback on seller performance problems
  • Day to day account issue handling such as data uploads, filing cases for reimbursement, requesting removal of negative feedback
  • Creation of effective and profitable advertising (PPC and HSAs) based on ROI or brand awareness goals
  • Strategic advice on advertising as well as coordination approaches between Amazon, Google, and Facebook advertising
  • High quality white background and human model photography done in house
  • Effective and Amazon-appropriate new product development
  • Instock planning and guidance, including packaging advice and testing for e-commerce readiness

What we aren’t good at, we outsource to specialty firms that excel in that space, such as the support we offer our clients in customer service, Google or Facebook advertising, or website creation and design.

Our ideal clients are:

  • Companies who are successful off of Amazon, either in brick and mortar retail or on Kickstarter, who need help getting onto and understanding how Amazon can work for them, particularly if they have limited resources to apply to their Amazon business.
  • Companies who have been on 1P (Vendor Central) for years, and are tired of fighting for attention and “shelf space” to access their Vendor Manager. These companies are ready to move to Marketplace and manage their own future directly with an agency partner.
  • Young companies wanting to grow on Amazon as well as expand to new product lines. Our clients typically have been successful in one product line and want to leverage our team in China’s sourcing and merchandising expertise to grow their offerings on Amazon.

Important: While we do have relationships and contacts at Amazon, the one thing no agency can legitimately promise, even us, is direct access to Amazon tools and internal support teams.

Here is an example of our advertising approach from early August 2018:

We increased advertising for the top products only in January to prepare for a March start to the peak season for this Sports & Outdoors brand.

In April, the rest of their catalog was added to the advertising plan, as this client has a careful ROI-based advertising strategy.

After a month of optimization and improvement of detail pages including Enhanced Brand Content, Advertising Cost of Sales (ACoS) dropped back to goal levels and continues to be steadily driving downwards.

The best ad on this account is at 8% ACoS, with the top ads by revenue being between 11% and 12%, and new products as well as high value products in the 20%+ range.

Are you looking for account management today? Learn more:

Our primary skillset is in content marketing, where the data driven tasks (SEO, advertising, instock management) meet the creative tasks of writing, obtaining reviews, and creating really beautiful and brand appropriate imagery.

Check out this testimonial from one of our clients, Phil Winslow:

“Our product photography through Cascadia was high quality stuff… The photographer’s ability to capture key product points in a way that I believe will be attractive to our customer’s blew me away- 161 high quality photos makes it very hard to narrow down the best choice 🙂

Overall, with very little input from us, we received extremely professional output. Thankful for Cascadia’s work and connections!”

Below is a collection of favorites from some in-house photo shoots we’ve done:

Ultimately, you have to make the right decision for you and your Amazon business.

Perhaps that means that working directly with Amazon and utilizing the Marketplace Growth program is the right fit for you – awesome! A lot of companies are very happy with Amazon’s marketplace growth team of account managers.

Perhaps you’re the kind of company that really likes to keep things in house, and want to train internally. Awesome! Cascadia can help you with training, avoiding pitfalls that can tank your investment into Amazon, and provide a community of support on Facebook between our team and your team.

Perhaps you know that Amazon just isn’t your thing. You know it’s important; you don’t want to deal with it. You especially don’t want to deal with Amazon directly. Well, that’s where we really shine. We can get you up and running on Amazon the right way, with fully optimized listings, photography intended to convert well on Amazon, and a detailed and company-specific advertising and marketing strategy. And if you get stuck along the way… we’re experts at risk mitigation and incident resolution with Amazon too.

We know Amazon because we were Amazon. And we’d love to work with you to take your piece of that 50% of the e-commerce world pie!

 

Would you like our help?
About the Author
After my last stint in Product Safety at Amazon from 2011-2014, I decided a change was in order so I packed up and moved to Puerto Vallarta Mexico to be a travel blogger and freelance writer. I found living in another country to be fantastically inspiring in many ways, and soon after my move, I joined Cascadia. I was then able to focus that creative inspiration on helping clients with really great marketing content, and other aspects of their product launches which they might find daunting. It’s been wonderful! I love helping people, and I love writing. So for me, it’s a match made in heaven.

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