With Amazon now accounting for 50% of all e-commerce sales in the U.S., it has become a default selling platform for many consumer brands. But simply having your brands’ products listed on Amazon does not mean instant sales.
As Amazon generally functions like a search engine for shoppers ready to make a purchase, brands need to understand the basics of Amazon SEO, as well as other critical functions like logistics, marketing and advertising on the platform in order for products to even surface in search results.
But there are many consumer brands who doubled down on their Amazon channel, leveraging the popularity of the marketplace to reach new customers and grow sales.
Maple Holistics, a personal care brand, realized that its only chance of succeeding in a saturated marketplace like Amazon would be to launch innovative products rather than following the pack.
“Our products were fairly generic, un-inventive and dictated by trends and consumer behaviors that were past their prime,” says Nate Masterson, the CMO for Maple Holistics. “When you operate that way on Amazon, you’re not going to succeed—there’s already another brand that has made the same product and has already established goodwill and a sizeable review count with consumers who is going to beat you.”
Maple Holistics changed gears to prioritize market trends that are early in their life cycles. With a short product development lifecycle, the company launched its popular Tea Tree and Argan Oil hair products at the peak of their popularity.
Masterson says that the company also optimizes its products and brand specifically for Amazon, including custom bottling and labels and A/B testing products. But Masterson says the real edge came with acting quickly on consumer trends.
“It’s plain old fashioned market and product research that gave us the means to build true success at Maple Holistics. The bottom line is, you’ve got to get there first if you’re going to generate sales on Amazon.” At the same time, Masterson cautions that introducing new products to Amazon can be tough initially, as Amazon’s search ranking algorithm favors products that are proven sellers.
Other consumer brands like Further Food have doubled down on Amazon’s promotional programs to drive discovery and loyalty on what can sometimes be a transactional platform. Founder Lillian Zhao cites the ‘Subscribe & Save’ subscription feature and enhanced product content as key drivers.
“We have an ‘Enhanced Listing’ on each of our products where we educate Amazon customers on the products as well as our company,” says Zhao. “We explain our product differentiators, provide visual ‘how to use’ sections, and explain who Further Food is: Mission-Driven, Expert Backed, and Women Run. We also have a custom built ‘Company Storefront’ that visually showcases all of our products and highlights our Company’s mission and uniqueness.”
Zhao’s company launched its collagen peptides and turmeric tonic on Amazon 18 months ago, but is already at a $2 million run rate. Demand for the products wasn’t generated exclusively within Amazon’s ecosystem, however. Zaho says that brand-building initiatives like social media, events and a large affiliate community were important drivers of sales to Further Food on Amazon.
Piper, an ed-tech company that makes computer kits to help kids learn about coding, also found that success on Amazon required a proactive approach. “The first thing we did when we created the page was to ask our customers to write reviews of the product on Amazon,” says founder Mike Pavlyukovskyy. Amazon has updated its terms of service and made sweeping changes to its review ecosystem in recent years to clamp down on incentivized reviews and review fraud. But asking past customers to write product reviews is acceptable, so long as no reward is offered and customers are not asked to only leave a positive review.
The other major shift for Piper came when Pavlyukovskyy moved from being a third-party seller to a vendor, selling on a wholesale basis to Amazon rather than on its marketplace. “This was a major step forward since we went from shipping individual units without having a reliable forecast to having somebody on the inside who was working with us to forecast and place orders several months in advance. Amazon went from a selling platform into our biggest customer.”
Pavlyukovskyy credits Amazon’s analytics and advertising tools as driving more sales. “One tool we use is Amazon Retail Analytics (ARA) to measure the behavior of customers on our page, understand who customers are, what else they are buying and where on the web they are coming from in order to better target them.” Piper also uses Amazon’s pay-per-click and display advertising programs to target potential buyers with ads for the product.
While these three brands’ ascent to success on Amazon has been relatively fast, the journey is never without its pitfalls. As Amazon grows its portfolio of its own private label brands, companies selling on the platform may be concerned about Amazon competing with incumbent best-sellers.
Maple Holistics’ Masterson also warns of the risk of relying too heavily on Amazon as a sales and distribution channel. “Keep in mind that Amazon has the power to shut down selling accounts whenever they see fit,” Masterson says. “They always have the upper hand. There’s no messing around, which is part and parcel to what has made them one of the most successful companies in the world.”