For many years eBay was the only option for people wanting to sell products online. In 2000, however, Amazon came along and the online selling landscape was changed instantaneously. Although at first Amazon was reserved for people selling books, CDs and DVDs, it has since expanded to become one of the worlds biggest retailers. With years of experience on their side you’d expect the platform to be smooth-sailing. But in reality this is quite far from the truth, with many sellers maintaining that there is a ‘dark side’ to Amazon.

In light of this, and with some help from Prabhat Shah, we asked a bunch of Amazon sellers what their current pain points are. We’re hoping this helps people who are interested in selling on Amazon to feel more informed before they take the leap. The benefit of Amazon being such a dominant market player is that there’s always going to be someone experiencing a similar problem to you.

1. Reviews

The phrase ‘product reviews’ seemed to crop up time and time again throughout our research. Amazon sellers are unsure about whether product reviews matter, how to encourage them or the impact of negative reviews. Back in October 2016 Amazon altered their Terms of Business and banned incentivised reviews in an attempt to crackdown on sellers who were buying fake positive reviews to boost their search rankings. The upshot of this, however, is that it is now much harder to get reviews even through legitimate means. In fact usually only 1-2% of buyers will leave a review, which means if you sell 100 products you can expect to gain 1 or 2 reviews.

Although product reviews don’t directly affect Amazon search rankings, they have a pretty hefty indirect impact. For most buyers reviews act as a form of social proof. Seeing other people have positive experiences with a product increases consumer trust and allows prospects to feel more comfortable with making a purchase. Having more positive reviews therefore means that more people will buy your product, and popular products are shown higher in search results so this becomes a cyclic process.

As well as gaining a good number of product reviews, it’s also important that these reviews are positive. Amazon takes customer satisfaction very seriously, so it makes sense that sellers with more than 5% negative ratings risk being penalised by Amazon. In some cases sellers may even have their accounts suspended. But this can be problematic since unhappy customers are much more likely to leave a review than happy customers. Customer reviews therefore aren’t truly reflective of overall customer satisfaction.

So with that in mind, how can sellers legitimately encourage positive reviews? Our best advice is to ensure you’re providing top-notch customer service. This means being polite and professional to buyers, using nice packaging (it can make a product seem more high-end) and ensure your delivery is timely. In order to minimise dissatisfaction it’s also important to regularly review your product description to make sure it is as accurate as possible. Listen to previous customers’ feedback, if people are saying your product is smaller than anticipated be sure to add dimension to your product description, for example.

If, however, you do find yourself getting a negative review – don’t panic! It goes without saying that it’s impossible to please everyone. As long as your negative feedback rating stays below 2% you have nothing to worry about. Amazon also allocates a 60-day window with regard to negative feedback – if you can satisfactorily resolve the customers issue Amazon will remove the negative review.

2. Inadequate Support

As a result of more sellers joining the Amazon marketplace, the quality of customer service that Amazon have to offer is decreasing. As well as being rushed off their feet, there’s a lot of problems that Amazon Support simply cannot solve. One respondent said ‘Vendor Centrals help and Support is really poor. Slow resolution times, not reading all the correspondence, poor information, lack of credibility, unable to escalate issues, closing cases without resolving. Awful service needs an overhaul.’ But if Amazon is your main source of income the impact of slow customer service can be devastating. For instance if you are selling around 40 products a day but Amazon suddenly removes your listing and takes 3 weeks to reinstate it you’d be around 840 sales down. If your product is £6 that could mean you’re making £5040 less than usual.

This is a stark contrast to the customer service that buyers receive. In 2013 Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos said ‘Amazon is defined by our customer-centricity, putting the customer at the centre of everything we do’. This is reinforced by Amazons recent amends to their returns policy. Back in 2017 Amazon made it so that merchant-fulfilled products are subject to the same rules as items fulfilled by Amazon. Essentially this makes returns a lot easier, as customers can simply print off a return address and instantly get a refund with no questions asked. Again, this comes at a loss to sellers as products will be returned at their expense.

So what’s the reason for this discrepancy between customer service for buyers and sellers? Some people reported that customer service got worse after the American retailer outsourced some of their workload to other countries. We know that Amazon has a huge base in India which could cause issues because of the time difference and language barrier, so this makes sense. Due to this merchants are claiming that issues are left unanswered and not escalated to their internal team. If you’re one of the lucky few who manage to get a response from Amazon don’t get your hopes up because it’s probably just an automated response.

From our experience the best way to get around this is to call Amazon Support directly. Yes you’ll probably be put on hold for a while but in the end it’s worth it. If, for whatever reason, that doesn’t work try opening new cases about the same issue. From speaking with other sellers it seems that if you continually pester Amazon by asking for updates on the same case they will simply put you at the bottom of the pile. Opening a new case is therefore more effective since Amazon Support workers are assessed on how quickly they respond to queries. According to a few people on Seller Central forums, you can also get a speedy reply by emailing [email protected]. Of course it’s not the real Amazon managing director but is monitored by Amazon Support.

3. Listing Optimisation

The third most common problem we came across was listing optimisation. Sellers are unsure about best practices when it comes to product descriptions, images, pricing and keywords. What makes this worse is that a lot of the material that you read online seems to be contradictory. Amazon has slowly become an oversaturated market, so competition is more fierce than ever. Therefore, if you want to achieve those all-important sales it is important that you list your products well in order to give them the best chance at appearing at the top of Amazon search results.

For most sellers the problem is time. Listing optimisation usually only happens once. Once your product is live and sales start to come through, sellers attention often turns to operational needs. A good trick is to look at what your competitors are doing. But don’t fall into the trap of copying them – you want to be a leader not a follower. Your listing should answer any questions that your customers may have about your product in order to evoke consumer trust. Done correctly, listing optimisation can increase visits, boost conversions and grow your products.

There are 3 key pillars of Amazon listing optimisation: keywords, images and product descriptions. In terms of keywords, search results will not show your products unless your listing contains the exact search term used by the consumer. In October 2018, however, Amazon made changes to the A9 Ranking Algorithm so that keywords in the product title are no longer weighted more favourably than backend keywords. What this means is that it no longer matters whether your keywords are in your product title or search terms (generic keywords). Don’t just guess at the best keywords though, do some research beforehand on the words associated with your products and what search terms customers use. Our favourite tool is Sonar, and it’s free!

When it comes to product images, your main image will be the first thing your customers see so it’s important to make a good first impression. Amazon rules dictate that your main image should have a white background and the product should fill at least 85% of the image. Your other images should show different angles, USPs and uses of the product. Research shows that including real life images of a human using your products can increase your conversion rate drastically!

Finally, when writing your product description try to include all the information necessary for making an informed buying decision.  We generally recommend including at least 5 bullet points, but only if they’re adding valuable information to your listing rather than repeating or reiterating things that you’ve already said. The rise of AI and machine learning also means that you should optimise your content for machines as well as humans. To do this you should keep your sentences short (ideally between 15 – 20 words), and include relevant keywords whilst ensuring your sentences are still readable!

Do you need help starting or managing your Amazon store? With years of experience on our side, we’d be happy to help. Get in touch!

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