There are two issues that I would like to point out with IBM Access Client Solutions.
Internet storefront startup checklist
Do you have some products that you want to sell on the Internet? This checklist will give you an overview of what you need to start a successful online storefront. Your location and the amount of office space is not relevant to getting started. Having the products that customers want at a good price with good customer service is the recipe for a successful business. If you have that, consider selling your products online. The retail industry is shifting from physical retail space to the Internet. E-commerce sales growth has been growing rapidly, even during the recession.
1. Select a shopping cart solution
Sounds simple enough. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of shopping cart solutions on the market. Pick one.
Selecting the right shopping cart software is critical. The features of the shopping cart need to match your requirements. Some carts are simple. Some offer a wide range of features. Some will handle a large number of products, others may integrate well with a back-office system that you have. You should compile a list of cart features you must have and those that you want. Then prioritize the list and start shopping for a cart.
2. Develop detailed product content
If your products do not have good images and informative product descriptions they will not sell. It is that simple. No one will buy a product from the product description provided by most manufacturers. In order to entice a prospective customer, you will need to provide a good description of the product. The product description should reflect your personal knowledge of the product. You need to speak to the customer through the product description, as if you were having a conversation with the prospective buyer. Why this product? Why is it better than the others? What are its features?
A good shopping cart will support over 100 product attributes per item. Investing your time in product descriptions is necessary for any Internet store to have a chance at being successful.
3. Set up phone and email
Your customers are going to want to communicate with you. Phone and email are a minimum requirement. Instant messaging from the website is a growing trend. Sales volume will dictate the number of phone lines and customer service staff you will need. Plan for growth.
Use email accounts such as CustomerService@WebStore.com; don’t use Bill321@gmail.com. Don’t use your cell phone as your business line; do setup an 800 number. Get a phone headset for customer service staff. Be responsive to customer service requests. Poor response will generate negative reviews. Positive reviews will help you succeed in this marketplace.
4. Select a payment method
Your retail store should offer multiple payment methods. The cost of merchant gateways varies widely. Some charge by the transaction, others charge a monthly fee and a transaction fee. The fees can vary considerably depending on the products being sold. PayPal is one of the simplest, but it also is a good indication of a low-cost website. Before you sign up for a merchant account, make sure it will work with your cart. Typically, some integration work is needed.
5. Review your shipping options
Your options for retail shipping carriers are limited, so you may think deciding how you ship should not take much time. Shipping cost is a key factor for an online store. Carriers have standard shipping rates and negotiated shipping rates based on shipping volume and contracts. To provide accurate shipping rates at the time of the sale, you need to know the weights and dimensions of every product. Shipping costs are likely the most overlooked area for new online businesses.
6. Managing product inventory
Should a product be available for sale on the website if you don’t have the inventory? The answer typically is not a simple yes or no. Can you drop-ship the product? Do you have alternate sources for the product? How long is your lead time for delivery? It is not uncommon to use a mix of inventory management methods. Different products, manufacturers and geographical considerations should be considered when planning product inventory methods.
7. Managing orders
Once your Internet store becomes successful, managing orders will become a priority. How you manage orders as your sales volume grows will determine if you continue to grow. If you already have an order fulfillment system, consider how it will provide updates back to the website. Will it send shipment confirmation emails with tracking numbers? How will customer service manage order changes? There are many options and a wide range of software solutions.
8. Don’t do it alone
This list is a basic guide. Don’t underestimate the amount of effort required. It is likely that you have skills and experience with some of the items on this list but not all of them. To be successful you need to have a good team with diverse skills to bring the project together. Inspire Technologies has the business and technical skills to help your online business be successful. Give us a call. Let’s discuss your ideas and determine if it would be mutually beneficial for us to work together.
You have a fancy web page that displays all of the items you want to sell to prospective customers. You have the inventory to support the sales. You might even have Google Analytics running on your website to make you aware of how well your web site is attracting customers. This part was easy and fun. You realize that the Internet and mobile phones make access to your inventory available to customers worldwide. So the more exposure you can give to your products, the better chance people will be able to find your ‘stuff’ worldwide!
In Part I of this series you got brave and decided to branch out and sell your products on other Internet marketplaces such as Amazon, Ebay, and Rakute, just to name a few. You are having so much success selling on these Internet storefronts and you think to yourself, this is easy! So you decide to add more products to your inventory selection. You branch out and contract with new suppliers to round out your line of products.
But, now it’s getting a little harder to manage all these products. How do you keep all these marketplaces up to date with your current products and inventories without having to manually touch each one of them? Well, that’s where Inspire Technologies comes in. At Inspire Technologies we can download your web content into our database. Once we have your data, we conveniently send that same data automatically into all of your marketplace stores. And you want to know what the best part is? This all happens without any manual intervention! For more on our product feeds, read our article on Working with Product Feeds to Amazon.
Inspire Technologies can also work directly with your suppliers to import their product listings into our database to merge with your current products. This will automatically add or delete products based on their listing, include their inventory quantities with your own inventory so you have more items to offer for sale without having to stock the inventory, and post to your various marketplaces. So, what does this do for you? This will allow you to increase your sales by offering a wider selection of products to your customers. We all know that increased sales mean increased profits for you!
However, one of the challenges we face when importing supplier products is that of quality content. Each marketplace that you want to sell your product on have their own rules for how they will accept your product listings so it’s important that your suppliers supply good content to you. At the very least, each supplier should have an item/model number for their product along with a short title, sales description and stocking unit of measure.
However, the need for more content is never ending. Marketplaces like Amazon add most of their listings based on the manufacturers UPC code so this is a very important piece of data you need from your suppliers if you want to sell in Amazon’s marketplace. From this code they assign their unique identifier called an ASIN. Once they have established an ASIN, it is easy for other sellers to offer the same product. For more information on ASIN’s see our article on Selecting the best ASIN for improved sales.
Some additional information needed from your supplier is the purchase price and recommended MSRP price. Manufacturers often have their own rules on how far you can deviate from their MSRP price, so make sure you are aware of their pricing rules before you start selling. Inspire Technologies can help you structure your pricing so that you can constantly compare your retail price to that of competitors. Our re-pricing program allows you to offer competitive pricing according to rules you establish. Contact Inspire Technologies to see how our re-pricing program can help with your sales.
Many marketplaces require you to submit an image of the product you are trying to sell. These too have rules. They may need to be a certain pixel size, may need to have a white background, or just need to properly represent the item being offered. Be sure your supplier can give you an internet link to their professional image or you could end up spending a lot of money on photography services. Inspire Technologies also has several options to help with images. We can calculate the pixel size of each image to make sure it meets the requirements of a marketplace as well as work with your suppliers to download images direct from their server to our server if they don’t offer an internet link. Contact Inspire Technologies with your image requirements to see how we can help.
Often times a product can be purchased in varying configurations, or attributes; size, color, quantity packs, material type, etc. If so, the main product is often referred to as the parent item. Each variant is known as a child or option and usually has a unique item number representing the exact specification of the variation. When a supplier gives you their list of products it is important that they identify these groups in a way that no human intervention is required to know what products make up the ‘group’. An easy way to do this is to have both an item number for the unique item to purchase, but also a base style number that uniquely ‘groups’ all variations of a products offering.
A simple Excel spreadsheet is an easy way to do this by having each attribute listed in a separate column:
This chart shows two products available for purchase; either a Floral or Plain Blanket. The blankets are available in green or brown, and either size 66 or 69. The Item Style number uniquely groups the two different offerings. In this example, you would be offering two products each with selections to choose color and size.
Inventory listings can be quite challenging to manage when you take into account all of the content requirements. Trying to sell on various marketplaces can add to this challenge by requiring lots of manual labor to keep your data updated. Let Inspire Technologies help you manage your inventory and help you grow your E-Commerce Business. Contact us with your requirements!
With all the online marketplaces available should you consider selling on Amazon? With the work I do at Inspire Technologies, I have a unique perspective on the pros and cons for selling on Amazon. The list is not any order.
Reasons to Sell on Amazon
- Amazon is the World’s largest online marketplace. Therefore your products will be seen by the largest group of consumers.
- It is simple and inexpensive to get started. Ex. the profession plan only costs $39.99 per month.
- Amazon handles all of the customer payments. As a merchant you have a low risk of fraud. Amazon will handle the merchant transaction and your account will be credited for sales. This has additional value for overseas sales that have an increased risk of fraud.
- You can choose to sell your products only in the United States or Worldwide.
- If Amazon already has the item defined in their catalog it is easy to link information to your product content.
- Amazon has some of the best product reviews. Good product reviews are an excellent sales tool.
- A merchant can be the manufacturer of an item or someone working from their home. It does not matter. Each merchant will be rated using a common set of metrics by Amazon.
- You can sell almost anything on Amazon. They are the 21st century General Store.
- Consumers will find your niche items. Amazon’s customer base is large and global. If you have a specialized product and want to reach a global market, Amazon is the place. Niche items can also demand better profit margins.
- Merchants that sell on Amazon must provide excellent customer service functions. Apply their best practices across all of your sales channels to improve customer service and it will help your sales. Here is a link to a blog I had written about using Amazon’s sales metrics.
Top Reasons not to Sell on Amazon
- Amazon gets to see all product sales. If a product is selling well Amazon will purchase the item directly from the manufacture and become your competition.
- Product content uploaded by merchants become part of Amazon’s product catalog. For example, any image or product description uploaded can be used by all merchants selling that product. This can be beneficial or can be disastrous when the product content uploaded is incorrect.
- Incorrect product descriptions will drive returns. It is not uncommon for there to be ten or fifteen ASINs for one UPC. The product content can vary, be listed in a different department or represent a different package configuration (sold individually or in a 12 pack).
- There is a lot of competition for commodity items.
- Amazon charges a sales commission on all products sold in their marketplace. The commission rates vary, 15% is common for most product categories (note that this includes credit card fees that typically cost a merchant 3%).
- Amazon owns your store. They can turn it off at any time. I have seen accounts get suspended for days or completely terminated due to merchants not meeting Amazon’s requirements. Here is information on Amazon’s A-to-Z guarantee as well as a link to the restricted products.
- Amazon can warehouse and pick your items. It is called Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA). This can be convenient but adds a number of additional costs to a sale. Here is a link to their FBA fees.
- Offering products for sales that you cannot fulfill will drive your seller ratings down. To be successful on Amazon you will need to have a solid system to accurately manage inventory and orders.
- Product feeds are used to add and maintain product content, prices and inventory. The product feed specifications are different by department and are continually changing.
- Your competition has access to your prices. Amazon provides tools to allow merchants to retrieve competitive product prices. It helps drive lower prices, but you need the right applications to leverage this raw data (this is a service that Inspire provides).
Amazon is the global Internet marketplace. If you plan to do any Internet sales Amazon should be the first major marketplace you sell through. Amazon will drive your sales but maintaining profit margins can be difficult. Amazon will educate you so use them to sharpen your business process and use the increased sales created by Amazon to get better discounts from your suppliers. Don’t stop with just one store. Open your own private branded store or stores in other marketplaces. A high SKU count is key to a profitable Amazon store. Inspire Technologies has developed the Item Intelligence system that can help your business streamline the process of listing product on Amazon. Give us a call to learn more.
Multiple ASINs for a UPC
When listing products on Amazon’s Sellers Central it is important to select the correct ASIN for the product. The easiest way to list products on Amazon is to use their listing loader template and provide a UPC code as the product ID. When product feeds are defined using this method Amazon will use its system to attempt to select the best ASIN for the UPC. This is matching by UPC. The second option is to match by ASIN. If you know the correct ASIN for a product the product feed will have a much higher success rate.
When Match by UPC is used Amazon will attempt to find the correct ASIN for the product. Here are some of the problems with match by UPC:
- UPC or EAN-13 are used to identify a product but do not qualify the package configuration. Products that are offered with multiple package configurations are not clearly identified. Amazon should offer to match by GTIN-14 this would enable product matching that includes the package configuration (products sold by the each vs. by the 6 pack or 12 pack).
- Amazon’s data is only as good as the previous merchants that have provided the product content. Some items have incorrect UPCs as well as incorrect or missing manufacturers item numbers.
- Amazon will use the department provided in the list loader product feed to look for the ASIN. It will not look for the product in other departments.
- It is common to have as many as fifteen different ASINs for a UPC.
- The ASIN assigned for Amazon.com can be different than the ASINs assigned in Amazon’s other marketplaces. Each country maintains its own catalog of products.
Selecting the correct ASIN
Selecting the correct ASIN takes time or requires a large database of product content. Multiple product attributes should be considered before selecting an ASIN. To start use the UPC and if available include the Manufacturers item number. Additional product attributes that should be considered are, the product title, package configuration, brand name and price. Using these attributes will increase the probability that you have the correct ASIN but there is more…
Selecting an ASIN to get the best product match is significant but it is likely that there will be a few ASINs that would be a good product attribute match. Selecting the ASIN that has the best sales is a secondary goal. Knowing the sales rank of an ASIN, its department, number of parent child options and how the product has been ranked by customer reviews is almost as important as getting the correct product!
Here is a condensed listing of ASINs for an Antibacterial SoftSoap. All fifteen items are listed using UPC code 074182262549. Note that this listing was generated on July 8th 2014. Some of the ASINs may be discontinued over time.
Selling on internet marketplaces like Amazon can be a wonderful experience. You have a great opportunity to market your products worldwide. However, you need to make sure you conform to each particular marketplaces policy on what you can and cannot sell through their store.
Amazon is a great example! When you first agreed to sell on Amazon you received their rules and regulations. It is your responsibility to review it and make sure you are in compliance, as well as check back often to make sure any revisions they make don’t affect you. You cannot sell anything hazardous, prohibited by law, or alive to name the obvious. However while some things are obvious others are not.
A prime example is Amazons Prohibited Content rules. Amazon posts a list of items prohibited to sell on their site, so as a seller, you need to be aware of this list. But know that this list is not all-inclusive. It is your responsibility to make sure ANY item you sell does not fall into one of their prohibited categories. Amazon is very serious about not allowing prohibited items to be sold and they will monitor your inventory to make sure you are in compliance. If any prohibited items are found in your offerings, Amazon will quickly suspend or terminate your selling privileges. If you have any inventory in their fulfillment centers, they can destroy your inventory without any reimbursement to you, no matter what the product is, prohibited or not.
So, if you receive an email from Amazon advising you to remove prohibited items from your listing within 48 hours of the notice, take it serious! Amazon will work with you as a seller to fix your listings, but be forewarned that if you don’t comply, your Seller Central account could be shut down permanently…. and there goes your profits!
So what, you ask, are examples of prohibited items? They can be found in many categories! Many are obvious: Alcoholic Beverages, Illegal Drugs, Drug Paraphernalia, and Weapons.
But did you think about that pair of snakeskin boots you’d love to own? Yep, any product made from the skin of snakes, crocodiles or seals are prohibited! Do you take a joint pain supplement to help relieve your joint pain? Many supplements are made from shark cartilage; however you won’t find these on Amazon because products that contain parts from sharks, whales, dolphins, or porpoises are also prohibited!
Do any of your products contain an expiration or ‘use by’ date? Amazon prohibits selling anything that has passed the stamped date on the product. Perishable products must be removed from your inventory 50 days prior to their expiration date. Note that if these items are sold by Amazon thru their FBA fulfillment program they have the right to dispose of these items without returning to you! So please make sure you organize your inventory and pick items from your inventory according to these dates. Are any of your products labeled as ‘tester’ or ‘not intended for resale’? Better get these items off your seller central inventory list as they are also prohibited by Amazon!
These are just some simple examples of items you may not think would be prohibited but there are also items that are not so simple to identify. If you look at Amazon’s example of permitted listings within the Drug category, you will notice under their “Examples of Permitted Lists” that drugs approved for over-the-counter purchase, or dietary supplements are approved AS LONG AS they are not otherwise prohibited by Amazon policies. If you review their extensive list “Examples of Prohibited Listing” under the Drug category, you will see many examples of prohibited items. If you offer anything that could be even remotely considered within this Drug category make sure you know for certain that the product is allowed to be sold.
Inspire Technologies can help you manage your prohibited items. In addition to the items posted by Amazon, you can supply us with a custom list of potential keywords for items you might offer that Amazon would consider prohibited and/or restricted. Working with Inspire as your partner, we will monitor your product titles and descriptions and exclude those prohibited items from any feeds we send to various marketplaces. But even this can be tricky to be all-inclusive. Amazon recently found medicated shampoo to be a prohibited item, as well as surgical stainless steel scissors. What seems like simple everyday items to most of us could cause your site big problems!
Moral of this story, once Amazon finds you to be out of compliance and suspends or terminates your store it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get them to turn you back on. You could spend countless hours trying to get your status restored. So the best advice we can offer you is to make sure you understand the “Restricted Product Rules” for any marketplace you intend to offer your products through and make sure you adhere to all of their rules and regulations.
Part 1 – Inventory Feeds
The different type of Amazon feeds
- Inventory feed
- Product feed
There are three things to consider when selecting a method to manage your price and inventory on Amazon; The offer information you need to manage, how often you need to update your offer information, and the amount of products you need to manage.
For this section we’ll focus on managing small amounts of products using Amazons Flat File Inventory Feeds.
Amazon provides three files for managing offer information. To add, remove and manage products in your Amazon catalog we can use Amazon’s Flat File Inventory Feed Spreadsheet. The flat file inventory feed allows you to add/remove, and update your offer information for products that already exist on Amazon. This is the file you should use if you are just starting to sell items on Amazon. This file lets you add/remove products on Amazon using existing product information that is already available on Amazon.
To list items on Amazon you need to define an SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). This is the identifier we use to manage our products internally. The next thing we need to identify is the Product ID. Product ID is a more universal identifier. This is a unique identifier that a product is commonly identified by. Valid product IDs are ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers), ISBN (International Standard Book Number), UPC (Universal Product Code), EAN (European Article Number). This number lets you match your product to the existing products with the same product IDs already on Amazon. When choosing a product ID we have to take into account that some of the product IDs could map to more than just products on Amazon. The best product ID to use is the Amazon product ID (ASIN). The reason that this is the best product ID is that it uses one to one mapping. When you list a product using ASINs it will be offered on the correct product on Amazon. When you do not know the exact ASIN of the product you are listing to Amazon, it is important to check the ASIN that Amazon assigned to the SKU we uploaded to make sure the catalog information is the same as the product you are selling.
Some examples of discrepancies are for items sold in packs of more than one, items with different model numbers, or if your items could vary by something small. It is important to check your listings after they are uploaded to ensure your item is correctly listed and the product is not offered for sale under the wrong ASIN so you don’t sell a 12 pack of socks for 5 dollars when you really want to sell a single pair for 5 dollars.
With this file you can add an item for sale on Amazon with very little information. To list an item for sale using this feed you would only need an SKU, product ID, product ID type, price, and quantity for sale. This will list the item for sale on Amazon. Some of the other helpful information you should supply is tax information; is the item taxable? Item condition; is the item new, used? Lead time to ship; how long will it take to ship the item? The default is 3 days, so if it would take you longer than three days to ship an item it is imperative to include this in the feed to Amazon. If you want to allow people from outside the US to purchase the items we will also need to set the ‘will ship international’ to ‘Yes’.
If you already have items listed on Amazon and you just want to change the price and inventory you can use the price and inventory feed. This feed is designed to let you update your unit price, minimum price, maximum price, quantity, lead time to ship, and fulfillment channel based on your Amazon SKU. You can use this feed to update any of the above attributes listed.
The last inventory flat file Amazon offers is called the Listing Loader File. This file is designed to help users match their products to products that already exist on Amazon. This is best used to find out if a product we want to sell is already on Amazon and to see which ones are not. We can also use this file to see which products match more than one product on Amazon and select the correct ASIN to list the product under.
For part 2 we will discuss Amazon’s product feeds.
This is the first in a series of Google Shopping articles that will be geared towards retailers who:
- are unfamiliar with Google Shopping.
- are skeptical about getting a good ROI.
- have a limited marketing budget.
- have limited technical skills or resources.
- don’t have the time to delve through pages of instructions and tutorials.
I will give you the basics and include tips to get the most out of Google Product Listings.
If you’re not familiar with Google Shopping, just perform a Google search using the name or brand of any item or category of items that you sell/want to sell. If you sell washroom accessories, enter something like “Electronic Hand Dryers”. You’ll see a boxed “Shop for” section near the top of the list of search results on the left or in the top right of the page.
Click on the “Shop for” hyperlink or the “Shopping” tab under the search box to view all the Google Shopping items relevant to the keywords entered in the search box.
If Google determines that the keywords entered refer to one specific product only, the shopping section will list only that item, and the each product listing ad will be represented by the name of all the sellers of that item. Enter Hoover UH70905 to see an example.
You may notice the words “sponsored” or “Merchant links are sponsored” in this section. Up until late 2012, Google provided this service for free. But now you need to create an Adwords account, set up a budget with a credit card, and start a special “campaign” to pay Google for the default positioning on this list and for clicks that result in a potential customer visiting your site.
Each item that appears in this shopping section is a called a “Product Listing Ad”. In order to create a product listing ad, retailers must:
- Create a Google Adwords Account and add a payment method;
- Create a Google Merchant Account and link it to the Adwords account;
- Upload a feed of products to the Merchant account;
- Create an Adwords campaign for your product listing; Google has made some recent changes in the way this works and is now calling this campaign a “Shopping Campaign”. I will be reviewing the most recent changes in an upcoming article.
The benefit of your items appearing near the top of the most popular search engine is obvious. If your items are near the top of shopping section, you’re sure to get many views on your item’s image and the price. Within Google, the alternatives to creating product listing ads are to pay for text ads – which appear on the right side of the search results page – or to try to improve your organic (free) search rankings.
Basically, a product listing ad’s default positioning within the Google Shopping section is determined by a combination of how much you’re willing to pay for a click – called maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid – and how relevant your item is to the search keywords entered. This is a major difference from the “Buy Box” contest that Amazon sellers face, where Amazon practically chooses the seller for the customer. Google shoppers can scan the list and will often make a choice from this first page of ads. The shopper can change the default sort to “Price – low to high”, or by clicking on the Price column in single item view. Changing the default sort most likely occurs quite often, especially if the list is too large for one page. So although there are customers who blindly choose one of the first two or three entries without looking further for a better price, good default positioning will not always translate into a high number of clicks. This increases the importance of having a low or lowest price – and decreases the importance of a seller having a high or highest maximum CPC bid amount – when there are fewer items for the shopper to choose from.
If you want to give Product Listing Ads a try, my suggestion is to first focus on a very small subset of your inventory. Many retailers choose to upload their entire inventory to their Merchant account. But I think it’s easiest to begin with a particular category from your website or choose your subset based on other attributes. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which category or set of items to first upload to Google:
- Which set of items has the least number of the same or similar items already offered by retailers in Google Shopping?
- Which set has prices that beat or are competitive with the same or similar items currently listed in Google Shopping?
- Which set has the best profit margin?
- Which set has the best content? Better content (enticing descriptions, a good feature list, and high quality images) would increase the likelihood that when someone actually clicks your item, they will stay and buy that item or at least continue shopping on your site. If you don’t have good content, your conversion rate on the paid clicks will suffer and the chances of making a profit on the campaign are diminished.
There are many other ways to group your items for ad campaigns, and this can now be done directly in Adwords with product groups, product labels, and custom labels. I will explain how to do this in a future article. Sticking with small groups of items will give you flexibility and facilitate optimization of your Product Listing campaigns. A higher maximum CPC might work best for one set of products while a lower one might work best for another set. This optimization process involves trial and error, and you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed and discouraged if you are working with too many items.