Amazon Day - SCOE 2011 Day 1

Day 1 - Friday, July 08, 2011

As usual, I was eagerly looking forward to the first day of the conference. The format was going to be different from last year in that Amazon Day was scheduled for Friday instead of the customary Saturday. Vendor Day was now on Saturday and part of Sunday.

In addition, a brand new session called Peer Education was created where experienced booksellers lead various breakout sessions to share their knowledge and expertise with fellow booksellers was scheduled for Sunday alongside of the remainder of the vendor presentations.

I am one of the featured Peer Education speakers this year and I am scheduled to host two sessions on Sunday to discuss “The Future of Internet Bookselling.”

9am – Opening Remarks & Keynote

The conference was opened by organizer Rhonda Schneider. After the customary welcoming remarks she mentioned that attendance was up from roughly 270 participants in 2010 to 473 in 2011. She also said she had to turn down 150 applicants because the conference was maxed out this year. Is there a change of venue in the works? That would be a shame because the Seattle Airport Marriott is a great hotel with plenty of amenities.

In addition, Amazon sent 150 employees from all areas of the company. That’s why an entire day is devoted to Amazon. After Rhonda wrapped up her remarks, the keynote speaker, Amazon employee Joseph Sirosh, Vice President of Transaction Risk Management took the podium.

Essentially, Mr. Sirosh gave a big “rah, rah” speech about the benefits of selling on Amazon.

Oh really?

I’m willing to bet that people attending this conference who have traveled from all over the world have a pretty clear understanding of the benefits of selling on Amazon. Sic!

10am – Selling Toys & Games on Amazon

Amazon employees Tim Liberman and David Dang did a great job explaining how sellers can get approved for selling toys & games. Unfortunately, I didn’t get their titles, but no matter. They were good and I found the presentation quite informative.

During a minor lull in the talk, a seller sitting at my table was talking about how she uses FBA to sell all kinds of products. As an example, on her way to the conference she stopped at a well-known department store and noticed camping tents were being closed out. She bought 20 of them and plans to sell them when she gets back to Pennsylvania. Tents! Who would have thought?

Tim and David took turns explaining the requirements for qualification. In a nutshell, here are the major criteria:

- The seller’s first sale must be prior to September 2011.
- Defect rate must be less than 1%.
- Seller must have shipped more than 25 units in the prior 30 day period.
- Seller must have a pre-fulfillment cancel rate of 2.5%.
- The seller must not have a late shipment rate greater than 5%.

Other important information I learned is that to manually upload toys for FBA an entirely different template is required. Pretty obvious once you’re told, but honestly, it never occurred to me.

11am – New Amazon Reporting Tools

Amazon has put together some pretty impressive reports that should be available by the end of the year. Those reports include things like trend graphs created from your seller historical data. They also include reports to track sales velocity, replenishment predictions, time listed, and more.

12pm - Lunch

The conference provided a pretty nice spread for the noon break. I choose a table full of people who I hadn’t met and began getting acquainted as we ate. One woman sold toys while a second woman sold “children’s products” which included toys (there it is again!) Of the four gentlemen at the table, one sold housewares, one sold electronics, and two sold books (finally, confirmation I wasn’t the only bookseller left on the planet).

These folks freely shared some pretty interesting seller tips which I’ll share with you on the Internet Bookselling Forum after the conference is over. I’ll create a new topic for each concept to make it easy to discuss.

1pm - FBA 201

Yes, there was also an FBA 101, but I skipped it. The 201 session was hosted by Amazonian Tom Plaster. He passed on quite a bit of good information I didn’t know.

For example, I didn’t know that students ordering books from Amazon using a “.edu” eMail address automatically receives free shipping. Did you know about the “Amazon MOM” program?

That’s a program where new mothers get free shipping for 30 days after giving birth. Plus, if the new mom continues to order baby items after the 30 day period, she continues to get free Prime shipping.

Here’s something else I didn’t know before. After doing an Amazon search, there’s a button you can click that will only show you products eligible for Prime shipping. Now merchant fulfilled items are being squeezed out of the search results. Those of you not using FBA take note.

Tom relayed an interesting story about a volume seller who imports from Germany. I won’t name the product, but the guy has the manufacture ship a container of products across the ocean and directly to Amazon’s Fulfillment Center. He never even touches it. Great idea.

Speaking of bulk sellers, in Amazon’s continuing effort to crack down on merchants sending long-tail merchandise to its Fulfillment Centers, they are forcing those sellers to ship their inventory to a center clear across the country even if there’s one right down the street!

This latest tactic effectively triples the shipping cost to the seller and virtually wipes out the profitability of penny books being sold for $3.99.

Want to know the criteria for deciding which fulfillment center is used for specific shipments? Here it is:

Size + Category + Popularity + Order Patterns + Current Inventory + Proximity = FC Destination

Sure buddy, sure it is.

When several people asked the presenter why is Amazon treating some sellers so harshly, the basic response was, “If you don’t like it, don’t use FBA.”Sound like anyone you know? eBay maybe???

2pm – Amazon Webstore

Unfortunately, I got pulled away on several important business calls and I missed the majority of this session. I’m hoping I’ll get the catch the follow-up tomorrow. I really want to look further into this one.

A couple of things I did catch were that Prime can be used with your Amazon Webstore and that there’s a beta program that will allow Amazon Associates to build widgets from their web store.

You need a minimum of 100 products to build a web store. For more information check out Amazon's Webstore Infomation Page.

3pm – Marketplace Web Services (MWS)

New MWS APIs were launched to make life easier for advanced Amazon sellers wanting to automate the backend of their operations. Now you can:

  • Get better inventory tracking
  • Create much more robust reports from newly accessible data fields
  • Build better order synchronization mechanisms from newly accessible data fields
  • Develop a more powerful FBA shipment creation applications

One of the neatest things FBA sellers can now do is watch inventory levels so when an item runs low on stock, you can replenish that item in time to avoid a stock out.

If your timing is off and you sell the last item before new inventory arrives, you can make the system automatically switch to merchant fulfilled to avoid gaps in sales. Once the new inventory arrives, the system automatically switches it back to FBA. Sweet!

4pm – Closing

Closing remarks were made by Amazonian Scott Kubicki, Vice President of Seller Support. The jist of his talk centered around how Amazon encourages seller feedback so they can support us better.

Rhonda Schneider wrapped things up with a few announcements and the conference ended for the day.

Evening Activities

Eric and I went to dinner with Toby, Brenda, and Kelsey from MediaScouter. We made our way downtown to a great seafood restaurant on the edge of a lake with outdoor seating. Toby, the owner of MediaScouter is a fascinating guy who’s into a little bit of everything. We had a long and in-depth conversation about bookselling, eCommerce, and business ideas in general that lasted several hours.

I think that conversation was worth the price of admission alone.

Good hunting!

Read about day 2 of the conference...

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