Sarah Tripp and David Shoap, husband and wife, created Sarah’s Treats and Treasures when a unique inventory opportunity caught their eye: hand-crafted pins made right in the U.S. Using the original clay mold, the pins were cast in a lead-free pewter and antiqued (or gold plated).
“They're so pretty, it's not hard to sell something that has so much variety, when it comes down to it,” David recalls.
Finding the perfect product to sell? Check. Selling it? Well, that’s where things got a little fuzzy.
“So, it was, ‘How do we get it in front of people?’ Neither one of us had time to run an actual physical store. So, she's like, ‘Okay, let me start online stores.’ So, I'm like, ‘Okay, we'll start with Amazon first.’”
This was before Sarah set herself up with a Shopify store; she didn’t actually even have a website yet. Instead, they got all of their listings up on Amazon and were accepted in the Jewelry category.
From some Amazon listings to a thriving brand, we’ll look at how Sarah and David conquered Amazon (and then scaled with Shopify). And, of course, what you can learn from them so you too can dominate the Amazon Channel.
Note: The Amazon Channel makes it possible for anyone selling in USD or CAD to easily list on the world’s largest marketplace, and get next-level product and brand visibility. Read more about it here or:
Step 1: Plan, plan and plan some more.
Sarah and David spent almost an entire year in the pre-launch phase. Not because of perfectionism or fear, but because they were busy planning their success.
David explains, “It was almost a year of inventorying, photographing, writing descriptions, coming up with keywords, programming data sheets and all kinds of stuff.”
His single biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs thinking of tackling Amazon? Learn how to really use Excel.
“You can have Excel automate a lot of stuff for you. So then it’s just getting the SKU and the name, and then you can have Excel add everything else.”
David argues that five to ten minutes experimenting around in Excel will usually get you what you want. That time spent exploring and questioning? Definitely worth it:
“Copy and paste down 1,600 lines? Saved yourself many, many hours of work. I don't care if you have Amazon, Shopify or eBay. Learn Excel.”
This is one of the best instructional videos I’ve watched on getting more out of Excel, so consider investing an hour of your time to save yourself many more:
David recommends spending time pre-launch to organize your inventory, photograph your products, write compelling product descriptions, conduct a little keyword research, etc. Those that come prepared will notice the difference.
These resources will help you with these tasks:
- The Beginner's Guide to Ecommerce SEO
- Warning: You're Losing Money By Not Using These 8 Inventory Management Techniques
- How to Sell on Amazon Using Shopify
- DIY Product Photography Tips: How to Easily (And Affordably) Capture Beautiful Product Photos
- 9 Simple Ways to Write Product Descriptions that Sell
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“Find me on Amazon” wasn’t working.
By late 2016, “Just find me on Amazon” wasn’t working for Sarah and David anymore. They decided to look into a Shopify store and launched their branded site using the Amazon Channel a few months later.
Today, the online shopping statistics break down like this: 76.8% of Sarah’s Treats and Treasures orders come from the Amazon Channel each and every month. The channel brings in an average of 72.7% of their monthly gross merchandise volume (GMV).
So why the expansion to Shopify?
“The biggest selling point was seriously the fact that you had the best Amazon linking app. BigCommerce, they have an alright version. It just wasn't what you guys have. It was definitely a lot clunkier in the back end,” says David.
Amazon takes a percentage of every sale (8-20%), depending on your product category. For Sarah and David in the Jewelry category, that cut is 20%.
Ideally, those customers would buy from their branded storefront where they don’t have to hand over 20%. But Amazon has strict rules on branding:
“We're not really allowed to brand ourselves as much on Amazon and eBay. They say you are, but the minute you suggest ‘go to my website’ inside of a chat, you're actually in violation of Amazon's policies.”
To get around that pesky rule, Sarah and David began offering a 10% discount with a link to their Shopify store on invoices. 10% is a lot less than 20%, after all.
Having everything in one place (both for Amazon and your branded store) when you’re managing thousands of SKUs like Sarah and David is a huge plus:
“I use Order Printer on Shopify because then I can customize my invoice. I can give discount codes, I can bold things, I can put little Facebook stuff at the bottom. So it's really kind of neat that you can actually do a lot with Order Printer to get your invoices to look right.
Then at Stamps.com, I set up batch import (for Shopify), so ultimately we do fulfill through Shopify, but via Stamps. So we buy everything via Stamps then when we print all the labels out, it shoots all the tracking codes to Shopify, which Shopify's excellent Amazon linking shoots straight to Amazon.”
So many apps working together at once allows for greater freedom and control, but also keeps things low maintenance once the initial time investment is up.
Once their Shopify store was launched, the advertising and promotion floodgates opened. Opportunity was everywhere, according to David:
“I put a website address at the very bottom of the Stamps label, so while it's going through the mail people, are like, ‘What's this?’ Mail carriers get interested in it. Anywhere and everywhere, you can advertise your brand or your site. That's why I told [Sarah], ‘You have to get a site.’”
The Amazon exposure is too good to pass up.
So, why put up with those 20% cuts to begin with? Why not stick to a branded Shopify store? David credits Amazon’s reach and goodwill:
“If you just look at how many people visit Amazon every day on a web statistic website, just any website, you will realize real quick that just having your listing on Amazon increases your exposure by thousands of percentage points.
Beyond whatever you can do on a website, beyond whatever you can do on eBay, they have become the giant in the market for online sales. Anybody that doesn't use the Amazon Channel, I would say needs to.”
And he’s not wrong. Check out the data to support him:
- 90% of consumers will check Amazon even if they’ve found their product elsewhere.
- 50% of mobile shoppers try Amazon first. Search engines was the second most common destination for mobile shoppers (34%).
- When shoppers know what gift they want, 59% will start on Amazon.
Jumping through hoops comes with the territory.
David warns that you will get discouraged while navigating the global ecommerce platform, Amazon:
“Everyone trusts Amazon. You will get discouraged because Amazon will come at you and they'll be like, ‘You got a customer that wants to return an item because they didn't like it.’ And you're like, ‘Well that's cool, but now they want me to pay for shipping and I offered free shipping.’”
He suggests taking a deep breath, accepting the small loss to make the customer happy and realizing that you’re going to win the long game. After all, you’re going to get the product back, right? You can always resell it, so you don’t necessarily lose all of your profit.
These types of situations may crop up from time to time. Unfortunately, according to David, you’ll just have to weather the storm.
For example, Amazon enforces a strict product listing limit.
If your sales volume or inventory are not supported by buyer feedback or your sales history, your account may be placed under review. If your seller account is placed under review, a temporary hold will be placed on funds in your account, and your listings may be suspended.
“So, many thousands of listings at the same time and they start getting very watchful over your account. My suggestion is to do a couple hundred at a time. Do 50 to 60 at a time. Don't try to upload your entire database at once,” cautions David.
Sarah and David also learned some hard lessons about how Amazon handles search engine optimization (SEO):
“I don't like variants on Amazon because they just don't get the right search engine optimization. You don't get all three of your listings right there next to each other. If you get one listing, that says, ‘Other Options’.
Like our stuff (gold or copper or pewter), it has a very different look to it, so it's hard to imagine that and then Amazon just picks whichever one it thinks should be most prominent on its search. You can set the default image that you want on search, but I've noticed them change it depending on the person's search habits.”
Instead of using variants, David suggests creating separate listings where possible to ensure you get the most exposure for individual products.
A little testing, a little patience.
Sarah and David have spent months testing and refining with Amazon. To them, it’s a never-ending process of testing products, testing product images, testing product descriptions, you name it.
On Amazon, that testing process requires a lot of patience, according to David:
“Experiment away. Let 'em run for a month or two before you get discouraged or change anything because a lot of the time search engines power Amazon. People can go over to Amazon and search directly, but a lot of the time, people are on Google and they're like, ‘Oh look, Amazon's got this for…’ But if you don't give your listings enough time to get picked up by those search engines, then you can't really get a real life example of what's going on.”
Sarah’s Treats and Treasures is in a constant state of testing. For example, they tested increasing the price of a gold pin by $2:
“Don't sell yourself short,” says David. “I tell people this all the time. It sounds weird, but if you increase the price on something that's nominally priced, [you’ll increase the perceived value]. So like, we took our gold pin from $14.99 to $16.99 and our sales went up. It's just how marketing functions. They find more value in a higher priced item.”
Price testing is vital when selling on Amazon, David explains. If you sell a $4 pin on Amazon, you have to pay a 20% referral fee to Amazon because it’s being sold in the Jewelry category. But since the 20% referral fee is less than $2, Amazon will ask for the $2 instead, which is actually 50%.
Slim margins, right? So Sarah and David got creative and began selling pins in bulk (e.g. buy two, get one free) to avoid the $2 fee and force the 20% fee.
Even with David’s expert tips, this all might sound a bit daunting. Sure, you want the exposure Amazon can bring, but can you turn a profit with all of these hoops and referral fees?
Well, let’s find out. If you’re paying a 20% referral fee to Amazon (the highest possible fee) and the monthly fee of $39.99 (USD), you will break even every month if you sell just $67 (USD). Surprisingly achievable, right?
Over to you
Sarah’s Treats and Treasures is conquering Amazon through Shopify. Armed with the expert tips and lessons learned from David, you can too.
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Plus, today we're announcing the ability to create listings for jewelry, shoes, handbags and sunglasses. You will find these options under the "Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry" category, which was previously named "Clothing & Accessories".
You can create listings in a total of eight product categories right from Shopify:
- Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry (UPDATED)
- Health & Household
- Beauty & Personal Care
- Home & Kitchen
- Patio & Garden
- Sewing, Arts & Crafts
- Sports & Outdoors
- Toys & Games
This means more U.S. and Canadian Shopify store owners can sell on Amazon’s massive marketplace than ever before. You can create Amazon listings, manage inventory, and fulfill orders all from the comfort of Shopify.
In the words of David, “Just think about it. Where do you go to shop?”