To kick off the celebration of Feedbackz 1.0 launch today, I am writing this long-overdue story about my own journey on Amazon FBA. I'll try to get into some good stuff from humble beginnings to month 8.
Before I begin: I am looking very forward to pumping out and brain dumping some good FBA blog posts over these next few months.. I'm finally head above water (straight coding for the past 6 weeks!) and can concentrate on writing. I soft-launched Feedbackz a couple months ago and got a lot of good feedback from users (ironic huh?) and gutted the entire way of how emails were sent, now it's campaigns and templates. It's crazy flexible and powerful now... not going into details, but if you're curious, info can be found on Feedbackz homepage.
First Trimester: From $0 To $500 - Month 1 to Month 3
Ahh.... yes, I'll start here. I kind of jumped late into the Amazon game, well at least I believe it was late. Like anything in life in hindsight; I wish I had known about Amazon in around 2011 so I could be a BIG DOG before there was any comp. Wouldn't that be lovely.
Truth is; I actually didn't start pursuing Amazon until May of 2014. The first time I heard Amazon FBA mentioned was at a internet marketing conference in San Diego around January 2014. It was the biggest internet marketers in the world there, and I got invited out to a mastermind session. Well in this session; Amazon FBA kept coming up amongst other money making things on the internet, and I shrugged FBA off. No one mentioned any amount they were making, so I just thought:
"oh great, another eBay, nobody is gonna make legit, long-term money more than couple hundred a month except the few fish... I don't have time for that."
Also; that was back when I didn't even think about private label'ing.. but the pre-conceived notion in my mind was that all Amazon sellers were "re-sellers" because that's all I saw shopping on Amazon for years. Then I grabbed coffee from the conference with a person I just met there, they mentioned they broke $5k in sales and they just started 2 months ago. They were in the beauty skin care niche.. "oh, cool" I thought. "still not worth it, I could be pursuing million dollar ideas, not Amazon..". Selling on Amazon actually didn't quite click yet in my head until I heard a podcast a few months later about this guy doing a million a month. That caught my attention.. too many mentions and for the first time; I heard millionaires could be made without having to "re-sell". Jumping from store to store looking for clearance products wasn't my cup of tea.
I know in order to make real money; you have to dis-associate a dollar amount to an hour of your life. Passive income, as much as possible. With private label'ing.. I knew this could be achieved. I jumped in head first... WITH A MEAGER $500.
Did You Start Before The Competition Grabbed Hold?
When I first started, it was already saturated (so those of you just joining, don't side eye me! haha). The big guys and products were already ranked 1,000+ reviews in and established. So it's not much different than it is today, there were a bit less (what I coin) TIER 2 and TIER 3 private label products.. those are probably the majority of us:
TIER 2: Ranked 1st page, 50+ reviews, steady selling 20-30 units per day, but not quite beating out the top two dogs.
TIER 3: Ranked 2nd+ page, 25+ reviews, selling 5-20 units a day, but ranking up quite quickly. Fighting to gain traction against Tier 2 guys. So yes, the competition has gotten much stiffer, but not something to be scared off.
BECAUSE DOMINATING NICHES IS A WIDE OPEN BALL PARK ON AMAZON. Get in the gold rush while there's still gold in the rivers. With $500 in my hands... and a few years experience on running online businesses. The name of the game is: speed to market. Launch. Get a product up. Prove it sells. See if volume and everything else on your checklist is actually viable. Perfect things later.
Tip: You can't sit and research and research and research. You'll never get anywhere. You'll simply remain a want-trepreneur. One who talks a lot, does nothing. The only true way to know if something sells is to sell it and see how it goes. (doesn't mean completely dis-regard basic viability checklists) But out of 30+ products I've launched, I have come across 6-7 gems aka keepers. It's only when you get these gems that you hunker down and try to rank the sh*t out of them.
With this in mind; I wanted to get 4-5 products up. Perfect labeling and packaging? Forget that... I went to Office Depot, got some clear return address labels, printed my logo on there and slapped them right onto the product. Enough to legitimately sell as a brand and new listing. My first product ideas came directly from stuff I found around the house. I looked around at what I used, what I bought in the last months, anything. Some products in my initial list:
- body fat calipers,
- body measuring tapes,
- jogger pants,
- dog shock collars,
- led dog collars,
- and three more products (that I still sell today).
I wrote them down; I thought... how many of these sell in the world a day? Hundreds? Cool... on the list. Were they difficult to make/ship/package? No, cool.. on the list. A few more filters (I'll write another blog post entirely on this).. and off to Aliexpress.com I went. Aliexpress.. not Alibaba. Want to know how to waste a huge amount of time and money on a product you may or may not even be able to sell or sell well or (insert million other disadvantages). MOQs alone turned me off because I needed to prove these products first. Aliexpess, I can buy them individually. Would I profit?
No.. no I didn't. Did I break even? Barely. But I got something much more valuable: proof and traction. I bought 4-5 of each product on my final list. Used free shipping via EMS. Got my products 2-3 weeks later. Create my listings, slapped some labels on, sent them into FBA. A couple weeks later selling with live products, I found out if:
- They sold? At what price? How many moved? Conversion rate?
- How much they sold compared to my rankings and what the top dogs might be doing
- Was it a pain in the a** to package/prep/ship/etc.
- Is it actually providing value? How was the return rate? Were folks complaining left and right? Could I fix it?
- Guesstimate how far I could take this product if I ranked the crap out of it and with X amount of reviews and optimized the listing even better.
Enough yes's... and then that's when I hit Alibaba (and even Aliexpress again if MOQs was still too low for any good margins) looking to make the first initial 100-300 unit bulk order. I put this purchase on my credit card. And paid it off as soon I re-made the money.
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Second Trimester: From $500 to $5,000 - Month 3 to Month 5
So I bought around 100 more units of jogger pants, dog shock collars, led dog collars, and three more products. I dropped the body fat calipers and body measuring tapes. That's when I started drilling down into the meat of ranking. Luckily; I've had years and years of experience with SEO and online startups.. so I've seen and done it all... and directly applied it to Amazon and what I thought and observed things to work. (btw; IMO Amazon's search is a version of Google in 2008. More on this later). Three major improvements I attacked first:
- More reviews.
- Optimize the listings better (better pics, better keyword research and applying them into the listing anyway possible, better copy writing).
- Make the packaging and labeling more legit.
More on these tactics later.. but a general overview:
More Reviews - Hustle, hustle, hustle. I hit up all my family and people I knew I wanted to share what I was selling (without feeling too embarrassed haha). I also started hitting up forums and started giving them away for free. I hit the major forums in each niche where people that would use the product hung out at. Many of these forums are gated, so a lot of times my post threads got deleted. The ones that stayed and flew under the radar paid off in big dividends. I would repeat this process of giving away product on forums until I reached 50+ reviews.
Optimize Listings - I sat for hours and went through things I bought on Amazon over the years... what made me purchase what I did and why? The subconscious stuff, the things I didn't realize I did at the moment. It was mostly around reading reviews. And when I say "reading".. I mean more like "skimming" reviews of products. Good pictures was another trigger.. most times; I was looking for something small or specific and many times a picture just so happened to have it in there. Well, enough in the picture that I could put 2 and 2 together and assume the product would probably fit my needs.
Same thing with copy text in the description; there were subtle things I was looking for. Many times; I had multiple tabs up and most of the products were the same exact.. but there was something specific I was looking for. Most times; if you aren't a user of the product yourself, you wouldn't even know it made that big of a difference. I call this ST Factors (I'd eventually like to get big enough where I can start coin'ing terms from this blog and people actually use them! maybe even get credit for?).
ST Factors = Subconscious Trigger Factors.
With hawk like vision; I hunkered down on why I bought the products I was selling. What were the ST Factors? Truth be told; many of the ST Factors are actually sitting right in your face.. read through reviews on your competitors and you'll quickly realize what those things are. And what you need to address that they aren't in the listing. Once you find them:
- List them on the product titles (especially if it's major ones)
- Address them in bullet points up top.
- Address them in the description.
- Show them in your product images.
Oh, another tip on ST Factors:
Don't just read the negative reviews on your competitors.. read the good, positive ones. And thoroughly... Many times, the good ones are good because they are re-confirming a ST Factor that the product listing missed, and (most times get upvoted by others) because they assure the potential buyer that this product fits that specific ST Factor.
Take for example: I was buying a new basketball.. a Wilson Composite ($50+ basketball). The listing had tons of reviews, etc. etc.. but it didn't list the exact size. Like any person in this century; a quick Google search brought up that they come in junior and regular size. Well, this listing didn't say either. And with the price being way below anything you'll find offline, one would think it's the cheaper junior size, right??? Well... guess what one of the top reviews was? Someone saying... "hey guys, took the risk... the ball is actually the regular size and not junior FYI.".
Anyone selling the same ball with the size in the product title... I guarantee you their sales would kill that one. After optimizing, conversions were sitting at a whopping 15% to 20% on all of my products. Even ranked at 8th or 9th on the 1st page; more people were choosing to buy mine. That's how I moved up... Amazon likes to rank those that sell best and generate them the most revenue in the shortest amount of time (go figure).
Packaging and Labeling - No more Avery labels with a simple logos. I moved onto more custom size labels I bought off eBay that fit the box or packaging better and more crisp. I took the time (thank God I can graphic design as well) and designed completely new labels to make sure these things looked like a legitimate brand. I'd go through stores and look at actual products and their packaging and how they did their branding and design then added my own remix to my products.
I re-did the product pictures with the fancy new labels and updated my listings. Also to add; it was during this phase when I was gaining epic growth. Products were moving fast.. and more and more as things I was doing was gaining traction and catching up.
Last Tri-mester: From $5,000 To $50,000 - Month 5 to Month 8
Yeah.. you read that title correctly. $5 to $50k... a big damn jump huh? My growth at that point was exponential... I hit that part of the bell curve. Even with dropping most of the listed products (due to various reasons).. 80/20 rule. 20% of the products I had listed up was making 80% of the money. So I cut off the other 80% of the products, focused on ranking the 20% and finding more 20%'er products.
The only thing at that point I was messing up on was inventory issues. Keeping products in stock. Cashflow. Timing my inventory purchases so that when I ran out; I got xx,xxx units arriving from China a few days before to pack/label and ship out to FBA centers. Through my ranking tactics and techniques; I had:
- Three products ranking in top 3 for main volume keywords for the niche and ranking #1 for lesser volume keywords.
- All others ranking minimum page 2 of search results.
- My lowest revenue product was moving 30 units a day.. most of hitting 50+ units a day.
- All my products had over 50+ reviews.
- Three of them with over 100+ reviews (they were coming in organically.. big factor here that I'll address later).
- One with 175+ reviews.
- All had video reviews ranked at the top.
- All of them super optimized with ST Factors.
During this time, I had to tap into a Kabbage loan.. twice. I was on fire. I started looking to add more products and did just that. Same process.. same bootstrapped process from Aliexpress. Moving that much product; I could start testing out what factors I thought Amazon was using to rank products in their search results. I learned a lot. I went after reviews and other things (I'll cover later) like a mad man.
Life was good. Life was passive. Money was rolling in. Took a few (3 to be exact) trips out to Vegas in 1 year. As mentioned before; I was adding more products to my portfolio. Diversifying as much as possible across completely different niches. Then... Amazon suspended one of my accounts. Held $xx,xxx's in deposits, froze all my listings. Which leads into my next blog post... my two left footed dance with Seller Performance. (what a cliff hanger way to end a post, right?). Make sure to subscribe to get the latest..