Guide for the First-Time Retail Entrepreneur
By Ned Barnett
Amazon is an amazing international marketplace –
in some senses it has become the world’s largest flea market. Its closest competition is eBay, which has
dramatically increased their “Buy it Now” category, taking away the uncertainty
of auctions. However, Amazon – by virtue
of its ability to pick-and-pack and ship (i.e., fulfill orders), it’s
incredible trust factor among online purchasers, and its ability to collect
money from credit cards – stands apart from eBay, which is primarily focused
around PayPal payment systems (not surprising since eBay owns PayPal).
Both can be effective, and both can work in
tandem, but for the purposes of this evaluation, Amazon has some unique
features ideal for the first time retail entrepreneur.
The following is a step-by-step guideline to effectively marketing and
promoting retail consumer products being sold on Amazon.
First, find or create a product. Many successful products are
private-label versions of commercially-available products, some are custom-made
(or manufactured exclusively on behalf of by the seller) and some are
widely-available products purchased and resold without rebranding.
Focus on one product, or one product line
(variations on the same product), rather than trying to offer a wide range of
differing products. A key reason for this is simple – each new product or
product line will have to be promoted separately, to different and distinct
Better, at least at first, to focus all of your
marketing efforts – and your marketing investments – on a single
product/product line. Expand into other
lines later, only after your first product line has reached a sales plateau.
Details of this product-selection process are
really beyond the scope of this evaluation, but successful products are usually
under $50, are uniquely-labeled (so there cannot be head-to-head price
competitors) and something of a nature – or of a perceived premium quality –
not easily available in local retail stores.
Storefront: The next thing to do is set up a
storefront arrangement with Amazon, complete with pick-and-pack and ship
(fulfillment) arrangements and a means by which Amazon can pay you (i.e., how
they can make payments into your checking account). This is easy to do and the guidelines on
Amazon are clear.
Set-up: Get the initial batch of product to
Amazon, so they can begin fulfilling orders as they come in.
Now you’re in business and ready to start
promoting your product or product line.
on a shoestring: Marketing and
promotion is everything you do to get people to your Amazon page, so they can
buy your product. Obviously, “free” is
better than “paid” (in most cases), but sometimes you’ll have to pay, at least
something, to get the word out. Make
sure that this is an investment with a positive ROI, rather than a cost of
doing business. And also remember this
key to paid marketing and advertising – “anything worth paying for is worth
getting for free” – which is why social networking and public/media relations
are so effective, and so valuable.
Google Ad Words is a fairly safe way of advertising – since you’re paying for
clicks or views or some other measure that could actually lead to sales, it has
more potential than traditional print or broadcast ads. However, I don’t
recommend this – it’s an option, and it might be a good one, but it’s not a “shoestring
One other key here. Remember about “truth in
advertising,” and know that there are Federal agencies looking for (and
punishing) fraudulent claims.
And – if you’re selling dietary supplements, remember that the FDA will shut
you down if you make unsubstantiated health claims. Any claims you make should be “equivocal” –
for instance, this “may help” or it “encourages” positive outcomes. You can cite credible third parties who make
claims unconnected to your product, but do be careful.
Press Releases: This is a potent way of generating awareness
and interest, especially if you are both regular and frequent in your creation
of press releases. However, to do so,
here are a few things to keep in mind:
They should be written as “news,” not as “commercials.”
They should read as if they could be dropped into a newspaper, magazine or
ezine as legitimate content.
Whenever possible, cite third-party experts –
research studies, for instance, or news from non-profit trade associations. If you’re quoting from published research or
information, include a link (for added credibility).
While facts can be presented without “attribution,”
opinions should be presented by a named spokesman, such as: “our new breakthrough in the liposomal
delivery of fat-soluble vitamins delivers 43 percent more bio-active vitamin
molecules than capsules or pills,” according to Bob White, President of
Liposomal Vitamins. “This means you get
more health benefits from our 1,000 mg vitamin than you would from 2,000 mg of
any other vitamin on the market.”
Your goal here is to get coverage – either by
reprinting the release, or by interesting the editor or producer in a
one-on-one interview for a longer article, or for broadcast purposes.
Be sure you post your release (and coverage) on
your website, and announce it on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Press releases can be posted on many free sites – Google “Free
Press Release Placement Site” and you’ll get links to a number of free
services. They are worth what you pay
for them, but they do help you get the word out. When you do post a press release, also place
it on your website, announce it on Facebook and in other social networking
sites (see below) and even consider doing a video blog about the subject matter
covered in the press release.
Wire Releases: However, for really big news (and you
should do this at least once per quarter – or more frequently if you have the
budget), you should place it on a paid distribution service such as
BusinessWire. With BizWire, you have to
select a geographic distribution – my advice is to pick the lowest-cost
geographic area you can justify, rather than paying extra for going
national. There are three reasons for
When you place a release on BizWire, it is
automatically picked up by several hundred news-aggregator sites. Some are
small, but Yahoo Business and MSN are included.
When you use BizWire, you also get free
distribution to all topically-appropriate distribution lists they have. This puts your release in the hands of someone
who might actually use it.
You save money while getting most of the
coverage you’d get from a higher-priced distribution on BizWire.
Of course, if your release gets picked up, post
links on Facebook and Twitter and your Website, brag about it on Facebook
groups, and do all you can to make sure the people who should know about it, do
know about it.
Breaking News: The news media is always looking for fresh new faces to help
put breaking news into perspective – which means you, as an online retailer and
expert in the product and its market space – might just fill their needs. Here’s what you do:
Create Google Alerts for key words relating to
your product and market space
When news breaks, if you have something to say,
write a quick blog about it, summarizing your perspective on the news
Email the appropriate news media – or put out
BizWire press release (if you have the budget) encouraging editors and
producers to check out your blog, as an example of what you could say to their
audience in an interview. “Tease” it in
the email – don’t give it all away – but get them to the blog.
I tested this approach out in 2008, and wound up on Cavuto
(Fox) five times, on Imus five times, on 56 other radio programs and gave more than
100 print and online print interviews.
This approach works, but only if you’ve got something important to say.
If not, wait for the next breaking news story – don’t risk your credibility by “commenting”
Product Reviews: This is probably the most potent
deal-closer you can have – favorable product reviews. Once consumers find your product (because of
your marketing, or through serendipity), a selection of intelligent,
well-informed and favorable reviews will help sell the product.
To get reviews, enlist your network of family and
friends, asking them to write reviews and post them to Amazon. An important “hint.” However, before they write their reviews, get
them to buy the product first, then wait till it’s delivered. Amazon shows
preference to reviews by people who’ve actually bought and received the
product. In addition, make sure the
reviews are “in their own words,” and do something to relate their reviews to something
about themselves. This “personal
testimonial” carries a great deal of weight.
For example, and in part of writing this guide, I reviewed a recent purchase
from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0957586639
The product is a book about a fairly obscure WW-II British combat aircraft.
In the review, I noted that I’ve purchased
(with satisfaction) other books by the same author, and also noted that my
interest in this fairly obscure aircraft was a bit of a “guilty pleasure,”
which will appeal to others with the same kind of interest.
You will want at least three strong and positive reviews to begin with.
However, keep track, because if you get a negative review (hey, it can happen),
you’ll want at least three more positive reviews to offset each bad review.
Also publish the reviews on your website and on your Facebook page, and link to
them on Twitter and other social media sites.
Testimonials: Encourage satisfied clients to also
create video blogs/ video testimonials/ video reviews that can be posted on
Facebook and YouTube and on your website, and promoted extensively. Video product reviews – when done naturally
by “real people” (instead of actors or shills) can be very powerful. Make sure they use their full name. Nobody gives
any credence to “Bob W. of Omaha” – but some will give credence to “Bob White of
Omaha, Nebraska” and all will give credence to a video testimonial that begins,
“Hi, I’m Bob White, of Omaha, and I’d like to tell you about my experience with
this great new product I found on Amazon.”
In creating testimonials (and also social media
word-of-mouth), enlist family and friends, but also see if you can network with
college students (for the right products, of course). There’s something about a
“.edu” email account that seems to add credibility. While you don’t want to wear out your
friends, family and other contacts, do your best to enlist them to supporting
you on an ongoing basis.
Website: With the advent of WordPress (with design
templates) and low-cost domains, it would be foolish to NOT have a website.
Here, you can place product photos and product specs, kudos and testimonials from
satisfied customers, press coverage about the product and the product’s market
space, and – a link to Amazon where your product can be bought and fulfilled.
The Website should have the following:
About the Product
Link to Amazon under “Buy the Product”
FAQs about the Product
Kudos and Testimonials
Blogs and video blogs
Third-party research about the product (if
A “News” section with
News about the product
Press releases you sent out
Press coverage you got
News about the industry or market space
About the company (optional, but potentially
Links to Social Media
Sign-up page for an e-Newsletter (which you
should then create) – this is a way of capturing email information from prospective
or ongoing clients
Two Keys to
Social Networking Success: People
look for two things from Social Networking – content (new information) and
conversation (humanizing and connecting on a personal level). Both are important. Content draws them in,
and conversation puts a human face on your product. Anybody who posts a message to a blog
(comment), Facebook post or Tweet, you should be sure to respond, and not in a “form
letter” fashion. This doesn’t mean you
have to become pen pals, or be driven into endless debates – but it does mean
you should be “social” (hence the name, “social media”).
Your goal should be to become a “Subject Matter
Expert” (someone others turn to for information) or even a “Thought Leader”
(someone others turn to for direction and advice). To do this requires consistent high-quality
content supported by at least the illusion of personal relationships.
Video Blogs and “Content:” You can extend your reach by creating a Blogger
Blog-Site (its free, and since Google owns Blogger, it gets scanned right away)
about the product and its market space. Write
about the product. Invite users to write about their experiences with the
product. Write about research or other
news in the product’s market space. Keep
Blogs can be as short as 250 words and as long as
1,250 words. In writing and publishing
blogs, frequency is more important than length – if it’s too long, break it
down. I recently wrote one blog for a client, then broke it down into four
blogs before we published it … and got roughly four times the mileage.
When you reprint these blogs on your website and
on your Facebook page, change the headline and the first paragraph (this is for
White Papers and Case Studies: Longer content can be published as “white
papers” and as “case studies” – these can be helpful, and should be reprinted
or downloadable from your website. These should focus on research behind your
product, or examples of successful use, or other useful content.
Others’ Blogs: Also, seek out others’ blogs (on their
own blogsites) and comment on them. This is considered an ethical and effective
way to attract this other blogger’s audience to your blogsite. Do one of two things:
Agree with the blog and respectfully add one or
two additional points to the author’s message; or,
Respectfully disagree with the blog, then very
respectfully offer two or three points for readers to consider.
In either case, be sure to add your own blogsite, website or
Facebook site (but only one, not three) to your signature at the end of your
comment. And if you’ve also blogged on
this subject, provide a link to your blog on that same topic. Remember, be respectful, be helpful, be part
of a conversation (never a confrontation) and it will help you attract people
to your site.
Chat Rooms: Participating in Chat Rooms is like commenting
on others’ blogs, but in real time. If you’ve got the time (or can find
students or others to make the time on your behalf), and if the chat rooms are “topical”
to your product, this can help. Or, like
Twitter, it can become a vast time-sink, that offers no measurable return but
takes up time that could be more profitably used posting to groups or finding
other ways to invest your marketing time.
Books and eBooks: Come up with a title for a book related
to your product. Then, for each blog you write, indicate that it is taken from “the
forthcoming book – Title.” This will give your blogs added credibility, and
when you’ve got 20 or 30 or 50 blogs published, go ahead and pull them together
into an eBook and publish it (free) on Amazon.
You will make money on it (not much), but you’ll also gain huge
credibility with customers and the news media as a real “author.”
Video blogs: These should be about the same topics as the
written blogs, but they should NOT be spoken from a script – and they don’t
need highly professional production standards. If a video blog looks
over-produced, it will be deemed “commercial” and actually lose credibility. Video blogs can run from 90 seconds to three
minutes (five if you’ve really got something to say). If you need to go longer,
it’s no longer a video blog – it’s a video (subtle difference).
Video blogs should go on your website, on YouTube, and with links, on Facebook
and other social media.
want to put up a Facebook page about the product. However, the rules about “corporate” pages on
Facebook seem to change daily, so to keep from being obsolete, I’ll assume you either
know how to do this or know a 15-year-old who can teach you how. On this page, which will include a link to
your product page on Amazon, you can post copies of product reviews that appear
on Amazon, as well as comments from satisfied consumers, news about the product
and its industry, copies of press releases and blogs and … well, you get the
idea. It becomes your Social Networking
Paid Promotion On Facebook: Facebook is now pushing paid promotion of
your posts on Facebook. They’ll offer it
at a price, but the price is always negotiable. Do this rarely but
occasionally, and only for the most important posts you’ve got (such as a new
packaging or new feature for your product).
Don’t fall prey to them on every post, or you’ll be spending more than
FB Groups: Also on Facebook, beyond your friends,
you can join “groups” and post things on the groups. Typically (though not always), groups frown
on blatantly-commercial posts. Start by
getting yourself known on the group, by posting three-to-five new threads or
comments that are directly relevant to the group (topically). Then you can
start with “hey, look what I just found” … followed by the occasional research-based
comment. Also, this is a great place to
enlist your family-and-friends network, getting them to join groups and post,
Does this work?
Yes! For one web-based client, I joined 200 topically-appropriate
groups, reaching well over 100,000 total members (of course, not all members
pay attention to each post, but that’s your “universe”) and, in the course of
two months, we drove the unique users from under 3,000 to over 10,000, with an
average of 3.5 visits per month and 40 page-views per visit. Those, for a web-based business, are great
Provide a link to each new e-Newsletter you
create, and invite “friends” to sign up (this way you capture their email info,
not just their Facebook contact info).
Twitter: You pretty much have to be on Twitter, if
only because it’s expected of you. Here
are a few tips:
Tweet links to your Facebook page announcing new
blogs and other new content.
Write at least three times per week (and as
often as 18 times per week) helpful brief information based around your
This comes to three per day on business days,
two on Saturday and one on Sunday.
Vary the times of day to reach the maximum
number of your followers.
Use Hootsuite to write and pre-post a month’s
worth of Tweets to help you avoid having to come up with something new each
Always respond to anyone who writes to you on
Twitter, if only a thank-you or acknowledgment
If news breaks in your field, search for
relevant “hashtag” trends and post your comments about this news.
Frequently (but not always) post tiny-url links
back to your website or Facebook site
YouTube: Create a “Network” on YouTube
(it’s free) and post all your video blogs, longer videos, TV news coverage
about your product or its market space, customer video testimonials, etc. The rest of what you can do on YouTube is
covered under “Video Blogs” (above).
The Rest of the “Also-Ran” Social Media Sites (Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin,
etc.): These all have some merit,
and all take some time. Use them as you deem appropriate to your product, your
time and your interest level. However,
don’t go into one of these halfway – either commit to it or steer clear.
Packaging: In your product packaging, put in
information about your website, your Facebook page and other sites – Amazon won’t
give you the name of the customers who buy your product, but if you include
information in your packaging, you’ll still reach them.
eBay: While Amazon does offer fulfillment
(which is valuable for those who don’t want to spend their lives in the
basement or garage, packaging orders for shipment – and because of the volume
shipping deals they can negotiate, it actually costs less than DIY), there is
still value in putting your product on eBay, not as an auction item, but as a “Buy
it Now” item.
You can set your own shipping price (to cover your
hard costs, at least). The value here is
to make sure you reach people who you’d miss on Amazon. This is not an alternative to Amazon, but a
useful add-on, to make sure you don’t miss out on business.
and Tracking: To the best of your
ability, figure out what promotion works – then focus all your efforts there. Not
all marketing works immediately, but if you give it time, and after a fair
trial, if an approach doesn’t seem to work – cut it and focus on what does
Amazon is a remarkable resource for the start-up retail entrepreneur. Do it
right and, if you picked the right product, you’ll be amazed at what you can
generate in terms of income. But the
Pick the right product
Do the right marketing
Cash the checks
Labels: Amazon, eBay, internet commerce, marketing on a shoestring, marketing products, online, retail, selling products, start-up business