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Control your own destiny

Peter Messana's headshoot
By Peter Messana - CEO

People always ask me questions like, “Should I sell on Amazon?” or “How do I compete against Amazon?”.

Truth is, it is easy and there are ways to use Amazon to your advantage, albeit I typically recommend turning to Amazon as a last resort. You are giving up a lot of margin, but more importantly you are giving up ownership and control.

Whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer that is selling direct to consumers (DTC), you can own your brand and your destiny with some simple tactics. These work for Amazon or really also in general.

The first tactic is the package stuffing where you use the third-party sale for future lead generation.

If you are using Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) or just shipping directly, you can get some messaging in the box if you are a DTC and it is done correctly. Amazon forbids box stuffing but if you own the packaging there is nothing that stops you from adding things to the materials like cross sells or popular products and highlighting your website, just make sure this is common packaging and not perceived as stuffing. While you cannot solicit directly, you are also in the power of offering a ‘warranty’ of some sorts or ‘register for updates’ and in there requiring the customer to register the product, e.g. getting their email and acceptance to be marketed to directly.

The next tactic is to just sell a subset of products. This works great when you can’t gain access to the actual customer, but is somewhat limited to DTC brands. You can sell some of your products through third-party sites and then sell your exclusive products through your own store. You are now effectively using Amazon for mass branding appeal but holding control of the products you care about. I have seen this done by Nike (when they used to be on Amazon) and the same tactic is employed by Champion with their Target for the C9 line.

Most brands and retailers are not big enough to pull off the subset of products for simply branding but there are ways for everyone to play. The use of Special Make Up (SMU) products is powerful and anyone can play this game, it just requires the investment. An SMU is a custom run of a product. Say your vendor sells five colors of a bag, you can ask for an SMU of a custom color. The only catch is that you typically have to buy very large quantities or full containers.

Once you have an SMU you are in control though. No one else has that item, you own it. One cool tactic is to look for the best performing product on Amazon from one of your manufacturers and which two colors are the best sellers, then do an SMU combining those two colors. So say it is a black backpack and a red backpack, you create a primarily black backpack and include some custom red piping, now you list that product on Amazon and it is listed as an alternate color to the black and red. You instantly are an option on the top selling product.

Another tactic with SMU is solely the exclusivity, you can look at discontinued items that are no longer manufactured and get them restarted just for you. Back in my kayak days, Academy and Bass Pro were kings at this, they would have 2-3 year discontinued models brought back to life just for them. We resurrected two models with great success, the only thing holding us back was the quantities and storage space. But for smaller products, this works really well when you understand the market and the customers that still seek the dated and discontinued products.

There are countless other ways to achieve this but the same thing matters, ownership. If you own the customer, you own your destiny and can control the flow of information. Turning to Amazon just to list your products is quick and easy, nothing quick and easy gets you rich.