This is part of a 3 part series:
Until I sold my company recently, one of the things I’ve taken for granted is the entire process of actually selling on Amazon. I never had to think about opening an Amazon account, setting up and adding a new product, figuring out bar codes, and so on. I had this all set up from years of selling on Amazon. Now that I’m in the process of starting from scratch (the Amazon accounts went with the business I sold) I see how challenging it can be.
In this article I am going to walk you step by step through the entire process of getting selling on Amazon and ensuring your products are setup and ready to sell on the Amazon Marketplace. In a future post, I am going to walk through optimizing your Amazon listings to ensure they have the best chance of selling.
Opening an Amazon Account
The first thing that you need to do is to open an Amazon Seller Central account. You do this by going to sellercentral.amazon.com. Seller Central is the absolute backbone of selling on Amazon. From here on out in this article (and many places on the internet) you’ll hear me refer to the entire Amazon selling platform as simply Seller Central.
Opening a Seller Central account costs $39.99 a month regardless of how much you sell. On top of this you charged a 15% commission on any products you sell (this 15% includes all credit card fees, so it’s more like 12%). On top of this, if you elect to use the FBA program, you will be charged the FBA fulfillment fees.
I know there are a lot of people who don’t yet have businesses and a lot of people are not American. Neither of this matters when setting up your account. You can open a Seller Central account as a person and you can set it up even if you’re non American. All you need is a credit card and a bank account.
The opening of an account is relatively painless and shouldn’t take you more than 15-20 minutes.
Understanding What the FBA Program is (You Don’t Need to Use FBA)
You can sell on Amazon and not use FBA. I don’t know the stats but I would guess probably close to half of all products on Amazon offered from third party sellers are merchant fulfilled. This means that the merchant ships the product themselves. This is like the eBay model. You get an order, you get the money, and you ship the item to the customer.
With FBA you ship the products to many different Amazon warehouses through the U.S.. If you send in four identical books to Amazon they may have you send one book to four different warehouses. When you sell an item, Amazon will ship the item for you. You will pay for the shipping cost to both the Amazon warehouses and then from the Amazon warehouses to the customer. However, you get Amazon’s deeply discounted rates and in many cases you will pay less, even though you’re paying for’double shipping’, than if you shipped the item direct to the consumer yourself. The FBA program is a sweet deal (at least currently). You should use it if you can.
Adding a Product and Selling a Product
Let’s discuss the most important thing on Amazon. Listing your product. You just ordered 50 widgets off of Alibaba, now how do you sell them? The first thing we need to do is understand how the Amazon marketplace works.
Understanding the Difference Between Your Store and Products
Here’s where SO many people get screwed up. They think that their Seller Central account and their products are the same thing and are forever linked. THEY’RE NOT.
A product is not tied to a Seller
If you’re selling someone else’s products, i.e. an Apple iPhone 6, you simply find the product in the catalog and say “I have one of these, I want to sell it”. You then set a price, a shipping price (if you’re not sending it to FBA), and a couple of other things and your item will be listed for sale. Take the above screen shot for example. The “Squat N Go The Only Detachable Space Saver Toilet Stool…” is different than the seller, Squat n Go (this is a bit confusing because the brand name is the same as the seller name).
If you are private labeling things, the logic is the same BUT your item is obviously not in the catalog. If I just invented a Dave Bryant automatic potato peeler and smasher, it’s obviously not in the Amazon catalog. I will need to add it to the catalog before I can sell it. Once I add it to the catalog, anyone can technically sell it. Now assuming I haven’t sold any of my Dave Bryant Automatic Potato Peeler & Smasher to anyone else, I should be the only person in the world selling it. Now there are complicated ways for people to hijack your listing and ways for you to claim brand ownership but these are obscure topics for another day and you shouldn’t worry about it for now.
Adding an item to the catalog involves filling in a bunch of information in an CSV file and then uploading it to Amazon. You’re probably going to make errors the first 10 times you upload it but it’s relatively easy if you just follow the instructions.
Bar Codes and UPCs
Another thing that trips people up is bar codes. Bar codes are incredibly simple, yet confusing at the same time.
Bar codes are just a quick way of scanning your product to get identifying code for it. In the case of a UPC, that’s a 11-13 digit number. Amazon has its own identifiers called ASINs, which are a 10 digit alphanumeric code.
If you’re sending an item to Amazon FBA, Amazon now requires you to have a UPC. You will need to purchase one of these for each product you sell.
The good news is that they are cheap, $5 each (I purchased mine from speedybarcodes.com). *UPDATE* Apparently, Amazon now requires you to purchase your UPC numbers directly from GS1. I had to pay $150 for 10 bar codes (or $15 each). This number is just a unique 13 number sequence that guarantees (theoretically) no one else in the world will use your number to represent a product. Part of this number is also a unique identifier for your company name. Amazon hypothetically will check your UPC codes against the GS1 database to make sure the UPC matches up to your company, so use UPC resellers like speedybarcodes at your own risk.
You can get around all of this UPC mess by registering for Amazon’s brand registry which allows you to avoid having to use UPCs for many product categories. To register your brand doesn’t take much work, you basically need to take a picture of your product showing your brand name on it and you need to have a website. If you already have your product, then you should do this. The problem, of course, is that many people first open an Amazon account and then import products. If you can’t do this, then you have no choice but to buy your barcodes through GS1 as shown above or to take your chances with a UPC reseller like speedybarcodes.
Every product will have an ASIN and possibly a UPC.
Creating Your Product Listing for Private Label Products
OK so we understand how products work. Now it’s time to add our product to the Amazon database.
This should be easy, right? We just go to Inventory -> Add a Product.
NO NO NO.
You can only use this if your item is already in the Amazon catalog. If you’re importing it from China, it is not. It doesn’t matter if there’s another item that is identical to it. You’re now a brand owner for your product that you just imported. You need to add it to Amazon.
What we need to do is add the item via Inventory -> Add Products via Upload.
Once you go to this screen, you will select your product category using the selection menus. The products in each category have different attributes, i.e. clothing has sizes and toys have age ranges, hence the need to select the category. Once you select your category, you will download an Excel file that you will populate with your product information.
The Inventory Excel File
You can download either a “Lite” or an “Advanced” version of the inventory template file. Start with the Lite version – you can always add more information later (and in fact you should add more information later).
The Lite version of the spreadsheet only has a few fields you need to update. You may need more or less information depending on the product category but more or less it’ll look like below.
Here’s a description of all the fields for the hunting blinds (a shelter used for hunting) category on Amazon. Again, there may be some differences according to your category, but it should resemble this fairly closely. The tab you want to look at is “Template”. All of the other tabs are just for data definitions and examples.
item_type: This is the category of the product. It should be pre-filled for you (or you’ll be given a drop down menu to select from)
item_sku: This is your item number/model number. Make up anything you want.
external_product_id: This is the trickiest part of the whole process. Amazon basically now requires you to have a UPC for your item. This is a unique 12 digit number. The easiest way is to just buy one through a reseller such as a speedybarcodes.com for $5 each.
external_product_id_type: This will most likely be UPC (and in rare cases EAN).
item_name: The name you want to make up for your product, i.e. “Best Hunting Blind Ever – 4′ x 6′”
standard_price: The price you’re selling it for
quantity: How many you are selling.
main_image_url: The URL to your product image. You’ll have to upload it somewhere to get this URL.
product_description: The description of your product. Go wild.
manufacturer: This is either the manufacturer or importer (aka you). You can either make it your company name or your brand name. This has nothing to do with the manufacturer in China.
brand_name: This is the brand name of your product. Make it up – your private labeling products so you control everything about the brand.
Once you’ve completed filling in your Excel document, save it (Excel format is fine) and upload it. You’ll almost certainly get errors the first couple of times but eventually you’ll get it right.
Now Your Product is Live
Once your product is uploaded successfully it will appear under “Inventory->Manage Inventory”. Your item is now live in the Amazon marketplace and available for purchase. Your product is not really in optimal condition to sell. It’s missing a lot of things like multiple bullet points, multiple pictures, and keywords. Most importantly, it is not fulfilled by Amazon (also meaning it is not Prime eligible). In a followup post, I’ll go over how to optimize your product so that it generates the most sales
Overall, the entire process of opening a Seller Central account and listing a product took me about 2-3 hours. A couple of things added significantly to this time, such as having to find all of my banking information and purchasing a UPC, but overall I think this 2-3 hour time frame is a good estimate of how long it will take you (possibly a bit longer if you’re completely unfamiliar with the Amazon ecosystem). Actually optimizing a listing can add at least another 2-3 hours to this, per product. The good news is that once you’ve done all of this, your products are basically maintenance free from there on out.
If you’re just starting off on Amazon, this post should give you a good starting point for getting started. If you’re actually selling products, the followup post to this, about optimizing products for sale, will be of even more value to you.
If you have any questions about opening an Amazon account or listing a product, please comment below.
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