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James Thomson 9:35

What realistically is best practice for third party sellers on Amazon today, when it comes to product compliance. What at a minimum should a seller be doing to not only meet the Amazon rules but to be a responsible seller?

Rachel Johnson Greer 9:51

Yeah, so those are actually two different questions, to meet the rules and be responsible business owners there’s you know, working with a lab, finding out what the requirements are for your particular product, they’ll usually give you the most things that you can test for. I mean, they’re a lab, that’s what their job is to sell testing. So sometimes you don’t need everything they tell you. But you know, if you’re not sure, then just do it and make sure it’s on hand. And that’s kind of the basic stuff, the regulatory stuff, then there’s a bunch of voluntary requirements, like safety standards for particular industry groups, or certain quality standards, and so on. And what I’ve been finding is that sometimes we have clients who come to us and I’m like, Well, here’s what I got, here’s the paperwork I have. And this needs legal requirements, I was able to import it, everything was good. It was like, Yeah, but it’s not enough. Because the customer complaint references this particular issue, and you didn’t see the voluntary safety standard. And so there’s certain areas where Amazon is weird, because they won’t require the regulatory stuff that other companies do upfront. And then they require the safety stuff that nobody requires. And so it makes it to where it’s really difficult actually, for sellers to know exactly what to do ahead of time. What my guidance usually is, is make sure that it’s legal to sell when you’re first testing a product. So if you’re just running the test production, run your checking to make sure that it’s actually going to have an audience that you have a reasonable cost per click like is this widget going to be a widget that can potentially make you money, at that stage, make sure it’s legal to sell and make sure there’s nothing that is terribly wrong with it, just make sure that it’s legal to sell, you’re not gonna get in trouble for make sure you got your general insurance set up. And then you have a product liability writer, just basic stuff. If then you see that the product is going to do well and you’re investing heavily in it. If you’re going to be making more than 5k in a month on a particular product, then get all of the safety testing done. Every bit of voluntary safety testing there is just get it done and have it done. Because if you have to do it after they take you down, even the very fastest lab, you know for certain kinds of testing, takes time. And you know, there was one culture test that we had to do where it took 40 days. So now that the culture test,

James Thomson 11:59

I’ve got all these pieces of paper, because I’ve got all these test results. Amazon comes to me and says there’s a problem, a customer complained, or we’ve done a spot check. How do I take all this documentation from all these tests and turn them into a get out of jail free card?

Rachel Johnson Greer 12:14

Yeah, so it’s basically just responding to Amazon with the information that’s needed. So depending on who gets mad at you, you’ll get a different request. Product Safety gets mad at you, then you’ll get a spreadsheet to fill out. If it’s product quality that’s getting mad at you, then you’ll have to write an appeal. So depending on the situation, if it’s our protector products, and you have to submit your certification or documents, depending on who’s mad at you, you have a different format that you have to fill out. And so that’s the tricky part is knowing what to say to them, because certain teams don’t care about it. Like it’s like product quality is about customer experience. That’s what they care about, like not having a customer be mad anymore. Whereas product safety is, did you do all the things right? Do you have all the paperwork in place? Are we going to get in trouble if you keep selling this, so they have a different focus. And so what you submit to them needs to reflect what they’re looking for.

James Thomson 13:03

Let’s shift gears a little bit. Your firm Cascadia Seller Solutions supports brands that are selling on Amazon. Tell me more about the types of clients you support and what areas of specialty for consultation you provide to clients. Obviously, we’ve talked about product compliance, but I know you do much more than that.

Rachel Johnson Greer 13:20

Yeah, we do full service management. But our focus is really around the combination of how to take the data on your Amazon account and turn it into visual content. So we’re really focused on data driven marketing. So if you’re trying to figure out okay, what kind of graphic should be here? Or what order should my pictures be in, or this graphic seems important, that graphic seems important, which one should go first? And kind of looking into what our customers say, where customers are coming from? We’re all about the customer. Right? That’s, I think it’s drilled into Amazon, you just start spouting customer obsession all the time. And so when I was first doing some work for some clients two years ago, and they’re like, Okay, well, can you help with this? And of course, when you’re first starting a business, you’re like, of course, I can help with that. And so I was working with it. And I was like, Wait a second, I don’t feel comfortable making a decision on what this should say, based on my own opinion, and my own experience, I don’t think that’s a good way to do this. I want to understand what the customers are saying. And then you go and start poking around and you realize that Amazon has absolutely crappy data to figure out what customers actually care about. And so then it became Okay, so how do I use what I have to kind of back into it customers care about something that looks good, hold that

James Thomson 14:39

thought. So, on your website, you talk about your company, secret sauce, being around looking at metrics and performance elements, things that are not part of nws, but could still be useful for part of your dashboard. So your watch rates on videos have A plus coverage? Yeah, Amazon posts talk to me. about these types of insights and what you’re able to garner from that kind of data that helps you address client shortcomings in ways that a typical company wouldn’t look at that kind of information.

Rachel Johnson Greer 15:10

Yeah, and that all comes out of this hole coming from the customer perspective things. So looking at what they’re talking about in customer questions and answers, which no system currently keeps track of looking at what they’re talking about in customer reviews, Amazon is finally doing an okay job of tracking for brands. But looking at what customers actually say, looking at the common keywords they’re using, looking at what they’re actually talking about, then turning that into content. So when you have a plus content, and you don’t have the AV testing widget, which you only have with items that have enough traffic, so then you can do one version of a plus, let it run for a couple weeks. And then make sure you always do a new ad each time you do this, because each ad learns each time. And so you want to make sure you’re not reusing an older. But having it run for a couple weeks, see how it performs, see what kind of conversion you get based on that kind of traffic. And I always like to do with ads not regular traffic, because the regular traffic is just so variable, where it’s coming from, as I want to see what it’s like for someone who is cold traffic coming in clicking looking, what’s their opinion of the of the page, and then you change it to the next version of a plus, based on your research, maybe this type of person might have been a second customer avatar that you could target, run that for a couple weeks, see how it performs. And you know, plus data is only in the front end of Amazon, they don’t have any downloadable data to this point. And then the same thing with the videos. So we do a lot of slideshow video content. And what we do is we take our top five key important points from customers for a particular product, and then rearrange the points in the videos. And so then we can test which ones are actually getting people to watch through enough to where they actually want to potentially buy.

James Thomson 16:53

So you got five points, for example, that could be five bullet points, when you’re listing but you’re taking those same points, you’re putting them into a video in a different order. And yeah,

Rachel Johnson Greer 17:04

and so usually it’s everybody before in five different videos saying exactly the same thing, but in a different order. Yeah. And then we see how long people actually watch it for. And if we see people drop out at 30%, well, then obviously it wasn’t interesting, we didn’t catch their attention. And so that’s a bad one next.

James Thomson 17:20

Interesting. That’s very clever, very clever. You target companies that have great products, but don’t necessarily have a big video and photography budget. How do you

Rachel Johnson Greer 17:32

really hate Amazon? That’s okay, but people, people who have never done anything on Amazon, or they don’t know how to use it, or whatever the case may be. And so they just don’t have visual content or good marketing on Amazon, because they just don’t want to deal with it.

James Thomson 17:47

So how much of that content are you creating? Or do you go back to the client and say, We want you to build content, and this is the way we want to storyboard it?

Rachel Johnson Greer 17:56

Yeah, we actually do both. So at the very beginning of a project, we’ll do the full research and review and then provide a very large spreadsheet. Usually, clients are like, really spreadsheets, I’m like, Hey, I worked at Amazon, like spreadsheets, that’s what we’re gonna do. And so they get a full spreadsheet for written content for visual content recommendations on which picture to put number two spot which fixture, but number three spot, etc. And then they can either go out and get that done, or we will do it in house in chunks. So kind of like an outline lets you do like five concurrent enrollment. That’s kind of how we do it to make sure that we can manage the workflow.

James Thomson 18:34

Yep. Yep. I know all about having a lot of clients asking for the same stuff and only finance. Got it, I get it. So your firm has been experimenting with Amazon’s new live streaming platform, Amazon Live? Yeah. Tell us? How does this work? How do sellers pay to use the platform? For a lot of our audience this is not something they’re necessarily that familiar with, tell me more.

Rachel Johnson Greer 18:58

I am so super excited about Amazon Live. And I hope they continue to invest in it. So far, they’ve been putting a lot of money into it and have hired more product managers. So I’m hopeful that means they’re really going to pursue this. But basically, the lives are exactly the same thing as you might think of on Facebook or YouTube. It’s just a live video, and you can do stuff with it. And when you are on amazon.com/live, then depending on what level you are, it’s kind of like it’s a gamified system. So you have to reach certain levels to get certain placements. Then you get, you know, if you’re a certain level, then you get the full width placement. If you’re not the level when you get the little box. Depending on what level you are you get good or not so good placements. So people can either go directly to the live page, or what’s more common depends on who’s advertising. So like, what I’ve seen is a lot of influencers using the live pages and books. That’s a really big one. So what I’ve been trying to do is if I see a really big event like Chelsea Clinton was on as an influencer, making sure to time alive that starts right towards the end of her event to where is live, it’s running and boosted right after she’s done so that the next is Amazon just puts the next one up. So like when hers is done, then the next one just pops up in somebody’s feed, and if it’s interesting then people stick around.

James Thomson 20:14

So as a seller, how do I get a specific time of day or

Rachel Johnson Greer 20:20

you just start going live, you don’t have to get a specific time. So when you’re working with Amazon Live as, as the Amazon company, kind of like you know, you can work as a vendor or seller, you have to work with them for timing and arrangements. And it’s really expensive. If you’re a seller, just going live, you can do it whenever you want. You could do it in the morning if you want to. But you probably wouldn’t get very many people, but you can still do.

James Thomson 20:40

So I am still not completely clear on how this works. I’m a seller, I sell widget ABC, I want to promote that through Amazon Live, I want to do a live demo, how we use these products and how it makes your home and your life that much better. I literally set up a camera, and I started running

Rachel Johnson Greer 20:59

Apple iPhone camera. Specific. Yeah, I was really hoping they’d expand it to Android. But no, it’s on the Apple platform. So you have to have an Apple phone. And you have to get the app from the Apple Store for it to work. And you can either do it from the phone, which I don’t recommend if you can at all not do the phone. Because the sound is so terrible. They have to use the sound in the phone. It’s not that you can’t use the air. But it was so frustrating trying to get this figured out. But it’s the sound directly in the phone, the microphone in the phone. That’s it. Yeah. And so what we use is we use our actual cameras, studio setup. So we’ve got cameras, lapel mics, streaming software, and so on. And so if we want to go live, like for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, I did a bunch of lives for clients. And so we booked a space actually, for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we showed up with all of our stuff, got the scene setup, yes, it did Live after Live after Live. And so you just, you know, you just turn on the app and you say I want to go live and then you go, and now you’re live. So it’s just like Facebook or YouTube where you just can go on and start streaming.

James Thomson 22:05

As a consumer, though, that there’s all these channels of stuff. How do consumers find, oh, that company’s product looks interesting, I want to go there. Or is it literally like having cable TV with 500 channels to pick from?

Rachel Johnson Greer 22:19

Yeah, so there’s a couple different ways that you can have a point into being live. The first one is on amazon.com/live. And that’s where if someone’s already watching Amazon Live, then it does take you there and you can start watching the next one. So that one I don’t they don’t give you numbers about how people find you. I doubt that one’s very big. So then there’s the second one, which is the live stream will show up on your actual Detail page. So if you’re running a live stream, it shows up right below the primary image. So you’ve got your image, you have your image widgets. On the other side, you’ve got your price and your buy box here. Right below it, it says live streams for this product. And so then it’s literally live streaming a video on the page if someone lands on it. And so that’s where we think we’re getting most of the traffic is people who are showing up on the page. And then the third way that people can find that you went live is if they follow your brand, because you can follow brands now on Amazon. And you’ll get a push notification to your phone app saying, blah, blah, blah brand that you follow is having a live. Click here to watch. And so you actually get a push notification on the phone, which is what I’m most excited about. Because if you can get people to follow you, then you can get them to be notified. I mean, that’s a huge mindshare having a push.

James Thomson 23:27

Okay, so let’s talk about following brands, because Amazon customers don’t belong to the sellers. So how do I get people to follow my brand, so we’ll eventually see my Amazon Live videos.

Rachel Johnson Greer 23:39

So there’s three places that you can follow. And two of them are completely useless for this biggest concern. You can follow someone through posts or while you’re watching Amazon Live, and it doesn’t really help you get new people. It’s just people who happen to randomly see you. So the way that you actually get people off of Amazon or through advertising to get to follow you on Amazon is they added a follow button on storefronts. And so now on the right hand side of a storefront, there’s a little button that says follow. And if you click on that, then now you’re following the brand.

James Thomson 24:08

So I have to work really hard as a brand, to get people to know where to go to follow me so they can eventually see an Amazon live video.

Rachel Johnson Greer 24:16

Yeah, right now, that process is not good. So we’ve been working on getting followers most of the year for a couple of our clients. And we’re now taking 280 followers on one account that’s doing best. And of course, if you were to, you know, be pitching yourself as a Facebook company and say I got 280 followers and five months, people would be like what? Right, but on Amazon, right? Yes. Okay.

James Thomson 24:40

So you don’t have to pay to use Amazon Live, but you clearly have to work hard to get people to pay attention to any of this stuff.

Rachel Johnson Greer 24:48

Yeah, yeah. So right now it’s very much in the early days that the follow button on storefronts just showed up about two weeks ago, and the Follow button on posts and just posts showed up in like August. So It looks like every month they’re creating new stuff and coming out with new stuff. And so what we’re trying to do is really figure out the best way to use the platform and the most, I guess, clever ways to make sure that people see their stuff. One of the things that we did this weekend, which worked out really well is we have a client who does birding products, so bird, bird baths. And so I bought the number one best selling wild bird seed on Amazon laggers, wild bird food, just to test and see if it would work, because this was built for influencers and influencers can choose whatever thing that they want to promote, you can promote anything without anyone being able to approve it. It’s kind of interesting. So I was like, Alright, so let’s just see if this works for brands too. And so I listed my client’s items, and then the wild bird food, and clicked on the wild bird food while I was live streaming and my clients product showed up on their page. And that was pretty cool. If they continue with that, that’s really useful.

James Thomson 25:58

What kind of insights can I get as a brand, by running all these Amazon live videos.

Rachel Johnson Greer 26:04

So there’s two things that you can get in terms of metrics, you can see what kind of sales you’re getting for the items that you’ve featured versus what people are buying instead. So that can be somewhat helpful to know if people are actually interested in what you’re promoting, or something else that you’re offering. And then the second thing that I have found to be useful is you can tell when people are dropping off. And so if you want to test out the messaging for a video, for example, like if you’re trying to figure out if what you’re talking about in a video is actually of interest to customers, then boosts your life, you’ll get like three to 500 people, if you’re running on like a Saturday afternoon, to get hundreds of people within minutes. And then if you do something that’s uninteresting to them, they’ll leave. And so you can test things out and see if it’s actually interesting before you invest in some sort of expensive video making company. So I personally see this now as being at the stage that it’s that is more of a kind of testing, refining, iterating. And then hopefully, they continue to invest in this because what we’re seeing come out of China, in terms of the amount of stuff that’s selling through Alibaba, live events is just insanely good. I mean, really anything, the dollar sold to that platform.

James Thomson 27:17

If I’m a brand or seller, and I’m trying to figure out how to spend my dollars advertising, on image creation, on video creation, on live video, where do you see Amazon Live fitting in with all those other efforts?

Rachel Johnson Greer 27:35

That’s a great question. And until we started doing some of the work over the last month and comparing it to kind of quiet times versus more busy times, it would have been harder to answer that. But now that we’ve got the black friday data, I can say that if you were to run a live without any boosting no extra cost on Black Friday, you are likely to get sales, especially if you’re doing that whole thing like landing on somebody else’s brand thing. And we actually got quite a lot of sales out of that it took me about 20 minutes of being live. And we sold about $300 worth of stuff. So that’s not too bad in terms of time commitment, and money commitment, the cost per click in that particular space is about $1 at a click, we got a bunch of people in and clicking, you know, essentially for time rather than money. So especially if you’re a smaller brand that has more time than money, this is going to be absolutely a place to put your effort. And then if you use a streaming software, then you can actually stream on Amazon on YouTube on Instagram On Facebook all at the same time. And then you can keep building your followers while not doing any extra work really.

James Thomson 28:42

If I am fortunate enough to run a lightning deal and it’s approved, it would seem to me having Amazon Live would be a nice little extra push.

Rachel Johnson Greer 28:49

Absolutely. So doing something during a live like Amazon Live during deals is great. In fact, during their webinar, the guys from the Live team. And they were saying that if you have deals you need to be live during the deals because of the placement value. So they’re saying that it works really well.

James Thomson 29:08

Let’s shift gears, um, you’ve worked with brands now for a long time. Sometimes you’re having to take down brands, now you’re helping brands to grow. When did you realize that you were good at interacting with brands and helping them meander that Amazon that Amazon channel? You know, I can do this, I can totally do this.

Rachel Johnson Greer 29:31

There was more of a point at which I said I don’t want to deal with certain kinds of sellers. Where I was, I definitely wanted to work with these kinds of people. And the first the first moment where that happened was I was working on a reinstatement with a client that would help before and this is back in early 2016. And he was facing a counterfeit complaint from Amazon. Okay, and he was like this is not counterfeit. I bought these testers on the pallet. I just squeezed them into a new bottle. Did what? When you squeezed the testers out of their package into a new bottle that you labeled, and you think that’s not counterfeit. And it was funny, but it was also just like, I can’t keep doing this, this is going to make my brain explode. Yeah. And so like deliberately started going after brands to work with on Amazon. And, you know, we already learned so much about the marketplace and worked on the marketplace while at Amazon. But, you know, it was just like, no, we’re just not going to work with resellers. It just didn’t make any sense anymore.

James Thomson 30:35

I have my own set of stories with resellers, but you kind of have to see that extreme to realize, there’s different ways of being an entrepreneur and making a living selling stuff. And sometimes you want to make it a nickel at a time, that’s fine. But it’s, it’s, it’s fascinating to see the range of incentives that people seem to view Amazon is offering them, you know, but back in the day, when I first started selling FBA to sellers, you know, there were guys that literally had troops of high school kids that would run into stores, and would buy up all the crap. And then they would, you know, shine it all up and send it all into Amazon. And, gosh, you know, you could scale that to, you know, a $10,000 a month business, but how do you scale that to a million dollar a month business? Don’t tell me you’re gonna hire a lot of college kids or a lot of high school kids. It just these some of these things are nice while they last,

Rachel Johnson Greer 31:29

as some of them totally did. So like in 2015, we’re actually working with a client who had done exactly that, where he hired a bunch of different kids in different different cities, to go into Walmart and buy stuff. And then he had a whole thing where he had like this, like an Amway structure, almost, you know what I mean? Like, where he had like different people working and they had their thing, and he was selling something like two or $300,000 a month in arbitrage. It was impressive. I promise he didn’t have any control over any of it. So when they started getting sold as new complaints that was that.

James Thomson 32:00

Let me ask you, what are some of your favorite software tools, consultants, companies that you’re seeing now in the Amazon space that are helping sellers helping brands? Are you seeing anything new and novel that we should keep an eye on?

Rachel Johnson Greer 32:15

So I tend not to use too many software tools, to be honest, I tend to stick to the same ones that I’ve been using for a while. So the two that I’ve been using for years are MerchantWords and Helium 10. And I’m fine with that, and just keep reusing them. And the main reason is, because I’ve been using a lot of Google Sheets. And Google Data Quality is so great, because you can make your own dashboards exactly how you like them. I know you’ll appreciate this having come from Amazon, but I don’t like other people’s dashboards because I don’t know what goes into them. I would rather be able to build my own dashboard. And feel confident about what went into that data rather than pay someone else to have a fancy graph that I can’t look behind.

James Thomson 32:57

Rachel, I want to thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts Podcast. For those of you interested in learning more about Cascadia Seller Solutions, please visit thinkcascadia.com. And now to finish today’s podcast, I’d like to share some final thoughts. For third party sellers to be successful on Amazon, a critical lever will be soliciting feedback from customers. We at Buy Box Experts are really big fans of the team at eComEngine and it’s tools that help Amazon sellers to simplify the process of messaging customers of Amazon orders. To learn more, go to ecomengine.com. And with that, I want to thank you for listening today and I look forward to joining you next time on the Buy Box Experts Podcast.

Outro 33:40

Thanks for listening to the Buy Box Experts Podcast. Be sure to click subscribe, check us out on the web and we’ll see you next time.

James Thomson is a partner at Buy Box Experts. He is the former head of Amazon Services—the team that recruits tens of thousands of new sellers to the Amazon marketplace each year. He was previously Amazon’s first Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) account manager, a banker and management consultant.

James is also co-founder and president of PROSPER Show, the continuing education conference for large Amazon sellers. He earned a Ph.D. in Marketing (B2B Pricing and Distribution) from Northwestern University (Kellogg), as well as an MBA from Vanderbilt University (Owen) and a Bachelor of Science from University of Alberta.

Rachel Johnson Greer is the Founder and Managing Partner of Cascadia Seller Solutions, a successful Amazon marketing agency. As an experienced and strategic Amazon consultant, Rachel has delivered unique and highly successful solutions for clients across multiple account launches and marketing content launches on the marketplace.

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