After 4.5 years of running the agency, she realized that many brands would prefer to build their internal Amazon capability rather than relying on outside agencies or consultants. So “The Marketplace Institute” was born – a platform to help ecommerce managers and practitioners to stay atop of Amazon best practices. Kiri is also the host of the podcast, Ecommerce Braintrust, and a contributor to Forbes retail.

Kiri: Thank you so much for having me Arlen. It’s great to be here. 

Arlen: Oh, you’re welcome. And it’s a pleasure having you and I’m super excited to talk to you about the topic of today, which is going to be Amazon selling in the things that you can do to improve your overall presence as an e-commerce seller on Amazon and also really interested in what you’re doing as far as your Marketplace is concerned.

So I’m going to have you delve into that at the end of the podcast and tell all of our listeners how we they can take advantage of that. But before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and specifically how you got into what you’re doing today. 

Kiri: Sure. So I actually started out my career in a completely unrelated field, which is banking and I was most recently at JP Morgan Chase as a commercial Banker helping small businesses, but during the last couple of years that I was at the bank.

I started a e-commerce. Business in a very Niche field which was do-it-yourself lamp making kits and materials. So just about as niches as you could get 

Arlen: that is 

Kiri: infinite the advice that I kept hearing from all the e-commerce podcast. I was listening to at the time this go find a niche go like even deeper in that Niche then you think you need to and I think that I took that advice to heart and got pretty niche.

So along the way I was starting to sell some of those products on Amazon and it was kind of challenging the process and there wasn’t a whole lot of good information out there at the time. This is back in 2013 kind of error and when speaking with my clients at the bank, I also found that they were struggling with the Amazon processes and how to get results.

So I actually left my job at the bank and started Consulting for some of these branded manufacturers that I already knew and that’s how bobsled marketing my agency got started back in early 2015. So it was just me as a solo consultant working with Brands and then fast forward to. Today, we’re a team of almost 30 people at bobsled.

So let’s go on on the last almost five years. And today we recently just launched a new use of self-serve model for Brands who want to build their Amazon capability and house rather than having to rely on agencies and Consultants to handle everything for them. So that is yeah the long. History and just a couple of minutes.

Arlen: That sounds great. I appreciate that and interesting house. Like you said where your background was from Banking and finance and then you got into e-commerce selling. So quite a jump there and and surprised you’re not at recently the past few guests that I’ve had on the podcast have told me some of the stories where their background is totally unrelated to e-commerce selling in just happenstance one thing leads to another and they happen to get into e-commerce and selling and marketing.

And it’s definitely a growing industry as I know. Of course you can attest to that’s awesome that you’ve been really successful with bobsled Marketing in the success that you’ve had with your team. Now, of course today, all of the listeners are really kind of curious as to what you can shed as far as Amazon is concerned because they are believe it or not or whether you like it or not rather.

They are the I guess you could say the elephant in the room and they seem to be just kind of gobbling up everything but you can definitely work with them and that’s kind of the point we. Hit home today. What I really want to first ask is for Amazon Seller. What’s really the most important area? To focus on if you have an existing Amazon presence and Amazon Channel with the most important thing to focus on with regards to optimizing it.

Kiri: I think that the Core Concepts really understand which everything stems from Amazon is their search ranking algorithm. And this is kind of a timely topic because the Wall Street Journal published just last week at the time of recording this show at least that Amazon had internally stacked their algorithm to prefer their own.

Label products and so I think a lot of sellers weren’t particularly surprised that this news but everyone was disappointed to find out that it was actually there was some truth to that because you want to believe that there is an even playing field an even playing field with you versus other Sellers and other brands and you versus Amazon private label, but that is not necessarily the case having I think we’re going to come back to this topic later on but having said that.

You still need to really understand the fundamentals of Amazon search algorithm because it’s where everything else from choices of fulfillment to advertising strategy to content everything kind of falls off this search ranking algorithm. 

Arlen: Don’t you so much like Google they have their whole algorithm that you really have to adhere to and get your channel and your listings to.

Optimize them for their particular algorithm. Is that correct? 

Kiri: Yeah, absolutely and just like Google. We don’t know exactly what the inputs are or how they are weighted but based on many data points. We understand that relevance is a big factor. So if I am searching for a heavy duty. I’ve had case then you want to have the keywords heavy-duty iPad case somewhere in the product content in the title or in the back end from the bullet points are in the description needs to be I don’t want to see a result as a customer for something completely unrelated to my search query.

So relevance is really important. Inventory availability is essential as well. So if you don’t have inventory available, you haven’t planned appropriately for demand your products not going to show up in search. So you might have the best rated product amazing sales. And then the minute that your product is out of stock.

It won’t show up in search anymore. So that really comes down to like the whole other sweet of questions around how you’re planning your inventory position and. And all of that so that’s an important piece and then we’ve got other factors like sales philosophy, which is how quickly your product is selling relative to other similar products, which you can drive that activity through things like advertising and promotions and both on and off Amazon, really.

And then another factor is going to be conversion rate as well. So when she approached page you might have paid for them to get their through advertising or they may have come through organic search, but how many customers ended up buying that product out of viewing it and that factor can be influenced by things like product content?

Videos spin images infographics the enhance content that you put on your page customer reviews. What is your brand look like outside of Amazon? So the short answer is to say hey, just think about the Amazon search algorithm. But once you start unpacking all of the variables, you can see sort of a roadmap or a blueprint start to unfold of hundreds of things that you need to.

Think about it and managed on a consistent basis with Amazon. 

Arlen: Thanks a lot. That makes a lot of sense and it’s like you said there’s a lot of basic things that when you think about optimizing for a search algorithm you do that. I think a little bit about how Google handles it in there some basic things.

Like you said the relevancy your inventory those types of things now one of the things because I’m an avid, you know Amazon purchaser at my home. I always have a ton of Amazon boxes. It just seems like every day there’s Amazon truck showing up at my door. I’m super familiar with the whole platform in the whole system.

So I’m always ordering things and one of the things that I know makes a particular product listing stand out, of course in many people are like this as well as the reviews and you mentioned that reviews are part of that criteria as well. And I guess my question is kind of a two-part question.

Number one is first off how much weight does Amazon put on the amount of reviews and the. I guess you could say the the high reviews, you know, the four five star reviews how much weight did they put on those type of listings and products? And then also how does a business compete if they’re just coming in to Amazon straight out of the gate they have no reviews or minimal reviews and they’re forced to try to compete with another similar product that may have thousands of reviews.

What are there any strategies in place that you’ve seen to try? Really kind of bump up those reviews in a short amount of time. What’s your take on all that? 

Kiri: Yeah. So first of all, there’s no real evidence to suggest that the number of product reviews on the average star rating has a direct impact on where you show up in organic search so we can see products with a 50 reviews show up higher in search results and a product with 500 reviews all other things being equal what it does have an impact on the.

Is the conversion rate of that product listing? So if you’ve got a larger number of good quality customer reviews that are not all just five stars because that is now sort of a bit of a not an alarm Bell for most Shoppers that something is someone is playing the game a little bit. But if you’ve got good quality reviews that look genuine that a detailed with images and you know that goes a long way to help customers with their buying decision and therefore impacts your conversion rate.

So I wouldn’t get hung up on how many reviews you have relative to your direct competitors or the exact star rating and. Preoccupied with tracking all that because it’s not a direct factor and like you ask there are ways to overcome it. So one way to sort of get around it and guarantee your product gets the top of the search page is through.

Amazon advertising and so this is one way that if you’ve got a new product or you’re trying to take over a market you can essentially pay your way to the top of the search results. If you have an aggressive enough advertising strategy and you can do this with both sponsored product ad types as well as a sponsored brand where you get sort of like a banner ad at the top of search results.

So that’s one leaving you can pull and I would always say that you would be better off spending your money. Your marketing Budget on running ad campaigns. Then you are with trying to do any kind of gray hat products review acquisition method because I’m a something to Amazon. Really dislikes is when cell is trying monkey around with product reviews.

Arlen: That’s kind of what I thought and that’s what a lot of other people have told me as well. They they take the reviews very seriously and if you’re caught doing something, you know kind of some funny stuff and yeah, you could there can be some really strict penalties and you know, it’s really not worth the risk.

So yeah, I understand what you’re saying. So it does seem like there are some options like you said the payment of the. Click advertising can be way to shoot to the Top If you’re just new and you’re trying to immediately try to compete trying to compete with someone else that is selling another similar product.

So that’s another good option. Now. My next question is something that you touched on look at the beginning and this is has to do with Amazon’s new or not necessary that new now their whole private label Suite of products these like the Amazon Basics sweet of private label products and how they were kind of caught.

To have been maybe possibly manipulating their placement of those personally. I’m not really surprised because just from a user standpoint because I’ve I’m always a skeptical person. Anyways, I don’t trust the whole lot but fucking lie just from being an Amazon user. And looking on the outside and it just seemed like yeah, these private label products came out of nowhere and they would just all no matter what I was looking for.

I’m always seeing some amazonbasics products. Uh, yeah. I got a feeling they were manipulating it and I don’t think it was pretty apparent that they were doing it. So it is unfortunate that they are doing that but you know who’s going to stop them? Basically, they’re almost thrown regulating body.

They can kind of do what they want to do. Even though it’s unfair to the other sellers, but they are the Behemoth here. So it kind of ties into my next question which is really with their whole expanding Sweden line of these private label products. Does that actually pose a threat to other businesses in the long run on Amazon because they.

They really are increasing their line of these privately other products just more and more types of products are have the Amazon Basics stamp on it. What do you think? 

Kiri: Yeah. It’s a complicated issue and I think there’s a lot of anxiety for Brands both large National Brands and freaking out and small start-up brands.

Are concerned about this as well because I’m has on has they have so much power in their own search ranking system as well as they have the ability to essentially take out endless ad placements for their products and run their products through their Vine customer review program as well, which is sort of a paid program for getting products reviews, which is.

Sanctioned by Amazon. So I have all this marketing power at their fingertips. Also just looking at the price point of many of these Brands. They’re not so concerned about margins by the look of it. This is a complicated issue. I want to question to tease out a little bit. It was my view that Amazon didn’t want to become the next OEM manufacturer that they simply wanted to fill out their assortment and make sure that there wasn’t any.

Got in there assortment that would cause a Amazon Shopper to leave and purchase a product somewhere else. For example, let’s say you’re shopping in for a hiking jacket and your options are $400 Patagonia jacket. Or a $40 jacket from a manufacturer in China that you’ve never heard of that brand before but there’s nothing really in the middle.

And so Amazon has all this purchased data and they know what’s converted and like if you fell out of the buying Journey at that point because you didn’t find a product that meant your budget then they’re going to come in and create a brand to fill in that Gap. So that’s been the pattern to me and they have about 400 private label and exclusive Brands right now, which is pretty crazy and the majority of them are not that successful.

They don’t they haven’t made as much Headway as you think that they. Amazonbasics and a couple of the others have been very successful and they become essentially household names but I mean Beyond amazonbasics Arlen what other Amazon brand could you call out by name? 

Arlen: I don’t know of any actually.

Yes, that’s 

Kiri: kind of things to me. 

Arlen: I mean, I didn’t know they had any other private label brands that just had other other names on a 

Kiri: hundred of them. 

Arlen: Wow, 

Kiri: so I think the lesson to take from that is. What is the role of a branch at the end of the day the role of a brand is to listen to customers look at market trends and.

Respond to those market trends and customer demands and what Amazon does is they’re not doing R&D. They’re not developing Innovative fabrics for performance activewear or new shoe designs like a Nike word. They’re not doing customer focus groups to learn about changes in consumer Behavior. They’re really just looking at admittedly piles and piles and billions of data points.

Shoppers and making assortment decisions based on those what’s already in place in the market? They’re not going to be ahead of the curve with our D. They’re not really interested in building a lot of brand Equity outside of the marketplace. I don’t see ads for many Amazon Brands off of Amazon. So I think that that is they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

And I think if you’re a brand that’s really interested in being around for the long term you need to think about what Amazon doesn’t do which is investing in research and development listening to customers and building a strong trusted brand with consumers. And that’s that’s actually an area where Amazon’s very they run into trouble over the last year and a half is this consumer trust because people read reports like that one in the Wall Street Journal.

About them tinkering the search results and then people start to question how some of Amazon’s decisions there. So that’s sort of a long a long answer but I really think that there is more of a place of Brands than ever because. Not everyone trusts Amazon anymore. Frankly. 

Arlen: That’s very true. And like you mentioned at the beginning of your answer.

It is still a complicated issue and I do see Amazon’s position as far as we’re trying to fill voids in their Marketplace and if there’s not an e-commerce business on the other side of it to fill those voids, they’re going to do it. They’re gonna do whatever they can do to get customers to stay on their site stay in their Marketplace and just continue to purchase so I definitely see that.

Though it could be like you said possibly posing a threat that it may not necessarily have been their intent there looking out at there in customer same time. Of course, they’re looking at their bottom line, but they’re trying to. Fulfill all of the needs of the customers in their Marketplace. So it it makes sense.

But yeah, I understand if you looking to be around they cannot tarnish the relationship with Amazon sellers because they wouldn’t have too much. So they it is a game that they have to play play fairly to some extent in order to keep it going and to keep their relationships going over these years.

So I see how it can definitely work for sure. I’m a huge advocate as far as using. Resources to get things done, especially these days because there’s there’s more tools and resources than any what are you some go to tools that you would recommend to help. People optimize their Amazon Channel. 

Kiri: Yes, I would say to go back to the core search algorithm piece.

You really want to be using some software to look for good keywords and keep revisiting those as well and working maybe seasonal keywords into your product listings and adds. So the one that we use of bobsled the most is called helium 10. And they have a suite of different modules. I guess you’d call them for keyword research and various tracking mechanisms and Reporting and stuff like that.

So they have a really great. They built out a really good system for Brands looking to maximize their placement search algorithm. And then I’d also say that running PPC or pay-per-click advertising on Amazon has a no-brainer for the majority of Brands and there are many software. Options out there to help automate some of the process and make sure that you’re maximizing your send.

So there’s a few there are lots of great software programs out there, but I’ll call out a couple one is called ad Badger and they’re all about bid automating bid management. And I really like what they’re doing in the space. They’ve got a great podcast as well called PPC Dan and one that we use we’ve started using recently as colds on tools.

And then there are some if you’re a larger brand I would also consider looking at take a metrics t– t– e– Ika metrics. Yeah, so I think that those that no-brainer places to start where it’s just keyword research is very especially you want to do keyword research specifically for Amazon. Not just use all your Google shopping keywords because it can be a little bit different but those are two places where you can get a lot of time efficiency and save a lot of money in wasted ad spend as well.

If you’re using a good tool 

Arlen: that’s very important. Like you say keywords are really kind of the heart of it was some great tools that are. You can take a look at and help optimize their listing in their keywords. Now one of the new things that’s come out of Amazon’s kind of whole ecosystem is their whole display advertising in their display advertising Network how exactly does this work and how would a business take advantage of this as well?

Kiri: Yeah. So display advertising is certainly more top of funnel. As a marketing vehicle, so pay-per-click sponsored product search results are really great at getting a quick Roi and we find them to be very very efficient if their run correctly, but display is more about a went building awareness for a product and retargeting as well.

So how this works for the new ad type that Amazon just launched last week at the time of recording this that is a pretty interesting. Add type because it is a display ad type but it’s actually build based on clicks rather than Impressions, which is how display ads usually. Build so I think that what Amazon’s pretty smart, they’ve finally responded to probably thousands of requests at this point to bring in a retargeting option which they haven’t had up until now on Amazon at all.

So it’s essentially retargeting. There’s not a whole lot of options around there’s no options around creative like changing the images or the text or the call to action or anything like that. It’s quite a lot down, but you can essentially set that up to display. Round on Amazon off Amazon as well.

You’ve got some limited targeting options about people who previously looked at your product or that in market for a particular type of product. So that is available to all Sellers and vendors right now and it’s sort of an easy access version of their much more complex and higher level and frankly very expensive display DSP platform.

Okay dramatic display platform. 

Arlen: Yeah, that’s some huge stuff. Especially the retargeting because I know how big that is outside of them is on it’s good that they did listen to the lot of the requests that they were getting for that. So yeah, since this is really new. I hope a lot of these Amazon sellers take heed to that and participate because I do see that can be very effective.

For sure forgetting repeat visitors. 

Kiri: Yeah, I would be cautious. We tested the data version of this ad type on a few different clients and the ROI wasn’t as good as sponsored products. Okay, so start using it with care and the right expectation that you’re not going to get as good Roi because remember it’s more of an awareness.

Play then a direct sale bottom of funnel kind of play 

Arlen: that makes sense. It did it’s a branding type of thing to getting your brand out there. So it may not be enough. You may not see an immediate return. But over time I could see that it can definitely help them increase and build your brand equity for sure.

So, yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. Well, it’s been a pleasure having you on the podcast curia definitely love talking to you about Amazon and their whole ecosystem and all of their changes because as we all know they’re here to stay and businesses can definitely be successful with Amazon in the future.

Now one of the things I want to I like to always doing the podcast to shift gears here and just ask my final fun fact question. And that’s really what’s one fun Factor interesting thing that our audience would be surprised to know about you. 

Kiri: Well, I’m launching my third book next week and the fun fact is that is called Amazon for CMOS, but the fun fact is except on a particularly fun book, but the first book that I published is all about rewiring antique lamps that’s 

Arlen: breaking sort of the beginning.

That’s very Niche. That is a very Niche subject. But yeah, I know there’s some people. 

Kiri: How many people still buy that book today? I think the published it like six years ago. Okay, that’s still rolling in sales from people who want to refurbish antique lamps or make their own lamp. So. Yeah, there you go humble beginnings.

Arlen: Yeah, definitely. Well, that’s awesome. And I appreciate you sharing that and you know, finally if any of our listeners want to pick your brain anymore about selling on Amazon and get it hold of you. What is the best way for them to get in touch with you? 

Kiri: Yeah, so I think that if you’re trying to build your own Amazon capability and inside your company and you want to get a better handle on what are the best practices?

Maybe get started with some processes right out of the book rather than having to start from scratch with across every area check out the marketplace Institute. And that’s at the marketplace And then you can also connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m Carrie Masters on LinkedIn. 

Arlen: All right, awesome.

The our listeners will be sure to definitely check out the new Marketplace platform for sure and thanks again carry for joining us today on the Eve Mark the e-commerce marketing podcast better than letting my own podcast. 

Kiri: Yeah, I have those days as well. I’ll thank you so much for having me on I really appreciate it.

Arlen: No problem. 

Podcast Guest InfoKiri Masters

Founder of Bobsled Marketing