Arlen: Welcome to the eCommerce marketing podcast, everyone. I am your host Arlen Robinson, and today we have a very special guest, John Ghiorso, is the founder and CEO of Orca Pacific, an agency focused exclusively on helping brands improve their sales on Amazon. John founded Orca Pacific over 10 years ago and now manages over 100 mid- to large-sized brands in a variety of product categories. He is located in Seattle, just blocks from the Amazon campus where he regularly meets with managers at Amazon to get an in-depth understanding of how companies can maximize their potential on the platform.
John: Thanks, Arlen. Appreciate it.
Arlen: All right, great. Yeah, it’s awesome to talk to you and I, and I know your proximity that happens. I’m really helps you stay in the know, I’m sure with the relationships that I would imagine that you have.
John: Yeah. You know, it’s funny because Amazon is obviously a one of the most innovative tech companies in the world, but location still matters.
You know, the ability to just. Walk down the road and grab coffee with folks at the end of the day, like we’re all people, and that still makes an impact on business. So
Arlen: yes, it’s great. Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah, no. Even though we’ve got, like you said, all of this technology, Amazon’s the most tech company in the world.
Probably nothing meets beats face to face meeting. You know, you can really connect with someone, you know, like no other way. If you’re . Sitting right across from them. So yeah, that’s kudos to you. That’s good stuff. Where are you located? Well, today, you know, I’m super excited to talk to you about Amazon and, uh, you’re gonna really enlighten us today about the steps to a successful product launch on Amazon because I know a lot of the listeners out there, they, you know, they may have dipped and dabbled a little bit with Amazon.
I know I’ve talking from talking to some of our own customers and people that are kind of in our ecosystem that are full, strong with Amazon. Everyone. Really wants to be successful, you know? And I know you’re going to let us know some step-by-step methods for doing that. But before we get into all of that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you specifically got him into what you’re doing today.
John: Yeah. Happy to. So I started this agency about 12 years ago. It was a two people back then and it was pretty straight forward. We basically helped brands set up their items on Amazon. Over the years, as Amazon has gotten more and more complex, we’ve added coinciding services. Fast forward to today, we have a little over 50 people on our team.
We work with over a hundred brands and we offer a full suite of services as it relates to the platform. So front end. So we do a lot of content, SEO, advertising, merchandising work. Back end. We help with operations, forecasting, packaging requirements, all those super sexy things, and then we do a lot on the kind of higher level strategic elements as well, guiding brands, longterm, looking at beta programs, key relationships, those types of things.
Arlen: Great. That’s awesome. And um, as far as Amazon is concerned, one of the main things of course, businesses these days on any platform is really how do you, how do you set yourself apart from your competitors? How do you really stand out? And I think before we kinda dive into that, you know, cause that’s really kind of the main thing as far as standing out from all of the competition that may be there.
For those listeners out there that are either business owners or e-commerce marketers before they even think about selling on Amazon, what are some common things that you think of any e-commerce business needs to consider first before day one?
John: There’s a couple of things. So one is that Amazon has changed a lot, even in the last couple of years.
The biggest kind of macro change has been a move from a. Completely organic democratized platform to a much more pay to play driven platform. So Amazon advertising now plays a huge role in the success or lack thereof of a brand. The days of being able to to show up, put your stuff on the site and kind of sit back and watch the sales come in are over.
There’s 500 million unique skews on the platform today, so you’re starting by default as the last item on that list. You have to engage with paid media on the platform to be successful. So even before you start, you should be realistic about what is that going to cost? What is the budget? What do I really need to do from both a spend and an execution standpoint?
To actually capture, share on the platform, knowing that you have a massive amount of entrenched competition at this point, I don’t want to be pessimistic about it. You absolutely can come in and be disruptive and make an impact. You just need to be realistic about what that’s going to take.
Arlen: Yeah, that makes sense.
And thanks for putting that into perspective. Yeah, I didn’t realize there’s over 500 million products there on Amazon, so that’s a half a billion. So that’s a, you definitely have to be prepared for that, but like you said, it’s still a chance for. For everyone to eat. There’s definitely enough meat on the ball and so to speak, for people to be successful, so that’s good to hear as well.
Now, as far as getting started with it, what are really the initial steps to just get listed on Amazon and start selling? What do you have to do?
John: Yeah, I mean, so there’s some kind of basic, almost administrative things. You need to have an account set up, I guess, to take a step back. Before you even do that, you need to determine, do you want to be.
On the three P I. E seller central side or the one P. I. E. vendor central side three P tends to be the default these days. Unless you’re a national brand that for some reason hasn’t been on Amazon at all, which is. Unlikely you’re probably best served going three. P. I. E. seller central. Um, it’s easier to get started.
You have more initial control over the product, and frankly, it’s where Amazon would prefer kind of upstart brands start their journey on the platform. Getting a seller central account setup is extremely straightforward. It takes about an hour to get it done. And I think 40 bucks. And then it’s a matter of setting up the items, building out high quality SEO, optimized content, and then starting advertising as quickly as possible.
So like any business, there are steps you need to go through in a specific order, but the key with product launch. Is really to do those steps as quickly as possible because the algorithm is going to look at your initial sales and rank you, depending on what those look like. So you really want to have an aggressive, strong launch strategy when launching a new product or a new brand.
Arlen: Gotcha. So it sounds like it’s not, even though you know, you can go through these administrative tasks, get yourself up there, optimize your listing, and get it out there. It’s not a. Set it and forget it type of thing. You can’t just get out there and just sit back. I see. You have to be super aggressive too, per their algorithm or else you’ll get looked over.
Um, and that really is helpful because I know a lot of times business owners, especially if they’re already selling on their own sites or across other platforms, other channels, their hands are full. And so, you know, these days, I think because we’re all inundated with all of these different platforms, all of these different.
Social media channels. We’re trying to cover all the basis as business owners. And a lot of times we know that, okay, selling on Amazon is something that we should definitely do. Especially, you know, of course, if you have a product and it’s something we can be successful. So it’s almost like a lot of businesses these days, kind of think of it as like a little another checkbox on their list of marketing to dues, but it’s a little bit more involved in that.
You can’t just. Like I said, set it and forget it and get it out there. You really have to be aggressive, like you said, and you have to have a strategy, which really brings up my next question, and that’s really what is the basic marketing strategy that a business owner needs to employ to drive customer traffic and optimize their performance of their Amazon listing.
John: Yeah, for sure. So the first thing I would say is you still need to have the same basic value proposition inherent in a consumer product that you would in any other channel. I mean, 40 years ago, selling into local hardware stores, if you are a hardware brand, you still needed to have a good brand, a good price, good features, good quality.
All of that still applies to Amazon. So you still need to kind of do all that work, which hopefully you’ve already done. If you, if you’re, you know, running a consumer product company, you’re part of one, but then you also need to essentially out Amazon, the competitors. So having all those things, which are not easy to do, that I just mentioned are hard enough on their own.
But you have to do all those plus you have to really know how to work the platform. And there’s a couple of big buckets that come into play there. If you think about it from the perspective of data, you’re really looking at glance views, I. E. how many people are actually visiting the product detail page and then conversion rate.
What is the percentage of time that those people are converting to a purchase once they’re on the detail page? So. Conversion rate is going to be primarily related to content. So there’s multiple sort of different content avenues available for brands. The good news is they’re all free. Amazon doesn’t charge any longer.
They used to, uh, to upload content, so that should all be maximized. Brand store enhanced brand content on the detail page, basic content, it should all be SEO optimized. I’d consider things like reviews, customer questions. We consider that content as well. So that needs to be pure glance views is really gonna come down to advertising.
Of course, there’s going to be organic glance views. We want as many of those as possible, but the way we can actually push this is through paid media. So then it’s about developing a budget, coming up with a strategy. And especially in the beginning, the main property you’re gonna want to use is, um, sponsored ads.
So this is basically Amazon search advertising option. Closest comparable thing would be ad words. So think ad words on Amazon. So all PVC based, bid based, keyword based, uh, advertising on the platform. So. Those two elements are going to be the most important in terms of driving a business. Now you have to get all the retail ready stuff, right as well.
I mean, the product has to be in stock and at the right price and available and all of those things. So those kind of basics need to be handled. But after that. You’re really going to drive the business with those two elements at a high level content and advertising.
Arlen: Now, one of the things that I, I always notice, especially when I’m looking to, when I’m purchasing products on, on Amazon, and I know most people are like this.
Whenever you want something, you want it to sit square as possible. And you know, most people of course have an Amazon prime, you know, they wanted either that same day or the next day. And that’s usually, at least in my. Criteria. That’s how I sort through products. I want to, of course, look at those that are prime eligible first.
And so I think that’s a huge criteria because I think if most people are like me, that’s what they’re looking at first. But I know there are some other things that are involved to become prime eligible because of course there’s a lot of sellers that aren’t. Because you know, I’ve, I’ve even in the past purchasing things from sellers that aren’t prime eligible just because.
It was either because of the pricing or it was just something I just had to have and there was no other options. And so I just went that route. But what are the steps that a business has to take to become prime eligible?
John: Yeah, sure. So I guess prime badging, just to kind of reiterate what you said, is really table stakes for almost all products and product categories at this point.
If you don’t have it, if you’re not going to get it, you shouldn’t even be playing the game. Like it just, you’re going to get overlooked by 99 out of a hundred customers. So to get a prime badge on the seller central side of things, there’s basically two ways of doing it. There’s FBA fulfilled by Amazon, so that’s Amazon’s internal program where you send product into their fulfillment center.
You still own the product. You’re technically the seller of record, but you’re using all of Amazon’s forward and reverse logistics to fulfill it and you automatically get a prime badge and prime shipping when you use FBA. There’s also a program called seller fulfilled prime seller fulfilled prime. Is frankly pretty tricky to qualify for.
I would say if you’re not already running a very strong distributed, sophisticated, direct to consumer business, then it’s probably not going to work. I mean, you need eight to 12. Warehouses around the country. There are some three PLS that can get you seller fulfilled prime as well because they have it by extension, but for the most part, nine out of 10 brands are going to be best served by using fulfilled by Amazon.
It’s a massive program for them. There’s a reason it’s so big and successful. It’s fairly cost effective considering what they’re able to do in terms of ship times. It’s fairly easy to manage. And again, if you don’t have that prime badge, you’re not even in the game most of the time.
Arlen: That’s what I thought, just per my own experience that, yeah, if you don’t have that, it’s just, yeah, I’m sure you’re just going to see a considerable smaller amount of traffic and sales without without that.
So it seems like that’s really just kind of a must have for sure. Now, like I said earlier, I think. These days with all of these channels that we have out here, Amazon often does become just another checkbox on the eCommerce businesses marketing to do list. But I guess the big question that I have is. Is it right for every product?
Excuse me? Is every product right for Amazon rather, and are there some things that just will not work on Amazon and your experience?
John: I have probably a biased opinion here, and I know it’s not necessarily the, there’s been a lot of fairly high profile brands, especially as of late, that have decided not to be on Amazon, but my opinion is pretty much every brand.
Product company on the planet should be on Amazon and should be able to make it work of ways to kind of do it wrong. There are a lot of ways to get into Amazon and not be successful on the platform and potentially damage the rest of your channel and have it not work out. There are a few ways to do it right, but I think if done right.
Every brand can be successful on the platform. I really, I’m searching my mind to think of an example of something that wouldn’t work, and I mean maybe something that’s so heavy and so commoditized that you could just never justify selling it on the internet. Like a. Concrete mix. Probably not a great product, but honestly anything other than that, I would say, yeah, you should be able to find a way to win
I was wondering about that and that’s kind of what I was thinking. I think, wait, what do you get up there and wait, even though you can push the weight limits with a lot of these products, I’ve ordered some pretty heavy stuff on Amazon and I am always amazed at how I get it and how it’s intact. I recently ordered a.
A mattress not too long ago, a queen size mattress actually, and it’s amazing that these companies now they can, they can shrink these things down into just a small rectangular box. And then, you know, I just unzipped it. It just expanded. I’m like, wow, you know, I couldn’t have done this 10 years ago for sure.
Yeah. That’s amazing. But yeah, I can understand that. For weight, you know, like a concrete mixed or maybe some, I don’t know if you could purchase a motor for an engine. Maybe that’s something
John: so heavy and expensive is fine. Yeah. Cause mob set the, you know, the shipping costs, it’s heavy. And cheap where you get into trouble.
So that’s, um, you know, you look at, if you buy ’em, you can buy dumbbells on Amazon, but they’re extremely expensive compared to if you went into, uh, a retail operation most of the time because they’re just so expensive to ship. So, um, you know, there’s some kind of. Edge cases like that, but for the most part it should work.
Arlen: That makes total sense. Yeah, I understand that. And I actually think in thinking about it, I think I did buy some weights on Amazon not too long ago, and they were pretty expensive, but yet that was only because I didn’t want to go to the store. But
John: you still did it. Right. Which I, I’ve done it too, which is why I know.
Arlen: yeah. You know, my time is valuable, you know? Definitely gotta you gotta maximize every. Every amount. Now, one other thing that I wanted to kind of dive into, which is that also another, and you’ve touched on it a little bit, but it’s also a huge factor when it comes to differentiating yourself between your, amongst your competitors and those are the reviews.
Is there a particular strategy that you usually. You know, help businesses, weather or what have you seen to be some effective strategies to get those reviews? Because it’s difficult. It’s really difficult to get legitimate reviews and, and to consistently get them, what do you guys usually
John: recommend? Yeah, for sure.
So just to kind of set the stage here, there is a huge spectrum of ways to get reviews. On the legitimate side of the spectrum. There’s a couple programs that we would recommend that are, that don’t violate Amazon’s policies. And then, you know, as you start going into gray market and black market, there’s a huge world out there of, of kind of fly by night companies that will do all kinds of sketchy things.
I wouldn’t recommend any of those. It’ll get you kicked off the site. None of them are worth messing with. But in terms of legitimate ways to get reviews, so there’s two Amazon sanctioned programs where it’s an actual Amazon program. They’re very similar. One is called the early reviewer program. One is called vine, like grapevine, and basically they’re both free sampling programs.
So you send out free samples, you pay for the samples. And the customers can write an unbiased review. Usually 90% of the customers that you send them to write reviews. So if you send 30 samples, you get 27 reviews. Um, so that’s a good way just to kind of seed some initial reviews. There are a couple other third party options out there.
They’re called review solicitation services. You have to be careful with these because you have to be. Very specific about how you potentially solicit customer feedback so that you don’t violate Amazon’s policies. But if you can stay within their policies and ask for unbiased reviews from customers that have already purchased the product, that can be a way of getting additional reviews, but that’s not gonna.
Really help with product launch because all you’re doing is essentially increasing the likelihood that a core customer, uh, will write a review who’s already purchased. So that’s a bit of a chicken and the egg thing where you have to have the purchases to get the reviews. So, you know, I wish there was some magic way to go out and get 500 reviews.
Legitimately, there’s. There’s not, but those are really the best two options.
Arlen: Okay, great. Yeah, I appreciate that. I hadn’t heard of those particular companies or that model as far as sending out the sampling, but yeah, that’s some great feedback. I do often wonder how a lot of these sellers get, you know, they get the thousands of reviews.
I’ve even seen tens and thousands of them, and you know, I’m always kind of a little, a little skeptical, you know, when you get over 5,000 I’m like, you know. You start thinking, okay, how did they really get these? But, you know, I guess it tend to be done, you know, depending on the tactics that you’re using.
But I guess you could say, it’s hard to say for sure. You know, nobody knows 100% that, you know, where all those are coming from. But, um, the bottom line is you as a business, uh, you don’t have to get the reviews, and the best way to go is to get him legitimately because otherwise you’re, you’re risking your whole presence on the platform.
John: And I would expect Amazon to continue to get more aggressive in cracking down on any type of manipulation of the platform, including, and probably first and foremost, fake reviews. That’s just the, obviously it’s, it’s, it’s something they really strongly disapprove of, so, yeah.
Arlen: Yeah, I can imagine.
Yeah. That’s, I’m sure they have a team working around the clock trying to combat against that because they know how important it is to sellers and they know how, how, you know, how many things sellers will do to try to try to get those reviews. I’m always of the, you know, as we get ready to close out here, I’m always of the school of thought.
Where you can always learn a lot from competitors and people that are at the top. And so who are some top Amazon sellers that are doing really well and what are some things that we can learn from them.
John: One brand that always comes to mind is, and I never know whether I’m pronouncing it right, but it’s either anchor or Encore.
Arlen: I’m familiar with them.
John: They’re really an interesting story where they were basically a couple person startup, I don’t know, seven years ago and have created up. A global, uh, consumer electronics brand, essentially using Amazon seller central as the linchpin of that strategy. So just looking at their content, the way they do advertising, it’s really best in class.
And I would say a great example of, of a success story on the platform and somebody who’s not just. Selling commoditized product or trying to just, you know, squat on a listing, but it’s actually creating a brand and differentiate a product and, and doing that through a marketplace, which is really interesting.
So I think they’re a great case study. One of the things that I see from brands that go from. Large to extremely successful I. E. brands that go from 20 30 million to 80 to 100 million on the platform, which is a different ballgame certainly than just launching, is that they’re willing to. Test and learn virtually everything that Amazon makes available.
So Amazon is constantly launching new beta programs, new opportunities. Some of them get deprecated after six months cause they don’t work. But some of them turn out to be the next big game changing thing. And you’re never really gonna know that unless you’re willing to test. So for our larger clients. A piece of advice we always give them is just, you know, don’t bet the farm on it, but always be willing to make a lot of small bets and see if they pay off and then double down if they do.
Arlen: Yeah, that makes sense and I appreciate you highlighting that. The company, and I think they may be PR, may be pronounce Anker, a, N, K, E, R for the listeners and are familiar with that brand. They, they make a lot of backup devices, accessories for computers or mobile devices, those types of peripherals and things.
Um, cause actually I recently bought one of those extended backup little batteries that you can connect to any mobile device to, you know, extend the power of your iPad or your iPhone or your Android device, anything like that. So it’s working pretty good. But yeah, I did notice when I purchased they, they do have a really good setup, a lot of the products that we have some good reviews and um, yeah, I can see that they have a.
Solid team. And so that’s definitely one to take a look at. Of course, if you’re, if you’re selling a product. Well that’s, um, great, well, I appreciate everything that we’ve covered today, John. You really given us a lot of food for thought with regards to Amazon and selling on Amazon. I know it’s going to go a long way amongst our listeners.
Um, but what I always like to do to kind of switch gears here and to close things out is a. To get to know you a little bit better. What’s one fun fact that you’d like to share with us in the audience that people may be surprised to know about you?
John: I’m an avid skier. I don’t know how, how surprising that’s going to be cause I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life, but, but that’s my thing.
When I’m not, when I’m not working, running a company. That’s what I’m doing, so,
Arlen: all right. That’s awesome. Yeah. I am a skier, but I haven’t been in a while since I’ve gotten spoiled here. Being in Orlando, Florida.
John: Not a lot of skiing in Orlando,
Arlen: but yeah. No, no. Yeah. Fear. If we ever get any snow that’s a sizable enough to ski, then I think I’m in the wrong place.
Yeah, basically. But yeah, skiing, great sport. Yeah. I used to go. A lot out West had been to Tahoe. I’ve been to salt Lake city and Colorado, so I love it too. I’m going to have to get back soon before my skills get a little too rusty.
Arlen: for sure. Yep. And you know, lastly, for any of those listeners out there that would like to pick your brain anymore regarding all things, Amazon, what is the best way for them to get in contact with you?
John: Yeah, for sure. So we put out a lot of thought leadership content. The best way to find that. Is on our website in our learning portal, so it’s Orca pack, Oh, RCA pac.com and then if anyone wants to connect with me personally, I’m super active on LinkedIn, so you should be able to find me easily. Happy to connect with any listeners of the show and chat about Amazon if they’re interested.
Arlen: That’s awesome. Well, thanks a lot, John, for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast.
John: Thanks so much. Thank you for listening to the eCommerce marketing podcast.
Founder and CEO of Orca Pacific