2016 was my second holiday season selling on Amazon. It was hectic and stressful, but at the same time effective and very educational. In today’s blog, l will be sharing my experiences and lessons learned. If you’re an experienced Amazon seller, some observations may seem obvious or just common sense, but they may be worth reading anyway.
The holiday season is the busiest time of year for most retailers including Amazon. Everyone is buying something for someone. Manufacturers build their release schedules around the season. Whole industries exist solely to produce items and sell them to people over the holidays.
In short, it can be a little bit hectic!
1. Preparation is Key
The key to successful business during the hectic holiday season is preparation. You need to have everything ready before customers even start thinking of buying for Christmas.
What are you going to sell?
If you want to leap right in and sell this year’s new big thing, you need to know what it is and where to get it. Blogs and wholesaler catalogues are your friends here, but good reliable information can be hard to come by and you may still end up with a pallet of something unsellable if the market does not behave as expected.
Conversely, many festive items are guaranteed to sell well and can be bought very cheaply but profit margins will be lower due to competition from a hundred other sellers. The ideal situation would be your own niche product that also sells well over the holiday season—but finding your perfect product is a topic for another time.
How are you going to get it?
Obviously, this largely depends on what products you are planning on selling, but whatever your source beware of high demand and seasonal delays. If you are using Fulfilment by Amazon then supply chain delays are effectively going to be doubled as delays from your suppliers are compounded by delays getting stock into the Amazon fulfilment centres. Based on my own experience, expect the supply chain to take twice as long as normal to get anywhere.
2. Be Careful of Selling Restrictions.
Every seller on the Amazon marketplace knows there are bad sellers, fraudsters and counterfeit goods sellers who make things harder for those of us who are honest.
It’s because of such sellers that Amazon keeps certain categories of items restricted to verified sellers.
That’s not a bad thing—customer confidence is essential for any retailer, but it can be a problem the holiday season when certain categories are temporarily restricted and you just bought several hundred units of something that you now can’t sell because the window for verification has closed.
Thankfully Amazon is usually pretty transparent about this and will send emails out to warn about temporary restriction if you have ever sold items in those categories before. Toys & Games is always temporarily restricted in this way, but this year they also restricted Music so it pays to check before buying something in a new product category.
3. ‘Tis the Season
Seasonal business starts almost as soon as Halloween is over, but the retail season really kicks into high gear with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you have products eligible for a Lightning Deal or are planning an advertising campaign, now is the time to schedule them.
People love a bargain and a lot of advertising and social media pressure work has gone into priming people for bargains and deals in the last week of November.
Marketplace and other online sellers can focus on keeping stock levels up, ensuring our prices reasonable and profitable (I use RepricerExpress for this), and dealing with unexpected eventualities.
As we reach the height of the season, supply chains delays will multiply so either get enough stock to cover the season beforehand or order often enough to keep a deep reserve in case of sudden surges of interest.
4. Expect the Unexpected
Be prepared for the unexpected, or at least prepare to be surprised by something. The holiday season is stressful enough when you aren’t working retail, or managing a business, and you’re doing both!
Unless the unexpected is something that threatens the continuation of your business, don’t stress it just take a breath and deal with it.
This year I had a few unexpected events, and they all resolved regardless of how much I may have panicked and stressed at the time. I didn’t listen to my own advice about keeping stock levels high and had an unexpected run on several products—decks of cards, of all things, the week before Christmas!
With no time to get stock to Amazon Fulfilment, I switched the items over to Fulfil by Merchant and kept selling. I may have lost some sales but losing some is better than losing all of them, and I even got a few sales to customers outside the EU that couldn’t have happened while selling via FBA.
5. Recovering Afterwards
Christmas isn’t a day off for online sellers. People buy last minute gifts right into Christmas Day, and Amazon is one of the first places they check once they get their new gadgets and electronic toys.
After all, once you have a new smartphone or games console or laptop, you’ll want to buy a case or games or other accessories. If you are selling items that go with the latest electronic gadgets, you may not even notice a dip in sales over Christmas day, just a slow decline into January.
The start of the new year is always a lean time in retail. Everyone has spent all they can, maxed out their credit cards and now have to make do on a shoestring for a month or two until their finances recover.
For retailers it’s sale season—time to offer discounts to keep sales figures up and clear out old stock to get rid of new.
Sales are no different on Amazon, but there is not as much need to get rid of old stock. Unless it is taking up really valuable space, it is almost better to keep it in stock. People will buy seasonal goods out of season because they think it will be a bargain, or to keep for next year, or just as a quirky gift.
Take advantage of sales offered. If you’re selling products that will keep until next year and you have storage, buy stock when your suppliers hold their clearance sales
6. Season of Returns
The new year is also the season of returns. There is not much we can so about them as retailers except to expect them and deal with them as professionally as possible. They are a part of retail, especially just after the holiday season.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the post and found it helpful. I’m looking forward to putting what l have learned in these past months into practice in Q4 2017.
Thank you for reading. Happy selling.
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