Seller Describes Joys and Pitfalls of Fulfillment by Amazon
By Ina Steiner
Cynthia Lizana is proprietor of TexCynGoods, a retail business in San Antonio, Texas, that sells women's handbags and wallets. She started as a one-woman, home-based business and built up 10,000 feedback selling on eBay and on her own website. She then took her business to another level when she began selling on Amazon.com in early 2008, getting approval to sell in apparel, a category Amazon.com keeps restricted to few outside merchants.
When her Amazon sales sky-rocketed during the holiday shopping season that year, she turned to Amazon.com's fulfillment service to help her keep up with orders. Not only did Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) help her keep up - her orders actually doubled thanks to exposure the FBA products received with Amazon's Prime and free-shipping offers. Three years later, Cynthia continues to sell on Amazon, eBay and on her own website, and she sends thousands of products a month to Amazon FBA warehouses. She operates her business out of an office with two employees.
Over the past 3 years, Lizana has been pleased with the Fulfillment by Amazon service. When she receives products from her suppliers, her employees process them and ship them to Amazon.com's Fulfillment Centers.
Initially Amazon directed her to send her products to its Fulfillment Center in Kansas, which took 3 days to arrive, and more recently to its Fulfillment Center in Indiana, which took a full week to arrive. Once the Fulfillment Centers received the shipments, they would have the goods available for sale on Amazon within 24 hours.
But about a month ago, Amazon began directing her to send her orders to its Fulfillment Center in Kentucky. "We've had more problems in this last month shipping to Kentucky than we have in the entire year going to Kansas and Indiana," she said, reporting that her shipping costs increased as well, since it's farther from Texas.
Her shipments take 8 days to arrive in Kentucky, and once they do arrive, it can take a week for them to be processed and become available to customers on Amazon.com.
"We have a couple of shipments where they received half the order and the rest is just sitting there," Lizana said. Workers in the receiving department of Amazon Fulfillment Centers are supposed to scan every single barcode label on each product - but that's not happening, Lizana says.
Citing a recent example, she said, "we shipped in two types of wallets. They're not the same size, they look similar, but one of them zips around and the other one doesn't." She said she labeled them all correctly, "but somehow Amazon got some of them mixed up." She believes the receiving department is scanning one barcode for groups of similar-looking products, similar to the way grocery store cashiers might scan one barcode and enter the quantity when you have several identical items, rather than scanning each product.
"Now when we're sending shipments in, we have to be very careful to separate them, because if you have 10 black and 10 brown, it's possible they might put them all into inventory as 20 black."
In an EcommerceBytes Industry SoundBytes podcast interview conducted on October 27th, Lizana explained how tricky it is for a merchant who is sending inventory to Amazon FBA warehouses leading up to the holidays - and she reveals a major mistake that many sellers make by letting their stock run out by December 26th.
She also offers advice on how Amazon could make its fulfillment service better for merchants, including creating account managers to help FBA sellers with problems.
The 18-minute interview with Cynthia Lizana is available on the EcommerceBytes Industry SoundBytes podcast and on iTunes.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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