Amazon: We Want Sellers. An Interview with Matt Williams
By Ina Steiner
There is a perception that Amazon.com is for selling books and media products through the Amazon Marketplace. But Amazon has a number of different programs for sellers in many categories, including Jewelry & Watches and Apparel, and it has over 1.3 million active seller accounts. In addition, Webstore by Amazon lets sellers create their own branded ecommerce sites.
But we wondered whether Amazon had a place for merchants who offered a more eclectic selection of inventory. Does Amazon.com want sellers of antiques and collectibles on its site? Does Amazon.com want "eBay sellers"?
I sat down with Amazon.com's Matt Williams, Director of Business Solutions, to learn more about options for third-party sellers on Amazon. I asked him if Amazon.com wants sellers of antiques and collectibles on their site.
"Absolutely, we want sellers of just about all types of the items. Today we have the standard kind of categories set that you might see when you come to the browse on Amazon. However, we do have other categories that have surfaced.
"As a seller you can submit to a kind of a global category called "Everything Else," and that includes many different categories that are listed in the top node of Amazon. Those items will surface in search, and you'll be able to surface your items to the world. We have a number of antiques and collectibles sellers today that are selling on Amazon as well as those that have Web Stores that are selling antiques and collectibles on their own website."
Does Amazon want eBay sellers on its site?
"We want all sellers on our site," Matt said. "There is no particular type of seller, other than fraudulent sellers, that we do not want to have on our site. To that end, we certainly don't look at another website or marketplace or ecommerce company and say, we do or don't want people from there or that kind of thing. We truly look at this from the perspective of the buyers and sellers, and we take care in providing the best experience for the buyers to make a very informed and fast buying decision to the website we provide."
Matt could not provide a breakdown of the types of inventory sold by third-party sellers, but said that 26% of all units sold on Amazon.com in the fourth quarter of 2007 were from third parties. "There is a significant portion of activity on Amazon.com that is entirely fulfilled or provided by third-party seller partners for us."
Amazon.com has three main services for sellers, according to Matt: Selling on Amazon, Fulfillment By Amazon, and WebStore by Amazon. (Links to more information about these programs are included at the end of the article.) Selling on Amazon is comprised of individuals who sell on the Marketplace; ProMerchants, a monthly subscription program for serious sellers; and the Gold Platinum level, also known as the Merchants@ program, which gives larger sellers greater exposure and opens up additional categories to them.
Today we're publishing the part of the interview that focuses on the Selling on Amazon program. We'll publish more about the WebStore by Amazon program and other isssues that arose during the interview in future issues of AuctionBytes NewsFlash.
AuctionBytes: I'm familiar with basically two programs. A lot people know about having a ProMerchant account, but also - the Merchants@ program. I just wondered if you could talk about the differences.
Matt Williams: There are three in the context of how you can sell. As an individual, you can post an item and it's commonly referred to as Marketplace. A lot of books and movies and video DVD sellers are just individual sellers.
We then have a ProMerchant program, and ProMerchant program spans a number of different categories, but it is kind of a business membership. It provides certain benefits that allow you to list as many products as you want. There is a different kind of fee structure associated with it, but you pay one monthly fee, and then, depending on the category, a closing fee when an item sells, and that program allows you to be a member of the Marketplace.
And then your reference to Merchants@ is really kind of an extension of the ProMerchant program. Similarly, there is a monthly fee, and it allows you to sell in other categories that the ProMerchant program isn't set up for. And, generally, we have some of the larger sellers who are part of the Merchants@ program but we've put them all under the umbrella of Selling on Amazon, so you as an individual seller, or you as a small business, or even a large multi-billion-dollar enterprise can partner with Amazon to sell your products on the website.
AuctionBytes: Do you get additional exposure, aside from the advantage of being able to sell in additional categories? Is there an advantage in the exposure that you get on Amazon if you are in that sort of advanced ProMerchant category - what I call Merchants@?
Matt Williams: I think the way that we look at it is that we don't really separate out a Merchants@ versus the other program. The way that we look at it is, we have different tiers of sellers within the Selling on Amazon. So you have the individual, you have the ProMerchant, and then you have what we call the Gold or Platinum level seller.
And yes, along the way, there is more criteria for you as a seller that is applied in terms of becoming a member of one of the other tiers. But we do allow you to sell on Amazon for any of the programs if you are a trusted seller as it relates to the feedback that you've been given by the buyers, as it relates to our own fraud management, and also, criteria for being part of a Gold or Platinum level versus a ProMerchant. Absolutely you get more access - more visibility in front of the buyers. It goes hand-in-hand with what Amazon believes: that we want to create the best buying experience in the world online.
And clearly if we have trusted sellers that we know are going to ship the product at a level that is at or close to what Amazon.com is known for today, we are going to put those merchants and those products in front of more of our consumers.
And that's the way that we have the program set up. We have pretty strict guidelines for what is required to maintain the ability to sell on Amazon in terms of your feedback rating, in terms of the responsiveness to the buying customer and that type of thing. But that's how we organize the program, it's really individual sellers, ProMerchants, and then another tier I think you've heard historically has been the Merchants@ program. We really think of as the Gold and Platinum level sellers.
AuctionBytes: And the Gold and Platinum level sellers - do they get the ability to have their inventory in the Buy Box versus the ProMerchant?
Matt Williams: They do, yes.
AuctionBytes: How would a seller who thinks they would qualify,...My perception is that it is an invitation-only program, but how would they go and try and be proactive about it?
Matt Williams: Sure, it's a great question. It's a combination, really. We certainly do reach out to specific merchants, retailer sellers who we believe are kind of at a level of brand selection and/or quality that will provide a great experience for our buyers. At the same time, many of the merchants who have come in even for our individual seller program or ProMerchant program, it is very easy to contact Amazon and ask to be considered for one of the Gold Platinum level programs.
The way that they do that is we have a form on AmazonServices.com today, and there is a contact us button that allows you to fill out some profile information about yourself. You could not be selling on Amazon, you could be a seller on Amazon today, but that will allow you to put yourself into the queue for us to consider any given category for you to become one of those sellers.
AuctionBytes: What happens if you're selling on Amazon and you get dropped, perhaps for performance issues. Are there processes in place to be reinstated?
Matt Williams: There are processes in place. It does depend on the circumstances. Clearly there are some sellers who are dropped for some kind of fraud and/or illegal, or other type of activity that really doesn't require much additional consideration. However, certainly for performance and for the like, we do have a method, we do have a program within Amazon that evaluates the sellers in terms of the performance. It has a certain set of criteria, and we're very upfront about that criteria.
If we see merchants or sellers getting close to or at that level, we do generally send out notifications and try to improve the performance and give specific feedback, aside from what's already provided on the website for the sellers themselves. But yes, we do have a process that goes through a group within Amazon that reviews and ultimately forces some discussion internally and/or externally to see if it makes sense to reinstate that seller. That certainly happens every day.
We have a very strong relationship with our buyers, but we also have a very strong relationship with our sellers, and we're trying to create the best marketplace for both parties to get the most out of it. I think we've accomplished that pretty well.
AuctionBytes: My final area of interest is feedback. The Amazon PR department gave me some information, but I do have follow-up questions. I understand that Marketplace sellers (and only Marketplace sellers) can leave feedback for buyers, but buyers can't view it, and sellers can only view feedback left for buyers if they have a transaction pending with them. So I'm curious if you have statistics on what percentage of marketplace transactions resulted in sellers leaving buyer feedback, and how often sellers view feedback before completing a transaction with a buyer? In other words, usage of the system.
Matt Williams: Sure. Unfortunately, we don't provide those statistics on the number of buyers and sellers that do receive feedback. But what I can tell you is that we continue to receive very positive feedback from our sellers, and frankly, from the buyers, in terms of how well the feedback system works. And also we have pretty clear mechanisms that drives the feedback and so, when you buy an item from a third-party seller, we do reach out to you as a buyer, and we ask you to rate that transaction in a very proactive way and a very Amazon type of "help the community" way.
It works extremely well and so we have seen really positive success in terms of the buyer and seller interactions, and we have built a program that allows both the buyers and sellers to stand up for the issue at hand. Like I said, I've personally sat on the side of hearing the feedback from both sellers and buyers and participating in our other programs within Amazon myself personally and again anecdotally, it works very well.
AuctionBytes: When we posted about the feedback system (on the AuctionBytes Blog), there was a lot of confusion and conflicting information from people. Do you know why it is that sellers seem to be have confusion around this ability to leave and view feedback for buyers?
Matt Williams: You know, I don't, and I'm sorry I haven't heard that on a wide scale directly. I know that we get calls to our technical account management team, and those questions may come up about seller and buyer feedback ,and usually some specific issue basis, but usually it's an education of how you can leave feedback or what you can do about feedback that was left, and it's usually pretty quickly cleared up. So I haven't heard of widescale confusion.
AuctionBytes: There are other marketplaces that have mutual feedback systems where there is a lot of transparency so that everybody can look at the buyers feedback. Can you tell me why Amazon chose to keep it kind of a private system rather than more transparent when it comes to the buyers?
Matt Williams: There's nothing I can really provide in terms of the kind of color or background there. What I do know is that we spent a lot of time thinking about how to create the best system that protects the buyer and then also allows the sellers to get more credibility through our website and ultimately drive more sales. Drive more of what they're looking for, which is access to the buyers. And like I said, we don't compare ourselves to other programs or other feedback systems, but it has worked very well. We have been able to provide a consistently high level of positive experience in terms of shipments. What's expected in the shipment, receiving it on-time, and providing a clean and well lit place for a buyer to frankly not even have to think about whether it comes from Amazon or a third-party. And we gave a lot of time and thought behind creating the feedback system that we have, and so far, we see that it's working very well.
AuctionBytes: Is there anything else you wanted to add about the benefits of selling on Amazon or anything else?
Matt Williams: No, the only thing I will comment on is that we continue to see a lot of sellers across many different categories looking to take advantage of all of our products combined, so Fulfillment, WebStore, and Selling on Amazon. I think when you actually dive into it as a seller, just as much as it provides you additional potential for growth of your business, it's providing a huge convenience factor, because it's all available through one toolset.
And I mention it just because it's actually one of the top reasons that we hear from merchants that they want to sell with us and they like selling with us, it's just a convenience that we provide of, I'm going to have my inventory and items in one place and get the benefit of some assistance with traffic driving to my own website, and handling the fulfillment piece, and handling the additional channel, and let them do what they really want to do best, which is sourcing products, merchandising products, being able to find their own traffic for products and selling. So it seems to be working very well, and I think we're seeing the success of that given the statistic I provided, which is 26% of all the units sold through Amazon are from third parties. We have a very vibrant and great third-party seller community.
Leave a comment about selling on Amazon.com on the AuctionBytes Blog
More Information about Selling on Amazon.com
Amazon FAQ " What if I have a product that doesn't fit into an Amazon category, like stamps?"
Fulfillment By Amazon
WebStore by Amazon
Update 2/18/08: For information about in which categories ProMerchants can sell, see the FAQs; Amazon.com opens up some restricted categories to certain Gold and Platinum level sellers. (http://www.amazonservices.com/promerchant/faq.html)
What products can I sell Amazon.com?
You can sell items in the following categories: Automotive, Baby, Camera and Photo, Electronics, Everything Else, Health and Personal Care, Home and Garden, Musical Instruments, Office Products, Software, Sports & Outdoors, Tools and Hardware, Toys & Games and Video Games
What type of products can I not sell on Amazon.com?
These include: Apparel and Accessories (including shoes), Beauty, Gourmet Food, Industrial and Scientific, Jewelry & Watches, Personal Computer, Cell Phones, Service Magazines and Newspapers, Grocery, Adult Toys, Gift Cards and Gift Certificates, Guns and Ammunition, Photo Processing, Prescription Medication, and Tobacco and Alcohol.
See Part Two of AuctionBytes' interview with Matt Williams.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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