Amazon Category Manager Opens Up about Handmade
By Ina Steiner
Amazon launched its new marketplace for handmade goods on Thursday. We first told you about Handmade at Amazon in May, providing updates in EcommerceBytes Newsflash about pricing and policies, and finally giving you a sneak peek in September.
Now that it has launched, Amazon's ready to talk about it. We sat down with April Lane, Category Manager for the new site, to find out what made the ecommerce giant interested in offering handmade goods on the site better known for commodities and content.
Lane told us Handmade at Amazon launched with over 5,000 artisans from around the world (and increasing every day) listing over 90,000 products. We started out by asking her why Amazon decided to launch in the handmade category, moving on to questions of interest to sellers - such as the listing process, fees, search, and the company's plans to market the site. Note that the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
EcommerceBytes: Why is Amazon launching in the handmade category?
April Lane: Obviously, we have a goal of selling products that our customers want. As we've looked at our search data over the years, we've seen our searches for handmade and handmade-related terms, like handmade jewelry, and handmade home decor, and things like that, increase over time. Now, we're getting thousands of searches a day for searches related to handmade. That's really what drove our decision to get into this space.
That was something we noted almost two years ago. We started to investigate further, what are the features that we need to bring to market in order to actually really do justice to this space. What do we need on our platform in order to make artisan products really appeal to customers?
There were a couple of things we thought were really important from all the research we do with customers and artisans. Number one was the ability for customers to discover the artisan themselves. If you look at our detail pages, and I'm sure you've probably seen them on the site, you'll see a really prominent picture of the artisan, as well as the state or country they are from. And that links directly to an artisan profile where you can get more information about their bio, their craft, and you can see pictures of their studio.
That's a feature called the Artisan profile that we built because customers said, I'm making a handmade purchase, one of the things that really matters to me is who makes it, and what their story is. So we wanted to bring that to the forefront, which is pretty new for Amazon, where typically product is first. In this case we're both product and artisan first, which I think is a really unique experience.
EcommerceBytes: And how difficult was it? You said you got this idea two years ago. Have you been working on the technical aspect of it for the past two years?
April Lane: The way our process works, we get an idea and we start doing research. So we started doing the research process under two years ago and then slowly built a team around it to build out the features that we determined we needed. So like the artisan profile, like the customization feature that allows an artisan to list up to ten customizations per item that allows the customer to interact directly with those customizations within the Buy Box - the ability to put in the name that you want engraved in a piece of jewelry, or to specify the dimensions of the table you'd like made right within the Buy box - so you can avoid emailing back and forth with the artisan.
We started building out the requirements for those new features, building those out with our development team. And then we started building the business side of the team about a year ago, and that's where we started focusing on branding, messaging, etc. How were we going to attract artisans to the platform. So it's been a long time coming.
EcommerceBytes: If I go right to Amazon.com/handmade and enter a search, am I still getting things from Amazon.com? Or because I'm on that URL I'm only getting results from Amazon Handmade merchants?
April Lane: That's a great question. When you're on Amazon, you know the search bar has a little drop down. You can search what we call an All Products search, which is all products on Amazon based on their relevance of the keyword you put in.
When you go to the short URL of our store, and you search there, and you search for handmade jewelry, the first few results are all from artisans, and then you can refine into the store.
I think we're always working to make our search results the most relevant for the customers who are searching for them, but I really can't go into much depth about search, mostly because it's not my expertise.
EcommerceBytes: Can you tell me how Amazon's going to be advertising Handmade?
April Lane: Obviously if you go to the different pages of Amazon today, we've got a nice large banner at the front of the store. If you look at the Shop By Department menu, and you scroll down, you can see we have a placement in what we call our Shop By Department area, and that's another ingress point for folks to get to the store.
We've also got a number of campaigns around Amazon. We sent a large-scale email this morning. We've got social media campaigns. We're really looking at driving traffic to the store from a lot of different areas across the Amazon platform and outside.
EcommerceBytes: Can you tell me if you've gotten any sales on Handmade at Amazon.
April Lane: Yes, we've gotten sales. We're really excited to see them coming in. Customers seem to be very excited about the store.
EcommerceBytes: Can you talk about what the response from sellers is regarding fees?
April Lane: You know we've had a really positive, excited response from artisans around the world. Specifically, speaking to fees: we haven't seen that as a barrier.
I think really if you look at the way we've structured our program, it's all inclusive, so there's no listing fees, you only pay a fee when you make a sale, we've waived our monthly fee, first time on Amazon for handmade artisans, we've introduced a rev (revenue)-share promotion of 12% to August of next year. If you look at everything that that includes, it's a really good deal.
EcommerceBytes: Can Handmade at Amazon sellers use FBA?
April Lane: Yes, they can. Actually, we're really excited to report that we have over 800 items in FBA as of Day One.
Clearly, a lot of products within our store (Handmade) are customizable. Over 30% of our products the customer can customize within the Buy box. So for those products, obviously we don't think that FBA makes sense because they haven't been made yet.
But for products that customers have already produced, we've had a pretty strong early interest in FBA. We've got as of right now 859 Prime-eligible products within the Handmade store from artisans from all over the world - from Colombia and Uganda, as well as from California, Washington, Illinois, Nebraska. There's a variety.
EcommerceBytes: So what's the process to be accepted for a merchant?
April Lane: We have an application process. We launched our application process back in June. Basically, anyone can apply, they fill out a form from Amazonservices.com/handmade. They fill out a little bit of referency questions: we ask them a lot about how they make products, what they make, how their studio is set up, what equipment they use.
We really want to understand the production process because the main excite factor for us is that something is genuinely handmade. We talk about that in our press release.
Really, what that means to us is that the artisan is either making the product entirely by hand, or hand-altering it, or hand-assembling it, not from a kit. It's made by the artisan or one of their employees, assuming they have fewer than 20 employees, or by a member of their collective assuming that their collective has fewer than 100 members.
A great example of a collective would be like Beads for Life, artists from Uganda, a village of women who make paper beaded necklaces by hand, and there's kind of a collective organizer here who imports that product on their behalf.
So there's folks like that, where it's an artisan collective, they can have a few more people than the typical artisan.
EcommerceBytes: That's a great example because I wanted to ask you how do you verify that they really are not operating a factory?
April Lane: That's a great question. We dig pretty far into the application process and we look at as many outside resources as we can.
EcommerceBytes: Isn't it possible that an overseas seller could be almost a sweatshop or a factory? How would you know? Basically, when they fill out the application process, you're going by the information that they are providing you?
April Lane: I don't feel like it's really a good idea to describe how we review applications. It's a little bit of a secret sauce.
EcommerceBytes: What about the listing process? How easy is it for a seller who already is selling either on their own site or on another marketplace to get their listings up on Amazon Handmade?
April Lane: It's pretty simple. We have created a process where once they apply and they get approved, then they get a link that allows them to register, they go through the normal registration process. They fill out their artisan profile, and they list products just like any other seller.
EcommerceBytes: And what about importing listings? If they have a file or spreadsheet, can they import those listings?
April Lane: Right now, we have a one-by-one product interface, our Add a Product tool allows you add one product at a time. We do that because of the configuration customization. But we do have dedicated seller support available 24/7 to really help walk our artisans through this process.
EcommerceBytes: I'm curious about moving forward, can sellers expect there to be a way to import listings in the future?
April Lane: We don't comment on our product road map.
EcommerceBytes: What's the value proposition for an artisan who is thinking of selling on Handmade at Amazon.
April Lane: It's really three things. One, we've got a large global audience of 285 million customers worldwide.
Second, it's about the handmade-specific features we've launched, like the dedicated artisan profile, the ability to add customization, the ability to really tell your story within the Amazon platform.
Third, for some artisans, the ability to use Fulfillment By Amazon is going to help them save time. That will allow artisans to spend less time processing orders and more time creating products. I think we've spent a lot of time building a really great fulfillment infrastructure and building a website with a lot of traffic, and we're really happy to open it up to artisans.
EcommerceBytes: What categories are likely to be added? I see on the website the categories and in the press release there were more details, but do you have any plans to add more categories?
April Lane: Yes, we've wanted to put this out there. We started small. We want to make sure we get it right, and we iterate on the experience, but we definitely have heard loud and clear from artisans in several other categories that they are interested in the platform, and we'll be working to make additional categories available as soon as we can.
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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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