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An Interview with Amazon’s Keri Cusick on Small-Business Empowerment

Keri Cusick
An Interview with Amazon's Keri Cusick on Small-Business Empowerment
Amazon’s Director of Small Business Empowerment Keri Cusick

Products from third-party sellers represent almost 60% of the units sold on Amazon, and of the nearly 2 million sellers that do business on the platform, most of them are small or medium-sized. In the US, sellers sold over 3.9 billion products in 2021, according to the company.

EcommerceBytes checked in with Amazon’s Director of Small Business Empowerment Keri Cusick to see how small sellers fared during the recent holiday shopping season and how the marketplace is investing in programs to support the growth of small businesses in the year ahead.

One highly visible initiative is the new Small Business badge seen by shoppers that identifies products from small-business brands and artisans selling in Amazon’s store. Cusick said this allowed customers to discover, shop, and support small businesses for the first time ever for their holiday shopping.

Cusick joined Amazon in June 2014. Before heading Small Business Empowerment, she worked on teams responsible for protecting customers, brands, selling partners, and the company itself from fraud, counterfeit, and abuse as well as empowering and providing support for Amazon’s sellers.

She’s now focused on driving the success of Amazon’s small business partners and works with teams across Amazon to deliver programs and investments that support their continued growth.

The Holiday Shopping Season

Shopping small in Amazon’s store makes a real impact on small businesses and their local communities, Cusick told EcommerceBytes, especially during the holidays. “Customers purchased nearly half a billion items from small businesses in the U.S. alone this holiday season. We were also excited to see how customers showed up for and supported small businesses over the “Turkey 5” – the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday – generating more than $1 billion in sales for small businesses in the US.”

What moved the needle for small businesses selling on Amazon this holiday shopping season?

Several factors were key to enabling the continued success of Amazon’s small business selling partners, she said, the most important of which were the many ways Amazon has invested in helping small businesses all across the country and the world better reach customers every day.

In addition to the new Small Business badge, Cusick said Amazon spotlighted small-business products across a variety of gift guides and curated lists to help customers shop gifts and deals from incredible small businesses.

“This included the Small Business Gift Guide, curated small business gift picks from celebrities and entrepreneurs like Kristin Cavallari and Ayesha Curry, and small business selections in both the 2022 Toys We Love list and the 2022 Holiday Kids Gift Book, which was sent to millions of customers across the US,” she said.

“Additionally, this year’s Oprah’s Favorite Things List was once again exclusively shoppable on amazon.com/oprah and via the Amazon shopping app, and 84% of the items selected by Oprah this year were from small businesses.”

Cusick also pointed to the first-ever Prime Early Access Sale (or Holiday Kick-Off Event), which she said helped Prime members get a kickstart on holiday shopping while saving big.

During the event, Prime members ordered more than 100 million items from Amazon’s selling partners – most of which are small businesses and medium-sized businesses.

“Many small businesses saw a powerful boost, for example Not Parent Approved experienced a 500% increase in units sold on the first day of the sale,” Cusick said.

The Year Ahead

What does Amazon see for small businesses in 2023 in terms of challenges and opportunities, and what is Amazon doing to help sellers who are facing them?

Cusick said Amazon works every day to provide selling partners with powerful and effective tools and services that help reduce their operational burdens, build their brands, and connect them with customers so they can grow their businesses through busy shopping periods and beyond.

And despite inflation-related challenges, sellers on Amazon have seen strong sales and resiliency in the face of the current economic climate, she said.

“Throughout the holiday season we continued to hear success stories from our small businesses selling partners, like Shinery who recently shared, “During the holiday season, we’ve seen our sales jump 500-900%, due to the gifting nature of our products and being able to scale so quickly, while delivering on the speed and accessibility that would only be possible with Amazon.””

Cusick said some entrepreneurs might not realize how easy it is to start selling on Amazon, and how quickly they can grow their businesses selling in Amazon’s store by leveraging the many tools, resources and programs available to them.

“Between the robust suite of tools and services we offer, lending programs to help get started, and free educational services like Amazon Small Business Academy and Amazon Seller University, we work hard to make sure it’s easy for anyone to get started.”

Last year, Amazon published the 2022 Small Business Empowerment Report to show how it supports small businesses and brands. Some of the initiatives described in the report include the Black Business Accelerator and financing programs. It said Amazon and third-party lending partners together lent $1.4 billion to small- and medium-sized businesses in the US to support their growth.

It has also continued to expand and enhance the Amazon Small Business Academy and Amazon Seller University, which offer digital and in-person educational resources. Last year, over 600,000 hours of educational content were offered.

Amazon is also offering a Community Lending program. In partnership with Lendistry, the program supports urban and rural small businesses in socially and economically distressed communities through short-term loans at competitive and affordable rates. Since its launch, the program has loaned more than $35 million to over 800 sellers, with plans to loan over $150 million in the next three years to small businesses on Amazon.

Drawn to Empowering Small Businesses

Cusick comes from a family of entrepreneurs and grew up helping with the family businesses. “I know what it is for your family, community, and future to depend on the success of your own enterprise, and I love that I have the opportunity to focus my time and energy every day on how we can make starting and growing a business better for small business owners all around the world,” she said.

“It’s encouraging to see that more than 20 years after opening our virtual shelves to independent selling partners, entrepreneurs and small businesses continue to find success with Amazon.”

Cusick said customers can visit amazon.com/supportsmall all year long and find millions of exciting products and deals from small business owners, all while enjoying the convenience of shopping in Amazon’s store.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.