October 23, 2014

Cyber Five Frenzy: eBay/PayPal Returns Policy and RLSAs

To help all retailers prepare for the holiday rush, we’ll be kicking our blog into high gear, sharing several holiday preparation tips over the span of the next two months. We want to make sure you’re covered from all angles, so two tips per post — one on digital marketing and one on marketplaces — and two blogs per week. We’ll begin with the tips that take the most time to implement and end with the less complex. Let the prepping commence!

 

October is coming to an end, and once November hits, holiday shopping will steadily pick up. To complete the purchasing cycle, also spend some time reviewing your eBay/PayPal returns policy. Returns are inevitable, even with great products and a superior user experience. Review your current returns setup to ensure your customers have the most seamless experience possible.

To help products fly off your virtual shelves, consider implementing retargeting ads to your existing webstore visitors. That way, you aren’t prospecting blindly but are focusing your efforts on consumers who have already shown interest in your products.

Spend what’s left of this month preparing your newly targeted ads and reviewing your returns policy. You’re going to want to be ready to put your best foot forward once November 1 gets here!

Marketplaces Tip #6: Review your eBay/PayPal returns policy

Let’s face it, nobody enjoys product returns — neither buyer nor seller. Sellers lose sales, and consumers don’t receive the products they expected. As an eBay seller, don’t make these situations worse on yourself by being unable to refund the customer through PayPal.

To receive the Top Rated Plus badge on eBay, you’re required to offer Extended Holiday Returns. This gives buyers until January 31 to return anything purchased between November 1 and December 31 — approximately 90 days.    

Make sure you extend to the 90-day PayPal refund window to accommodate buyers and to make sure you can refund through PayPal. Of note:

  • You have to call a PayPal rep to make this change, and it goes into effect the moment you call.

  • To revert to a 60-day window in December, then a 30-day window in January, you need to call PayPal again.

 

Digital Marketing Tip #6: Make use of RLSAs

Google Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) allow you to customize your search ads campaign for people who previously visited your site. You can tailor your bids and advertisements to these specific visitors when they’re searching on Google. RLSAs are a great way to target shoppers with text ads, based on the shoppers’ prior actions and interests when they visited your webstore.  

RLSAs deliver, too. In an analysis for one of our customers (using Q4 2013 data), we found that:

  • RLSAs made up 15% of total spend and resulted in 21% of conversions.

  • The RLSA click-through rate was 321% higher than the non-RLSA click-through rate.

  • RLSAs delivered a conversion rate that was 72% higher than that of non-RLSAs.

 

These tips can take some time to implement, so put them into action pronto. We always love hearing about your progress as we approach one of the busiest times of year, so feel free to update us in the comments below.

Be on the lookout for the next blog post in our holiday series. We’ll discuss strategies for testing cross-border trade as well as looking beyond Google Shopping!


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Sales feeling stale? Maybe it's time to think outside your borders. We've got tips for making cross-border trade a reality in this free eBook.

October 22, 2014

Amazon Q3 2014 Results Preview (from a seller's perspective)

Tomorrow, Thursday October 23rd, 2014, after the market closes, Amazon will release their Q3 results. 

 ComScore recently reported that US e-commerce grew at 13% y/y for the desktop, which translates to 15% y/y with mobile included, so that is the baseline for Q3 2014 growth.  eBay reported first this quarter and came in at 7% y/y GMV growth, which was ~8% below the comScore baseline.

From our SSS data, Amazon averaged 41.1% y/y growth over the third quarter, a step up from Q2's growth rate.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon accelerates this Q as that will show strength heading into the important Q4 holiday quarter and also show that Amazon does not suffer the same issues facing eBay and perhaps is taking share.

Key metrics and themese we are watching carefully:

  • Active users  - Every other metric is "backwards facing", so we like active users because it is forward looking and because  it tells us how many shoppers are actively buying on Amazon and that sellers will be able to market to.  Last year (Q3 2013) there were 224m active users and last quarter (Q2 14) Amazon broke through 250m.  This metric has been growing around 17%, which would yield a Q3 14 target of 262m.
  • EGM y/y growth rate - This blog is for Amazon sellers and the bulk of Amazon sellers are in the EGM category (Electronics and General Merchandise).  Last Q (Q2 14) , EGM grew at 25% with the US at 29% and non-domestic at 20%. A year ago (Q2 13) EGM grew 29%.
  • % units from 3P - For the last year this metric has been "stuck" at 40% after previously moving a point or so every Q.  We'll be watching this one closely.
  • Paid Unit Growth/Sold Item Growth - eBay reported sold item growth of 9.1% for Q3 2014.  Last Q (Q2 2014) Amazon reported 23%, which was down from the year ago period (Q2 2013) of 29%.  It will be interesting to see if this metric accelerated or stayed flat from the first Q.  Some Wall St. Analysts are concerned this will dip below 20%.
  • Fulfillment and sortation centers - Sometimes Amazon will slip in a comment on their conference call such as "we are building 15 sortation centers."  We carefully track Amazon's buildout and they continue significant investment in this area.  
  • Fresh and same-day delivery - We are closely watching the battle between Google and Amazon for same-day and groceries.  Amazon recently rolled out Fresh in NY/Brooklyn and currently supports 15 metros for same-day delivery.  They also recently rolled out a news store pickup service in the UK. We'll be listening for any color on all these initiatives.
  • Holiday 2014 - Wall St. is expecting Amazon to forecast 21% y/y growth for Q4.  Anything below that will indicate Amazon isn't feeling great about the holiday season and anything above will indicate a more positive stance. 
  • Drones - Drones are just cool and we like to hear more about them.

This dashboard shows all of the metrics we'll be watching closely to see how Amazon performed a year ago and last Q.

Amzn_q3_preview



 We will have the highlights from the report out Thursday - stay tuned!

This blog post was written by Scot Wingo, CEO, ChannelAdvisor.

October 21, 2014

Cyber Five Frenzy: Emerging Marketplaces and Keyword Bids

To help all retailers prepare for the holiday rush, we’ll be kicking our blog into high gear, sharing several holiday preparation tips over the span of the next two months. We want to make sure you’re covered from all angles, so two tips per post — one on digital marketing and one on marketplaces — and two blogs per week. We’ll begin with the tips that take the most time to implement and end with the less complex. Let the prepping commence!

 

41 days until the much-anticipated Cyber Monday. Don’t panic. There’s still time to implement tactics that will expand the breadth of your business. Maybe that includes exploring an additional marketplace beyond Amazon and eBay. How about tweaking your existing paid search practices to reflect eye-catching promotions? If you’re feeling really ambitious, why not try both!

Holiday prep time is dwindling, so it’s best to try to wrap up holiday initiatives now — especially if you’re interested in launching on an additional marketplace, as that can take several weeks. Below, we’ve outlined best practices to help you get started.

Marketplaces Tip #5: Check out emerging marketplaces

We all know that Amazon and eBay dominate the marketplace realm. They’re the biggest and baddest online product hubs around. But limiting yourself to selling on just these marketplace behemoths may be holding you back from potential sales. Below, we’ve compiled a list of emerging marketplaces around the globe, all of which give you access to fresh sources of demand. There’s still time to launch on a new marketplace before the holiday season picks up, if you act now!

Emerging Marketplaces.jpg

*Providing listings here as seller information is unavailable.

 

Digital Marketing Tip #5: Put your best bids forward

During the holidays, competition gets feisty! One piece of low-hanging fruit is using callout extensions and sitelinks within your ads to highlight eye-catching promotions. Sitelinks and callout extensions, which are both free to incorporate, can be used together to alert potential customers to information about offers and services you provide. In the Lenox example below, they’ve called out a 40% off promotion, as well as free shipping, all within a branded paid search ad.

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/flDfDScIj3Ze0j95xIkGcKfaBVzSYQWyh5HR8c3UmICxwZd1uRbZLG3jEBPk7C5pQeOgbqhp59RcZ2YXENWFIWTlW1Fd7h-upeJigAQQ7DJuMafXdLVhcShMcTBeFvZ1Dw

As you’re planning for the holidays, consider the following search tips:

  • First week in November: Ramp up bids.

  • Right after last shipping day: Ramp down bids to pre-holiday levels.

  • Review last year’s performance:

    • Ensure that strong-performing keywords from last year are not paused.

    • If there’s a new product model, update it and give it an appropriate bid.

    • Use ChannelAdvisor’s Seasonal Bid Adjuster to understand how keywords performed last holiday and bid up or down appropriately.  

    • Review your daily spend totals from 2013 and consider increasing these budgets by at least 20%.

 

These tips can take some time to implement, so put them into action pronto. We always love hearing about your progress as we approach one of the busiest times of year, so feel free to update us in the comments below.

Be on the lookout this Thursday for our next blog post in our holiday series. We’ll review eBay returns policy as well as discuss the best use for remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs)!

 


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Need tips on making fulfillment work for you and your customers this holiday season? This holiday eBook has tips

October 13, 2014

Webinar: Simplify Global Expansion with the Right Marketplaces

Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT

 

According to PayPal and Nielsen, cross-border online shopping will be worth $307 billion by 2018 — a 200% increase from 2013, with 130 million cross-border online shoppers. Let us repeat that: $307 billion! Expanding to new marketplaces

The internet has opened up a new world of consumption. Borders don’t represent separation barriers like they used to, meaning shopping is no longer restricted by geography. This is prime time for
retailers to consider global expansion.

Representatives from MercadoLibre and Trade Me join ChannelAdvisor for an upcoming webinar that
will talk retailers through today’s e-commerce landscape. During the webinar you’ll also learn:

  • Why a global strategy is essential in today’s e-commerce market

  • The main challenges retailers face when expanding internationally

  • How to decide which marketplaces are best for your business

  • Tips and best practices for selling on a new marketplace

Don’t miss this free opportunity! Sign up today to claim your spot.

October 10, 2014

Top 10 Takeaways from the 2014 Shop.org Summit

Last week, thousands of retailers gathered in Seattle for the 2014 Shop.org Summit. Over three

days, conference sessions covered topics such as retail strategy, e-commerce, digital marketing, Shop.org 2014consumer behavior — and lots, lots more. If you couldn’t make it (or even if you did), we’ve rounded up some of our top takeaways for retailers.

  1. Omnichannel is getting smarter. In the kickoff keynote session, executives from the outdoor company REI shared some interesting stats about the store’s shoppers. For example, 75% of customers who made purchases in store also visited the REI website or mobile app. REI even offers free Wi-Fi in its stores to encourage shoppers to research and browse products online. And they do — REI’s app is the most-visited site by REI in-store shoppers.

  2. Build your brand via your customers. Websites Birchbox, Houzz and Zulily each have a compelling, unique and memorable brand. But all three have one thing in common: deep customer relationships. Birchbox tailors its communications with individual shoppers to introduce them to beauty products they’d like. Houzz opened a marketplace because its users were clamoring for one. And Zulily essentially launches a new website each morning, with a new variety of curated products. Bottom line: If you’re searching for your brand’s story, look no further than your customers.

  3. Weave a rope of small advantages. Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, shared insights into Amazon’s founding and continued success. One of his points that stuck was Amazon’s emphasis on small and constant innovations. If your company doesn’t have a single, standout advantage in your industry, keep creating small ones. They eventually add up.

  4. Going cross-border? Start slowly. International online selling should start with baby steps. In most developing countries, marketplaces are playing a large role in e-commerce growth. Most important when you’re starting out? Logistics like shipping, legal and taxes. A fully translated local website in every region should be one of your last tasks.

  5. Focus on what you do best. When it comes to the scope of your business, more isn’t necessarily better, says Michael Rubin, founder and CEO of Kynetic. Successful companies zoom in on what they’re good at, and in doing so differentiate themselves in the market. Rubin’s point was made even stronger given the big news that day: the separation of eBay and PayPal.

  6. Experiment on Amazon. In a talk titled “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Amazon,” Dale Edman of The Wasserstrom Company stressed how easy it was to get up and running on Amazon (his company had been selling on eBay first). His advice for new sellers: Experiment (it’s hard to predict which products will sell well — he was surprised that bulky cutting boards were popular) and take advantage of Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).

  7. Headlines rule in SEO. Yeah, we all love to hate Buzzfeed. But we can learn a lot from the site’s attention-grabbing headlines. Spend time crafting headlines on your website — they’ll encourage clicks and boost SEO. Make your headlines remarkable, so that they’ll generate interest in and of themselves.

  8. Marketplaces are eating the e-commerce world. ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo’s session on marketplaces painted a picture of the breadth and depth of global marketplaces. Speakers from MercadoLivre and Alibaba shed light on the rapidly growing e-commerce markets in Brazil and China, respectively. And with 90% of online sales in China occurring through marketplaces, it looks like the US has some big footsteps to follow in the coming years.

  9. When you think social, think mobile. With so many smartphone users accessing social media via their mobile devices, social and mobile should be closely linked. Consider Google Plus: When users search for, say, “coffee” on their phones in a new location, local Google Plus listings pop up in the results (instead of those bigger national coffee chains). More food for thought: Mobile users spend 24% of their mobile time on Facebook. That’s huge.

  10. It’s a great time to be in e-commerce. This takeaway sounds like a throwaway, but it’s true. We heard from Marc Lore, founder of soon-to-be-released marketplace Jet — if you sell online, you’re going to want to remember his name. Plus, Alibaba offered lots of insights into its e-commerce opportunity following its recent IPO. Add to the mix new digital marketing developments like Yahoo Gemini and Google Local Inventory Ads, and, well, we’re only scratching the surface.

 

Blog post by Leanne Link, ChannelAdvisor Global Copyeditor


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Craving more e-commerce tips? You’ll find 16 more in this eBook, 16 Things You Wish You’d Known When You Started Selling Online.

September 30, 2014

How Amazon’s Search Engine Works

Retailers are always vying for top position on Amazon, but what does the marketplace look for when it compiles results? Given the many options for customers, we’ve identified what retailers can do to improve their listings and ranking on the marketplace giant.

How Buyers Search

Buyers scan results pages very quickly. They spend a fraction of a second on each result, taking a longer look if something is worth it. With this in mind, it’s important to optimise your titles and photos to capture attention. Buyers are also interested in words related to the terms they type in Amazon’s search engine. For example, a buyer searching for a MacBook will likely notice words like ‘Air,’ ‘Pro’ or ‘Retina’.

Amazon Search Blog 1

How Amazon's Search Engine Works

AmazonSearchBlog2When a buyer types a query into Amazon’s search box, the search engine looks up those words in its index, finds all the results and then ranks them accordingly. This ranking system uses several factors to identify which results are relevant. When doing this, Amazon is assessing the quality of the product and listing, the degree of text match and customer feedback.

It’s a sophisticated engine that excludes common words like ‘the,’ and it also learns common misspellings automatically — and provides spelling corrections. It’s not case-sensitive, so it ignores uppercase and lowercase letters. It also ignores punctuation, so there’s no need to list different variations in a listing (‘t-shirt,’ ‘tshirt’ and ‘t shirt’).

AmazonSearchBlog3

How to Improve Titles

Because buyers spend only a fraction of time on any result, you should keep your product titles short. A minimal amount of information is needed to identify the item. A title of 60 or fewer characters is highly recommended, but the shorter the better — especially as many shoppers now search from mobiles. It’s harder to read long titles, so buyers may just skip them. Plus, they take up more space, showing fewer results.

Ask yourself which words are likely to be relevant when buyers scan results. Once you’ve identified these, you can assess what information you may not need to include. Titles shouldn’t include full item descriptions. You can use the descriptions and bullet point areas in your listing to provide this additional information.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 15.54.01

These examples of good titles are effective because they’re short, rich with keywords and relevant to what consumers tend to search. The examples of poorly constructed titles are less successful because the titles are effectively product descriptions. Titles shouldn’t include details such as compatible model numbers, testimonials, packaging details or other options.

AmazonSearchBlog5

Amazon provides recommendations to sellers about titles within category-specific style guides. It’s a good idea to look this up for your category to see learn the recommended format. In general you’ll see Amazon suggesting the following: 

[Brand] + [Series] + [Model] + [Product] 

At ChannelAdvisor, we strongly recommend doing an audit of your listings to make sure they’re optimised. To get started, review titles, starting with the longest ones, and identify where you can condense them without losing impact. If you are following a title format like the one suggested by Amazon above, you can even utilise ChannelAdvisor’s Data Transformation Engine to build titles in the format shown by using Business Rules.

Let’s take a look at this example:

Current Title (146 characters):

Pixnor USB AC Power Adapter Home and Travel Charger with US/EU/UK/AU Plugs for Apple IPAD / IPHONE / SAMSUNG / BlackBerry / HTC / Nokia / Motorola

Assess which words in your title are the most important, then move these to the front so it’s easier for your buyer to spot them. In this example, ‘AC Charger’ and ‘USB’ are the critical points to highlight. Information such as the fact that the item is universal and that it can be used when buyers ‘travel’ or stay ‘home’ are not as important. Shoppers are less likely to search for those points, so remove these from your title and include them in your product description instead. You should also clean up capitalisation to make your listing look more professional. Here’s our suggested update: 

Optimised Title (53 characters):

Pixnor International USB Power Charger for Smartphones and Tablets

How to Improve Keywords

Keywords are one of the primary methods buyers use to find products on Amazon. Your keywords should include product attributes — such as model numbers, materials or specs — and alternative ways of describing the product.

Amazon’s algorithm uses a ‘match score’ to promote the most relevant search results, so relevancy is key. Your match score will be better if the words you use are in the same sequence as the buyer’s query. We also recommend listing different phrases as different entries, instead of together on the same line.

Keywords should not include:

  • Information that is already present in other fields, such as your title or brand
  • Subjective claims about the quality of the item (‘best’)
  • Statements that are only temporarily true (‘new,’ ‘on sale’, ‘available now’)
  • Information that is true of most or all items in the category (‘book’)
  • Common misspellings of the product name
  • Variants of spacing, punctuation, capitalisation and plurals (both ‘80GB’ and ‘80 GB’, ‘computer’ and ‘computers’, etc.). 

Keywords should never include information that misrepresents the product, such as a competing brand or a different author. Doing so violates Amazon’s policies.

Summing It Up

When building or reviewing your keywords, remember that the aim of the game is to have keywords that help buyers by providing additional information that wouldn’t otherwise be searchable. Keep that in mind as you review yours.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 16.01.10When selling on Amazon, it’s in your interest to spend some time focusing on your data to attract more customers. If you’re interested in learning more about the latest from Amazon, join our ‘What’s New with Amazon’ webinar on 30 September at 7 p.m. BST/ 2 p.m. EDT. For more information and to register, please go here: bit.ly/ECOMAmazonWebinarSeptember

Blog post by David Le Roux, account manager, ChannelAdvisor EMEA

September 29, 2014

Navigating E-Commerce Channels: Are You Prepared for the Holiday Season?

Retail Blog Header

With the assistance of Redshift Research, we conducted the Multichannel E-Commerce Study with more than 200 respondents — US and UK retailers that already sell products online. Respondents were e-commerce decision makers at companies that averaged $3-5 million in revenue in 2013. The survey was intended to pinpoint e-commerce trends, as well as help identify opportunities and challenges in the online market.

 

’Tis the season…for retailers to maximize their online holiday sales, that is. Retailers plan for the holiday shopping season all year long, and now, it’s just around the corner. In our Multichannel E-Commerce Study, we asked retailers to answer a number of questions related to the holidays. This portion of this study was intended to gather retailers’ expectations and associated strategies they’re using to maximize sales for the 2014 holiday season.

Thanksgiving falls during the last week of November again this year, and Cyber Monday will be in December. With a compressed holiday season on the horizon, retailers are rolling out their holiday promotions early, and focusing on customer service features to help increase sales.

Retailers Expect a Successful Holiday Season

E-commerce holiday sales are outperforming those of brick-and-mortar stores, and retailers expect this trend to continue in 2014. Despite the shortened shopping season, 86% of retailers expect to increase their year-over-year online holiday sales in 2014. Over a quarter of retailers (27%) expect an 11-15% increase in holiday sales this year, and 46% expect an increase between 1-10%. Not a single retailer surveyed reported that they expect their online holiday sales to decrease this year.

Holiday Promotions Are Starting Early

As we expected, retailers are addressing the challenge of a shortened holiday shopping season by starting their holiday promotions early. Creating a sense of urgency will help encourage consumers to make their holiday purchases sooner. Roughly half (42%) of retailers surveyed planned to start their holiday push this month, and 20% planned to begin their holiday push in August or earlier. Almost a quarter (23%) of retailers surveyed planned to start their holiday marketing promotions earlier this year compared with previous years.  

Customer Service Is Important for Driving Sales

Retailers seeking a jolly holiday season need to find ways to create a pleasant shopping experience for consumers and offer exceptional customer service. Almost half (41%) of retailers surveyed plan to offer free shipping and returns as a strategy to increase holiday sales, and free shipping was named the most successful service feature for generating a higher level of customer satisfaction. One-third of retailers plan to stock higher product quantities to increase holiday sales this year, and 27% plan to offer discounts for select products. Most retailers (67%) said that offering these customer service features has resulted in increased sales, followed by increased online traffic (60%) and increased repeat shoppers (42%).  

Retailers Are Embracing Trends, Including Digital Marketing

The e-commerce landscape is constantly evolving, making it critical for retailers to evaluate and modify their holiday strategies each year. Digital marketing is mandatory in the e-commerce world, especially during the holidays. More than three-fourths (77%) of retailers surveyed plan to change their holiday strategy in 2014. More than a quarter (27%) plan to increase their overall digital marketing and advertising budgets to boost holiday sales this year, and a quarter of retailers plan to launch new digital marketing initiatives.

What approaches are you taking to increase your holiday sales in 2014? Are you evaluating customer service options with the consumer in mind? Have you considered recent trends? In the weeks leading up to the Cyber Five (the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday), we’ll be sharing tips to help get your listings in shape for this exciting season. Stay tuned!   


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For a visual recap of our Multichannel E-Commerce Study results, check out our infographic.  

September 26, 2014

Amazon + Twitter = Christmas Wishlist?

Amazon-twitterWhat happened to writing a letter by hand and sending it (physical stamp and all) to the North Pole? Santa’s mailbox has gotten quite slim, now that social media is playing a bigger role in crafting Christmas wishlists. But it does make sense: Social media makes sharing and inspiration-gathering so effortless. Pinterest boards and Wanelo collections are popular homes for wishlists, and now Amazon and Twitter have jumped on board, according to recent news from Amazon.

Amazon and Twitter have launched a hashtag-triggered shopping tool, dubbed #AmazonWishList. When Twitter users see a tweet containing an Amazon product link, they can reply to the tweet with the associated hashtag. In doing so, the product in the tweet will be placed on the user’s Amazon Wish List. Once the item has been successfully added, users will be notified with a reply tweet from @MyAmazon, as well as a confirmation email. To enable the feature, users have to link their Amazon and Twitter accounts.

"Twitter offers Amazon customers a great environment for inspiration and discovery," said John Yurcisin, director of social at Amazon, in the press release. This isn’t Amazon or Twitter’s first attempt at social commerce. In May, Amazon released its #AmazonCart feature and just earlier this month, Twitter announced they will be testing the e-commerce waters with its “Buy now” button.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon’s holiday social push pans out. We’ll be keeping a close eye on it over the coming months.

 

Blog post by Jordan Nowlin, social media & blog manager, ChannelAdvisor



Webinar

Wondering what's new with Amazon and what it means for you? Join us and Internet Retailer next week for a news recap webinar. Sign up now!

 

September 25, 2014

Webinar: What’s New with Amazon? (And What Does It Mean for You?)

Tuesday, September 30 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT

Amazon
When you think of online shopping, Amazon is probably one of the first websites that come to mind. The e-commerce giant has revolutionized the online shopping experience, paving the way for other marketplaces.

Amazon has even expanded its product line, recently announcing the Fire Phone, which has some interesting connections to e-commerce. Just this past year, Amazon issued over 100 press releases revealing company acquisitions, financial results and new product categories. How do you keep up with all of Amazon’s news? As a retailer, which of these developments directly affect you?

ChannelAdvisor and Internet Retailer to the rescue! In next week’s webinar, ChannelAdvisor Amazon experts join Internet Retailer to recap the latest and greatest Amazon updates that are most relevant to retailers. You’ll leave this webinar knowing:

  • The new opportunities that are available to retailers

  • Recent rules and regulations retailers should be aware of

  • How to best position your business for changes in the future

Don’t miss out! Sign up here to claim your spot! 

Update on Amazon's Fulfillment Center (FC) Network

Every year as we head into the fourth quarter holiday selling season, we roll up our sleeves and update our database of Amazon Fulfillment Centers (FCs).  The job has gotten easier over the years as Amazon now announces most of the new FCs with local press, or talks about them on earnings calls.

In this post there are five Amazon FC related resources for you:

  1. Background and summary of Amazon's FC buildout
  2. North American interactive map 
  3. European interactive map 
  4. Asia Interactive map 
  5. List of newly identified Amazon FCs in the last year

Background on Amazon FCs and sortation centers

Back in ~2009, I noticed that I was receiving many of my Prime purchases on the next day even though I didn't pay for next day.  I explored and discovered that previously most of my packages came from an address in Hebron, KY and the next day packages were coming from an address much closer (we are in Raleigh, NC) in Columbia, SC.  I get to Columbia a fair amount (Go Gamecocks!) and drove by the address shortly after getting the package.  I was greeted by a giant warehouse with no branding or signage at all.  Hmmm.  We started researching and realized that it is quite hard to find detailed information about Amazon's fulfillment center network (especially from Amazon). Since then there have been several resources that have come out and Amazon has become much more open about sharing FC information.

That being said, we like to update our database annually and report on what we're seeing.  Our last post was here if you want to check it out to compare year/year trends.

Naming, purpose, etc.

Amazon's FC network uses a naming system that is usually a three letter code (usually the closest airport) and then a number. For example, in Phoenix, AZ you have:

  • PHX1 - The first Phoenix FC, has been retired (it was smaller footprint)
  • PHX2 -  Dame as above
  • PHX3 - A 1m sq-ft FC that replaced PHX1/2
  • PHX4 - Not exactly sure what happened here, sometimes Amazon gets temp/leased space and gives it a disignator and then moves on
  • PHX5 - 1.4m sq-ft (that's big) facility in Goodyear AZ.  You can see it here to get an idea of what we are talking about
  • PHX6 - 1.2m sq-ft
  • PHX7 - Newest FC in Phoenix - 1.2m sq-ft, came online in 2011

 In addition, sometimes FCs have specific purposes.  For example, some FCs are specialized for FBA receiving, large item storage and fulfillment (think golf bags and kayaks), small media items (books, dvds, etc.) and consumer returns.

Introducing Sortation

Last year after the UPS delivery situation, Amazon started opening a new type of building for their FCs called sortation centers.  Prior to sortation centers (SCs), the way a delivery worked is:

  1. Orders came in and routed to FC that was a) close and b) had the product in stock.
  2. Orders are all placed on a UPS truck - destinations could be anywhere in the US
  3. UPS takes them to local airport, sends them to sorting facility
  4. Packages are routed appropriately, many go through the big hub (Louisville, KY) (good article here if you are a logistics geek)
  5. Packages delivered to consumers.

In their Q2 conference call, Amazon casually said they are building/have built 15 sortation centers.  Once a sortation center is in the mix, here's the process:

  1. Orders came in and routed to FC that was a) close and b) had the product in stock.
  2. Orders are sorted at a sortation center (usually adjacent and/or connected via conveyor belt to a FC) - SCs are 300k sq-ft vs. 1.2-1.4m for FCs, so a much smaller facility, largely conveyor belt and automation driven.
  3. Orders are placed into zip code bands (e.g. NYC-downtown, midtown, uptown, etc.).
  4. Orders are injected into different carriers (USPS if sunday delivery, UPS if not).
  5. UPS takes them to local airport, bypasses  sorting facility.
  6. Packages are routed appropriately, many go through the big hub (Louisville, KY) (Good article here if you are a logistics geek).
  7. Packages delivered to consumers.

So SCs move a big piece of the logistics value chain INTO Amazon and away from the third-party logistics company.  This has allowed Amazon to utilize USPS for Sunday delivery. (Presumably because USPS may not be able to sort and deliver fast enough for Amazon's needs). 

If you want to learn more about sortation centers, here are three resources we have found helpful:

  • Insights into the first SC opened in Kent, WA and here.
  • WSJ article here.
  • Logistics industry article here

Summary

  • North America - 75 existing, 15 in process = 90 FCs 63m sq-ft
  • Europe - 27 existing, 3 in process = 30 FCs
  • Asia - 33+2=35
  • Total - 155 FCs - ~100m sq-ft

 

Logistiscs: Amazon vs. other e-commerce/retialers 

Whenever I talk about Amazon with retailers or at conferences, I always cover the FC network because I have found most people in our industry don't realize how big it is.  Usually the first question I get after showing the maps is 'how does this compare to...X?'  The top X in there is Walmart, sometimes I get Target, UPS, Fedex, etc.  Let's look at Walmart.  

Walmart has ~150 distribution centers in the USA, so has a much bigger logistics footprint than Amazon, just if you compared Walmart US to Amazon global.  However, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison because a Walmart DC essentially is part of a store logistics network - trucks/pallets of products come in from manufacturers, then are sorted out to stores (back out as trucks/pallets).  This is sometimes called cross-dock and is more of a B2B function vs. online fulfillment which is Trucks/Pallets in and onesy-twosy out, or B2C.

Walmart doesn't disclose how many B2C centers they have, but what they have said:

  • In 2013, they built 2 'large scale' centers dedicated to online order fulfillment (Penn and TX).
  • There is a 'ship from store' initiative that looks to turn all 4,200 stores effectively into their own FCs. Walmart has said 20% of items are coming from stores now vs. FCs.
  • In June 2014, they announced a 1.4m FC in Indiana.
  • Walmart has also said they have 'online fulfillment' areas inside some of their DCs.

So it's hard to get apples to apples here, but if we assume:

  • 5 dedicated online FCs
  • 10% of DCs acting as FCs = 15

That's a total of 20 FC's equivlent to an Amazon FC in the US.  Using that math, Amazon has 90 vs. 15 or 6X (also Amazon's FCs are generally bigger so it would be a bigger difference).

It's impossible to factor in ship-from-store. One of the challenges that you find with BOPIS (Buy-Online-Pickup-In-St0re) is the SKU footprint.  The average Walmart Super Center has 150,000 SKUs (source: walmart's corp site). Walmart.com has 6m SKUs (source:2014 IR500).  The math on that is 2.5% of the online SKUs are available in a store.  If you adjust for the fact that most stores have the top selling SKUs, then you get to maybe 20-30% of the products that can be shipped from store (or picked up).  Therefore, you can't really compare the store inventory to the FC inventory.

What does Amazon's FC growth mean for the future?

The biggest areas of growth in the Amazon FC count from 2013/2014 are:

  • State based (FL, CA, GA, NY/NJ) expansion - Amazon has been making deals with states for online tax collection.
  • East Europe - Amazon is building out several FCs in Poland and there are rumors of them launching in the Netherlands.
  • Sortation centers - As mentioned there are plans to build 15 in the US for Holiday 14.
  • India - there is one FC operational and we have found reports of 4 more being built which signals a pretty significant buildout.

Amazon is already substantially ahead of any other pure-play retailer and brick and mortar retailer when it comes to a consumer-oriented FC network.  With Amazon's growth into the sortation process in the US, they clearly are trying to further 'own' the fulfillment process.  Amazon Fresh (LA, SFO, Seattle) - includes product deliveries from Amazon branded trucks.  We're receiving more and more reports of Amazon owned and operated delivering products in Prime-dense zip codes.  Therefore reading the tea leaves, some possible next steps:

  • What if Prime offers next day shipping vs. 2-day?
  • What if Amazon increased the number of metros that have same-day shipping?
  • Amazon has expanded the USPS Sunday delivery program, which indicates they are pleased with the results, so expansion of that to more metros is possible.
  • Finally, logistics experts believe its only a matter of time before Amazon has a large selection of trucks, effectively placing them in competition with UPS, FedEx and USPS.

We'll be keeping an eye on all of these trends and keep you updated.

North American interactive map

On these interactive maps:

  • Green markers are operational FCs with their FC designators.
  • Wrenches are FCs that are under construction.
  • Blue stars  are sortation centers.
  • Green clovers - kidding!

You should be able to click on each FC to see it's details such as size and physical address.  If you switch into satellite mode, you can even drill down to the individual buildings where we have included the complete address.

 

European and Asia interactive map

The same legend for the US map applies here.

 

This blog post was written by Scot Wingo, CEO, ChannelAdvisor.