How to Conquer Amazon

How to Conquer AmazonWhat you need to know about selling your products via the e-tail giant

Amazon is a destination for millions of shoppers ­searching for everything from books to batteries to bottled water. The loyalty of subscribers to the e-commerce seller’s Amazon Prime, which offers free two-day delivery and other benefits, is the envy of retailers the world over. For jewelry retailers, Amazon can be a terrific way to augment sales—but selling on Amazon also takes a lot of effort. On the following pages, sellers, ­consultants, and other experts offer insights on how to break into this booming marketplace.

Getting in the Door: A High Bar

There are two types of sellers on Amazon: those whose wares are sold directly by Amazon, such as New York City designer Alex Woo, and third-party sellers, who make up the vast majority of sellers in the jewelry category as well as across the platform.

In the last year or two, Woo says, Amazon began relying more on data, replacing category merchandise buyers with algorithm-based purchasing. “Now everything is automated and it’s a very different transaction working with them,” she says. “It’s very data driven.”

The competition is fierce. “A jeweler has to be ready with the…understanding of the effort it takes to get on Amazon,” says Emmanuel Raheb, founder and CEO of New York City–based Smart Age Solutions.

Amazon’s growing dependence on ­technology means jewelers just getting started have fewer points of contact whom they can ask for assistance. As a result, consulting firms that shepherd companies through the application process and guide their sales approach have become increasingly important.

Amazon has several categories, including fine jewelry, that require an application before you can become a seller. And tackling the process by yourself is a considerable investment, experts warn. “You can apply, but the likelihood of getting accepted is very low,” Raheb says. “It’s a black box.”

Kristin Cherry Jackson, a partner at 21C Jewelry Solutions (with locations in Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Seattle), says her clients’ success is proof that the goal is an achievable one. “It’s a pretty clear path, and if you check all the boxes, you can absolutely be accepted as a seller,” she says.

However, clear doesn’t mean easy—or cheap.

The first step is a 10-question quiz that covers Federal Trade Commission guidelines for jewelers and the Amazon Jewelry Quality Assurance Standards, Jackson says. Pass that and you can officially apply, which means submitting spec sheets and physical samples of six products for independent laboratory testing, and paying a $5,000 application fee.

Jackson, a former senior category merchant manager for Amazon’s U.S. jewelry business, says some of her clients have received affirmative responses within weeks. But the process can be protracted if jewelers fail the guidelines test—Amazon is mum about what exactly constitutes a “passing grade”—or if, say, the weight of metal or gemstones doesn’t exactly match the documentation in laboratory testing.

“It took us two years to get accepted,” says Vipul Lakhi, CEO of New York City–based My Trio Rings, adding that he was an Amazon seller for two years before being accepted as a fine jewelry seller.

Exacting Standards

The introduction of Amazon Prime made fast, free shipping the norm, and e-commerce experts say you have to be willing to provide that service if you want to be a successful Amazon seller. “It’s actually one of the biggest factors to drive sales,” Lakhi says.

When it comes to getting goods to customers, third-party sellers have two options: let Amazon do the shipping or handle shipping themselves.

With the first option, Fulfillment by Amazon, Amazon keeps inventory in its nationwide network of warehouses and charges sellers to fulfill their orders. For lower-priced items, Lakhi says using Amazon as a middleman is efficient: “If you’re doing $20 earrings, it definitely makes sense.”

If you handle shipping yourself, you’ll need to conform with Amazon’s strict requirements regarding turnaround time for Prime orders. “Amazon tracks absolutely everything you do, and they’re extremely tough on vendors,” Raheb says. Lakhi adds that Amazon has its own version of mystery shopping to conduct spot checks on product and service quality.

“Amazon’s main concern is that you not over­promise and underdeliver,” Jackson says. “It’s all about ­consumer protection and maintaining Amazon’s reputation as a retailer people can trust to buy fine jewelry.”

The Amazon Identity Crisis

Another challenge when selling on Amazon: making sure your brand stands out. “People shopping on Amazon—even if they’re purchasing through you and even if it’s drop-shipped by you—[think] it’s an Amazon purchase,” says Zontee Hou, president and chief strategist at New York City–based marketing and branding firm Media Volery. Some third-party sellers do “follow up right after the sale with an email. They’re trying to add a little bit of that post-purchase service.”

In addition to reaching out to customers (to say thanks or encourage feedback), you can also engage with potential customers when they ask questions about your listings, Hou suggests. As proprietor of your Amazon e-commerce “store,” you should consistently monitor those questions and ideally answer them within 24 hours. The sooner you respond, the more likely it is you’ll make the sale.

The Biggest Mall in the World

Since many fine jewelry buyers are already Amazon shoppers, the convenience factor is high. “I think it’s a great service to be there for your customers,” Woo says.

Amazon also has cutting-edge logistics that might otherwise be out of reach for a small retailer. “Amazon takes care of the website security and payment ­gateway issues that most jewelers don’t have the technical expertise to deal with,” says Matthew Perosi, chief thinker at Sapphire Collaborative, a digital ­marketing consultancy for the jewelry industry.

Even though the site won’t let sellers direct customers off its platform to make sales, it remains an unparalleled platform for brand exposure. “Once you’ve been approved,” Lakhi says, “it’s definitely a status you’d like to keep because Amazon is the biggest market out there.”

Make Your Listings ShineMake Your Listings Shine

Whether you’re selling on Amazon, eBay, Overstock, or another online platform, a clear, compelling listing that will make your jewelry stand out in a sea of competitors is critical

Title: Your listing title needs to be clear and concise in order for search algorithms as well as users typing into a search bar to find it. Stick to the facts (e.g., “18k white gold”) and avoid subjective descriptors like sparkling or gorgeous.

Photos and videos: “Imagery is probably the number one thing that will get a customer to click on your item,” says Kristin Cherry Jackson of 21C Jewelry Solutions. She recommends “beautiful, crisp, white-background photos.” Video is another way to stand out, says Zontee Hou of branding firm Media Volery. “It’s very valuable to have video content, and I’d encourage people to create content that they can add into their listings.”

Product description: A picture might be powerful, but you also need words; individuals with visual disabilities shop online too. “Keep in mind that a lot of people might need help understanding what the product looks like,” Jackson says. Include the vital stats—the karat/color of the gold, stone weight, and so on—along with descriptors such as princess-cut or bezel-set that can help both visually impaired shoppers and people viewing the listing on a mobile device.

Specs: “Selling on Amazon requires longer product descriptions that are both written out in editorial format as well as presented in a table of technical specs,” says Sapphire Collaborative’s Matthew Perosi. “Amazon customers expect this detail and are less inclined to purchase without it.”

Reviews: Not all e-tailers host user reviews, but many do, and they can enhance your appeal to would-be buyers. “We have really good reviews. A lot of our products have four- and five-star reviews,” designer Alex Woo says. In a commoditized online marketplace, happy customers distinguish your brand. “If someone’s sorting by four- and five-star reviews, hopefully we’ll pop up.”

(Illustrations by Nathan Hackett)