Hacking Vendor Express for Greater Ranking & Profits

Vendor Express is only just now a couple of years old. It’s Amazon’s gateway into establishing a wholesale relationship (referred to as 1P) with sellers. Essentially it is their vendor “lite” program. The difference between Vendor Express and the regular, invite-only Vendor Central program is that with VE anyone can sign up. Anyone can also place their products up for offer to wholesale to Amazon.

When you do this, Amazon can either accept your offer or decline the price you give them. If they accept, this opens a number of vendor tools for the seller (AMS, on-page coupons, and a couple others). Historically, however, this is where sellers hit a snafu. At this point, Amazon takes “control” over the detail page listing for the product. When they do this, they tend to follow extremely outdated and inefficient style guides that, for the most part, un-optimize the listing.

After damaging the listing with a terribly short and nondescript title and removing all but one image, they’ll usually place a sample order for anywhere from one to six units. Amazon does not pay for this sample order. This is a trial run to see if the product will sell. The problem is, with an un-optimized listing, usually the product gets no visibility and the samples don’t sell. That’s when your average seller throws their hands into the air and gives up. Vendor Express just isn’t worth that hassle.

But What if it Was?

As FBA sellers, we are used to some level of control. We have the ability to drive external traffic to our listings, create promotions, run ads, make listing changes and send in inventory when we want. Giving up a lot of that control can be unnerving, so when things start going haywire from the start, it’s no wonder so many people are running away quickly with a bad taste in their mouths.

But VE is just like everything else; it’s a game you need to learn the rules of and how to play well in order to make it work for you. Understanding these rules may allow sellers to profit from their 1P relationship with Amazon and drive ranking and sales.

Our Vendor Express Case(ish) Study

A colleague of mine and I have been working on a little experiment to see if there was anything to leverage in the VE program. We approached the challenge with the logic that, if Amazon’s algorithm rewarded certain activities, and Amazon showed favor to 1P listings, then what if we purposefully created scenarios where the algorithm received what it wanted for ranking while the product was being sold by Amazon?

Worth a shot….

So we signed him up for VE, loaded a product and received the first sample order to be filled. We figured we’d tackle each problem as they came along.

Problem #1 – The Listing

Of course, as soon as the product was loaded into VE, Amazon put their grubby paws all over it and changed the title, dumped all of the images and even switched the category. It was almost as if they were TRYING to make this listing fail. It is a wonder any 1P products sell at all with the ingenious way Amazon is able to completely destroy any amount of SEO or even readable copy on a listing. But I digress.

So to surmount this challenge the first step was to recreate the elements of the listing on the product’s own web page. That means, all desired images, title worded exactly, bullets and description. Once that is up, you actually don’t even have to speak to a member of the VE team. Just submit a support ticket saying their catalog information is wrong and show the “manufacturer’s website” as proof. Typically within a couple days the changes take place.

Next, we needed to get the category situation straightened out. Here’s where things go interesting. My colleague called VE and told them they got the subcategory wrong, and they were so helpful, not only did they agree to change it, but they told him he could have the listed added to up to three MORE subcategories!

Let that sink in for a minute. How many of us have struggled, wanting to find a way to force our products into the same subcategories as our competitors. And here VE is offering to set up as many as FOUR with the flip of a switch.

Now that the listing was taken care of, on to the next set of challenges.

Problem #2 – The Samples

It took a little back and forth getting the packaging right. Amazon is incredibly particular about how things should be sealed, labeled and sent. However, once the products made it to Amazon’s warehouse, the next obstacle was to get the sample sold. I mean, just because Amazon has some inventory doesn’t mean the listing will rank overnight (wouldn’t THAT be nice). There it was, buried under thousands of other listings. Action needed to be taken.

My colleague then decided to leverage his social media following. He had been using certain tools to grow his brand’s Instagram following (more on that in a future post) and leveraged them to make things happen for his VE listing.

Here’s a screenshot of the Instagram followers he gained in just four months!

VE-Case-Study-instagram

So he posted a promotion. Buy one get one free. Anyone that went to the Amazon link and purchased the product and then sent him a screenshot of the receipt would receive a free product in the mail. And it worked. All six sample units gone in a single day. Progress was being made.

Problem #3 – Waiting

One issue with Vendor Express is that things don’t seem to happen very fast. They sat there with no stock for over a week. We had almost decided they must not want to place a real order, despite the success of the trial. But then, the order finally came.

Amazon issued a PO for 25 units. Hey, it was a start.

My colleague sent in the 25 units, then we started planning out our next wave of promotions. Almost as soon as Amazon was in stock, an interesting thing happened. THEY ran their own promotion. They placed a 20% off coupon on the listing enticing people to partake in subscribe and save. It was clear we got Amazon’s attention and now they were interested in helping this listing succeed.

Problem #4 – Getting Rid of the Inventory

We didn’t want to let things just be though, so my colleague leveraged another buy one get one promotion while we also ran some native VE price reduction promotions and ran a ton of traffic to the listing. We used a special keyword embedded URL and directed engagement and sales. The 25 units were gone in less than a week.

This was very strategic. We made sure to drive a ton of traffic, promotion sales and engagements through the keyword embedded URL in an attempt to help spur rankings. The thought process was, if we show this product is in demand, then Amazon will help the listing with ranking love.

We were right. Within a couple days the listing was ranking PAGE ONE for its main keyword. And this was no small keyword either. It is a very competitive term. Just take a look:

Here’s Google Keyword Planner results

VE-Case-Study-google

And their other suggestions are just as popular

VE-Case-Study-googsugg

Here’s Merchantwords monthly volume

VE-Case-Study-merchwords

And Keyword Inspector’s closest relevant long tail

VE-Case-Study-kwinspect

As you can see, ranking page one for this key term should not have been so easy. It would also defy logic to think that driving a mere 25 sales was all it took to rank. Especially when you look at JungleScout results for page one of that keyword. Here’s the top five results:

VE-Case-Study-junglescout

Other than the anomalous number one spot (what is going on there? Seriously) these sellers are getting at least twenty sales a day on the low end.

This was amazing. We managed to stimulate the algorithm and get Amazon to push his product to page one for a fairly competitive keyword. The kicker is, IT’S STILL THERE. Even after running out of stock, and not making any more sales, the listing hasn’t budged from its spot.

The Next Step

With Amazon being out of stock, they keep the listing live with the caveat above the buy box that the product “Usually Ships in 1 to 4 Weeks.” Even though the first couple runs were a success, we wanted to drive home the message to Amazon that this product is worth giving all the love they have. So my colleague worked hard to garner more reviews and a few more sales. The idea was, if sales keep coming in, Amazon might place another order sooner.

They didn’t increase their speed, but they have increased their quantity. After a little less than a week of being out of stock, they issued another PO for 125 units! That is a decent sized order all at once. And we believe it is just a taste of what’s to come.

VE coupons are already submitted, along with a couple of lightning deals and price reduction promos. These, coupled with social media, advertising and Blasts, we are confident we’ll have all 125 units purchased in no time. Aside from even more rank increase, we predict the next PO will be for multiple hundreds of units.

If we can keep the listing in a highly visible spot on key search pages while also nudging Amazon along to put the full force of their marketing muscle behind it, we’re confident we can orchestrate consistent, large and profitable orders from Amazon.

How Can You Leverage VE?

These strategies are open to everyone, but there are situations that will be more favorable. For starters, this will likely only work for products with a very high margin. It is also easier to reap the advantages of the promotion types we employed if you have a consumable (or something with high reorder rate). That isn’t to say you can’t do it with a non-consumable, but you may have to be creative with your marketing efforts.

Being a vendor and wholesaling to Amazon isn’t the right move for everyone. However, if moving forward in your brand is being hindered because Amazon requires so much of your attention, offloading the bulk of the work directly to Amazon in this way may be an option worth considering.

And while VE makes coupon promotions a bit more challenging, they aren’t impossible, and as long as that is the case, SixLeaf’s Blast options can always help in your ranking endeavors.