Your brand has as rich legacy with years of reputation and quality product. Over the years, you have refined your messaging to find your unique market niche and then developed a media and communication strategy around that messaging. Significant time and resources have been invested into producing beautiful marketing assets to tell your story well and connect to customers. Now honestly ask yourself, “how is my brand doing at implementing this investment on Amazon?” For most brands in 2019, their Amazon presence is…well…not up to brand standards.
In this post, I am going to give away an overview to creating and implementing an Amazon catalog that meets brand standards and positions your brand for success on and off Amazon. We developed this approach after years of trial and error. I will address why it matters, a three pronged approach to developing and implementing, and common roadblocks that prevent brands from fully implementing their catalog.
First a definition: “catalog” in this post means (1) Amazon listing presentation—what the customer sees on the product listing, (2) selection—the selection of branded products that a customer can buy on Amazon, and (3) organization—the way the brand’s listings are structured to appeal to Amazon’s search algorithm. Each of these three parts will be addressed in this post separately, but collectively referred to as “catalog”.
Why does my Amazon catalog matter?
A recent BloomReach study found that 55% of all online search starts on Amazon. That’s more than all search that starts on Google and your brand’s website combined. So Amazon is not only an essential sales channel, but it is also the essential online marketing channel. When we think about Amazon as a marketing channel, we can then think about each listing as a customer experience—a micro-environment where ready-to-buy customers interact with your product and your brand. Smart marketers realize that this is an opportunity for curating brand-customer interactions, and best of all, creating a listing is free to anyone who has product. This is a double edged sword, however, because anyone with product can create their own unique Amazon listing. So the savvy brand must develop a way to control resellers who create poor listings, implement a high quality catalog, and then maintain it. It’s not impossible, but it is a lot of work. Let’s get started.
The three legs of the catalog "stool" are art, science, and grit.
If you think of catalog like a three legged stool, its three legs would be art, science, and grit. Kick any of these legs out, and the entire stool collapses under weight.
Art: The art behind a beautiful catalog is the listing presentation—the micro-environment you create for the customer when they arrive at the listing detail page for any given product. The goal for most brands is consistency with their brand’s website, since that is the place where their messaging and assets are most curated and thought out.
- Image Selection: If possible, all of the following should be implemented in some form. I have listed them in order of priority. Image(s) showing key features, lifestyle image, company mission, cross-sell/upsell opportunities, size/spec guide to minimize returns, what’s-in-the-box image, product or brand video. For most brands, the difficult part is not developing these assets but weeding through the share drive of assets to select only the best 7-9 images. If you can hit all the priority items aforementioned you are doing well. However, not all of these are necessary; one high quality product image is a minimum requirement.
- Copy: Title, feature bullets, and description should be consistent with the brand’s website. Once the first version of the catalog is implemented, the brand may want to circle back to develop Amazon-specific copy, but this is not important at first. Stay focused on what is of first importance—a brand-customer experience that is consistent with the brand’s website.
- A+ Pages (Formerly Enhanced Brand Content): This is not necessary or recommended for the first pass at catalog implementation because of the intensity of design and variable ROI for each brand. Once the catalog has been implemented, have a savvy reseller test the conversion rate of a few listings before/after EBC. Run the numbers and decide if this is a worthy investment.
Science: The science behind an optimized catalog is appealing to Amazon’s A9 search algorithm to make your product appear more relevant in search. Since 2/3 of Amazon page views and sales come from page 1 of search results, its critical to rank on page 1 for relevant keywords.
- Product Selection: Every brand should have a partnered retailer that commits to stocking the items that are most relevant for Amazon. More and more, brands we partner with choose to work with us as a retailer to stock their entire catalog because of the visibility it provides for their brand on Amazon.
- Determine Parent/Child Organization Structure: Next is determining how you would like your products to be grouped. This step is the most tedious for design and implementation, but it also has the biggest impact to a brand presence and performance. On any given listing there can be several variations of the same product family (eg. the shoe style is a Nike Freerun 5.0 and the variations are shoe sizes and colors). The product family is called the “Parent” and the variations are called “children.” You have lots of flexibility in how the listings are organized, so the best practice for determining the optimal organization structure is to consider the most logical customer shopping experience, and then consider impact to search. Without getting too deep into understanding the impact to search, just keep in mind that the more products you can group together as children to the same parent, the better you will rank organically in search. Lastly, determine the most appropriate category for your product on Amazon. If you are torn between several categories, choose the one with less competition (this will give you a better shot at winning the “Amazon’s choice” badge). Finally, it may make sense to create several parent listings for the same products if the products could appeal to different audiences. For example, a baby gate can also be used as a pet gate and can be listed separately.
- Merge Duplicate Listings: Take a thorough inventory of all the duplicate listings on Amazon by searching for the product name/nicknames. Then determine which listing has the highest review count—this is the listing you’ll want to survive the merge. Then fill out the support ticket on Seller Support to merge duplicate ASINs. Repeat for all duplicates.
- Copy: I mentioned above that creating Amazon-specific copy is not necessary for the first round of Catalog implementation. If/when the brand is ready to create Amazon specific copy, ensure the copy represents your brand’s tone and the benefits of buying your product. Most listings only focus on product features, but listings that convert are those that lead with benefits and also include features. Lastly, if high performing keywords are available to you, make sure you work those into the title and feature bullets to help with your search relevance.
Grit: After you have planned, organized, and designed a beautiful catalog, its time to make it come alive on Amazon. This implementation phase is where most brands, sellers, and agencies fail at catalog. We believe its because there is a lack of grit. Make no mistake, this is the most challenging part of the process because you will have to work through Amazon Seller Support. The only reason we can honestly offer this service as an agency is because we approach this work with a ton of grit. We will not take “no” as an answer from Amazon. We will find a way through patience and persistence to fully implement the catalog. We have found that there is always a way to get it done, and Amazon’s resistance is not an acceptable excuse. Implementation has 3 phases: preparing the bulk upload, Submit persistently resolving bulk upload errors, and gritty follow up.
- Preparing the Bulk Upload: Amazon has a bulk upload template that allows brand registered delegates to submit edits and additions to listings in bulk. The process here is straightforward—gather the information from the Art and Science sections above, then fit each component into the appropriate cell of the bulk upload template. Then check and double check the work to ensure the information was copied over successfully. One misaligned row could mean the entire catalog receives incorrect listing information. Then submit the bulk upload.
- Persistently Resolving Bulk Upload Errors: Amazon’s bulk upload system will not accept the bulk upload until it is error-free. After the initial submission, expect to receive a spreadsheet back showing a slew of errors that need to be corrected. There are error correction recommendations in the report, which are mostly helpful. The data in each cell is either accepted (highlighted green), or rejected due to error (highlighted red). Getting a spreadsheet back with lots of red is expected as part of this journey, but it still feels a lot like getting an essay back in gradeschool with red ink all over it. You will probably run into errors that are inexplicably in error after several attempts. At that point its time to call Seller Support and work through the error on the phone. Even if you have a paid account manager at Amazon, there is no way to talk directly to a decision maker at Amazon to resolve these issues. This is why catalog is still a black box for brands—there is no quick or predictable way to implement a catalog. It takes grit. These challenges are all exacerbated when Amazon was a first-party retailer on the listings in the past because Seller Support gives precedence to any “retail contributions” that Amazon made to the listings while they were a seller. Fix the errors, resubmit, and repeat until you receive a spotless, error-free submission. Then celebrate!
- Gritty Follow Up: Although you would expect that this journey is over after submitting an error free bulk upload, it unfortunately is not. For no apparent reason, Amazon will typically only implement the catalog changes described in the bulk upload at about 50-60% accuracy. Until that changes, someone needs to be on the phone with Seller Support every day pointing out that listing X still looks like it did before the bulk upload. After repeatedly referencing the fact that you can both look into the submission log and see a successful bulk upload, the remaining listing corrections will start to trickle through. Sometimes a few at a time, sometimes in mass. It is a mystery with no one to hold Amazon accountable to improving. Eventually, you will have a fully implemented catalog.
Maintenance: After catalog has been implemented, regular monitoring and maintenance is necessary to ensure the quality of the listings remain up to brand standards. Many times, we see listings revert back to previous states for not apparent reason. More frequently, third party sellers make unauthorized (and unwelcomed!) contributions to the listings that need to be resolved. And even more frequently that that, third part sellers will create duplicate listings to create a momentary improvement in their buy box percentage. These duplicate listings need to be constantly found and merged.
This is a repeatable process for successfully implementing a catalog on Amazon that meets brand standards and provides a competitive advantage for appealing to Amazon’s search algorithm. With patience and an extra serving of grit, your brand can have a catalog you are proud of as well.
Other posts for further learning on this topic: