Become a Student of Amazon — This means comprehensively understanding the ins & outs of how Amazon works. In addition to becoming intimately familiar with the Terms of Service, a seller should learn about how to make a great listing, ad and ranking optimization, how fulfillment works, etc. There are a lot of resources out there and it can be somewhat overwhelming at times (and 50% of it is more “lore” than fact), but I’d encourage you to spend time every week absorbing all the content you can. Even if you know everything you need to know today, Amazon is constantly changing and your millions of competitors on Amazon are innovating quickly — if you don’t keep up with them you will lose!
As a part of my interview series about “Five non-intuitive things you need to know to run a very successful Amazon business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Bell.
Chris Bell is the founder and CEO of Perch (www.perchhq.com). Perch is a technology-driven eCommerce company, a leading acquirer of great products and brands, and one of the top 200 sellers on Amazon. Prior to Perch, Chris designed and built Wayfair’s “Wayfair Delivery Network” into a 3B dollars supply chain with 50 hubs across North America. Before Wayfair, Chris was at Bain & Company where he worked with fortune 500 companies on growth strategy and leading private equity firms on M&A, working on over 40 transactions representing 90B dollars+ in value. Prior to business school, Chris was a leading sales rep of office hardware and software and he started his career at GE Healthcare in software product management. Chris has an BS in Computer Engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
It feels like all parts of my previous career had a big impact on what we’re building at Perch. My early career was in software design, development, and implementation at GE, one of the biggest and most complex companies in the world. While at Bain & Company, I worked with the biggest global private equity firms on M&A, which gave me a lot of exposure to how to evaluate a potential acquisition and structure a transaction that works for all parties. At Bain, I also worked with leading retailers and technology companies to accelerate organic growth. Lastly, at Wayfair, I got deep into eCommerce as I worked across the company to deliver a truly differentiated customer experience that was integrated from the storefront, to the customer service team, to the delivery team in the customer’s house. The culmination of all these experiences — technology, finance, retail and e-commerce operations — forms the basis of Perch’s vision, where we are building a technology platform to acquire and scale great products and brands globally and across channels.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about selling on Amazon.com?
Over the last year we’ve been fortunate to be able to drive extraordinary growth at Perch on Amazon. Perch currently owns and operates over 20 brands and we are one of the top 200 Amazon sellers. Amazon is, without a doubt, the most competitive marketplace on the Internet. Our expertise comes from our large presence on Amazon and from our continued exposure to top-tier sellers as we talk to them about buying their businesses. These two sources provide us with a constant stream of great ideas and proven techniques to be successful at selling on Amazon.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We’ve made mistakes and have also inherited quite a few mistakes that we’ve been in the unenviable position of having to fix. For example, one time a seller ordered a container of inventory from a new manufacturer right before we took over their business and they hadn’t put any QA controls around that order. As you probably guessed, there were meaningful product quality issues in the new batch, which we didn’t know until the first few orders arrived to customers. Once that inventory is inside Amazon and mixed with the good inventory, it was almost impossible to get Amazon to help you separate the two. It took us months to get all the bad inventory out and restore our listing health, then months more beyond that to regain sales rank.
We’ve had a really high grossing product suspended by Amazon for two months because of an administrative error. We’ve also been the target of other sellers’ black/grey hat tactics. This can be in the form of upvoting negative reviews, giving fake reviews, hijacking listings, flagging listings as inappropriate, etc. In this extremely competitive environment, people are sometimes willing to go to great lengths to tilt the playing field in their favor.
In all of these instances, it required a great deal of effort on our part to get Amazon to track down and resolve the issue. Amazon’s siloed structure and strict resolution processes are likely great 90% of the time, but are really difficult to navigate for more complex situations like the above and it takes a lot of work for a seller like us who is trying to do the right thing.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Perch is in the business of acquiring, integrating, and then optimizing products in Amazon’s global marketplaces. Our focus on doing this has resulted in building a pool of knowledge that is valuable to the Amazon seller community as a whole. One way we aim to give back to this ecosystem is to create and share content that is useful for the community of sellers. We’ve been so busy to date that we haven’t been able to invest in sharing some of this content back with sellers as much as we’d like, but I’m hoping we can start to invest there going forward.
We’re also starting to invest in bringing some of our products to other channels, such as selling wholesale or Walmart.com, which I think will be an exciting growth lever for our business and our brands.
Ok. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. You are a seasoned Amazon expert. Can you share with our readers five, non intuitive, insider tips, in order to be as successful as possible on Amazon? Please share a story or example for each.
In order to be as successful as possible on Amazon, I recommend the following:
Focus on Customer Service
A successful seller on Amazon always has a great product and puts the customer first. This may sound cliché, but it is what will set you apart from your competitors. Putting the customer first means taking specific actions, such as always replying quickly to customers as well as continually exploring ways to serve your customers better through improving your product, improving photos/descriptions, offering a better value or more options, etc.
Become a Student of Amazon
This means comprehensively understanding the ins & outs of how Amazon works. In addition to becoming intimately familiar with the Terms of Service, a seller should learn about how to make a great listing, ad and ranking optimization, how fulfillment works, etc. There are a lot of resources out there and it can be somewhat overwhelming at times (and 50% of it is more “lore” than fact), but I’d encourage you to spend time every week absorbing all the content you can. Even if you know everything you need to know today, Amazon is constantly changing and your millions of competitors on Amazon are innovating quickly — if you don’t keep up with them you will lose!
Communicate with other Sellers
I find that many Amazon sellers are very secretive and feel like if they share their secrets with other people, they’ll lose their “secret sauce”. If you join a good Mastermind group, you’ll get back 10 times what you give away. Make sure you join a good group (take your time to vet them!) and engage fully — share what has worked for you and ask lots of questions.
Connect with Customers Outside of Amazon
Amazon is amazing for driving huge sales volumes, but at the end of the day, those are Amazon’s customers, not yours. The best sellers find ways to connect with their customers off Amazon. Even if you still drive all of your sales to Amazon, you’ll develop more loyalty and more success with new product launches if customers know your brand and can engage with it. This is hard and takes a long time, but you have to start somewhere! Many sellers start with social media and/or offering discounts to customers in exchange for them joining a mailing list.
Watch and Learn from Competitors
You need to watch your competitors. As I’ve said a few times, they are numerous, they are good, and they are fast. Understand who is competing with you for share of your niche and have a plan for how you’re positioned against them. It’s not always about price — customers want a great product at a great value. Many of our products with best seller badges are not the lowest price in their category but they are the best product at the best value.
Amazon sellers have a reputation for being great guerilla marketers. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
The key to success on Amazon is to be dynamic in how you think about winning. It can’t be overstated that Amazon is the most competitive platform in the world. This is an environment where some sellers monitor their listings hourly to adjust merchandising, ad spend, or price. Getting to the top, and remaining there, requires a thoughtful plan, really great execution, and a medium-term outlook on profitability.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Opportunity enables people to create their own destiny. What I love about a platform like Amazon is that it creates an opportunity for millions of people to launch their own business in a way that requires a lot of hard work but not a lot of upfront cash. In this respect, Amazon is a game-changer as it enables people, especially underserved communities, to create a new cycle of prosperity. I hope that with Perch we can continue to drive this cycle of removing barriers to entry for entrepreneurs so that with some hard work and persistence, they can create their own prosperity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
From T.S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” For me, this quote conveys that what makes us happy is already in our midst: our family, friends, and loved ones. I try to remind myself of this as we go along — we’re all very driven and we want to make something big that changes the world, but we also need to remember who and what we’re doing this for and make sure we also invest in our families, friends, and loved ones.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Definitely Jeff Bezos. I would love to pick his brain to learn more about his experiences in building Amazon. It’s easy for people to look at Amazon today and say “that just makes sense”, but I’m sure that along the way there were many decisions that at the time were very questionable in their validity or potential for payoff (I believe starting the 3rd party marketplace was one of them. Same with AWS.) I would enjoy picking his brain to hear the challenges and twists and turns along the way.
Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!