Think back to when you were a kid. It was obvious from day one that you were born to sell. On a particularly hot day, you decide to open a lemonade stand. After you’ve gathered the lemons, the sugar, and the cups, you consider an important question: Where do you set up shop?
You could go to Shady Lane, the seldom-traveled road where tumbleweeds outnumber humans by 3-to-1. Or, you could post up on Main Street—home to the heaviest foot traffic in town.
You didn’t spend too much time considering before grabbing your supplies and heading downtown.
Anyone who’s ever run a lemonade stand knows that you need to go where the people are to make the sales. And the same is true of ecommerce.
When it comes to selling on Amazon, the buy box is Main Street.
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The Amazon buy box is the white box on the ride side of the product details page where shoppers can click “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now.”
If you’re the seller represented in the buy box, your product is the one that gets added to a shopper’s cart (or the product she purchases straightaway).
You can think of the buy box as the very bottom of your ecommerce sales funnel. It’s where all your blood (Display ads), sweat (Facebook videos), and tears (tears) culminate in the sweet, sweet click of a magic button.
There are two kinds of sellers on Amazon: Amazon itself and third-party sellers. Third-party sellers are also known as resellers, and they represent every company on the platform that isn’t Amazon.
When several third-party sellers are offering the same product, they’re all listed on the same product details page. If you’ve ever shopped on Amazon, what comes next should be intuitive—the sellers are competing for the buy box. Every seller wants her product to be the one that gets selected when a consumer clicks “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now.”
As they should. Over 80% of Amazon purchases made on desktops are done via the buy box. Due to the smaller screen size, mobile Amazon purchases are done through the buy box even more frequently.
Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Are you going to click the hyperlink to view the other sellers’ offers? Did you even notice that text?
I’m willing to wager that you didn’t. I’m willing to wager that you clicked “Add to Cart” without even blinking. Don’t feel bad—everyone else does the same.
Behold: the undeniable power of the Amazon buy box.
When you create an Amazon seller account, you select either an Individual plan or a Professional plan. Whereas the former doesn’t come with a subscription fee, the latter costs $39.99/mo., and it comes with many privileges—one being access to the buy box. Individual sellers aren’t eligible.
Additionally, the product you’re selling must be new and available in stock.
Amazon has an algorithm to determine which seller of a particular product gets represented in the buy box. Because it’s enormously valuable real estate, only a handful of sellers with exceptional reputations and outstanding customer reviews stand a chance.
Think of it this way. In the same sense that Google organizes the organic search results to give users the best search experiences possible, Amazon allocates buy box privileges to give customers the best purchasing experiences possible.
It’s in Amazon’s best interest to deliver to its customers high-quality sellers who offer affordable prices. If Amazon were to give the buy box to sellers with subpar products and below-average reviews, they would have a lot of complaints and returns on their hands.
You better believe they’re doing everything they can to put the best seller on the market inside the buy box. Ideally, that’s you.
Your efforts to win the Amazon buy box are analogous to your efforts to get the top organic result on the SERP. You know there’s an algorithm. That means there are factors behind the algorithm to which you can cater your Amazon strategy. In other words, it’s time to optimize.
As we said earlier, opting for a Professional seller account (and the $39.99/mo. fee that comes with it) is a basic pre-requisite for buy box eligibility.
You can’t appear in the organic search results if your content isn’t indexed. You can’t win the buy box if you’re not a Professional seller.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is one of two methods an Amazon seller can use to fulfill her orders. Whereas Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM) requires you to pick, package, and ship every order you receive, FBA hands off those responsibilities to Amazon.
Ostensibly, Amazon gives buy box preference to FBA sellers because Amazon knows they can deliver orders on time and without defect. If an FBM seller wins the buy box, Amazon is sort of rolling the dice. Should that seller mess up the fulfillment process, Amazon risks upsetting or losing a customer.
Plus, FBA sellers are eligible for Amazon Prime. Presumably, Amazon wants Prime-eligible sellers in the buy box because consumers who pay for Prime aren’t interested in products they can’t have delivered in two days.
Although Amazon doesn’t necessarily afford buy box privileges to the seller offering the lowest price, it’s important to list your product at a price comparable to your competitors’ prices. And by the way, we’re talking about the total price—sale price plus shipping and handling. Keep an eye on the other businesses selling your product and try to keep yourself in their ballpark.
Of course, your competitors’ prices aren’t the only factors informing your pricing. You need to take into account your costs of production, your employees’ wages, FBA fees, and the like. If undercutting your chief rival means putting yourself in the red, don’t do it. It goes without saying that maintaining margins high enough to remain afloat is more important than winning the buy box.
This one’s for the FBM sellers. You’re not willing to forfeit control of the fulfillment process to Amazon, and we understand that. It’s probably the right call for your businesses.
But, it means you pretty much have to be Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI (or XLIX—take your pick). There’s not a whole lot of room for error.
The faster you can get your product to customers, the better. Again, this comes back to Amazon’s brand—they aspire to be the ecommerce company. Only those FBM sellers who promise lightning-fast shipping times will be deemed worthy of the buy box.
The golden rule of SEO is to create great content geared towards people rather than search engines. In the end—regardless of how highly you’ve optimized your meta-tags and image names—what matters most is that your content is truly useful to the reader. If you’re not helping the reader, you can’t expect good organic search rankings.
Amazon sellers should think along the same lines. Does it help to use FBA and to offer fast shipping? Of course. Do those factors excuse high defect rates, poor customer service, and subpar reviews? Absolutely not.
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind as much as you can. Is your product keeping up with industry standards? Do you incorporate customer feedback into your product development? Are you going above and beyond to win back customers’ affections after you make mistakes?
It’s worth repeating (again) that Amazon’s reputation—fundamental to their present and future dominance in ecommerce—rests on the quality of the sellers represented in the buy box. Your business must be truly customer-centric if you’re going to stand a chance of winning. That means creating a seamless, satisfying shopping experience that leaves nothing to be desired.
That means making Amazon look good.
Amazon is a terrific (and increasingly necessary) channel for ecommerce businesses. In the U.S., four out of every ten dollars spent online are spent on Amazon. Nearly two-thirds of American households subscribe to Amazon Prime. During last year’s holiday season, CNBC reported that 45% of American shoppers planned to buy gifts online, and 76% of those Americans planned to use Amazon for their ecommerce needs.
Evidently, Amazon is the place to be. But, what’s the point of paying the fees that come with an Amazon seller account if you’re not maximizing your returns?
If you want to get the most out of Amazon, you need to optimize for the buy box. Do your best to incorporate our five tips into your strategy, and keep your eye on the WordStream blog for more Amazon and ecommerce content going forward.
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