Jason Boyce: A Top 200 Amazon Seller Gives Us Advice

Young woman shops on her laptop

With almost twenty years of selling experience on Amazon’s marketplace, Jason Boyce is the closest thing we have to an Amazon scholar. Thankfully for us, he’s willing to share his expert advice. After years of research and development, Boyce has developed a 7-Step Method for navigating the hurdles that Amazon throws at its third-party sellers. In Boyce’s book, “The Amazon Jungle,” he teaches readers how to sell their products and the importance of building brand awareness. Whether you are a new or existing seller, “The Amazon Jungle” offers excellent advice that everyone can use to grow their business and become successful on the world’s largest online marketplace. Recently, we picked Boyce’s brain and asked him questions about his Amazon journey to success. Here’s what he had to say…

Selling on Amazon

In 2020 alone, Amazon’s third-party sellers sold approximately $295 billion worth of products. Amazon’s first-party sales trailed behind $180 billion, with a growth of about 33% from the previous year. What do these statistics mean? They mean that there is a huge, untapped market at the disposal of small businesses and budding entrepreneurs. As long as you are persistent and authentic, you have the opportunity to succeed on the platform and maybe even reach six figures in sales.

According to JungleScout’s most recent Amazon Seller Report, the odds are in your favor. In 2020 alone, three out of five sellers reported increased profits, and 85% reported that their online business is profitable. Furthermore, most sellers reported that their businesses were profitable during their first year of sales. So, what does it take to become a successful seller?

In Boyce’s book, he details five common traits that are shared among Amazon’s top sellers.

In summary:

  1. Top sellers are willing to persevere and play the long game.
  2. They don’t panic and continue to innovate and grow.
  3. They build a great brand using their unique sense of style and authenticity.
  4. They keep track of their metrics and carefully monitor and track them.
  5. They continue to learn by educating themselves and learning how to survive in Amazon’s constantly changing marketplace.

Are New Sellers at a Disadvantage? According to Boyce, new sellers have a much steeper hill to climb than they did when he first started selling on Amazon in 2003. Back then, it was easy for third-party sellers to sell other people’s products and still succeed in the marketplace. However, this is no longer the case. In his book, he details this shift and describes how Jeff Bezos’ quest for low prices has forced buyers to reapproach their online selling strategies.

Now, with how Amazon drives traffic, the process can be strenuous for new buyers.

Boyce states, “You can’t get seen without paying for ads. So, you need to come into the Amazon game with an ad budget to drive traffic to your products. If you don’t drive traffic to your listings, you’re really at a big disadvantage.” When Boyce first got his start on Amazon, things were different. A lot different. Back in 2003, Amazon drove a ton of traffic to its website. This symbiotic relationship between sellers and the website made it easy for new sellers to gain exposure without shelling out their cash. Even without marketing and merchandising experience, Boyce was able to get sales.

Amazon.com warehouse at sunrise
Amazon.com warehouse / Photo by Mike Mareen – stock.adobe.com

Competing Against Amazon

Now, third-party sellers face increased competition from Amazon itself. In a push to dominate the marketplace, Amazon’s new marketing strategy includes lowering seller listings in an attempt to sell its products. In 2020, an investigation conducted by the Wall Street Journal discovered that Amazon has been using data from third-party sellers to develop its goods and compete against them. This uneven distribution of power creates a disadvantageous selling environment for 3P sellers.

According to Boyce, this breach of data immediately puts sellers at a huge disadvantage. Regarding this issue, Boyce states, “They disadvantage sellers by giving themselves free placement on all the search results for their products. Now, they are gathering your data and information and, in many cases, using it to their advantage.”

So, what does this mean? Simply put, it means that Amazon is actively working against you and putting your products at a disadvantage. By actively placing their products at a lower price point, Amazon leaves sellers undersold and disempowered. Amazon also competes against 3P sellers by selling other people’s products. In “The Amazon Jungle,” Boyce states, “… we were shocked by how quickly Amazon bought and resold every brand imaginable. They had the traffic data, product data, sales data, and knowledge from 3P sellers like us to literally take over entire categories overnight.”

Now, it is virtually unsustainable to sell other people’s products. 3P sellers must learn how to pivot and adapt to survive on the platform. For many third-party sellers, this can be an uphill battle. As of the second quarter of 2021, only 56% of paid units were sold by third-party sellers. This is only a 16% increase since 2013.

Haphazard Products in an Oversaturated Market

Since Amazon began making its products, a new threat is on the horizon for sellers and buyers. To create large quantities of cheap products, Amazon has outsourced production to several Chinese factories, allowing the ability to offload poor quality products onto Amazon’s customer base. According to Boyce, “There’s not that protected layer, both from a product safety perspective and quality perspective that exists when a US seller buys from another factory worldwide and brings it to you.” This can be a major issue because buyers are not offered any additional protection or course of legal action when making a purchase.

This can be worrisome considering Amazon’s uncanny ability to avoid responsibility for faulty items by blaming its third-party sellers. Elaborating further, Boyce states, “If you buy a product and it hurts you, or it’s damaged because Amazon didn’t require safety requirements and testing, it’s really hard to sue Amazon. You can’t find somebody in China to sue, right? So, there’s just not the same level of incentive to make sure that products are safe.”

If a US seller distributes a faulty or harmful product, the repercussions are more severe. They are held liable and face the consequences, making them more cautious and incentivizing them to do a good job.

Amazon dodges responsibility and the obligation to produce high-quality, harmless products by leaving production to these Chinese factories.

The First Page is Everything

Aside from competing against lower-priced products, sellers must also compete for a top, first-page ranking. This goal has become increasingly difficult since Amazon continues to give itself favorable listing placements.

According to research compiled by Web F.X., 70% of Amazon users stay on only the first page of Amazon’s search results. This can be a troublesome statistic. As Boyce states, “there are hundreds of Amazon brands that nobody knows.”

So, what steps can you take to compete against the odds that Amazon has stacked against you?

The Iterative Process

To succeed on the Amazon platform, consider your customers’ needs and look out for their well-being. Listen to their reactions and analyze their feedback.

As Boyce puts it, “You do the best you can. You launch the product, you listen to customers. You make changes every time you reorder the product so that ultimately it goes from three and a half stars to four and a half stars.”

Use your customers to drive your brand and innovate your product. Boyce believes that you can create great brands that customers love by constantly improving and striving to create a customer-driven model.

Building Capital

What happens if you don’t have the capital needed to continuously improve your product? Boyce suggests becoming a reseller and performing retail arbitrage. This can be a great short-term solution that helps new sellers build the capital they need to improve their products.

As he suggests, “… go to a tent sale at the mall around the corner that’s closing down and buy stuff for pennies on the dollar. Grab it, attach it to a list, set up a small Seller Central account, attach it to an existing listing and make a nice profit at 50% to 100% profit.”

Although retail arbitrage is not a long-term strategy, it can teach you a lot about selling on Amazon and building revenue for your business.

Playing the Long Game

In Boyce’s opinion, the best way to succeed long-term on Amazon is to launch your product. By building desirable products, you can develop your brand and customer relationships. As he puts it, “Develop your brand and make it near perfect. Then, build and add additional products to build a brand that makes sense.” The more you refine your product, the stronger your relationships will be with your customers and your product’s manufacturer.

When it comes to outsourcing your products and fostering a business relationship with your product development team, Boyce states, “‘If you can spark a long-term relationship with the factory, especially in the Asian markets, and you develop that relationship, pricing, and product development will get better each year.”

Implementing a Marine’s Approach

As a former officer in the Marines, Boyce learned important lessons that have helped him succeed as an Amazon Seller. The most important being to never fall in love with your plan.

To thrive in Amazon’s marketplace, you need to improvise and be quick. No matter what happens, always keep moving forward. As Boyce says, “That mental process of projecting forward, how things are going to unfold, is a very valuable one. It does a lot of things. It reduces anxiety, it sets a target, and it helps you stay focused on a given path.”

Every unexpected outcome is an opportunity to acclimate and grow. If you are open to feedback and flexible, your product will keep improving, and your business will continue to grow.

What happens if your product starts getting bad reviews? You can either get upset or see this as an opportunity to change. As Boyce puts it, “that string of bad reviews is going to have far-reaching repercussions that are going to require you to look at that plan and adapt. Right now, you have the opportunity to reach out to customers who are unhappy and solve their problems. You can solve the problem with your factory.” Turn bad reviews into learning lessons. Work with your customers to make them happy and a fan of your product. If you keep improving, so will your reviews.

Once you have an implemented plan, Boyce suggests reviewing your budget to actuals and every month. By doing this, you can avoid any future mistakes and figure out a way to overcome them. For more information about variance analysis (budget vs. actuals), watch the video below:

Attracting Customers

Your customers are the reason why you’re selling your product in the first place. It is your job to convince them that you are offering something that can improve their life. According to Boyce, simply listing your product’s features isn’t going to cut it. It’s your responsibility to assure them that you have what they’re looking for.

While referencing a video that his co-author, Rick Cesari, created for a ping-pong table that he was selling, Boyce advised: “You want to give a consumer every opportunity to say yes to you so they can add to cart. We went from a commodity … to brand messaging that said, ‘we’re here to bring friends and family together.’ That’s what consumers want. They want a product like a ping pong table where they can play with their family and make memories.”

Boyce states that after Cesari created a benefit-oriented video for the ping pong table, they saw a 400% increase in engagement and sales. As he puts it, “features tell, benefits sell.”

Suffice to say, once you create an emotional connection with your customers and tell your story, you can better impact their lives. As a third-party seller, you have a unique advantage that Amazon and 1P sellers don’t. You can control your brand’s message and the way that your products are presented to your customers. As Boyce states in “The Amazon Jungle,” “Brand-building is one area where Amazon and its minions fall short.”

Lead from the Front Lines

In “The Amazon Jungle,” Boyce details another important lesson he learned during his time in the Marines, “Start with the infantry because every Marine is an infantry Marine.”

As he puts it: “If you’re going to ask your Marines to do something, you sure as hell better be willing to do it yourself. You’ve got to lead from the front. And that tightens the culture. It circles everyone around a common goal and gets everyone rowing in the same direction. You can’t expect somebody else to do something that you aren’t willing to do. That’s the golden rule, right? Treat everyone else as if you would treat yourself?”

In this statement, Boyce brings up a fair point that all sellers need to consider. How would you feel as a customer? Would you be disappointed with your product, or is it something to be proud of? Are you delivering your customer the product they expect? The bottom line is your product is for your customer, and your customer deserves to be treated the same way you wish to be treated.

Duplicate Products

When asked about product innovation and duplicate products on Amazon’s marketplace, Boyce’s advice is to make your products stand out. Making your product unique or just a little different can help you stand out against lower-priced items. He advises, “you need to be able to stand out with your main image, your main product on the search results page. There are seventy-some listings, and you’ve got to be different. You need to stand out and capture people’s attention.”

How do you present your product in a way that grabs your viewer’s attention? According to Boyce, it can be something as simple as picking out a new color scheme for your product and making it pop. When choosing colors for an air hockey table he sold, he chose orange and blue because it was different from what was offered.

His key message is, “different is better than better.”

If your product has similar competition, you can still succeed by adding your style to make the product different. By showing your customers a piece of yourself, you can make a huge impact and emotional connection.

Discover What Works for You

Stay true to yourself when considering what direction to take and what you want your company to represent. What works for your brand? Don’t follow what others are doing if it doesn’t feel right or takes you in a different direction. Boyce states, “I tell my story in my book because it is authentic to me. I want to encourage every brand to tell their own story and ask themselves, what does my story mean for my brand?”

To be successful, you need to reflect on who you are and why your product is important. If you only chase trends, you’re not building a sustainable and authentic brand.

Five Essential Tips for Finding a Winning Product

During our interview, Boyce shed some more light on these five valuable tips.

1. Find a Product that Moves You

Boyce asks why we can’t follow both our passion and what we’re good at?

He states, “I know a friend who was a college rower, and she uses these indoor rowing machines that leave her wanting more. Could she use her experience of rowing on the water at a collegiate level to work with a product designer to come up with a rowing machine that better replicates her experience on the water? Probably. She’s passionate about it, and she knows it. She has an innate knowledge of what that should feel like, so that would be interesting.”

Boyce further elaborates by stating, “anything that you have a base knowledge of that goes deeper than the average person, I think is a great way to identify a potential product. If you’re passionate about it, all the better. Because you know what? Starting your own company is hard. So, it’s not a bad thing to be passionate about it. You just have to do some of these other steps and jump in with both feet.”

2. Be Certain There is a Market for Your Product

Market size matters. You can be extremely passionate about your product, but if there is no demand for it, your product will fail.

When first starting, Boyce developed an air hockey table with foldable legs. After investing about $100,000 into this product, he realized that it was a flop.

If he could change one thing, Boyce says, “If I had been smart, I would have gone to Amazon and used the 999-checkout trick, which is how I came up with this method. Now there are chrome extensions like Jungle Scout and Helium 10 that can do it. But I would go in there, and I would look at all their I.P. tables, and I would see how much in sales the Amazon consumer was buying things like folding tables with folding legs, and I would have seen that there are none.”

To employ the 999-checkout trick Boyce refers to above, follow these steps:

  1. Add your product to your shopping cart
  2. Select ten or more items for quantity
  3. Input 999 units

If there are less than 999 units, Amazon will display a message showing the number of units available from the selected seller. For a video tutorial of this process, watch the video below:

3. Test to See if the Market is Big Enough

As described above, you need to consider your customer base. Ask yourself the following questions: Does your customer base need this product? Is your product attractive enough to entice customers? Are people purchasing similar products? Another great method to try out is test ads. Are people responding to your ads or visiting your product’s website?

4. Find Flaws, That’s Where the Opportunity Is

Your greatest opportunities exist where the market is. Study the best-selling products and read their reviews.

When doing your analysis, Boyce says, “What are the problems consumers who buy these products have? And then when you introduce yours, you work with your product designer and make sure you solve that problem. And then, when you confirm through Q.A. and Q.C. that your product has solved this problem for consumers, that is your number one benefit.”

Again, focus on your customer’s needs. Figure out what their problems are and fix them. Taking this simple step will put you bounds ahead of your competition.

5. Hit the Sweet Spot

In the opinion of Boyce, this step is the key to success. He states, “You may not be the best seller in your category, but you don’t want to be the lowest seller. But you know, you may not be the lowest price. It’s really hard to do. You can’t compete on price with Amazon. But if you can create enough value and you make something that’s different and unique and pops off that search results page, that when people get it.”

Having a different product can be enough to set you apart from your competition. That’s how you reach that sweet spot.

A Necessary Evil

Although Amazon can be difficult to navigate and figure out, it’s important that you, as an entrepreneur, use it for your products. As Boyce states in his book, “A sale is a sale, regardless of its point of origin.” As a seller, you must adapt to the ways that Amazon has changed and restructured retail.

Refusing to list your product on Amazon’s marketplace can be a financial decision that can negatively impact your business and brand. In 2020 alone, Amazon generated a net income of over $21 billion. Choosing to ignore Amazon as a possible option may delay your brand’s growth and exposure.

Millions of entrepreneurs have discovered, established a brand, and sold products on Amazon. A feat that has changed the futures of many of them. Often, your success on Amazon can be a cursor for your success off the site. In 2019, a study performed by Forbes showed that 89% of consumers would rather buy their products from Amazon than any other e-commerce site.

What does this mean? It means that compared to other platforms, Amazon has established more trust with online consumers.

Furthermore, consumers are reporting that they use Amazon for purchasing inspiration. A survey conducted by Wunderman Thompson Commerce (WTC) in 2020 showed that 1 out of every five consumers used Amazon and search engines as inspiration for their product purchases.

The reach that Amazon has over its growing customer base is only intensifying. In “The Amazon Jungle,” Boyce reports that almost 50% of people searching for a product begin their search on Amazon. Even if customers do not originate their search on Google, search engines still list Amazon products as search results, driving even more traffic to the site.

Amazon’s reach doesn’t stop there. Every day we are bombarded with Amazon ads on various platforms. In 2021 alone, Amazon’s ad revenue is projected to reach $26 billion. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon has already surpassed 10% of the United States’ Digital Ad Market Share.

With the help of Boyce’s book, you can launch your selling career and become one of Amazon’s successful third-party sellers. By orienting your brand around your customer and following his advice, you will have the upper hand against most of the new and experienced sellers on Amazon’s marketplace.

Below, we further discuss some of the advantages that Amazon can offer third-party sellers.

Customer Service

A huge advantage that Amazon brings for both its customers and sellers is its customer service. As a new third-party seller, handling returns and invoices can take up a ton of time. Additionally, a customer can order your product and have it delivered to their doorstep at lightning speed. There are very few retailers that can compete with Amazon’s unrivaled delivery times.

It goes without saying that Amazon’s customer service is extraordinary. If a customer is unhappy with a product, they can easily print a shipping label and return it. In recent years, Amazon has also spread return kiosks throughout the United States, enabling customers the ability to physically drop off their returns with ease.

Amazon also provides customers with a platform to voice their frustrations. As previously discussed, these reviews can help your business greatly.

Easy Access

With Amazon’s integrated digital presence, customers can access your products from several different platforms. With a quick download of Amazon’s app, customers can scroll through products anywhere at any time of the day. This offers 3P sellers extraordinary opportunities to showcase their products and reach potential customers across multiple channels.

Customer Education

Amazon’s product pages allow you to showcase all the features and benefits your product offers. It also grants you access to your customers. If a customer makes a complaint or asks a question, you can easily chime in and provide them with additional information.

Furthermore, Amazon allows your customers to communicate with each other. Frequently, having a simple answer can change someone from a potential customer into a lifelong advocate for your product.

Conclusion

Whether you love it or hate it, Amazon is here to stay. As a seller, it is important to weigh the potential benefits that Amazon can bring to your business.

Whether you are just starting or are an established seller, Boyce’s book will provide you with the insights necessary to empower you to take your next step towards building a sustainable and respected brand that outrivals your competition.

View this article in the December 2021 issue of MP.