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How to sell on Amazon, eBay, and Wal-Mart: from the Ultimate Insider


Amazon logo display on mobile phone screen

Why and how to sell products on Amazon

Do you want to know how to sell on Amazon, strategically? And how to sell on Wal-Mart’s e-commerce marketplace? And at the same time how to sell on eBay and your choice of dozens of category specific marketplaces?

Hear from Trent Lee, current CEO of Marketplace for Acenda, Inc. and former executive at Amazon, Wal-Mart, Zulily, Tophatter, and Mercent. Trent's spent a long and successful career helping brands and online retailers identify the best way to sell on marketplaces. He was with Amazon for the initial launch of Amazon's marketplace, and understands selling on marketplaces isn't a one size fits all solution.

If you want to know how to sell products on Amazon, and you want to do it in a way where you actually make money and retain control of your brand, you should ask Trent. But now you don't have to, because we already did.

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Here's a teaser for you!

If you are a smaller brand, and you've accepted that you have to be on Amazon, what should you do to control your brand? How do you use Amazon without being used by Amazon?

What I would do is, I wouldn't necessarily sell products on my own website. The credit card transaction fees, customer service, all of that is so expensive now that it just doesn't make sense. What I would do is use Amazon affiliate programs. So, when the customer comes to your site, likes everything, they want to buy. And once they've clicked it sends to an Amazon listing of your product, and they finish the transaction on Amazon. What's great about this is that Amazon pays you a referral fee for selling your own product.

Did you like that? Then read on for the full interview!

Jump To

  1. Trent's background
  2. Why and how to sell on Amazon
  3. What you need to know about product photos for Amazon
  4. The best way to sell on Amazon as a small brand
  5. About Acenda, the multi-channel e-commerce platform for suppliers
  6. On the future of marketplaces

Trent's background

Trent Lee

  • Trent Lee
  • Co-Founder & CEO at
    Acenda Marketplace

You've got quite the resume. For our readers who aren't already familiar, what's your background with eCom marketplaces?

I started my career at Amazon.com back in 2003 when they launched their marketplace. It seems so long ago, but I was there for about eight and a half years working on many different projects, mainly launching brands and companies on Amazon.com Marketplace.

Pretty much everything you see on Amazon I had some degree of my hand in there.

Through the years, I've worked on different programs like the Kindle digital content acquisition, Amazon Payments, to Amazon International. Pretty much everything you see on Amazon I had some degree of my hand in there. After that, went to a technology service company out of Seattle called Mercent. They provide a data feed for a brand to get their product information onto Amazon and other marketplaces. So, a different side of eCommerce, helping brands to maximize their sales potential on different channels.

I was there for about three and a half years, and then went to work at Zulily.com running their business development for about a year. After that, I went to Walmart.com here in San Francisco, and Jet.com, to run their enterprise business development brand acquisition. After that, went to Tophatter.com, which is an auction based marketplace. Similar to early days of eBay.

Now, I'm with Acenda.com. It's a technology and service company that helps brands reach customers, whether it's through their own website, or through marketplaces.

That's pretty impressive. You're starting with Amazon all the way back when they were basically a bookseller. And then all the way to a company that, if I understand correctly, provides an API to connect to 100+ different marketplaces. That's pretty crazy.

Yeah, and that's what's so different about Acenda, the current company I'm working with, is that it's not just "we're getting your products into marketplaces," we're also a platform just like Shopify. If you wanted to set up your own website we can do that for you. And also, we can be your platform for your own standalone website. Or if you want to create your own marketplace we can help with that as well. We're not tied down to one technology or service. There's many differences between us and our competitors with our technology and services—also our fees are quite different from our competitors as well.

cardboard robot built of amazon.co.jp boxes, photo via unsplash

Why and how to sell on Amazon

How do you think a growing brand should decide whether or not they should be on a marketplace, and which ones they should pick? What should they really be looking to do with a marketplace?

Those early days at Amazon calling on brands to partner with Amazon, or get their products on Amazon, it was interesting times. There was a lot of pushback: they didn't want to cannibalize their own customer base, they wanted to keep the transactions on their own website. A variety of reasons why they should not be partnering with Amazon.

Up to 70% of all product searches online for consumers start on Amazon. Those days of searching for products on Google, or Yahoo, or other search engines, those days are over.

But, you see how significant Amazon is in the eCommerce space. The amount of traffic, and the amount of sales volume that flows through Amazon… even if you're not looking to gain revenue out of Amazon, it's more of a marketing play. There's so many eyeballs that search through Amazon, I think it's up to now 70% of all product searches online for consumers start on Amazon. Those days of searching for products on Google, or Yahoo, or other search engines, those days are over.

That Prime seal matters sooo much.

Even if you're not looking to gain incremental revenue through Amazon or other marketplaces, you should look at it as a marketing opportunity to get eyeballs on your product.

Yeah. And then, all the product reviews that people leave, their feedback. I do that myself. I search on Amazon, look at all the product reviews if I've never bought it before. And then I determine whether I want to purchase the product or not. So, again, even if you're not looking to gain incremental revenue through Amazon or other marketplaces, you should look at it as a marketing opportunity to get eyeballs on your product on those channels. Certain marketplaces do better than others. After you're talking about Amazon, eBay, and then Wal-Mart, everything kind of drops off significantly as far as sales volume, traffic, and all that. So, you've got to determine which channels are the best for you.

Do you think most people should try to be on those three?

It depends on what type of products, price point, who your core customer demographic is—try to match to that. I know Macy's is really expanding their assortment, their version of Marketplace, with their drop ship program. I would target Macy's.

Apart from just selecting the right marketplaces, what should I do to sell smarter on marketplaces? What should I really be considering in order to maximize opportunities with marketplaces?

You've got to control your brand. Have your own trademark, license. You've got to have all that before you get onto the marketplace. The downfall with Amazon is they have two or three million sellers, and only about 10,000 sellers do more than a million dollars or more a year in sales volume. So, you're talking about millions of small mom and pop guys, and the majority of them are from China. And there's a whole lot of fraud, counterfeit, fraudulent business practices that go on. And so you really have to protect your brand, be vigilant.

If you're thinking you need only one part-time person managing the Amazon business, that's not going to fly.

If you're thinking you need only one part-time person managing the Amazon business, that's not going to fly, it's not going to be successful. You've got to have multiple people on marketplace channels, and managing it properly. Customer service. And then you've got to start looking at advertising to play on Amazon product listing ads, stuff like that to get better search results within Amazon.

What you need to know about product photos for Amazon

For product listing ads, how important are product images? What photos should my product have on Amazon and other marketplaces?

You know, that's the first thing that the customer sees. Unlike seeing things on a physical level, the image has to convey exactly what the product is all about. You know, those days of just having one image for a product, those days are over.

You need to have multiple images, multiple angles. Not just that, the actual product functionality, you need to try to capture that in the image as well. And then, any accessories. If it takes batteries, and everything else that the product needs to function properly, again, you need to capture all of that in the image.

An image comes into play not just explaining what you're buying, but who you're buying it from.

And you need to take photos as professionally as possible. When you look at a professional photo, between that and some Joe Schmoe taking a photo from his phone, and uploading it, you can tell the difference. And customers know that difference, too. Whether they're buying from a reputable business company, or they're just buying from someone who's selling the products out of their garage. An image comes into play not just explaining what you're buying, but who you're buying it from. You know, who is taking the time to list their products properly on Amazon or other marketplaces.

Do you think you should have different style images for different marketplaces?

Not necessarily. But each marketplace has their own image requirements, whether it's certain color background, to certain sizes. "You can't have real people wearing the product, you've got to have it on a mannequin," stuff like that. But you've certainly got to know and understand each of the marketplace requirements that they have for images.

When you're working with these different marketplaces, have you ever had analytics that actually demonstrated levels of success based on imagery?

They have that data. It's not something they share externally. But, on Amazon, if you have video for your product it absolutely helps in conversion.

man boxing package in package in startup office, photo via unsplash

The best way to sell on Amazon as a small brand

If you are a smaller brand, and you've accepted that you have to be on Amazon, what should you do to control your brand? How do you use Amazon without being used by Amazon?

What I would do is, I wouldn't necessarily sell products on my own website. The credit card transaction fees, customer service, all of that is so expensive now that it just doesn't make sense. What I would do is use Amazon affiliate programs. So, when the customer comes to your site, likes everything, they want to buy. And once they've clicked it sends to an Amazon listing of your product, and they finish the transaction on Amazon. What's great about this is that Amazon pays you a referral fee for selling your own product.

Amazon pays you a referral fee for selling your own product.

Also, if you're competing with other brands for search results, or product placements, you get a better placement if you also advertise on Google PLA as well. Because Amazon, they don't need to advertise on Google PLA, Google Shopping, and all that. So, they give you a better advantage if you do and then send the traffic back to Amazon. So, there's just a lot of things you can do to leverage Amazon. Save money on your business operations for your own website. And then, basically let Amazon pay you for all the traffic, and the sales that you send to them.

About Acenda, the multi-channel e-commerce platform for suppliers

Back to Acenda, where you're Co-Founder and CEO. You said Acenda is a platform, so it can be someone's storefront itself. And it can connect to marketplaces, and then you can also use it to create your own marketplace?

Yeah. Hypothetical example: let's say Mango, the Spanish clothing company, decided, "Hey, we want to set up our website to allow other companies to create listings, even though we don't buy their inventory or products." Because it makes sense. Like maybe you sell makeup, for example, and see a correlation with selling makeup and clothing online. Our platform lets the beauty product connect with our API, and then send live inventory, pricing, imaging, all that stuff. Then it surfaces on Mango.com. And we do the transaction as well.

So if I was shopping on Mango, maybe there's an opportunity to bundle it with Sephora makeup, or something like that. I could just add it to the cart, and you would be the API between them?

Yep.

That's cool.

Where we are different is, some of our competitors, they're only dealing with API. But there's a whole other side where all the dropshippers use a program called EDI. Our competitors either work with EDI or API—they don't work with both. It's just not an easy thing to do. But we do both. If you use flat-file, a spreadsheet, whatever it is, our system can handle it.

Our competitors either work with EDI or API—they don't work with both. It's just not an easy thing to do. But we do both. If you use flat-file, a spreadsheet, whatever it is, our system can handle it.

A lot of channels, like Macy's for example, they only do EDI. And then Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart, they do API. That's some pretty big, significant channels with different backend requirements. If you're a brand, and you want to participate in all those different channels, then you might have to use two, three different companies. Which just makes it hard to do.

So, using us, you would only need us in order to deal with the ten, twenty different channels you ultimately choose.

Who do you think should consider using Acenda? Is there a specific type of seller it works best for?

We try to stay away from resellers. What I mean by that is you don't own the actual brand, you're basically a wholesale distributor who sells many different brands. That's not our thing. I don't think that's the longevity of eCommerce success, and it's been that way for a while now. Sellers are definitely starting to recognize it. If you're the brand owner, those are the guys that we want to help to maximize their sales effort online.

On the future of marketplaces

Where do you think marketplaces are headed?

I think those days of different companies coming up and trying to compete with Amazon and taking a lion's share, those days are over. I mean, they're so far ahead. You have to do something drastic for someone to switch from Amazon to some other channels to shop their products online. So, where I think it's headed, and it's been heading that way for a while, is specialized vertical marketplaces or channels. Whether it's solely focused on, let's say, shoes, or jewelry, or fashion, and you do it well and try to be the best in that vertical category, I think that's where you're going to succeed. Otherwise, you're taking such a small pie from Amazon that it's not even worth it.

Where I think it's headed, and it's been heading that way for a while, is specialized vertical marketplaces or channels... Otherwise, you're taking such a small pie from Amazon that it's not even worth it.

I'm thinking about the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas every year in January. You know, it's got such a loyal following, both on the manufacturing side and consumer side. If someone could create a marketplace on top of CES.com, where maybe you'd start off by selling all the new exclusive products that come out, that they show during the show. I think something like that can make significant strides in competing with Amazon. And then, you look at other vertical shows around Vegas, like SEMA for automotive. If you can create an automotive marketplace on top of SEMA, you would do so well. Same thing with Magic for fashion, JCK for jewelry. I could go on and on about every vertical show that happens every year. I think that's the route you'll start to see.

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