Amazon is a behemoth that only continues to grow. Although Amazon has had an adverse effect on brick-and-mortar retail, there's no denying that it's a valuable platform for manufacturers and brands to sell their goods. In 2017, doing business with Amazon is a must.
The selling part is easy. Consultants can help with sales, planning and forecasting. But the sale isn't official until the check is in the bank. The headaches for the merchandise supplier community involve the management of actual shipments, tight shipping windows, confusion with invoices and purchase orders, EDI problems, packaging and routing errors, and high return volume. These problems on the backend lead to chargebacks that cut into already razor-thin profit margins.
Most headaches can be traced back to a lack of communication with Amazon. Unless your sales are measured in the tens of millions, it's darn near impossible to speak with someone. It's even difficult to reach someone by e-mail.
According to feedback we've received, suppliers are sent to Amazon Vendor Central and left to fend for themselves. If there's an issue with chargebacks or requirements, they open a case ID in Vendor Central. If they get a response at all, it's often a scripted answer that doesn't address the specific problem. In many cases, multiple case ID's are filed for the same problem that ultimately goes unresolved.
Of course, Vendor Central is always changing, which means suppliers have to keep up with those changes. I've compared it to the Borg aliens from Star Trek that would change forms in pursuit of perfection and try to force other species to assimilate.
"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile."
To be fair, the Borg are bad guys. We don't view Amazon as a bad guy. We just want merchandise suppliers to be successful at selling their products through Amazon. Actually, RVCF has spent several years trying to get anyone from Amazon to support our efforts to help suppliers deal with them.
Unfortunately, Amazon, to date, has not expressed an interest in participating with our group. As we see it, Amazon considers itself a platform – perhaps a technology company, but not a conventional retailer. Now, it's up to us to work together and figure this thing out.
That's why we're launching the RVCF E-commerce Working Group, which will focus on Amazon right out of the gates. Our first meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 10 during the RVCF Spring Conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA, just minutes from downtown Washington, DC.
Topics to be discussed include but are not limited to:
Shortages (and coordinating chargebacks)
Deduction and Dispute Resolution
The goal of the RVCF E-commerce Working Group will be to bring industry stakeholders together, identify best practices and a path of least resistance, determine what the perfect order looks like, and clarify the process from the time an order is generated until a check arrives.
That's the key. There are plenty of consultants, most of whom are former "Amazonians" who can help you on the sales side. But again, selling is the easy part. The challenges facing the supplier community involve shipping goods and getting paid. Nobody likes to talk about that part of the equation. Well, we're planning to get into the dirty details of every transaction so we can chart a clear path forward for suppliers who want to sell through Amazon.
But we can't do it alone. We need your support and participation so we can come up with real world solutions to real world problems. You can either operate in a bubble, hire a consultant, and hope you come up with the right answers, or we can collaborate and lift up the supplier community as a whole.
The real work gets underway when the RVCF E-commerce Working Group meets for the first time at the RVCF Spring Conference on May 10 in our nation's capitol. Moving forward, we'll be holding meetings on regular basis. To get participate in the kick-off of the working group, register for the conference. I also encourage you to contact Evie Hooper as she'll assist you with effectively involving yourself in the group's efforts.
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