Amazon is Drawing Increased Attention as Antitrust Chatter Grows

In the world of online retailing, Amazon is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. The one-time bookseller has become a global juggernaut, allowing consumers to shop for everything under the sun from the comfort of their own home.

With annual revenue approaching $400 billion, it may seem as though it’s Amazon’s world and we’re just living in it. Earlier this year, a group of independent-business organizations joined forces to take aim at monopolies, with Amazon at the dead center of their target.

Small Businesses Feel the Squeeze

Over the years, Congress has enacted various antitrust laws designed to maintain a level playing field. The purported goal of such legislation is to prevent monopolies and promote a competitive marketplace.

In reality, these laws are only as strong as their enforcement. Larger companies have the means to play Goliath to the smaller companies’ David. In 2020, Amazon alone spent approximately $18 million to lobby against stricter antitrust measures.

It may seem as though fighting the retail giants would be a tall enough order. Adding insult to injury, many small businesses feel that industry organizations such as National Retail Federation (NRF) pay lip service to the idea of equal representation while quietly favoring their largest members.

Standing Up for Market Equality

In a proactive effort to regain some equitable conditions, more than 20 trade and business groups formed a coalition under the name, “Small Business Rising.” Members include organizations such as the National Grocers Association (NGA), the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a vocal critic of Amazon’s dominance.

Small Business Rising announced their formation and goals in an April 2021 press release. Amazon was specifically cited by name several times, making it clear what the organization sees as one of their biggest obstacles. As Stacy Mitchell, ILSR co-director stated, “concentrated market power” is the toughest challenge facing today’s small business owner.

The organization’s objectives call on policymakers to do the following:

*Break up tech monopolies, such as Amazon, to prevent them from cornering the online market.

* Add teeth to antitrust laws by making them stronger and more enforceable.

* Put a stop to mega-mergers and set higher criteria for regular mergers.

In addition, Small Business Rising is leveraging the relationships local business owners have with power players in their respective hometowns. Members are organizing meetings, seeking out media coverage and waging letter-writing campaigns.

The Rich Get Richer

The unprecedented conditions of 2020 served to magnify the gap between Amazon and other e-commerce businesses. While COVID restrictions created a surge in online shopping, small online retailers faced corresponding supply chain and distribution difficulties, making it hard for them to accommodate demand.

On the other hand, Amazon was able to draw on its significant resources to weather the storm and emerge stronger than ever. The company spent a reported $4 billion on “incremental COVID-19-related costs,” enabling it to successfully adjust its processes and policies.

In the face of mounting criticism during the last few years, Amazon has tried to brand itself as a valuable ally to small businesses, especially with Amazon Marketplace, its third-party online sales platform. Companies have responded by pointing out how Amazon uses prohibitive fees and data access for competitive advantage.

Grow Your Online Business with Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics

Are Amazon’s arbitrary and restrictive fees and policies helping or hurting your e-commerce business? Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics works with you by offering a full assortment of services tailored to fit your needs.

Contact us to learn more about our flexible and cost-effective fulfillment solutions, including our innovative Amazon replenishment warehousing service.

Does Amazon’s “New Normal” Come with New Problems?

Fulfillment Company Warehouse

In 2005, when Amazon debuted their revolutionary Prime membership program, the centerpiece was unlimited free two-day shipping. As Jeff Bezos declared in the announcement, it was “all-you-can-eat express shipping.”

In an effort to remain the gold standard of online shopping, many items have since been upgraded to next-day shipping. But as with many companies, Amazon has been forced to adapt as the pandemic altered the retailing landscape. What does Amazon’s “new normal” mean for the sellers who rely on their fulfillment services?

Fulfillment by Amazon: The Answer for Third-Party Sellers?

A year after Prime began, Amazon upped the ante by creating Fulfillment by Amazon. This program allowed third-party sellers to store their inventory in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, where the products were cataloged and shipped to customers. FBA sellers also benefited by having their products eligible for Prime.

How powerful is FBA? Research found that three-quarters of Amazon’s top 100,000 sellers utilize the program. The number jumps to an astounding 90 percent for sellers based outside the United States

How the Pandemic Changed Amazon and Online Retailing

While Amazon was already the king of online retailing, demand became even higher as the onset of the pandemic caused widespread closure of brick-and-mortar shops. The first blow to third-party sellers came in March 2020, when the company cut off inbound FBA shipments of everything but high-priority products such as medical supplies.

The essentials-only mandate eased up in July 2020, but that didn’t mean FBA was back to “normal.” Quantity restrictions went into effect, limiting the amount of warehouse space that would be allocated to new products or those with more modest sales history.

One of the benefits of FBA is that products could flow through the warehouse and out to customers on a consistent and reliable basis. Some sellers found their inventory limits didn’t match demand, causing out-of-stock situations and hampering their ability to grow.

Inventory Limits by Any Other Name

In an announcement dated April 22, 2021, Amazon proclaimed that they had listened to feedback from their sellers and were removing limits based on ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number, which is assigned to every item in the company’s catalog). The bad news? Limits were now being set at the account level.

Despite Amazon’s efforts to play this up as a positive change, sellers were devastated. As one explained, instead of impacting only a few of their items, the reduction in space now had to accommodate his entire product offering. Adding insult to injury, the change took effect on the same day as the announcement, leaving sellers scrambling to conform to these new restrictions.

The Fallout Continues

While the Amazon customer experience remains relatively the same, it’s a whole different story behind the scenes. Inventory limits and other changes, such as long-term storage fees being charged monthly instead of annually, make it clear that Amazon has positioned FBA for short-term supply.

Sellers no longer have the convenience of using FBA as a one-stop solution for their storage and shipping needs. More and more are looking already to turn to additional third-party logistics companies for backup warehousing. They also face the uncertainty of knowing that Amazon can and will change the rules with little or no notice.

Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics: Working to Promote Your Success

Do you sometimes feel like David fighting Goliath? Our Amazon replenishment warehousing service provides a cost-effective solution that’s responsive to your particular needs.

Features include:

• Lower storage fees

• Climate-controlled warehouse space

• Amazon-compliant labeling, packing and prep

• Software that interfaces with Amazon as well as the industry’s top shopping cart systems

Contact the team at Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics today to learn more and loosen the grip Amazon has on your ability to grow.

How Can You Compete Against Amazon

Yes, when it comes to ecommerce, Amazon is the proverbial elephant in the room. Ignoring the online giant isn’t going to make it disappear, so the only business you have control over is your own. Do you wave the white flag or dig in and fight?

The good news is that, with a little creativity and skillful marketing, you can successfully compete against Amazon. Incorporate these valuable tips to reinvigorate your digital storefront and your ecommerce fulfillment services will be running on all cylinders in 2020.

1. Refine Your Focus

Amazon’s blessing and curse is that it wants to be all things to all people. As a small- or mid-sized online business, you have the flexibility to find your company’s specific niche and learn that segment inside and out. Once you’re established as an authority, you’ll become the go-to source for your product offering.

2. Leverage Content Marketing and Social Media

Amazon is a faceless behemoth and they do nothing to counteract that image. Use content marketing and social media to personalize your company and forge a connection with customers. Start a blog, share interesting stories and articles, run a contest, post pictures and videos. Be sure to track results and fine-tune your strategy based on what’s working and what isn’t.

3. Optimize Customer Experience

Can you even remember the last time Amazon made any changes to their website? Product pages are busy, clunky and boring, regardless of the device. A sleek, streamlined, user-friendly interface that’s consistent across all platforms and devices goes a long way toward making your company stand out. By the way, if you haven’t optimized for mobile traffic yet, what are you waiting for?

4. Don’t Fall Into the Price Trap

Some retailers make the mistake of lowering prices as a knee-jerk response to competition. Almost no one has the same economies of scale found at Amazon, so slashing prices is a losing proposition. Memberships, limited-quantity items and customization are just a few ways you can make shopping your storefront feel exclusive, which is a more effective way of differentiating yourself.

5. Offer Rewards and Loyalty Programs

Did you know that, until Apple Pay finally edged it out in late 2019, Starbucks had the most widely-used mobile payment app? Part of the reason is because users earn points toward free Starbucks food and beverages. Programs that offer discount codes, special offers and similar perks to frequent shoppers or members are a reliable way to build loyalty and encourage repeat sales.

6. Create a Subscription Service

According to a study by top management consulting firm Bain & Company in conjunction with Harvard Business School, just a five percent increase in customer retention can boost profits anywhere from 25 to 95 percent. A subscription service is easy to implement and brings in steady revenue while reducing costs. As a bonus, repeat customers are more likely to make referrals.

7. Provide Top-Level Shipping and Delivery

Thanks to Amazon Prime, online shoppers expect prompt, free shipping and convenient delivery. While it may not be feasible for you to offer 100 percent free shipping, you should provide at least some type of option, such as free delivery for a minimum total purchase. Tracking details and a no-fuss return policy should also be included in your shipping and delivery program.

Medallion: Ecommerce Fulfillment Services for Today and the Future

Are you looking for ecommerce fulfillment services that will grow along with your business? Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics offers a full range of services that are flexible enough to scale according to your needs.

Contact us to learn more, including information about our Amazon replenishment warehousing service. We now have a warehouse in Boston, Massachusetts in addition to our Los Angeles, California location to serve your need for fast delivery nationwide.

Website Chatbots: What to Know to Embrace This Emerging Technology

In the United States, more than 50 percent of millennials and Gen Xers have interacted with chatbots, making these conversational programs one of today’s hottest eCommerce trends. But in reality, Siri’s and Alexa’s “parents,” Eliza and Parry, actually date back to the mid-60s and early 70s.

Simulated human conversation may not be new, but thanks to modern advancements in technology, these programs can now be integral parts of your marketing and branding strategies. Our fulfillment warehouse experts share what you need to know to successfully incorporate website chatbots in 2019.

Chatbots: Personalizing the Online Experience

Real-time interaction is a major advantage brick-and-mortar stores still have over virtual storefronts. Nearly one-third of online shoppers cite difficulty in getting answers to simple questions as their biggest frustration with eCommerce.

Chatbots are uniquely equipped to handle common customer service inquiries. Once you import your company’s FAQs, chat history and other relevant information, a chatbot uses the data to “train” itself. As the chatbot interacts with visitors to your website, the experiences serve to further refine its performance.

Need more reasons why you should be using chatbots?

• More than 50 percent of the participants in a Facebook survey said they’re more likely to shop with a business that provides chat services.

• Global research and advisory firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of engagement with eCommerce sites will be conducted via self-service options and chatbots.

• Surveys by Oracle, one of the leading multinational computer technology companies, indicate 80 percent of businesses currently use chatbots or are making plans to by 2020.

Value Add-On for Improving Productivity

Customer service is a natural application for chatbots, but their usefulness doesn’t end there. In addition to providing information, chatbots have the ability to gather data more fluidly than human agents.

• Chatbots can be programmed to ask targeted questions in order to qualify potential leads.

• Hard-to-navigate websites are another top source of frustration for online customers. Chatbots direct shoppers to the proper area of your website simply by asking what they’re looking for and posing other leading questions.

• Use of chatbots frees your staff to work on more urgent tasks, reducing operational costs while maximizing effectiveness. Chatbots are also available 24/7 without being subject to down time or attrition.

Chatbot Guidelines

1. No matter how sophisticated a chatbot program may be it’s meant to supplement human interaction, not replace it. Proper use of chatbots includes programming them to “know” when a customer should be directed to a human customer service agent.

2. While consistency is one of the advantages of chatbots, the programs are not one-size-fits-all. Chatbots are designed to be fit the needs of a specific industry, so a chatbot used by a healthcare organization will not be the same one you would want for your eCommerce business.

3. Start simple. Create a chatbot to handle basic customer requests that form the bulk of your customers’ interactions. Once the chatbot has been operational for a while, review the chat logs to detect patterns and trends, and then decide if you want to add further refinements or develop new chatbots to handle other tasks.

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Think of chatbots as a way to streamline basic business interactions, not add complicated and unnecessary bells and whistles.

Personalized Fulfillment Warehouse Services for a High-Tech World

Are you tired of fulfillment warehouse companies that treat you like nothing more than a number? At Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics, we consider ourselves a partner in your success, so your specific needs are our first priority.

Contact us to learn more about our cost-effective, flexible and scalable fulfillment warehouse services.

Subscription Box Services Lead the Way in DTC Brands

Subscription Boxes Work to Build Your Business

Over 25% of consumers are signed up for subscription box services. The industry now contains over 3,500 established box services worth roughly $10 billion. And, according to MultiChannelMerchant, 75% of DTC (direct to consumer) brands will offer subscription services by 2023. As this model becomes more popular, many brands are wondering if they should ride this wave with their own subscription boxes or supply their products to mixed or mystery boxes to attract new customers. At the same time, fulfillment partners need to tone up their skills and highlight their capabilities in this area to attract and retain more clients.

Subscription boxes are beneficial to everyone, which is one of the reasons they have become so popular across the board. Here are some of the benefits.

Consumers

  • Save money
  • Try new products

The benefits to consumers are simple. Not only can they avoid running out of products that they use regularly and count on, they also save money on these products. Plus, they can discover new products in the samples included in the boxes. Sometimes the boxes are random selections, while other boxes are selected entirely by the consumer. Each has its own benefits. In a previous post, we explored some of the popular subscription box options.

Brands

  • Better order forecasting
  • Enhance customer loyalty
  • Improve bottom line

Order Forecasting
One of the challenges of retail in general is the predictability of order flow. Some brands experience a very regular pattern throughout the year, with peak season activity predictably raising revenue. But most brands struggle to anticipate the order volume. Forecasting isn’t easy, especially when it’s about the future.

The subscription box model helps regulate this flow by grouping orders and standardizing the activity among subscribed customers. Although some will cancel their subscriptions, the overall pattern will be more regular than businesses without subscription options, evening out cash flow and helping predict revenues month over month.

Back in the dark early days of e-commerce, a business would need to manually create reorder logic to ship to a customer each month. Today there are numerous services that provide this capability within existing e-commerce platforms, communicating with fulfillment partners as well as the customer and fully automating the process.

Customer Engagement and Loyalty

Subscribing is an act of loyalty. This model helps build a relationship between the customer and the brand. The consumer is more likely to purchase from the business that they deal with so regularly and the business has an easier time creating engagement for promotions or new items and cross-selling.

Building this level of trust paves the way for potential up-sells. Familiarity breeds customer loyalty in this case. And it’s worth noting that many of these brands would not have encountered or attracted the customers without the exposure to product trial that subscription boxes create.

Bottom Line Benefits

But subscription boxes can also save the brand money. By regulating order flow, there is more predictability in inventory, which prompts a leaner supply chain and reduces carrying costs. At the same time, the brand gains new customers and a more predictable order flow.

Fulfillment Services

  • Better forecasting
  • Fill niche services

Similarly, a fulfillment service that processes subscription boxes may be able to move inventory through more quickly, cutting down on stagnant inventory. Storage costs are rarely a significant source of revenue for a fulfillment house, but they can impact the brand’s bottom line. By filling orders and utilizing inventory in a more efficient manner, a brand can achieve JIT inventory (just-in-time inventory) and smooth the supply chain so there are less stuck-in-storage costs. This is good for everyone.

Shipping large volume for a client once per month helps a 3PL better predict staffing needs. 3PLs are accustomed to ramping up staff for peak holiday seasons, but when a client has a very successful sales promotion without warning, this can create a strain on the fulfillment operation. Again, subscription boxes help regulate this flow and make the peaks more predictable. Not only does the fulfillment partner benefit from more regular peak order volumes, but this improves efficiency which impacts the 3PL’s bottom line.

Much like the brands themselves, fulfillment partners can forecast revenue more easily with the more regulated pattern lent by subscriptions.

Fulfillment services who are adept at serving the subscription box market are prepared to handle the relevant logistics. These companies have worked out the kinks and are set up to provide service to this niche, which is growing rapidly. This expertise helps them provide quality service to their clients across a variety of fulfillment scenarios.

Conclusion

The subscription box model works well for all parties in the transaction.

  • Predictability (of delivery, order flow, revenue)
  • Efficiency
  • Relationships
  • Saves money (retail prices, inventory, supply chain, preparation)

If your business is not involved in subscription service, this may be a good time to research your options. Almost every brand has a product that fits in one or more of these boxes.

Sprocket Express is a division of Medallion Enterprises and owned by Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics.