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.

Online Returns are Growing Faster than E-Commerce Sales

Return Policy

We have been writing about return merchandise more and more throughout this year as the business of reverse logistics heats up to a record pace.

When 20% of your revenue is in a revolving door, forecasting can get pretty dicey. Add to that the overwhelming percentage of customers who expect easy, inexpensive return options, and it’s clear no business can overlook the power of reverse logistics.

Incidentally, if you like statistics, this article is going to be a fun read. The numbers on the subject are compelling, to say the least.

Breaking Returns Records

In the U.S. alone, Statista estimates return deliveries will cost $550 billion by 2020, an increase of more than 75% in four years. If that seems pretty bleak for the bottom line, let me point out that this figure does not include inventory loss or restocking fees.

The rate of returns is always higher during the winter holiday season. In 2019, UPS predicted an impressive number of returns even before Christmas Day even arrives… to the tune of 1.6 million per day. Merchandise is literally flying back and forth, changing hands constantly. For statistics fiends, this means there are more than 18 returns per second before the holidays are over.

January 2 is typically the biggest day for returns, forecast at nearly 2 million in 2019 (an increase of 26% in a single year). But online sales are only projected to increase by around 12% in 2019, which means returns are growing at twice the rate of online sales.

New Models

The current digi-centric commerce model relies on returns. According to Shopify, a full 90% of customers “highly value” free returns as a key factor in their buying decision. And nearly 70% avoid buying from companies that do not offer completely free returns.

Online sales returns are now averaging 20%, with 30% for holiday orders and even as high as 50% for “expensive items.” This is more than twice the rate of brick-and-mortar retails. Ironically, the physical storefronts often limit returns to re-saleable merchandise and simply put it back on the shelves.

Online Returns Are Another Species Entirely

Amazon encouraged a “no questions asked” returns policy, but has recently begun to address the overuse of the policy. Many of the returns cannot be resold and end up on liquidation sites. Small sellers on the giant platform may end up losing significant revenue if they cannot minimize returns, since they don’t always have the option to refuse and remain in good standing with Amazon. And with Fulfillment by Amazon sales, the decision is out of the seller’s hands entirely.

So what’s the bright side?

Benefits of Reverse Logistics

When handled correctly, reverse logistics can actually improve your bottom line as we described in our guest post at Storeya.

Planning for returns is actually quite similar to planning inventory requirements. If you address it ahead of time and have a strategy in place, there is nothing to fear. Although it’s hard to adjust the mind set, your business will benefit from letting go and embracing the inevitability of growing returns volume.

Get out ahead of the returns spiral by offering alternative programs. For instance, the Amazon wardrobe program allows customers to buy clothing with the intention of trying it on and only keeping what they like. It’s a perfect example of embracing the problem. This way, the business is prepared and can also charge accordingly.

Zappos is another company who made it a policy early on to accept returns, for free, all the time. And although they struggled operationally, the customer satisfaction rate was very high. They found that customers who returned the most also spent the most overall.

Reverse Logistics Strategies

Of course, the strategy will vary greatly depending on your business category. Apparel is the number one returned product category, with over 50% of these due to sizing issues. In this case, providing detailed sizing information up front can help cut down on the number of returns. And including accurate images from all angles, preferably with 3D viewing and human models helps too. Beyond that, designing a loyalty program around returns, similar to the examples above, mitigates the inventory loss and manages customer expectations.

For products that are easy to restock, such as DVDs and books, focus on the packaging and restocking needs and streamline the process so it makes a lesser impact. These items don’t expire and they rarely show wear, making it easier.

However, vitamin companies need to have a clear policy to avoid restocking expired (or close-to-expiring) products, which will only make a bad impression on the next customer to receive the item. This factor can impact the supply chain even earlier in the process, to manage inventory with longer shelf lives to allow for returns without gumming up the works.

Proactive Management

In some categories, it may make sense to build the cost of returns into product pricing. Since an average of 20% of merchandise will be returned, consider factoring this into the margins from the beginning. There are many elements to evaluate for improving reverse logistics flow.

Embracing the New Normal

The bottom line is returns are the new normal. How your business handles them can make all the difference between loss and gain.

When you are ready to explore options for fulfillment services, Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics and Sprocket Express are ready to step in and handle shipping and return processing.

How Fulfillment Service Impacts Customer Satisfaction

“If people are failing, they look inept. If people are succeeding, they look strong and good and competent. That’s the “halo effect.” Your first impression of a thing sets up your subsequent beliefs. If the company looks inept to you, you may assume everything else they do is inept.” – Daniel Kahneman

When you work with a fulfillment partner, it is easy to oversimplify their involvement. True, a fulfillment house picks and ships orders. How could that hurt customer satisfaction?

Final Hands

Simply put, they are the last hands to touch your products and they are responsible for delivering the final product to your customers. To see where you stand, ask yourself a few questions:

• When your customer receives an order, how does it look?

• What packaging materials are used?

• How quickly does it arrive?

• How is the tracking information transmitted?

• How are returns handled?

If you have not audited the results in a while, it may be time to check your fulfillment results. Check our Guide for Fine Tuning Fulfillment for more tips and remember: A great fulfillment provider increases customer satisfaction, while a poor provider can actually damage satisfaction.

Case Study

One of our clients moved from a different 3PL because of customer dissatisfaction. The business started receiving complaints that orders were arriving in junky old boxes with newspaper used as packaging. Many orders were incorrectly shipped, leading to reshipments and delays.

If customers had not reported these issues, our client would not have known the impression their former 3PL was leaving on the customers. You have spent time and money making a good impression on customers. The last thing you need is a lousy box or a packing error to erode your credibility.

Errors Undermine Credibility

Mistakes not only cost money and time, but they damage customer trust. Medallion and Sprocket Express have a 99.9%+ accuracy rate and exceptional customer service personnel. In the case study above, errors and complaints stopped after the business switched to Sprocket Express for fulfillment for East Coast servicing. Customers almost never received incorrect items again, and the clean uniform packaging made a great impression on the recipients. The client added a packing tape printed with their logo, for a complete branded solution.

Speedy Delivery

When we first opened, our CEO used to joke that someday customers would hit the “buy” button and then check the mailbox. Ironically, we’ve nearly reached that point!

With Amazon leading the charge, customers continually have a higher expectation of speed (and shipping cost). To answer the call, most 3PLs expect to provide same day delivery within the next 5 years. And 40% say they anticipate 2 hour shipping by 2028. Interestingly, when Amazon offered 1- and 2-hour delivery in select markets, many customers preferred the free 2-day shipping instead. Speed is not everything, but shipping value is essential. The best shipping strategies offer a few options with a range of costs.

Knowledge is Satisfying

Immediately after placing an order, most website systems generate an order confirmation email. The more transparency a business provides during the order process, the more confident a customer can feel when interacting with the company. Therefore, as soon as an order is released to a carrier for shipment the tracking information should be communicated in real-time.

Both Sprocket Express and Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics sends automatic tracking information to your customer. And we can brand the email with your company information for a consistent image. We ship the same day and we also offer rush and special services.

We Are Here When You Need Help

These are just some of the ways that your fulfillment service partner can affect customer satisfaction. We strongly encourage you to call references when choosing a fulfillment provider and ask some of these questions. Your choice will be representing your business in public view, so it’s no easy decision.

Whichever partner you choose, we invite you to connect with us to share challenges and ideas via email or social media. To learn more about our services and our low industry pricing, see “What We Do”, or get a quote today.

How to Reach Customers Now During the COVID-19 Crisis

With shut downs, shipping delays, and customers sitting at home, there’s never been a better time to keep you name in front of anxious buyers using an e-newsletter.

The COVID-19 epidemic is of unprecedented proportion. Many people have never experienced a work stoppage or for that matter a quarantine. While customers wait for orders that may be delayed due to shipping issues or supply chain problems, email is the best way to soothe worries and keep customers loyal to your business.

Here are some tips to take to heart with how to communicate with customers during these unusual times.

1. Be honest of what is going on with your business. If there are delays due to supply chain issues – share the challenges in a positive manner.

2. Accept and acknowledge the uncertainty of the situation. Be real, people truly want to connect with you during this crisis.

3. Express gratitude and appreciation for orders and for those that will wait to receive their goods due to unforeseen delays.

4. Keep a regular connection with your client-base. Specifically, contact during this uncertain period should be several times a week or once or twice a month.

If you need help setting up an e-newsletter we have expert providers that are ready to set up an account at iContact for you, load your list, and even customize our own mobile-friendly reusable HTML e-newsletter template. Just let us know and we will put you in contact with one of our experts or get you started fast.

For Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics clients, our provider has created a special mobile-friendly template for newsletters that can be updated with your logo and content. Ask us for more information about this concierge-level e-newsletter program including setup, implementation, content creation, and scheduling. Pricing is customized based on your need.

http://medallionenterprises.com/newsletters/medallion-sample-template.html

For do-it-yourselfers, an iContact account provides access to easy to use templates. You can enter in your own e-newsletter information and set up your own e-newsletter issues to send on your own schedule.

Our team or our experts can work with you directly to assist with your needs. Just give us a call and let us know that you would like to reach out to your clients by email – fast!