The Web Retailer News Digest for April 9th, 2021

A new group which brings together small business organizations from around the US is campaigning for Amazon to be broken up.

Earlier this week, Small Business Rising set out its goals which include: breaking up and regulating “tech monopolies” such as Amazon; strengthening antitrust laws to protect small businesses against anti-competitive tactics; banning future “mega-mergers” by dominant corporations; and bringing in new laws in areas such as credit card fees to help create a level playing field.

Quoted in Bloomberg, spokesperson Stacy Mitchell talked about how ecommerce giants like Amazon are pushing small retailers out of business during the pandemic: “Small businesses are in crisis. As one bookseller said to me, ‘It says Covid on the death certificate, but the underlying condition was Amazon.’”

Small businesses unite against Amazon

Complaints like those raised by Small Business Rising have been aired by smaller retailers for years, but until recently they fell on deaf ears. But now, with anti-trust legislation already being considered by Congress, while tech giants gain ever more power during the pandemic, their timing looks excellent.

Amazon saw this coming a while back, and has been running a charm offensive to portray itself as the champion of small businesses. It’s true that many independent businesses have found success on Amazon, but even for the winners, the experience of selling on the Amazon marketplace is seldom a warm and fuzzy one.

The reality for most sellers is a harsh environment with ever-growing rules and standards, implemented by knee-jerk reactions from unforgiving algorithms. Unsurprisingly, many sellers feel like disposable resources in the Amazon machine, not trusted partners being nurtured towards success.

However, despite the apparent righteousness of this cause, there is a simple counterargument. It’s that the ecommerce giants are winning because they are doing the best job at giving customers what they want. The pandemic didn’t change that, it just accelerated an existing trend.

Maybe Amazon will be heavily regulated, or even broken up, but consumer preferences will not go into reverse. There’s no going back to a 1950s vision of small-town America with Main Street at the heart of retail. Consumers gained a lot of power in the ecommerce revolution and big companies will always find a way to give them what they want, even if Amazon cannot.

Read more at Bloomberg and Small Business Rising.

Amazon news

Seller-fulfilled returns to be refunded on first carrier scan

From May 4th, a new feature called Refund at First Scan (RFS) means that Amazon will automatically refund orders when the customer hands them over to the carrier, for sellers who fulfill their own orders and are enrolled in the Prepaid Return Labels program.

Amazon automatically authorizes most returns itself, so when RFS comes into effect both returns and refunds will happen without involvement from the seller. RFS is already in place for FBA sellers, so the change brings seller-fulfilled orders and FBA more in line.

Refund at First Scan means that sellers can automatically meet the requirement to process refunds within two business days. The downside for sellers is potentially more return fraud. Despite the talk of “enrollment”, many sellers have been put into the Prepaid Return Label program automatically so will also have refunds processed automatically under RFS.

Read more at Amazon Seller Forums (US).

Amazon Outlet opens for overstock deals

Amazon has launched a new area of the website designed to help FBA sellers sell off excess inventory at discounted prices. Sellers can use the “Manage Excess Inventory” page to identify eligible products and submit deals for approval. Categories such as Lawn & Garden, Sports, Outdoors, Tools & Home Improvement, and Apparel are the current focus.

Amazon Outlet

For buyers, Amazon Outlet can be found on the mobile shopping app under Programs & Features and on the website under Today’s Deals. Amazon says that customers who often shop in relevant categories will be able to find Outlet through advertising on the Amazon home page and in direct emails.

Read more at Amazon Seller Forums (US and UK).

Valid Tracking Rate policy confusion in the UK

An attempt by Amazon to address questions around the Valid Tracking Rate (VTR) policy in the UK has failed to satisfy sellers. The confusion is centered around postage stamps. In a new FAQ apparently created to address the issue, an Amazon rep said that tracking IDs are not required for orders shipped using untracked services such as ordinary stamps.

However, there was no guidance on the correct way to specify that stamps were used to post an order, and sellers using stamps reported that their VTR fell to 0%. Despite Amazon’s own Buy Shipping service being touted as a solution, sellers are finding that untracked shipping labels bought through the service are also being counted as invalid.

From April 19th, sellers are required to reach a VTR of 95% on domestic orders shipped through an integrated carrier, on a category-by-category basis. Sellers who fail to meet the standard may be suspended from selling in the relevant category, and asked to submit a plan of action detailing how they intend to remedy the situation.

Read more at Amazon Seller Forums (UK).

eBay news

Feedback limit increased to 500 characters

In a rare change to eBay’s 25-year-old feedback system, the maximum length of comments has been increased from 80 characters to 500 characters.

We fear that the art form of short feedback messages and use of ASCII art will now fall into decline. Perhaps even the overzealous comments declaring that the seller (or buyer) was “awesome”, “stellar”, or “perfect”, when they only did exactly what they are supposed to do – such as make payment – will cease as well.

On a more serious note, sellers will be able to give their side of the story more fully in cases of negative feedback, which is a welcome development.

Read more at eBay Community.

Videos roll out to eBay listings and stores

eBay is beginning to show videos on both item listings and storefronts. At first, only mobile app users will see the videos but they will then become visible to website users.

eBay Videos

eBay has not yet provided instructions to sellers on how they can add videos to their own listings, or explained if all sellers will be offered the new feature, or even if there will be an additional fee.

Read more at eBay Community.

Other marketplaces

Rapid expansion in Walmart search ads and fulfillment services

Two posts on Modern Retail look at the development of the Walmart marketplace in the last year.

Paid ads on the first page of search results on more than doubled from an average of 1.7 in January 2020, to an average of 4.1 in January 2021, according to research by Profitero. Clearly, advertising is growing rapidly on Walmart, although it is still far less prominent than on Amazon, where there are 9.1 ads on the first page of search results on average.

The second post looked at Walmart Fulfillment Services (WFS), the company’s equivalent of Amazon’s FBA. Walmart accepted a new wave of sellers onto WFS in recent weeks, increasing the number of businesses using the service to an estimated 1,100 – approximately 4% of active sellers. WFS launched in February 2020 and had only 150 sellers by August, according to Marketplace Pulse.

Read more at Modern Retail for search ads and fulfillment services.

Marketplace coalition fights for seller privacy

Another new coalition campaigning for small businesses has emerged, but this one is backed by big online marketplaces including eBay, Etsy, Mercari, OfferUp and Poshmark.

The Coalition to Protect America’s Small Sellers is initially campaigning against the proposed INFORM Consumers Act. This legislation will require online marketplaces to verify sellers’ identities and to disclose contact information for “high volume” sellers to consumers. The aim is to protect consumers from stolen and counterfeit goods, and aid law enforcement. High volume sellers are defined as merchants who have made at least 200 sales totaling at least $5,000 over a one year period.

The PASS Coalition’s objection is that:

In practice, these measures would impose impractical, burdensome requirements that would jeopardize the privacy of millions of Americans while big box retailers are gaining more and more advantage over small businesses and casual sellers.

However, we believe that selling more than 200 items a year is clearly not casual or personal use of an online marketplace – it’s a business. Asking a business to disclose who they are is not an invasion of privacy. It’s entirely reasonable to want to know who you are buying from online, just as you would expect when buying from someone in person.

Expecting sellers to reveal their identity, with a sensible exclusion for those selling in a personal capacity, seems entirely reasonable. It helps professionalize online selling and also keeps out some of the people who sell fake or stolen merchandise, lie about their location, or simply provide a poor service with impunity because no-one knows who they are.

Read more at PASS Coalition.

Webinars in the week ahead

For everyone

April 13: Turning international browsers into online buyers (DC360).

All week: Amazon advertising’s global webinar program rolls on with 20+ webinars scheduled, covering Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, reporting, optimization and tips (Amazon).

For US sellers

April 12: Learn how to use Amazon sponsored ads and other ad programs (Amazon).

April 14: Amazon inventory management strategy (eComEngine).

April 15: Advanced Walmart advertising series (Tinuiti).

For UK sellers

April 13: Learn the basics of FBA (Amazon).

April 14: Make the most of your low-price selection on Amazon (Amazon).

April 15: Prime Day deals checklist and deal types (Amazon).

And finally…

Amazon is known for launching cheap own-brand versions of existing products. It has even used data from third-party sellers to help develop those products, despite rules forbidding it, according to reports.

So what did Peak Design do when they saw that Amazon had ripped off the design of their Everyday Sling camera bag? Faced with the Amazon Basics Everyday Sling, selling at less than half the price of their bag, Peak Design decided to… create a YouTube video mocking the poor quality of Amazon’s version.

The video shows googly-eyed Amazon Basics staff, working in a bare room, copying the Peak Design bag but replacing components with lower quality substitutes.

The video has notched up 4.5 million views at the time of writing and looks like a brand win for Peak Design, despite highlighting a very similar but much cheaper product made by a competitor. Nice work!

Read more at Fast Company.


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