My client was thrilled when Amazon contacted him. They were inviting him to set up a store on the popular Amazon website based on the comprehensive nature of his own successful website (which I am proud to have designed, constructed and maintain for him.) Since he is busy running his business, he asked if I could handle this task for him. That would include all communications with Amazon, meeting their technical requirements for providing content via their own proprietary software, as well as upload and testing of the store through to successful implementation. And so it began: November 4th, 2008.
Obstacle Number One:
First hurdle to clear involved my working on a Mac. It seems that Amazon’s software, called the Amazon Seller Desktop or ASD, does not work with the Macintosh operating system. It must work within a Windows environment. But the Amazon technical staff assured me that there were many third-party providers who could handle this task for me, which would cost my client an arm and a leg, and cut me out of the picture. Since my client’s website has more than 175 automobile accessory products, this was no small matter. Luckily, because Apple Computer allows me to run both Windows and Macintosh operating systems simultaneously, I already had Windows loaded on my computer through a program called Parallels. Granted, I was no Windows expert, nor aficionado, but I always proceed with the assumption that I will persevere if I just keep my nose to the grindstone.
My Amazon technical support contact had never worked with someone in my situation previously, so she had no idea whether the software she would send me would be able to be installed. But we agreed to give it a shot.
Fast forward two months and over a hundred products later, I was able to install and utilize their ASD to provide the descriptive content, the proper visual formats, the hundreds of search terms, the SKU numbers, manufacturer attributions and price information necessary to populate the many fields required for each item to be sold. All of this content is then displayed on the Amazon website within a standard format so all stores look alike in presentation.
Obstacle Number Two:
However, there was another aspect to providing information, which unless managed properly, would prevent inclusion of important seller data, such as shipping and returns policies, tax information, seller background and contact. This involved the Amazon Seller Central website where all store data and inventory is contained and managed by individual storekeepers (or someone like myself) with something called a “release date.” This is an extremely cumbersome functionality which continues to perplex me even after having mastered it a number of times only to have to reinvent the wheel each time I am confronted with it as an obstacle. Illogically, it requires that you must have a release date set up sometime in the future before you can release current information as of a current date, which is based on Pacific time (while I am on Eastern time). And, it is imperative that you have selected the proper release date from a dropdown menu before editing or adding content to the various categories governed by this system or it will not take effect when you expect. (How many times have I spent a couple of hours editing and correcting information only to realize that I hadn’t selected the correct release date first and had to start all over again!) Anyway, once you have done this a few hundred times, I’m sure it’s a snap. But for this intelligent college graduate with years of pertinent experience, I find the whole release date concept to be tedious and unnecessary. Yet, I obediently work with what I am presented and sincerely attempt to execute properly, keeping my fingers crossed while I wait out the time difference to see whether my changes have gone into effect at the designated hour. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Trial and error is a great teacher but certainly a time waster in this instance.
But forging right ahead, I am next notified by Amazon of a new segment needing to be added to my ASD software which is important to categorizing our products for the Amazon automotive “Partfinder” search engine. After a couple of flawed attempts at installation through no fault of my own, we are finally successful in appending to my ASD the newly developed “application” software. This requires selections from an endless series of dropdown menus describing make of vehicle (Subaru, etc.), model of vehicle (Forester, etc.), year or years, and a gamut of other special choices including type of engine, transmission, drive, etc.
Obstacle Number Three:
Supposedly, inclusion of this information in combination with all other data supplied will assure that our products are able to be found when someone utilizes the Partfinder Search Tab in the Automotive section of the Amazon website. If only this were true! While a scant few of our products can be found by using the Partfinder Search tool, the vast majority of our products are not included, although maddeningly and mysteriously, those of our competition are!
This is not to say that the main search engine on Amazon is not a powerful and effective tool. It is! All of our products are easily found using that tool. It is the Partfinder tool which is deficient and has continued to frustrate me, my client and the technical staff at Amazon for many, many months. There have been more than a hundred separate entries in our Amazon case log pertaining to this problem over the past 14 months. These are communications with technical and liaison staff who purportedly are working behind the scenes to address this issue, though I am never allowed to discuss the problem with anyone of any proficiency directly. And some of the written notes thanking me “once again for my patience” come from people with very strange names, which leads me to believe that much of this work may be outsourced to inhabitants of countries I may never have heard of, or some other planet for that matter! I have followed all of the requirements on Amazon Seller Central to try to solve this enigma myself, to no avail. I have had lengthy phone conversations with engineering representatives from Amazon’s staff, to no avail. No one seems to comprehend why some of our products are accepted and others are not, all fulfilling the same set of parameters and formats to satisfy all system requirements.
Obstacle Number Four:
But this isn’t the only consternation in dealing with the Amazon storefront experience. For instance, parameters for photo upload have changed since the software’s inception. Originally all photos had to be at least 300 dpi at a size of 1200×1200 pixels square. Somewhere along the way, the size was reduced to 500×500 pixels necessitating resizing and replacement of any photos on product files that may need editing or updating, and reloading to the Amazon server. Also, through a process of elimination, I have found that if the name of a photo file is too long, or if the file is saved in CMYK instead of RGB, further problems can arise, leading to failure to upload, as well as error codes which resist correction until you are fortunate enough to hit the jackpot by trying a variety of possible “fixes” limited only by your own creativity and imagination.
Obstacle Number Five:
Then there is the difficulty of assigning shipping costs to a worldwide market where product weights vary for our over 175 products; customers may sometimes prefer expedited shipping; and individual countries outside the Continental United States may assign their own individual taxes and tariffs. My client and I agreed the only sane recourse was to just offer free shipping.
Obstacle Number Six:
And because each product must have its own individual number, if a product is available in an assortment of colors, each color must have its own file, page and SKU number, exponentially increasing the amount of work necessary to offer for sale a product like a painted auto body trim part which differs by model, year and up to fifty tones of color!
In addition, it would be too easy to have available photos of each of these colors with the part installed on the car. No such luck. Instead, I had to first research on Google the paint code of the actual color in question to find a sample of the color needed in order to transform the single photo I had of the automobile in one color as well as a separate photo of the part also in only one color by “painting” each in the many other colors needed using Photoshop. I’m sure those of you who don’t know or use Photoshop probably think this is a mere push of a button. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even masters of Photoshop, of which I consider myself, spend hours silhouetting a greatly magnified image by drawing a very precise path on the areas of the car needing color alteration, carefully excluding chrome, windows, tires, mirrors, background, etc. and then applying one of the many tools available to add realistic color to a subject without changing shape, reflections, shine, shadows and sparkle which would cause the final result to look “faked.” Now multiply that by fifty or sixty vehicles; then double it in order to also address the separate photo of the part itself. Yes, a mere push of a button, indeed!
Obstacle Number Seven:
Oh, and here’s a good one! On the infamous application software appendage, the most current year I can select for some models of Subaru is 2009! As I write this, it is August of 2010 and I have just updated my client’s website with all the 2011 model information. Yet, our Amazon data is stuck in last year for at least two of our models. And 2011 is nowhere to be found for any model! Don’t get me started on how upsetting it is to be able to find competitive products for those years while using the Auto Partfinder! My only alternative is to add rich content – very rich content – to the descriptive passages of each of my client’s product pages so customers who search using the main Amazon search engine will certainly be able to find our 2010- and 2011-suitable products without a problem.
These software limitations are an unfortunate situation for both my client and Amazon alike. Many of our products, especially the ones that somehow have qualified for inclusion within the Partfinder, are big sellers, providing competitively priced, great products and free shipping to customers, a generous commission to Amazon, and finally, a small profit to my client. If only the rest of our products could be found using the Partfinder Search tool! Customers, Amazon and my client could all be a whole lot happier!
Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing since 1975, has extensive experience guiding business leaders, directors, and professionals with successful strategies for business growth and sustenance. Long-term relationships have been established with law firms, medical practices, pharmaceutical companies, real estate executives, and a variety of other trade, corporate and industrial specialists. Her professional writing, photographic, design and aesthetic specialties provide clients with proven methods of achieving successful branding and public image. Mid-Hudson Marketing is a top New York advertising, marketing, website and graphic design firm located in Dutchess County’s Poughkeepsie area specializing for more than 35 years in the creation and management of high quality branding for business success.