The Web Retailer News Digest for February 26th, 2021

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Modern Retail reported this week that Walmart staff have been contacting selected Amazon sellers to try and sign them up to their own marketplace. This seller recruitment appears to be very targeted and limited, but it does show that Walmart is serious about expanding and improving its online marketplace, after years of stagnation.

One seller approached by Walmart was FBA acquisition company Perch, whose Bnext-branded VR headset was identified as an in-demand product at a price point missing from Walmart’s range.

Ecommerce sales were up 69% for Walmart in the last quarter of 2020. The proportion of those sales accounted for by marketplace sellers is not known, but filling gaps in their product selection by cherry picking sellers from other venues is clearly one way to boost sales further.

Walmart’s seller recruitment practices also extend to shopping cart integrations. After partnering with Shopify last year, Walmart is now working with BigCommerce to bring its merchants onto the marketplace.

You might wonder why companies like Shopify and BigCommerce, whose whole existence is about helping businesses sell through their own independent websites, undermine that by partnering with online giants like Amazon and Walmart. The truth is that many businesses do far better selling through marketplaces than their own websites, and companies like Shopify would rather support sellers to do that than try (and fail) to stand in their way.

The world’s largest retailer wants you

Walmart is still the world’s largest retailer, but it is not above looking to other retailers to expand its product range. In this case, that means Amazon, and more specifically the Amazon marketplace.

The Amazon marketplace has succeeded because of its transparency: products, prices and customer feedback are all laid bare for others to see. The power to research, compare and select the best products, once the job of corporate buying departments, has been put in the hands of shoppers – and clearly they love it.

One side effect of that transparency, particularly since merchant names and addresses were made public on the site last September, is that Amazon is also a marketplace for sellers themselves. Anyone who wants to find businesses who sell products online, whether it’s to offer them a service or recruit them to join another marketplace, only needs to head over to Amazon and browse through.

Walmart is one of many parties hunting for sellers on the Amazon marketplace. It’s not uncommon, and Amazon has been a hunter as well as a farmer. For example, in 2018 and 2019, eBay filed lawsuits against Amazon alleging that the eBay messaging system was being misused to poach sellers. Yes, the claim was that Amazon tried to poach eBay sellers, not the other way around. It did not go eBay’s way, however, with an arbitration panel ruling in favor of Amazon in November last year.

The idea of “poaching” sellers is a strange one anyway. They aren’t employees and don’t belong to the platforms that they sell on. Sellers are being signed up across marketplaces all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps the art of product assortment is alive and well after all, but instead of retailers selecting the items they want to give shelf space to, they are now choosing the businesses they want to steer onto their websites.

Read more at Modern Retail and TechCrunch.

Amazon news

“Ask Amazon” Q&A experiment on pesticides

Amazon has launched a new series in their seller forums called “Ask Amazon”. Sellers are invited to submit questions for one day, on a specific topic, then the thread is handed over to Amazon support staff to post answers.

The first topic chosen was “pesticide product listings” – a source of complaints for many sellers at present, and a rather brave choice to begin the series with. The background: following a settlement with the EPA, Amazon introduced an automated system for detecting pesticide-related listings. The new bot then misclassified books, toys, clothing and many other products which have nothing to do with pesticides. Sellers can’t appeal the algorithm’s decision, but instead have to wade through online training and complete additional fields regardless of whether they actually sell pesticides.

Sellers piled in, asking why their products had been misclassified, complaining that the system to reinstate products does not work, and asking if they can somehow circumvent the process. Amazon replied with numerous variations of “you just have to do it anyway”.

The whole farce, at the time of writing, concludes with words of a poster called HelioLiving:

Oranges are pesticides, if you use them that way. Amazon doesn’t ban oranges.

Good grief, HelioLiving, don’t tell them that! I can hear the screams of thousands of sellers who just lost their listings of orange t-shirts, orange kitchen utensils and orange massage rollers. Shoppers better get used to yellow.

Angry orange swearing

Read more at Seller Forums – US Announcements.

Fee discounts for Amazon Singapore

Amazon is offering fee discounts for sellers who want to start selling on its new marketplace in Singapore.

They are waiving the Professional selling plan subscription fee of S$29.95/month, and providing promotional fees for Deals and Coupons, for the next four months. Singapore is a small but wealthy country, the marketplace is in English, and FBA is available, so it’s a potentially attractive venue for US sellers of brands with local demand.

Read more at Seller Forums – US Announcements.

B2B sellers can now use Automate Pricing

Amazon’s own repricing system, Automate Pricing, is now available to sellers of products with quantity discounts set up on the Amazon Business platform. Amazon will apply the seller’s quantity discounts to the minimum prices set in Automate Pricing, to determine the minimum price for each quantity tier.

Amazon’s repricing tool, launched in 2016, offers basic repricing functionality and has not had much impact on the large number of more advanced third-party repricers available.

Read more at Seller Forums – US Announcements.

Other marketplaces

Etsy expands offsite ads

The world’s warm and fuzzy marketplace Etsy has generously expanded its “Offsite Ads” program – which advertises products on sites other than Etsy – to the Google Display ad network as well as large publishers, influencers and bloggers.

In their infinite kindness, Etsy is waiving additional fees for sales generated through the new advertising channels for the next 30 days. Wait, did that really just say “additional fees”? Oh yes, Etsy has taken the unique step of charging sellers an additional 12%-15% fee for sales that occur after clicking on an ad.

While Amazon and eBay spend billions of dollars on advertising and affiliate programs, at no additional cost to their sellers, Etsy charges extra. Sellers are understandably unhappy that the internet’s nicest marketplace will now charge them as much as 20% (including standard fees), with no chance to opt out.

Read more at Etsy.

Target seller recruitment falls flat

Unlike Walmart, Target’s marketplace remains neglected. Research from Marketplace Pulse shows that in two years, Target has recruited fewer than 300 sellers.

Target runs an invite-only marketplace. Sellers who have gained access report strong sales, no doubt due to Target’s strong website traffic and lack of competition.

Read more at Marketplace Pulse.

Ecommerce stats

US ecommerce up 32% in 2020

The official ecommerce statistics for 2020 have been released, and show a huge 32% rise in online sales.

Ecommerce now makes up 20% of retail in the US, or 25% if grocery sales are excluded. On Twitter, Benedict Evans pointed out that UK ecommerce is even larger at 30% of retail, or a staggering 40% excluding groceries.

Read more at the US Census Bureau.

Cross-border buying from China declines

A new survey of cross-border ecommerce conducted by the International Post Corporation, shows that 33% of consumers bought more from foreign retailers last year but 51% increased their buying from domestic websites.

Most cross-border buying was from China, at 37%, and dominated by the online marketplaces AliExpress and Wish. This, however, was a slight decline compared to 2019 when 39% of cross-border purchases were from China. The US follows with 13% of purchases, then Germany with 11% and the UK with 10%.

The IPC’s annual survey covered 33,000 consumers in 40 different countries, accounting for 95% of the global ecommerce market.

Read more at the IPC.

Webinars in the week ahead

For everyone

March 1-5: RetailX review of ecommerce around the globe (register here).

March 3: How to sell your Amazon business on Flippa (register here).

March 3: How to minimize Amazon FBA fees (register here)

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

For US sellers

March 1: Learn how to sell to businesses (B2B) on Amazon (register here).

For UK sellers

March 2: Women in Global eCommerce Conference (register here).

March 2-4: Ecommerce Expo Virtual (register here).

And finally…

Amazon driver cameras herald the “extinction of human privacy”

Amazon is rolling out a system that will place a four-way always-recording HD video camera in its US delivery vans, in an effort to improve driver safety. Studies of the Netradyne system showed that collisions were reduced by two thirds, as a result of in-cab warnings and improvements in driver behavior.

In addition to forwards-facing and side-facing cameras, the system also includes a driver-facing camera, although it does not have audio or allow live surveillance of the driver. But it will upload recorded footage on 16 different “signals” including following a vehicle too closely, speeding, hard braking, U-turns, not wearing a seatbelt, failing to stop at a stop sign, driver drowsiness and “distracted driving”.

The training video on Vimeo shows a driver being berated by a robotic voice for a variety of minor misdemeanors. Evan Greer, of digital rights group Fight for the Future, told TechHQ, “This appears to be the largest expansion of corporate surveillance in human history. If this becomes the norm, we are talking about the extinction of human privacy.”

That’s something of an overstatement, but clearly Amazon cannot wait for the day when it does not have to employ unruly humans to drive vans and can switch to much better behaved robots. In the meantime, it will have to be content with micro-managing their actions like a psychotically pedantic backseat driver.

Read more at TechHQ.



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