What is Amazon Exclusives?
The Category Leader for the program at Amazon tells us how it can be an effective tool for sellers to help boost sales. Plus, the head of Mark Cuban’s Shark Tank companies will join us to explain why it’s a go-to strategy for all their companies. This episode is part of a series.
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- Ep. 007 Show Transcript
- Kyle Walker Interview Transcript
Ep. 007 Show Transcript:
Paul and David were young entrepreneurs and they had an idea. They wanted to create a cooking pot that you could heat and boil water and generate thermal-electric power to charge things like your phone. They were able to bring this idea to life and they called it the PowerPot.
The PowerPot caught the attention of a lot of people including Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Shark Tank personality. In 2012, Paul and David got on Shark Tank and their company Power Practical came away with a $250,000 investment from Mark Cuban.
The publicity from Shark Tank got the company distribution deals with some of the largest retailers in the Country, including Target and Staples. Everything was going right. It looked like Paul and David had it made. Except for one really big problem. When the product hit the shelf, no one was buying it.
“They encountered a lot of challenges in the brick and mortar space. It doesn’t sell itself on the shelf and it was little bit higher priced,” says Abe Minkara, Business Development Director for Mark Cuban’s Shark Tank Companies.
Abe says the PowerPot needed more than just shelf space to sell. It’s the type of product that customers didn’t understand unless they were given an explanation or had seen a video about it.
Power Practical launched another product, a portable USB charger with a built-in latern. They even started bundling the charger with the PowerPot, hoping that would increase sales, but it didn’t work. Abe tells us business was looking really bad for Power Practical.
“They’ve struggled a lot to the point where the company’s future was in question,” Abe says.
Abe suggested they forget about using their typical brick and mortar approach. Instead, they threw out their entire business plan to try something completely different to launch a new product. They launched on Amazon included trying a new program called Amazon Exclusives and sales picked up.
“The first month they did $5,000, the next following month they were up in the 20s,” says Abe, “They start hitting a hundred a month with one SKU with I think two variations and Prime day they did like $140-150k just on prime day. They did close to 300k just that month and the Company’s back to life.”
Power Practical has had so much success on Amazon Exclusives, Abe says it’s not the go-to strategy for all Mark Cuban Shark Tank Companies.
“Their whole model now is to innovate, Kickstart, Amazon Exclusives and then do that three, four times a year,” Abe says.
In this episode we’re giving you an introduction to Amazon Exclusives. We’re talking about how it benefits the seller, the cost and the relationship it gives sellers with Amazon. This is part one of a two part series. It’s also the first time we’ve had someone from Amazon on the podcast. We’re talking with Kyle Walker, he’s the Category Leader for Amazon Exclusives.
“I take a lot of pride in the fact that I feel like these people put their heart and their soul into their businesses,” Kyle says, “What we want to do and what we strive for as a team every day is to make their job a little bit easier.”
Kyle helped create Amazon Exclusives and now he runs it. The Exclusives program launched in March 2015 with 15 sellers. Kyle says it was created because Amazon wanted to improve the Marketplace for sellers.”
“I think the one thing that doesn’t come through all the time is that you know Amazon, as a company, we spend a ton time thinking about ways to make the Marketplace better and help people with their opportunities to succeed and I think we saw an opportunity to help people,” says Kyle, “It’s something that our team talks about every day that we want to be a vehicle that allows somebody to be successful.”
Kyle says they want to help brands grow bigger, faster and avoid making the typical mistakes most companies do. Kyle says his team provides sellers help with merchandising and discoverability, brand presentation and brand protection. We talk about each one of those starting with merchandising and discoverability.
“We help brands overcome that cold start which is really challenging for a new brand you come to market you have no name recognition and so what we’re really trying to do is use the tools that we have at our disposal to make sure that if you come to Amazon you have the support that you need to connect to Amazon customers originally,” says Kyle.
Product discoverability is key to success on Amazon. If shoppers can’t find your products, they can’t buy them and you don’t buy money. When it comes to discoverability, the Exclusives program gives sellers their own storefront on Amazon.com.
The next thing sellers are helped with is brand presentation. Sellers on Amazon Exclusives have account managers at Amazon that help build up the brands. Kyle says with brand presentation they focus on telling the product’s story. Photos, descriptions and other information used in listings is all up to the sellers, but the account managers are there to bounce ideas off of.
“I think ultimately it’s their story to tell so we just want to provide them the vehicle to tell their story it’s not up to us to in all cases to interpret what their story is but I think if somebody, we get a lot of questions back of, ‘Hey do you think this is the right way to tell our story?’ In that case, if they ask our opinion we’ll give it to them,” says Kyle.
Exclusives sellers are also given what’s called A+ content on all their listings. A+ content or enhanced content is generally only available to vendor accounts. It allows for HTML listing components for things like charts, high quality images and video.
Amazon Exclusives also helps with brand protection. This includes help protecting your listing against counterfeit sellers. Sellers in the Amazon Exclusives program have someone inside Amazon working with them to quickly resolve any issues that come up.
“Within exclusives we make sure that we know the brands really well and that we can probably, you know, really ensure that only authenticate products are within the program that we’re supporting,” Kyle says.
As a quick review, the exclusives team focuses on merchandising and discoverability, brand presentation and brand protection. Included in all that is a contact directly inside Amazon to help your business grow.
All the Amazon Exclusives features does come at a cost. Sellers in the program have to agree to several things. Exclusives sellers give an additional 5% revenue to Amazon, they have to be part of FBA and they can only sell their products on Amazon, their own website and their own storefront. So there is some risk to becoming an Exclusive seller, especially since Amazon doesn’t and can’t guarantee any sort of success through the program.
“What we can always guarantee is that they’re gonna have a team behind them that believes in them and we’re gonna support them to the best of our ability to ensure that our merchandising puts it in front of Amazon customers who would be interested in those products and helps them as much as possible to expand their opportunity to be successful,” Kyle says.
Kyle says they don’t have many sellers leaving the program. Instead it’s growing, adding new sellers like Ben Arneberg.
“We both like hosting, we like cooking, we like having people over, wining and dining them so we decided to make a brand that would accomplish just that,” Ben says.
Ben and his wife own a kitchen-wares company called Willow and Everett. Their first product was a pair of Moscow Mule Copper Mugs. Ben says boutique stores were reaching out to them and they wanted to sell the mugs in stores. At the same time though, they learned about the Exclusives program.
“Initially we were kind of nervous but we decided you know what let’s give this a shot,” Ben says.
Willow and Everett decided to join Exclusives in March 2016 instead of going to brick and mortar stores. There’s no long term commitment so Ben figured if it wasn’t working out they could go back to the brick and mortar stores. In just a few months, they doubled their sales.
“We have not looked back, it has been a fantastic program and we plan on being with them for a while,” says Ben, “So it’s just been great getting to know Amazon a little bit better, some of their reps, we’ve been adding products but even with that it’s grown faster than it would have otherwise because of Exclusives.”
Ben credits their success to the features that come from being Exclusive. Remember, the Exclusives program focuses on product merchandising and discoverability plus brand presentation and protection. Ben says also, having an Amazon account manager has been a huge part of their success.
“That has given us a lot of confidence to to go all in on Amazon,” Ben says.
“All of us are super passionate about what we do every day and i think we do that on behalf of the brands that we work with and hopefully the passion comes through and the relationships that we build with those that are in the program and we look forward to being part of more brands journeys on amazon and their growth and their opportunity to succeed and we work tirelessly every day to do that,” Kyle says, “We take this home at night with us when we have an opportunity to do something better and we really identify with the brands that we’re working with.”
Kyle says their main focus every day is that every product has a story and it’s their job at Amazon Exclusives to help sell it.
Amazon Exclusives is constantly looking for new products to add to the section. There’s an application available for every seller and you can find it inside of Seller Central.
Next week: Kyle Walker at Amazon will be back on Keyword. He’s going to give us an inside look at the application process and tell us what types of products they’re looking for.
Kyle Walker Interview Transcript:
A little introduction:
Kyle Walker started at Amazon as an account manager working with the 250 sellers that were the largest on the Marketplace. His job was to work with these sellers that were really successful on the Marketplace to understand their perspective so they could make selling on Amazon better.
Kyle took that experience to help launch Amazon Exclusives. Kyle is now the Category Leader of Amazon Exclusives. The Exclusives program was launched in March 2015 with 15 sellers. Kyle launched the program with one other person and now the program has 11 people on the Amazon team.
Kate Valentine: What’s your perspective of Amazon Exclusives?
Kyle Walker: “The simplest way to put it is that we’ve had great relationships with a lot of emerging brands and they give us the feedback that they see a lot of value of what we’re doing. We don’t have a lot of people leaving the program, they’re coming into the program and we’re trying to give them a system where they can be great at what they’re great at which is inventing great products that customers are gonna love. We can handle through FBA the distribution of that without having to have a warehouse on their own and we can handle the marketing and merchandising and how they’re product is gonna be viewed by customers. By doing that we let them focus on what got them here in the first place which is making great products and we take a lot of pride in that every day.”
Kate: Would you mind going through and just listing for me the benefits for a third party seller to become part of Amazon Exclusives?
Kyle: “We really give support in what I would call discoverability and merchandising. We help brands overcome that cold start which is really challenging for a new brand you come to market you have no name recognition and so what we’re really trying to do is use the tools that we have at our disposal to make sure that if you come to Amazon you have the support that you need to connect to Amazon customers originally. [We also focus on] brand presentation and brand protection. For presentation you know all of our listings have the ability to add video content to the page to really tell their brand story in a way that they want to tell it and add additional html content in what we call enhanced brand content to listings. We were the first program in marketplace in the US to have access to all that additional content and then there’s really the protection piece of you know if you are only selling direct to consumer on your own site and on Amazon then it enables us to provide a little bit more protection. How your brand is going to be viewed by customers and the content and really enables us to tell a little bit cleaner story. If you’re selling in a direct to consumer channel you know it allows us to, you’re able to control your message out there to customers, you’re able to control the content. We’re able to help facilitate you telling that story more cleanly so your message isn’t distorted by somebody else trying to sell your product or whatever else the case may be.”
Kate: How do you deal with counterfeit selling with Amazon Exclusives? Is it something you totally take care of?
Kyle: “The simple answer is we have zero tolerance for the listing of counterfeits on our site, period. I think in the Exclusives program we work really closely with the brands. We have really good relationships and you know we try and make sure the brands and manufacturers that we’re ensuring and that they have a little more of a sounding board to ensure that you know we try and get those issues taken care of extremely quickly. Within Exclusives we make sure that we know the brands really well and that we can probably you know really ensure that only authenticate products are within the program that we’re supporting.”
Kate: How many sellers are in Amazon Exclusives?
Kyle: “Prefer not to answer how many people are in the program but what I can say is our program interest continues to be very very strong and we really started with 15 sellers in the program last March and we’ve grown considerably since then.”
Kate: How passionate is the Amazon Exclusives team about your sellers and their products?
Kyle: “Super passionate. I think that’s the one thing that drives us everyday. We at Amazon, and I’m sure else where work long hours and lose sleep for their cause. I can say without a doubt the team, the leadership that we have here, senior leadership they strongly value these stories of entrepreneurship and the building of brands within our platform and we’ve been very, very fortunate to get a ton of internal support in terms of resources. Also the freedom to go support this because it is the right thing to do and I think all of us to a person on our team would say you know this is really a passion project for us. We take this home at night with us when we have an opportunity to do something better and we really identify with the brands that we’re working with. When we go to trade shows or we see an interesting product you you know our team is constantly on the look for all these brands because we want to be a part of their eventual success story. I think it’s the passion that the team has to try and build a system or a program that enables to happen easier for the brands in our program.”
Kate: Is Amazon Exclusives just for new products?
Kyle: “We’re agnostic to whether they’re new or existing I think we always prided ourselves on really cool products with really cool stories. We’ve seen last year we saw about a fifty fifty split between existing verses kind of new to marketplace brands and both did very, very well. What we look for more than anything is you know the customer’s that we’ve driven to our store and that shop repeatedly look for the new cool innovative products or products with a story, whether that story be because the product’s new and interesting because the brand has an interesting story like a list and and sound company that donates a portion of their sales back to the hearing foundation to help people in developing countries hear or have access to hearing care and hearing aids. Or whether that’s a story of a stay at home mom or somebody that’s retiring but wants to create their own products that’s been a lifelong dream all of those stories are interesting and we just want to be part of the vehicle that helps tell those stories. They happen a lot on Amazon and don’t always get all the attention that they deserve unless they choose to tell their stories themselves and we want to provide an ability for them. Within Seller Central which every seller on Amazon has access to we have an application that we always encourage people to apply for tell us what’s unique and cool about their product or their brand or their story. Our team actually reaches out to all those people make sure that they understand the program and has a conversation with them and ultimately at the end of the day if we feel like we can provide help in doing that then we do so.”
Kate: Do you take any sort of stake in the brands?
Kyle: “We do not currently. We charge an additional five percent revenue share on top of the standard revenue share. Without going too specific into data or traffic or things that I can’t share, for the value of an additional 5 percent of rev share we pride ourselves on providing a ton of value back to these brands and really honing their marketing and merchandising so they can focus on the things they do well. We try and make it an exceptional bargain and frankly the reason we chose to charge for it is because we have the space on Amazon is valuable. We can have a bigger impact and put these brands in more prominent places. If it’s something that ends up being great for customers and provides value to sellers as well.”
Kate: When you reach out to people that have submitted applications, what are you looking at for products? What makes a product a good fit for the Exclusives program?
Kyle: “We want something that looks like you know it fits on the store that we can enable to tell a better story than maybe what it’s telling today. I think the objective part is that we really want things that have an opportunity to pop in merchandising that might be a little different might be little unique might be different than the standard kind of commoditized things that you might see in other places. It can be new to the market and their really looking to find a new place or a new niche or it could be that they have an incredible brand or entrepreneurial story. All of those things qualify and that’s why we really try and get to know the sellers. Our entire team regardless of whether we received an application reaches back out to that seller to have a more in depth engaging conversation about where they’re trying to go and figure out if our program can be a part of helping them get there a little faster.”
Kate: Do you ever browse Amazon and just look for products that you think would be a good fit for Amazon Exclusives?
Kyle: “100%. Every day. It’s a good question but I think it’s similar to what new brands face on Amazon is there’s a lot of products and if I don’t know what I’m searching for i may not know what I’m missing either. We certainly come across great products every day and reach out to them because we think we can have a positive impact on their experience. We also look for new things we can add to the platform and we certainly also have sellers alert us to their products that we may not have seen yet. We look forward to you know looking through the applications every day because there’s a ton of great stuff. We encourage applications because there might be things that we haven’t seen yet but for the most part we try and do a good job of finding everything that we can seek out on our own and we certainly look on Amazon for opportunities to assist when we think there’s an opportunity to make their path easier or it’s something that would really appeal to our customers.”
Kate: Do you have a favorite success story? Can you share what that product was and what they’ve seen so far from Amazon Exclusives?
Kyle: “I’m not always at liberty to share the metrics but two of my favorite products or success stories have been Tower Paddle Boards [and Exploding Kittens.]”
“[Tower Paddle Boards] was one of the original conversations we had with a seller that was already on the platform and we thought we could help in explaining and providing the vehicle to help them tell their brand story because it was it was exceptional. They’ve been in the program since we launched. They were one of the first people in the program and their on pace and we launched a year ago in March. So we’re not even two full years in the program and they’re on pace for tremendous growth. In addition to that we’ve become an even bigger part of their overall business strategy and that actually led to working with Mark Cuban and all of his companies that he invests in in Shark Tank end up in Exclusives. We launched a Mark Cuban collection this year because it really aligns with his message on Shark Tank which is you don’t need to go wholesale and have a buyer to validate your product. You can go take it directly to people and that’s been a great fit.”
“Another great fit was somebody that we worked with for almost 8 months before they launched which was one of the most backed Kickstarter campaigns or is the most backed Kickstarter campaign which was Exploding Kittens which was the card game. We worked with them telling their brand story [which] was incredibly important as two of the co-founders had fairly substantial social media followings and had brands off of Amazon and big projects they’d worked on. So all of their content, their brand messaging how we could help them kind of launch their product launch their brand to help them transition after their Kickstarter campaign was a huge success. The day that they launched they became the one of the top selling products on Amazon in terms of games.”
Kate: Do you give sellers any kind of guaranteed increase in sales?
Kyle: “We can’t guarantee anything at Amazon. There’s too many factors outside of what we can control. What we can control is that we’re gonna work tirelessly to put that in front of as many customers as we possibly can. We’re gonna do that without fail but we can’t ever guarantee that somebody’s gonna succeed or what percentage lift they would see or it varies so much depending on product life cycle and it depends on the stage the category is in and how customers respond to it. We don’t ever want to interject in the Amazon customer experience.
What we can always guarantee is that they’re gonna have a team behind them that believes in them and we’re gonna support them to the best of our ability to ensure that our merchandising puts it in front of Amazon customers who would be interested in those products and helps them as much as possible to expand their opportunity to be successful.”
Kate: Have you had much feedback from shoppers?
Kyle: “The feedback’s been overwhelmingly positive we have a feedback portal within our storefront that allows people to give us direct feedback and overall the feedback has been incredibly positive that we have a lot of people that they will come back to the store to see what’s new. We refresh our store very frequently and we do the best that we can to always kind of raise the bar on the products and the stories that we’re helping to tell. Our customers give us the feedback that they like that it’s a destination for them to find cool, unique innovative things and in a lot of cases they want to be the first one in their group of friends or the first one in their neighborhood to have the product. Then they really become the brand advocates for these new brands you know if it’s a great product. The feedback that we’ve gotten is overwhelmingly positive and speaks to the fact that we work really really hard as a team to curate great selection that excites people.”
Kate: What about expanding outside the US market?
Kyle: “All of our sellers in our program they’re looking to expand andI think we try to handle that on a case by case basis to ensure that you know starting a new business is hard and we want to make sure that the brands that we work with are ready to expand. That they have enough inventory to support it that they have enough bandwidth to be able to expand you know managing a different marketplace that’s potentially in a different language. Most of our sellers at some point will end up wanting to expand and we do a direct hand off to our global team to ensure that they understand exactly what’s required to sell globally, walk them through the process and get them launched in all the different marketplaces and it’s been a great success for those that can handle it. It gets really complicated trying to manage a business you know across a lot of different marketplaces whether you’re doing it on Amazon or trying to do it yourself and we try every day to make that job easier and easier.”
“Because our program is 100% based on the FBA programs so that we can make sure those customers have Prime shopping guarantees we’ve also tapped into a lot of global programs to make that easier including a lot of global programs that allow somebody to fulfill orders to all the marketplaces in Europe just simply by having inventory in one of those locations. We’re constantly trying to make ie easier and easier every day. We definitely give them as much support as we possible can to ensure that that’s an easy process when and if they’re ready.”
Kate: Do you provide your sellers feedback as far as pictures or video on their listing page?
Kyle: “It’s a mix. I think ultimately it’s their story to tell so we just want to provide them the vehicle to tell their story it’s not up to us to in all cases to interpret what their story is but i think if somebody, we get a lot of questions back of, “hey do you think this is the right way to tell our story?” in that case if they ask our opinion we’ll give it to them. Ultimately what we want to provide them the vehicle or the venue to do it themselves just within the Amazon ecosystem which even if you have niche product the niche product on Amazon can still be very, very successful business just based on Amazon’s customer base. We want to make sure that we do subtle things like making sure that you know they’re not they’re not doing anything that’s gonna affect their standing you know being able to sell but beyond that it’s their story to tell. If they ask us how they can tell it better we’ll give them feedback and it’s ultimately up to them to make the interpretation of how they want to do that.”
Kate: Why is Amazon Exclusives important to you? 35:12 WHY IS AMAZON EXCLUSIVES IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Kyle: “I think it’s so important to me because it really has been a passion project. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I feel like these people put their heart and their soul into their businesses.
What we want to do and what we strive for as a team every day is to make their job a little bit easier and make what they’ve put their sweat and hard work and long hours and whatever it is designing their project, manufacturing their project; we ultimately just want to provide the vehicle that that allows them to build a sustainable and good brand on Amazon. That’s what motivates us every day is to ensure that we’re building the type of program that does have those success stories and we can’t guarantee success but you know we work tirelessly to make sure that we’re providing somebody that wants to take that leap and wants to be an entrepreneur. We’re just trying to make it easier within our platform and give them the opportunity to ultimately succeed. “It’s something that our team talks about every day that we want to be a vehicle that allows somebody to be successful.”
“You know we take this home with us we have personal relationships with the sellers in our program we love hearing the success stories and that’s what really motivates us every single day to try and evolve the program better. We’ve got a ton of plans for ways that we can improve but we’ve also been incredibly surprised and and we’ve had these really, really great relationships with the brands in our program so far.”
“All of us are super passionate about what we do every day and i think we do that on behalf of the brands that we work with and hopefully the passion comes through and the relationships that we build with those that are in the program and we look forward to being part of more brands journeys on Amazon and their growth and their opportunity to succeed and we work tirelessly every day to do that.”