Amazon In Pakistan

I saw this article making waves in all the e-commerce & startup groups of Pakistan. After I read it, I couldn’t really make much out of it. It didn’t excite me. So I shared it on slack to get the opinion of my colleagues to see if they feel anything different. But we all came to the same conclusion.

One of our colleagues said that this news is similar to PayPal coming to Pakistan for the 24th time.

Another one of my colleague reminded me of another story from 2017 when government spent over a billion Rs to get artisans of Pakistan to sell on the internet. More on this in tomorrow’s blog.

Somehow we all feel, this is headlines. Exactly what the government is good at. Making headlines. And only that.

As I understood it, the government has sent a list of 34 exporters from Pakistan to Amazon so they could be eligible to sell on Amazon. After the trial run, based on the performance of these exporters, government and Amazon will expand this list to other categories.

However I am curious how these exporters were selected? I’m assuming they were either selected by nepotism or by the size of their volume. For the sake of optimism, let’s assume there was no nepotism and they were selected solely based on the size of their volume. Or another powerful metric that made them seem worthy of this selection. However, these traditional metrics say nothing about the exporters’ ability to do well on Amazon. Because selling on a platform like Amazon is a science which isn’t determined solely by the quality of goods, but also largely dependent on the science of launching a product on Amazon.

The transition from offline to online isn’t for everyone. Businesses that have years of selling experience through the old means can not always, and often, transition successfully to new ways of selling.

I can think of countless examples in every industry where the old successful companies often fail to pivot if the industry sees a technological upgrade. Nokia is an example in the phones industry. Kodak is a similar example from the camera industry. When there’s a technological evolution, the old giants fail. The new giants emerge. The large exporters will fail on Amazon no matter how good they are with their products and with the old distribution channels. They need support from the e-commerce experts to run a successful e-commerce business.

For the trial to be successful, a partnership with an e-commerce consultant agency is a must. I’m not sure if there’s a partnership in place. This consultant would ensure that most product launches by most exporters would be successful. This could then help with the expansion of categories as the government plans.

The people who specialize in e-commerce are usually different from people who kick-ass with traditional export channels. For the program to be successful, young blood from the e-commerce space needed to sign up through this program and not the large exporters, or at the minimum in partnership.

Unless the Amazon seller central is available to every citizen of Pakistan, that allows the young blood to compete in a cut-throat marketplace and win, I see this news or any similar news as fake news.


Amazon As A Cashier

Many times I’ve seen sellers drive traffic to their Shopify and WooCommerce product pages with no buy or cart option. The only way to buy the product is a link to their Amazon listing.

Like you, I also wondered why the sellers aren’t driving traffic straight to Amazon but routing through their privately owned store when their only goal is to sell on Amazon. The short answer is that these sellers use Amazon as a cashier.

Since how well you rank on Amazon is determined by how high your conversion rate is, for external traffic it makes most sense to provide the product details and description outside of Amazon, and only take warm traffic to Amazon with high purchase intent.

This has a much better impact on your rankings in comparison to routing external traffic directly to your Amazon listing that may or may not convert.

Last Mover Advantage

The first mover advantage is talked about a lot. The first mover advantage is often quite great but not necessarily game-changer. First mover advantage is both for businesses and early users of the businesses. For example, Amazon has the first mover advantage in the e-commerce space. The early sellers of Amazon also enjoyed first-mover advantage on the platform by monopolizing competitive niches. All early users of social networks that eventually go big have a huge first-mover advantage in influencer marketing.

But the last mover advantage is not frequently talked about. The last mover advantage is that you look at everyone’s mistakes, let them take risks, and you only launch a product after learning at their expense. This isn’t talked about a lot probably because it’s not fancy to talk about it and that not everyone can enjoy the last mover advantage. Often but not always, you need to be at a place of influence to enjoy the last mover advantage.

On Amazon, as a seller, you often prefer going after products that others have tried and tested for months, you learn from their experience by studying the listings, and launch in the end so you have absolutely no risk of dead or wasted inventory etc.

In a similar manner, as a seller, Amazon enjoys the true last mover advantage. After all sellers are done testing, trying, risking, & iterating, Amazon comes right in the end with their own private label product often under the brand name of Amazon Basics. Because they enjoy a position of having everyone’s data, they truly love having the last mover advantage.

Facebook Driven Dropshipping Vs Amazon FBA

Facebook driven dropshipping & Amazon FBA are two completely different ways of conducting e-commerce.

So different, that even the choice of products are almost always exactly opposite of each other.

On Amazon, while selecting a product to sell you make your best effort to avoid selling a fad, craze or a trend. You look for years and years of history, up-to 5 years, and only then make a decision if the product is worthy of the launch. You’re looking to keep the review ratings up, returns low, and ideally you want to sell the same products for several years. You spend one time to rank your products, and then rely on getting a return on your investment with organic sales over a long period of time. Due to this, you can often also sell your listing or store for up-to 3 years of net profit.

With dropshipping, most sellers plan to do the exact opposite; selling a fad or a craze. You’re ideally looking for something that has a lot of wow factor. Ideally it shouldn’t be a trend before and is some new kind of gimmickry. You plan to sell $1 million worth of it in the first month, or first the quarter, and once that’s done, no one ever talks about the product again. Fidget spinners could qualify as one of the best-selling dropshipping products and of course they were a fad. Because you make all the money right there, you store often flips for nothing. There’s often no or little lifetime value of the customer outside of the first sale.

Dropshipping needs no inventory and you can make a ton of mistakes. Wrong product selection costs you $100 in Facebook ads. You can test 30 products, lose $3000, and make it all back on your 31st product on your first day. With Amazon FBA, you can’t make any mistakes. You are pre purchasing inventory with hundreds of units to avoid going out of stock and to satisfy minimum order quantity requirements. You’re often risking tens of thousands of dollars with each product launch.

Dropshipping will often better suit those who are cash-strapped and have smaller appetite for risk. Amazon on the other hand is for big boys.

Chasing The Perfection Hype

When investing in any kind of asset (blog, e-commerce store, real-estate, stock etc), do not chase the perfect asset. When you chase the perfection hype, you pay top dollar for acquiring the asset. In the days to come, you realize nothing is perfect and so isn’t the asset that you just purchased.

Then you incur costs for repairs, maintenance, improvements etc for the asset to live up to its perfection hype. This makes your purchase very expensive as not only you paid a higher multiple for purchasing perfection, but also spent more money later on once it didn’t live up to it’s hype.

Instead, you could simply go for assets with visible imperfections. Any asset you buy with visible imperfections will have those priced in too which would get you the asset for a more affordable multiple.

As an example, if there is a niche Amazon FBA store with all relevant products it will sell for a higher multiple than a general Amazon FBA store. I understand why niche stores are better positioned in some cases, but in reality both niche and general stores have imperfections.

Niche stores are less diversified and hence positioned badly to weather a storm like COVID-19 when some categories get hit more than the others. General stores in comparison have visible imperfections such as that many products in the store belong to different categories. Although it may seem as an imperfection to some, it’s also a feature; the store is better diversified to weather a storm.

When buying an asset like a general store, the visible imperfection of having products spread across various categories is priced in. It is why it sells for a cheaper multiple. One could take advantage of this when buying assets and get this general store with visible imperfections. Not only the niche store has imperfections as well, it’s also a lot more expensive. Only in rare cases, it would prove to be a more fruitful purchase such as you sell it later as strategic acquisition.

Assets with visible imperfections can also be improved such that they no longer have any visible imperfections. By doing so, you can quickly increase the value of the asset.

My Friend Built $650,000 Ecommerce Empire With $7 Product

I’m going to keep his identity confidential as my friend isn’t quite comfortable talking about his story right now.

Here are the facts of his story.

  • He built his empire over Amazon
  • His monthly revenue is approximately $100,000 USD.
  • The gross profit is roughly 27%
  • The net profit is around 22%
  • His fulfillment is done by Amazon which means he pays $2.5 to Amazon to fulfill each order and another $1.05 to Amazon for getting him a buyer.
  • His landing cost to Amazon’s warehouse including the cost of goods and the shipping cost is $1.5
  • This leaves him with $2 per sale.

If I had to start this business, I would stay a thousand miles away from it just by looking at the sale price of $7. Because to me $7 doesn’t sound like a lot, and it probably doesn’t to you either. Especially after you look into costs of good, Amazon’s fee, ranking and PPC costs, you’re left with under $2 per sale. I would have never worked for $1-2 per order. If I think this way despite being in business, I can say with confidence that most other people would think the same.

The fact however is that he not only created $22,000 per month in income for himself, he has also created $650,000 in asset if he flips his store at any point.

All by selling $7 product and by taking a loan of $10K to pay for inventory and ranking costs. After I had a look at his financials, not only was I surprised, but I was also very proud of him. Had he done the same on a higher price product, I would still be proud of him but not as much as I’m right now. The reason for that is because he proved you can start small and go big. That you can bootstrap or start on a small funding. That you don’t need access to capital as much as you need access to skills and hard-work.

While I write this, and while you read this, he’ll walk away with $650,000 generated in under 3 years. A wildfire that started off a matchstick.