Musings from and about eBay, Amazon and The World Wide Web
New Wholesale Sources from 2017 Trade Shows – The wholesale sources featured in this issue are from two of the largest and most important wholesale Trade shows in the US: ASD Las Vegas and the Chicago International Home + Housewares show.
How to Monetize Your Blog, or Website, with Affiliate Marketing
The New eBay – How Has It Changed from The Old Days?
Tips for Getting Reviews without Violating Amazon Policy
Simple Ways to Increase Profits on eBay and Amazon
This is a guest post from Feedback Five, the company I use to generate better feedback on Amazon, and Product Reviews.
Our Feedback Five team keeps a close eye on all things Amazon policy-related, particularly rules pertaining to customer feedback and reviews. As most sellers know by now, Amazon.com, Inc. recently updated its incentivized review policy.
In this article, we’ll share an overview of what changed and how to protect your reputation.
If you’ve ever launched a private-label product on the Amazon marketplace, you know how important product reviews can be. Reviews are arguably the most influential contributor to effective Amazon SEO, which explains why brand stakeholders (third-party merchants & vendors alike) are increasingly interested in them.
Before the policy update, a common practice involved offering free (or discounted) products to customers. Whether explicitly stated or not, the understanding by both parties typically involved a quid pro quo. In other words, the seller or vendor might lure customers with the promise of a free product in exchange for a review. Some even went so far to join online “review clubs,” which popped up in recent years. Such clubs matched consumers with vendors (or merchants) who were interested in swapping free stuff for reviews.
In October 2016, Amazon formally prohibited the practice of “incentivizing” reviews, unless done so through the Amazon Vine program. As pointed out on its corporate blog, “…we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program. We launched Vine several years ago to carefully facilitate these kinds of reviews and have been happy with feedback from customers and vendors.”
This change obviously presents several challenges, especially for merchants selling lesser-known and/or private-label products. First, the Amazon Vine program is only open to vendors currently. Therefore, most third-party merchants would not qualify, unless they happen to be also selling through the Vendor Central portal. Even if they are, the Vine program is an invitation-only engagement (unless you are accepted into the Launchpad program, which could increase the likelihood of Vine inclusion).
From the reviewer’s perspective, Amazon also made a few noteworthy changes. Perhaps most notably, reviewers are now required to spend a minimum of $50 on Amazon.com (excluding Prime subscriptions or promotions) before they are considered “review eligible.” Also, reviewers are only permitted to leave up to five non-Amazon verified reviews per week.
What is Still Allowed?
There is some good news for the review-minded merchant. Namely, review solicitation is still allowed – so long as the seller does not try to coerce the customer rating. As discussed here, “Review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited.” Stay focused on ensuring customer satisfaction and maintain a professional tone. Your primary goal should be to confirm that the buyer is entirely happy – if a positive review is the byproduct, then everyone wins.
Also, it appears that the policy changes do not apply to book categories, although Amazon clearly points out that “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.” This does not appear to apply to merchants, so tread lightly when navigating this loophole.
So, to recap, the following activities are still allowed, albeit with certain modifications:
Offering free products, but only through the Amazon Vine program (except books, as noted above)
Receiving non-verified reviews, but with limitations
Asking customers to leave product reviews (as long as there is no coercion)
Can I Automate My Review Solicitation & Still Comply?
Using a service like FeedbackFive (click here for a free 14-day trial) can help you simultaneously stay in compliance and increase reviews for the products you sell. Since we pioneered automated feedback management for Amazon merchants back in 2009, we’ve seen a lot of changes to Amazon policy. Through it all, we’ve remained committed to offering a tool that produces results without jeopardizing one of your most important assets: your good standing with Amazon.
FeedbackFive was designed with your entire seller reputation in mind. Feedback and reviews go hand in hand, which is why our tool tracks both data points in a single, intuitive dashboard.
Since all of your feedback and review data flows seamlessly into FeedbackFive, you can use this information to create rule-based campaigns. Such campaigns do the heavy lifting of identifying your customers who are likely to leave reviews. For example, you might configure a campaign that solicits reviews from customers only if they have left positive feedback. (Our internal studies have shown that positive feedback and positive reviews are often closely correlated.)
As your campaigns begin to produce results, our tool can also be handy for visualizing customer satisfaction. Our buyer-reviewer matching feature is one-of-a-kind in the industry, leveraging a proprietary algorithm to quickly identify your customers who took the time to leave reviews. This is especially handy for addressing customer service issues. Rather than guessing which customer had a negative experience, you’re able to know in a matter of clicks. It’s important to note, however, that asking customers to modify or remove product reviews is strictly prohibited by Amazon. A better approach may involve providing a replacement or a refund, if appropriate, or in some cases explaining something they may have misunderstood about the product. You could also consider leaving a comment to the buyer’s review, but be careful and overly courteous when doing so.
Reviews Still Matter for Your Amazon Retail Business
In the long run, Amazon’s changes are likely to be a net positive for all stakeholders – even merchants like you. Amazon recognizes the importance of maintaining review integrity, which is a major contributor to site’s unparalleled customer loyalty. By weeding out those trying to game the system, Amazon has taken another important step toward further cementing such trust with consumers.
Here are three things you should never say in an eBay Listing:
• Thank you for looking at my listing – This is obvious – people are busy – get to the point.
• Please accept my apology for any typos– People are more forgiving than you think. Also – they tend to scan listings pretty quickly and don’t necessarily spot typos —so don’t bring their attention to it. Having said that, take some time to re-read your listing carefully and remove any typos you see.
• Supply is limited, so order now – Whenever I see this, I automatically think the seller is lying. Instead, say something like, “Don’t miss out to another bidder, place your best bid now..”
2016 was a great year for all four of our businesses
Writing and training business – This was one of our best years in the past five years for our training book sales
Our Amazon Business – Amazon has continued to grow. As we have gotten older, we have scaled our business back to carry fewer SKUs (Down from 900 to less than 300), but our business is still profitable –partly because we have stressed Private Label
eBay Business – Our eBay business has struggled for the past 7 years, but is now coming back. It is nowhere as profitable as Amazon, but much better than it was a few years ago.
Affiliate Marketing – Again – this business is nowhere near as good as it was a few years ago, but it really bounced back this year- and is now almost 15% of our income.
We sincerely hope 2017 will be great for you Our desire is for all of you, to have a happy, successful and profitable 2017 !!!
As you go into the new year, keep it in mind that you only live once, life is short, rules are meant to be broken, and having fun and creating memories are what really matters.
My New Year’s wish for you is: For days that are hassle free, a mind that is burden free, and love that is condition free.
Before I get started let me point out that I am NOT a tax professional, or licensed to give tax advice. I am, however, an experienced business person, who has dealt with tax issues for over 20 years. Nevertheless, before taking any of my advice, you should consult a tax professional.
It doesn’t matter whether you sell on eBay, Amazon, Shopify, your own website –or all of them. If you sell online, then you are a business –and that means you owe Federal Income Taxes on your profits. I put that in boldface because many new sellers think you owe taxes on your sales, or on the amount of the 1099 forms you get from Amazon or PayPal. That is NOT the case –you only owe federal income tax on your profits, after you deduct the cost of goods sold and ALL your business related expenses.
There is an old saying among tax professionals – Taxes delayed are taxes saved. That is especially true for this year. With the election of Donald Trump, he has promised steep tax cuts starting in 2017. (Of course, he has to get those through Congress, which is not a sure thing).
Since tax rates may be lower in 2017 –any expenses you can prepay in 2016, will reduce your taxable income in 2016 –and increase it in 2017 –but hopefully the tax rates will be lower in 2017, so if that happens, you will save substantial amount taxes in both 2016 and 2017 taxable years.
(Note – This post is only about income taxes –not state sales taxes. That is a completely different subject).
Here is how you calculate your annual profits:
(Please Note – This is a simplified method to help you understand the concepts. The actual methods are slightly more complicated, which is why you want some professional help with your taxes)
Calculate your total sales for the year
– subtract any returns you get.
– Add in what you charged buyers for shipping.
This will give you your Gross sales
– Add up your shipping costs (both to customers and Amazon, if you use FBA)
– Add up the wholesale cost for everything you sold
– Subtract both of these numbers from your gross sales
This will give you your net sales
3. Now add up your business expenses. These include things like
office in the home expense
If you plan to purchase a computer, printer or Fax machine – do it now.
legal, accounting or tax help
car expense (If you are using your personal car for business, then you have to keep a log of business miles driven)
labor or any independent contractors you hired during the year
Educational expenses including any courses you bought (Such as my course The Complete Amazon Marketing System)
Note – these do not have to be courses you attend – self study books, DVDs etc. are allowed as long as they relate to your business.
Any subscriptions or dues related to your business (This includes any business magazines [online or hard copy] you subscribe to such as Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, etc.
Any third party services you subscribe to such as Inventory Lab, TaxJar, Sellers Toolbox, Merchantwords, Refunds Manager and so on
Monthly ISP and email fees
Telephone service (including cell phone if you use it for business)
Advertising (for example money spent on Amazon, Facebook or Google PPC ads)
Office supplies, labels, shipping supplies and tools (tape guns, label printers, etc.) and any printing you do. Note – one of these items is shipping supplies. All the major carriers have announced that shipping rates will go up in January or February 2017, which will make your shipping supplies even more expensive –so it’s best to buy now.
Bank fees or service charges
Interest expense on any money borrowed for your business (including any credit cards used for business)
Fees for licenses or permits
Professional fees (webmaster, etc.)
Any State or local business taxes
Once you add up all these fees – subtract them from your net sales, and you will have your profit before taxes. (This is the amount you will owe taxes on –not the amount listed on your 1099.
Now that you understand how profit is calculated –lets look at some end of year tax planning.
Basically anything on the expense list that you can prepay in advance (By Jan 31st) is a good idea to do.
This would include, purchasing the yearly (instead of monthly), subscriptions to business magazines, third party services and pre-purchasing several months of office and/or shipping supplies. Also, see if you can prepay any website hosting fees (Many hosting companies offer 3-year deals that come at a good discount), ISP or domain fees.
If you plan to buy any training courses – buy them now before the end of the year.
If you haven’t incorporated (or set up an LLC), then late December is a great time to do it. This way you can start running all the business through your corporation from January 1st. And, if you incorporate in the last few days of 2016, your tax expert (I recommend a CPA), can show you how to take some other deductions retroactively. Also, all the fees to incorporate can be taken off your 2016 income –even if you don’t start running business through the corporation until 2017. [If you incorporate, and plan to buy a new vehicle soon, then wait until January 2017 to that. [I don’t have tine or space here to explain, but your tax professional can show you why].
If you owe money for tax prep, or legal and/or accounting fees incurred in 2016 – pay them now.
You may think you only want to do these things if you made a hefty profit in 2016, but you should also do this if you had a loss. Why? Remember – any business losses you have can offset any other income you had in 2016, including W2 income from a job.
One thing you need to be careful of, is the IRS rule, that you must make a taxable profit in at least 2 years out of 5, or the IRS will define your business as a “Hobby Business.” If that happens, the IRS will not allow you to carry losses over to your other income for any of the 5 years –but, you will still owe taxes for any year you made a profit.
So there you have it – my tips to reduce your federal income taxes in 2016. Please remember what I said about this being a simplified explanation and about consulting a tax professional.
This will be my last post for the year, so From my family to yours, for this holiday season,we wish you every blessing that the Lord can bestow on you. May your health and your family’s health continue in strength and endurance. And may the love that binds families together continue to grow and strengthen in your family.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a very Happy and Prosperous New Year to all of you.
Through the end of this year (12/31/16) I’m offering $20 off most of my products! (Products costing less than $20 are excluded from this offer.) Use this coupon codeSAV20SKIP to get the discount. After you enter the coupon be sure and click the button that says APPLY.
PLEASE NOTE – If you want to buy more than one book you will need to buy them separately because my shopping cart will only discount the last item sold.
That coupon doesn’t work on the shopping cart on my UK site. However I have lowered the price on all my UK products by £10.
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