Each year more and more shoppers turn to Amazon as their holiday toy-buying destination. As such, Amazon has adjusted their approach to customer satisfaction by increasing the safeguards around the Toys & Games category and by implementing certain condition restrictions curated for resellers to gate holiday selling.
These restrictions emerged to specifically target new brands and third party sellers wanting to secure a percentage of sales in the toy vertical. As a toy and game manufacturer, you now have key dates and metrics to follow in order to be allowed a ticket to ride the Amazon Q4 train.
But staying in line with the numbers is only part one. Part two involves diligence and strategy. The largest mistake those new-to-Amazon brands make is a lackluster entrance into the marketplace and a failed understanding of the legwork it takes. For a toy brand, this is expedited by the ticking clock of Q4 restrictions.
But fear not! We have gathered all the important details that we’ll share with you so that you can successfully enter the toys & games vertical as a new brand.
A Brief History of the Toy Category
Amazon has been expanding the toy category’s product selection since the year 2000. Their first exploration into the vertical was courtesy of their exclusive partner, Toys “R” Us. The brick-and-mortar giant’s teaming up with Amazon seemed like a match made in heaven.
But as that relationship eroded and Toys “R” Us pulled back their marketplace goals, Amazon turned to their glorious pool of resellers and branded manufacturers to fill shoppers’ needs. Fast forward to now, Amazon has created an endless aisle filled with the hottest toys for Q4 and beyond.
Indeed, the numbers truly speak for themselves, with Amazon Marketplace seeing “an estimated $4.5 billion in U.S. toy sales during 2017. This represents an increase of 12% over 2016,” according to One Click Retail’s Toys On Amazon: 2017 Review report.
Above: Screenshot of Amazon Toys & Games Category
It’s All in the Numbers: the Metrics You Need to Watch
Given the popularity that has developed, Amazon decidedly placed restrictions on any new resellers and/or brands wanting to push products via the platform during Holiday.
Toy brands and resellers that have sold within the vertical in the past are considered “safe” so long as all account metrics mirror the parameters in place. Thankfully, Amazon is quite transparent about their expectations, giving inquisitive brands a full breakdown on their website:
Above: Selling Guidelines in Toys & Games
Amazon’s first two rules fall around sales, both having had a sale prior to Aug. 18 and having processed/shipped at least 25 units within 60 days. Using promotions offered by Amazon is a great way to speed up this process.
Brands can offer coupons, BOGOs, or giveaways to better increase visibility. Another option is to submit your products for a Best Deal, taking advantage of a two-week stint on Amazon’s most visited page, aside from their landing page. Today’s Deals provides the opportunity to tap into a pool of Amazon deal-hunters ready to convert on a sale.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of Off-Amazon advertising. It’s a great way to show Amazon’s algorithms that your products are desired and help achieve sales volume quickly, ensuring your account meets the requirements. Check out our blog, “Planning for Promotions,” for additional ideas and marketing strategies.
Shifting gears to metrics. Amazon monitors three distinct rates that are meticulously checked to ensure their sellers take the customer experience as seriously as they do. Check your metrics daily, and ensure your Pre-Fulfillment Cancel Rate, Late Shipment Rate, and Order Defect Rates are within Amazon’s standards.
Above: Example of Seller Rate Metrics
However, what’s not included in the list above is other requirements that many brands are unaware of.
Firstly, you must have factory invoices to prove you are the manufacturer. Amazon has seemingly made a shift in recent years, putting a greater emphasis on supporting branded manufacturers more so than their resellers.
That is important to note because Amazon will likely require you to submit factory invoices to prove you are not joining Amazon Marketplace to make a quick buck off reselling toys during the holidays.
Manufacturing invoices are solid proof that a brand has intent to invest in the channel, maintains a product selection, and has long-term goals to make Amazon a part of their business model.
Working with established brands is enticing to Amazon because they bring with them a loyal following, independent research and development, and lastly, a deep care for the end consumer—all of which are attractive traits to Amazon.
Conversely, resellers often have little connection to the brand and pose a risk of selling counterfeit product. This new restriction aims to help protect shoppers by supporting only resellers and/or brands that can align themselves with Amazon’s expectations and consumer support.
Secondly, depending on the age range of your toy and/or game, be prepared to present the proper Proof of Child Product Safety Certificates (also known as Child Product Certificate). The certificate will vary based on the instituted age range (either 12 or under, or 13+).
Your Safety Net: Best Practices
Amazon’s protection of the customer experience extends beyond just initial healthy metrics from a seller and a timely seller application.
Amazon has high expectations all year long. Once you successfully launch within the Toys & Games category, you need to continue to provide a top notch experience for your shoppers in order to maintain visibility once the holidays roll around.
As an agency, we’ve experienced firsthand the work it takes to maintain a spot amongst the thousands of other sellers in the category. Your first step as a brand is to evaluate whether you are investing in an internal Amazon team or you want to be internally lean and instead outsource Amazon experts.
If you find yourself at that crossroad, feel free to review “Who Should You Hire to Handle Your Amazon Channel.” Or if you’re grouped into the first option, the points below are best practices we recommend to stay between the lines and experience a successful holiday season.
Start now. Many brands wait until fall to launch their products in the toy category and so face the harsh reality of being too late to the party. To help understand the level of preparation necessary, check out our past blog on “Amazon Pre Launch Checklist.”
On the topic of time, secure an internal team early on to be tasked with daily/weekly account review. Remember those really important metrics from above? Yeah, they’re still important. Pre-Fulfillment Cancel Rate, Late Shipment Rate, and Order Defect Rates matter throughout the year, not just in September or October.
If health metrics are not up to par, you risk account suspension or listing suppression while you are trying to build an Amazon foundation. Use that team to also monitor your customer metrics and take corrective action when necessary. Furthermore, ensure that the team is checking orders frequently in the Manage Orders section of your account.
To help minimize order cancellations, show only inventory for sale that you have available to ship. That tip has a halo effect that will support your products surfacing organically as well. And finally, ship orders and confirm shipment in a timely manner.
If you work with third party logistics providers (3PLs) to fulfill your orders, solidify service level agreements and commitments for providing prompt and accurate shipping confirmation.
As previewed above, use promotions, deals, and advertising to build up ranking within Amazon’s algorithm. Sales are vital to gaining access to the Toys & Games category. However, sales are also important post-launch—for your pocketbook as well as for your chance to stay relevant once the holidays come around.
Sales are your ticket to reviews. And any shopper buying a toy or game for their child, niece, nephew, etc. is going to read reviews with a fine-tooth comb. Choosing to set up a promotional schedule and run marketing/promos are a surefire way to garnish visibility and reviews.
Finally, read through customer reviews to identify opportunities for product enhancement or modification. As pointed out above, your shoppers are going to be looking at reviews closely. If you start early enough, you have time to make product adjustments quickly, thus reducing negative reviews and building your brand at the same time.
Set It and Forget It Is Not an Option
As with all things Amazon, set it and forget it is simply not enough to succeed. Entering the marketplace requires planning, strategic initiatives, and diligence.
As a new-to-Amazon toy/game Amazon seller, your success is further dependent on the planning part, given the restrictions that Amazon has placed on the category. Gone are the days when decent seller metrics keep you afloat; the category has evolved into a race track, and the winners are those who invested their time and energy to secure holiday success.
Start now. Understand deadlines, lead times, and metric requirements. And plan. Understand your strategy, budgets, and the internal team’s tasks. Be diligent in listening to organic feedback from early customers, and plan to promote. As the numbers show, Amazon holiday shopping is here to stay, and brands that stepped into the ring in the right way are counting dividends.