Amazon.com Inc. has been top of mind for Atlantans after the city made the e-commerce giant’s shortlist for a $5 billion second headquarters that would bring up to 50,000 jobs to the metro area.
But all the focus on its inbound potential has left some Atlanta companies unaware of how the company’s platforms can help them reach out around the world.
More than half the products sold on Amazon’s massive online marketplace are provided by small and medium-sized business owners, and its Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service allows them to reach more than 300 million customers in more than 180 countries.
Much like exporters generally, those who use Amazon to fill international orders are seeing their growth accelerate relative to those that haven’t taken advantage of the service.
“In 2017, sales by small and medium businesses who sell globally grew at more than 50 percent, and that is twice the rate of domestic-only sellers,” said Cynthia Williams, Amazon’s vice president of FBA and a keynote speaker at an April 6 digital marketing conference hosted by UGA’s Small Business Development Center at Kennesaw State University.
Marjory Laymon, senior manager of product development at FBA, also led an afternoon breakout session at the conference, letting business owners know more about how to leverage FBA to grow globally.
Questions from the group of 20-30 attendees ranged from the logistics of managing listings across marketplaces to VAT registration for those exploring using FBA to sell in Europe.
While e-commerce still pales in comparison to brick-and-mortar sales, selling online is a way for small companies to level the playing field with larger competitors.
According to research firm eMarketer Inc., the future of e-commerce is increasingly global, with countries like China contributing substantially to the projected doubling of all online retail sales to $4 trillion in 2020 from its 2016 total.
Many of FBA’s most compelling success stories come from small-scale entrepreneurs who saw Amazon as a way to go global without the hassle of building out their own platforms — with all the compliance, currency and customer-service issues those entail.
Elena Castañeda, founder & CEO of BlingJewelry.com, started her jewelry business in her one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Using FBA, she cracked into exporting and now sells as much abroad as she does domestically. Taking a measured approach, she has gradually reached out to Europe, Mexico, Canada and Japan, and she’s soon to launch with FBA in India.
“Without the platform, we probably would have never even tried international sales,” Ms. Castañeda says in a video testimonial describing her experience.
More than 300,000 U.S.-based small and medium-sized businesses joined Amazon in 2017 alone. Working with FBA, they can ship their goods to fulfillment centers across the world that not only distribute their products but also handle customer service on behalf of the business in the local language and provide seller support.
In places like Europe, looking and acting like a local company has obvious appeal in improving speed to market and cutting down shipping costs for buyers, said Rick Martin, director of the international trade center at the UGA SBDC, which helped host the conference.
“It gives them a profile right there in the EU where they have the same service as any other European company,” he said. Whether they should work with Amazon comes down to their appetite for sussing out trade rules and learn how to adapt their websites and supply chains for global markets.
Amazon also offers built-in trust for buyers, allowing shrewd business owners to take advantage of what has always been the company’s hallmark—an obsession with delivering a stellar customer service experience.
“At Amazon, we consider our competitors, but we obsess about our customers,” Ms. Williams told Global Atlanta in an interview. “My team and I wake up every day asking, ‘How do we help them be more successful?’”
With this knowledge, companies can save time and focus on their passions. Those nights packing goods can now be spent on new product development or with families. Small and local no longer precludes being global as well.
Chris Gunther, Ohio-based owner of Vintage Book Art Company, started selling print designs on a whim, and it soon became a full-time job. Used in tandem with Amazon’s Handmade platform, FBA helped him easily reach new markets abroad.
“It takes a lot of the more tedious work out of the seller’s hands, such as packing and shipping individual orders as well as any returns, so they can focus more on their products and growing their business,” Mr. Gunther said.
That said, international trade consultant Jeff Lamb said companies should do a bit of leg work to make sure their exports meet regulations in various countries. Even using outside logistics providers or couriers for fulfillment, the company can be on the hook for errors on forms.
“You still have to make sure they’re filling it out correctly, and I’ve seen that come back to bite people,” said Mr. Lamb, who heads up ULS Global Strategies LLC.
While learning the basics of exporting, translating and preparing a website for global sales and aren’t all that difficult, he sees Amazon’s appeal in streamlining fulfillment and reaching large pool of potential customers with little risk, he said, echoing Ms. Castañeda.
“On the positive side, it may be a way to get into exporting when you may not have been thinking about it before,” he said.
To learn more about FBA, go here.