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Amazon/Walmart eCommerce Tactics with Elizabeth Marsten

By Site Strategics
December 4, 2019

Our special guest for episode 335 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was Elizabeth Marsten, Senior Director of Strategic Marketplace Services at Tinuiti. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Elizabeth about to make the most of the Amazon and Walmart marketplaces for selling products. Here’s what we learned: 


Elizabeth Marsten: Her Background and Experience

Elizabeth Marsten is the Senior Director of Strategic Marketplace Services as Tinuiti. She’s been a speaker at MozCon, SMS advanced East and West, PPC Hero, MarketingProfs, University B2B, PPC Masters, and others. Elizabeth has pivoted from PPC to marketplace advertising.

When Elizabeth first heard of PPC back in 2006 what she heard was “paperclip marketing” and had to Google it to discover it was “pay per click marketing.” She started out at Portent, a small internet marketing firm in Settle where she learned about many of the different pieces of the digital marketing puzzle: Paid search, SEO, content analytics, WebDev, and so on. She rose through the ranks to VP of Search, then went to work for CommerceHub where they were doing product catalog feed management, retail, and drop ship. That was where Elizabeth started working on the marketplace and gained her broad knowledge of the Amazon marketplace platform. Now at Tinuiti she’s working on the Walmart marketplace as a channel.


The Rise of Holiday eCommerce

The US spent $7.4 billion on online retail Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) in 2019, raising the year-on-year digital growth for the period to 43%. A figure like that in terms of growth is rare in economics. But Elizabeth notes there is a downside to it. People look at a big, big, number like and think it’s replicable. The challenge she faces with the Walmart marketplace is how people think they can just take what they’re doing on Amazon and flip it over and it’s going to work on any marketplace such as Walmart, and that’s not necessarily true. 

Still, there is a pretty definitive overlap between the core customers of both marketplaces. Survey work from the Cleveland Research Company showed how 57% of survey respondents who shop at Amazon also shop on Walmart, and 91% who shop on Walmart, also shop on Amazon. So there is definitely some overlap. Those figures are probably going to start evening out more as Walmart continues to work on its convenience aspect. What people always forget is how unlike Amazon, Walmart has physical stores – more than 4,700 in the US (something like 90% of the US population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart). And Walmart is really starting to grow its concept of buying online and picking up in the store, or even pick it up in the parking lot without having to even get of your car or go into the store. Walmart is putting a lot of money into building its eCommerce marketplace platform, and while some see it as a loss, it’s just going to take a while to see the fruits of those big investments. 

Cyber Monday has also grown. Cyber Monday 2018 was the biggest online shopping day ever, hitting $7.9 billion in sales, which was a 19% increase over the previous year. This type of growth makes sense when you think about the innovations that have happened recently around making it as easy to possible to buy something online without going through a bunch of steps and forms and so on. These days you can get it done in just three clicks in many cases. It’s about always finding ways to reduce the friction in eCommerce transactions.


Continually Reducing the Friction in eCommerce

There are so many ways that eCommerce can get tripped up or slowed down – that’s the friction Elizabeth is talking about. There are many eCommerce websites that were built 10 years ago, and they just don’t work well anymore. It takes way too long to get products added and so on. But re-platforming is a major undertaking. Is the site mobile-friendly? How long does it take to load? What does it look like on a phone? Then there are all the new rules around privacy and how you handle people’s personal data. All of this takes time and money to overhaul.

Think about Google and how it introduced the “buy button” back in 2015, though they didn’t like calling it that, but that’s what it was. It was rolled out in a very limited way to just Android users and a few select brands. It only came up on a small percentage of searches. Fast-forward to now and you see how Google learned and evolved from all that. Now there’s Google Shopping. They have your loyalty programs stored. The know if you have an open cart. They know if you’re on your device or not. They’ll notify you of drop in the free shipping threshold for items you left sitting in your cart because you didn’t have enough for free shipping. Two clicks, done.


Fear of the Marketplaces

Online retailers have really gone deep into website SEO, SEM, social media marketing. But there seems to be a huge amount of hesitation to jump into the marketplace advertising space. In a way this fear is understandable. It’s not like advertising on the Amazon marketplace is anywhere near the same thing as advertising on Google. Even though Amazon is growing rapidly, it would take at least a decade of that same growth rate to catch up to Google. But the difference is that a marketplace’s advertising platform is not its primary function the same way like it is for Google – and let’s face it, Google is an advertising platform with a search engine. But the primary reason people go to Amazon is to buy things from its marketplace. Advertising is number four or five on the list of what they do. 

Because of this, the advertising platform at Amazon isn’t as robust in functions and capabilities as it is at a Google or Facebook. But it has certainly come a long way in the last several years. And what’s even more true is when you put money into Amazon marketplace advertising, it comes back out. The sponsored product ad unit has been a truly star performer. And Amazon’s got its own DSP (demand-side platform) that is surprisingly powerful. The conversion rates on those ads are outstanding. Elizabeth does have to talk clients away from their “must get ROI” obsession. She tells them when it comes to programmatic, ROI is simply not a useful framework. Focus instead on building the upper part of the marketing funnel with awareness and then use other Amazon advertising capabilities like sponsored products to capture more of the funnel.

Another challenge is how a lot of client companies don’t know where to house such an effort. So who should be in charge of the Amazon DSP advertising? Who should manage it? Would it be the Amazon team? The programmatic team? Where is the budget coming from? It needs to be a kind of hybrid effort, but many companies aren’t set up or have a culture of that kind of cross-team collaboration. And for what – something feels like a very small piece of the puzzle. But it’s also got lots of room to grow.


Readiness Before Marketplace Participation

Not every retailer is eligible for marketplace participation if they’re viewed as a competitor. But in general, before diving in the company has to be “retail ready,” which is basically, what is your inventory? How fast can you get it? And how much does it cost? Answer those questions consistently across all your channels and you’re ready.

Of course, the gritty details of those are tricky, such as delivery. Amazon keeps upping the shipping game – two-day, one-day, same-day. Then there’s price. You don’t have to beat anything in particular, you just have to be close enough within a competitive range. Then there’s assortment, which also gets tricky. If you offer the exact same assortment on multiple platforms, why be on all those platforms? The client responds because they want to reach the people who are on that channel. That’s fine, but you can also differentiate so there is a reason why a person should buy from you on that particular platform – exclusivity, items only available on that particular platform.

But there’s another aspect of readiness that has to do with the internal capabilities of the company or organization. Does the company have the organizational capacity to be on multiple channels or platforms? Can it handles sales tax? Some platforms handle it for you (Amazon) and others do not (eBay), so you have to know the tax laws. Do you have the content and creative capacity to take advantage of what each platform offers? Does the organization have clarity about who is in charge and responsible for the marketplace efforts? How are they rewarded or how are bonuses determined? After all, what gets rewarded is what gets done. This internal organizational aspect is about thinking through whether or not you’re ready to execute and how. 

Connect with Elizabeth Marsten and Tinuiti

Twitter: @abkendo (https://twitter.com/ebkendo)

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethmarsten 

Tinuiti Website: https://tinuiti.com

Tinuiti Twitter: @Tinuiti (https://twitter.com/tinuiti)

Tinuiti Facebook: @tinuiti1 (https://www.facebook.com/tinuiti1/)

Search Engine Journal: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/author/elizabeth-marsten

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