What Sun Tzu Would Tell You About Selling on Amazon

by Colleen Quattlebaum

Every day, more and more new sellers register for Amazon and begin displaying their wares to the world. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been selling for a few months or several years, you know how intense the competition gets - and it is not slowing down anytime soon.

While most sellers have a good camaraderie, there is a certain element of selling on Amazon that is like a war. You have to pick your battles well, prepare for them, and execute your strategy to perfection.

If you can identify with this view, then it’s worth your time to listen to one of the ultimate masters of war, Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War.

The book is an ancient Chinese military treatise and considered one of the ultimate authorities on military strategy.

Here are three things that Sun Tzu would tell you about selling on Amazon.

1. “What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.”

Sun Tzu would hate the fact that you are spending time keeping track of items that have been sitting in Amazon’s warehouse for months at a time. Strike early, and go for the quick, complete victory. If you are going to follow Sun Tzu’s advice, don’t waste your time chasing after items that will not sell quickly unless you are confident of very high margins.

2. “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”

A great seller is going to use money wisely and only go after battles that can be won. Do your research and find the answers to the most important questions before you commit to buying something. How many other FBA sellers are there? What is the lowest offer price? What is the Product Rank?

Sun Tzu would likely tell you to target SKUs that either have no other FBA sellers, or ones where you can easily beat the price of the current FBA sellers. He also says that the environment itself presents opportunities. The weakness of your competitor (in our case, overpriced items) can open opportunities and show you where you will likely be victorious.

3. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

An undisciplined buyer goes out and buys every product imaginable and then tries to figure out how to sell it. Most of these approaches find you having to drop the price just to move the product.

Instead of just relying on intuition and luck, create a strategy. Is there a specific category you can dominate in? What expected margins will you commit yourself to before buying?

4. “Do Battle Before the Battle”

By the time you list an item on Amazon, you are too late to think about strategy. In fact, Amazon shouldn’t be the battleground. The real battle happens when you look through a supplier’s catalog and decide what to buy and how to buy it. If you make smart decisions there, Amazon just becomes a place where the best sellers go to collect their money.

Let MarketScout be your battle tool and help you find the battles you can win before you enter them.

Originally published on April 28, 2015, updated April 30, 2019

This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.