Originally published on June 4, 2020, updated July 8, 2020
Amazon Growth Adviser Norman Farrar shares how to build a successful Amazon FBA business, from sourcing to promotion. Whether you are new to selling on Amazon or have been selling for a decade, you are guaranteed to get some valuable tips from Norman in this webinar, and the best part is you can apply them to your business immediately!
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You can watch the webinar above or check out the show notes below for the recap and a full transcript.
Amazon Growth Adviser Norman Farrar recently joined us for a great webinar and shared his strategies for building an Amazon FBA business. In this incredible one-hour discussion, we cover everything from sourcing to promotion.
Whether you are new to selling on Amazon or have been selling for a decade, you are guaranteed to get some valuable tips from what several attendees have called the “best webinar ever.” Definitely put aside some time to watch the whole video, but in the meantime, let’s review some of the highlights!
The easiest way for new brands to source from China is through Alibaba. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive way. When you register from the United States or Canada, for example, a foreigner tax of about 30% is automatically added. This means sellers will pay that much more over market price than if they bought their products locally in China.
You can use a broker or trade company, to work with Chinese manufacturers in person, but they also take a piece of the action. Sourcing agents, however, can cut out all of that. “They are a trading company, but they're working for you,” said Farrar. “Get one that’s in China that can go out, check the factories out for you on your behalf. One of the things that you can do is you can see the actual factory. You can go in and get a report and do a factory audit if you want, but at least they have boots on the ground and they're talking the lingo.” A major benefit of this is that it’s a “Chinese to Chinese interaction, so there’s a comfort there.”
Even though a good sourcing agent can save you money in negotiation, it’s important to be properly capitalized before you get into any of this. “If you go into China on your last dollar, hoping things will work out, it won’t go well,” Farrar explained. “Wait until you get some money behind you so you can properly market the new products as well as reorder if your product performs well on Amazon.”
Another money-saving tip — consolidate your samples! When you’re looking for new products and you request samples, have them all sent over to your sourcing agent. Rather than paying to have them sent individually, your agent can send everything over in one package!
Once you’ve done your vetting and placed your orders, it’s time to get your product out of China. You may not know about Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) Codes and how they relate to Chinese trademarks, but you should. It’s an essential way to protect your Amazon business if you’re sourcing from China.
As Farrar explains, it’s not the norm, but there have been incidences where Chinese manufacturers have seen “what’s selling really well on Amazon, and they’re taking those US trademarks and trademarking in China. When your manufacturer takes the product and they ship it to the port, customs won’t allow them to ship out because you don’t own the trademark in China.”
To protect yourself, it’s worth spending the money (which could range from a few hundred dollars to as much as $1200) to register a Chinese trademark for your product. The process is a lot quicker than it is in the United States and you’ll have peace of mind. You should consider this as an insurance policy, of sorts, when you’re sourcing from China.
Norm also covered ways you can save money regarding HTS codes. Never let your manufacturer assign the HTS code - there are different taxes associated with different codes and there may be an applicable code that can save you money! He gave an example of a soap he sells - under the soap HTS code he was going to have to pay a hefty tax to import the product, but the soap was, in fact, castile soap and under THAT HTS code, the tax was $0.
Selling on Amazon is very competitive, so you might be wondering how to create listings that truly stand out. The first thing Farrar suggests is hiring a professional photographer to capture product images. Then, using a focus group such as PickFu or Usability Hub, choose the most eye-catching picture to represent your product.
With your primary photo set, create a gallery of lifestyle photography and product details (including instructions for use, when applicable) to provide social proof for potential buyers. Showing a real person using your product helps customers imagine themselves using it, increasing their chances of making a purchase. In the final media slot on your listing, add a video to further engage your audience.
Next, you want to make sure that your titles are strong. Look at a listing that’s performing well, make a few changes, and try to improve on it. Look at the reviews from the focus group and note any complaints, then make sure you address those issues in your listing.
Thinking about using influencers to promote your product? Keep in mind that they will be associated with your brand, so you want to attract the right kinds of people. “The best business in the world to be in right now is a micro-influencer or a micro-brand,” said Farrar. “Most people don't understand the ability that a micro-brand has at succeeding and becoming an enormous company. Very powerful.”
You don’t have to be a household name to do well on Amazon. According to Farrar, you should focus on building trust and authority “on the largest buying search engine in the world…If somebody comes over to my Amazon listing and they go, 'Oh, that's a nice looking bar of soap...' Next thing they're going to do is click off and go to Google, and they're going to see if it's a real company.” As such, you need to have a website with “really great content” and press releases.
If you’re using influencers, make sure they have a broad audience and can “get you to people you could never have reached,” suggested Farrar. Where do you start looking for the right social media personalities? “Tomoson.com has had an influencer platform forever. They've worked with Amazon sellers for quite some time. Intellifluence.com is another one.”
Whether you’re still in the planning phase or you’ve launched your Amazon business, this remarkably instructional webinar will provide some excellent insight. While we’ve reviewed some of the topics covered, nothing can replace listening to Norman Farrar’s easy to follow advice. Set aside some time for this “professional self-care,” and get ready to spring into action!
Liz: I'm Liz, and this is Norm, you're going to learn more about us in a second. But today we've got an awesome webinar about building an Amazon FBA business. Now, this content is great if you're just getting started. I know there are a lot of people who are exploring the Amazon platform and taking a look at what eCommerce might mean for them in the future, but there are also some pretty experienced sellers that I think can learn a few things today. So stick around, we're going to get into the content in just a second. As people come in, know that this webinar is being recorded. If you did register for this webinar, you will be sent a recording likely tomorrow morning.
Liz: As we talk about different resources, different websites, Colleen Quattlebaum is here today. She's going to be popping those links into the chat. If you've got technical questions or you've got any kind of problems with Zoom or anything like that, you can definitely put that in the chat and Coleen will address it. But if you've got questions for Norm, put those in the Q&A part of Zoom at the bottom of your screen, and then we'll do a Q&A session at the end. It looks like we have got a steady number of people, so we're going to get started. I am Liz Fickenscher, I'm the industry liaison at eComEngine. I'll tell you a little bit about us in a second, and I am so pleased to welcome Norm Farrar, who is one of the most knowledgeable guys I've ever met and super, super nice too. So Norm, thank you so much for being here today.
Norm: Oh, it's my pleasure.
Liz: Why don't you tell everybody, as if they didn't know because of course you're famous, but why don't you just give an overview of all the stuff that you do and how you probably never ever sleep, because look at all that stuff. So just tell everybody about yourself.
Norm: Well, I think coffee's coming, but sure. That's important. So a little bit about myself, and it all comes together. I hate talking about this stuff, but anyways, I've been in the eCom business since 19... It was around mid nineties that I got involved with it and been involved with brand development and corporate identity for about 30 years. Started a factory with my family in Taiwan, Canada, United States, and then built a factory in China and we still own and operate that today. Fulfillment center, sourcing company and... Not a fulfillment, a warehousing company. So just a little bit of everything, and a tech hub.
Norm: The reason why I'm saying that is because everything came together. When I got involved with Amazon, you needed to know about branding. You needed to know about packaging. You needed to find a product. You had to source the product. You had to know a little bit about logistics. And if you didn't know about it, you know you had to find a way to get the answers. I was able to get involved with Amazon and start back, it was only about four or five years ago, during the glory days, the wild West days of Amazon.
Liz: That's awesome. If you don't know who eComEngine is, we are a software company focused on success for Amazon sellers, third party Amazon sellers. We've been around, not quite as long as Norm has been in the business, but quite a while with our flagship tool FeedbackFive, which is reputation management tool that lets you ask for and manage your feedback and reviews, which is important. We also have RestockPro, which is an inventory management tool for FBA sellers. MarketScout, which is a quick product research tool and actually has some other cool capabilities that we've been exploring. So you should ask me about that later. And SmartPrice, which is an algorithmic repricer, and we actually are inviting people to try that right now for free. That's not forever, but for right now. So if you have questions about that, contact me too.
Liz: Let's jump into what we're going to talk about today. Norm has got this amazing depth of knowledge and actually getting it down to an hour of conversation is going to be difficult, I think, because he understands the nuances of so many different aspects of building a successful FBA business on Amazon. But we are going to talk about the importance of competitive analysis. We're going to talk about tips when sourcing from China, what makes a great listing, how to market your listing, how to find influencers that can help you. I know, I can hear my email just buzzing right now. Influencers, tell me about influencers. Norm can tell you about some influencers. And using public relations and PR effectively, which is one of Norm's specialties too. Then we're going to have Q&A at the end. So again, if you're just joining us, if you've got questions related to the content today, please put those into Q&A part of Zoom.
Liz: If you've got questions about, is this being recorded, which it is, am I going to receive it later? You will. And all that kind of stuff, then please hop into the chat and Coleen will help you. So without further ado, I'm going to stop sharing so that you can see all of Norm's smiling face and that magnificent beard. But Norm, let's start with sourcing.
Liz: Sourcing can be a big problem for new sellers and for experienced sellers. So let's go through your top five tips you can give someone who is sourcing product, especially in China.
Norm: All right. So if your brand's spanking new, usually the easiest way is the most expensive way. That's going to Alibaba, typically Alibaba. What most people don't realize is that when you go on to Alibaba and you register and you show up as a US or a Canadian, you're pretty much already taxed about 30%. Now, not a formal tax, but they just say foreigner, and you're about 30% more above market price than if you were to buy it locally in China. The other thing is in Alibaba, you have to worry about brokers. So you're never, never dealing with the manufacturer. When I hear people, oh yeah, I'm dealing with a manufacturer, you have to do super high numbers, or it's got to be a pretty small manufacturer to deal with them. They always get brokers, or we call them trade companies to work with them.
Norm: What happens on Alibaba, well, one trade company might be on another trade company, which might sell for another trade company. We've gone as far back as five trade companies and they all make their little piece of the action. Now, one of the reasons... I have a sourcing company, but sourcing agents cut out all of that. They are a trading company, but they're working for you. And if you're looking at getting involved with a, I'm just going to call a sourcing agent, you get a sourcing agent that's in China that can go out, check the factories out for you on your behalf. One of the things that you can do is you can see the actual factory. You can go in and get a report and do a factory audit if you want, but at least they have boots on the ground and they're talking the lingo.
Norm: One of the other things that's very important when you're talking to the Chinese, it's Chinese to Chinese, there's a comfort there. I've always found that when we were dealing in China, and we dealt in China quite a bit, that we thought we would get the best price until our general manager got involved and we would get a better price. I just think it's that tax that you pay for going over there. Now, I want to step back one, I want to make sure that we go back even further. Before you get into any of this, I really want you to understand that you have to be properly capitalized.
Norm: If you go into China and you're trying to get something because you're on your last dollar and you're hoping, praying that this is going to work, this is not for you. Wait, wait till you get some money behind you. You want to make sure that you probably, I would just say whatever inventory that you're buying and putting onto Amazon, make sure you have about two and a half, three times what the inventory cost is. So you can properly market it as well as reorder. If this thing takes off, you're going to have to reorder the stock. And if it's a home run, you really do have to make sure that you could go under just because you have a home run, and I've seen that happen to a company. That's one thing to just take a look at.
Norm: Now, the other thing a good sourcing agent will do, most people don't realize this, is they will save you a ton of money in the negotiation. And here's a tip. When you find that perfect product and you get the sample, that's another tip, you consolidate your samples. You don't get them sent over one at a time. Each time you do that, it could be $50, it could be $75, it could be a lot more depending on the supplier. You get all of them sent over to your sourcing agent, and then they'll send it over in one package. You'll save hundreds if not thousands of dollars if you're putting multiple items up. But when you finally find that product and you're ready to sign off and you're negotiating back and forth with the factory, negotiate on the product. Don't negotiate on the packaging, don't negotiate on the insert. Negotiate strictly on the product. What that'll allow you to do is your manufacturer is not a packaging company. They're not design company for the most part. This is where they'll put it on. They're business people, they'll put on 30%, 40%, 100%.
Norm: Here's what I do. I get them to negotiate that, I go and find packaging. You can go and find it anywhere you want. You can find it on Alibaba. There's a lot of sourcing agents that will go out and find your packaging for you and do the design work. But this is, I find that, especially if you leave that in the hands of the factory, that you're probably going to get not the greatest designs. And when you find out that your packaging comes back at 45 cents and the factory comes back at $1.25, you're going to save a ton of cash. Here's another tip on that. A lot of the times people will buy the bare minimum, 250 units, 500 units, and they might have a price of two dollars a piece. But if they buy 2,500 units, they might get it down to 87 cents or 75 cents. I always recommend if this is the supplier you think you're going to be going with, buy the 2,500 units. Ask your supplier to store them in their warehouse. They'll do it for free because the businesses coming to them.
Norm: The other thing that you're going to save money on is you'll ask, after the price has been negotiated, if they would do the kitting or assembly work for you. So they'll box the product. If you've got a bar of soap, they'll put the soap in the box, put the insert in. Most will do it for a minimal cost or free. And many, I would say almost a majority of time, they'll do it for free. So these are all ways that you can save a ton of money when you're sourcing product.
Norm: Let's see. The other thing that a sourcing agent can do, most companies, even experienced companies go out and they still use US dollars. Well, they don't realize that when they're selling or buying using US dollars to buy product, that your factory is hedging the exchange. They're hoping that it's not going to go too high. They're hoping it's going to go, well, I shouldn't say that. The difference in the cost that I see is been about 5%, 10%, maybe even as high as 15, I've heard as high as 20% that some factories hedge the US dollars. So you can pay your sourcing agent in US dollars, and the exchange rate will be next to nothing. Then they buy from the factory in RMB and now you're saving another five to 10%.
Norm: Just to give you an example of one of the products, we were looking at these garden shears. The garden shears started out at seven dollars and somewhat cents, I think it was 7.85. We ended up with first negotiations without really even trying, we got it down into 3.85 without trying. And it was the same garden shear. Matter of fact, it was a better garden shear. So this guy couldn't believe it. It was because we went to the factory, we were actually able to talk to the factory. If we couldn't talk to the factory directly, we talked to their official trading company who helped us out. One of the other really important parts, and we're going to touch on this, but it's competitive analysis. So before you talk to your factory, you really want to know how you can make your product different than everybody else.
Norm: I like using the plastic shoe stretcher. It's a horrible product. But the red plastic shoe stretcher, look it up on Amazon, you won't find it with any rating over three and a half stars, but people still buy it. There are seven people that are buying it right now, hopefully you're not listening, but there's seven people that are buying this ugly plastic shoe stretcher that doesn't work and they still buy it. If I was looking at their product and I saw that there were three and a half stars max, I would abandon it, or I would try to see how I can make it better, maybe make the string better, or make the plastic better, or make it a different color. I don't know, add a shoe horn on it. I have no idea, but you try to find a way to make it better and you can do that.
Norm: I'll go back to the garden shears. So with the garden shears, we were able to take a steel carbon blade, which was selling for around 7.99, we were able to with the new supplier, this is on average, the steel carbon blades, if you take a look on Amazon right now coming directly from China on Amazon 7.99, the US suppliers are selling them for about 12 to 15. By changing to a titanium blade, you're up to $21. It's a 45 cents shift. So you're taking the titanium, replacing it and that 45 cents is going into five to seven dollars more, even $10 more just on 45 cents. That's something to take a look at, and that's just a slight change. It's very simple to change your product or ask the manufacturer, what can I do that these other people aren't doing to change the product?
Liz: So you do that competitive analysis and you figure out what you want your product to be. Then you get your capital together, and then you find a sourcing agent. When you get your samples generated, you make sure you get them all at once instead of one at a time. You negotiate your prices, which I think we're going to have a question about later so let's keep that in mind, and order more inventory than you actually need. That's a lot.
Norm: Order more packaging inventory that you actually need. I don't know if you want me to talk about inventory strategy here, but I can talk about that a little later or now.
Liz: Yeah. The next thing that you're going to have to face as you're going through this journey, is that you've done the sourcing and negotiation. You've placed your orders. Now you need to get your product out of China. I think that it would be helpful to talk a little bit about trademarks in HTS codes, because I don't think people know a lot about that. When you and I talked before you had some good tips, so what's your advice related to those two components of the puzzle?
Norm: Okay. Then we should talk on the logistics, getting the product out. There has been some conversation about Chinese trademarks. What happens, it's not the norm, but it is happening that some Chinese are seeing what's selling really well on Amazon and they're taking those trademarks, your US trademarks, and they're trademarking in China. So when your manufacturer takes the product and they ship it to the port, customs won't allow them to ship out because you don't own the trademark in China. It's very inexpensive being anywhere from, it could be a few hundred dollars to as high as $1,200 to register a trademark in China. And if you're paying $1,200, that's on the very, very high end. But it's always safe. It's like an insurance policy to register a Chinese trademark.
Liz: Is it any quicker than getting a US trademark?
Norm: Oh yeah. It's a lot quicker.
Liz: It goes quicker.
Norm: It's a lot quicker. But-
Liz: So you can go and apply for a US trademark and then get your Chinese trademark and do your other stuff.
Norm: Yeah. So let's talk about that for a second, because most people wait nine months and there's no reason it. They can go to the Amazon AI program. This is a database of lawyers that they don't charge you any more than if you were to contact them directly, but they'll file your trademark for you. Amazon's already vetted them and pre-approved them. What happens is if you use them, instead of waiting nine months, you wait weeks instead of months to get your brand registry. So while that's going on, and if you've got your product going, let's say you're spending a significant amount of money, I would definitely get a trademark. You might not think it's an insurance policy. You might want to take the gamble. Like a lot of people don't get their product inspected. They take a gamble because they want to save $300. There are certain things that you want to spend your money on and certain things that you can let fly. Product inspection coming out of China is absolutely something that you need to have.
Liz: I've had some very scary webinars about what happens when people don't do proper product inspection. That's something that as a person who errs on the side of caution on almost all things, it just terrifies me to think that there are people that are ordering something from very far away no matter where it is, and not going through a rigorous inspection process to make sure it's safe to sell it to people.
Norm: Yeah. I learned by using a broker, Freddie, Freddie the broker, this guy was on the take. It's plain and simple. He was on the take. The inspection company, we had $300, they said everything was okay. We learned the hard way. We were doing a run for, what's it called? Home Depot. And we had a bunch of containers come in. We opened up the container and guess what? The EVA tiles that we were selling over there, all were garbage, 100% garbage, and we had to eat it. I think it was $50,000 per container. Nothing I could do.
Liz: That's just nightmare fuel.
Norm: It's nightmare fuel. Yeah. But this is where really finding a reputable company that works with reputable, and there are a lot of really good sourcing companies out there. It's like anything, if it looks too good to be true and they're free, then you're going to get what you pay for. There's a lot of companies still in China that are just corrupt and all those really inexpensive ones, you get what you're pay for. For example, when we do our factory audits, we go out, we take a look at the factories. If we're trying to find something, everybody wants everything in 24 hours, it's Alibaba. Oh, I get the quote back the next day. Well, you've never seen the factory. You don't know anything about these people. We'll actually either fly or take a train or go to a factory to do an inspection of the factory, to make sure that the product is real and we can get the product and talk to the general managers of the factory.
Norm: Anyways, it's a bit more expensive. We're paying train tickets. And sometimes you don't have to do that, but a lot of the times you do. I know we just finished flying all over the place, this was for the masks, nothing ever happened, but we ate the bill. Everybody was quoting on masks and then the types of masks that we were getting quotes for couldn't come out of China. So it was a waste of time. But this thing was, we could go to the factory and inspect it to make sure it wasn't some home networking service.
Liz: Right. Somebody actually commented in the chat. I think it's relevant to mention it now that there are companies that will go ahead and send you the sample. That's fine, I guess, but isn't there a little bit of concern if somebody is like, say on the take, like you said that guy was, is there a possibility that that's not a hundred percent the safest way to do things? And can a sourcing agent actually go and assist with an inspection?
Norm: Absolutely. Yeah. First of all, yes, a sourcing agency usually have their connections or they are part of an inspection service. As for signing off, if you've got a product that a company, and we're not talking about one, because usually you're looking at three or four different factories, so you're getting three or four different samples that are coming back. If you're only getting one sample back from one factory, you are asking for trouble. What I would suggest is that you try to find other options and probably even more so is when you get into production, you want to have a production sample that's sent over and that you sign off on. This is for something more down the road.
Norm: What happens with a lot of factories is they take your business for granted. And what happens is, if you don't have that production sample signed off and you don't put it onto your proforma, that your production must meet the production sample, all of a sudden you'll notice that maybe the quality of the screws or the spring or the plastic might be cheap and they'll leave out things. I've told you a couple of instances that happened. And they were nightmares because the factory over a period of one, two or three years, decided that they were going to skimp a little bit because they got compliant.
Liz: That's all super, super scary.
Norm: Yeah, it is.
Liz: Let's touch on ACS codes real quick. Because we were talking about sourcing agents before you said that a sourcing agent can be extremely helpful when it comes to the HTS code associated with the products that you're trying to ship out of a location.
Norm: Right. Most good... Well, let's put it this way. If you're dealing with a Chinese factory and sometimes they're going to send off your products, I'll use a product that I have, soap, and they send off a soap and the HTS codes harmonize tax, these are tariffs. This is basically a structure that will tax any products coming into the United States or United States coming into Canada. There's these codes that will tell you whether it can come in for free, or if there's 5%, 7%, 17%, with trumpets 25% on some goods. So people don't realize that this could save you a ton of money. I know with my soap, I was bringing it in under natural soap and I think I was being charged 17%. I redid the HTS code and it went from under soap to CASTILE soap.
Liz: Which it is.
Norm: It is. And it's true, you can't lie on this or you'll get into a lot of trouble. But if you re-categorize it just like I did, castile soap, I got zero. I saved 17%. The other day, I think a few weeks back, somebody was bringing in quarantine signs. So the manufacturer put something, I forget how they structured it. I forget what they said, but it was 10% plus 25%, so they were paying 35%. We put it under advertisement signs and it was zero. They saved 35%.
Liz: That's bananas. So knowing somebody who can really help you properly categorize your products is really, really important piece of the puzzle.
Norm: Yeah. And there are so many companies. They could be six, seven, eight figure companies that they don't realize that, they think that they're brokers or they're logistics companies. There's a couple of companies that hate us. We'll come back and we tell people, use this code and their logistics company refused to do it. Don't ask me why. Then they come back to us and say, "Well, our logistics company won't let us use the code." I have no understanding why they won't allow it to happen. But we have had this happen with a couple of fairly well known logistics companies. All we're doing is helping.
Liz: Thinking of logistics, we hadn't planned on covering logistics, but I think as we're going through the journey of this, you've done the competitive analysis, you've come up with the product that you want to sell. You've got your capital, you do all this other stuff, you figured out the right HTS code. You've got a sourcing agent that you'll send gift baskets to every week. How do you get that stuff from the factory into Amazon?
Norm: Okay. This is a fun one too. Most people allow their manufacturer to send it FOB, free on board. All you're really doing is paying somebody, paying their buddy to take the product and take it from their door to the port. It's pretty simple. Then your logistics company usually takes it and takes it from there. So if you use what's called X works, which means you're a logistics company, you can call and say, Hey, can you pick it up at the door, and you deliver it to the port, can save you thousands. We just had one client save 33% of his total shipment and his total shipment, it was $6,000 he saved. All we were doing is picking up here and dropping it off here. $6,000 extra charge.
Liz: I don't know if anybody's keeping track of the savings that we're discovering on a calculator or somewhere, but that might be a fun-
Norm: It's crazy.
Liz: That might be a fun activity to do. Maybe we'll do that in the recap. Just figure out just how much money Norm saved you guys today. I'm pretty sure we can spend a whole hour talking about logistics, but I want to get into another specialty of yours, which is that, okay, you got everything in motion and now it's time to create your listings. Amazon is super competitive. How do you create listings that stand out? Especially if you're selling a product that's just slightly different from another product. What is the secret formula for creating the absolute correct listing?
Norm: Sing the song.
Liz: I'm not singing this time. I told you, I wasn't singing. Norm has this thing about the Brady Bunch, and I'll let him tell you, but I loved it. But then I sang to him when we talked about that. And then he asked me about the Partridge family and I am a child of the seventies and eighties. But you guys are going to have to all show up in mass some other time.
Norm: Yeah, it was very well done. But anyways, you're right. Everything that you do with your listing can use the Brady Bunch. What I mean by that is take your product, and if you don't know the Brady Bunch, it was a lady with three daughters, a guy with three sons, and they surrounded, there was nine people and in the middle was their housekeeper, which was Alice.
Norm: That's where your product is going to go. And every part of your product is going to go there. So, what we try to do is, the first thing is you want to go back to the competitive analysis. You want to make sure that your product's different. How are you going to stand out? Is there a way that you can fill that thousand by thousand pixel, that square that Amazon allows you to put into your primary listing without putting any logos or something in the background. You want to have exactly what they want. By the way, if you want to know exactly what Amazon wants on a listing, download your style guide, and that will tell you everything. That will tell you what you can put in it, what you can't put into it, but style guides tell you exactly what Amazon is looking for. And if you follow a style guide, that will help.
Norm: But going back to the listings, you really want to make sure that if you surrounded your listing with the competitors primary images, that if you put it to a focus group, PickFu is a good one, Usability Hub is another, and you had people vote on which was the best picture that you would come in fairly close to the top seller, if not better than the top seller. If you're finding that you're less, way less, go back to the drawing boards. Usually most people, when they're starting out, decide to cut corners and take pictures of themselves. You're not a photographer, go to a professional photographer, don't go to a friend that has an iPhone. It makes a huge difference. A really good picture will make you tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars if you're in the right niche. I've proven that with some case studies.
Norm: Then what you want to make sure is that your images, now you've got your primary, but in your images, you can do so much with them. You can do instructions, but just don't do boring instructions, make it engaging. If it's dead sea mud, you sparingly show, you can show a woman putting it on her hand or putting it on her face. Then wait three minutes, wash off with water. The fourth step is enjoy. Something like that. It doesn't have to be brain surgery, but just something nice. Then the other part to this is you could use the features, the benefits. I heard about comparing against other brands. I used to do that a bit, but I don't do that anymore. I use lifestyle photography a lot more. People want social proof and they get it by looking at your listing. That's what they want. People using, not stock photograph where there's a mug five times bigger than the person's hand because some really bad Photoshop guide put it in. A real person using the product.
Norm: The number seven slot, so you have seven pictures that can go down on most listings, use a video. It doesn't have to be a very expensive video. You can get videos made very cheap, very, very inexpensive, and you could just have it on a rotator plate and it just rotates, and you just have all the features and benefits on the side. It's something for people to look at. Tomoson.com, they say that a video engagement is 480% higher than image engagement.
Liz: It's true. It's crazy.
Norm: So I would that.
Liz: So you have to be brand registered in order to put a video in your listing.
Norm: That's correct. Yeah.
Liz: Okay, I thought that. Someone asked, and I think it's relevant to just ask right now, what's the going rate for a really good photo. How much are you going to pay pretty much for your photography, for your main image with the white background, and then what does that cost in comparison to a lifestyle image? What's probably your highest you're going to pay for a photographer?
Norm: I usually shoot my product photos with a model, and then I take those and I use some of those images with my Photoshop person. So it could be, depending on the studio that you go to, they might already have models that they bring in as part of a package, and it could be $500, $600 for... Oh, I'll just give you an example of what I did. I did some shampoo and conditioner. I've got it where the shampoo is beside a box, outside of the box, I've got the shampoo where it's pouring into a woman's hand and there was one other one, and it was about 400 bucks. I think it was $65 per shot. It wasn't bad. My really high end photography, if I'm getting a photo shoot done, I can pay at least $1,000 just for really high quality images.
Norm: And believe me, when you see the difference, just the subtleties of the lens, the lighting, the background, the quality, it's night and day. You really don't think of it. You look at your iPhone, and I do it all the time, wow, great picture. Well, I'm the only person that thinks is a great pitcher. It's all psychological, people look at it and it just looks much higher quality. Then on the other side of it, I pay roughly around $50 to $60 per infographic that I do. So you could be up, at the end of the day, you're between a thousand and the highest I've ever paid was $2,200, but that also included two models. And models for me were $300 a pop.
Liz: Well, and there are agencies to, Owen was asking these questions. There are agencies that will do all of this for you? They'll take your photos, they'll take your videos, they'll create your listings, they'll write your titles, they'll write your bullet points. They'll do all of it for you. So if you need recommendations about that, you can contact me and I'll give you recommendations.
Norm: Yeah. One good photo studio. If it's the average product, go to productphotography.com, ask for Crystal. I don't get anything from productphoto.com, but I have sent three or four products to them and they have never disappointed.
Norm: So the other part to this is then you've got to make sure that your titles are proper. This is going back and taking a look at your competitive analysis. I've got a buddy in the industry, his name is Tomer, Tomer Rabinovich. He always says, "Just duplicate what's selling. You make a few changes, but if something is selling and the keywords that they're using are selling and they're leaders in that niche, well, don't go too or far off base, but just try to improve." If you go into their reviews and see that there's something wrong. Okay, make sure you address that either in your titles, your bullets, or in your eight plus pages. Eight plus pages are pages that if you have brand registry, it's like a mini website that you can put below the listing.
Liz: Used to be enhanced brand content.
Norm: Yes, that's right. Yeah. But bullet points. Everybody's used to writing books. You can put 550 characters in a bullet point, don't bother. Over 60% of people are on your mobile phone. I'm pointing here because there's my phone, but on your mobile phone and nobody on a mobile phone wants to read 550 characters per bullet point. Just make it straight to the point, features and benefits, and it should be good. If you don't know this, I see this all the time. Don't use 100% even in your title, don't use free even in your title. So if you're selling soap like paraben-free, sulfate free, don't put it in.
Liz: Without paraben, sans paraben...
Norm: Yeah. And guaranteed in satisfaction, don't put it in. Don't try to slide it in on your images either. You don't need to put that in. Amazon already has a statement saying that they have a warranty or a guarantee on your products for a certain amount of time. So yeah, it's in the style guide. Do not put 100%, no, it's all there. Oh, one other thing you want to take a look at too, if you're bringing out, let's say this is the second product or third product, 33% of your sales are done just below the fold. So when you scroll down, the fold is when you don't have to scroll, it's what you see. Scrolling is below the fold. You'll scroll down and you'll see frequently bought together.
Norm: If you don't see your product with another one of your products, you're missing out on 33% of the sales. 33% of sales are done and frequently bought together. So how do you do that? Get people to buy your two or three products together. It doesn't have to be 100 or 200. You can just do maybe one or two or three and all of a sudden you get the box with your products. And how to do that, we're going to get to influencers, but you can use Intellifluence, you could use companies that do rebates, like RankBell or RebateKey. These are places where you can go and get people to buy more than one product.
Norm: Then probably the biggest is the price. So depending on the perceived value, which is a whole other one hour long talk, but if you've got high perceived value, if your product looks good on the page, and again, let's say it's soap, and you receive the bar of soap and people use it and it has that great customer experience, then people are going to come back, they're going to buy your product over and over again. They're going to tell people about your product. If it's that bar of soap that's, let's say it's in a cello wrapper or something, and it comes and you spend $10 on it, they're going to have a bad user experience. Nobody's ever going to buy your product. And I can get more for my soap, than the person that has the bad user experience. So if it's packaged nice, and I can give you an example, a real life example of what's going on. This is the difference it makes.
Norm: We started out with a product that was a $16. That was the cost of goods. That was everything in, $16 landed. The packaging wasn't the greatest. We were able to sell it at $49. That was at launch. We tried to get up to 79, and we did. Changed the packaging. We didn't think we'd ever get it over 79. I said, yeah, just change the packaging. Went up to 89, then 99 and it got to 124. We just re-released it and we're selling the same product, $16 for $224, $224. And the sales were good.
Liz: I don't have to tell us what it is, but can you tell us the category?
Norm: My client would kill me.
Norm: But I can tell you with toe wart remover, toe wart remover, there were zero sales, 18 months. It looked horrible. The package was a powder blue package with a yellow foot all covered with warts and the oil, which looked like it was oozing out of the foot, was for their essential oil. They sold under a thousand dollars in 18 months. We repackaged it. We made it look more like a health and wellness product. We had supported healthy nails rather than showing all these discolored nails and warts and all this thing that could really cause a foot to be ugly. So we were focusing more on a healthy foot rather than on warts and nails.
Norm: Anyways, we turned it around and the first month was $7,800. We had a really beautiful package by the way. It wasn't a tuck box. It actually opened up and it gave the user a really great experience. So it went from 7,800, it went to 20, I thought it was 23, but I checked the other day it was 28,000, went to 68,000. And that was with no PPC. When we turned on the PPC, we got over $100,000 dollars and then he ran out of inventory, which caused a bit of a problem. But he was selling at 999 for 18 months and had a thousand dollars in sales. We turned it up, we got him tons of sales and we were selling it at 2,399.
Liz: That's a great story. I love that. And that's just proof that funky feet don't sell anything. I still want to do some Q&A, but we have a couple other things. I, of course, can't actually hear about any of this without thinking about product reviews, because I'm singularly obsessed. I'm not kidding. I mean, I'm not secretly obsessed, but I think a lot about product reviews and I get a lot of questions from sellers about product reviews. Obviously every step of the process, every piece of the puzzle that Norm has talked about today has set you up to not get negative reviews.
Liz: So you're getting your product inspections done. You're assured that your product is awesome. You're sure that it's competitive. You've done the competitive analysis. You think it's going to sell. You've made sure the packaging is great. You've done all the things that you're supposed to do. So your reviews should be good. But when you're launching, it's hard to get reviews. So what are some other keys to a successful launch other than early reviewer program obviously? Whatever other Amazon policy compliant tips we might have for garnering product reviews. Other than that, what are some ways to make a launch successful?
Norm: Well, I think before you even get to launch, one thing that you need to do is buy your own product and see how your product arrives and make sure that you feel it, touch it, smell it, make sure that people, when they get your product, are happy with your product. And if they're not, if you don't like it, then they're not going to like it. So product reviews, if you've got a really great looking website and you spent the money and it's completely optimized, and that's a key. People will ask me about PBC or rebates, don't do rebates. If you don't have an optimized site, because if you're doing rebates, people will go to the front page but they don't have to buy your product. Organic people, your rebates, you're forced to. But if you have a terrible site and they wonder why they plunge after campaign's done, it's probably because their site sucks. Anyways, that's one thing to consider.
Norm: The other thing is ask for a review. You can go there and you can ask for a review under orders. That's not an issue, but here's the beauty of spending money on just a regular product launch. Either if it's going through PBC, if you're driving traffic from Facebook, if you're doing rebates, if you're doing Amazon posts, anytime you get organic listings coming over, people see your product, they receive your product. And guess what? If it's a positive buyer experience, you can charge more. People will get it, they'll come back and buy it and they'll leave you a review. And more times, unless you really don't want to have too many reviews. So when we're doing rebates, we don't tell people to leave reviews at all. We don't want them to leave a review. First of all, it's against Amazon's TOS. And second of all, if our product's good and we're doing a rebate campaign and we've got hundreds of new people coming on, we're expecting between four and 10% to leave a product review just naturally.
Norm: We don't want to see it just skyrocket because what'll happen? Algorithm will pick it up. You could be either suppressed or suspended. I think I told you this story about Ryan Seacrest's assistant. She blasted out that this shampoo that we had was the best shampoo that she ever had. Well, that was awesome. We sold out. Amazon suspended us. Because she did this, a lot of people came back and gave us all these positive reviews, which were over 15%. We got suspended for three months, completely suspended, and then they allowed us to come back on for another three months not allowing to accept reviews. We only recently were able to come back on and receive reviews. Nothing to do with us, but it was just unnatural. So you don't want to get people, you don't want to ask people to leave you all sorts of reviews, especially in these rebates sites, because if you're doing it right and you've got a really great looking listing, they're going to do it anyway. So don't rush it.
Liz: That's great advice. And as always, you should follow all of Amazon's policies to the letter because it can really get you in trouble. When you are in a situation where you can get in trouble anyway and it's not even your fault, because Ryan Seacrest's assistant decided to make your product viral, good problem to have until it's not. I think that I want to just dive a little bit into the social media influencer space, because I get so many questions about influencers. But I think that that probably has a PR component too, because you've got to do the right kind of PR and marketing in order to attract the right kind of influencers. So let's spend a few minutes talking about that. I know you could talk about that for a whole hour or two, but we do some questions that I want to tackle before at the top of the hour, so I'll stop. Now, you start.
Norm: All right, so I'm starting.
Norm: With your product, the hardest part about being a micro-influencer and the best business in the world to be in right now is a micro influencer or a micro brand. Most people, I don't think understand the ability that a micro brand has to succeeding and becoming an enormous company, very powerful. You don't have to be the Doves or the Irish Springs. I can be my little soap brand going out there showing up on social media, showing up on Amazon, the largest buying search engine in the world, and building what you need is trust and authority. So how do you do that? If somebody comes over to my Amazon listing and they go, Oh, that's a nice looking bar of soap. Next thing they're going to do is click off and go to Google, and they're going to see if it's a real company. So if I have a website, that's good. If the website is terrible, that's bad. If they see that I've got some really great content, great. If they see press releases, great, that also helps with your Amazon listing.
Norm: What you're trying to do is get it to a point where people trust. A second that they trust you, they buy. That's the key. When they start to go to the other side, then they're going to go to Irish Spring and I lose a sale. So as long as I stick with my brand, and that's a whole other topic, is making sure that your brand is consistent, but have social media up there. You don't have to be on 10 different platforms, choose one, choose two, Instagram and Facebook. TikTok is going big right now. There are so many, pick what you're comfortable in. Find somebody that can help you out with that one and put out a consistent message all the time.
Norm: You don't put out the same type of message every day. You switch up the type of content that you want to provide. It could be a curated content, it could be questions, it could be polls, it could be testimonials. It could be a lot of different things. That's the same thing with influencers. If you're using influencers, they have a broad reach and they can get you to people that you could never have reached. So if I wanted to go, let's say that I had a baby product and I went to the mommy influencers right now, that would be great. I could get to the mommy influencers, and they're easy to get to, just ask some of these influencers, if I can go get on their blog, or if they're interested in writing a story or could I guess blog or there's lots of different ways to get working with an influencer. Even following them and then commenting, but you don't have to go that far. Tomoson, T-O-M-O-S-O-N.com has had an influencer platform forever. They've worked with Amazon sellers for quite some time.
Norm: Intellifluence is another one. I think if you go to AppSumo, Intellifluence has a deal on right now, I know they did last week and it's just to find influencers. And then BuzzSumo, a bit more expensive, but a much broader database. You could take a look there. And all you're doing, let's take Tomoson for example, you could reach out to the micro influencers to do an unboxing photograph, to do a video for you. So you could put it on social media, so you can have your lifestyle shots. So you can have your lifestyle shots to use on Amazon posts. And that's Amazon social media if you didn't know. But the other part is you can use their, they call their other network, their influencer network, where you can go in, find somebody in the pet niche or the baby niche. You can actually write the post. You can give them the picture and say, would you put this onto your blog? It goes out to 20,000 people. And when they see it, you could get some great response.
Norm: You might get nothing again, it just depends on the content and it depends on the quality of who you want to work with. In video, there's FameBit, that's YouTube influencer platform. So you can blast it out. If you've got a video that you want to blast out and have an influencer work with you, that's something that you could work with. There's the old standby Google. All you have to do is type in mommy influencer, pet influencer, dog influencer. You can be very specific. Schnauzer influencer, and go into Instagram and there are, I can guarantee you, there are going to be groups talking about schnauzers.
Norm: You can be very specific and you can start liking and building relationships the old fashioned way, or you could reach out. If you find some influencers on Google and just ask them if they'd like to promote your product, a lot of times they just like getting free product. You might have to pay a little bit. If you go to a celebrity, you'll probably pay a lot more. But yeah, these platforms are so easy to use. They're very inexpensive. And I know that over at Tomoson, how about, Liz, if people want, I can get a code for them at Tomoson and for their $599 a month charge for 49 bucks?
Liz: Yeah. They want that. Don't you guys? You guys want that, right?
Norm: Yeah. And it's $550 savings a month.
Liz: Yeah. I think people would really like that, Norm.
Norm: I think so. So I'll ask Dan. I know he's pulled through for me in the past. Dan owns the company.
Liz: No pressure.
Norm: I use Tomoson and it's great.
Liz: Well, that's super, super helpful. I know that I've talked to a lot of brands that have had a hard time identifying, because everybody's an influencer now. Everybody wants free stuff. Everybody wants to be super Insta famous. So you don't need a Kardashian, but you do need somebody who does have a foothold in your niche. And you need to be smart about the type of product you have, where your audience might be. So it might be that this particular product has the biggest audience on Facebook, but this particular product has the biggest audience on Instagram. If it's a product for younger people, it might be TikTok. So you need to have a strategic plan around the social channels that you use and where you look for influencers. Let's dive into a couple of questions. I think we can go a couple minutes over.
Norm: Sorry, Liz. I got one thing before I forget, I'm an old guy, so I'll forget very easily.
Liz: Oh, come on.
Norm: The other way that you can reach out, and people love this, is ask them if they can create a guest blog for you or for them. You write about your product, or you write about, like let's say you're selling some dog treat, you write about the healthy, why it's healthy, or what it does for elderly dogs' digestion, you do a really good 1500 word article and you post it. Then that influencer will promote it on their blog and tons of people will get to see your product. The other, we haven't even touched on this and I can guarantee you, no one, no one except for maybe a handful of people on Amazon are doing this. It's the other PR. I'm finally getting through to people that press releases work on Amazon. So that's one thing, but public relations, earned media. If you've got some sales coming through, and I'm saying, let's say you're doing 20, 30, 40, a hundred thousand dollars a month, you've got to invest in public relations. Oh my gosh. You're just leaving money on the tables. You can get so much exposure from a good public relations company.
Liz: That's awesome. People are saying really nice things about you. So I'm definitely going to share the chat with you when this is over. Let's go just a couple minutes into questions.
Norm: Yeah, sure.
Liz: We had one, and I'm rewarding the people who ask questions in the Q&A, even though I love you guys in the chat, but I'm rewarding those people first. Somebody asks, is there a way to get a video on the product page for a book? Only images seem to be able to be uploaded in that slot. Do you know for book category?
Norm: I don't know. When it comes to books, no, I'm not too familiar with books.
Liz: I feel like just in my experience that the authors on Amazon are not getting the same kind of opportunities that other sellers are. And I think that that's a real bummer. To our bookseller out there, our author, reach out to me, email@example.com. I've got an agency that's dealing with a lot of authors right now, and they might be able to help you. Somebody asked to see an example of a Brady Bunch image from one of your listings, but I'm pretty sure you're not willing to do that. So we'll...
Norm: When I say Brady Bunch image, all I'm doing is I'm not literally replacing Greg Marsha, but I am just taking the photos. Let's say I'm going to use Ability Hub, this cost me more but I get the yes, no answers. So I'll take two pictures, I'll send it and I'll take mine and I'll take another person's. If I get the yes, no, I'll take the one that lost. I go and get, it's always the one that's one up. So I end up let's just for example, you've got a really great picture A, not so great B. B loses, A moves on to the next round. A and C. A loses, C wins go onto the next round. C and D go, and so on and so forth. You can add more, but what happens at least what I found is that it's very, very diverse and people will just, the way that they're situated reading right to left, reading the colors, are they dark to light, light to dark?
Norm: If you only give them a couple of choices, it's much better. And I can't stress enough, when you're doing this, you want to absolutely 100% make sure you've got your demographic down. If you don't have it down, you're wasting money. So pick US, you'll be able to pick whether it's women or men or both, what the age bracket is. There's a lot of different types of interests that you'll be able to target. Now you can narrow it in as much as you can for those images or for those titles.
Liz: That's awesome. Somebody asked if we know of a really good PR company. Yeah, so Coleen did pop a link in the chat for that. So you'd be reaching out to Norm for that.
Norm: Yeah, there you go.
Liz: Yup. We got you covered there.
Norm: All right.
Liz: Let's do two more questions and then let's go over the special offers. Because I think people are really going to like those. Can you talk a little bit about when you're selling something that Amazon has a similar product? Is there a special thing that you need to do to differentiate yourself or do you just go forward with the fact that it might be similar but it's not the same? And let's talk about how yours is different and yours is special.
Norm: One of the things I like when Amazon comes on is that they bring a lot of extra traffic. They're coming on and they're going to be competing. Well, it's for a reason. They're only going to come on if there's traffic there or there's good search volume, or they can see themselves making a profit. The other thing I like about Amazon is they want to be a bottom dweller. They want to be the lowest price out there. I don't want to be a lowest price out there. I know that people that are buying my product, the $200 product, they don't want to see the 1,999 product from Amazon. I almost slipped, the 1,999 product from Amazon or the $46 from Amazon, there actually is a 1,999 product from Amazon in this category. Go ahead, buy it, buy it all day long. I really don't care. I want the $224 sale.
Norm: I know right now, one of the clients that I had were HDMI cables. Very competitive, and you could get the Amazon basics at six bucks, or you could buy the $12 ones that ours were gold-plated. There's a lot of people that don't want to go cheap. And that's the thing. Everybody thinks that you have to be a bottom dweller. What happens with bottom dwellers? It's called product cannibalization. All you're doing is eating each other's profit up. I'd rather just take that group that they cringe, I'm not sure if it's a good quality product. I just bought a beard comb. I think I showed you this. I did get it for 79 cents. I found it for 35 cents. I bought another one for 11 something, and I bought the other one for 17.95 in a case, with a leather case, with little slot to put my credit card. I would pay 17.99 all day long and I know the bloody thing only costs 35 cents. But the listing was good, the packaging was really nice and I don't care. I'm like that. I don't want the cheapest. I want quality.
Liz: I am personally a sucker for packaging to a fault, really it's bad. It's I own far too many, I don't even know how to put on makeup, but I own too many pieces of makeup in cool packaging. Let's do one more. Everybody has said that you have to come back. So you're going to have to come back. But you mentioned that press releases help with Amazon listings. You can't list those on your Amazon product page directly. You're talking about releasing press releases, posting them on your own site, getting other people to post them on their sites, that kind of stuff, but you can't actually put them on your listing. Can you?
Norm: No. What you do with press releases, there's two different types. You can go use press releases to build your brand or for launch and rank. So building your brand is you just want, don't go to a cheap press release company. You can get them for free, and you're going to get that, that quality back. But if you use a quality press release, it's usually around a hundred dollars up, and you do it once a month, once a quarter, then what ends up happening is when people go in and take a look to try to find your product, they will see that your brand is out there on NBC or any of these other content sites like MarketWatch, whoever they disperse to. Then a little trick is to write a content piece and put that onto your website. So you write a blog article that is interesting, that hooks the press release.
Norm: So the press release might say, natural odorless bully sticks are proven health benefit for elderly dogs. On the other side, you hook them with five reasons why elderly dogs need bully sticks or whatever. Then both of them are going to rank. The key is that you're going to rank, you can link those 400 or 300 or 500 networks. All you have to do is put your link in the press release and go back to your product page. That helps. Now for launch and rank, you do this with rebates. So you tie the keywords into the press release and you release the press release, multiple press releases over a one or two week period. 400 news outlets and media content outlets are all going back to your listing, your rank, your rebates are going out at the same time and you rank immediately. And I'm talking about immediately. We did something with one of the number one keyword phrases in Amazon and in a few days, we were in the number one to number six spot on a supplement. It's not very hard to work with.
Liz: Absolutely, very competitive.
Liz: Well, I am going to share my screen so we can talk about special offers because we are a little bit over time, but I think it was totally worth it. Norm, you're just a rockstar. I told you. So eComEngine is offering some time with me. We can talk about your seller health in terms of your seller reputation or your IPI Q4 is looming, and we'll need to make sure that your inventory performance index is where it needs to be. So I'm going to be doing consultations about that. If you just want to talk shop, email me, it's super easy, firstname.lastname@example.org. Anything you want to talk about, just email me and we'll talk about it. Norm is offering, in addition to getting you that awesome coupon code that he was telling you about, Norm, why don't you tell everybody about your offer?
Norm: Sure. We're just revamping everything on our website over at HONU Worldwide, but I wasn't able to get the URL. All you have to do is contact me and just put HTS in the subject line at email@example.com and I'll make sure that you get the $199 HTS lookup for you. All that's going to do, there's no risk. All we're going to say is, here's a code, it's either better than what you're doing, or you've nailed it already.
Liz: That's pretty valuable. Norm just started a podcast too. I know he mentioned that. But if you're a podcast type of person, I'm going to just go back to that slide real quick so you guys can take a note of that before we break for the day. But it is, I Know This Guy, is the podcast, and then the little domain thing is .club, but I downloaded, what is it? I don't know, one of the podcasts things and it's great. That just started and you can follow him on Instagram, just @normfarrar, I just followed him today. So get ready for a whole bunch of comments and hearts because I'm an Instagram troll. All right. Well, thank you so much, everybody for joining us and for sticking around. A lot of you stuck around a little bit late today. That's awesome. And Norm, thank you so much. You're just awesome. We're going to have you back real soon. And everybody, stay tuned for the recording coming to you tomorrow. It will be up on the eComEngine site. And if you guys have any questions, just let us know. Thanks.
Norm: Great, thank you.
Liz: Bye everybody.
Originally published on June 4, 2020, updated July 8, 2020
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.