Is Opening An Amazon zShop Worth It?

Published: 09th January 2005
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Last Update: Tuesday, January 04, 2005.

In this article I will show you the results of my test with an Amazon zShop.

Amazon.com is the most popular store online, with over 35 million customers. So I thought it would be a great place to sell my self-published ebook.

I tried to get my search engine ebook listed in the book section. However, Amazon does not allow ebooks to be listed in that particular section. They do have an ebook section, but it appears to be a closed shop.

The only option left was to open an Amazon zShop. So, I opened my zShop account on March 8, 2002. There are no listing fees for selling at zShops, but zShop sellers must register for the Pro Merchant subscription. It cost $39.99 per month and I could list as many as 40,000 items.

Once I added my ebook to the store, the next step was to promote it.

Featured Placement

I took advantage of the opportunity to raise the profile of my listing by using the Bid for Featured Placement option. It's similar to bidding for listings on pay per click search engines, such as Overture.com, except for two main differences:

The listings are only listed under Amazon's zShop category.
The amount you bid is per day, instead of per click.
I decided to bid for featured placement on my category, as well as for all of categories above it, up to and including the zShop's home page. There weren't that many listings, which was surprising. I bidded for the #1 position for:

zShops / Books / Computers & Internet / Web Development
For the #1 position, my bids ranged from $0.10 for the Web Development category to over $20 for the zShop home page.

Tracking

Only after my listing went live did I realize that Amazon does not provide any form of tracking whatsoever. Considering how important it is to track your return-on-investment, Amazon should offer some kind of tracking.

At first I couldn't even tell how many people were visiting my zShop. But I found a way around the problem.

I added a tiny 1x1 transparent graphic to the product page. The graphic was hosted on my server. Every time someone visited my product page, the graphic was downloaded from my server and a visitor count was recorded.

Merchant Feedback

Amazon provides its buyers and sellers with a feedback option, to encourage honest transactions. However, there is a major flaw with the system.

I purchased a product last year from an Amazon zShop seller. I remember contacting the seller to ask for a refund, as I had found the product for a cheaper price on another site. I never heard from the seller and didn't bother chasing it up.

When I opened my zShop I noticed a merchant rating of "one out of five stars," at the top of my listing. The link led to the comment left by the person who posted the feedback.

It read, "I e-mailed you and claimed that there's no response. Hard to deal with!"

At first I couldn't work out why I had this feedback on my store. After all, I hadn't even sold a copy of my book yet. So I wrote to Amazon, and I received the following response from them:

"Although your concern for this situation is valid, we are not at liberty to modify ratings left on members' accounts.

We realize that this rating may reflect poorly on you, and that your image is a large part of your online business. Other participants do take ratings into account when considering a transaction, but as a service to all buyers and sellers, we will not edit messages.

I do see that you generally receive high ratings for your transactions, and that this instance appears to be an exception to the norm. I expect that transaction participants will see that the positive feedback overshadows the negative feedback on your account."

It turns out that the feedback was related to a purchase I MADE last year. For some unknown reason, the seller could not get in touch with me. It had nothing to do with how I conduct myself as a seller on Amazon.

This clearly shows the lack of concern by Amazon for its merchants. They admit that my concerns are valid. They admit that I generally receive high ratings for my transactions, and this was an exception to the norm. But they still insist that they couldn't and wouldn't do anything to correct the situation. This clearly leaves the system open to abuse.

The Results

After two weeks, I felt I had enough. The results were abysmal. The store attracted only a handful of visitors per day and no sales whatsoever. So I closed my zShop on March 25. Here are the final results.

Visitors: 4-5 per day
Sales: 0
Cost: $124.98
Conclusions

Promoting my search engine ebook with an Amazon.com zShop was a waste of time. Despite all my efforts, my zShop attracted virtually no traffic and zero sales.

I tested numerous headlines, ad copies and layouts. I was listed at, or near, the top of the page under 4 categories, including the zShop home page. Overall, the system and results were very disappointing, to say the least.

Admittedly,there could be other factors that attributed to the lack of visitors and sales. Maybe my book's subject matter isn't a popular one with Amazon customers. Maybe my ad copy lacked sparkle. Maybe Amazon customers don't buy ebooks.

What I do know is this. Amazon provides no method of tracking visitors. The Featured Placements produces very little traffic. They won't assist you, if you have a poor feedback rating, even if it's not your fault.

I also noticed a number of other Featured Placement listings disappear. So, they must have discovered the same disappointing results as I found.

Amazon may have tens of millions of customers. But after my experience with my Amazon zShop, I can only conclude that the it's a waste of time trying to sell an ebook with an Amazon zShop. According to my statistics, it appears that very few customers visit the zShop area.

So in my mind, the "z" in zShop means, "zero customers." ;o)




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