Trying To Understand the Intentions Behind Amazon’s Latest Coupon Update

I’d like to first stipulate that I am obviously biased party in this discussion seeing that I own and operate Viral Launch. I also don’t claim to understand or know definitively what Amazon’s intentions were. I simply want to lay out all of the information and observations we’ve made around the latest change and how they fit into our perspective of the marketplace. I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of misinformation in the space. A lot of which is spread by “gurus” and service providers. I want to provide this stipulation so no one wrongfully misconstrues this as a pure factual post.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way 🙂  I feel like I can speak a little more freely about my interpretations, so let’s jump into it!

From a High Level

Overall, I am assuming that Amazon’s latest update to the promotion creation process was made with good intentions for the community, however, I think there was a slight oversight as to the entirety of its ramifications. I am expecting Amazon to make another change in the near future that will allow merchants to better protect their inventory when running promotions.

Amazon is big, very big, and with such a large platform there are a ton of complexities. There are a variety of internal departments all with their core functions and responsibilities. Sometimes one department can make a decision based on their understanding and knowledge of a situation, without getting a larger holistic view with the help of other departments. This happens all the time in government (an even larger complex organization built of many departments). Lawmakers will enact a law designed to solve a problem for a select group of people, and without realizing the entirety of the law’s impact, they end up creating new issues for other groups. A quick example would be a recent update to labor laws dictating when it is/isn’t okay to pay employees as salary versus hourly with special emphasis on overtime pay. The intention of the lawmakers was to protect salary workers making under a given pay threshold (let’s say it’s $45,000/year) from being taken advantage of because they make the same amount no matter how many hours they work in a week. On paper, it sounds great, and I’m sure for some it worked well. The problem that arose quite often is that salary workers making just under the pay threshold (ex. $40,000/year) had to become hourly workers and a lot of them took hefty pay cuts or they had to work more hours to achieve the same pay. I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but it helps to illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

Could this have been intentional? Of course. Is Amazon too large and sophisticated to make a “mistake”? That is a great question that I simply do not have enough experience/data to make a more confidence assumption either way. Either way, here is the data we’ve collected that has lead us to our current conclusion.

Supporting Data

Why do we think this was an oversight on Amazon’s end?  Three main reasons:

    1. It Doesn’t Make Sense For The Average Seller

Without the ability to limit the number of units a coupon may be redeemed for, there is no way to protect a seller’s inventory. If I were to create a 50% off coupon and post to a FB group, SlickDeals, or my brand’s personal fan group, one customer could completely wipe my inventory with a single claim code. It’s ludicrous. For those unaware, one purchase for 100 units provides the same amount of keyword ranking power as one sale of one unit. On top of that, considering opportunity costs, you would be losing out on an incredible amount of money.

Sure you are able to protect your inventory with a Multi-Channel Fulfillment Order, but in nearly all circumstances in which a seller provides a coupon to a customer, allowing one customer the ability to grab the entire available inventory would ruin the campaign.

This is not exclusively within the context of running promotions to build sales history in order to improve keyword ranking. These thoughts are within the context of any kind of promotion. There are many reasons why a seller may want to provide a discount code to their customers such as improving brand loyalty, spreading awareness of new products, contests, etc.

No matter the intention of the promotion, without the ability to protect inventory, promotions in their current capacity simply do not make sense.

Promotions/discounts have been a vital tool to sales since the concept of sales existed (probably a fact 🙂 ). Ecommerce without discounts is unnatural and can quickly create a stagnant and stale market due to the significant increase in the barrier to entry for new sellers. Amazon has thrived due to the open competition. As competition becomes stifled, it will be very interesting to see how the market progresses.

So why don’t you just lower the price? Lowering your price is certainly a viable option, but it has its own limitations and drawbacks. To quickly explain, depending on the item, if you drop your price too much you’ll find your product categorized as an add-on item, which can be terrible for organic sales conversions. Amazon can also create limitations to how quickly you can increase your price after a significant drop. For those running Lightning Deals you can quickly find yourself trapped, or your deal canceled as Lightning Deals will play off of your product’s lowest price over a certain time period (30 days I believe, but I’ve heard longer as well).

    2. Correspondences With Amazon Seller Support

Based on a few different interactions with Seller Support regarding the new promotion creation process, we were given a few pieces of information that seem to support our conclusions. I understand that you typically want to take what Seller Support says with a grain of salt. Many times Seller Support is not very knowledgable or in tune with what’s going on, but some of Seller Support actually seemed to be well aware of the recent change and appeared to have a bit of interesting information for us.

Main pieces of information:

This letter from Amazon Seller Support explains that the coupon creation update is something Amazon’s Business Team is testing over the holidays.

 amazon coupon update

On a phone call with a well informed Seller Support member, the representative told us that the change was driven largely due to some tax consequences that came with shipping products that are set to 100% off or free. As most have noticed, Amazon no longer allows us to create 100% off promotions, so whether or not this checks out is beyond me. I will not try to act like I know how taxes work for Amazon. I can only imagine the army of CPAs, accountants, lawyers, etc. they have to deal with all of the intricacies and complexities. The representative also mentioned that they were surprised by the removal of dollar off promotions, because he had seen such success with the previous promotion set up, and he expected that the current setup would not last very long.

    3. Language Within Seller Central

Amazon latest Coupon update

This dialog box is available when creating promotions. As you can see from the language used, Amazon appears to be under the impression that you can still protect your inventory with the use of the Single-Use claim codes, which we know to be false. While it is possible that the developers simply forgot to update this field, I’m curious if that is the case because they made sure to update the language on the main Promotions page under the Money Off option to only mention “percentage discount”. With the latest update, single-use claim codes also do not have quantity limits.  If Amazon were unconcerned with providing quantity limits for sellers, I wouldn’t expect to still find this language.

new Amazon coupon update

What’s Going to Happen?

As I mentioned, I’m not quite sure what will happen. Based on my data, it seems like this is a temporary change that will have an Amazon-created solution sometime soon.  Based on the Seller Support email shown above, the more sellers that complain the more likely the situation will be remedied. I would imagine there are quite a lot of complaints as this can be a significant risk at nearly any percent off . I’m imagining this update will be remedied soon.

Could I be wrong? Completely, so please don’t take this as fact. I’m simply sharing our perspective and how we expect things to play out.

What do you think? Based on the information and data you’ve collected, what are you expecting the outcome to be?

Comments

comments

2 Comments

  1. Steve Eilers said:

    So you cannot even give away products free anymore? The max discount is 99% now? Not good at all.

    November 16, 2016
    Reply
    • That is correct. You can give products away at $.01 however. Kinda of odd, but apparently is a function of their tax system.

      November 16, 2016
      Reply

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