If we do, it’s usually the weak kind. The type of seller who folds their card as soon as we send them a message to get off.
This week is different.
This is the type of seller you don’t want to deal with directly.
You’re probably aware that China sellers have a network of people and services they can use to attack and damage your business.
This seller isn’t attaching himself to directly to our product and selling fakes – which is a relief. Instead, he is creating variations under our listing and trying to leech off our stellar reviews.
Luckily, I was able to detect something was strange within a couple of hours and went into action.
Here’s a basic spreadsheet I have set up for this exact reason.
The only thing this spreadsheet does is to let me know whether my title and image has changed without my consent.
When malicious hijackers targets your listing, they will always
change your image or
change your title
Since we don’t have thousands of SKU’s to deal with, I scroll down and found that some of our images have changed. In the example above, if my helmet image suddenly changed into an electric dog collar, I immediately know something has been changed.
Next I quickly check if the title is different or not.
I set up a simple conditional formatting where I manually entered my original title in column C. Then in column D, I have Gorilla ROI load my titles as it appears on Amazon.
Column E is a simple formula to check if it is the same or not.
If it is the same, the value returned is “true”. If it returns “false” the cell changes to red for immediate attention.
Column E is a simple formula to check whether the titles match each other.
Add some conditional formatting and you’ve got yourself a simple, flexible and customizable hijacker monitoring system.
Tip #2: Send yourself daily reports
If you create a spreadsheet like the one above but don’t want to open it every hour, there’s a feature in the addon where you can send yourself a PDF export of the spreadsheet to your Google email.
Go to menu > Add-ons > Gorilla Sheets > Send Spreadsheet as PDF
Make sure to enter your Google email used to install the add-on.
It will NOT send to any other email than yourself to prevent the function being used in a spammy way.
Save the settings, and get your daily report automatically and stay on top of your business.
Another automation tip is to create a filter in your gmail so that this daily email is then forwarded to your team.
Tip #3: Monitor reviews and save $$$
I don’t know anyone who enjoys 1-star reviews.
And let’s face it.
Amazon customers are a different breed in terms of pickiness and entitlement. So staying on top of reviews and being proactive to rectify situations and to please customers can go a long way.
We’ve found that even commenting on negative reviews with a helpful response does wonders to inspire confidence for other buyers. The great thing with leaving responses to reviews is that you get the last word.
Customers don’t come back to their reviews and Amazon does not notify them of a response.
Use the simple formula below to create a basic review monitoring spreadsheet.
=GORILLA_REVIEW("SKUorASIN" ,"US", 3)
This formula is telling GorillaROI to pull the Amazon review for your SKU or ASIN, in the US marketplace and then display the latest 3. You can enter whatever number you want at the end. Change it to 10 and it will display the last 10 to your spreadsheet.
Apply some basic conditional formatting for instant magic.
If cost-cutting and saving money is your thing, this spreadsheet means you can probably cancel the review pulling service that costs at least $100/mo.
Tip #4: Forecast inventory and prevent stock out
Going out of stock is another way of losing money that sellers don’t think about.
If a product goes out stock:
it loses sales velocity and a competing product will take its place
you have to increase your PPC bid in order to regain your original sales rank and position
you may have to spend more to get it delivered quicker
you lose revenue
If it’s one of your best sellers, it quickly becomes a lose-lose-lose situation.
To forecast your future inventory requirements and sales, you can look up your sales figures from the same time last month, or last quarter or last year and then project it forward.
Here are two basic methods of a 3 month simple Amazon inventory forecasting.
Get the total units sold throughout the last 3 months.
What you should do to create organized spreadsheets
The architecture of building an organized spreadsheet
The different functions you can use to eliminate work
When was the last time you went to a restaurant and was seated in the middle of the kitchen?
The same concept should be applied when creating spreadsheets and organizing data, yet the most common thing people do is “eat in the kitchen” at a restaurant.
Anyone can do spreadsheets, but not many people can do them right.
And I’m going to share a simple way to organize and create spreadsheets that will make it easier to manage, update, scale and share.
The old way of having all the data, calculations, results and everything else jumbled up in the same sheet should be a thing of the past.
Let’s get right into it.
The restaurant technique to creating spreadsheets
Setting up a spreadsheet is no different than how a restaurant is set up.
A restaurant can be simply divided into two sections.
The kitchen (back end or data side)
The dining area (front end or display/user side)
All the magic happens in the kitchen (back end), and it’s either a hot mess or a well-oiled machine. In any case, it’s hectic back there – but that’s ok because it’s where all the raw data and calculations come to life. Not for people to see.
The dining area (front end) is what people see. It should be clean, well laid out and easy to navigate. No one likes cluttered, dirty, dusty tables, plates and menus.
Keep this concept in mind when creating your spreadsheets to analyze data – especially Amazon FBA data as there is a ton of information in there.
You’ll see multiple sheets (or tabs) to separate the backend and frontend.
In the inputs tab, information used to plug into formulas are entered here. In our case, things like the number of products, our seller ID and today’s date are stored in a central location.
The formulas then reference the required data point from this tab. Now I don’t have to manually enter the data point into every formula.
Imagine the mess and headache if you enter the product ASIN into 20 different formulas and then have to update it later.
Here’s another example.
In this spreadsheet, I have a total of 4 sheets within the spreadsheet.
DASHBOARD – front end
INVENTORY – front end
product_details – back end
Inputs – back end
For this spreadsheet, I enter our Amazon FBA product details like SKU, ASIN, UPC, dimensions, weight, units per case and other data. No product information is ever entered outside of this tab.
Inputs sheet is the same as mentioned above where it holds generic but important data like today’s date, seller ID, marketplace ID, counts the number of SKU’s entered into product_details.
The front end dashboard and inventory sheet then pull information from the back end sheets to create a simple and nice looking dashboard.
Something like this Amazon FBA sales dashboard.
Or how about this Amazon fees and services dashboard that organizes what Amazon charges us.
The last thing I want to do is update the formulas every time I import new data.
As you can see, this simple practice will 10x your productivity and make your life easier.
It separates the raw data with the rest of the spreadsheet. Changing the raw data will auto update the rest of the spreadsheet. Not in 10 different places scattered throughout the spreadsheet.
It makes it easy to manage and scale a growing spreadsheet. The data is stored in a consistent and centralized place in your and not scattered everywhere.
Other people will be able to work on the spreadsheet without messing things up.
Advanced tip: you can break up the data even further if you have multiple data sources. Feed it into its own tab, and then combine a “master” data sheet by combining the data from the other tabs. You can use QUERY() or VLOOKUP() or FILTER() to consolidate the data into a master tab.
Another example of how it works
To take it one step further, I like to organize my spreadsheets like I’m running a restaurant with multiple line cooks. Each line cook does one part of the big picture. One person does meat, one person does fish, one person does appetizers and so on.
In this way, I set up my spreadsheet where each tab specializes in one area and I split it up into a back end and front end.
If I have a spreadsheet where I have information related to:
I create backend sheets called:
In my old inventory spreadsheet, I used to house all the inventory data, formulas and final information into the single “inventory” sheet. As more information was added, it became a nightmare to fix and change.
Simple maintenance went from a few minutes to 30 minutes to 1 hour. Then I stopped using it because it was too much of a headache. If I changed something or added more data, it either broke everything or I lost track of all the different cells that needed updating.
Spreadsheets are supposed to help, not to become a hindrance.
Now, I separate inventory by loading all the raw inventory data into inventory_data. This data sheet normally has thousands of data points like
units in stock
units in transit
units sold last 7, 14, 30 days
units sold 1 year ago, same day last week, same day last year etc
Then on the “inventory” sheet, I can pick and pull what data I need to display by using vlookups, index, or ther forumulas and loading them into the frontend sheet to make it look clean and nice.
Here’s a screenshot of the “inventory_data”.
And this data sheet is then used to create my nice and clean “inventory” sheet to track the important data and stats for myself and our team.
You can see what a difference it makes.
By separating and organizing how data is stored and referenced, you can now focus on analyzing the data.
To update the data, all it takes is for us to either bulk copy and paste in one go, or to use GorillaROI addon to auto load and update the data.
How to get data into the “Front end” sheet?
You can pull the data from your raw data section by using plain ol’ Google spreadsheet formulas.
Vlookup() is a classic staple, which I won’t go into here as there are literally thousands of examples on how to use it.
Importrange() is one of my favorites because it’s so easy and loads quickly.
You can load entire sheets from a different file into your current spreadsheet. If I’m working with a monster spreadsheet, I import multiple different spreadsheets into a single sheet. Here’s the page from Google on how to use it.
If you look at any of the dashboards for the spreadsheets included with GorillaROI, it’s what I use to quickly build nice looking tables without having to mess with too many vlookups.
There’s nothing complicated about these formulas or this method of creating spreadsheets.
But it does require more “prep” and thought and that’s the biggest hurdle when it comes to making spreadsheets. It’s so easy to start plugging data and calculations anywhere rather than taking 15 minutes to understand what you are trying to do.
Once done right, you’ll be asking why you’ve been doing it any other way.
file design and utility patents in the US and China
create culture related items that China won’t catch onto quickly
leverage established brands
You’d think we would learn our lessons after receiving a bad shipment with 100% defective units.
We made the same mistake 2 more times for a total of 30,000 defective units.
Many suppliers are great to deal with. The quality and standards have improved greatly over the years, but you still come across enough bad apples to stay cautious
I’ll take you in more detail through each of the steps outlined above.
One of the areas we neglected was getting legal documents signed.
“Guangxi” (building relationships and goodwill) was how we did it with our initial suppliers. No official documents, no details of what each party would be responsible if something were to happen.
Came back to bite us as the first supplier blamed us for all the defective units.
We were at fault for sure…. for trusting their word.
Get a Chinese English NNN signed
As we manufacture unique products with our designs and mechanisms, we now implement a legal process where we get manufacturers to sign a Chinese and English NNN (Non-Disclosure, Non-Compete, Non-Circumvent) before we disclose anything.
Getting a high ranking person to sign the document or get the company seal on it. Not the sales rep’s signature who holds no responsibility. Getting the owner to sign is the best think you can do to protect your business and ideas.
What we’ve found is that the good and honest manufacturers keep it simple and will comply. It’s nothing new or wrong for them. They also see that:
you are serious
they go through the document, ask questions and want to negotiate on clauses
they sign and return the doc with minimal fuss
The bad ones are easy to identify.
The bad manufacturers:
make a big deal out of it and say all the buzzwords like we’ll never do this and that
they take a long time to sign or make it look like they forgot about it
if it is signed, an entry level sales rep is the signer which is useless
Get a Chinese English manufacturing agreement signed
If we find a good manufacturer and the project continues to move along smoothly and we get to the point of wanting to manufacture with the supplier, we then send over a manufacturing agreement which details all the different clauses and specifics you’d want to discuss before you start anything.
We use a 9-page document in simple language, stating the terms and conditions in Chinese and English.
Getting a lawyer to draft up agreements is great, but getting the Chinese supplier to go through each draft revision, give feedback, negotiate terms, or even get back to you in a timely manner is going to be a nightmare.
Try to push them with western style contract negotiation and you’ve lost a potential manufacturer. It’s important to remember that manufacturers don’t have law departments like in the US.
This is why having a very simple and easy to understand document that everyone agrees on is critical to having a successful relationship.
With China, the manufacturing relationship is expected to be a lot like a marriage, where if troubles come up, it is expected that you’d work through it together.
Compare that to the western culture where if you receive a shipment of defective items, you sue, or get money back somehow and then the business relationship is called off.
If you are a lawyer reading this, keep in mind that I am speaking from a practical viewpoint of being in the trenches. 9 out of 10 people who run an Amazon FBA business do not generate $100M in revenue where a contract scrutinizing every word is vital.
For the majority of people, using common sense, putting guardrails in place and doing business is what is needed.
Spending more upfront to create entry barriers
One common theme of copycats is speed over quality and investment. They will try to make a cheaper, crappier version as quick as possible with short-term profit as a goal.
Our first hit product that was copied from head to toe came out in 2 months after we launched.
The copied version was thin and flimsy, used cheap materials, but sold at 30% of our price. Despite what consumers say about wanting “quality” or “made in USA”, the wallet does the talking and people wanted cheap first and foremost.
We now invest a little more upfront to make it harder to copy.
For example, if we were making pots, we’d spend a little extra to create a unique handle or lid that would require a new mold. We’ll make this feature pop in our sales pages so that buyers can see how it is different and unique.
We never sell OEM or straight private label.
Aiming for ODM products works for us because we follow the first step of finding a trustworthy supplier and getting documents signed to protect our product.
This way, if a copycat were to buy our product and ship it to China to copy, they will have to invest in a new mold themselves.
With our first product that got copied, we found that the manufacturer did not maintain the mold in their facility. It was held at a 3rd party mold company and our mold was being shopped around to other manufacturers for other copycats to use.
Over-engineer the product
Until the early ’90s, German cars would last forever.
They over-engineered their engines and cars so that it was built to last – like a tank. Nowadays, everything has been peeled back in order to save cost and that’s why many German luxury brands have bad reliability.
We purposely try to over-engineer where it makes sense to focus on quality, durability and to make customers super proud and pleased with their purchase.
We have not heard a single customer complain our products lasted too long.
The downside is that our customers won’t buy from us that often. But this has helped us to get plenty of word of mouth referral business.
Because we also try to apply special manufacturing techniques and materials, it makes it cost prohibitive for cheap copycats to steal our show. They would have to first find our manufacturer, come up with a variant of our design and then order enough volume for their cost to come down to where we are.
Cheap versions of anything will always surface. We just don’t want cheap and fake versions being listed on our listings.
So far, this strategy has also helped us as we are able to thrive in a competitive category as the Chinese just cannot copy it.
Find backup manufacturers
We’ve experienced China’s “quality fade” on so many occasions.
This is where the quality will gradually degrade over time. Manufacturers are all head over heels with new business, but they will start to find new ways to shave cost in order to increase their margin while you believe it is the same product.
If you sold a bag of 1,000 gummy bears, the manufacturer may slowly reduce the quantity from 1,000 to 998 to 990 until a buyer counts it and leaves a scathing 1 star review.
This happened to us again just a few months ago.
Luckily, we went directly to the factory to inspect and monitor as it was a brand new product series.
We caught them red-handed and we got the factory to redo it 3 times. They throw their hands up in the air and say how unfair we are or how strict we have become.
Bad manufacturers don’t understand that it is always cheaper to make it properly the first time. Instead they cut corners, then claim your quality standards are too high and will raise prices on your.
I show them the original approved samples but they still make excuses.
Luckily, we had sourced a backup factory from a trade show we visited in Chicago.
Side note: the good and legit manufacturers also attend US trade shows. Easiest way to find good suppliers.
With this leverage, we informed our current factory they have 1 final chance. Screw it up any further and they lose every current and future business.
They got the message, but in our next order, they screwed it up again and so we are switching everything over to the new manufacturer.
Keep this rule in mind.
Don’t believe what manufacturers say and only believe half of what you see.
Design and utility patents
Most of our products now has a design or utility patent. You’d be surprised at what you can patent.
My initial mistake was thinking that patents were expensive, took forever and had to be totally unique and never done before.
My patent guy was quick to point out that every invention is an improvement of something else. Rarely do you see something that’s never been done before.
Some claims will be rejected if it’s not a clear improvement over an existing solution. But isn’t difficult to come up with a unique design or mechanical aspect to patent.
To date, we have 6 patents issued that cover a wide range of our products.
At first, I thought design patents were weak and a waste of money. But if I can protect a product from being copied for $500, my question will always be “where do I sign?”.
Although design patents can easily be maneuvered around, it can help to delay copycats or used to scare them off. Amazon doesn’t care about protecting your products, so it helps to ward off potential copycats.
It also makes business life much easier.
I don’t have to constantly look over my shoulder and see who is copying our stuff. I can focus on coming up with new products, developing, testing and improving our processes. Not getting stuck in the weeds of having to send messages back and forth with seller support.
Using a patent lawyer will set you back at a minimum of $1,000. But filing a patent does not have to break your budget.
see many people try to save a few cents by using Google Patents. If you know exactly what do and how wide you need to search, go for it. But I advise against it, even for seasoned sellers.
The reason is that patents are not “binary”. What I mean is, a patent won’t be issued just because your exact design doesn’t exist.
If there are different inventions along similar concepts or ideas, classified under different terms and names, your patent will not be issued.
This is the hard part that most folks miss out.
Let’s say I’ve designed a yoga mat. I obviously can’t patent a yoga mat. But what if I created a built-in strap and bag into the yoga mat.
The built-in strap part likely won’t be patentable because the patent officer could believe it’s a natural extension of the yoga mat. So that one has a high chance of getting denied.
But what about a built-in bag? Not a separate yoga bag, but one that is directly attached to it.
There’s a good chance this is possible, but to make sure, I’d have to dig deep into the patent office to make sure there is nothing like that.
This is where you’d have to search and go through the patents of things like a foldable poncho, foldable tote bag, foldable jacket etc and make a case that there is no such thing as a built-in foldable bag in the yoga category.
And so far, we have a 100% success rate.
If you can afford a lawyer, that’s great, but if you can’t, for a few hundred dollars, you can find a patent agent with extensive experience to do all the legwork for you from detailed searches to recommendations, to submissions and follow-ups.
Using a patent agent should be a flat fee of around $150-$250 for detailed searches and $300-$550 for patent submissions depending on the complexity.
Recently we also started filing patents in China. The process is just as simple. There are plenty of patent agents in China who will guide you through the entire process, from choosing a Chinese name for yourself and your company, what documents to provide, what to sign and so on.
Or you can contact us and we’ll get your patents filed and submitted on your behalf hassle and worry free.
Because China is a first to file system, the quicker you can submit a patent, the better.
Why do you need a patent in China?
No one will be able to make and sell your products in China. There is the issue of having to go after infringers, but placing protection around your ideas in China comes out on top if you ask me.
If you end up ordering 10,000 units and spend $1,000 on patents, it’s an extra $0.10 per unit for the initial order. But it’s also an asset and will pay for itself 10x.
For that extra $0.10, we get:
peace of mind (not 100%, but still..)
scare away competition
can put “patent pending” or “patented” on our listing and product
A small upfront investment can yield huge ROI in intangibles for long-term business.
Create culture related items
I’ll explain this with a story.
It was the middle of summer and we made a trip to China for an inspection. It’s hot and humid where our supplier is. We are working out of this empty, dusty warehouse and ask for some cold water.
The person comes back with a kettle.
A kettle of hot water.
It’s 90-100 degrees F (32-37 Celsius) with humidity at 95%. I’m literally a walking fountain because I’m dripping in sweat.
But the Chinese believe that drinking cold water is unhealthy. It creates an imbalance between your body temperature and outside temperature.
Now if I were to sell ice cold water bottles in China, I’ll go bankrupt. It’s not a cultural fit.
In order to stay ahead of China, creating items that Chinese people don’t understand gives you a head start on the competition.
Oh sure, they will create imitations, but if they don’t understand what they are making and why, quality will be poor and reviews will be bad.
Poo-Pourri is an example. It’s a toilet spray to deodorize and hide your poo smell.
I have yet to see a single Chinese seller make their own version.
the Chinese are very weak with formulation
they won’t have proper SDS documents that meet US OSHA requirements
they don’t understand why Americans would want such a thing
If you can find or create products that are outside of China culturally, you have a great chance of succeeding without getting sabotaged or flooded with copies and fakes.
Leverage established brands
Probably one of the easiest ways to beat the competition is an old strategy, but still a very good one.
The truth is unless you are spending millions on advertising or getting millions of visits to your site a month, you don’t have a brand.
However, if you can get a reseller or wholesale account with a real brand and manufacturer and create bundles, it gives your product instant cred.
Think about it.
If you are able to package your product with a well-known product, the consumer will associate your product with the big brand.
My wife just purchased a couple of fitness trackers. But let’s say she sells bands for fitness trackers.
And after networking at trade shows, she manages to become a reseller of Fitbit.
But instead of just selling a single Fitbit, she offers 2 or 3 wristbands the consumer can choose to customize.
The Fitbit example isn’t a great one, but you get the point. It doesn’t have to be a huge name. Just a well known one from within your industry.
Our #1 best seller is actually directly based on this tactic.
Because the name is already recognizable, our ACoS for this product is our lowest. So we get volume and spend less because the marketing has already been done for us.
The great thing?
China can’t get these branded products because they are overseas
Newbie sellers focus on what their scouting software tells them to do
So there you have it. There’s nothing groundbreaking here.
Just a lot of hard work but it gets easier and quicker as you do more.
Imagine every product you source turns into a winner becomes the best seller in the category.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
We’ve gone through countless painful steps in our FBA journey.
Our painful product experience
Here’s a short list of credentials attached to our business.
I’ve ordered 10,000 units which were all 100% defective, which we fixed by hand at home, garage and anywhere we could.
I reordered and another 10,000 defects came.
After 2 months of selling, people were selling an exact copy of our product.
I found people posing as buyers in order to find our supplier.
I was in a battle with China sellers and I ran away with my tail between my legs.
Our mold was shopped around from factory to factory.
Our supplier refused to send the mold we owned, to our new supplier.
The worst thing?
Everything noted above was for a single product.
What happens if you don’t document everything
With little to no standard operating procedures (SOP), we made the same mistake multiple times because we didn’t want to put in the little effort to document and make checklists.
Such a simple task ended up costing us over $20k of product and labor, not to mention overhead and other soft costs associated with this fiasco.
When first shipment of defects came in, that was our fault for not sending an inspection company to verify the QC.
So for the second order, we figured out a way to eliminate a lot of the manual process that was causing the issue.
It wasn’t made to spec again and so we ended up with another 10,000 units of defects.
Because I didn’t understand the Chinese culture of doing business, I applied western thinking to the business relationship.
“I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
“I’ve explained our standards to them and they said they understood.”
Those two thoughts have cost us tens of thousands of dollars.
It’s why we now meticulously enforce suppliers to sign Chinese and English NNN agreements and a detailed manufacturing agreement covering our expectations and how issues will be handled.
With all these mistakes and heartbreak under our belt, here’s a framework of how we protect our business and products from China suppliers and sellers.
I call it a framework and not a checklist because it has to be adapted for each situation and business.
Understand China’s strength and weakness
Our core goal is to create products that China sellers will have a hard time copying. They can copy the idea, but not directly rip off our products.
We also want to sell timeless products. Not fad items like shoes with wheels, or fidget spinners and other short term thinking products.
To do this, we try to broadly understand the areas where we have and don’t have an advantage over China.
Where China has an advantage
First, China has strong advantages in:
manufacturing and infrastructure
ignoring rules and regulations
Speed – you can find or produce a product super fast. The China network of suppliers and sub-factories makes it possible to create a new product in 30-60 days.
Copying – send them a sample and they can copy it.
Shipping – very fast and cheap when originating from China to all around the world.
Manufacturing and infrastructure – tons of expertise in all forms of manufacturing. Each region specializes in a certain product/industry.
Raw materials – can find any form of raw material. Makes everything efficient and cost effective when everything can be done in-house in China.
Ignoring rules and regulations – as an exporter they can get away with a lot when doing business internationally. The Lumber Liquidators flooring scandal is an example where the factory was making flooring with extremely high levels of formaldehyde – cancer causing chemicals.
But this isn’t everything because China also has plenty of weaknesses which you can use to your advantage.
China has weaknesses in:
low quality (a.k.a if it works, it’s good enough) being the default cultural standard
quick cash mentality
bad at formulations and liquid products
low food quality
being across the ocean
“Made in China” reputation
ignoring rules and regulations
This does not apply to every company, but something to keep in mind. You never know.
Low quality – suppliers will and do cut corners and degrade quality without you noticing in order to shave off cost. This way, they expand their own margins and you don’t know until it’s too late. Rightfully called “quality fade“.
Quick cash – focus is on getting money now, instead of a long term relationship where everyone wins.
Formulations, liquid, food products – there is no way I’ll knowingly buy made in China food, supplements or liquid products. Same with beauty, pet food or other liquid products requiring formulation and quality control. I’ve never heard a woman say they want the latest made in China lipstick.
Being across the ocean – If a product is complex and expensive, it can be cheaper to manufacture in the US. Make the mold in China and have it shipped to your country. Then you get the Made in USA or Germany label with lower costs, lower transport fees, taxes etc.
Made in China – Despite some of the best and expensive products being made in China (iPhone and many electronics, furniture), their reputation won’t go away anytime soon.
Ignoring rules and regulations: Many baby products require documentation and certifications in order to sell in the US. Other health related products governed by the FDA all require certification and documentation. Many factories will claim they are compliant, but their certification expired 5 years ago, or it’s for a different product line.
What we do to protect our business from China and copycats
With all the hair pulling losses we’ve experienced, our framework for new products and business is to: