Claire O’Donnell of Amazon: Helping SMB sellers extend reach beyond their local area provides blueprint to future success

claire odonnell amazon

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Last week BizSugar held its first ever SmallBizFluence event, with experts sharing their knowledge and expertise on building successful online small businesses.  And as part of the conference I had the pleasure of moderating a “fireside chat” with Claire O’Donnell, who leads the Selling Partner Communities and Small Business Empowerment organizations for Amazon. 

Claire shared a number of ways Amazon is looking to assist small business sellers to increase their ability to sell more and grow their businesses while using the Amazon platform, especially during uncertain times live we’ve been facing the past couple of years.  

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundClound player to hear the entire conversation, and if you’d like to check out the rest of the recordings from the SmallBizFluence event by becoming a member of the free BizSugar Mastermind community here

Providing SMB sellers with a lifeline during the pandemic 

Claire O’Donnell:  I think the pandemic was just devastating in a lot of ways for a lot of small businesses, particularly those who were primarily physical. And Amazon ended up being a bit of a lifeline for some of these small businesses to connect with a much wider reach of customers than they would’ve ever been able to with their physical locations. But in the pandemic, when everyone was sitting at home, shopping online became really important. And so there’s a whole bunch of sellers who really found that lifeline during the pandemic.

I think a great example was BlueZone Sports. They actually shut down a bunch of their physical stores, started selling on Amazon, and now they have more employees and more physical stores than ever. And so when small businesses sell on Amazon, they get to unlock this huge customer reach and all these tools and services that are designed to help them be successful. That’s really powerful and can be a great augmentation to your current business, even now we’re starting to get back to more physical and in person interaction.

New Sellers Getting Started on Amazon

Brent Leary: A smaller business, maybe the folks that are even starting to sell, what are some of the things that they need to be aware of, and how could they get started using a platform like Amazon?

Claire O’Donnell:  We get this question a lot. And actually, last year we had 200,000 new sellers start selling on Amazon. So there’s a lot of opportunity there, and we would love you to become one of them. 

We have a couple of tools and resources. We have our Amazon Small Business Academy, and that’s really focused on those small businesses who are maybe interested in eCommerce, but don’t know quite how to get started. And so the Amazon Small Business Academy has a bunch of tools and resources to help with that. We actually have a structured educational program called Pathways that you can go through, as well.

And then once you reach the point where you’re ready to sign up and sell on Amazon, we have a lot of educational materials to get you started. We have something called Seller University, which has a whole bunch of educational material, and then tools and services that will really help you ramp up quickly and get that reach to the couple of hundred million customers that are shopping on Amazon. Things like A+ content, sponsored brands, like our brand stores, all of these things are designed to help you optimize your brand and help reach customers.

Brent Leary: When you think about all that’s facing not just the new sellers, but the folks that have been around, you’ve got these headwinds with supply chain and some other things that they have to think about. What kind of guidance can you give folks as they start to charter this holiday season? 

Claire O’Donnell:  I think it is going to be a challenging holiday season, no two ways about it. And I think we’re all figuring it out as we go. We don’t know exactly what the world is going to look like. I think a couple of things that I would be thinking about, and that we’re thinking about for small businesses, is trying to pull forward customer shopping. I’m starting to see a lot of brands run promotions now and encourage customers to get that holiday shopping in early. And I think that’s good for the business because you can stage your sales potentially, so they’re less peaky than you might normally see during that holiday season. It’s good for customers, too. Who doesn’t want to be done with their holiday shopping earlier, especially if they’re getting great deals?

Brent Leary: That’s right.

Claire O’Donnell:  The other thing is just pay a lot of attention to your supply chain. I think that’s where we’re all looking. That’s where we’re all concerned. We’re looking at it closely at Amazon, as well, but it is a little bit of an unknown. And I know everyone’s working around the clock. Our fulfillment workers are working around the clock to make sure that we’re receiving inventory and getting packages out to customers. And I know folks at the ports and so on are, as well.

Building a brand to stand out from the pack

Brent Leary:  It’s great that there’s been, what, 200,000 or so new sellers added, but how do you stand out? What are some of the ways that sellers can start to kind of stand apart, set themselves apart, to be able to take advantage of those many millions of customers buying? 

Claire O’Donnell:  I think it starts with having a really compelling product and a really strong brand. And I think customers are increasingly looking to do more values based shopping, and they really want to connect with brands on a more personal level than perhaps they felt in the past. And so really being intentional about your products and your branding and having that mission that ties all the way through the shopping experience, and then making sure that story comes out to customers.

What we see is a lot of customers will do research on Amazon, as well as making their purchase there. And so making sure you have really rich content on the product detail pages, making sure you’re building out your brand store pages. Signing up for fulfillment by Amazon can also increase your sales. I think we see about 20 to 25% increase on sales when things are in Fulfillment by Amazon and get that Amazon Prime badging. And so those are some of the things that I think that you can look at to make sure you are telling your story to customers, and that they’re also able to get products quickly, the way they want them.

Focusing on the seller experience

Brent Leary: You touched on Fulfillment by Amazon. There are certain pieces to the selling puzzle that don’t initially stand out. You think about marketing the product and selling the product. But sometimes we don’t think about all that goes into it once they click on the buy button, how does it get to them? So that whole fulfillment by Amazon piece is incredibly important. What are the other kind of things that are behind the scenes? 

Claire O’Donnell:  I think Amazon has great customer service. You’ve probably experienced it as a customer. We also have a ton of employees who are dedicated to sellers and their success. I’m just one of over 24,000 employees who are focused on how do we make sellers’ experience better every day. And then we invest a ton every year. I think last year we invested 18 billion in logistics, tools, services, programs, and people, to help sellers and small businesses be successful.

Black Business Accelerator

We’ve talked about a number of those different tools. We also have a few specific investments. We just launched our Black Business Accelerator in June of this year, which is designed to help Black owned businesses be more successful on Amazon. And it’s backed by a 150 million dollar commitment over the next four years. And we’re really excited about that because, again, I think it’s great for sellers, for small businesses. It’s also great for our customers, who are also interested, as we’ve talked a little bit about in this presentation, like shopping their values.

Helping Rural Small Businesses Reach More Customers

Thinking about these American sellers, they’re spread out all over the US and there’s a great story here around small, rural based sellers who are able to unlock access to this huge set of customers, hundreds of millions of customers. And Palouse Brands I think is just a great example of that, where they shifted to selling online also during the pandemic, and they hired about 50 new employees in their new, small rural town. I think that’s the super exciting story that we touch on in the report.

Prime Day

I think something else that we haven’t touched on that came out on the report is small businesses had their most successful Prime Day ever this year. And hopefully you’re all familiar with Prime Day, but it’s sort of our big shopping event for customers. We saw small businesses’ sales almost double year on year. And we ran a small business promotion this year, invested about a hundred million dollars in helping connect customers with small business and drive those small businesses’ sales. That was really exciting for us.


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This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.