Organising your Amazon Seller data: Q&A with Dash Applications

November 25, 2020

Dash Applications is an Amazon focused software company that delivers data, analytics, and PPC management to Agencies, Brands, and Investment firms for the Amazon Channel.  Their software serves as the data-backbone for their partner; programmatically capturing and maintaining Amazon data across advertising and operations and making it readily available for streamlined and automated offline reporting and analytics.

Dash also simplifies Amazon management by offering a PPC management platform, sales forecasting, and inventory management functionality, and enables unique insights into your Amazon customers through custom translations on the data.  Dash delivers Sellers the Life-time Value of their Amazon customers, tracks Repeat Purchase rates and ASIN-level profitability, and maps sales geographically to sync with initiatives on-platform and off.  Todd VanderStelt, managing partner and Sam Hager, president, explain their services and how they can help Amazon Sellers.

Q: Could you please introduce Dash Applications for our clients?

Todd: I’ve been building Dash for about four years but have 10 years in the Amazon game, including six with Amazon in Seattle, so I’ve seen first-hand as the platform and ecosystem has evolved.

At Dash, we started by addressing the lowest-level needs for those on the Amazon platform, scalable access to their data.  We’ve taken care of the API connections and data mappings, and deliver standalone databases to house all of the Amazon advertising and MWS operational data that Amazon makes available. Our Data Studio product is effective because instead of having people rely on manual exports, we capture all that data programmatically, continually refresh it, and perform upstream translations to make it easy to use.

We make that data available for companies and agencies so that that they can plug into their business intelligence software, such as Tableau or Google data studio, directly to their database, and go build custom reports, or leverage our templates, to automate their reporting function out of the box.

We complement the database with our DATA STUDIO product, which further simplifies data access and overcomes the limitations found within BI platforms.  We let users to see all of their merchants and marketplaces in a single view, track goals, drill-into accounts to see what’s going on beneath the surface, and provide free-form and filterable access to all of their data.  It was important to us to build a product where any user could self-serve, without the need to become Excel experts or learn to code.

We also have a PPC Management and Analytics platform that’s currently in beta, and included at no charge to our data studio subscribers.  We call this product Advertising Studio.  Amazon can be a black-box and there are a lot of inefficiencies in Amazon PPC management.  Our approach with Advertising Studio was to tell users exactly what was driving changes to performance, and then act on those insights directly through our platform.  For example, users can do things such as manage bids and negations in bulk, see how performance is pacing, and balance budgets to dial-in performance.

Our approach with Dash was to build a ‘decision support system’ for Amazon management.  Amazon already offers a lot of automation, and our users will often leverage third-party PPC automation solutions.  And while we’re fans of automation, that was a big part of my work at Amazon, it’s very easy to lose sight of what the automation is doing and whether or not it’s delivering to business objectives.  So at the core of Dash is our ‘bridging engine’ which explains to users the exact contribution every campaign, keyword, ASIN and Search Term had in changing performance.  This allows users to understand and explain precisely how different initiatives or automation is impacting account performance.  This gives our users a great deal of peace-of-mind and allows them to move more quickly, knowing they’ll always be able to identify what’s happening within the account.

Q: Why is it important for brands and sellers to be able to organise the way that they view the data that’s available through Amazon?

Todd: If you’ve spent any time in the Amazon platform, you’ll be familiar with the breadth of data they make available.  It’s quite extensive, but also very cumbersome.  You need to rely on manual exports, which have a limited lookback, driving users to maintain their data in an off-line data repository.  Considering most of the insights come from building up from the most granular data sets, these repositories become incredibly difficult to manage and maintain over time.

Amazon also has a bad habit of changing the data structure in these Excel exports.  It’s good in the sense that Amazon is continually adding new data sets for users, but every new update can cause any reports or analytical models to break as the underlying data structure has changed. We’ve been able to protect our users from these changes by structuring our tables in such a way that it’s more than just a raw data export.  We know how our users are using the data, and since our platform leverages it as well, we ensure that new elements are integrated promptly with backward compatibility in mind.

Q: One of the common denominators I see is that Amazon is an opportunity for sellers, but also a challenge for sellers.

Todd: Yes, Amazon does not make things easy, but it is such an opportunity for brands, and continues to grow in importance every day, that folks have to figure it out.

This is nothing new. I was with Amazon back in 2010 and had an uphill battle trying to convince brands to sell on the platform.  That started to flip, I would say, in like 2015/2016, and now with the whole COVID-19 situation and more customers migrating online, the digital-first brands are the ones succeeding. It’s not easy for companies that have built their business around a traditional distribution and Brick & Mortar model to make the shift.

Q: Can you tell us about operational marketing and why it’s important as an Amazon seller to have an operationalized approach to the way you organise your marketing game?

Todd: That’s a fairly complex topic, but at the core of it, Amazon is more than just a sales channel.  Yes it’s a marketplace with all of those inherent challenges, but it’s also a search engine where SEO tactics come into play.  And stealing from old-school merchandising concepts, it’s also an unassisted sales floor, so all of your content needs to be designed with that reality in mind.  If a customer lands on your detail page, do they have the information they need to support a sale?  And if that product is not right for them, how are cross-selling them to keep them within your line?

Further, stock-outs have outsized impact on your Amazon business.  Amazon will pull you from search, punish your established search relevancy, and stop your ability to advertise if you stock-out on your products.  All the momentum you’ve built can be lost if your operations team is planning adequately to support your Amazon channel.

And what is really unique to the platform is that Amazon allows your advertising conversions to influence your organic placement.  So if you’ve been investing to build your relevancy for a key category term, climbing the rankings and delivering both paid and organic sales, all of that can be lost if your organization isn’t in sync in supporting the channel.

As there is no separation between ‘church and state’ (i.e. ‘paid and organic’), this makes advertising on the platform much more complicated.  All of your basic blocking and tackling needs to be in place for you to advertising effectively and build your overall Amazon business.  Detail pages need to be optimized, reviews strong, pricing competitive, distribution under control, inventory allocated, and then the table is set for your advertising team.

We recommend an objective-based approach to Amazon advertising, where you segment your campaigns to allow you to allocate spend to different objectives such as brand Protection, Customer Acquisition, and Competitor Conquesting.  You can expect different returns for each of those objectives, and by using this approach, you can target specific keywords and directly control their performance.  And as you see success in advertising, you will see your organic rankings for those queries rise as well, as Amazon learns “hey, this is a good product to serve when customer’s search for this term.”

The Operational Marketing flip-side is that even if you’ve had great success in advertising, leading to strong organic performance, if you slip up in your operations you’ll immediately see its impact on both sides of the house.  This can take months to recover even after the operational defect has been addressed.

Q: It seems as though COVID-19 has turbocharged the long running trend towards digital first sales and e-commerce. What have been some of the biggest things that you’ve observed and learned through 2020? And what tips would you give seller investigator clients as they’re navigating the world that we’re now in, in terms of sort of an, almost an e-commerce first shopping experience?

Todd: Well, I think there’s two parts of that. There was the short-term volatility that was seen in March and April which was largely cleared up by the time June rolled around.  Though it’s been much better recently, we’re still seeing the impact of increased demand on Amazon’s systems, especially as related to dated out ‘promised delivery’ times which directly impact conversion rates.

The second aspect is a bit more hidden.  Amazon’s operations are highly automated, relying on data for their inventory planning with little direct human intervention.  The whole COVID impact is now part of the historical record, which can’t be trusted as a predictor of future demand.  Forecasting for next March onward will be interesting, and even if you’re a Vendor where Amazon plans inventory needs for you, I’d keep a close eye on your PO’s to ensure Amazon isn’t under/over ordering.  On the Seller side, Brands will need to do their own translations to build a forecast and inventory plan that accounts for the anomalous signals.

Sam:  Todd mentioned the importance of staying in stock as a top priority.  Another unique aspect of this year for future planning considerations will be that Prime Day didn’t happen in July, it came in October.  And, normally Amazon is beginning its seasonal ramp in October, which has now been compressed, and time will tell if having a Prime Day in October pulled ahead demand from holiday peak.  The seasonality curves for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all of December may not match last year, and may be irrelevant come Q4 2021.

Predicting this year’s seasonal demand will be a challenge, and the pressure is now on Amazon to get the shelves restocked.  November has always been a challenging month operationally as inbound lead times increase, and it takes longer get your products restocked.  This year could be even worse, and we recommend erring on the high side as I wouldn’t count on prompt receipts this year.

Another point, for seller’s especially, is the importance of capturing your data before it disappears.  Whether you do this through manual downloads, or leveraging our solution, multiple ‘corrections’ will need to be applied to the historical data.  And if you don’t have the granular data to work with, it will be virtually impossible to forecast with confidence next year.  That’s something we emphasize with our users directly and tell them to be prepared to control for the COVID impact long after the pandemic has passed.

Q: Thank you very much for taking the time to explain all this to us.