Adam Shaffer of Phelps United: Five Things You Need To Know To Run A Very Successful Amazon Business

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
14 min readJan 22, 2023

Never try and do it all yourself. There are plenty of opportunities to sell on Amazon and other eCommerce marketplaces, but to succeed, you need to excel in many areas as the competition is fierce. I am not saying that a person can’t be great at everything, but many times, creating great products, getting them manufactured, and telling your brand story takes more than a full-time passion. Getting professional help that can make things more turnkey for you is the best way to go.

As a part of my interview series about “Five non-intuitive things you need to know to run a very successful Amazon business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Shaffer.

Adam Shaffer, President at Phelps United, is a pioneer in direct marketing and digital eCommerce of technology products and solutions to both consumer and commercial markets. With over 30 years of industry experience, and the unique ability to manage large organizations and startups, he has been responsible for successfully managing and driving growth at some of the largest publicly traded IT Solutions providers. Through his company’s proprietary technology, services and distribution platform, Adam has found success in helping Amazon sellers scale their eCommerce channels as part of their overall brand strategy. This has helped clients navigate the most complex waters of the world’s largest eCommerce site.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s been a long journey. I have been working since I was 12 years old, delivering the Pennysaver Newspaper in my neighborhood and selling coffee and donuts to drivers waiting in hour-long lines for gasoline during the gas crisis in the late 70s. While attending school, one of my business professors introduced me to a start-up selling computer equipment through direct marketing advertising in PC Magazine. That was when I caught the bug and became addicted to direct marketing, from print magazine ads to direct mail, catalogs, TV, and radio. There was a thrill that came with being able to launch a campaign and find out within days if it was a success or failure.

In the early 90s, we had built a very large and successful business selling computer products via direct marketing catalogs. We were mailing millions of catalogs and receiving hundreds of thousands of phone calls per month to our call centers through our toll-free 800 number. With the belief that eCommerce would be the future of direct marketing, we spent millions on developing one of the first eCommerce sites (which now only costs a few dollars a month for an excellent, fully built site). It took off immediately as we advertised our URL along with the 800 number on the cover of our catalog, which drove traffic and sales and led to our MicroWarehouse/MacWarehouse site being the second largest eCommerce site at the time, where number one was Dell.

As the digital world progressed, so did our strategy and sophistication in developing our eCommerce business. I went on to work with many of the largest technology brands to grow their business online through eCommerce — companies like MacWarehouse, MacMall, PCM, TigerDirect, Safety-911, and more.

Along with being at the forefront of direct-to-consumer and direct-to-business eCommerce and digital strategy, as Amazon and Walmart opened up their marketplace to other sellers, the need to work with brands to help them navigate this new and important market segment became apparent and is now a big part of what we focus on.

After my time at the company as the Chief Marketing Officer, it was acquired by a much larger Fortune 1000 Company. I was happy to leave the bureaucracy of a large corporate giant to get much closer to the ground at Phelps United, getting back to what I have always been most passionate about — helping brands grow their business through eCommerce and eCommerce marketplaces like Amazon.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about selling on Amazon.com?

To become an authority on selling on Amazon, you need the experience of having done it for yourself and your partners for many years. You need to experience the many situations and scenarios that are thrown your way, and still, when you think you have seen it all, there will be another challenge you need to figure out and navigate, but by now, you know the best approach.

We’re talking about navigating your brand on one of the largest, most competitive, and dynamic marketplaces in the world with over 2 million sellers and over $600 billion in annual gross merchandise value sold. The learning never ends as the marketplace evolves and you need to stay current. If you don’t eat, breathe and sleep Amazon, you will struggle to get traction.

You need to be great at not just understanding your brand and the ability to tell your brand story, but logistics, purchasing, content development, advertising on and off Amazon, social media and influencers, brand protection, video, SEO, competitive research, packaging, merchandising, and more. You need to stay connected to and understand how to leverage the latest features that Amazon launches. Staying connected through Amazon communities is crucial, as whatever you are experiencing, someone else has already encountered and can provide perspective.

Amazon is the greatest eCommerce marketplace with so much opportunity if you can do it right.

I have been involved in selling on Amazon since they allowed third-party sellers on the platform and have helped brands be successful for many years. We live, learne, and love the Amazon marketplace opportunity and know we can help brands that work with us on their Amazon strategy accelerate their sales and profits, and enhance their brand.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

During the pandemic, we were introduced to a brand whose products were in the top 5 Amazon BSR rankings in their category. They were selling their products exclusively through their own 3P store and 100% shipping FBA. COVID caused Amazon to hit the brakes on accepting any more deliveries of “non-essential” products into their warehouses and stopped placing purchase orders on the 1P side of the house for the same. Brands that ran out of stock at FBA were forced to watch their sales drop to zero without inventory at Amazon to fill orders.

Because the brand had much success leveraging FBA as its primary delivery mechanism, it never built a way to fulfill single orders Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM). They were in a bind as they had over ten thousand units in stock and more about to hit the US dock with nowhere to go.

We offered to help by immediately placing a purchase order with them for their inventory which they shipped to us that day. Within two days, the trucks arrived; we received them into stock and had them listed back on Amazon with PRIME delivery leveraging our Seller Fulfilled Prime capability. We took over management of their top-selling ASINs from advertising and customer service to reviews management, which resulted in them never being out of stock during the pandemic and increasing their ranking to as high as the top 3 on the Amazon BSR for their category.

It was a success and a great feeling to have been able to help this brand and make it happen virtually overnight.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Mistakes sometimes could be opportunities in disguise. Although not funny, there was a mistake that we were able to help resolve for a health and beauty brand that had a hybrid strategy of selling some ASINs to Amazon 1P and other ASINS to us to sell for them.

The brand didn’t understand the requirements for shipping products to Amazon. They were fulfilling purchase orders for single units with bulk packs of multi-units, believing that they would be broken down, repacked, labeled, and then sold by Amazon. What did happen is that their products went into a state of quarantine and to be able to rectify this, the brand was billed a substantial penalty equal to the value of the goods by Amazon.

We helped the brand recall the goods to our warehouse where we repackaged and labeled the products for individual sale and then shipped them back to FBA for sale. With this help and support, we earned the balance of their ASINS and are now an exclusive partner for the brand.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In addition to adding some great new brands to our portfolio, we plan to launch a popular brick-and-mortar apparel brand for their first time on Amazon. We are also working on an enhanced strategy for a popular sporting goods brand already selling on Amazon.

In addition, we are launching a new podcast called Planet Amazon, which is about helping both 1P and 3P sellers navigate and become successful on Amazon, using the experiences of brands that had done it before and figured out how to make the Marketplace work for them. We will be presenting both common and uncommon issues that brands face on their Amazon journey and get their perspectives on how they were able to problem-solve and excel.

Ok. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. You are a seasoned Amazon expert. Can you share with our readers five, non intuitive, insider tips, in order to be as successful as possible on Amazon? Please share a story or example for each.

The 5-NEVERS

1. Never be out of stock.

If it’s not in stock, you can’t sell it. Investing in building a product’s reputation, popularity, search relevance and reviews as well as increasing its Amazon BSR ranking through expensive advertising and creative efforts really takes a beating if you end up running out of products and do not have them available for sale. Making sure you have a backup plan for product development is important if a manufacturer that you use lets you down on delivery. Also, the time a product can take to get from your shipping point to Amazon FBA and available for sale can take 10 days or, in some cases, up to two months to be received and available for sale. Ensure you have a hybrid approach to shipping to customers. Have a backup supply available to be shipped Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM) or, better yet, Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP) to make sure you are never out of stock.

2. Never stop testing.

The competition is fierce and you need to stay one step ahead of them. Even if your content is robust and conversion rates are above average, you should always be looking for ways to beat your current results by testing new content and words. Amazon and other 3rd Parties like Pickfu offer great tools to test, try and outperform your “control” current product pages. Always read the reviews of your products and competitor’s products to make sure you are addressing in both copy and images the things that are most important to the customers buying and using these products.

3. Never stop trying to enhance your product(s).

Although we see many sales for low-priced me-too products, lower-quality products will leave a bad taste in customers’ mouths, and many times bad reviews will ultimately hurt sales. Lower-quality products also come with higher return rates, which are costly. If you want to be a great brand, have great products! Word of mouth and great reviews will greatly increase traffic, conversion, and sales. Try and understand as much as you can about your customers, read their reviews and suggestions, and iterate your products to always enhance what you have developed. It’s easier to launch a new variation of a popular product. Understand all aspects of the success of a product and find ways to improve it. Look at why people return, packaging trends, other uses for the product, and keep a step ahead of the competition.

4. Never leave things on autopilot.

It’s easy to think, “Wow, this is a great lifestyle business. I can list a product, ship it up to Amazon FBA and then go to the golf course.” Well, you can do that from time to time, but you need to ensure you are always watching, learning, and trying to enhance. Amazon introduces new features regularly. If you aren’t familiar with, say, something like Premium A+ Content and don’t enhance your listings, I will bet you that your competitors that are spending more time on the platform will leverage it to leap ahead. Also, if you aren’t carefully watching over your listings, bad actors can jump on your listing with counterfeit or unauthorized products, or even worse, manipulate your awesome content. In addition, competitors can be having promotions that could affect your sales, or Amazon could have lost some of your products which could be time-consuming since you will need to research and put a case in to reconcile your Amazon account.

One way to not worry and get more free time is to find a great partner with the experience of managing and navigating the day-to-day Amazon grind, like Phelps United.

5. Never try and do it all yourself.

There are plenty of opportunities to sell on Amazon and other eCommerce marketplaces, but to succeed, you need to excel in many areas as the competition is fierce. I am not saying that a person can’t be great at everything, but many times, creating great products, getting them manufactured, and telling your brand story takes more than a full-time passion. Getting professional help that can make things more turnkey for you is the best way to go. Trying to be great at on and off Amazon advertising, optimization, social media, testing, creative, videos, copy, SEO, customer service, auditing and reconciliation, logistics, brand protection case management, pricing, and more will lead to peace of mind and let you spend that time on the areas of the business you love most. This is where a company like ours, Phelps United, is there to help.

Amazon sellers have a reputation for being great guerilla marketers. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

It’s important to make sure that you have a comprehensive marketing strategy in place and not just rely on Amazon Sponsored Products alone to grow your brand. Although Amazon Sponsored Products advertising might provide the most efficient return on your ad spend, it isn’t enough to develop your brand and grow your product sales. To be successful on Amazon, you need to leverage a marketing mix that helps build your brand, generates traffic to your brand and product pages, and converts into sales.

Develop a quarterly plan and include a mix of:

· Amazon Sponsored Product Ads

· Amazon Sponsored Brand Ads

· Amazon Sponsored Display

· Amazon Video Ads

· Amazon DSP

· Amazon Posts

· Off Amazon Digital Advertising

· Paid and Earned Social Media Marketing

· Social Media Influencer Campaigns

List all of these and others that you feel fit your target customer and develop a quarterly budget for each bucket. Budget some months on and off for top-of-funnel advertising. If you don’t have the in-house expertise to manage better and optimize as you go, seek third-party agencies or partners to help develop and execute the plan.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I have always loved the entrepreneurial pursuit and the Small Business Spirit of people having ideas and trying to make them a reality — people wanting to escape the rat race and find fulfillment by embracing principles separate from large corporations, and people desiring to reinvent themselves and have an opportunity to control their destiny.

Small business really does fuel the world!

Amazon and other eCommerce marketplaces, including the Shopify eCommerce platform, offer creative entrepreneurs, young and old, a low-cost platform with a vast customer base to create their own products and businesses. There are over 2 million small business owners selling on Amazon. The high barriers of cost, risk, and building a customer base when I was starting out were huge obstacles and made it so difficult to follow my dreams. Now the low cost of technology and ability to create a brand to have their products built overseas and leverage Amazon’s massive customer base gives people a chance to achieve what I think are the dreams of most: to own their own business, support their families and create a lifestyle which they control.

I want to create a community of striving, creative entrepreneurs who want this dream to build small businesses. I wish to help them by giving them the confidence, knowledge, guidance, and wherewithal to start their own businesses. There is no better feeling than being successful at something that you created, launched, and owned.

What a great way to help both people economically and mentally. Helping people start their own small businesses would be great for all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mentor in business and life ingrained in me the need to be ethical, honest and truthful in marketing and not to play things on edge.

He had been through an FTC investigation many years earlier that consumed a year of his life which was eventually dismissed, but he always kept the case file in the bottom right-hand drawer of his desk. Whenever I would present a slightly risqué marketing idea, he would point to the drawer and say come up with something else. Life is too short.

My mentor taught me always to keep my word. Play it straight, as your reputation is everything.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Throughout my career, I have had the good fortune to meet and become friends with many well-known and influential people in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment. I was quite young when I started out and had much more time to invest in developing these relationships and staying connected to the people I most valued and enjoyed spending time with. As I started my family, I became much more inwardly focused and lost contact with many of these people that meant so much to me during my growth.

Two people that I had become close friends with and had influenced me the most were Kevin O’Leary (aka Mr. Wonderful from Shark Tank) and Ron Conway, the godfather of Silicon Valley. Although to me they were always successful, I met them both before they had reached the pinnacle of their success and popularity and spent much time with them and their families. I regret letting time pass and not staying connected to them and would love a chance to meet for breakfast or lunch to re-engage and rebuild the relationship we used to have before so much time passed and we now only know each other from a distance. Kevin and Ron were friends that always provided me with great advice and included me as part of their family. Without realizing it, I closed an important part of my world down, but I now know the significance of investing in the maintenance of these and countless other relationships I have in my life.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

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