The sad truth: Your scanning app is barely showing you any FBA offers. Here’s why.
I don’t want to break any hearts here, but if you’re a Fulfillment by Amazon seller, your scanning app isn’t showing most FBA data. In fact, hardly any.
Most sellers know this. What surprises me is that many sellers don’t.
Here’s the story.
Everything changed on September 1st, 2012
That’s when all Amazon scanning apps took a turn for the worse. Much worse.
Prior to this date, FBA scanning apps displayed the lowest 5 or 10 FBA offers. Amazon shared this data freely with third-party apps, and Fulfillment by Amazon sellers, who smartly wished to only price against other FBA offers, had access to the pricing data they needed to make a buying decision.
Then (mostly) quietly one day in September, 2012, the lights on FBA data went dark. FBA offers stopped being displayed on scanning apps – unless there was an FBA offer in the lowest 20 offers.
I was there when this happened, and a lot of sellers had no idea this change had even occurred. And it would have a massive affect on my Amazon business.
So what happened?
Why did all FBA scanning apps suddenly stop showing (most) FBA data at the same time?
The answer is Amazon.
Amazon put the smackdown
To understand how this happened, you have to understand two things:
- What an “API” (application program interface) is.
- Why Amazon doesn’t want us pricing our items high.
API’s: This isn’t very interesting, but basically API’s are how Amazon allows outside software communicate with its databases. Amazon decides what data third party software can – and cannot – see. And what data they can – and cannot – share with us.
And in 2012, Amazon decided we don’t get to see (most) FBA offers anymore. That’s it.
Now I’m going to tell you why…
Warning: Some of what what I’m about to say is not proven fact, but me reading between the lines. I’m not a real journalist, so I’m allowed to do this.
Why Amazon may not like the way FBA sellers price
It appears Amazon does not like the pricing practices of FBA sellers who price our items high – much higher than regular third-party sellers (which should be the practice of all FBA sellers).
What I believe to be true: When we price our Fulfillment by Amazon offers really high, Amazon would prefer we didn’t do that.
Amazon would prefer that Amazon FBA sellers compete on price. As in, price our offers against merchant fulfilled (non-FBA) offers. They don’t want Amazon Prime to appeal only to the elite few who can afford to buy from sellers like us who price high. Really high.
One of the biggest enablers of our high-pricing habits were scanning apps that showed us exactly what other FBA offers we were competing against.
So if I scan a textbook ranked 30,000, and I can see there are a hundred penny offers, and the lowest FBA offer is $35, then I know I can sell that textbook at $35. And I will.
Once Amazon took away this data, all we had to go on was merchant fulfilled offers (and a few FBA offers, as I’m about to explain). So consequently, prices were forced down.
Wait a minute Peter: When I scan some items, I do see FBA data, sometimes. So what are you talking about?
You will see FBA offers, sometimes. But hardly any.
The only time you’re seeing an FBA offer is if it’s in the lowest 20 of all offers. That’s Amazon’s rule, and that’s the only FBA data you’re seeing.
I know most of you know this already. But a lot of you don’t. And it’s probably hard to hear. But it’s 100% true.
For example, here’s what FBA Scan (the app I use) has to say about this, buried in their user agreement:
“For each item, Amazon will get 20 lowest prices in both used and new condition, then sort them into different groups based on condition, fulfill channel (FBA or merchant), and seller rating. Amazon will then return only the lowest price from each group back to our program. So our program will only display lowest price from each group.”
This is a little vague for me. And I wasn’t entirely satisfied with how forthright the scanning apps were about this (massive) change when it happened.
What I found particularly disingenuous was the attempts of at least a couple apps to spin this restriction as a “positive,” when it clearly wasn’t.
Here is an excerpt from the FBA Scan site, describing the “advantages” of the new API restrictions:
FBA sellers don’t care about getting “jammed” with “lowballs,” or getting a “broader” look at the market. We just want to know our FBA competition. That’s it.
I’m not saying the scanning app companies are lying, but…
…they’re not exactly putting these details front and center.
And I get it. You put a lot of work into building a software product to help Amazon sellers, then after years of labor Amazon changes the rules and takes away the exact data that made your product valuable to begin with. It must be very upsetting to the developers.
And I would probably do exactly what they’re doing. Be open about the new restrictions, but not exactly put it out there front and center, and not exactly yell from the rooftops that as a user of their product, you’re not seeing all the Amazon data you think you are.
They don’t want to provoke a mass exodus of users. I get it.
And if you started selling post-2012, all of this might be news to you
I’m noticing a ton of newer sellers (possibly most) have no idea about any of this. They take the data displayed on their scanning app at face value, and assume if the FBA column is blank, there are no Fulfillment by Amazon offers.
Then of course, they find out the hard way that’s not true when they go to list. But they’re still not sure what’s going on, or who is to blame.
I don’t know how these data blindspots can’t be anything other than totally obvious. I mean, if you make a book purchase assuming there’s no FBA competition, and you get home to list and find there are 20 FBA sellers, you’d have to figure out what’s going on pretty quickly, right?
Well a ton of sellers I’ve talked to insist the app they’re using is showing them all the data. And it’s simply not.
With FBA data, no scanning app is better than any other
There’s no need to play favorites here, or make claims that any particular app shows more data than any other. They are all restricted from Amazon FBA data equally. You can judge an app on dozens of factors, but Fulfillment by Amazon data is not one. If it’s showing any FBA data, it’s showing the same data the others do.
I’ve spoken with developers about this, and no one gets any preferential treatment from Amazon. There are ways to get all FBA data, but any attempt to publish it for public use is against Amazon’s policies. And according to one developer I spoke with, publishing it is also 100% illegal.
So don’t wait for a “better” Amazon scanning app to come along. Unless Amazon makes its API less restrictive (unlikely), the data we have now is all we’re ever going to have.
Is there a silver lining to this?
I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but I suspect that when apps stopped showing Fulfillment by Amazon data, a lot of FBA sellers stopped making money and gave up. Without the right data to make a buying decision, they simply went out of business. Less competition is only a good thing for those of us who stayed the course.
So what are Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) sellers doing to get around this?
There are a couple of methods (one crude, one more advanced) that Amazon FBA sellers (including me) are employing to get the FBA data we need.
The simple one: When all other data checks out (sales rank, etc), we click through from the app to Amazon’s page to view FBA offers. It’s quite annoying and time consuming, but it’s effective.
The more advanced one: Through trial and error, some of us have learned a cool trick using some advanced math to determine if a book has a high probability of having no Fulfillment by Amazon offers (or FBA offers priced high enough to make it worth our investment).
This is probably a topic of a future post, but the basic idea is: The better the rank and the fewer the merchant fulfilled offers (things FBA scanning apps still show), the better the likelihood of there being no Fulfillment by Amazon offers, or at least FBA offers that are priced high.
Like I said, I’ll save the details for a future post. But you get the idea. And this works.
To end on an empowering note
If you’re savvy, you can still get the data you need.
It’s a setback, but like all setbacks, they present opportunities. And the opportunity is:
Fulfillment by Amazon sellers who stay the course – and don’t regress to dropping prices to compete with merchant fulfilled sellers – enjoy the market share left behind by those who responded to scanning app changes by simply giving up.
If you’re a part of an FBA forum or Facebook group for Amazon sellers where people may not know all the facts on this, go to the social media share buttons at the top of the page and repost this article. Thanks.