The step-by-step process to reading the data on your scouting app (in under 1 second), and how to efficiently scan books to resell.
Video: How to read Amazon scanning app data
The no-filler guide to reading app data and knowing what to buy
If you’re relying on profit triggers in your scanning app, I’m about to make them irrelevant.
If you’re not using profit triggers, I’m about to make your sourcing go much faster.
If you’re new to selling on Amazon, I’m going to make your inventory sourcing much simpler.
I’m going to teach you how to set up and read the data on your scanning app, and doing it extremely simply and quickly.
Complexity is the enemy of profits
Most training you’ll see leans towards over-complicating the process of reading scanning app data. And it does so to the point that you think you need to spend 30 seconds reviewing every book, or outsource all your thinking to “triggers.”
In this article, I’m focused on simplicity. But none of this is dumbed-down, and I’m not leaving anything out. I’m breaking down exactly how I do it, and the process is really simple.
Scanning apps show you too much data
The thing to understand about Amazon scanning apps (and most software) is that they have to appeal to everyone. So they over-deliver features so no one gets upset and signs up for another tool.
The downside of this is that scanning apps show way too much data. You don’t kneed most of what’s there. Everything exists to please someone, somewhere. But it’s probably not (and shouldn’t be) you.
I’m going to streamline things so you know exactly what to look at, and what to ignore.
What you need to start scanning books
This article assumes you have four things:
- A smart phone.
- A scanning app.
- A Bluetooth barcode scanner.
- Established buying standards.
Theoretically you could run an Amazon business without the first three. For example, I have a friend doing five-figures a month and he doesn’t even have a barcode scanner. Personally, I think he’s insane. But it’s possible.
With the last one (buying criteria), you can’t make a buying decision without this. And no one can impose their standards on you. This is 100% up for you to decide, but you must have clear criteria. If not, every time you scan a book to resell you’ll be plunged into a crisis of uncertainty and deliberation. This is totally unsustainable.
How much profit do you need per book? What ROI (return on your investment) is your bare minimum? How quickly do you need your inventory to turnover? These are the basic questions that will inform your buying criteria. And having these criteria is mandatory.
Want to keep it simple? Go for the 3x Rule and a rank of 3 million or better. (But again, buying criteria is personal and you shouldn’t be accepting anyone else’s criteria as your own).
Scanning books to resell: The mechanics
The act of scanning a book is incredibly simple.
- Aim scanner at book’s barcode.
- Push the button.
- Data about the book appears in Scoutly (the app I’m using as an example for this article. There are others.)
It’s that simple.
Do you need to understand data if you use “profit triggers”?
Shutting off your brain and deferring to “triggers” is the great opiate of the Amazon seller masses. They lead to low seller IQ and bad buying decisions.
I’ve written a long diatribe about why you shouldn’t use app triggers before, but here’s the bullet points:
#1: App triggers can only measure quantitative data
#2: Your buying criteria isn’t static
#3: They breed Amazon sellers who are totally unable to read data
#4: The FBA blindspot
This article makes using triggers obsolete (and goes almost as fast).
What data your scanning app shows
Let’s review the full range of options your app shows you. Don’t worry, we’re going to ignore most of these.
This is the list of data available to you on just the main screen of Scoutly:
- Sales rank (on the left)
- Average sales rank (on the right)
- Used Buy Box
- New Buy Box
- Amazon’s price
- Number of offers new and used (if applicable)
- Number of FBA offers (if applicable)
- Price of FBA offers (if applicable)
- Number of items in inventory for each offer
- Sales Score (estimated number of times this item has sold in last 90 days)
- “Fair Trade Value” ( Defined as the “historical Used Buy Box price.”)
- Trade in value
- Product image
- Product weight
- Sales history chart
- Restriction warning
And a bar to display various external links of your choice, such as:
- Bookscouter trade in value
- List for sale on Amazon
- Google UPC
- Google title
- Ebay Active
- Ebay Sold
Spoiler: Here’s what app data looks like through my eyes
- Average sales rank
Used Buy Box New Buy Box
- Lowest merchant fulfilled prices
- Lowest FBA prices
Department Amazon’s price Number of offers new and used (if applicable) Number of FBA offers (if applicable) Price of FBA offers (if applicable) Profit Sales Score (estimated number of times this item has sold in last 90 days) “Fair Trade Value” ( Defined as the “historical Used Buy Box price.”) Trade in value Product image Product weight Sales history chart Restriction warning
What you must know before scanning a book to resell
- You have to have a basic grasp of Amazon sales rank.
- You have to have a basic grasp of Amazon fees.
If you understand those two things, you’re set. No reason to over-complicate it.
How to learn app fundamentals
- Don’t understand Amazon sales rank? Full guide to understanding sales rank for books.
- Don’t understand Amazon fees? Run 10 books through Amazon’s fee calculator to grasp the basics.
How to set up your scanning app
AKA what settings are important, which aren’t.
Here’s the complete list of Settings available to you in Scoutly:
- Use Profit Trigger
- Show history chart
- Check restriction or Accept
- Wholesale integration
- Classic view
- 2d barcode on picklist
- Disable bird view
- Background download
- Three-column pricing display
- Display FBA vs MF profit
- Display average sales rank
- General restriction warning
- Disable sound
- Load balance
- Auto add to Buy List
- Keep screen bright in Lock
- Enable triggers
- Display rank color
- Use camera
- Shake to open camera
- Vibration on Buy
- Use internal browser
- Voice prompt only
- Voice prompt for title
- Display settings (set color, etc)
- Sales rank color
- Audio settings
- Lock screen
I got bored typing all this out and probably missed some. But almost all of it is unnecessary. I promised to keep this simple, so ignore everything above and follow these steps…
The only settings I enable in my scouting app
- Display average sales rank
- Use camera
- Disable sound (optional)
- Background download (optional)
- Load balance (optional)
In the situations where I need to know more (not common), I enable a link for the Keepa history chart and Google UPC.
Understanding your scanning app settings more deeply
Here is an explanation of each of these settings, so you understand why they’re important (or mildly helpful).
Average Amazon Sales Rank
This takes Amazon Sales Rank (which can fluctuate wildly) and averages it out over time, to give you a better idea of how often an item is selling. Much better than current sales rank (and much better than “eScore”).
No idea why Scoutly made a setting out of this (it should happen by default), but if a book doesn’t have a barcode (or you don’t have a barcode scanner), you’ll be using your camera to scan the cover or ISBN.
The next three don’t matter that much, but here we go…
Disable sound (optional)
No need for this if you’re not using triggers.
Background download (optional)
Not sure, but I think this option lets you do other things on your phone while waiting for your data to download. Another one that I have no idea why isn’t enabled by default.
Load balance (optional)
This one has something to do with increase download speed. (Again: Why make this a setting?)
Setting the scouting app “Operating Mode”
We covered the settings + the data; but what about the operating mode?
In Scoutly, “operating mode” just translates to “where the product data is coming from” – either from downloading the database into your phone (faster lookups), or live lookups (via your cell signal, so it’s slower).
Here are the options:
- Database + Live lookup if not found
- Database + Live lookup if not found OR a “Buy” in Profit Triggers
- Live Only
What I use:
- Database + Live lookup if not found
Now we’ve laid the groundwork. Time to get down to business…
How to read scouting app data, and in what order
This is the exciting part. You simplified your scanner settings. You’ve scanned a book. Your app populates the screen with (aka “blasts you in the face with”) a firehose of data. How do you read it and know if you should buy or pass on the book?
What follow is what data I look at, in the exact order I look at it.
Note: I do all of this in under 1 second. This will come naturally with a small amount of experience.
Step #1: Merchant fulfilled prices
Step #2: Average Amazon sales rank
Step #3: FBA prices (conditional)
At this point, 98% of the time, I know if I’m buying this book or passing on it. There’s nothing more to do.
No sales history charts. No profit triggers. No completed eBay auction lookups. No noise. Just a few datapoints and on to the next item.
Going deeper: The three steps to buying any book
(Again, this applies to any product, but I’m using books as an example).
Step #1: Look at the Merchant Fulfilled prices
I’m an FBA seller, but I know if something is valuable MF, then it’s profitable FBA (since the FBA prices are usually higher). So the FBA price is mostly irrelevant if the MF value is high enough.
If you’re not an FBA seller, then of course the MF price is relevant no matter what.
Step #2: Look at the Average Amazon sales rank
(Reminder: Never rely on eScore).
Average sales rank is the best estimation of how often an item is selling. Even if the rank is really bad, I’ll still buy it under certain circumstances, but looking at the price in relation to the sales rank is crucial. If both the Merchant Fulfilled price and the average sales rank are within my buying criteria, going to Step #3 is not necessary.
Step #3: Look at the FBA prices
If the item is not profitable Merchant Fulfilled, and the average sales rank is strong, I’ll still want to know the FBA prices. In this situation (very common), I’m only competing with other FBA sellers. So the Merchant Fulfilled price is unnecessary (but will still always be the first thing I look at, as I often don’t have to go as far as looking at the FBA price if the MF price is good).
If you’re a Merchant Fulfilled seller, then you can skip this step.
“Wait: I heard I have to look at 23 data points on my app!”
You probably did. And you were probably told you need profit triggers to calculate the mountain of data you must process before purchasing a book (or anything). And I’m sorry that happened to you.
You’re not buying an apartment building. Buying book (or any single item to resell on Amazon) doesn’t require spreadsheets of due diligence. You’re spending a dollar or two per unit, and 2 or 3 data points are all you need to make a decision and move on.
Are there exceptions? When more data is necessary
There are exceptions. They’re not terribly common, but there are books where other data is relevant. Here’s a few examples:
What about Amazon’s price?
It’s true that you don’t want to ever price above Amazon. So Amazon’s price is relevant. But if you’re sourcing used items, the used prices are almost always below Amazon’s offer. And if you’re sourcing new, you’ll be seeing Amazon’s offer in the New column anyway.
What if a book has no sales rank?
A book having no sales history doesn’t mean I’m avoiding all of the time. This is where I do the “qualitative analysis” I referred to earlier. What’s the subject matter? What’s the pricing history? If a book has never sold, that can be a goldmine if it’s because no copies have ever been listed for sale. When more data is needed, I will dig deeper.
What if a book has a really bad sales rank?
Similar to above, the story is not told completely in the sales history. I’ll review the Keepa charts and click over to Amazon for more info if there’s clues this book has promise.
What if a book is “not found”?
Generally this means the barcode is pointing to a number Amazon doesn’t recognize. Since almost all books are in Amazon’s database, if I get a “not found,” AND I think a book has promise for other reasons, I’ll research deeper.
What if a book has no offers for sale?
Another possible opportunity in disguise (especially if the average rank is good). Low supply can mean big profits. I’ll check out the Keepa charts, or just as often, buy the book based on the rank + no offer data alone.
What if a book’s data just looks weird?
This can take a few forms, but if something looks “off” (such as really good rank for a seemingly mainstream book selling for an exorbitant price) I’ll glance at the product category. Its not uncommon that (for example) a book would come up in the Home & Garden category. Amazon’s database isn’t perfect. This doesn’t happen enough that I’m looking at the product category for every item I scan. The occasional false-positive/bad purchase is worth the time saved.
So I’m not saying all data points outside the few I listed are 100% irrelevant. I am saying that they aren’t relevant often enough to complicate my sourcing process by referring to them anything more than rarely.
But what about letting the app calculate profit?
There’s nothing massively wrong with enabling profit calculations in your app so you know what your Amazon payout will look like (if sold at the lowest price). But there’s a couple problems with this:
You’re not always selling at the lowest price. Sure, you can adjust your triggers to give a different calculation, but this level of complexity approaches madness. Having a general understanding of Amazon fees eliminates avoids all this trouble. Which brings us to…
You should understand how Amazon fees work. This really isn’t hard. Understanding selling fees & Amazon sales rank are the bare minimum if you’re going to sell on Amazon. Literally the bare minimum.
You’re never going to know exact fees for every book (weight is a factor, after all), but that’s not the point. You should know generally what your payout will be for three categories:
- Really small book
- Average book
- Really big, heavy book
Close enough is close enough.
So yes, personally I do leave my profit calculation enabled, but I almost never look at it.
Recap: How to read scanning app data
Step #1: Look at Merchant fulfilled prices
Step #2: Look at average Amazon sales rank
Step #3: Look at FBA prices (conditionally)
As they say, “there’s no reason to make it more complicated than that.”