The sad truth: Your Amazon scanning app isn’t showing you many FBA offers. Here’s a history lesson on what happened, and why.
It’s true: Your Amazon scanning app isn’t showing you many FBA prices
I don’t want to break any hearts here, but I’m going to reveal something all the major scanning apps for FBA sellers are hiding from you:
Your scanning app isn’t showing you a lot of FBA prices.
- No, not Scoutify.
- No, not Scoutly.
- No, not ScoutIQ.
None of them.
Most sellers know this. What surprises me is that many sellers don’t.
Here’s what I’m going to cover:
- What your Amazon FBA scanning app is showing you.
- What it’s not showing you.
- A history lesson on when this change happened.
- Why Amazon conceals many FBA offers from scanning apps.
First we have to go back in time to understand why this happened, and when…
History lesson: Everything changed in 2012
September 1st, 2012 was the exact date.
That’s when all Amazon FBA scanning apps took a turn for the worse. Much worse.
This was the day the light went dark on many (a lot) of FBA prices, and your scanning app no longer showed you the complete picture of your FBA competition.
I was there, and it was a dark day.
Prior to this date, all FBA scanning apps displayed the lowest 5 or 10 FBA prices. Amazon shared this data freely with third-party apps. And Fulfillment by Amazon sellers, who wished to only price against other FBA offers, had access to the pricing data they needed to make a buying (and pricing) 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 (more on this in a second).
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 everyone’s Amazon business.
So what caused this event in 2012?
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.
What is Amazon’s “API”?
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. This includes pricing data.
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.
Theory: Amazon may not like the way FBA sellers price
The most likely cause is that Amazon does not like the pricing practices of FBA sellers. Specifically, how most of us price our inventory higher than regular third-party sellers.
My theory: When we price our Fulfillment by Amazon offers really high, Amazon would prefer we didn’t do that. Amazon wants to be seen as the “low price” destination of the internet and the world at large. If Amazon customers perceive Prime offers to be limited to high-price items only, it hurts Amazon’s long-term goals of world domination.
So, Amazon would prefer that Amazon FBA sellers always compete on price. Meaning, price our offers against merchant fulfilled (non-FBA) offers only. They don’t want Amazon Prime to appeal only to the elite few who can afford to buy from sellers like us who price our inventory really high.
Amazon FBA scanning apps encourage higher prices
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 30 offers for under $10, but 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 some FBA offers, as I’m about to explain). So consequently, prices were forced down.
Making many FBA offers invisible was an effective way to “trick” FBA sellers into pricing lower.
Yes, you still see many FBA offers
Right now you’re thinking:
“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. But you’re not seeing them all. Very often when you see the FBA column is blank, Amazon is hiding FBA listings just out of sight.
What offers does your Amazon FBA scanning app still show?
You will only see 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.
Here’s the proof (not a conspiracy theory)
#1: Proof from Amazon directly
First, here’s the revelation, straight from Amazon. This is the documentation they provide to software developers (that includes your Amazon FBA scanning app), so the language isn’t exactly “plain English,” but you get the idea.
#2: Many Amazon FBA scanning apps admit it
Here’s what Scoutly (the scanning app I use) has to say about this FBA offer limitation, 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 too vague for me, but at least they admit the FBA blindspot. Many scanning apps don’t.
Of the apps that do admit the blindspot. at least a couple spin this restriction as a “positive.” It clearly is not positive for sellers.
FBA sellers don’t care about getting “jammed” with “lowballs,” (see text above) or getting a “broader” look at the market. We just want to know our FBA competition. That’s it.
Are Amazon FBA scanning apps lying?
I’m not saying the scanning app companies are lying, but they’re not exactly putting the facts 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 bothersome to the app 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. I might 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.
The FBA blindspot might be news to you
Since Amazon FBA scanning apps don’t exactly admit the blindspot, this might be the first time you’re hearing about it.
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, and encounter competitors their scanning app told them didn’t exist. And they’re still not sure what’s going on, or who is to blame.
I don’t know how the FBA 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?
But yet, 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.
It’s a weird form of denial that can be extremely costly to the sellers who still won’t admit the FBA blindspot exists.
Does any Amazon scanning app show you all FBA offers?
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 on app is 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.
So don’t wait for a “better” Amazon scanning app to come along. Unless Amazon makes its API less restrictive (unlikely), the FBA data we have now is all we’re ever going to have.
How are Amazon sellers getting around the FBA blindspot?
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.
1. Click over to Amazon from your scanning app
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.
2. Data-driven probability
Through trial and error, some sellers 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).
The basic idea is: The better the rank and the fewer the merchant fulfilled offers (data Amazon 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 enough to be in the blindspot).
This is probably the subject of a future post, but you get the idea. And this works.
If you’re savvy, you can still get the FBA data you need.
It’s a setback, but like all setbacks and blindspots, 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.