Why setting app “profit triggers” is a disaster for Amazon sellers, and you should stop using them immediately.
Video: The 4 problems with triggers
The scanning app trigger epidemic must be stopped
Someone has to say it: Setting triggers in Scoutly or ScoutIQ (or any scouting app) is both costing you money, and holding back your progress as an Amazon seller.
In this article, I’m going to outline:
- Why you should delete your app “profit triggers.”
- The secret reason these triggers are causing you to leave valuable inventory behind.
- The Top 4 things no one has told you about app triggers.
This article is going to make you a better and more profitable Amazon seller, but only if you approach it with an open mind. Let’s get into it…
What are scanning app “triggers”?
Inside both Scoutly and ScoutIQ (and possibly other apps – I’ve only tried those two) is a feature called “Triggers.” The idea is simple: Tell the app your buying criteria (based on net profit, Amazon sales rank, etc), and when you scan an item that meets your criteria, the app will alert you to “Buy.” For everything else, it will tell you to “Reject.”
The Buy or Reject alerts come in the form of the color red or color green at the top of the app, the corresponding Buy or Reject text, and a sound notification (if you enable this setting).
The concept sounds great: You’re telling your app to automate the calculations you otherwise make by reviewing the data. The argument is that it “saves time.”
But at what cost?
In fact, app profit triggers have two hidden pitfalls that make them more harm than good:
- Triggers decrease your profits: Your app can’t “see” a significant percentage of FBA offers, because they’re in the “FBA blindspot” (more on this in a minute). That means its telling you to reject inventory that’s actually profitable.
- Triggers decrease your knowledge: Sellers who use triggers become low IQ robots who can’t read actual data.
At the end of this article, I’m outlining the Top Four reasons you should abandon profit triggers (and the last two are the biggest).
What Scoutly app trigger settings I use
I tricked you with that headline: I have never used triggers in my life (not once). I shut them off the first time I downloaded Scoutly (back when it was just called A Seller Tool, which is even before it was called FBA Scan).
Over the years, when I’ve talked to other sellers and the subject of triggers would come up, the conversation often goes like this:
Them: “How do you set your triggers?”
Me: “I don’t use triggers.”
Them: “You mean you rely on the default trigger settings?”
Me: “I don’t use triggers.”
Them: “How do you know if you should buy something?”
Me: “Not triggers.”
Them: <confusion/seizures/emotional meltdown>
The Cult of the App Triggers is kind of like the Cult of the Buy Box: It’s adherents can get easily confused if you question the underlying assumptions of their religion.
Reminder: All triggers do is read the data
There’s a weird faith in the omnipotent wisdom of Triggers, but they aren’t doing anything you can’t do in under 1 second..
Triggers literally do one thing: read the data that’s already in front of you, then translate it.
It’s the fact that the data is already in front of you that’s the weird part: When you’re looking to see if the triggers are telling you to “buy” or “reject,” the data it’s using to make the calculation is literally right in front of you.
Translating app data takes approximately one half of one second. And it doesn’t take years of experience to understand.
Scoutly or Scoutly users who rely on triggers seem to look at reading app data in one of two ways:
- It’s some kind of advanced Jedi skill they could never master, or-
- It’s an antiquated relic favored by quaint artisans, in the same way people who get all their music from Spotify look at vinyl record collectors.
In fact, the joke is on them, in the same way that cheating on the LSAT will make you a terrible lawyer. Reading app data is just good business.
Do app triggers save time?
The answer is “sort of, but not really, and not without a huge cost…”
Two flaws in the “saves time” argument:
- App triggers only save major time if you have no idea how to read app data.
- The time saved is offset by the downsides (explained throughout this article).
The argument that “using triggers saves time” is predicated on the (false) assumption that a Scoutly or ScoutIQ trigger can read and interpret data just as well as a human, with no downsides. Which just isn’t true.
Arguing for triggers because they’re faster is like saying “only reading the first paragraph of every page lets you finish a book faster.”
Maybe a trigger is technically “faster,” but barely – if you know how to read app data.
How to read app data (without using triggers)
Here’s how I size up Scoutly data in a microsecond (and make triggers obsolete):
Stop one: Look at Merchant Fulfilled price. I sell exclusively FBA, but I know if something is valuable MF, then its of course valuable FBA. I don’t even need to know the FBA value if the MF value is high enough.
Stop two: Look at average Amazon sales rank. (Note: Never rely on eScore). This tells me how often an item is selling. There’s no rank so bad that I won’t invest in it under certain conditions, but how the price and sales rank interact is very key information. If the Merchant Fulfilled price and the sales rank meet my standards, I don’t need to go any further. And it took me a fraction of a second to take in both.
Stop three: Look at FBA price. If the item is not profitable Merchant Fulfilled, and the average sales rank is strong, I’ll want to know the FBA prices.
For most scenarios, that’s it. This is an oversimplification, but what just described is sufficient for 90%+ of the items I scan.
This process is hardly heavy lifting that reqiures automation subjecting you to huge blindspots.
So why are sellers willing to surrender profits and turn themselves into zombies to save 0.5 seconds?
Zombie invasion: App profit triggers destroy sellers
Triggers have created a zombie invasion of sellers who literally don’t know how to read basic Amazon data. It’s bonkers.
To get a “second opinion” on how destructive these triggers are for sellers, peruse any Amazon seller Facebook group. What you’ll see is pretty terrifying. It’s like enabling trigger settings causes sellers’ IQ to drop 50 points instantly.
Here’s how a typical Facebook group post goes (you’ll see a couple of these a week in any active Facebook group):
“Guys, why is ScoutIQ telling me to reject this book?!?!”
Took me 30 seconds to find multiple examples: Check out this insanity:
Even more insanity:
These posts are terrifying for two reasons:
- The data the app is using to make the calculation is literally on the screen. Which makes these posts completely confusing until you realize these sellers literally don’t know how to read data. Basic, fundamental attributes like price and sales rank are like Latin to sellers who relied on triggers from the day they started selling. The triggers have turned them into zombie automatons who completely freeze up if forced to interpret anything beyond a Green or Red bar. It’s bonkers.
- The triggers are only doing what you tell them do. It’s like ordering a latte at Starbucks, then complaining to a manager when they give you a latte. The triggers are literally doing what you (literally) told it to do.
The Amazon selling world is in a very dark place when thousands of sellers have outsourced basic comprehension to a computer.
Triggers create scanning zombies: Part II
If you spy on sellers sourcing “in the wild,” you’ll notice something that separates people using triggers from everyone else (at least in the bookselling world): The people using triggers in Scoutly or ScoutIQ tend to scan every book.
Admittedly this is a huge generalization, but pay attention to any seller you see scanning and you’ll see this (general) this pattern:
- The sellers with headphones (indicating they’re relying on sound notifications connected to triggers) tend to scan every book.
- The sellers looking at the screen tend to be selective about what they scan.
The reason is simple: If you rely on “profit triggers,” you never learn to spot the attributes of a valuable book. You can use triggers for years and never even look at the cover of a book. Triggers prevent you from learning almost anything about the actual product you’re selling, so you have to scan everything.
Everything in Triggerland is a binary decision of Buy or Reject. Why learn anything?
You’re not really running a business (at least a small bookselling business) unless you’re “pre-scanning.” That is, assessing the likelihood a book has value (in a microsecond) before picking it up to scan. If you’ve never learned to pre-scan, you’re forced to either:
- Scan everything.
- Make random guesses about what to scan.
Sellers in Triggerland have outsourced all analysis to a computer. Consequently, most never learn how to analyze books (or anything) themselves.
Using triggers creates sellers who never learn to pre-scan.
Four Reasons You Should Stop Using Scoutly or ScoutIQ Triggers
Let’s recap some of what we’ve already covered, and some new reasons to not use triggers. Every one of these is important, but the last two are very, very important.
#1: App triggers can only measure quantitative data
There are two parts to assessing value: Quantitative and Qualitative. Triggers can only analyze one.
Here’s an example:
Take a book with a “bad” Amazon Sales Rank. Let’s say 4 million. Mr App Trigger Expert Guy may having a trigger setting to reject any book worse than 2 million.
But there are some books ranked 2 million that have the same price as a book ranked 4 million – yet are a better buy. How is that possible?
Maybe the book ranked 2 million is a trade directory for water park owners that gets updates annually (and thus becomes obsolete quickly). And maybe the book ranked 4 million is a timelesss title on advanced algorithmic theory that has sold slowly but steadily for decades.
The book with a sales rank of 4 million is a safer investment – despite the worse sales rank.
The App Trigger Addict Seller would never know this (or even comprehend it).
Not only would Scoutly or ScoutIQ triggers totally fail them in this qualitative analysis, the Trigger Addict would never have even learned these principles. They’ve been automating all the decision making to their app.
If you’re relying on Triggers, it’s entirely possible to spend years selling on Amazon and never even look at the cover of a single book (or DVD, or anything else you’re selling). It’s a robotic existence where every product is either “buy” or “reject.” Triggers make it possible to spend years in a business and know almost nothing about it. ‘
#2: Your buying criteria isn’t static
Even if every other objection to triggers was resolved, they still would only make sense in a world where your buying criteria never changed. And that world is not the real world.
Your buying criteria can change within a given day. Maybe you just had a mega-score where you’re going to make thousands off of one visit to a single source. This windfall will allow you to spend the rest of the day relaxing your standards and investing in inventory you would normally consider too “risky.” Guess what? Your triggers won’t update themselves.
Your buying criteria can change within a given month. Maybe your IPI score dropped to substandard levels, and you need to spend a month emphasizing high-turnover items. Your triggers won’t update themselves.
Your buying criteria should evolve over your lifespan as an Amazon seller. You should be learning. Adjusting, Experimenting. Triggers allow for none of these things – unless you want to update them every time.
You’d be right to respond with: “If your criteria change, you can just update your triggers.” Which is true. But if you’re constantly forced to upgrade your triggers – what’s the point? You can avoid all that by just reading the data yourself.
By relying on “profit triggers,” you’re creating multiple problems to “solve” a small one.
#3: They are keeping you from learning how to read data
If you can’t read scanning app data, you don’t have a business.
I’ve already discussed this exhaustively in this article, so I won’t spend a lot of time on this.
But the impact of this is huge. When you defer entirely to Profit Triggers, you never gain knowledge about books and book value. Everything is reduced to numbers on a screen, and the binary “Buy” or “Reject.”
This is a key distinction between “book flippers” and long-term Amazon sellers: their understanding of the principles that drive book value on Amazon.
Again, browse any seller forum and you’ll get blasted in the face with a generation of sellers who never learned basic comprehension of numbers:
#4: The FBA blindspot
This is the biggest one of all (and I’ve barely mentioned it so far).
If you’re an FBA seller, there is a very big secret you should know about the data being shown to you in ScoutIQ, Scoutly, or any other app:
You won’t see any FBA offer that is not priced in the lowest 20 across all offers.
This is a limitation of Amazon’s API that is imposed by Amazon on third party apps.
That means there can be many competing FBA offers, but the FBA column in your app will be blank. This is a very big deal.
I recently found that 34% of book in a random sampling had competing offers in the blindspot. So this is a high-impact problem.
What this means for triggers: if you have your triggers set to “Buy” or “Reject” based on the lowest FBA price, you’re getting deceived a high percentage of the time.
Here’s ScoutIQ addressing their (imperfect and not-clearly-explained) method of mitigating damage from the FBA blindspot:
While both Scoutly and ScoutIQ admit to the blindspot (and other apps I’m sure) and offer some workarounds, none of them resolve the most common Profit Trigger scenario of a Trigger set for minimum net profit, based on lowest FBA price.
That’s probably the most common app trigger setting for FBA sellers, and its completely impossible a large double-digit percentage of the time.
This means you’re getting false “Reject” notifications for a huge percentage of products you scan. Insanity.
While it seems like a small “personal preference” thing, the impact of Triggers on both your short term profits and long term knowledge of the business is huge.
Pleas consider the pitfalls I’ve outlined here, and reconsider the use of triggers in your scanning app.
PS: Do you think I’m totally wrong about this triggers thing? Jump in the comments below and call me out.
PPS: Recent YouTube videos
Tons of activity on YouTube that doesn’t make it to the blog (subscribe to get these videos). Here’s a few recent videos:
Early NeuroPrice reviews are in:
Recent “Amazon Forum Fridays” freestyle commentary craziness (these videos are me at my worst):