Why most of what you know about the Amazon Buy Box is a lie, and how building your Amazon business around “winning the Buy Box” is a road to ruin.
Video: The Myth Of “Winning The Buy Box”
The Cult Of The Buy Box
Anytime you question the authority and omnipotent power of the Amazon Buy Box, sellers get defensive. Upon introduction to the business, we are indoctrinated into the belief that success as an Amazon seller depends on jumping through endless hoops to “win the Buy Box.” Challenging that belief can be met with serious resistance.
To be blunt: This resistance approaches cult-like levels.
Like all cults, there is a collection of beliefs that unify them and lead to irrational behavior. Among them:
- “Success as an Amazon seller depends on winning the Buy Box.”
- “Over 80% of all sales happen through the Buy Box.”
- “You can ‘win’ the Buy Box.”
- “There is a code to ‘winning’ the Buy Box that can be cracked.”
- “If you don’t ‘win’ the Buy Box, you will go out of business.”
In a moment, I’m going to explain how all of these beliefs are false.
What I am not saying
I am not saying “the Buy Box does not matter.”
I am not saying the Buy Box does not boost sales. I don’t believe it helps nearly as much as people say (at least with used media), but it does help.
What I am saying
- The Buy Box is volatile.
- The Buy Box cannot be controlled (only influenced).
- The Buy Box cannot be “won.”
- Most of what you’ve been fed is a lie.
How we should look at the Buy Box
The healthiest perspective on the Buy Box (and the one I personally hold) is as follows:
“THE BUY BOX IS A NATURAL BYPRODUCT OF GOOD BUSINESS PRACTICES.”
The Buy Box is not something you chase or “win.” It’s something you experience as a result of doing the things you should have been doing anyway. Such as:
- Being an FBA seller.
- Good seller metrics
- Good sales volume.
- Consistent shipments.
- Good feedback score.
- Etc etc
Here’s what Amazon seller gurus never tell you about how the Buy Box really works…
7 things the gurus don’t tell you about the Amazon Buy Box
#1: You can do everything right and still not “win” the Buy Box.
Popular wisdom goes like this: If you jump through all the right hoops, and do the perfect dance, with just the right steps, in just the right sequence, you will be rewarded for your obedience by “winning the Buy Box.”
Fact: Amazon seller forums are littered with sellers who are distraught over doing everything the gurus told them to do, and still “losing” the Buy Box to “less worthy” sellers with inferior offers.
The guru take on the Buy Box is often that if you don’t have it, you’re doing something wrong. The blame is on you.
This is an attempt to create order and logic out of something that is not required to follow logic or order, and may in fact be quite random. (More on that in a minute).
Experiment: Go through any listing you have for sale and look at the Featured Offer (aka Buy Box). If your offer isn’t there, ask if the offer that occupies it is better than yours. Often the answer is no. Often there is a dramatically worse offer that “owns” the Buy Box.
It’s not (always) your fault. And it’s not something you can ever control.
#2: The Buy Box cult partially exists to sell you things.
Some examples of this are much more egregious than others. But the basic Amazon guru business model is always to emphasize problems and then sell you the solution.
And this isn’t a bad thing. If the problems are real and not exaggerated. The biggest problems with this model come when both the problem and the likelihood of a solution are exaggerated.
If you encounter a guru hyping up the Buy Box (and some “formula” to “win” it), ask what they might be selling.
The worst examples of this aren’t specifically guru-related, and instead come from automated repricer tools claiming their repricer will “win” you the Buy Box more than the others. Even though every factor (except one) that contributes to getting the Buy Box has nothing to with your repricer. And the one that does (the actual price) is the most basic function of any repricer – which they all perform equally well.
#3: All statistics around Buy Box sales are fake
These statistics are thrown around casually and accepted as fact.
They usually go something like this: “80% of all sales happen through the Buy Box.”
These are usually stated in the context of trying to emphasize how urgently you must “chase” the Buy Box at all costs, or your business will be ruined.
They never tell you what where they get their data (or why the statistics always give a different percentage).
Of course, these statistics are always made up. There’s no way Amazon is going to release this information. They are simply fiction.
Here’s a screenshot from a popular blog that captures one of these fake statistics:
#4: The Buy Box is in constant flux – both who “owns” it, and how it’s granted.
The premise of the whole field of study around “winning the Buy Box” is that once you figure it out and “crack the code,” then your work is done and you will be rewarded with a flood of sales.
The reality is completely different. Everything around the Buy Box is in a state of turbulence and flux.
The Buy Box can be “owned” by 20 people in a single day. The formula for who “wins” the Buy Box is changed capriciously and without notice. Amazon doesn’t even owe us the existence of a Buy Box (they’ve taken it away for days at a time before, without warning, before bringing it back).
Chasing the Buy Box is like trying to grab Jello. It’s too fluid and it simply can’t be “owned.”
#5: No one knows the formula for “winning” the Buy Box.
We can look at clues (all of them are obvious), but Amazon will never reveal the true formula for who they give the Buy Box to.
Like Buy Box sales statistics, any claims of knowing a formula for getting the coveted “featured offer” position is pure fiction. No one knows the formula.
#6: The Buy Box formula (probably) has randomness built it.
If you’re Amazon, the biggest Buy Box-related concern you’re going to have is that someone “cracks the code” and starts to game the system so they always occupy the Buy Box.
That’s why most customer-facing algorithms have to have an element of randomness built in. If they didn’t, they could be manipulated.
How many times have you looked at the product page for an item you’re selling, and seen a dramatically less qualified offer occupying the Buy Box? That could be a lot of things. But often, it’s likely deliberate randomness.
#7: The Buy Box literally changes based on geography.
This one blows some minds if you don’t know it already.
Amazon will show different Buy Box offers to different customers based on where they live.
That means someone who lives in western Arkansas might not see the same Buy Box offer as someone in northern Mississippi. And the extent of how many sellers can simultaneously “own” the Buy Box isn’t known. Theoretically, there could be dozens of sellers who all believe they “own” the Buy Box at the exact same time – all of whom don’t have their offers visible outside a small geographical area.
This completely destroys the dominant narrative of “owning” and “winning” the Buy Box.
It’s all an illusion.
Lets recap how insane it is to try and “win” the Buy Box
Consider everything we just learned. Where does this leave sellers who continue to try and “win” the Amazon Buy Box? It isn’t pretty, but it needs to be laid bare…
Doing an endless rain dance trying to appease the Amazon Gods into giving you the Buy Box. Following formulas from various gurus, trying to “crack the code” on “winning” the Buy Box. Getting it sometimes, not others. Emotional rollercoasters over having the Buy Box and then not 10x before noon. Seeing “less worthy” sellers – with worse feedback and higher prices – occupying the Buy Box, while you marvel at the injustice. Occasionally getting it, but never knowing who can see your offer in what part of the country, and never really “owning” the Buy Box despite your best efforts.
This is the life sellers sign up for if they chose to view the Buy Box as something they can control.
Chasing the Buy Box is an illusion
The Buy Box is a natural consequence of running a good Amazon business.
Anything else is just chasing ghosts.