Trying out Amazon...

As you probably know, at A&A, we sell mostly things like broadband and telecoms as services, but there are a number of things that are just stock items that we sell (everything from routers, splitters, cuddly dragons to ISP grade Firebrick costing tens of thousands). So we thought it may be an idea to try out Amazon and see how it works as some things may be better and more convenient sold through Amazon.

Time consuming and tedious at first

To start with, it was quite time consuming and tedious to set up the seller account. They don't just want company details, but also passport numbers and expiries of all beneficial owners of the company, scans of passport, scans of bank statement to prove account number, credit card number, the works. It probably took me a couple of hours to sort that all.

Listing a product

Listing a product is not too hard. It involved a title, description, images, and so on. It was not entirely clear what each field did in terms of the listing, but easy to play around and learn how it goes.

As an experiment we decided to list something simple to start with, as this is a bit of a test to see how well it all works. Some playing cards (please buy some). These are actually the ones from my previous blog post, which A&A are selling now.

Of course anyone that got them free from me are welcome to leave an Amazon review - the funnier the better.

Fulfilled by Amazon

One of the things we wanted to experiment with is the whole "fulfilled by Amazon" thing, where they hold the stock for you. Now this has costs, related to the volume of the item, so playing cards are a good test for this. I suspect cuddly dragons are not so good.

To my surprise that was easy. I had to update the listing with weight, and dimensions. I had to advise the overall weight and dimensions for the box of 50 packs we are sending. It ended up with a shipping label to print. UPS collected later that day. 24 hours later, Amazon are selling!

It is meant to shows as Amazon Prime as well, not sure if I have missed something or being impatient on that one. It could also be I set the price a tad too low to make sense for 1-click and prime. I'll see if I can work that one out. I can see Amazon Prime being useful for things like DSL routers and splitters and so on. [update: increasing price by 99p means it is now 1-click and prime, but I could not find the help to tell me what the price has to be for this.]

The hard part - barcodes!

It turns out product barcodes are a bit of a complicated area!

There is a group (GS-1) that manages product bar codes world wide. Wikipedia explains it a bit.

It seems that, until 2002, you could buy a block of barcodes and they were yours forever and nothing prohibited you from reselling them to others. This is the sort of model I like for such things personally. There are some rules or guidelines on things like barcode reuse after a product is discontinued, but it is all pretty simple.

However, these days, you have to be a member of GS-1, on an ongoing basis, and so you effectively rent the barcodes.

However, if you google, you will see that loads of people sell barcodes, outright, for quite reasonable prices. So I bought some. Simples.

Is this legit? Well yes, from what I can tell, as these pre-2002 barcodes could be sold and re-used, so that is all that is happening.

However, it seems Amazon have a bit of an issue. They use barcodes, these UPC and EAN unique barcodes, to track stock. Indeed, if a barcode is issued to a product they will treat all stock of that product the same and interchangeable. When you create a listing you, ideally, need to give them the UPC or EAN barcode number. (There are other ways with labels on the product with Amazon issued codes).

So why is that an issue. Well, the problem is that you can just make these up. Amazon seem to accept any barcode they don't yet have in inventory. So even if you have barcodes, you can find some Chinese company has effectively hijacked them and so you cannot list your items on Amazon. Apparently Amazon can fix this, but apparently it is a hell of a lot of work.

It also turns out that it does not matter if you got barcodes directly from GS-1 or from some reseller. Indeed, it seems, the resellers check on Amazon first to eliminate any that have been hijacked. I do not know if GS-1 do the same.

As it happens, having bought 100 barcodes in March, most are now magically allocated to clothing or iPhone cases on Amazon! I did not realise this at first, as my listing for the above pack of cards using a barcode printed on the pack, works. But there was a slight clue - the control pages for setting up the listing showed this image...

That is, perhaps, a clue that someone had tried to do a listing using that code (for a dress?).

Now I come to trying to list the A&A decks of cards I find the code is not available as it is an iPhone case! This is a tad infuriating as we printed the barcode we allocated on the box! Not being listed on GS-1 as the owner, I cannot even go through the apparently time consuming process of disputing with Amazon, I don't think.

My only choice will be another barcode, and stickers on the packs (or, Amazon can do labels that go on the product for you, which would be a shame on my nicely designed boxes). I think I would rather do the stickers myself...

So what can be done?

Well, Amazon have a solution, it seems. They plan to only accept UPC/EAN codes where the manufacturer matches what GS-1 have listed. This means, apparently, these older re-sold barcodes won't work. What is odd is that, just yesterday, one did work, one we got.

If Amazon do actually go through with this new policy, even if just for new listings, that should stop the hijacked barcodes happening. However, it will mean we have to join the club and pay the ongoing fees to have directly GS-1 allocated codes, which is a shame. What we hope is that existing, legitimate, re-sold barcodes are not suspended on the Amazon site, which may possibly happen one day I guess. At this point that only impacts selling some playing cards for a bit of fun, which is why I am glad we did an experiment on this.

Even so, I can see people selling stuff, using made up barcodes, simply telling Amazon the item they are selling is "manufactured by Andrews & Arnold Ltd" which they can just look up on the GS-1 web site, and Amazon would accept the listing. After all, the seller does not have to claim to be the manufacturer. It is possible Amazon would take such issues more seriously, who knows. It would also be interesting if GS-1 would handle the arguing with Amazon for us as a member given the claims GS-1 make about how much better it is getting codes from them directly.

More to learn

We have to fully understand the costs in practice, and the processes for payments, and for VAT invoicing as well. Things will be shipped without us having issued an invoice, so we are going to have to import in to our accounting system. It is exactly this sort of thing which a trial on something simple like playing cards is worth doing.

We also need to consider what sort of things will be sensible and cost effective to sell via Amazon rather than shipping ourselves. It may be that Amazon is not for us (except perhaps for playing cards), we will see.


  1. For me the delivery option shows as :-
    Price: £5.99 Delivery at no extra cost for Prime members
    (This item is eligible for Prime delivery but requires additional processing time.)

    It doesn't have the prime logo next to it. I assume this is because they have not received the stock yet?

    1. It is on Prime, but the pages seem to take a while to update. I tweaks the price and it magically appeared as prime. Someone has ordered on prime already!

  2. I had a look using my Amazon Business account. It shows up as "Price: VAT exclusive price not available;
    £5.99 incl. VAT" which means that I will not automatically get a VAT invoice if I buy it.

    Not important for playing cards, but if you expect to sell anything else through Amazon to VAT-registered businesses it might be worth looking into how to get this working.

    1. Here is an example of a listing that includes an ex-VAT price.

      When you're logged in with an Amazon Business account you can filter searches by "Invoice type: Business Invoice". When I buy an item like this, Amazon emails me a VAT invoice automatically without me having to contact the seller manually. It's very handy, because getting a VAT invoice from a seller by messaging them can be a bit hit-and-miss!

    2. Ok I just set a "business price" - see if that works - may take 15 minutes or so to show. The VAT invoice from Amazon is where things get fun for VAT as a seller I expect. We will find out.

    3. The relevant Amazon help page appears to be this one. I'm guessing you haven't opted to use Amazon's VAT calculation service? (No idea at all what the costs to the seller are of doing this!)

      The cards are still only showing the inc-VAT price, although this is now £5.00 when logged in to the business account.

    4. OK found that - enabled from next week some time. That will be fun to import in to our systems for VAT!

    5. Aha! The ex-VAT price is now showing.

  3. FWIW I'm about 20 miles from Bracknell (Which is always reassuring, as I can presumably just drive over to the A&A offices if I need a new VSDL modem).
    The cards are appearing as "Shipping at no extra cost for prime" - but not "full" prime nextday. I believe that's tied to where the stock is held vs my location - IE they can do sameday if it's at my local depot, but it's 2 day if it has to come from a depot which is some distance away.

    1. Quite, we are waiting too see how that goes - Amazon decide where they keep the stock. They may move some, not sure. They only got them yesterday so this is something that may appear by magic in the next few days.

    2. It seems that it takes them a couple of days to get going, but some are now being shipped it seems.

  4. You can tell it's an authentic A&A limited listing by the precision of the listed product weight at 99.8g! :D

  5. If someone claims "manufactured by Andrews & Arnold Ltd", when it's not, that's trademark infringement. I'm going to guess that trademark infringement is much more common than stealing barcodes, and Amazon probably have a well-tested process for you to get the listing taken down.

  6. I have seen complaints about the whole "treating all stock of that product the same and interchangeable" process at Amazon, whereby two sellers claim to sell the same product, with one of them reputable whilst the other is selling Chinese knockoffs. Because Amazon doesn't distinguish between the stock of the two sellers, people buying from the reputable seller can end up receiving the knockoff products, whilst people buying from the (probably much cheaper) seller can end up with the real thing.

    1. Indeed. I doubt it will happen with playing cards, or for that matter, FireBricks. We'll see.

    2. Yeah I've had this a few times, most recently when ordering an IP junction box for some electrical work, 3 were knockoffs and one was genuine, all from the same order of 4. The fake ones looked completely different to the real ones, but the Amazon sticker was the same on all of them (or no indication of the seller it belonged to).
      From talking to an ex Amazon "fulfillment centre" employee, they have to pick by the barcode, even if it's obviously the wrong product, damaged or a fake. If the system thinks one is in stock, it won't let them say it isn't or report the error without scanning the whole shelf to be sure it's not just in the wrong place etc. So when they come across things like this they just let it pass because they don't have time to do the right thing and sort it

  7. Ordered a pack of cards on Wednesday (with Prime); estimated delivery date was Thursday. Yesterday it was showing as "Thursday or Friday"; today I've received the following email from Amazon:

    We're sorry about the delay in getting your order to you, but I'm pleased to tell you that we're preparing it for dispatch now.

    Within the next business day you should receive an e-mail from us confirming that the following items have been dispatched:

    "RevK 19th Century Goodall & Son Reproduction deck"

    This confirmation e-mail will include tracking information if it's available and a new estimated delivery date.

    I'll let you know of any further developments (and whether I receive a pack of cards, or a lady in a floral dress - which is now the picture showing under "Your orders", though not in the listing! :)

    1. Arrived today. It was the pack of cards, not the woman, which is fortunate as I'm not sure where I'd have stored her.

      Not the quickest "prime" delivery ever, but I guess that's probably a consequence of the cards just having arrived at Amazon; one hopes future orders will go more smoothly!

    2. Yes, watching the orders, it looks like it took them a few days to get started and now they are going out next day OK.

  8. Got mine at the weekend; nicely printed and packaged. Is the scratchy blemish in the middle of the ace of spades (box as well as card, and visible in the Amazon photos) a printing gremlin or an accurate facsimile of your antique original?

    1. It is based on a scan of the original which as some level of detail which is not perfect.

    2. That makes sense.

      My other half liked them as a present! (Especially with the comment "Ideal as a gift if you are trying to say someone must be really old :-)"... 8-)

  9. So I bought a pack, took a while to get to me as I'm not a prime subscriber.

    The ace of clubs looked a bit low res printed to me - looks like a lot of black on the design, which I had expected to see as finer detail and looked blocky instead. I don't know if this is intentional?

    Took me a little while to work out it was the ace also, as it's the first card you see.

    Finally, the cellophane wrapping was hard to open. The tear strip was well, crap.

    HTH :) Honest feedback!

    1. Yeh, the ace is scanned not re-drawn. I may look in to that. The tear strip should have a cut on the front that makes it easy to open. Worrying if that is not the case. I’ll take a look at the other packs. Thanks for the feedback.


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