Amazon Merchants were just notified that as of June 27th Amazon will be hiding (from both search and browse) any SKUs that do not have a main image loaded.  Having at least one image for an item you are trying to sell online may seem like common sense, but this new decree from Amazon actually represents a major step forward for online data quality - and should serve as a wake-up call to manufacturers.

While it may seem absurd to think someone would purchase an item without an image, Yeoman's analysis proves it does happen. We have done data quality analysis over a 2 year period with clients using BOTH Amazon and proprietary ecommerce platforms.  Items without main images were always in the lowest class of performance, but approximately 2-5% of the SKUs had some revenue.

The percent of 'imageless' purchases are especially high in industrial and educational categories that have strong offline sales groups or catalog sales.  In many cases, buyers look up these items by specific product SKUs or UPC codes. 

Yeoman estimates that 2-3% of the 40m unique SKUs Amazon marketplace offers don't have an image.  That leaves 1.2m items that will be hidden come June 27th - a $4-10m cut. Relatively small for a $44b industry, but risky for Amazon for two reasons.

First, the bulk of the imageless items are sold by marketplace vendors (3P), not Amazon.  Amazon takes a 12-17% cut of all 3P sales.  These fees and commissions make up approximately 1/3 of that $44b.  Suddenly you're looking at $26-66m in lost revenue for their marketplace partners.

Second, the categories impacted the most by this move are two categories Amazon has been trying to grow for years, educational and supply sales.  Cutting out these vendors will have a direct impact on the SKU counts in these categories.

But the latter may actually be one of the reasons Amazon decided to make the move now.

Amazon's own items almost always have images. In fact, their growing Industrial/Supply group takes the bold step of actually shooting product images for new vendors brought into that category. A brilliant move since those vendors also likely sold imageless products to industrial competitors like Grainger. Remember, these are the only images that Amazon decides to purchase and stock directly, they'll never take photos for a 3P merchant.

The actual revenue risk may also be much lower (and already tested). Amazon's famous/secret A9 and analytics teams factor thousands of data points into their internal search and browse structures and are constantly testing different scenarios.  It's highly likely that these teams have been testing the impact on revenue and behavior for months prior to rolling this new directive.

In fact, removing items without images may actually INCREASE overall revenue for Amazon, especially when customers have alternatives to items they would have 'purchased by SKU' without an image.

Yeoman recently had a client that had an amazingly horrible data quality program they needed to address. They had over 65,000 active SKUs, yet 65% of them were either missing a valid title, image, or description.  The titles and descriptions were relatively easy to address (Yeoman specializes in massive online data clean-ups), but the images were a different story. In a classic B2B scenario, most of the items without images on the company website may have had catalog images, but those images either weren't suited for the web or weren't easily accessible.

The short term solution?  Bias the search results to move items without images to the bottom.  Not as bold as what Amazon is doing, but it changed the customer experience. The result was an immediate 15% increase in search usage and other desirable behavior and a 3% uptick in sales that could be directly related to search.

Yeoman's clients are original manufacturers and publishers that sell through a mix of offline and online channels.  For years, we've preached the importance of manufacturers taking control over their overall data quality regardless of who's the reseller or whether or not the product is in a catalog.

Amazon's decision to take their own product shots IS NOT a good thing for the manufacturer. While it will definitely help Amazon compete with Grainger, MSC, Fastenal, etc., it hurts you. Because while Amazon only controls a percentage of the B2C, B2B, and institutional marketplaces today, their reach and more direct management of data quality will give them a leg up on your existing channel base, which likely has no images or the crappy ones you took back in the 70s.  You will not only lose some of your distributor base, but you'll also likely lose to a competitor that has a broader view of their data management strategy.

Where should you start? If you're an original manufacturer or publisher contact us.  If you're a retailer or 3P merchant? Grab a camera or call your original manufacturer and tell them to get their act together.

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