I recently listed my first item just to see how difficult the process is. About 2 hours of learning about the service and 2 weeks of waiting for shipping & receiving later, I have my test product up.
You probably know about Amazon Marketplace, which is a place for individuals to list their used or new copies of Amazon items for sale. But did you know that listing an item for sale on the "main side" of Amazon is not that difficult either, even if that product is not even listed by Amazon yet? This way when a user presses the big shiny "add to cart" button on Amazon, you could to be the default provider of that item.
Two paths to Amazon
What I learned is that you have two options. You can either let Amazon accept the orders and then notify you with the buyer's address for you to ship to when a sale is made, or you can let Amazon handle the shipping as well, using a service is called "Fulfillment by Amazon" or FBA.
If you have ever handled shipping small amounts of items, you can imagine how liberating FBA could be. You could send thousands of products for Amazon to store and be lying on a beach while your items are bought and shipped, without you having to do anything more. From your point of view, this virtualizes your physical inventory. They even have an API so you can dispatch items programmatically. It might not even be that different in cost, as Amazon has massive scale benefits. Lured by this idea, I decided to investigate using FBA.
To sign up I only needed to provide my credit card number (there are some handling and storage fees), address and confirm my account by entering a pin code over an automated phone system. After that I was surprised to already find myself in the "seller central" where all the action involving listing products and shipping happens. To actually receive my proceeds, I will need a US bank account number, but I decided to worry about that later if I actually start making some sales.
One big hurdle for many might be that the products need to have a specific kind of barcode called an EAN / UPC code. If you make small amounts of items yourself, for example I have a friend who makes Meme Stickers, this might be a show stopper for him as getting the code might cost more than the profit he can make. Such a code seems to cost $750 + §150 / year to get several batches of your own codes, or $100 to buy just a single code for one product.
Of course you would need a way to print and attach these barcodes too. However if you are reselling a product made by a bigger manufacturer like I am doing, they should already have such a barcode. Note I am not absolutely 100% sure that no item could be listed without such a code, but did not investigate fully as my item happened to have that lucky code already printed on it.
Sending your items to Amazon
To get your items into FBA, you create a shipment in seller central. You need to list each item that will be inside the shipment and then print a shipping label and a packing slip for the boxes you send so that Amazon can identify the items when they receive them. Additionally is some cases even each item can require a label, unless it belongs to the mysterious class of items called stickerless commingled, in which case they can be put into the box without any labels.
Completing these steps actually did not take long, and soon I had my item ready for sending to Amazon. I sent my item on Aug 10th. As I was sending from Japan, the shipping itself took a bit over a week. After that I started getting notification emails from Amazon. The first one to break the tension was August 18th at 8:36 AM and had the subject "FBA Inbound Shipment Checked-in". I thought that now the item would be up for sale, but it took a few more days of waiting before that actually happened. The next event was same day at 3:32 PM "FBA Inbound Shipment Receiving".
On Aug 19th 1:32 AM I got the message "FBA Inbound Shipment Received In-Full". I thought this would be the end, but checking in seller central I could see my item was now in a "reserved" state. Reading their help I found this can mean many things, such as a customer holding on to the item as their order is about to go through, but in my case it probably meant that Amazon was doing further checks on my item.
Arrival at promised land
Then finally, on Aug 22nd I could see that my item was now up for sale and listed as taking 0.02 cubic feet of space in their shipping center. Now I am waiting to see what happens when someone actually purchases it and already making plans to start using this as my way to export more things from Japan.
Thanks for reading and please comment if you have any of your own experiences to share!