Amazon has opened up a new streamlined sales channel for startups called LaunchPad. If you’ve got something to sell—a recently Kickstarted invention, say—then LaunchPad lets you put it in front of millions of Amazon customers and distribute it through the e-commerce giant’s massive pipeline. Your new product can even get Amazon Prime eligibility too.
Sounds like a win-win situation. Amazon gets intriguing new products to sell that aren’t widely available elsewhere, while inventors and startups benefit from retail expertise and access to infrastructure they might not otherwise have.
That is, if they get accepted. Participants don’t just sign up and start selling. There’s an application process, one with somewhat vague rules and a couple of stipulations that new product makers should be aware of.
Ready To Launch?
Launchpad’s debut isn’t entirely surprising, if you’ve been studying the retail giant’s job listings—like the one for a senior marketing manager who’s “inspired by inventors.”
Now that the service is here, Amazon wants to emphasize three primary benefits: brand development (including custom product pages and a Q&A section), customer reach (with tie-ins for Amazon’s reviews, recommendations and delivery networks), and global expansion (to reach customers worldwide using Amazon’s established distribution channels in up to 10 markets).
LaunchPad effectively provides a streamlined way for new product makers to stand on Amazon’s shoulders. That makes a lot of sense for indie outfits looking to scale up sales and distribution.
But first, they have to get through the approval process, and the company offers few particulars of how it works. Another challenge: Amazon doesn’t offer support for manufacturing, a vital area that can stymy up-and-coming startups. You’ll need goods that are already rolling off the production lines (or just about to) before Launchpad will even consider you. You must also be willing to sell off units for less than you’d charge yourself.
From the Launchpad webpage:
You enroll in the program as an Amazon vendor, which means you sell your product to Amazon on wholesale terms and Amazon sells the product to consumers at the retail price.
Wholesale terms are standard in retail, but may be bracing for the types of sellers Amazon is courting—essentially startups that may be new to the ins and outs of distribution.
Applying costs nothing, at least upfront. But cash-strapped startups with pricey products should note that Launchpad ties into Amazon’s Vendor Express program, which requires sellers to submit free units if they want Prime status.
We request a limited number of free units as an investment in the program. We understand that your products cost money, so we want you to know we are using them to build your Amazon.com product detail page and evaluate customer demand.
It’s not clear whether Launchpad sellers will have to comply with that rule. Something else that’s unclear: the criteria Amazon will use to judge applications.
The company partnered with more than 25 venture capital firms, startup accelerators and crowdfunding sites—including Y Combinator and Indiegogo—and it wants them to funnel their startups into the LaunchPad program.
Of course, just having the right kind of backing may not guarantee acceptance. When it comes to customer satisfaction, startup products can be tricky (and sometimes very buggy). The company likely has some measure in place to filter out premature products.
As for applicants not backed by one of these partners, they will be subject to a review on a case-by-case basis based on…well, we don’t quite know.
For some sellers, the vagueness could be worth dealing with. Because if you do manage to get in, then you’ll be sitting pretty under Amazon’s ever-expanding magic halo of e-commerce and distribution.
An Amazonian Opportunity
Back in March, the company introduced another specialized storefront initiative called Amazon Exclusives, which offers a visually appealing interface for products carried solely by Amazon. This time, the company’s service doesn’t hinge on exclusivity.
Good thing for Petzila, since its Petzi Treat Cam is available through LaunchPad as well as PetSmart. The Wi-Fi camera and pet-treat dispenser seems like the sort of creative, yet polished invention Amazon wants. The affection’s mutual: CEO David Clark can’t help but wax enthusiastically about his Amazon relationship.
“Any startup looking for consumer audiences should consider LaunchPad,” he told ReadWrite. “The name recognition and trust Amazon enjoys with its customers, and the sheer scale of the traffic it can provide to cross-pollinate are game changers.”
There were also tangible benefits to signing up: “We’ve seen an immediate uptake in orders,” said Clark. The company even offers a team to help him navigate the process. “It’s the type of one-on-one relationship you’d expect Amazon to only offers its top tier vendors,” he said. “When we have a problem, question or suggestion we can pick up the phone and speak to our team at Amazon.”
Petzila is one 200-some items for sale in the LaunchPad store on the first day. If you take a tour around, you can find everything from the FiftyThree Pencil Digital Stylus and PowerUp’s smartphone-controlled paper airplanes, to the super-simple, super-smart Wi-Fi box Eero.
Such products could have found other homes, getting produced and sold through the Quirky (back in its heyday, before its struggles came to head), appealing to consumers through an attractive Shopify e-commerce site, or relying on word-of-mouth at community-driven Product Hunt for discovery. Instead, they get (most of) those benefits in one place, backed by Amazon’s powerhouse marketplace and fulfillment.
Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover is happy to see Amazon get involved with those entrepreneurs. “Amazon is helping new products and startups get attention,” he told ReadWrite. “This is a good thing.”
At least once you manage to get in.
Lead photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; all other images courtesy of Amazon