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Amazon Launchpad Offers New Global eCommerce Channel for South African Startups
By Rowan Philp
Amazon’s new platform for startups is emerging as a potential way for South African product innovators and inventors to access global online shopping markets—as long as they have the ability to produce quality product at scale. In the past year, Amazon Launchpad—which partners with over a hundred crowd-funding platforms, VC firms, and accelerators—has assisted more than 1,000 startups launch innovative products in the US, and will soon be rolling out to China, the UK, Germany and France.
Launchpad was introduced in 2015 to make it easy for start-ups to launch, market and distribute their products to hundreds of millions of customers within Amazon’s peerless ecosystem. The program is specifically designed for the needs of start-ups, but also offers “the marketing benefits typically reserved for established Amazon vendors, right from day one.” This includes dedicated product pages, reliable reviews, brand storytelling, and access to the network. The Launchpad team curates a catalog of promising products for the world’s biggest storefront in such a way that customers can discover items that they know to be cutting edge. They can also learn the inspiration behind the development of each product. While VC and crowdfunded startups have been quickly registered, the Launchpad website confirms that “all startup are welcome,” and that products will be evaluated case-by-case.
Despite their often stunningly innovative and globally relevant products, the challenge facing South African start-ups are numerous in terms of accessing global markets. Last year, a survey of 200 South African tech startups by Ventureburn found that only 15% were able to focus on global markets, and only 2% found profitable access to North American markets. In terms of marketing: a remarkable 43% relied either on “word-of-mouth” or personal networks.
Another survey of the top 25 constraints facing South African startups— supported by the South African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association - listed as their third largest problem “limited support for entrepreneurs to access markets via partnerships with corporates, mentors and networks providing ‘soft landing’ opportunities.” Startup products showcased on Launchpad range from the Aura sleep-tracking system – which wakes you at the optimum sleep cycle— to the Bluesmart One smart luggage to the CreoPop Cordless #-D Printing Pen. It has 300 products offered through its Kickstarter Collection alone, from startups including Zivix, Prynt and MudWatt.
Startups apply by creating an Amazon vendor account and shipping product samples for review. Additional multimedia content can be uploaded to the site. In a quick survey of reviews by SABLE, startups and reviewers have generally found the application and enrollment process with Launchpad to be simple, affordable, and “well worth the effort.” Echoing other reviewers, James Lommer, from cpcstrategy.com, notes that, “With products like portable projectors and universal touchscreen remotes littered across Launchpad’s dedicated storefront, it’s clear the company is gravitating toward the creative side of product innovation. Successful campaigns and projects from these various mediums are then encouraged to join the Amazon Launchpad platform.”
Lommer cautions that member startups must effectively wholesale their products to Amazon. He says that the accumulated benefits—from ad placement to brand exposure— “can be incredibly advantageous for budding startups. Having access to Amazon’s global fulfillment network, fast shipping on products through Amazon Prime, and allowing them to handle customer service needs all assist in increasing a brand’s potential customer reach.” According to a review by smallbiztrends.co, the Launchpad offer is uniquely user-friendly for founders: “Unlike other listings, Launchpad products get in-house advertising, a widget on Amazon’s storefront landing page, and a more user friendly format for potential buyers. The creators of the products also get videos and a larger space to describe their items in detail allowing them the potential for a greater personal connection with customers."
In addition to access to the mega ecommerce platform itself, Launchpad also helps start-ups stand out within its vast offerings, which currently number over 360 million. One surprising benefit start-ups have experienced with Launchpad – given the scale of Amazon – is that products are being launched weeks and been months faster, using its channels. In a recent Q&A interview on Amazon, the head of Launchpad, Sateesh Srinivasan, gave this example of the program’s remarkable speed: “There's a wireless router company called eero. They're dedicated to making sure there are no Wi-Fi dead zones in your home. They sell on their own site and on Amazon through the Amazon Launchpad program. The time it took for us to set them up was about half a day. They said, ‘We're a startup, but we're working slower than you guys!’ In the first six days, customers purchased thousands of eero Home Wi-Fi Systems.”
According to Amazon the platform assists in several ways, including:
- Brand development: telling the story of both the product and the inspiration behind it, through custom product pages, interviews with founders, and showcasing via the Amazon Launchpad Store
- Customer reach: the visibility and credibility generated by Amazon’s suite of marketing tools, including personalized recommendations, merchandized placements and the trust jump-start mechanism of the Amazon Vine reviewing system
- Market access and expansion: products are not only availed to Amazon’s giant retail network, but Launchpad also offers supply-chain solutions to get products into 10 Amazon marketplaces beyond the US,
- Distribution: with Amazon’s signature ecosystem
Many independent thought leaders agree that it has indeed streamlined the onboarding process, pointing to the consumer trust engendered by the Amazon Vine reviewing process, and the peerless marketing channel.
At its launch last year, Jim Adkins, Vice President at Amazon, set out the vision this way: “As the pace of innovation continues to increase within the startup community, we want to help customers discover these unique products and learn the inspiration behind them. We also know from talking to startups that bringing a new product to market successfully can be just as challenging as building it. Amazon Launchpad gives customers access to a dedicated storefront featuring a variety of innovative new products from emerging brands. For startups, we handle inventory management, order fulfillment, customer service, and more, allowing them to focus their efforts on the innovation that results in more cool products.”
- Find the site here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/launchpad/signup