Selling Shoes through Amazon FBA: Why We Added Shoes to Our Sourcing Strategy

selling-shoes-part-1Today we’re going to start a three-post series here on the blog, covering our experiences over the past year as we’ve ventured into selling shoes through Amazon FBA. This first post will start off with the reasons we decided to sell shoes, and then in the next two posts we’ll give a summary of the lessons we’ve learned about sourcing shoes through online arbitrage and prepping shoes to send to the FBA warehouse. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks!

If you’re not familiar with our story as a couple and as business partners, Stephen is the one in our marriage with the business experience, and I (Rebecca) am the one who came into this whole FBA thing with a bit of skepticism. Now that we’ve been working on the business together for a few years, we’ve found areas where I gravitate more than Stephen (check out our post about my experience getting into online arbitrage, for example). It’s been a work-in-progress to get to the point we’re at with our current roles in the business, and I’m sure it will continue to evolve – but for now we’ve found a system of sourcing that we love and is profitable for us.

red-shoesOne key component of our current sourcing strategy for Amazon FBA is selling shoes. We added shoes in the fall of 2015 (about a year ago, at the time of this writing), and after a slow start we are pleased with the difference this category has made in our business and are continually looking for ways to expand our shoe inventory.

Here are the main reasons we decided to add shoes to our FBA sourcing strategy:

  1. time-to-diversifyShoes gave us an opportunity to diversify our inventory.

Before fall of 2015, our main categories were toys, toys, toys, books, toys, home and kitchen, toys, and a smattering of sports, grocery, and health and beauty. We wanted to find a category where we could consistently source products and diversify our inventory away from being so toy heavy. Don’t get me wrong – we love selling toys and are always super excited when Q4 rolls around. But we wanted to branch out and try something new, and shoes were very appealing for us as a new category for diversification for reasons I’ll get into below.

  1. price-tag-267x300Shoes have a high average selling price.

A relatively high average selling price (ASP) can be a step towards both saving time and increasing profits. Don’t we all want to make more money and spend less time doing it?

Think about it this way: You can sell one widget for $100 or ten widgets for $10 apiece, and you make the same amount in sales, $100. What about the prep and handling time, though? Those ten widgets require ten times the prep work, ten times the labels, ten times the handling to put into a shipping box. The FBA pick-and-pack fees will apply ten times to the $100 of sales. The one $100 widget, however, requires 1/10th of the prep work and only one pick-and-pack fee.

Shoes are a great way to increase the ASP of your FBA inventory. In 2013 and 2014 we sold a lot of $10 or $15 toys. A lot. In 2016, we’ve sold a much lower number of inventory items, but our ASP has gone up considerably because of the number of shoes we’ve sold. In the past three months, our ASP in the shoe category has been $71, while our overall ASP across all categories is now up to $34.

  1. low-competitionShoes have fewer competitors for sales.

Shoes are a gated category for Amazon sellers, which significantly lowers the number of competitors on any given item. While many low ranking books or toys might typically have 100+ sellers, it’s relatively easy to find low ranking shoes on a regular basis with only a handful of sellers – or even one or none on certain variations.

When we got ungated in shoes, the process still required applying with a flat file and photos, so the number of competitors was even lower than it currently is. Now that automatic approvals are a regular occurrence, the number of sellers in the category has increased somewhat, but not enough for us to be unable to find listings with little or no competition. And even though some shoe sellers bemoan auto-ungating as the end of big profits in shoes, we’ve found that the recent round of brand and ASIN restrictions have further kept the competition at a minimum, and we believe it will continue to do so into the future. (You can watch our YouTube video for more on our optimistic view of the recent brand restrictions.)

  1. OA KeyboardShoes provide an opportunity for me to source solely (that pun is for you, Stephen!) via online arbitrage.

I know a lot of people make big profits on shoes doing retail arbitrage, but not me. I tried it and hated it. Hated it. I mean it, seriously, I did not find even one pair of shoes to resell doing RA. Instead, I signed up for a couple of deal lists (Your Sourced Inventory and Gated List) and OAXray, and I’ve stuck with those for the past year. Over the course of that year, I’ve been able to switch from doing part RA/part OA across several categories to doing only OA, mostly in shoes with a handful of other categories. Before I started buying shoes, I couldn’t find enough inventory to buy online in other categories to spend my entire weekly sourcing budget. I would have to also go out and do RA to find enough inventory that fit my sourcing parameters.

Shoes changed everything for me as far as focusing on OA alone. My mileage records for 2015 prove it: I stopped recording mileage for sourcing at exactly the same time I committed to sourcing shoes online. Switching to only OA for shoe sourcing has allowed me to stay home more, put fewer miles on my aging car, and focus on other professional pursuits. Buying shoes through OA truly has allowed our business to make more money and spend less time doing it.

shoes-that-are-healthy-700x700I do have to say, though, I wasn’t so sure at first that we would make shoes a permanent addition to our FBA inventory. After we got ungated in the shoe category, we decided to undertake a two-week experiment of spending the majority of our sourcing budget and time on shoes and then just see what kind of sales we could get before deciding whether or not to continue buying shoes. I’ll talk more in detail in the next post about why making a decision based on this kind of experiment isn’t the best idea when it comes to learning the shoe category, but for now I’ll just say we were less than enthused about the results. We asked a bunch of questions from people who know the ins and outs of the category, and after some soul searching (or sole searching – another pun! OK, I’ll stop) we decided to keep at it.

I’m so glad we did! I was afraid all the hype about shoes was just that…hype. But for us, shoes have lived up to their incredible reputation as an Amazon FBA profit powerhouse.

Shoes aren’t for everyone, and we’ll spend some time over the next couple of posts discussing the ways we’ve run into issues and learned to overcome those obstacles. Our hope is that this series of posts will give you a way to make an informed decision about whether or not to try out the shoe category.

Do you sell shoes on Amazon? Do you have any reasons to add to our list above? Let us hear from you in the comments! We would also love to hear your questions about selling shoes as we continue this blog series over the next couple of weeks.

38 responses to “Selling Shoes through Amazon FBA: Why We Added Shoes to Our Sourcing Strategy

  1. Thanks you two. I love that you are willing to share your experience in getting started in another category it really sheds the light on any stops we may run into along the learning curve 🙂 As a note does anyone have experience in specializing in a particular type of shoe or shoes?

  2. Thanks for info! Do you feel its been necessary to have one of the listing services to start out correctly?(other than OAXray) Ken U

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      That’s the route I took. I started out with Your Sourced Inventory, and after a few weeks I added Gated List. I then tried different levels of Gated List (receiving the list a different number of days a week) until I found the number of lists per week that I prefer. Whether that’s necessary for everyone, I can’t say for sure, but I know for me it saved a ton of time.

  3. Great to hear from Rebecca! I love to hear how this business really works for you! I’m building up shoes with OA currently. I’m curious about how much your weekly budgeted spend is? I’m trying to build plans/budgets for what’s possible with a 1 woman show with potential for adding prep/shipping help. Thanks!

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      Our weekly budget varies from disbursement to disbursement. We budget for sourcing by first taking our personal income out of the Amazon disbursement (gotta pay the bills!), then we look at what’s left and take out business expenses and use the rest for sourcing. How we split up that sourcing budget depends on what RA sales Stephen has coming up over the next two weeks and what wholesale purchases he needs to make. I’ll be talking more in the next post about the kind of capital it takes to build up a shoe inventory.

  4. This article has pushed me to start sourcing shoes OA. I’ve been leary for a number of reasons but seeing someone else do it really inspires confidence to try. I do a lot of OA and this will just add to my daily routine.


  5. Thanks for this great article, Rebecca! You both are my “go to” in this business. I have most of your books and get so much out of Stephen’s Periscopes and your blog’s. I don’t have time to read and listen to all of the info that is circling around, since I have a “normal” job on top of FBA. Your information is relevent, timely, concise, applicable, and easy to understand. With your help, I’ve just had my best month ever! Thank you, thank you!!

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      That’s so exciting, Sue! Congrats on your best month ever! May it continue to go upward from here! We’re honored that we can be part of your journey.

  6. Thanks for this Rebecca, I would love to see you address sales ranks in shoes. Since we can’t see sales history due to variations, I feel like we are just taking a shot in the dark when buying shoes, hoping that the sales rank is accurate and not just the result of a recent sale after months of no sales. Thanks!

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      That’s a great question, Sarah, and one that sometimes drives me bonkers. I’ll definitely be talking about it in the next post. My short answer for how I handle it is that I only buy shoes with a small number of variations and I usually stick to basic colors, not crazy wild prints or bizarro colors that are likely to get fewer sales than black, white, brown, navy, etc. More details to come in the next post!

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      Also…it’s not the question that drives me bonkers; it’s the fact that we can’t see sales history because of variations 😉

  7. I can’t wait for the other posts in this series. Please post them soon. I’ve been thinking about shoes for awhile now. Thanks

  8. Is YSI an appproved distributor? If not how do you get approved to sell in any one category? As far as shoes and clothes are concerned they ask for verification of OEM or approved distributor?

    • YSI (Your Sourced Inventory) is a list of possible inventory buys that tells you online stores where you can choose to buy shoes at really good deals (with good ROI after you sell them on Amazon), not a manufacturer of shoes. If you’re looking for an approved distributor of shoes, then you’ll need to contact shoe companies directly (which is very difficult to be approved for). We use YSI as a starting point for sourcing shoes and pick the leads that best fit our business model.

    • To get approved to sell in a gated category, click here. On that page, pick the category you want to apply for, read through the requirements, and then request approval. Go through the approval application and answer the questions to the best of your knowledge. Right now, it seems like the shoe category is auto approving.

      • Thank you, thank you, thank you Stephen. I acted on the valuable knowledge that you shared here, followed the link to the Shoes, Handbags and Sunglasses category and proceeded to request approval. The first few times I was getting a “Page Unavailable”response and I thought, “Oops, they have plugged it!” After waiting a couple of hours I tried again and, as sure as day follows night, was pleasantly surprised to get, “Your selling application is approved”! As a newbie, this is my very first instance of being ungated in a restricted category. I’m ecstatic! I feel like I’ve made a great leap forward.
        Special thanks to Rebecca for starting on this series. I look forward to what’s ahead.

  9. I am looking forward to your future posts. I did a lot of shoes a few years back and gave up because of the high return rate. How do you deal with the high return rate when the shoe doesn’t fit? (Another pun!)

  10. Love Love Love Shoes & more shoes and then after that I’ll take some more shoes. 😉

  11. Selling shoes would be interesting, but shoes would have different sizes, would that affect FBA fees?

    • Yes, but the differences are VERY small in most cases. Monthly storage fees and long term storage fees are based on cubic feet, so a size 6 shoe is going to have smaller fees than a size 14 shoe because of the size. But overall, the difference is not much at all.

  12. I too hadn’t tried selling shoes was just staying with the categories I was comfortable with like yourself the toys and kitchen items as well as baby things. Shoes have made improvements for us too. It is better to only have to deal with one item versus a 100 to get the same ASP.
    I’ve been lucky so far with finding shoes doing RA but would so love OA. I’m thinking about looking at YSP and the Gated List. Thanks for sharing that with us.

  13. If I want to sell boots that already are being sold on Amazon and already has a listing, do I still have to submit any photos?

  14. Thank you for sharing your experiences with selling shoes! I was recently approved to sell shoes and have not been able to find much info to help me get started. Looking forwatd to the next post!!

  15. How do you use your sourcing lists? Do you buy the shoes off the list or do you use it as a starting point to find what you will buy?

  16. We know people that have doing this for quite a long time. They started on ebay, but switched to Amazon FBA. They do very well. It is now their full time job and supports them nicely. They get great deals on outlet shoes, and most of the outlets in the area know them well. They are very good at purchasing at very low prices . They keep their costs low by employing their teenage kids and their friends to travel to the outlets to pick up the merchandise. So, it is a real family business. They are large enough now that they have additional employees. The switched to FBA (from ebay) and relieved themselves from doing all of the individual packing,shipping, etc.

    An issue that would prevent me for doing something similar (besides the fact that I know them and do not want to cut in to their business. There is only so many outlets in our area) is that the shoes from outlets are not the same and most people do not know that. And, for the people who do know that, how do they know you may be selling “outlet quality” shoes unless you say so in the Amazon listing. And in some cases, the difference is quite substantial. I know people who run/jog all of the time and have been using a particular athletic shoe only to find out that the pair they purchased at the outlet runs smaller, and/or falls apart faster. The “outlet business” is a completely different business model and some consumers know this, but some do not.

    I have often wondered if the shoes sold on sites such as 6PM or similar sites are sourced as overstock from outlets or ? How do you know if any of the shoes you purchase online are “outlet quality”? Is there a way to find out. Some companies (Coach I think has done this for handbags) use a slightly different tag on their product. And if you know what the different tags they use are, then you can tell. But you need to know what their tags are. They do not say “outlet handbags” (or anything similar) on them.

    Of course, the real deception lies with the manufacturer. They claim most people know there is a difference with their outlet quality products. But I don’t buy that argument. Not when they list the same marked down retail price on their outlet merchandise as their first quality merchandise. That is deceptive. If I go to buy a Chevrolet Corvette , I know there is not an “outlet” version which will only last half as long and appears to have the same original retail price as the better quality one.

    When sourcing shoes (RA or OA) how does one know if they are getting the first quality version or the outlet quality version? Unless you are an actual certified re-seller, which I guess may be the answer.

    • I am only speaking from an educated guess stand point in my own experiences. I buy a lot of clothes/items from outlet stores or goodwill, to literally wear/use myself, because I am in and out of Mfg plants a lot and ruin them in short order. Growing up and currently I have asked what makes these outlet at most stores the answers have changed but the premise of the answers have not. The overwhelming indication/answers is that anything you buy at an outlet store are there because of “minor defects”, several stitches are missing or missed a loop, a small blob of glue holding parts of shoes together (to much, it to little), but in general revolve around aesthetic appearance not functionality.

      It is a good question though. But common sense would tell me because of law they cannot sell outlet version goods as overstock or other than new. They are running the same business we are and they have made their profit so time to move on from the product free up space for the next and maximize overall company profit with the next best greatest product.

  17. Pingback: Selling Shoes through Amazon FBA: Buying Decisions - Full-Time FBA

  18. Good stuff, Rebecca! Looking forward to reading more on this topic.
    Question: How are you reporting your sales by category?
    Amazon Sales Reports break down by category, but only the primary categories. All other categories are lumped into…well…”All Other Categories”.
    There’s a basic report in IL that shows this. Is that what you’re using? While I’m on the topic, have you found a way to view your inventory by category?

    Again, great topic!

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      If I’m looking at the same report you’re talking about on the AZ sales dashboard, there’s a little dropdown menu next to where it says “Sales by category” and you can choose to show top 5, top 10, and top 20. I think the default might be top 5, so anything beyond 5 will be lumped together unless you choose top 10 or 20. I do also look at the Category Profitability report in Inventory Lab to see how different categories have done for us.

      And if someone could tell me how to look at my inventory by category, I would be thrilled! Sometimes I just want to check on the prices of my shoes or books or whatever, and I haven’t figured out how to do it. Sorry…maybe someone else will see this comment and enlighten us.

  19. Steven or Rebecca,

    Do you guys tape each shoe box shut or leave them as is, with a rubber band around them prior to shipping them into FBA?

    If I tape them a customer will rip the box open, making them potentially unlistable. If I don’t do something of that nature then shoes risk falling out during handling.

    Thank you,

    • Rebecca Smotherman Rebecca Smotherman

      We use stretch wrap around the boxes. I’ll go into more detail about it in post #3 (next week) of this blog series, covering prepping, processing, and returns.

  20. Pingback: Selling Shoes through Amazon FBA: Prepping and Processing (Plus Returns) - Full-Time FBA

  21. I’m having some trouble finding profitable shoes online with OAXray. Please share your settings. Thank you.

  22. Hi Rebecca
    I read your post (all of them) and it was perfect . I really interesting in those category now .Did you know if I need any approval from amazon for starting ?
    this is my brand . Is it possible to send it by myself and still stay PRIME ?
    Thank you ,

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