Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I Took a Loan from Amazon and It Was Exactly What I Needed

This past Quarter 4, my available cash reserves were running seriously low.  I was faced with a situation where I would either have to borrow money or stop purchasing items in late October or early November.  Considering how much I was planning on purchasing in November and December this was not tenable.  I looked into a lot of different funding options but decided that an Amazon loan was my best option currently.  At the end, I will go through some other options that are available that might fit better for your personal situations.


My Requirements

I needed short term financing.  My plan was to borrow the money in October and pay it back in January after my first payment (that didn't happen because of a tax situation requiring me to start a new company due to living overseas which is a post for another time).  Had I needed long term financing I would not have taken an Amazon loan as I will show.

I wanted at least $100,000 and I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible.


Advantages for an Amazon Loan (Amazon Capital Services)


No origination fee - that means that Amazon has no one time fees for approving the loan.  This is not available through every lender

No annual fee - as opposed to many small business lines of credit there is no annual fee which is helpful if you think there are years that you might not need to take a loan at all.  Bank of America and Chase lines of credit had lower rates but they came with a $150 annual fee which is the cost of having access to the money whenever you would like.  Considering I was hoping that I wouldn't need a new loan long time this was a significant factor for me.

No prepayment penalties - This was probably the most important factor for me.  The interest rate was high but I was only going to pay the entire interest rate if I kept the loan for the duration of the 12 month term. If I paid it back early I would end up paying much less in interest.

Ease of approval - amazon has your inventory as collateral for the loan so the approval process was very quick.  The whole thing only took a few minutes and I never had to talk to anyone on the phone.  They also automatically take loan payments out of the payments that they owe you so they have a very easy way to collect.

Ease of Payment - it is quite easy to make extra payments.  You just click a few buttons from within your Amazon account and you can make extra payments besides the monthly (or bi-monthly) payments you have to make.


Disadvantages



Amazon loans are not perfect and they shouldn't be the first choice for every situation.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Interest fees - The interest rate was 10.22%.  That's quite high compared to other loans.  For this reason it is not a great long term financing option for me.

Technical Difficulties - There were multiple times that I tried to make payments and I was not able due to a glitch on Amazon's side. That cost me a little bit in terms of interest but nothing significant.

New approval every time - since it isn't a line of credit, if you ever need a new loan you will have to be approved every time but to be honest that's not a big process at all.


Alternatives

Line of credit -  Most traditional banks offer small business lines of credit that allow you to access that money.  This usually comes with either an origination fee, an annual fee, or both.  However, the interest rate is usually lower.  Here is a link to Bank of America for reference.

Small Business Loan - rather than a line of credit which you don't paid interest on unless you use it, you can get a traditional small business loan from a bank.  Usually the biggest issue here is a prepayment penalty.  If you have to pay the full interest of the loan regardless of whether you are able to pay it off early you might be paying a lot more in interest in the end than a higher interest loan without a prepayment penalty.

Financing via Credit Card - Many credit cards like Chase Slate and others offer 0% financing for a limited time.  This can be a good way to finance a short term loan but can have a negative effect on your credit to hold a balance.

401(k) lending - this can be a great option.  You can borrow from your 401(k). The biggest issues are that there are limits to the funding.  You can borrow up to $50,000 or 50% of your vested amount, whichever is greater so if you need more than $50k you have a problem.  The nice benefit is that the interest payments go to your retirement.  I believe as well that this can't be used every year even if paid back but not positive about that.  Whenever you are dealing with your 401(k) it's best to seek some professional help before you mess with it.

Outside investment - You can seek funds from investors which can be a way to earn money on other people's risk. For example, if something costs $10,000, you can invest $5,000 and your investor invests $5,000 and you get 75% of the profit for doing all the work and you only risk $5,000 and not $10,000.  Obviously, exact details of how to break up the profits are up to you and your investors. 



My Loan Results


I borrowed $151,000 on October 20, 2018 and I ended up using only about $100,000 of it but I couldn't have been comfortable spending that much on current deals I knew that if something else comes across I have enough money to jump on it. I paid back a total of $154,271.64 on February 5th.  That's a total of $3271.64.  That's 2.167% of the original $151,000 loan and an APR of 7.53% (Click here to learn how to calculate APR) but I don't think I could have gotten a better rate on something without an annual fee.  If I kept the money for the full 12 months, I would have paid a total of $8,489.48 which is 5.62% of the original loan which had an APR of 10.22%. 





If I need short term money again, I will certainly consider another Amazon Loan.  What have others used for financing?  Am I missing something?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Taking Chase Sapphire Reserve Into Account

In a previous post, I came out in favor of the American Express Business Gold and Platinum Schwab (Personal) over the Chase Ink Business card for my particular spending habits

I spend about $35,000 a year on shipping.  The business gold earns 4x and the Schwab makes that worth 5% cash back.  Chase Ink earns 3x on shipping which turns into 3.75% towards travel but it's annual fee is far lower.

Well, it turns out that I neglected to take the Chase Sapphire Reserve into account. 🤦

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a very high annual fee of $450 but it means the 3x earned from INK turns into 4.5% towards travel and it comes with a very generous $300 airline reimbursement which many people consider to be almost as good as cash since it is pretty easy to activate.


Summary of Last Post Calculation


Here is how the original math shook out

American Express combo:

Annual fees - $295 and $550 = -$845
Travel reimbursement - ~$160
$35,000 of shipping expenses = 140,000 Membership Rewards Points = $1,750
Tax deduction at marginal rate of 30% of annual fee = $253.50


That's $1318.50 of value (3.767% on $35k of spending).

It's another $70 if you have $250k with Schwab ($100 off annual fee but lose the 30% tax deduction so only gain $70) and another $70 if you have $1 million+ with Schwab.



Chase INK

Annual fee = -$95
Travel reimbursement = $0
$35,000 of shipping expenses = 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points = $1,312.50 towards travel.
Tax deduction at marginal rate of 30% of annual fee = $28.50

That's $1246 of value towards travel (3.56%)

I pointed out that as I continue to spend more money on shipping, the benefit of the amex combination would increase and I also get the extra benefits of platinum like lounge access and credit to Saks Fifth Avenue, Uber Credits and Status at certain hotels and rents a cars so it made sense to go with American Express.

$1318.50 cash vs. $1246 for travel and Platinum has more benefits.  It was easy to choose American Express over Chase


The problem is that I completely ignored the Chase Sapphire Reserve in this calculation. 


Adding in Chase Sapphire Reserve 


Here is the Calculation of the Chase Ink and Sapphire Reserve combo



Annual fee = -$545
Travel Reimbursement = $300, let's give it full value for simplicity sake since most people can get full value out of it
$35,000 of shipping expenses = $105,000 Ultimate Rewards = $1,575 towards travel.
Tax deduction at marginal rate of 30% of annual fee = $163.50

That's $1493.50 of value towards travel  (4.267%) vs. the $1318.50 of cash


Conclusion

The Chase combination actually provides more value for me.  I had already applies for the Schwab Platinum which I don't regret since it will unlock all my Membership Rewards but going forward I am considering going the Chase route instead of American Express.  My only question is whether Chase will approve me for multiple cards. 

I want 3 Chase cards in total.  The Sapphire Reserve, Ink Business Preferred and Ink Business Cash (5x office supplies with no annual fee - limit of $25k of spending for 5x).  We will see what I can get!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Waited to be Under 5/24 but I'm Applying for More American Express Instead of Chase

Forgive me here, this is a bit of a ramble, I'm out of the blogging habits!



In general I'm a big cashback person for my needs since I don't travel a ton.  I earn 250,000 points from spending on my Chase INK yearly and that is usually enough for my families needs for the whole year.  Occasionally it is not and then I need to dip into other points balances that I have which I earn through sign up bonuses and promotions (shopping portal or retention spending bonuses, etc.).  I do a lot of spending for the business besides that so instead of bulking up my points reserves more I usually look for cashback.  If will receive more points than cash (assuming I value the points at 1 cent per points) I will take the points but everything being equal I prefer cash.

The other caveat is that if I can turn my points into cash at 1 cent per point, I will value those points exactly as cash (as a minimum).  I can turn every Ultimate Rewards point into 1 cent so I value them at 1 cent and consider it like earning cash.  I can then use them for travel at 1.25 cents (don't have a reserve) so it's even better than cash but it is at least as good as cash.

5/24



For years, I have never been anywhere close to applying for Chase cards since I was way over 5/24.  The last couple of years I have mostly been applying for business cards that don't affect 5/24 and a very small number of personal cards that were worth more to me than any Chase cards would be (Discover with Discover Deals - RIP! - and cashback match).  I am finally at the point where next month I will be under 5/24. Crazy!!


Chase INK to the Rescue?

I've been eyeing the Chase INK Business Preferred card for quite some time.  I spend a lot of money on shipping since my prep service is considered a shipping purchase and I've started to do a lot of merchant fulfillment which requires me to purchase shipping.  Last year the two combined came out to almost $35,000.  My default until now was the American Express Business Rewards Gold card (can't apply for it anymore).  It earns 3x Membership Rewards points with an annual fee of $195.  I've been trying to replace this card with the Chase INK Business Preferred since it earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points with an annual fee of $95.  I also value the points more since I should be able to get 1.25 cents per point so it's like $.0375 per dollar spent for a lower annual fee.


Before I fully decided to switch over I looked into other options.  I found out that a new version of the American Express Business Gold card came out and it's very interesting for me.  Instead of 3x MR on shipping, it now earns 4x on shipping (doesn't have to be shipping - can be airfare, advertising, certain technology purchases, restaurants or gas - those are not relevant to me but may be relevant to you). It also costs an extra $100 a year.  There are other benefits as well like 25% of your points back when you use the points to book airfare but it's pretty restrictive and I'm not likely to use it.


Is it worth the extra $100 compared to the old business gold card? For me, for sure.  If I'm spending $35,000+ on shipping that means that I'm earning an extra 35,000+ MR points so that's without a doubt.  Is it worth an extra $200 compared to the Chase INK?  On it's own, no.

Here is the math:

Chase INK earns 105,000 points on $35,000 of shipping purchases.  That's $1,050 of cash or $1,312.50 of cash towards airfare.  Take away $95 for the annual fee and the card is worth $1,217.50  per year, to me.  Just for comparison, a 2% cashback card would earn $700 on the same $35,000 of purchases, a huge difference).

American Express Gold earns 140,000 points for the same $35,000 of shipping purchases.  That's $1,400 towards airfare but when you take away the $295 annual fee it's only $1105 of valueThat's $112.50 less than Chase even though it earns an extra point!

You can and should make the argument that the annual fee is a business expense and is tax deductible so if your marginal tax rate is 30% you are really only paying 70% of the annual fee.  That's fair.  Even still, 30% off of the Chase card saves you $28.50 and 30% of AmEx saves you $88.50.  Give another $60 of value to the AmEx and you still fall and Chase still wins by $52.50.


But wait, there's more to this equation!!!!


Bring in the American Express Platinum Charles Schwab (Personal Platinum)!

I theoretically knew about the Charles Schwab American Express Platinum card but I made myself forget about it because I already had a platinum card (business) and the fee is $550. I hate paying $550 for a credit card but hear me out, at least for my situation.


There are two huge benefits in getting the Charles Schwab card which both come from the same rewards payout structure.  When you have the Charles Schwab American Express Platinum every Membership Rewards point is now worth $.0125 to be deposited into a Charles Schwab account.


1) I have a few hundred thousand Membership Rewards points that can now be cashed out at $.0125 per point instead of waiting for an opportunity that may not arrive.  There have been times when I was tempted to use Membership Rewards points at a rate of $0.01 for travel just to use them up since they were in the account doing nothing for me.  This puts more cash in my account and frees me up to exclusively use Ultimate Rewards points for travel expenses at the higher $0.0125 rate.

That is worth about $660 to me since I have 267,000 points besides the $2,600 which I can immediately put in my Schwab account.  The $660 is a one time benefit so it covers the annual fee and more for the first year but wouldn't be a reason to keep the card.


2)  The rewards from the Business Gold are now worth more.  The 140,000 points turns into $1,750 cash.  $350 more than previously and it's cash now instead of something that can only be used for travel expenses.  Before this, Chase won out by $52.50.  Now the Membership Rewards points from American Express are ahead by $297.50.  While true, we have to account for the extra $550 annual fee so American Express is actually behind by $252.50 per year.


Other Benefits of the Charles Schwab Platinum


1) $200 airline incidental credit. The american express $200 credit is not as expansive as other credits but you can still buy certain gift cards for it and I've always been able to get at least 80% of value by selling those gift cards.  That makes this $200 credit worth $160 to me.  Sometimes I've gotten 85% but let's stick with 80% for now.  American Express is now down $92.50 instead of $252.50

2)  If you have $250,000 with Charles Schwab they will take $100 off the annual fee.  I don't have that but I hope to at some point.  That would already make the combination better.  If you have $1million or more at Schwab you get $200 off the annual fee.  For most people that will forever be out of reach but for some that is a possible added benefit in the short or long term horizons.

3) Annual fee might be tax deductible.  Again, if your marginal tax rate is 30% that will save you $165 in taxes so annual fee effectively went down to $385.  (You should consult with a tax professional to make sure you can deduct an annual fee of a personal credit card that is used for your business.)  American Express is now beating Chase on a tax benefit!

4) I didn't even realize this until Frequent Miler posted about it.  You get $100 a year towards Saks 5th avenue (in 2 $50 chunks).  I have never bought anything there but there is a chance it will make my wife happy if she finds something.  That's worth at least $10, right?

5) $200 worth of Uber credits.  I don't ever use Uber currently but I'm sure I will now whenever possible.  I'd be surprised if I can't get $30 of value out of that but not sure, I might get nothing.
Edit: as pointed out in the comments, can use the credits for Uber eats as well.  I live out of the USA and there is no Uber here for now so will only help me the months I come to visit but will make it easier to use the credits.

6) Lounge access - I wouldn't pay for lounge access but if the card comes with it and I want the card for other reasons, I'm happy to use the lounge. It comes with Priority Pass for you and two guests, Delta Sky lounges when you are flying Delta, Centurion, Escape Lounges and Airspace lounges.

7) Status at hotel brands and rent a cars.  Same deal, not going to pay for it but happy to use it once I have it.

8) Boingo and Gogo internet passes - see 6 and 7.

9) 60k Membership rewards sign up bonus.  That's worth $750 into your Schwab account.  That's a lot of money but obviously it's only a one time benefit.
Edit: Chase INK has an 80k ultimate rewards sign up bonus so this is less significant relative to Chase both are very good sign up bonuses.




Conclusion


It turns out that for my situation, sticking with American Express is the way to go.  I also get the added benefit of lounge access and status.  The short term benefits are off the charts (sign up bonus and cashing out existing MR balance) to the point that I would go for the card without the long term spending structure but the long term benefits mean that I will be using the American Expression business gold and Charles Schwab platinum as a nice combination.  If my business continues to grow, the benefits will only increase with time!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

John Bogle, Founder of Vanguard, Died Yesterday

John Bogle died yesterday  This is not an investment blog but he was the most influential investor to me personally and if you don't follow the markets, John Bogle was the most important innovator in the market in recent memory that you never heard of.  Everyone has heard of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, but most people don't know who John Bogle is and what he accomplished.  If you trade on the stock market in mutual funds, whether through indexing or not, you owe John Bogle a debt of gratitude and he has almost definitely saved you a bit of money so I thought it would be worth it to talk about him accomplishments.

John Bogle had a couple of radical ideas that were extremely simple.  





1) Almost nobody is smart enough to consistently beat the average stock market return long term.

2) Fees, taxes and inflation matter a great deal.

3) Don't try to time the market


Being Better than Average Consistently is Not Common

Bogle argued that psychologically we tend to throw money at the latest money manager who has beaten the market because we don't want to miss out on the great returns they are about to dole out.  The problem is that by definition there is always someone who is doing better than average.  The more likely outcome after they beat market short term is regression to the mean which is below average returns.  Everyone who invests in the stock market will always receive 100% of the stock market returns.  You are paying someone to hopefully get better than average which is a rare feat.

There are almost no fund managers out there who have consistently beaten the average return long term.  Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A though you are more likely purchasing BRK.B) is a notable exception to this and I would argue that Thomas Gayner of Markel (MKL) is another exception.  I'm sure there are others and I don't consider myself an expert here but the point is that even those have done it in the past have no guarantee for the future.



Fees and Taxes Matter a Great Deal


As I said before, all  investors will by definition receive the return of the entire market.  The entire market minus fees, that is.  You see if the entire market return was $10 and 5% of that was paid out in fees to brokerage houses for advice and commissions that means that there is only $9.50 for everyone to share.  

5% is more than your average fund manager takes (though hedge funds typically 2% of funds under management and 20% of profits) but even at 1% which is pretty common, fees tends to cripple your return long term because of compounding returns.

I'll give you some examples so you can see how bad it is.

If you start with $10,000 and you invest it for 30 years and got a 7% return and paid 1% in fees, your balance would be $56,4891 which is a 460% return but you would have paid $19,641 in fees over those 30 years.  That means you are sacrificing another 200% of your initial investment.



Get that down to 0.50% in fees and your same 7% gains change to a balance to $65,573.  It's a difference of more than $10,000 in fees!  100% of your initial investment.





The more you invest the bigger impact of the fees and the longer you invest the bigger the impact of the fees.



Taxes matter because the only way that a fund manager can beat the market is either to purchase better stocks and hold onto them or to continually weave in and out of stocks to buy low and sell high.  This leads to large tax liabilities (hopefully!) even though you are putting the money back in the market.

Inflation matters because you are paying a premium in risk by putting your money into equities and if inflation is going to eat at the real value of your gains is it really worth the risk.


Don't Time the Market

If you read books on behavioral economics you will found out that Humans don't always do the most logical things.  I'd recommend either The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis or Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely if you are interested in general (both affiliate links). The point is that when we see the stock market go up, we get greedy and don't want to miss out and we buy stocks.  It's based off recency bias and FOMO.  When the stock market is crashing we get scared and sell.  This is the literal opposite of what you should be doing.  As things crash you should be buying stocks and as stocks are heating up that's the time to sell.  As Warren Buffet says, "Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy."

The other problem is that it is usually impossible to know when the market has topped and when the market has bottomed so even if you wanted to follow Buffet's advice, most people wouldn't know when to execute.



Bogle's Solution - Index Funds 


Bogle championed the idea of an index fund to solve these problems and he founded Vanguard to do it.  As opposied to picking a few stocks, you pick all the stocks in the S&P 500 (or whatever else you are indexing). That means that you are going to buy a piece of the entire economy.  Who is going to win between apple and microsoft?  Who cares!!!??? One of them will or a newcomer will and you will own a piece of that so as long as the economy keeps chugging forward you will get the gains of the entire market.


Index funds also allow for very very low fees.  You don't have to pick stocks, you are buying everything so you don't have to pay a manager for his "brilliance," anyone can do it.  You see I can buy an index fund that is set up the same way as any other index fund. Every brokerage house has them now so they compete on low fees because for the most part that's the only thing you can compete on for index funds.

Index fees got so popular because of their low fees and the average investor started caring and talking about fees that even active funds had to slash their fees to compete so if you own any funds, even active ones, you have John Bogle to thank for their relatively low fees and all the money you get to keep instead of lining the pocket of the fund manager.


You should also not time the market.  Try not to even look at the market.  Consistently add to your index funds over time.  You will sometimes add when the market is high and sometimes when it is low but as long as you don't panic and sell when it is low or get greedy and throw in extra when it is high, your purchase price risk is gone.  The market can have wild swings short term but long term (horizon of decades) you are almost guaranteed to make good money in the stock market.

If you want to know more about his method, you can read one of his books.  The one I read is called "Common Sense Investing" (also an affiliate link).  It is short and well worth the read.




Using credit card points to invest in the market



Getting back to regularly scheduled programming:


I have mentioned this a few times before but besides my regular investing, I use my credit card points (the cashback ones at least) to invest in the market following the "Boglehead" method.  The cashback gets transferred to Fidelity.  Doesn't have to be Fidelity but I will explain why I do that.











Every time I earn enough for at least one share of ITOT I purchase more.  ITOT is an index fund that is the S&P top 1500.  I used to invest in IVV which was the S&P 500 but it costs over $250 per share which makes it harder to buy with small amounts of money since you need at least $250 to purchase even one share.  The advantage for them is both in fees and commissions. If you have a Fidelity account it is commission free to trade any iShares ETF like ITOT so buying 1 share at a time doesn't cost anything extra.  Their management fee is 0.03% which is one of the best on the market.  Going with that same initial $10,000 investment, you would save another $10,000 of fees over 30 years a 0.03% compared to 0.5%.  That's a big difference!






Monday, January 14, 2019

2018 Recap and Looking Ahead to 2019

Every once in a while it is important to cover the big picture to clarify my goals, think ahead and hopefully help others in the process.



Before I delve into how 2018 went, here were my stated goals from last year.


Goals for 2018


I have not been happy with the inventory channel software available currently that aren't $500+ monthly.  My sales on other channels just can't justify that type of expense, though it might get closer if I had one.  My plan is to work with a developer to create my own that suits my needs.  I hope to have that done early in 2018.


Private labeling.  I haven't done it yet but the plans are already in the works.  I am in the testing phase now.  The thought of getting suspended for an Intellectual Property claim on someone else's product scares me a ton.  I would like to have a full line of my own products on Amazon (and maybe my own site?) at some point but I will start with one :)  In order to not spend a ton of money importing a product that I don't know I can sell I am starting to slowly build a listing from scratch and once I have proven I can do it, it will be time to go the overseas route.



I have also stated:

Store Less at Amazon, Fulfill Less via Amazon


Storing outside of Amazon is more important than ever.  If you buy 300 of something and you only plan on selling 30 a month, don't send all 300 in.  In addition, if you fulfill orders on your own (FBM, Seller Fulfilled Prime or other marketplaces), you will avoid these fees entirely. 


Once you have your own facility and are doing more fulfillment on your own, other marketplaces will start to become more attractive, especially if sellers start to have to raise prices on Amazon to keep their margins within reason.  Customers may start looking elsewhere for better prices.

Part of doing more fulfillment on my own was to bulk up on my eBay and Walmart sales (I don't even consider Jet to be a marketplace on my radar at this point) and I'll break those down for you.



2018 Goals 


Develop my own Software for other selling channels 

This has not happened as quickly as I would like.  It is still in the development stage.  At this point I do have an inventory management software.  As items come in, my staff can scan what comes in and scan it as it goes out so I have an accurate count of what I have at the warehouse (as long as everyone is using it properly of course).  

I am in the process of adding Amazon FBM (and prime) so that inventory numbers on Amazon are automatically synced with the warehouse and adding my product to a particular ASIN can be done from within the software in bulk.  I am hoping to be do some live testing this week which is the last step unless there are bugs.  

We are also adding the Walmart API currently so that listings can be created and inventory synced to the warehouse. 

eBay will come after Walmart and once eBay is added I hope to add automated multi channel fulfillment as well.  Bye bye Joelister, eventually.


Private Labeling


I had a few conversations with companies about private labeling products but I am honestly no closer now to actually having a product than at the beginning of 2018 but that doesn't mean I haven't done anything.

I have been working with 2 companies as a consultant to build their companies own products on Amazon using their Amazon seller accounts (I have user permission for my regular login - similar to what you would set up before you give access to a 3rd party for shipping or email reviews, etc.).  It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to see if I can build a product without the risk of purchasing large amounts of inventory.

I've already learned a few tricks with creating listings (multipacks, bundles, GTIN exemptions), optimizing listings, optimizing advertising campaigns along the way so even if neither of them explode (I am on a commission basis), it has been a good learning experience for me and the plan is to continually learn the process while getting paid.  If all the products work out I can then feel comfortable doing it for my own product as well.



Store Less at Amazon, Fulfill Less via Amazon

This was my last stated goal for 2018.  Building out my fulfillment by merchant operation.  

How did I do?

Here are my 2017 stats from Shipstation.



My eBay sales were mostly not existent, my Walmart stats were ok and my Amazon stats (just FBM) were decently solid and 544 orders overall between everything.

Here are my 2018 stats:





You can see that the number of orders fulfilled directly by me doubled this year compared to last year. My Amazon sales went up about 47%.  My Walmart sales just about doubled.  My eBay sales went up by more than ten times and Jet is dead to me.

In addition to that, I started doing seller fulfilled prime on Amazon which was a significant reason for the increase on Amazon but hopefully I can do a lot more with that this year.

Only 12 days through January and I already have more than 100 orders and over $1000 of sales on both Walmart and eBay but January is often a good month for me as I am selling off my leftovers from Quarter 4 and stores haven't replenished yet.


Website

I also said I wanted to start my own eCommerce site in 2018.  That did not happen but the process has already begun for 2019.  I hope to have that finished by June or July of this year.


Overall sales in 2018 on Amazon

I had an almost 60% increase in overall sales from 2017 to 2018 on Amazon and had more than $1,000,000 in sales for the first time which is great!  I'm very proud of that.  That being said, it is not all good.  My profits barely increased.  I only had a 4.1% profit increase from 2017 to 2018.  

What the heck happened?


Shipping Credit - I prepaid $5,000 to a prep facility which is a credit I will use over 2019 but it took $5,000 off my profit numbers for 2018.  This is more of an accounting issue than anything else since I still have access to the credit.

Jewelry - I decided to enter the jewelry category on Amazon.  Amazon has a $5,000 non refundable fee for laboratory testing when you enter this category.  This so far has been a spectacular fail but to be honest I haven't given it the focus it deserves. 

Software and eCommerce development - I spent about $7,000 on this in 2018 and $0 on this in 2017.  As opposed to the first two, these expenses will likely continue in 2019 but hopefully less but when comparing 2018 profitability to 2017 it made a huge difference.

Reimbursements way down - reimbursements went from 4.3% of my sales to 2.4% of my sales.  My understanding is that this is a problem for sellers across the board as Amazon has been much more stingy in granting reimbursements.  Please let me know your experiences in the comments.  I actually had less money in reimbursements in 2018 despite the 60% increase in sales.

Inventory Writeoffs -  I overbought on some groceries and they expired.  This is a poor purchasing choice and ended up costing me a couple thousand dollars.  Until I have a better inventory process for items that can expire I will hold off on larger purchases of those items.

Transitioning to an out of country seller -  since I live outside the US I rely on prep services more than I used to.  I spent a lot more money on prep services but that is not changing anytime soon although I have a new deal with my current service.  I will pay less per unit and a larger per month fee.  As long as my volume stays as high as it is now or higher it will be cheaper for me and more predictable fees for them.

Amazon loan interest -  I took an Amazon loan (I'll write up a post about my experience when it is fully paid off) to increase my purchasing ability in the 4th quarter and I paid a bit more than $2,500 in interest on it in 2018.  I've already paid 2/3rds of the loan and I would have fully paid it off if not for a tax quirk related to having to start a new company.   A new loan  may or may not happen in 2019 as well.


Goals for 2019

As I showed, 2018 was a mixed bag for me.  I made more money but I should have made a lot more money than I did so what are my goals for 2019 and how will I make more money??!!

Storage Fees - I spent 1.6% of sales on monthly storage fees and long term storage fees.  Last year I actually spent 1.7% so that is a slight improvement.  I have a lot of room for improvement on storage.  Things were getting much much better after the summer but I am now in a bad storage place because of the 4th quarter.  I have made a conscious effort to send less in and allow myself to go out of stock more.  I have found that I get in trouble when sales are great for a short period of time and I send in more assuming that will continue for the next month or two.  I can always send in more every couple of days if sales continue or use SFP if I am out of stock.

Even though my percentages of revenue were lower this year, I consider my storage fees a fail for 2018 since I know I could and should be doing much better.  With a concerted effort I hope to get that number closer to 1.25%.

In addition, Amazon rules for storage fees have changed for the better of sellers starting in mid February.  Long term fees will not apply until items have been at fulfillment centers for more than 1 year.  I paid an extra $1,000 in long term storage fees in 2018 compared to 2017 and I hope to have that mostly eliminated after February 2019.

Refunds - Last year I lost 4.3% of my sales to refunds.  In 2018 it was 3.9% but this can still be improved.  Picking the right products is the most important factor here.  As I have moved further and further away from electronics and into lower price point items my refund percentage has come down with it.  

Even More Self Fulfillment -Walmart has been a real revelation for me.  There have been items that have not sold well on Amazon and have sold nicely on Walmart or have sold well on both but the price on Walmart has been much better.  The only problem is that I really have no idea of how to tell before I purchase so I still can't make purchases for Walmart until I test it.  It allows me to leave more inventory at my warehouse set aside for Walmart and lower my storage fees or to increase my price on Amazon if it is selling well on Walmart.  My goal for Walmart in 2019 is $50,000 in sales.

I've also removed unsubscribed from Geekseller which saves me about $20 a month and 1% of revenue from Walmart.  You can apply for Walmart as well but my understanding is that they need proof of about $1 million in sales to be accepted which is a big hurdle for most sellers.

eBay has been great as well.  I don't make a ton of money on eBay but it has really helped my frequency of sales and lowered my storage fees on items that weren't selling well on Amazon.  When I can finally get rid of JoeLister my monthly fees will come done as well.  My goal for eBay in 2019 is $35,000 in sales.

My own site - once this is built out hopefully my margins will be better since I won't be giving commissions out and I can have another place to sell which can lower my storage fees as well.  My goal for my own site in 2019 is $1.

Avoid Loan Interest - I am happy I took the loan and so far it has worked out but hopefully I do a better job of not having so much money stuck in inventory and I don't need a loan for 2019.  A full post about the loan will be forthcoming.

What are your goals for 2019?  I would love to hear them.