Being Realistic About the ‘Endless’ Aisle

By John Willkom, The Mars Agency


Given the limitless “space” available online, many businesses assume almost instinctively that they should offer their entire product catalog on Amazon. They've got 150 items on a price list, why not just make them all available for sale?


In theory, the digital shelf is unlimited because there are no space restrictions like there have always been inside brick-and-mortar stores. You essentially can put any product you want online, and there will be a place for it (assuming a 3P model). However, the more probable reality is that a lot of these items will never see the light of day because they’re buried in search results and, therefore, virtually unfindable for the average consumer.

Ultimately, every item that you put up for sale should have a purpose. I typically start with the economic purpose first: put simply, will this product make money? If the answer is no, then I need to be crystal clear on why I’m offering it. Is it part of a broader basket building initiative? Is it an intro item to the rest of my brand? Is it an accessory to a more profitable item?


If the item is profitable in an ecommerce environment, I next think about its market purpose. Am I bringing a unique pack size to market? Am I offering new flavors, a new variety pack, or another value-add to the marketplace? Do I have brand equity in my space that will allow me to experiment a bit with something new, whether it’s a product, price point, pack type, etc.?


Once my catalog is set, I need to ensure that I have a plan and budget to make every SKU “sellable.” We talk a lot about digital shelf optimization, and while not every item is equal, at a minimum you have to ensure that you’re meeting the specs of each retailer’s site. From there, you need to build up some relevancy through traffic-driving initiatives, generate some reviews, and essentially let the retailer know that this is a good place to send potential buyers. Don’t flood these pages with traffic unless you have the ability to sustain it. Rather, focus on consistent increases: if you get 1,000 total page views in week one, maybe shoot for 1,500 in week 2, 2,000 in week 3, and so on.


Putting in this type of effort over the first six months or so of a new ecommerce product is critical. For all the gardeners out there, you wouldn’t plant something new in the spring and then leave it to chance to grow the way it’s supposed to. It needs to be watered, pruned, and supervised early on to ensure it has a solid foundation. Don’t let the vision of big profits get in the way of building a solid foundation. Future sales results are the output of those arduous efforts made months in advance.

About the Author

John Willkom is SVP-Ecommerce at The Mars Agency, where he helps brands win in the ever-changing world of connected commerce. John has a passion for brand building and discovering "what's next," is an avid sports fan and accomplished author, having penned the Amazon best-selling book, Walk-On Warrior, in 2018.


John and his wife, Allison, have two daughters and call Minneapolis home. Contact him at: [email protected]