Amazon’s Vendor Central Templates: Insider Impressions

Amazon Vendor Central’s A+ self-service template feature is still in beta, but we’ve been using it to upload client product pages for a couple of months now and have some things to say.

Amazon Vendor Central logoWhat is Amazon Vendor Central (VC), you ask? VC is a management interface for Amazon vendors and those who work with them. It includes a tool (self-service templates) for first-party sellers to upload content to their Amazon product pages. Vendors can currently choose from eight templates and need simply to add text and images and click upload to launch a new product page. Basically, Amazon has removed the design phase–or, rather, moved it in house. (Sound familiar? Last January, Amazon tried to move content creation in house.)

I asked some of our project leads about their experiences with Vendor Central’s A+ self-service option. It’s quite a mixed bag.

Editor’s note: Amazon replaced the self-service templates with modules in August 2014. They aren’t perfect, but the modules offer much more flexibility and customization. Read about our experiences with the Vendor Central modules.


Vendor Central: Designing Product Pages for You

What was your first reaction to Vendor Central A+ self-service templates?


The template itself is restricted to exactly what it shows, which leaves no ambiguity about how to fill it in.

Elizabeth Olmsted: My first experiences with the template were time-consuming. The templates are straightforward, but must be created one at a time. Amazon used to allow vendors to submit a bulk upload, but now both vendors and Amazon must upload them one at a time. The template itself is restricted to exactly what it shows, which leaves no ambiguity about how to fill it in. No technical knowledge whatsoever is required, although the images should be resized before being loaded into the template.

One surprising discovery I made was that the “Save for Later” button doesn’t actually save all the information, and much of the page needed to be re-entered. I highly recommend loading everything into the template only when you are ready to publish. I would also say it is helpful to mock up the page in advance (although it may be changed by Amazon’s team before publication).

What do you most want to change about it right now?

Elizabeth Olmsted: I think there are still a few odd glitches in the system that are being worked out, but mostly, it would be nice to have more flexibility in the templates. For example, the number of paragraphs, headers, and images cannot be changed. So, if a manufacturer wants to use the template that has six images, they would get a max of two paragraphs and one header. And, if they want any kind of product comparison chart, they are limited to two product images and a logo.


Self-service templates are tremendously restrictive on design, both in terms of images and appearance and so far as the ability to format text.

What problems are Vendor Central self-service templates creating for vendors?

Breanne Boland: Self-service templates are tremendously restrictive on design, both in terms of images and appearance and so far as the ability to format text. Each template has a set number of paragraphs, which is a problem for both vendors of simpler products and those that create more complicated products with lots of stats, such as receivers and other consumer electronics.

We also lose the ability to create paragraph breaks or make a bulleted list. This most affects the grocery category, as many grocery items include recipe suggestions, a key part of traditional food marketing.

Vendor Central templates also lack the ability to preview, which is key when producing content for a vendor. We have workarounds for this, but they still sometimes require re-uploading to correct issues later.

What advantages does the feature have?

Breanne Boland: The sole advantage seems to be the possibility of much faster page uploads. Amazon has never been anything like fast at uploading, and sometimes uploaded pages would languish for weeks, waiting for a site merchandiser’s attention. Self-service templates are more (but not fully) automated, and some project leads have seen massive packages of content uploaded within a day or two.

What problems are self-service templates creating for vendors?

Dave McCaul: Design limitations. Each template limits the number of images (often to only two or three), and with only eight templates total, the diversity of creative layouts that vendors used to demand is now a thing of the past.

Text limitations. Even the best templates allow no more than four or five paragraphs, so any product with more than five features (like a laptop) that can’t logically be organized together in the same four or five sections will not get a comprehensive treatment. Technical (high price tag) products suffer the most.

Difficult to preview design prior to publication. We used to send links so vendors could have their marketing and legal teams assess the visual-textual gestalt in a web browser on a PC or mobile device (something a Word doc doesn’t quite offer). Now the best we can do is take a two-piece PDF screenshot and send that and have them imagine how it would look in a browser.


Templates remove the mysteries of HTML coding requirements, image resizing, and upload file delivery for A+ content.

Upload times for a single page are ranging from a week to month in our experience. Compare this to the old-school upload model of 40 A+ pages approved and uploaded within 24 hours.

No hyperlinks. Templates do not support links within the text or within a matrix, meaning that even if the design incorporates a matrix, the user probably still has to go back to the ol’ search bar to check out a similar in-brand product, which could send them to competitors’ products instead

What advantages does the tool have?

Dave McCaul: VC templates remove the mysteries of HTML coding requirements, image resizing, and upload file delivery for A+ content. This is actually a pretty huge advantage for any company that meets the following two qualifications: (1) it prefers to write its own Amazon product page copy, and (2) it has a dedicated data-entry person to paste text and images into the self-service upload tool.

Smaller companies with very few SKUs are the ones who would probably benefit most, but I don’t think any such companies have been invited to use the tool (yet).

Takeaway

Vendor Central self-service templates severely limit design options. However, they also offer the potential for much faster product-detail content uploading. Is this a good tradeoff? Only time and Amazon vendors will tell.

Editor’s note: Amazon replaced the self-service templates with modules in August 2014. They aren’t perfect, but the modules offer much more flexibility and customization. Read about our experiences with the Vendor Central modules.