‘Almost obnoxious’: Publishers balk at promoting Amazon’s private-label wares

Amazon is trying to enlist publishers to push fashion items from its private-label brands like Lark & Ro this holiday season, but it’s running into resistance.

According to sources at five publishers, Amazon reps are dangling significantly higher commission rates in front of publishers on its private-label fashion and housewares products, starting around 15 percent, but in some cases rising well past that after certain volumes of sales are hit. Typical affiliate commission rates for apparel are around 10 percent.

But multiple publishers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting an important partner, said Amazon’s private-label products in its fashion lines convert poorly when the publishers have promoted them on their own sites, which make the high commission rates irrelevant.

Other publishers vented frustrations with what they described as Amazon’s unwillingness to promote publishers’ endorsements, which could range from a sentence or a blurb, on Amazon’s own site or social media accounts. Amazon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“Amazon’s not willing to commit to doing any sort of promotion,” said one commerce-focused publishing executive who decided not to work with Amazon to promote its private-label products. “Everything [in their proposals] was for their benefit. They wanted us to do all the promotion through our channels.”

“It’s almost obnoxious,” said another publishing executive. “They’re really aggressively pushing Amazon fashion private-label stuff.”

Amazon can make sure its own brand is well promoted on its own site, thanks to its control over its search engine and recommendation engines and the formula that determines product ratings. According to analysis by L2, the performance rank – a proprietary formula based on brands’ rankings on Amazon’s best-seller lists – of Amazon’s private-label basics brand, Amazon Essentials, skyrocketed while two entrenched competitors, Dockers and Hanes, slipped during Amazon’s shopping holiday, Prime Day.

In addition to the high commission rates, Amazon is promoting other private label lines this holiday season with a pop-up shop in Soho to promote Dear Drew, an apparel line it produced with Drew Barrymore.

“They realize most people don’t know about these brands,” said Janelle Page, the founder and CEO of the marketing agency Kickfire. “And off Amazon is where you start to get that awareness. Amazon is a price-driven platform.”

Amazon is, however, aggressively promoting Oprah Winfrey’s annual Favorite Things gift guide on Amazon. The guide includes native video and Oprah-attributed blurbs on every item. It also included an Amazon Echo Show and a cashmere sweater from Lark & Ro.

Commissions aside, Amazon’s products are getting a cool reception from publishers. “The [private-label] product is not strong. At all,” one publisher executive said. “Their strategy of their private-label brands has been to identify the pieces with largest search density, then, in a low-cost way, design into these things that are white-space. They’re going to have to think about the quality of the design.”


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