Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – Status update (Part 4)

Ok, I know I haven’t been writing for quite some time.

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Truth be told – I have been really busy at work and whatever spare time I had was used for researching on the FBA Private Label experiment or amending the listings I done in my Seller Central Account. Yup the Podcasts on Amazon selling is super addictive.

Check out Part 3 here.

I still can’t ship inventories to USA Amazon Fulfillment Centres yet (can only do so after Dec 2016), but that doesn’t mean I did nothing.

1) Firstly, the major milestone here, is that I finally got my Employer Identification Number (EIN), from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in USA. Yes, I am now a Sole Proprietor who can ship goods to the USA.
If I am not wrong, this is critical if you want to ship heavier items via ship. Your freight forwarder or Custom agent would need this to help you clear the goods through the custom.

I don’t foresee I will need this in the near future, as most of the products I am intending to sell are pretty small and light. The cargo probably won’t exceed 150kg. So technically it still make more sense to ship via air using UPS for a more hassle free approach.

2) I have also applied for ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) with IRS in case I need to file tax in the future. In order to submit the application (via post), I had to specially go down to ICA in Lavender to get a certified true copy of my passport done first. Hope my application get through.

3) I have received a letter asking for more information pertaining to my application for VAT (needed if I intend to sell in Europe).

4) I currently have 8 listings on my seller central account. Some are just colour variations of the same product. I took me a really long time to learn how to list variations (either variations in size, colour, numbers etc) on Amazon. It is not a simple process… after countless Youtube videos and reading online articles, I finally managed to do variations of 3 products! Another milestone!

A word of advice if you intend to do variation: Save your current descriptions, vital information etc before uploading the Excel sheet, cause if you are familiar with the format and what data in the Excel sheet correspondent to the listing information – you might lose what you have type in your Seller Central (get superseded by what is in the Excel table).

5) I now have 5 samples with me. 3 samples of 1 product, 1 sample each for 2 products. The latter 2 have my customised packaging and logo.
For some products it is just too expensive doing customised packaging. I would most probably just customised stickers (for the poly bag) or insert a card with my own logo or images, to save cost while testing out the market.

6) I have proceeded to do a couple of bulk purchases with some of the manufacturers- after being satisfied with the sample. They are still the low MOQ as these are my test batches.

The manufacturers do need time to fabricate the products. Typically they need 3 to 4 weeks. Most of them can only complete just before Christmas. I do hope to avoid the Chinese New Year holiday period, and to complete whatever product fabrication prior to that and ship these to Amazon.

The key thing when buying from the manufacturer is to do it via the Alibaba Trade Assurance. The money is transferred to a Citibank account held by Alibaba, and it is only upon successful completion or shipment of the products, is the fund released. The sellers also do not need to pay any additional fees. So it seems like a low cost, low risk way to purchase in bulks.

7) Hiccups in communication with the manufacturers are still there. Sometimes it is after I have paid – and then found out issues. Well, getting quite numb to these.

 

Well that is all for now. Hope things go smoothly.

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Recent updates

Well, this will be just a quick update.

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Property

My family went to see a recent property launch. We wanted to get another property which should be bigger than our current HDB flat (or at least similar in size, and equally comfortable). Unfortunately, I think we tend to fall into the ‘anchoring bias’ when looking at the show flats / sales brochures.

Typically for new projects, the size of the unit would be smaller as compared to say a similar unit completed a decade ago.

In addition, I generally find HDB units bigger than Condo units. I feel that I can actually get more usable space in HDB flats, whereas in Condo unis, the sales brochure may state XX sqm, but after you minus off the balcony and AC ledge areas, the actual size of the enclosed space / rooms is much smaller. Many developers are building bigger balconies and AC ledge (which are typically non-GFA) to make the units appear bigger.

I don’t foresee much need for a balcony (nor a big AC ledge). In addition, in the particular development we saw, there is no yard for the units we are aiming for. There is a Utility Room (comes with a small toilet) for those bigger units. However, this would probably mean that we would have to dry our clothes in the front balcony. I can envision most of the occupants sunning / drying their clothes in the balconies.

Consequently, I find that ‘image’ rather unsightly (like some multi national flags / under-wears out in the open)—- yeah, sales brochure don’t show you that. Whatever prestigious image I had of the development is immediately smashed when I think about that. Remind me of the Centris Condo at Boon Lay MRT station. I can see all the clothes out in the balconies while waiting for the MRT train.

To jump to the new bigger unit with 1 more room would mean that it has exceeded our planned budget. So basically we have 3 choices:

  1. Choose a unit with the same no. of rooms as our current HDB unit, but with a smaller ‘usable’ enclosed area, which is within our budget. Or
  2. Choose a unit with one more room as compared to our current HDB unit, but this would have exceeded our planned budget by a huge margin. Or
  3. Sell our current HDB flat and go for Option 2 (see above).

I don’t really see the point of going for Option 1. Why pay so much more to squeeze my family into a smaller unit. Might as well stay put (in our HDB flat). Yeah there are amenities like pools, gym, function rooms, BBQ pits etc in the condominium development… but I can do so much ‘less’ with less space in my unit. My son can’t even fit his study table in his bedroom in the condo unit, and I end up with a smaller master bedroom. I feel like I am paying money to ‘downgrade’.

I also can’t afford Option 2. Well, technically I can — just take on more loan. But I don’t see how the ‘value’ justify the added cost.

For Option 3: I really don’t see the point of paying so much to stay in a condo. One main reason for buying a second property is to generate rental income from one of them. The property we stay in is actually not an asset but a liability, it is a consumption item. I don’t need a condo to make me feel good or to make me appear rich or to keep up with the Joneses. At the moment, I do like the feeling of having no loan to worry about (my HDB unit is fully paid for).

Frankly, regarding the purchase of a property, for me, what is of importance is that we find a place whereby we really like to stay in. Not for price / capital appreciation, investment or rental income.

I would like to know that I have bought a nice place for my family. And I should remember that this is the main reason why I bought the property in the first place. This belief is especially important during property market downturns and should the value of the property become less than what we initially paid for. Or even when we can’t rent out the unit at all.

When you take care of the downsides, the upsides take care of themselves.

 

P2P loan / Invoice Financing

It is another terrible news for the past week. Another SME company has gone under. Director ran away with the money. And the company has obtained loans from multiple P2P platforms here. Banks are coming down hard on the company. I have 2 loans with this company.

Yeah, my net profits / interests obtained from my P2P loan / Invoice financing portfolio has dwindled drastically with this bad news. Still a net profit – but a tiny one.

I can’t really reveal the emails which I have received from the platforms as they have asked that we do not post these on social media.

Lesson learnt. I had withdrawn a substantial amount from my accounts within these platforms.

 

Stock Portfolio

I consider this year an abnormality when it comes to stocks, while at least that is how I feel right now personally.

Within this year, I have three stocks in my portfolio delisted (Nirvana Asia, SMRT and Lyxor Japan ETF). Another one will likely be delisted soon – Super Group Ltd. Yes, I know, the price to book ratios of many stocks are low this year.

I have never bought a stock with the hope that one day the stock will be delisted.

I bought the stock because I want to hold it for a very long time (hopefully just before I retire or when I need the money for emergency).

Yeah, in most of the delistings, I get a net realized profit. And hey, things might turn out worse… share prices could have gone down further (and stay down there for a long long long time).

In the case of Super Group Ltd – things weren’t looking good in recent years. However, I always believe that the company has its strengths and management was doing their best to turn things around. They were focusing on their strength and getting more branding awareness with ESSENSO Microground Coffee. In fact there were good reviews on this coffee product.

Nevertheless, the company is operating in a competitive F&B market and high commodity prices / weak regional currency were not helping much. There are many more 3-in-1 instant coffee mix these days.

However, I have always been tracking the company progress, and did see improvement in their recent cash flow. Their balance sheets are still relatively strong.

Well, the founder / major shareholder have sold their shares. Now it is left to the remaining shareholders to confirm if they are selling theirs (so that the company can be delisted and privatized).

I first bought Super Group stocks in June 2014, and have been staring at red unrealised losses ever since (and adding to that position). Funny thing is, in a single day on 3 Nov 2016, the red losses actually became black. I always thought that I would be staring at the agonising losses for many years to come.

Well, if it is indeed delisted – I would have realized a profit for this stock holding. A profit is a profit. And my cash war-chest will be much bigger than what I planned for or anticipated (after all Super Group is one of my major holding in my stock portfolio – bigger than Nirvana Asia, SMRT and Lyxor Japan ETF combined). My net worth for this year so far has also increased the most as compared to other years.

This might be a good thing, since I always felt that the S&P 500 is too high for my liking although the S&P 500 has fallen 9 days in a row.

I reckon this (increase in war-chest) helps in getting ‘my ducks in a row’, with my list of potential stocks to buy (with a set of target price list of course). I am still waiting for the next ‘stock sale’.

 

Amazon FBA Private Label

I think I have an overdose of motivational Youtube videos on Amazon FBA Private Label. With the recent restriction that prevents new sellers from shipping inventories to their fulfillment centres —- what I can do now is to research on more potential products to sell, work on my listings and read more articles or watch more video about Amazon FBA.

I currently have identified four potential products to sell.

However, I will only do a small shipment for one product in Dec 2016. To ensure that the system works for me.

I have obtained two samples so far, and expect another 3 next week (however one sample is stopped at custom for checking so it may take much longer than I expect). Altogether: 1 confirmed sample for 1 potential product, and 3 samples for another potential product.

Oh yeah, I am also trying not to spend too much on samples. They are not cheap. However, if I am serious about selling that product, samples are necessary (before I spend a bigger amount buying in bulk).

There are many hiccups along the way (and these are not just the new restrictions from Amazon):

  1. 1000 misprinted packages which I have paid for. But I finally got the sample with the right package design — Yeahhhh!.. well, that is a Milestone for me ok. I have never had an actual product with my own package design and brand name (which I invented). It is a good feeling to hold it in my hand (and to know that it cost me a bomb :p). Took photos of it and updated the photos in my product listing in Amazon (darn…. too bad, can’t sell….).
  2. Manufacturer gave me the wrong Paypal account details (twice!), and I actually sent money to that wrong account. Well, I have got pass that and paid her (in the right Paypal account), to get a sample (which unfortunately, is now stuck at the custom for checking). I can’t help getting the ‘unlucky / jinxed’ feeling when I deal with this manufacturer.
  3. Lots of mis-communications…. Too many to count and I don’t know where to start. For instance, quoted prices did not include shipping cost, packages, Opp bags, cutting cost etc…. Had to keep asking and asking. And even their quoted prices can change (after you ask and clarify again).
  4. Had to always negotiate for lower MOQ (Min Order Quantity), samples (the way you want it).
  5. Had to wait for their responses. I typically send emails or messages to these manufacturers / suppliers after work. Since parts of China are in the same time zone as Singapore, many of them would also be out of the office at that time… so I had to wait for their replies — some hardworking ones would reply almost immediately after I sent my emails / messages, some the next day, while others never do (or do so many days after my email— by that time I would have forgotten what I have written :p).
  6. Some of them thought that my messages are too complicated and did not understand what I am writing about. While on the other hand, some asked me a lot of specific technical questions about the product. I would have thought showing them a photo of what I wanted is enough…. no…. they would then come back with: “What is the density I want, what is the thickness, what is the dimensions, what are the edges details, length, colour, material….. ??” Questions overload (I just want to know how much…..). Indeed, a single product can have countless permutations. Then there are others who completely ignore me..:P
  7. I am stilling waiting for my EIN and VAT number. Wonder how they (USA Internal Revenue Department) will notify me on the EIN when I neither indicated a fax number (I don’t have a fax machine– by the way, who uses a fax machine these days?), nor did they ask for my email address (no slot in the form asking for email address). By postal mail….from USA to Singapore? Hmmm…
  8. I am still paying for my Amazon Professional Seller Account monthly subscription fee as well as the Jungle Scout monthly fee. And I can’t ship inventories / sell…..darn! Talk about bad timing. Well, since I am paying for the Jungle Scout platform service – I thought I might as well make full use of it.Similarly, I spend some time doing up my listings in Amazon — like I said before, I think I am seriously over-focused / heavily tilted towards the research phase. I literally had more than 2 months to do research / listing for potential products. Wonder how many potential products I would have identified by 19 Dec 2016. And the suppliers / manufacturers who I am communicating with are probably wondering why I am asking so many questions for so many days / weeks, and not confirming any purchase (or paying them for bulk purchase) :p…..

Well, I like to see things in a positive light (probably the after effect of watching the motivational Youtube videos on Amazon FBA). Perhaps with all the new restrictions and hiccups that I have encountered, these might eventually turn out to be a good thing. There could a silver lining.
Also at the beginning, I did not set a target date or milestone dates for myself (eg. to meet the year end sale period etc)… so there is really no rush for me.

I think for next year, I would probably avoid the Oct, Nov period to ship things. I probably want to do it earlier – like in Aug or Sept.

There will always be changes and new regulations (for Amazon FBA). Change is the only constant. I guess I will just have to deal with them as they come along and learn from the experiences / mistakes.

Another new restriction on Amazon is regarding the ban on incentivised reviews. Well, there are other ways to get reviews from buyers- for instance sending out ‘Thank You’ emails to the buyers after they bought your products. There are lots of platforms which offer this service eg. Feedback Five, Feedback Genius, Salesbacker, Kibly etc… I have signed up for a free account with Salesbacker.

 

That’s all for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What a Super day

Today I came across the news that Dutch tea and coffee company Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) has made a S$1.45 billion all-cash offer for Singapore instant beverage maker Super Group Ltd. (read here and here).

On 2 Nov 2016, SSI has already hinted on the possibility of privatisation due to the trading halt (read here).

Well, I have been holding on to Super Group shares since June 2014. And I have been purchasing its stocks on the way down. Come to think of it, it was only recently in Aug 2016 that bought some Super Group shares (read here).

Although I have technically not received the realised profits on the shares, it was nevertheless a good feeling to know that the value of the company is validated by an external party – Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE).

As mentioned by Super founder and managing director David Teo Kee Bock: “We are proud that JDE, the leading pure-play consumer packaged goods coffee company in the world, recognises the strength, depth and breadth of the company that we have so laboriously worked to build over the past 29 years. As the company enters its 30th year, we are pleased that Super will be part of the JDE Group as we continue to build on the legacy we have established.”

Holding Super Group Stocks wasn’t the most enjoyable ‘ride’ ever. And to continue buying on the way down is like catching a falling knife. Similarly, it wasn’t fun tracking their financial and business progress.

It wasn’t so long ago (in Aug 2016) that the following was reported that Super Group registered the biggest drop among the top 10 F&B players in Singapore (read here).Among the top 10, Super Group Ltd. registered the biggest decline at -5.3%.

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With the sudden increase in the share price of Super Group, my overall shares portfolio is again in the black (+4%). And that is excluding the profits I have obtained from the delisting of Nirvana Asia, Lyxor Japan ETF (and losses from SMRT delisting).

Nevertheless, with the sudden increase in Share price of Super Group – it is back to looking for other undervalued stocks.

 

 

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Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – Status update (Part 3)

Ok, this will be a short post and will be continuation of my previous posts (read here and here).

I should be getting two samples this week. Actually one of them have arrived in Singapore. However since I am not at home most of the time (through out the day), I have rescheduled the DHL delivery man to come back on Saturday.

So yeah, I don’t have the samples with me. I was shown a photo of a completed sample with the packaging designed by me. Well, it is a simple colourful design (hope it is not too cheesy). But yes, this sample is only possible after a second try- the first batch of 1000 packaging was done wrongly and had to be discarded.

Ok, there are 2 major news recently that will affect new FBA sellers like me.

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1st news

Amazon is not allowing new FBA sellers to ship inventory to their Fullfilment centres until after 19 Dec 2016 (read here). Basically, when I try to send inventory using the Seller Central platform, I get the below message.

“We are restricting shipments from new-to-FBA sellers to ensure we have the capacity necessary to receive and store inventory and to ship products to customers quickly. If you have not completed your first shipment to Amazon before October 10, 2016, we encourage you to start shipping to Amazon after December 19, 2016. We encourage you to continue selling on Amazon and fulfilling orders directly to customers. We apologize for any inconvenience. If the situation changes before December 19, 2016, we will notify you by e-mail. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

So yes, I did not manage to make it in time to ship my tiny shipment to Amazon USA. On the upside, due to the error from the first batch of printing (of the 1000 packages), I manage to negotiate to send only a tiny number of samples to Amazon (however, I do have to pay for this new batch of 1000 package printing and small batch of samples).

Anyway, the idea is to create a link and set up a system.

In the meantime, I have registered for:

  1. EIN (needed to set up the Tax Setting in Seller central);
  2. VAT (in case I want to sell in Amazon Europe in the future);
  3. Filled in the IRS tax form.

 

2nd news

Amazon has banned ‘incentivised’ reviews over lack of impartiality (read here).

Earlier on, I mentioned about the possible strategy of selling out my items at a heavily discounted price to reviewers so as to get their reviews in my Amazon listings.

Well, with this recent ban, this is no longer possible. New sellers may find it hard to gather lots of reviews organically and may find it difficult to compete against more established sellers who already have lots of reviews in their listings (some of which might be ‘incentivised’ reviews).

 

With the 1st news, I guess there won’t be much update on my FBA attempt (until after 19 Dec 2016).

As much as I like to quickly set up the system – to see if it is a failure or success quickly…. I do understand that a lot of time is needed to ‘scale’.

For instance, you can spend a lot of money, getting a lot of inventory and just send to Amazon to sell… however a more prudent way is to slowly send small amounts to test the market / system. A FBA seller mentioned (in a Youtube video) that he took 7 months to slowly build up his side business.

Given the hiccups I encountered so far (misprinting of packaging / can’t send inventory from now till 19 Dec 2016) — I think I will probably need a much longer time :p.

 

 

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Bumpy ride

This year, I tried a couple of new things besides investing in stocks.

Well, to side-track, I have not really purchased any REIT stocks at the moment. I felt that having a little bit of exposure to high dividend yield REITs might be good, however I am still undecided given the slowing rental / lease market for the industrial and retail sector. I would like to get into healthcare REITs, but I do not find First REIT and Parkway Life REIT undervalued at the moment. Still, the dividend yields look tempting.

Ok, back to the new things. With all new things, there is always a certain amount of risks.

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This post is about the difficulties / failures I encountered. This is not a post to tell you how much profit I made from any particular investment (since I first invest in them).

Ok, the new things I tried this year:

 

P2P loans and Invoice Financing.

In the case of P2P loans, I have my fair share of loans in arrears. I started investing sometime near the beginning of 2016. The worst case now is a loan from the platform Funding Societies (FS). See below for the recent email from FS.

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I reckon the chance of getting back the remaining amount owed to me is very remote. In retrospect, the loan detail sheet did show a relatively high level of liability (however, it has actually decreased significantly from the previous year). Profits have been increasing over the past 3 years. So there is really very little clue of the impending liquidation.

This default has erased a large part of the accumulated interest I have received from the loans and invoice financing I participated in. Overall still a net profit but substantially reduced.

Occasionally, I would receive emails from the platforms informing me that they have been hounding the SMEs to pay up and sometimes they would have some success in receiving a partial payment. They might mention the legal terms in the contract (which they conveyed to the borrowers (and possible litigation route) or if they have engage money collectors.

Often the SMEs have difficulty in obtaining timely payments from their clients (even statutory boards). Or they choose to pay their employees first rather than settle the loans.

All these do not sound really reassuring if you ask me.

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Amazon  FBA

I am still at the “liaising with Chinese Manufacturers / suppliers” stage. Basically my first attempt at doing a sample (with private label) is a failure.

The printing done by the Chinese manufacturer has errors. So end up 1000 copies of the package are made redundant (cost courtesy of me). Although the damage is relatively low, but still it is an unnecessary waste.

After all the coordination and paper mock-ups, the final printing came up with unexpected errors.

It is pretty time consuming liaising with Chinese manufacturers.

The recent issues encountered:

  • 1 week holiday in China (1 to 7 Oct). Halfway through liaising with the manufacturers, I was told by all of them that they will be on leave. So I had to wait patiently for them for approx. 1 week (some of them did start work on 5 Oct though) to reply my queries.
  • They don’t entertain small quantities. To lower the risk, I always try to negotiate for lower MOQ (Min. Order Quantity). However, manufacturers typically want higher MOQ for obvious (more profitable) reasons. And some can be quite sarcastic.. and consider you a small fry (when they have bigger clients to go after). Some of them are suppliers and often they come back and tell you that the manufacturing side does not agree with the low quantity.
  • Samples: Sample with individualized packaging is not cheap and typically you need to meet their MOQ and agree to the bulk purchase before they agree to do customised packaging or stickers for you.
  • Everything is in USD. Sending a sample over can easily cost min USD 40 (just on delivery cost alone). A few dollars here and a few dollars there can add up to a lot, as all these are in USD. After you convert these to SGD (1USD = 1.39SGD), the cost can be quite significant. Sending to USA also involve duties and freight charges. And if you don’t prep your product properly, Amazon will slap you with a fee to do the prepping for you.
  • Getting a good package design and logo design done is time consuming. Yes Fiverr.com is a great site, but if you initially reject the first design, the designer typically takes a long time to come back with a revised design (they are after all not paid much). After some time, I gave up and just do simple packaging designs myself (still faster than waiting).
  • What was communicated initially with the manufacturer is wrong after you’ve paid. For instance I asked for 4 different colours of samples, but after I paid, I was told that only certain colours are available etc. And it is not easy getting them to refund you.
  • Time consuming process of getting quotations, getting shipment cost, agreeing on quantity, agreeing on doing packaging with customized design etc… and on top of that, sometimes the agents go on a couple of days leave. And you had to wait for their quotations to complete your assessment (together with the other quotations from the other manufacturers). And after you finally done your assessment, you realized that the profit margin is too low (after you factor in the Amazon fee), and that there are too many competitors selling the same thing.
  • Finding the right product to sell — this is really an Art if you ask me. Yes, Jungle Scout and Terapeak are helpful, but still there is no promise of a great selling product and their services are not free. Oh yeah, another website -Camelcamelcamel is free (although less comprehensive).
  • Final sample packaging different from the design you sent — that is a bummer (1000 sets of packaging down the drain). I think it is due to the different Photoshop versions we used.

I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur, but I can understand why entrepreneurship takes so much time. Moreover I have no mentor, and am doing this all alone. What I know is from watching Youtube videos and reading articles online.

I did ask in the Amazon forum. I did get help there, but there were also many remarks which are not particularly encouraging eg. why am I selling such low margin products (probably won’t sell), the bad reputation of the Chinese manufacturers in Alibaba, issues with infringement of intellectual property rights (and get delisted)…. There are after all more cases of failure than successes.

Yes, they list all the issues and possible dangers — solutions, you have to search yourself. Go read the forum threads they tell you, and you get part of the puzzle solved.

My wife thinks I am bonkers… still looking at the same product packaging design after 3 weeks. Sometimes I think I have two jobs (one full time day job, and a part time job that I pay money to do :p).

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Currently, I am just trying to do another sample. And hopefully I am able to ‘open a channel’ to Amazon (just send a couple of products to see if the system works). I don’t expect to make a profit (and don’t intend to) at this stage. In fact, if the product is stuck in Amazon for months, I will have to pay Amazon the monthly storage fees.

I anticipate that unless I increase my investment to produce and send more products and invest more money for advertising (pay per click or pay to get reviews), my product will probably ‘not see the light of day’ (or rather buyers won’t even know it exist, as it is stuck in page 70++ or 100++).

Still let’s create a link (to Amazon) first. Get the system up.

So far, the latest update is that I expect 2 samples for 2 different products to reach me by next week. Fingers crossed.

Not as passive as some people might want it to be.

 

 

 

 

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Short note

I know I should have been investing and cash saved in the bank will just depreciate in value over time.

At the same time, I am keenly aware that I sucks at timing the market. However with the S&P 500 near all time high and STI range bound for the year (at least that is how I feel), and world economy slowing – I am just waiting for the ‘storm’ to come before buying shares (which I deem as under-valued by then).

I have a weird way of looking at the overall unrealized profit and loss in my stock portfolio. And I don’t really trade (or sell) my stocks frequently. Typically if I see more red (losses), and the larger unrealized losses I have, the more I will be willing to accumulate stock. I tend to like to average down (of course sometimes I will end up with value traps or end up catching a falling knife).

A rising market is also exciting for me – it is always great to see unrealized profits.

However, like I said earlier – I feel that the STI is ranged bound. In March 2016, the overall profit /loss for my stock portfolio is 0%. Fast forward to Oct 2016 – it is averaging 0% to -2%. Well of course that is not entirely true as I have already received realized profits from my sale of Sun Hung Kai Properties shares, the delisting of Lyxor Japan ETF, Nirvana Asia (and losses from SMRT delisting).

However, nevertheless, it wasn’t the most exciting period in stocks so far (for me personally).

I don’t know when market will crash, but I know a crash will eventually come (inevitable). For the moment it is a cash hoarding / cash making period for me. Or finding ways to generate income by other means, other than from my salary.

Currently, my war chest has been increasing, and has been relatively high compared to the past few years. However, I still like to add more to it.

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Work wise, the construction industry seems to be stagnating. Well, I earn a fixed salary every month – there is a limit how much I can expect in increasing the cash income from my salary. As much as I work hard (although there are times when there are little to do), I don’t think I can increase income exponentially there.

Consequently, given the stagnation in my work, I don’t think it would be wise to seek excitement from my investments. If I want excitement, I would go to the Casino, not the stock market.

Well, I have been trying out Amazon FBA. Have not actually managed to ship anything yet (probably due to the recent 1 week holiday in China, and most Chinese manufacturers don’t work during this period). Not really sure if things would work out.

It is not easy liaising with the Chinese manufacturers. So far I have spent money on samples that failed (whole batch of packages printed wrongly); manufacturers unable to send actual samples, or do actual stickers or packaging due to small quantity of one sample, difficulty in payment (had to pay via Western Union… most suppliers use PayPal thankfully); competition from the suppliers themselves, lousy designs from Fiverr designers (and often late), etc.

Till today I am unable to get a ready sample done according to my specifications…

Not easy. Every step is a learning process.

 

 

 

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Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – Status update (Part 2)

Ok, this will be a short post and will be continuation of my previous post.

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  1. So yes I got my new logo and brand name from fiverr. There was a slight hiccup as yesterday morning the designer messaged me and told me that he would like to cancel the order as he had too many orders. However, I declined and he offered to do it if I gave him one more day, which I did. So yes I got my logo / brand.
  2. While waiting, I decided to do another logo / brand name with another designer (in case the first designer fail to deliver).
  3. With the new logo I received, I added it onto the design of the package I did. I sent it to the manufacturer, whom kindly suggested that I do the rear side as well (and showed me examples of other packages). So I did and emailed her back the completed packages. I think the images are kind of fuzzy as I had to photoshop some. Nevertheless – packaging done… Yeah! Well, will see how the final sample look. I have paid them for the sample and shipping and be checking up with them how long they need to ship it over. I highlighted that I want to see the photographs of the sample before they send over in case I have some last minute comments. I will be probably taking photos of this sample to post on my Amazon listing should I find the sample satisfactory.
  4. I have been playing around with the website Fotofuze (click here). It helps to generate clear photos of the product with clear background. So that the product looks better and the focus will be on the product itself.
  5. I have signed up with Jungle Scout (click here). This will help to facilitate my research in finding products with high sales revenue, light weight, low no. of reviews…. (eg. high demand but low competition). Been playing around it. I guess I will spend some time doing that over the weekend.
  6. Also in the meantime, when I see viable products I will just message the Chinese manufacturers to link up and check on their prices vs quantity …

 

As compared to P2P loans / Invoice financing and stock investing – there is more upfront work to be done for the FBA business. However, the thing is you actually have a physical product. So you can control and change certain aspects of it.

However the Amazon market again is a ‘jungle’. You never know how your product will perform unless you list it out there. From what I have read, it is not as simple as just packaging and finding the right product. Your reviews and your historical performance counts. New sellers may be disadvantaged.

There are websites that allow people to buy discounted items at USD 1 dollar in exchange for their reviews. From the number of posts and videos I came across- there are mixed reviews.

And research is important – Jungle Scout is one site you can use (but you need to pay).

I intend to just focus on this one product first. Start small. If it works, that is great. If it fails, it is ok (after all I am using my passive income to do it).

With regards to my other income portfolio. I am disappointed that SMRT got delisted. I will also be expecting payment for the delisting of Nirvana Asia. I have been on the look-out for stocks to be added to my portfolio, and can only hope that market turn lower to allow me to buy at a good price.

For my P2P loans and Invoice Financing portfolio – the system is more or less automated in Capital Match. Less so for Funding Societies. However, won’t be adding funds there in the meantime.

 

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Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – Status update (Part 1)

Ok, this will be a short post and will be continuation of my previous post.

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So what is my progress as to the FBA experiment since my post on 25 Sept 2016? See below:

  1. Yes, I managed to create a Seller Account with Amazon.
  2. I think I would like to try a Private Label route (read here on how one does wonder with by selling via Private Label), instead of Retail arbitrage method which is buying stuff in a store then turning around and selling it for a profit on Amazon.
  3. Had spent time browsing the best sellers on Amazon, and finally thought of what I can sell.
  4. Managed to list a product. (PS: I have been watching some Youtube videos on how to create a product in the Amazon Seller Website and shipping to Amazon).  That would include buying a UPC code online (aapprox. USD 7). However the product is not active as there is no stock :p
  5. In the meantime, I have been liaising with the manufacturers from China (via Alibaba). Think I have contacted 5 or 6 suppliers. This is the time consuming part. I wanted to find out the type of products, price, quantity and shipping cost etc. Next I want to know if the manufacturers do packaging. I reckon packaging is very important (as well as the quality of the product itself), and I wanted to design my packaging with logo. So far I have shortlisted 2 good ones.
  6. Concurrently I have searched for a name for the brand. The website – namecheckr (click here) is a great tool. With this website, I can check if the name I created is not used in other domains or sites.
  7. With the brand name decided, I decided to do a logo. I went to the website – fiverr (click here) to ask someone to help me create one in 3 days (for approx. USD 6). Should be getting the first draft tomorrow.
  8. At the same time, I have been designing the packing myself (minus the logo).
  9. So once the logo is delivered and confirmed, I will have the packaging design ready. And with this I can send to the 2 manufacturers to ask for Samples to be delivered to me in Singapore. 1 sample is approx. USD 100 as the packaging is customized. Yup – the next milestone, will be reviewing samples and taking photos (to post on Amazon should I want to sell that product).

Total amount spent so far: USD 13

 

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Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)?

In my earlier post I mentioned about online selling.

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There are a couple of ways of doing it. One is by creating an online store (eg. via Tictail or Shopify). The second option will be via the online marketplace such as Amazon or Ebay.

I have tried the online store idea sometime back with totally no success. Firstly it is hard to generate traffic to your store, and secondly you need to create a list of viable products to sell.

With regards to the second option – I have been reading up on being an Amazon FBA seller. Yes you can do so even if you are staying in Singapore and is a non US citizen. And it appears to be scalable, and can be done remotely (with no need for storage area).

I find the following blog posts inspiring:

  1. “AMAZON FBA BUSINESS UPDATE – PRODUCT IS FINALLY LISTED FOR SALE!” by Cash Flow Diaries (read here)
  2. “Chapter 9: Amazon FBA Journey from Jan 2014 to Jan 2015” by JASONTAYONLINE BLOG (read here)

Basically, I have my doubts on whether it is really viable and profitable to buy in bulk from China (eg. from Alibaba or Taobao) to sell in the US by shipping to the Amazon Fulfillment Centers. There are numerous articles which state that:

  • The Chinese Manufacturers have wised up and started selling directly via Amazon (esp. after you asked them to ship directly to Amazon Fulfillment Centers);
  • There are numerous infringement issues when the company (selling the brand) found out that you are selling their brand new products in Amazon (and you are not their approved re-seller). Basically, Amazon will just forward their letters directly to you and it would be wise for you to de-list the product from Amazon;

I guess the first part is to register with Amazon as an FBA seller. I have done so – but it would take 2 working days for them to reply. So let’s see how it turn out.

Next, I would need the following items to be filled up (read here):

  1. A credit card that can be charged internationally,  i.e, a Mastercard or Visa.
  2. A local bank in my country that supports ACH which stands for automated clearing house which really means your bank can accept electronic transfers
  3. My local address
  4. My country uses currency supported by Amazon.  Click here to see the list.  This is not an issue as Singapore is in the list.
  5. A phone number (you’ll also need your international prefix number) – I reckon I have to use Skype or Viber.
  6. A US EIN number.  I need to fill out an online form 10-BEN on the IRS.gov website (Internal Revenue Service which is the US government tax collection agency)

Beyond that there is the issue of shipping to 3 different Fulfillment centers (yup Amazon require that you ship to multiple warehouses (read here).

Ok, these I shall KIV first.

I have contact the Chinese Suppliers in Alibaba, and this is rather time consuming. And I have yet to get my first sample.

From what I have read, it would good to contact multiple suppliers (they should be Gold members if you are using Alibaba) – typically 5 to 7 suppliers for a single product. I managed to contact 2 for one product and have been trying to find the overall cost of shipping to US and shipping the sample to Singapore.

Like I say, it is one of my mini experiments. There is no due date or dateline I give myself. There is also no amount I intend to make. However, I try to set aside some of my passive income each month trying out.

I do it when I am free. I guess you ever only fail if you stop trying. Yes, you will fall plenty of time…

Put it in another way- if I managed to sell something, that is a major milestone for me. If I managed to sell something at a profit, that is a super major milestone for me.

Heck – getting a SGD 20 NTUC voucher by doing online surveys using time which I couldn’t be doing anything else is something new (though I really think it is a tough way to “make a living” :p) .

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Experiments with other income streams

Given the fact the US markets were at all time high only recently, I have not been actively investing in stocks in recent times. Still reading and occasionally research on potential stocks.

My passive income stream is still intact – mainly coming from Stock dividends and interests from P2P loans & Invoice financing.

However, I must say my year to date experiment with P2P loans have been bitter sweet and not at all smooth sailing. I do not consider it a success (as with most of my initial endeavors). A single (or couple of) defaults would eliminate all the profits / interests which I have earned so far.

Nevertheless, I have been thinking of ways of finding other income streams. Although with not much success.

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Put it this way, if you have some passive income every month, be it a few dollars or a few hundreds or maybe more…. you have a couple of options:

  1. Invest the income (to generate more passive income)… well, I still feel that now is not a good time to actively purchase stocks…
  2. Spend it.
  3. Donate it.
  4. Save it.
  5. Or use some of these income to try something new, a new endeavor to generate more income and for self development (What have you got to lose?).

Sure, it is a good feeling to achieve financial independence. Eg. Having enough income to pay your living expenses for the rest of your life without having to work full time. However, it is also dangerous to be too complacent about it.

To be frank, at the moment I find that in terms of income (be it active or passive), I am quite comfortable. Typically the monthly passive income I obtained (I divide the annual amount by the no. of months per year) is sufficient to cover most of my monthly expenses.

“If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.” Henry Ford

Typically as a full time employee, my main source of income is my monthly salary. If we are to relate income to water / streams — my primary income which is my monthly salary is like a great river (at the moment). However, I am trying to find ways to create multiple mini tributaries via other ways to generate income. One day, ultimately the river will dry up (when we stop working). Hopefully by then these mini tributaries can generate enough cash to make up some or if not most of what was originally from the main river (monthly salary).

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  1. Well, I have tried online paid surveys (click here and here). After 1 or 2 weeks of trying (typically during my spare time eg. waiting for bus / MRT, stuck in boring meetings, etc), I made a grand total of SGD 22 (Consisting of a SGD 20 NTUC voucher and SGD 2 cash). This method is definitely not scalable, and is extremely time consuming. I do not really consider it as passive income. Well, I only do it when I am really bored (and normally when there is free WIFI if I am using my smartphone).
  2. Online selling. So I have been spending time researching this. I personally think that it is a lot of time and effort and have read a lot of bad reviews stating that this online selling business is a waste of time / money. However, if you take it as a long term investment (and take things slow) to learn something, it might turn out to be a worthwhile passive income stream. No harm reading and trying something new (when you are free). Well, I have yet to successfully sell anything. Nevertheless it was interesting getting a few samples and testing out … who knows.
  3. Creating and Selling Ebooks. Well there are a couple of websites that allow you to create ebooks to sell. If you have a flair for writing – it is worth a try.

 

Personally speaking, I don’t assume “passive income” as something that is totally without effort. I think you have to put in effort upfront, often a lot of it (and in many occasions, things don’t work out the way you want it to be).

Well, if you have hoped that this blog post be about success stories in achieving lots of passive income — sorry to disappoint you.

Even when it comes to stock investing or investing in loans… you need to do a certain amount of research before clicking the buy button. You really need to convince yourself first (that it is a great company and the price is right). There is a saying:”You make money when you buy not when you sell”.

Having said that, whatever I do, I still made sure I give my best to my full time job. After all it is still the biggest income stream for me.

 

 

 

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