Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – Status update (Part 6)

You can read my previous post on Amazon FBA here (Part 5).

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So basically all the 3 products are completed by the manufacturers.

 

1. Product 1 (5 cartons).

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Well, the goods have reached Cincinnati, Ohio (US) and went beyond that… headed for Texas. I did not choose the 5 days air express option to save cost. So it would probably reach Texas near the end of the first week of Jan 2017.

Product aside, the representative from this company is the most proactive. I get to contact her via WhatsApp at almost any time. She is always very prompt in reply (if she wasn’t, she would typically explain why). I do respect her professionalism. And it has been a good working relationship so far.

Yes, she did screw up the first package design (and I had to pay for 1000 packages for nothing), but well, the subsequent working relationship has been ok so far.

 

2. Product 2 (2 cartons)

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The cartons have also been shipped (collected by the courier, FedEx). I have fully paid the manufacturer for the shipment at the beginning. I reckon the manufacturer chose the slowest option.

I looked up the shipment records (using the tracking number given), and the cartons aren’t really moving.

Really wonder when they will reach the fulfillment center in Texas.

Working relationship wise, the manufacturer representative wasn’t as prompt in replying as the first (mentioned above). I guess I am just a small client to them.

 

3. Product 3 (12 cartons)

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Ok, this is my least confident product and the most expensive. The products are done but are still with the manufacturer. At this time of the year, it is difficult contacting the manufacturer and freight forwarders.

My plan is to only ship portion of it after Chinese New Year (when shipping rates are lower), and store the remainder in a Freight Forwarder warehouse in Shenzhen. Storing in a China Warehouse is relatively cheap, and shipping rates are the lowest in May and June.

Like I said earlier, I am not confident in being able to sell so many items within 6 months (Amazon will raise storage fee after 6 months). So I will only send the remainder if the first batch can sell out.

Again, the manufacturer representative wasn’t as prompt in replying especially during this time of the year when most offices are closed. She did not always answer my questions (via email or Wechat). And right after the products are completed, she was unexpectedly hospitalized (with no one else whom I can contact).

 

 

My thoughts

Most people would want to ship all these goods as early as possible. After all, they are still paying the monthly fee for their professional accounts at Amazon, even if they have nothing there in the fulfillment centers. However, for me, there are several reasons why I did not opt to ship all of product 3 now.

Firstly, the shipping rates will keep increasing (and stay high) until Chinese New Year.

Second, I didn’t really want too many products at the start. I wanted to pace myself. Frankly, I really did not know what to expect. Doing Amazon FBA is capital intensive, especially at the beginning. Yes, if you have USD 40,000 to spare, you can scale very fast. However, not forgetting, if you make a mistake, you tend to repeat the same mistake for all the products.

Having said that, yes capital intensive at the beginning. Most people would think that the initial cost of doing the research, purchasing the product, and shipping it over would be just it…. However, for new sellers introducing a new brand and product, there are subsequent costs in promoting the product. This would include the cost of advertising, giving out discounted products, and increased storage fee (after 6 months) or disposal fee if you can’t sell most of your products (eg. failed products). This subsequent running cost is an unknown to me. So this is also part of the reason why I didn’t want to scale so fast.

Oh yeah, there is a lot of waiting… it takes typically 3 weeks to a month for the products to be manufactured. Shortly after I started in late Sept 2016, it was the golden week holiday in China (and none of the manufacturers were working). Then it was the new restriction by Amazon that disallows new sellers from shipping goods to their fulfillment centers from early Oct to 19 Dec 2016. After that, we have the Christmas holidays, new year holiday … apparently, some of the manufacturer staffs were on leave. The manufacturer representative for Product 3 is on leave until after CNY! It is definitely harder to coordinate during this period.

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You need to spend time researching for the right product as well (cost study, study your competitors, study the market demand etc)….. Time needed to ship the product and slowly launch the product. They just don’t happen overnight. Definitely not passive at the beginning.

On hindsight, firstly, I did not really try hard to differentiate my products (from the competitors). I guess I am using these launches as a test to get myself familiarize with the system. I did spend time researching the price and doing a customized packaging, uploading new photos, and detailed descriptions.

Secondly, I should have opted for heavier items with a higher price range. This is taking a more contrarian position, and would help to minimize the competitions from other new sellers. New sellers tend to go for lower price and lighter items. Yes – the starting out cost is less. However, given the Amazon fees and advertising cost, and the fierce competition, the chance of making any profit is lesser.

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Well, I have managed to reach out to a few Amazon FBA Singaporean sellers. One of them is a 30-year-old guy (who is probably a real estate agent). He has also just joined Amazon in Oct 2016. He is going to launch 9000 items (15 SKUs). Actually, they are all similar products, but in 15 variations. And he has spent close to 6 figures for the launch. He seems pretty confident in getting sales (after having done his research). He intends to store most of his products in an LA warehouse and ship them to the Amazon fulfillment centers on his request. In comparison to him, I guess I was just taking baby steps.

For others, they have made some profits while one is hoping for profits in his next batch.

 

Tax

Yup, a serious and boring subject. I was quite worried about it and actually asked people on the seller central forum. There are a lot of conflicting views on non-US Citizens’ obligations on Sales Tax.

Tested out a few tax paying platforms. However, I guess these are not for non-US Citizens as they typically require a US Bank account with a US billing address.

Downloaded some of the forms such as 1040NR and Schedule C to familiarize me with them. Will try to contact accountants in Singapore if required in the future.

For the Singaporeans whom I have contacted, they are typically not aware of EIN, ITIN, 1040NR, Schedule C or Sales Tax. A few of them have been selling for a couple of years now.

I reckon the EIN and a registered agent (with a US address) would be critical if you are shipping via sea using a customs agent. eg. when you start shipping bigger and heavier items.

 

Moving forward

As for me, I do have other potential products lined up. 2 of them are variations of the above-mentioned products. One is a totally different product. However, I will only proceed if things turn out ok.. fingers crossed. Yeah, it is a slow process….

It has been a steep learning curve for me for the past two months. In theory, buying and selling online is relatively simple. However, there are really a lot of ‘moving parts’ in coordinating. And issues popped up unexpectedly.

Nevertheless, I will be moving on to the next phase of selling and promoting my products.

Don’t really want to spend much more for now. My overall net worth would have been much better for the end of 2016, if not for the amount I spent for the inventories (bound for Amazon USA).

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The numbers game

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It is near the end of the year, and it is time to take stock.

Net worth:

a) Stock portfolio.

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The portfolio has been positive so far for the year. 3 stocks have been delisted, and out of the 3, I have realised profits for 2 of them.

Frankly speaking, I would have much rather held on to these stocks for the long term especially Nirvana Asia. Nevertheless, not a bad result overall.

 

b) P2P loans and Invoice Financing

This is a rather disappointing portfolio. See below.

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Perhaps I was expecting better performance given the hype surrounding P2P loan platforms at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, even after including the P2P loans defaults, the portfolio still has a net profit. Hopefully, there are no more confirmed defaults.

Moving forward, my experience with Invoice Financing has however been positive so far.

 

 

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Selling via Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – Status update (Part 5)

You can read my previous post on recent updates here and Part 4 here.

Ok, just a quick update. For Product 1, all the physical products are completed. I have fully paid the manufacturer. I have 5 cartons with the manufacturer now. See below.

Currently, I have 5 cartons with the manufacturer now. See below. I consider this one of the key milestones.

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Each item in the carton has their own individual FNSKU barcode affixed at the back. My contact person from the manufacturer has taken a few photos (as well as 2 videos) of the individual products and case packed items in the cartons to show me. Basically, the items are neatly stacked in the cartons and protected by bubble wrap.

Now I am currently getting a final quotation from a freight forwarder/custom agent. Most likely I will be shipping via Air Express (either via the manufacturer or the freight forwarder). I have to wait until Monday night due to the time difference of the working hours of the freight forwarder in the US.

The shipping cost during this period (4th quarter and holiday period) has increased, which is unavoidable.

I have read articles highlighting that goods shipped during this period to Amazon might get lost or misplaced leading to delays due to the large number of items Amazon receive during this period. Hope this doesn’t happen to my goods.

I have to wait until after 19 Dec 2016, before I print the shipping label via my Seller Central Account. And obtain the address of the Amazon Fulfillment Centre I will be shipping my goods to.

The staff from this manufacturer has been very cooperative and very prompt in replying. Except for the initial mistake in misprinting the package design, she has been extremely helpful and proactive. We have used the chat in Alibaba, email and Whatsapp (recently). She even tried to call me via Whatsapp. Oh yeah, I have recently added the Wechat App in my smartphone.

I haven’t been doing much after initiating the 3 orders via Trade Assurance in Alibaba. Spent lots of time with my family during this period. I guess I didn’t want to go further into the research phase for new products and look forward to the next phase of shipping the goods and promoting the products in Amazon, so see how things pan out.

I did spend some time tweaking the listing pages and the images. But that is about it. Oh yeah, in the meantime I did listen to podcasts and watch some Youtube videos pertaining to Amazon FBA Private Label.

For Product 2, due to my changes in the sticker design, the production end date is postponed to 21 Dec 2016. For that product, as there are fewer items and the shipping cost doesn’t really cost a lot (not much incentive to look for other freight forwarders), the manufacturer will be shipping directly to USA Amazon for me. The time needed for shipping it is also longer – if I am not wrong 20 days.

Base on my research, I have a feeling that Product 2 might be more successful. Both in terms of pricing (price vs cost) and the number of items bought each month (base on what I can see from similar items listed on Amazon).

On a side note, I have yet to obtain the approval for my ITIN application with the USA IRS. I have read online that it can take a couple of months for approval.

 

 

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Recent updates

Well, it is close to the end of the year 2016 and this post will be a short summary of my different endeavors for this year.

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1) Stock portfolio

I am pretty much hands-off for my portfolio in recent months. The portfolio has been performing ok so far. Excluding those stocks which have been delisted, so far, for the overall value of the portfolio, I have an overall unrealised profit of 7%.

I have recently added a stock (Fu Yuan Shou) to my portfolio. It is a deathcare company based in China and I have initiated  a small position in it.

2) P2P loans and Invoice financing

I have withdrawn most of the cash amount from the platforms in this portfolio. However, I did continue to make some small investment in invoice financing loans. So far with the automated financing features in some of these platforms, I can be pretty hands-off. In addition, the amount invested in each loan is relatively small.

Yup, I did continue to make some small investment in invoice financing loans infrequently. I do prefer these secured loans over the unsecured P2P loans (which the platforms stopped issuing due to MAS regulations).

Invoice financing loans as compared to P2P loans typically have shorter tenure (1 to 2 months) and lower interest.

So far, my experience with invoice financing loans is alright so far. Other than the occasional late repayment (whereby I still get the late repayment interest) – most of the loans are successfully closed.

So far with the automated financing features in some of these platforms, I can be pretty hands-off. In addition, the amount invested in each loan are also pretty low (few hundreds) – I will probably get a few dollars from these after each month.

The overall portfolio for the year has registered a low 4 figure profit. This disappointing result is attributed to 2 loans that have defaulted – the overall interest collected might have been much much higher if not for these defaults. Figure wise from an investment vs return point of view, I probably would have earned more passive income via dividend stocks for the amount I have invested in these loans. Indeed, it is not exactly profitable as compared to the more stable dividend stocks (however then again, stocks have their own risks).

Nevertheless, it has always been a learning process for me, and I consider myself lucky to receive some profits.

3) Amazon FBA Private Label

As a rookie trying out, I don’t really consider this an investment – more like an experiment.

As I can’t ship any inventory to Amazon prior to 19 Dec 2016, so far, financially it has been one way only – which is out. I have been only spending.

I intend to list 3 products (eg. 3 nos. of FNSKU). I did spend a lot of time (and / or money) on 5 other products.

Yup, other than these 3 products, there is actually a 4th product that I invested a lot of time and money. I did the design for the package, even did an ebook, spent money on samples and design etc. However, after doing all these, I started revisiting my thought process on why I chose this product in the first place. I also did a review on the competition in Amazon. I realized that the selling price of these products on Amazon are not really high.

Yes, there are a lot of sellers doing really well every month eg. selling 100 to 600++ items per month, but there are also a lot of sellers selling less than 5 items per month. And base on the amount I need to spend to buy in bulk, and ship to the USA, and also after factoring the processing / shipment fee from Amazon – there is hardly any profit left. Oh yeah, I did notice that the selling price of some these products dropped recently (yes selling price fluctuates). I guess some sellers are just offloading their inventory or there is just no demand for these items.

In addition, as a new seller, I would probably need to spend money on PPC (Pay per click) campaigns in Amazon to bring my product nearer to the shoppers (most shoppers won’t browse to the last page to look at my product), and I probably had to give out a number of these products for free or at a heavily discounted price in the hope that I can get some reviews. Of course with the recent October regulation from Amazon, the customers receiving these heavily discounted items are not obligated to leave any reviews – so yes, I would probably get fewer reviews for every X no. of products I give out.

And on top of that, if I end up being one of those that sell less than 5 units per month, I would have to factor in storage fee from Amazon, which will exponentially increase after the 6th month. The fee is also dependent on the volume of my inventory.

Yup – I am like this worst case scenario guy. And yes, the money loss might not be just the amount you spent initially.

So back to that 4th product. Yes although I did spend a decent amount of money (in USD terms) and time on it, however, I think it is best not to be too emotionally attached to it. And view the situation rationally and not to proceed with it.

Opportunities will always come another time.

As for the 3 products I have chosen, I did follow the classic metrics (see below) recommended by many sellers online:

  1. Items within the USD 10 to 75 selling price (These are considered ‘impulse buying’ items whereby shoppers typically don’t spend much time thinking or researching prior to buying. However, beyond that range eg. USD 75 or more… they will probably research more before making a commitment. For items lower than USD 10, after factoring the shipment cost and Amazon fee, the profit margins are typically too low to be worth the effort).
  2. Non-breakable or perishable items. Glass, porcelain items etc that can break are not advisable. There is a chance that the customers would receive a broken item and leave a negative review on your listing. In the case of perishable items (eg. food)- for beginners who are unfamiliar, it is best to stay out of this.
  3. Items that are simple. Not electronics items and not consisting of many parts. The more parts you have, the more potential issues you have. And for someone like me who is not familiar with tech gadgets – it is best to stay out of them.
  4. Items that are below 2 pounds in weight. If I remember correctly, I think Amazon has a policy of imposing a higher fee for items beyond that weight and it would be advisable to avoid this. Also as a beginner, it would also be advisable to start with Express Air shipment as compared to shipping via sea (which is more complicated and takes longer time to ship). For lower weight item, it would typically make more financial sense to ship via air.
  5. Items that are a commodity and not branded. I do not want to get into any copyright infringement issues as I am not an authorized distributor of any brands.
  6. Items that typically have a few sellers selling and is not dominated by a particular brand. For instance, if I go through the listing, and I realized that the top 3 sellers are taking in the majority of the sales (1000+++) because of their premium brand while the rest are struggling to make less than 5 sales a month – it would be advisable to stay out. Well, to be frank, in retrospect, I haven’t been that diligent in this aspect — as I noticed some of the products I am listing are dominated by major established brands.
  7. The top three sellers have less than 300 reviews. The remaining sellers in the first page have less than 50 reviews. The lower the number of good reviews your competitors have, the more chance you get (in inching up the ranks). You probably have a higher chance of getting more reviews than them. Nevertheless, it was stated by Amazon that the optimum number of reviews one should try to get is 16. Beyond that, according to them, it makes no difference. Eg. a shopper is equally likely to buy a product from a listing with 16 reviews as compared to a product on a listing with 300 reviews. Well – quantity is one thing, the major factor here is also the quality of the reviews (good and well-detailed reviews with videos are a blessing).
  8. Items that are a commodity but are not easily found in your neighborhood malls, supermarts or provision shops. I guess in the United States, for some areas, it makes more sense to buy things online and get people to deliver them to you, as compared to making a trip down to the nearest Walmart (which could mean a few miles away) – it is just not worth the time and effort. Also for some products, it is hard to find in your typical hypermarts. They could be bespoke items that only a few small specialty shops sell. On the flipside, I would avoid common items like mugs, water bottles, clothes…. which is found everywhere.

I think there are more points – but this is what I can remember so far. Other than these, the long tail keywords, descriptions, title, and images in the listing all play a big part as well.

To be frank I spend a lot of time fiddling with the images – photoshopping and using Fotofuze to make the images nicer. Lifestyle images or action images are great (but I did not want to spend on them yet). I like to play with the images. Tweaking the descriptions a bit here and there…

Actually being the nerd that I am, and the contrarian investor that I can sometimes be… there is a flip side to these guidelines.

For instance:

1) I have often heard about going for higher price items … the best price range is USD 30. Why so. Firstly, your profit margin will be bigger, and with that, you can spend more on PPC campaigns / advertising. Note: the cost of these would probably be the same for a lower price item. But for lower price items the actual profit margin amount is relatively low. So you can’t spend as much.

So in a way, it gives you more flexibility to scale.

Also, you could potentially avoid a lot of competitions. Most people like to start out with lower price items (and yours truly is one of them). Why so? Because we don’t want to risk much. Typically the higher the selling price, the higher the purchase price (and shipment cost – as these higher price items are typically bigger and heavier although it is not a given and there are exceptions. However, I have yet to find one).

Of course, you are taking a bigger risk. I sense that typically the purchase price + shipment cost could be within 20% to 40% of the actual selling price. So let’s say, the selling price is USD 30 so you could be spending USD 10 per product initially just to ship it to Amazon. And if you consider the MOQ (min order quantity) dictated by the manufacturer which could be 1,000.. you could potentially be spending USD10,000 on just one product. And that is just your initial investment (not counting the advertising / Amazon fees yet). Well having said that I do find that the higher the purchase price, generally you can ask for lower MOQ from the manufacturers.

2) There are people who advocate going for heavier items. Because again, these would eliminate most of the competitors who typically go for lower weight items. Shipping via sea would then make more economical sense. Here the EIN is critical. And getting a good freight forwarder cum Custom agent familiar with shipping to USA Amazon Fulfillment Centres is important.

So far for all the 3 products I am intending to sell, I have a profit margin of around 30%. Eg. Profit / Selling price

Profit = Selling price – Cost of product from manufacturer – Cost of shipment to the USA – Amazon fees (shipping + processing + storage)

However, they are not in the USD 30 selling price range and above. So for actual profit figure wise – it isn’t much per item.

Yes, I am reluctant to take a bigger risk. Which is perhaps a mistake? Yeah, rookie here.

Then again, there is like this imaginary psychological line I made in my mind. I want a ‘passive’ income stream and yes I will put in the effort as much as I can afford. But I do not want it to dictate my life and consume my time totally.

Yes, I will set aside time as much as I can (during my spare time) to do this, but I am not full time into it. There are people out there who do this full time (and earning big bucks), and I am just not one of them. I have a full-time job and I have my family.

If you listen to some of the online podcasts or read the articles online by some of these sellers – they will tell you that if you think that you can succeed with minimum effort with e-commerce (like sipping from a tall glass of chilled cocktail and lying on the beach with a laptop),  you are wrong.  And they are right. A lot of effort is required for this. Everyone can do it, but not everyone wants to do it.

Even if your product turns out to be hot selling at the beginning – it might not stay that way in the future as there could be new competitors etc. It just doesn’t stop after you shipped the product.

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Oh yes, I did mention that I am a worst case scenario kind of guy… So in the event that I can’t sell any of these products at all (despite all my efforts and my investments in PPC campaigns / promotions or giving out heavily discounted items) and is left with a huge inventory in Amazon warehouse which is costing me a bomb every month on storage fee -> I would probably have to sell these off at a heavily discounted price (at a huge loss) or give these away for free.

For any product listed on Amazon, I find very contrasting performance for the different individual sellers.

There are people who make 600 to 1000++ sales per month while other barely make less than 5 sales per month (even on the first page).

Then there are sellers with less than 10 items available while others have 1000++ items stored in Amazon fulfillment centers.

For some items, it really is like a ‘winner takes all’ situation.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Portfolio | 9 Comments

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.

 

 

Posted in Super Group | 3 Comments

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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