1P vs. 3P: Selling on Walmart and Amazon

When you decide to sell on Amazon or Walmart - or both - there are several things to consider. One of the most important decisions is whether you want to maintain a first-party (1P) or third-party (3P) relationship with your retailers and suppliers.

Each provides unique pros and cons and is best suited for particular types of businesses and business models.

1P vs. 3P: Selling on Walmart and Amazon

1. What is 1P? 

A 1P relationship means whichever marketplace you work with is the retailer, and the brand becomes a wholesale supplier. For example, if you want to supply your product line to Walmart but want to sell on Amazon, Walmart is your 1P.

You could also choose to supply to both Amazon and Walmart, and they would be 1Ps in this scenario. 

2. What is 3P?

A 3P relationship means the brand is the retailer, and the brand sells direct to consumers (D2C) from the marketplace. For example, if you wanted to sell on Walmart but have Amazon keep your inventory in their warehouses, Walmart would be a 3P.

You could also choose to hold inventory in the warehouses of both companies and sell on both platforms. In this scenario, both Walmart and Amazon would be 3Ps. Walmart and Amazon treat 1P and 3P relationships differently. Let's look at some of the nuances that make working with either unique.

1P vs. 3P on Walmart and Amazon

1P vs. 3P: Selling on Walmart and Amazon

While it's fully legal to use Amazon to warehouse goods to sell on Amazon, it's a risky business. Think about it from a logistics perspective. If you were running a marketplace, would you want to worry about whether or not some other warehousing company would deliver goods to your customers when needed? Right. I bet you wouldn't.

Neither do Amazon or Walmart. They want control over the relationship between marketplace and supplier. So if you take the risk of using one as a 1P and the other as a 3P, be aware it could result in your products getting pulled from the marketplaces.

In fact, it's almost impossible to pull off this combination anymore as both platforms aren't accommodating for the combination. It's “enter at your own risk”.

And, for most eCommerce sellers, that risk doesn't isn't worth the potential of reward. Especially if you're working with tight margins. A limited budget won't cover the shortfalls or inventory overruns that could result if price wars don't happen between Amazon and Walmart. 

And let's be honest: They'll do what they want. 

It would be best if you didn't depend on them to get in a price war to keep things comfortable for you as a seller. So if this isn't how you should sell on Amazon and Walmart, how should you sell?

3. How to Sell on Walmart and Amazon 

Walmart and Amazon are different animals but massive players in the eCommerce world, nonetheless. The benefit of selling on these platforms depends on where your brand is in its lifecycle and what you're looking to achieve.

Benefits of Selling on Walmart

Walmart is a "smaller" marketplace compared to Amazon but still offers a tremendous opportunity for your business. With the right marketing mix, your product line can get great exposure on Walmart due to generally lighter competition (at least in some product categories).

The inverse can often be true on Amazon. At times, it seems like no matter how well-intentioned and positioned your marketing and advertising; it doesn't matter. Purely because there are so many products with which you're competing.

There are three primary benefits of selling on Walmart:

1. There aren't any regular fees, like on Amazon

2. There aren't any SKU minimums or maximums like you may see in some product categories on Amazon, and 

3. Your products have the potential to reach a massive audience (Walmart averages well over 100 million unique visitors a month to their website) with comparatively light competition

With Walmart, you have the option to become a Drop Ship Vendor.

What is a Walmart DSV: Drop Ship Vendor

Walmart's Drop Ship Vendor (DSV) program essentially allows you to become a direct-to-consumer seller rather than a supplier. It's not available to everyone, however.

Walmart restricts the DSV program to high-volume suppliers who meet specific requirements. If you meet these requirements, you then have to secure an invitation from a Walmart.com Category Specialist. This is a fancy designation for their buyers.

DSVs have the ability to update inventory and manage orders directly in Walmart's Supplier Center to make things easy. It's possible to be both a Walmart Marketplace Seller and a DSV. But you have to offer items as one or the other. You can't double-dip and sell the same item via both platforms.

Drawbacks of Selling on Walmart 

While Walmart is smaller than Amazon, they're also slightly more restrictive than the e-commerce giant regarding who can sell on the platform.

There are three main drawbacks of selling on Walmart.com:

1. Everything needs approval - your brand's appearance and performance, how you fulfill orders, your customer experience, and prices will all be evaluated before you are approved

2. You have to be very careful about the price points of your product mix. Never position something in your mix at a lower price than it is on another marketplace. This will get you a first-class ticket to being banned, and

3. Walmart does not provide fulfillment for 3P sellers. If you decide to go 3P, you're on your own.

How does this compare to Amazon?

Benefits of Selling on Amazon 

The benefits of selling on Amazon are well-documented, so we won't spend too much time on them here. After all, if you're reading this article, you've experienced them.

Here are a few:

1. Its reputation as the world's premier eCommerce platform

2. The massive website traffic that comes to the site every month, which is compounding month-over-month

3. The relative ease of user experience (UX), which they've sunk millions of dollars into, and

4. Automation, automation, automation - everything you would have had to do a few decades ago to build a brick-and-mortar business has been automated by Amazon. Everything.

The drawbacks of selling on Amazon are more nuanced but are enough to help people decide against it.

Drawbacks of Selling on Amazon

You're probably equally familiar with the drawbacks of selling on Amazon, so we'll cover them quickly.

Here are a few:

1. There are fees for fees on fees. A good portion of Amazon's business model is based on the fees you pay as a seller.

2. There's a ton of competition. Everyone is selling on Amazon these days, whether as a side hustle or a full-time business.

3. Amazon does things their way, and if you want to play the game, you do things Amazon's way, and

4. Inventory management can be a bear. You'll need to develop your own tracking mechanisms to augment what Amazon provides to stay on top of the merchandise you warehouse and sell.

When you've decided on the platform, the next step is to make a firm decision between 1P and 3P.

4. How to Decide If 1P or 3P on Amazon is Better for You?

Your unique business model and brand maturity are essential to decide if a 1P or 3P relationship with Amazon is best for you.

1P vs. 3P: Selling on Walmart and Amazon

How Does Amazon 1P Work?

With 1P, Amazon is the "retailer," and you are an inventory supplier to Amazon. In this relationship, Amazon has to invite you directly. To get things kicked off, they will send you a purchase order (PO), and you fulfill what's required of that PO by shipping the product directly to Amazon.

At this point, Amazon becomes the "owner" of your products, and they set price points, fees, and other logistics for product handling.

As a 1P seller on Amazon, you use their Vendor Central platform. It's different from the traditional Seller Central platform, which most Amazon sellers use. In Vendor Central, you can check how your POs are being processed, get a glimpse at how your products are performing and costs versus expenses as a 1P seller.

How Does Amazon 3P Work?

The 3P selling model flips everything. You are the retailer, and you sell products D2C via Amazon. You use Seller Central, the standard Amazon selling platform, to build product pages and sell directly to your customers, check on orders and monitor warehouse inventory.

As a 3P seller, you have full control of everything going on with your business. You can decide whether you want to use Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM) or Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM). There's also the option to offer products via Amazon Prime if you want to go that route.

Benefits of Amazon 1P and 3P

With Amazon 1P, it's easy to track all of your invoices because Amazon sends them to you on a set schedule every month. You don't have to do the heavy lifting of designing product pages because Amazon's design team takes care of this for you.

Since you're selling through the Amazon platform with them as the retailer, you earn trust through Amazon by proxy. Being "one" with Amazon gains you access to their deep mix of advertising opportunities.

In general, it's a lighter lift. There isn't as much work to do daily to ensure the business is standing upright because Amazon has taken that off your hands.

With Amazon 3P, you have greater control over your business, in general. It's much easier to tweak prices to stay competitive and react to the market. This ability to react naturally leads to improved profit margins along the way.

This business control extends to your ability to shape your Amazon business's brand as you see fit. Because you aren't piggybacking off Amazon's brand - but are instead building your own - it's easier to build up product launches and incentivize your one-off customers to become repeat customers. When you're building these incentives into your business, you're building trust at the same time, which has the longer-term payoff versus a one-time sale that's purely transactional.

It's not all sunshine and daffodils, however.

There are some disadvantages of 1P and 3P on Amazon, which are important to weigh as well.

Drawbacks of Amazon 1P and 3P

When you decide to use Amazon 1P, you abandon any control over your pricing structure. Naturally, this can lead to lower margins because you cannot make the changes necessary to tweak your prices to react to changes in the market.

Chargebacks can be more common because you're always having to maintain stock levels and fulfill orders quickly. If you slip behind, chargebacks get expensive quickly.

Last but hardly least, you're 100% dependent Amazon will do what they say they will when it comes to fulfilling purchase orders. If they don't, you get left in the lurch. In a situation where there's a demand for the products in your line but no inventory there to fulfill the orders.

With 3P, you'll work some long hours. The buck stops with you, and if you don't do something, it doesn't get done. You'll be the creative team, pricing team, and product team, and brand reputation all wrapped into one. Oh yeah, and fees. Lots and lots of fees.

The Future of 1P and 3P Amazon Selling Solutions 

Amazon isn't a charity. They're always going to make moves from a business perspective that offers them the best chance to increase revenue.

A continued slow progression from onboarding more 3P sellers rather than 1P sellers is one of these moves. They can make more money with more people using the 3P model than they can 1P, so it's reasonable to assume that continued support for 1P will start to wane as they gently push people toward 3P.

If Amazon can continue to shift more people to 3P, they can continually decrease inventory warehousing costs while still guaranteeing quick deliveries through their own fulfillment services. Their willingness to hold slow-moving products for long periods is also going to wane.

If they stay willing to hold slow-moving inventory for extended time periods, the costs they pass on to 1P Amazon sellers will be substantial.

5. In Conclusion

Finding the right marketplace and supplier relationship as an eCommerce seller isn’t an easy proposition. There are a lot of factors to consider whether you want to stick with Walmart, try out Amazon, or have a presence on both. Ultimately it comes down to where your business is in its lifecycle, how much bandwidth you have to devote to it, and what you want to make it.

DataHawk’s robust suite of tools and resources helps Amazon and Walmart sellers to make these types of decisions all the time. See what we can do to help you in your journey by clicking here.

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