Why Amazon is wooing women to sell on its marketplace

August 21, 2016 10:00 AM

(Bloomberg)— Inc. is making an effort to woo more women entrepreneurs to its online marketplace, which attracts 300 million shoppers from 185 countries, by emphasizing the company’s global reach and tools for efficiently building a budding business.

The company made its appeal this week at its first Women’s Entrepreneur Conference, which drew 300 e-commerce merchants to Amazon’s global headquarters in Seattle. Amazon has hosted other events to help third-party merchants who sell goods on its marketplace, but this was the first specifically tailored to women.

Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, sees women-owned businesses, which are growing at five times the pace of business overall, as fuel for its online marketplace, said Peter Faricy, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide marketplace. About half of all goods sold on Amazon come from some 2 million third-party merchants, and promoting diversity among merchants helps broaden the inventory available.

“We want to focus on this high-growth segment,” Faricy said.

Selling goods on Amazon eliminates a lot of barriers to start businesses because merchants can outsource marketing, warehousing, packing and shipping to Amazon and focus on finding great products and building brands, said Maria Renz, Amazon’s vice president and technical adviser to founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Renz delivered a keynote speech at the event, which drew women whose businesses sell items in 25 product categories on Amazon’s marketplace.

“We’re very well suited to serve the needs of women entrepreneurs,” said Renz, who joined Amazon in 1999 and is one of its longest-serving employees. “We’re trying to allow entrepreneurs to define success on their own terms.”

Building relationships

The event featured speeches by Amazon sellers and executives and workshops to give women advice about expanding their businesses globally, monitoring their businesses from smartphones using an Amazon mobile app designed for sellers on the move, and how to stock adequate inventory and set prices heading into peak shopping times.

Events that bring business women together are important because many business success stories are built on relationships and mentoring, said Marla Malcolm Beck, who co-founded the beauty and spa retailer Bluemercury Inc. which she sold to Macy’s Inc. (No. 6 in the Top 500) for $210 million last year.

Beck, who heard Bezos talk about e-commerce while she was a student at Harvard Business School, was a featured speaker at Amazon’s event.

“A lot of entrepreneurship is role modeling,” she said. “There aren’t many female entrepreneurs who have built big companies who are role modeling.”

The conference also provided an external diversity initiative for Amazon, where more than 75 percent of the managers are men. Amazon’s total workforce is 61 percent male and 39 percent female, according to company reports.

Business marketplace

A key opportunity for women selling goods is Amazon’s new business marketplace, which launched last year and hit $1 billion in sales in May. The marketplace offers tractor parts, latex gloves, file folders and millions of other products needed in offices, factories, farms, hospitals, schools, and government agencies as businesses shift their supply shopping online. The marketplace has thus far attracted 400,000 registered business customers.

Marketplace sellers can register as women-owned businesses, which appeals to government agencies and their contractors that are required to maintain a certain percentage of their spending with women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses. The federal government spent $17.8 billion last year with women-owned businesses, said John Shoraka, associate administrator of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Government Contracting.

Conference attendee and speaker Day Martin epitomized the successful marketplace entrepreneur. She founded Stand Steady, which sells standing desks, in 2013 after getting injured in a car crash and having trouble finding a standing desk that didn’t cost thousands of dollars or require her to replace her entire cubicle. Her Fairfax, Va.-based company now has six employees and does millions in annual sales, mostly on Amazon, which also packs and ships the products for her.

Martin expects the business-to-business marketplace to represent 50% of her sales within the next few years, up from 15% now, as more businesses shift their supply spending online and look for women vendors.

“I love that Amazon put together this conference and helped us be an example for the next generation of girls so that when they become women they can be entrepreneurs and CEOs,” she said. “When we get more women involved in manufacturing and design, we get more solutions.”




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