Everything Amazon Booksellers Should Know About the Buy Box

Used Books Buy Box

What is the Buy Box?

The Buy Box is the section on the Amazon product page that allows you to purchase an item with a single click. If an item can be sold in both Used and New conditions, there will often be multiple Buy Boxes; one for Used offers and one for New offers.

Used Buy Box:

Amazon FBA
Used Buy Box

New Buy Box:

Amazon FBA
New Buy Box

There is also a Buy Box on the Amazon mobile app:

Amazon FBA

Why is winning the Buy Box important?

Let’s say you went to Amazon’s website to buy a used copy of the Chemistry textbook shown in the previous screenshots. Let’s also say you have Amazon Prime, and need to buy a Prime-eligible offer for the 2-day shipping. You have two options:

  1. You could purchase the offer in the Buy Box. There are a few reasons you might do this:
    1. This offer is prominently displayed in the middle of the screen.
    2. It’s most likely the cheapest Prime offer available.
    3. It has a tantalizing “Buy Now” button, which lets you to buy the book in a single click and promptly get on with your day.
  2. You could click on the small blue letters at the bottom of the screen: “47 Used from $128.83.” There are a couple of reasons you might not do this:
    1. These letters are so small and out of the way that you might not even register their existence.
    2. If you’re familiar with the Amazon shopping experience, you’ll know that those cheaper offers almost certainly don’t have 2-day Prime shipping, so you won’t bother checking.

If you have Amazon Prime and need 2-day shipping, there’s a good chance you’ll take the path of least resistance and click “Buy Now” on whichever offer holds the Buy Box. And many of Amazon’s more than 100 million Prime subscribers would do the same.

How do you win the Buy Box?

So we’ve established that many buyers will simply purchase whichever offer holds the Buy Box without a second thought. Therefore, anyone selling on Amazon should be doing all they can to get their offer into the Buy Box.

But there are a bunch of offers to contend with. As we just saw, there are 46 other used offers available. And only one of those can hold the Buy Box at any given time. In the case of this chemistry book, a Prime offer for $198.92 holds the Buy Box.

You probably noticed that $198.92 is not the lowest price, not by a long shot. The lowest offer is going for $128.83, plus $3.99 shipping. This is much less than the $198.92 offer holding the Buy Box. Why doesn’t Amazon give this offer the Buy Box?

Amazon FBA

Amazon doesn’t give this lower offer the Buy Box because it isn’t fulfilled by Amazon. The merchant stores the book in their own facility, and ships the offer themselves. Amazon almost always gives the Buy Box to Prime-eligible FBA offers over merchant fulfilled offers. Amazon gives FBA offers Buy Box priority for a few reasons:

  • Amazon’s fulfillment centers have a limited amount of storage space. Amazon wants to move the items in these warehouses as fast as possible, so they give them the Buy Box so they sell quickly.
  • Prime offers often sell for considerably more than non-Prime offers, as evidenced by the $70 price differential in this example. Amazon makes more money if a customer purchases a more expensive Prime product, so they give FBA offers the Buy Box.
  • Amazon wants to promote their yearly Prime subscription. Placing FBA products and the associated Prime logo in front of consumers who haven’t yet subscribed to Prime may subtly sway them to subscribe.

So that’s why the relatively cheap $128 offer doesn’t hold the Buy Box. But there are quite a few FBA sellers attempting to nab the next sale. Take a look at the Prime offers:

Amazon FBA

There are a few different sellers attempting to sell their copies of this textbook. Each of these sellers wants the next sale. But only one (the offer from seller RentU) holds the Buy Box.

Why does RentU get the Buy Box over the other offers?

To figure this out, let’s take a look at the the differences between the Buy Box holder (RentU) and the second-lowest offer (Discount Books).

  • RentU has the cheapest offer, at $198.92. Discount Books’s offer is $198.99. This is a difference of a mere 7 cents, yet RentU holds the Buy Box.
  • RentU has a feedback rating of 92%. Discount Books has a feedback rating of 83%. RentU has a considerably better feedback rating.
  • RentU’s offer is in Acceptable condition. Discount Books is selling a copy in Good condition. RentU has the worse book, yet they still hold the Buy Box.
  • RentU’s offer is not currently in stock and available for shipment. It is scheduled to be in stock on September 10, which is 10 days away from the date I checked this page. The offer from Discount Books is currently in stock, and ready to be shipped immediately upon purchase. And yet, despite the fact that purchasing RentU’s book would mean not receiving the book for another 2 weeks, RentU holds the Buy Box.

What does this teach us?

Well, the most important takeaway is that price is paramount in determining who holds the Buy Box. If your FBA offer is the cheapest FBA offer, you are almost guaranteed the Buy Box. This goes for every item you can sell on Amazon. But there are exceptions; I say almost guaranteed for a reason.

One exception is your feedback rating. If you were selling a Prime copy of this book for $50, but had a feedback rating of 65%, RentU’s $192 offer would still get the Buy Box. A poor feedback rating indicates a high likelihood that the customer will be dissatisfied with their purchase, and so Amazon prevents offers from sellers with poor feedback ratings from winning the Buy Box.

But there is a threshold at which feedback ceases to matter. Amazon doesn’t release information on how they determine who gets the Buy Box, so this is speculation, but countless hours of analyzing Amazon product pages leads me to believe this threshold is somewhere around 80%.

If a seller with an 80% rating has an offer 1 cent below that of a seller with a 99% rating, the 80% seller will get the Buy Box because they are above the threshold and have the lowest offer.

This brings us to the effect of used item condition (Acceptable/Good/Very Good/Like New) on Buy Box potential.

In my experience, the condition of an item only comes into play if two offers have the same price. If two FBA sellers above the feedback threshold are tied for the lowest offer, the offer with the better condition will get the Buy Box. In this example, if Discount Books matched RentU’s offer of $198.92, they would likely get the Buy Box. They are above the feedback threshold and have a Good copy, whereas RentU’s copy is only Acceptable.

And finally, we have the time until products are in stock and ready for shipment. This doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest when it comes to winning the Buy Box.

As our example shows, RentU’s copy is 10 days away from even being ready for shipment, but still wins the Buy Box over an offer that is in better condition, cost a few pennies more, and will ship immediately upon purchase. It’s certainly possible that someone who purchases RentU’s offer will end up cancelling once they realize they won’t be getting the product for another 2 weeks, but it’s also very possible they won’t think twice about it, and RentU will get the sale despite their product being back-ordered.

 

Steve Rajeckas

Hi! I'm Steve. I've been selling books using Amazon's fulfillment service for more than two years. I love learning new things about the online bookselling world, and I hope my tips help you build and expand your own bookselling business.

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