Proudly Not an Amazon Seller

Oftentimes our customers ask us why our products are not sold on Amazon. The answer is simple, our products are not Amazon products. We say this proudly and here is why in a nutshell:

Platform economics force sellers to continually engage in new and innovative ways to cut corners (in order to reduce costs beyond what’s possible) to be able to compete and survive. At toe beans we put quality, safety, and raw material integrity first. We would not be able to design, manufacture and bring you products that truly improve the lives of your fur children via a platform in which shortcuts and trickery are an essential aspect of doing business.

We get it, shopping on Amazon is convenient, they have almost anything you could ever need or want, and if you're a prime member you get free shipping. I'm an Amazon shopper too... for some things. However, we also know the discerning pet parent that is looking for safe, high quality pet supplies, is willing to search the web for safer options.

To make the shopping experience on our website better, we offer free shipping on all products, no membership required, no minimum orders, no strings attached. We ensure our site is secure for processing payments, we even have a third party (trusted site) continually monitoring our site to ensure it's virus and malware free giving you a safe shopping experience. We also ensure our website is 508 compliant to meet the needs of differently-abled pet parents.

And of course we offer unique products with unique value propositions that are exclusively found on toe beans. None of this would be possible on Amazon while maintaining the highest standards of quality, safety, raw material integrity and environmental consciousness.

Selling on Amazon is so Easy Even 11-Year-olds Are Amazon Sellers

Let me be clear, at toe beans, not selling on Amazon is a strategic, intentional and well-informed decision. It is a critical element of our value proposition.

You may or may not know this, but selling on Amazon is one of the easiest things to do in eCommerce, if not the easiest. And when I say easy, I mean fifth-grade level easy.

Some years ago, my husband took a taxi home from the airport. On the way, the driver shared the story of how smart his 11-year-old was. His son had borrowed 50 bucks from him and about a month later he had turned that amount into $2,000!

How? By doing retail arbitrage on Amazon (e.g. buying products on sale in a brick-and-mortar store then reselling them for a higher price online). True story.

So, the next time you buy anything on Amazon, keep in mind that you may be buying from an 11-year-old using their parents’ identity to navigate the low-bar age requirements.

The truth is Amazon has made it incredibly easy to sell to the US consumer. The barriers to entry for sellers are almost non-existent. Basically, anybody can sell on Amazon, which can be a great thing but also a not-so-great one.

On the one hand, the US consumer enjoys the convenience of having an insurmountable variety of affordable products in one place. Millions of products can be purchased cheaply within a few clicks without having to visit multiple websites.

On the other hand, however, having no barriers can be bad for shoppers. Imposing no entry barriers to sellers means that literally anybody from anywhere (around the world) has access to you, the US consumer and along with that comes access to your personal data.

Not sure about you but knowing that a random seller in a third world country (or an 11-year-old right here in the US) has access to my personal data makes me a little uncomfortable.

For the average consumer looking for cheap products, Amazon’s marketplace is a great option. In contrast, for the knowledgeable and discerning one, perhaps not so much.

We have our own experience selling on Amazon. Several years ago, we sold some of our products on Amazon, so we talk from experience here. We soon came to the realization that to be able to deliver on our mission of improving the lives of every fur family member, we had to remove ourselves from the platform.

A Pay to Play Platform

I mentioned platform economics in the intro section, the main reason at the core of our intentional decision to not be an Amazon seller.

In 2018, Agility PR Solutions reported on a new study from Quartile that suggested that Amazon’s focus on sponsored placements was transforming the ecommerce platform into a “pay to play” arena where brands had to pay for ads to stand out in a competitive market.

The researchers at Quartile concluded that brands seeking top positions would need to ‘pay to play’ to gain them—or lag behind competitors willing to fall in line with Amazon’s current strategies.

Pay to play business models are neither new, nor inherently bad, in fact they are very common in ad platforms such as Facebook or Google.

Pay-to-play, sometimes pay-for-play or P2P, is a phrase used for a variety of situations in which money is exchanged for services or the privilege to engage in certain activities. The common denominator of all forms of pay-to-play is that one must pay to "get in the game", with the sports analogy frequently arising” - Wikipedia

Having to pay to be able to sell on Amazon comes with its own high costs to you, the shopper. You may think you are getting a good deal by buying cheap products but are you really?

Well, the truth is sometimes you do, but not always.

How Paying for Playing on Amazon Works

The way pay-to-play works on Amazon is very simple. Think, for instance, of two Amazon sellers selling dog collars on Amazon. According to the study above, in order to get and maintain top positions (high visibility) on Amazon these two sellers must pay for ads on Amz. Otherwise, their product listings would be buried on page 100 or simply not even shown to buyers.

These ads rely on a keyword bidding system. Say for example that one of the most used keywords people use to search for dog collars on Amazon is simply dog collars. These two sellers will pay for those keywords to earn the right to appear on the first line of results on Amazon.

Say for example, if seller A places a bid for $3 and seller B offers $2.9 for the right to appear on the first line of search results every time a shopper enters the keywords dog collars on Amazon, Seller A’s product would be shown to you first followed by Seller B’s.

You’ve probably seen those ads; they normally display at the top of the search results and are normally labeled as “sponsored.” Several other platforms are also adopting this model. The highest bidder - not the best product or perhaps the one with the best ratings - will win the first position with the highest visibility. That is, they will be shown to you before any other products. Even before those known to customers to be more popular. Obviously, having the highest visibility means higher odds of making the sale.

And so, to survive on the platform, over time these two sellers will engage in a never-ending and self-reinforcing feud of constantly seeking to outbid each other by placing higher and higher bids on any keywords consumers use when searching on Amazon.

Amazon makes sure sellers are aware of how much competitors have outbid them by keeping them informed about increases in keyword bids. Naturally nobody wants to lose that first spot, and everybody is constantly bidding higher and higher.

Multiply these dynamics times millions of products on the platform and do your math to have an idea of the tremendous revenue stream such model represents to Amazon. Today, very sophisticated software takes care of the outbidding process in real time. So, all is done on autopilot and with very limited effort.

How Paying for Playing on Amazon Impacts the Consumer

So, the name of the game is endless outbidding of competitors by placing higher and higher keyword bids.

Logically, such dynamics create an environment of diminishing returns for sellers as they find themselves facing higher and higher customer acquisition costs without the ability to increase prices.

As noted by the Federal Trade Commission, Amazon places a number of restrictions on sellers that limit their ability to increase prices to consumers. As a result, sellers are caught in a platform where total costs are constantly increasing (via higher and higher cost of bidding) while they are unable to increase prices to consumers.

So what? You may ask. All I care about is that they don’t increase costs to me, the buyer. Well, the problem is that nobody is in business to lose money. Amazon’s pay-to-play model forces sellers to get creative to maintain acceptable levels of profitability.

In a scenario where costs are constantly on the rise, sellers would normally react by adjusting prices accordingly. However, when price increases are not an option, given Amazon's restrictions on prices, the only way to make money is to find innovative ways to cut costs. This is where creativity comes into play.

Many sellers will resort to cutting corners, all sorts of them. Obviously, this will mean different things for each product but in general, this will come down to using lower and lower grade materials, forced or child labor, and other obscure tactics.

These dynamics have turned Amazon’s marketplace into a place where consumers may get (without noticing) lower and lower quality products manufactured overseas where forced labor isn’t an uncommon practice.

According to the US Department of Labor:

“There are reports of glove factories forcibly training and employing 1,500 to 2,000 ethnic minority adult workers with the government's support. Victim testimonies, news media, and think tanks report that factories, including for gloves, frequently engage in coercive recruitment; limit workers' freedom of movement and communication; and subject workers to constant surveillance, retribution for religious beliefs, exclusion from community and social life, and isolation.” | United States Bureau of International Labor Affairs

Low Quality Might be Fine for Commodities

Granted, not all consumers expect high quality from all products. Some consumers will always prefer cheap products to high quality products. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s all a matter of preference.

Products that are bought for their utility are a great example. Most consumers would not mind buying a pair of inexpensive garden scissors made overseas just to have to replace it a year later due to quality issues. Such products have an inherent low-quality expectation.

Amazon is a great place for commodities or oftentimes commoditized products. It’s no secret that most products on Amazon are cheaply made overseas or made in the USA with cheap raw materials sourced from overseas.

Normally these products boast statements such as “premium” without discussing the premium nature of the product itself throughout the product description, or “made” or “assembled” in the USA with “globally sourced ingredients or parts.” What bothers me about these claims is that at a glance you often see a US flag and assume it’s made in the US, when in reality it comes from overseas.

Why not just be transparent and say where things really come from… unless there is something you’re trying to hide because you think consumers are less likely to buy your product if they knew the intricate details on how and where it’s made.

Oftentimes these tactics are the result of pay-to-play platform economics. Further, many sellers have mastered the art of deception (which I talk often discussed in my blog) and have gotten extremely smart about disguising the actual origin of their raw materials behind fancy and catchy marketing statements.

At Toe Beans We Put Integrity and Quality of Ingredients First

In our opinion and based on our own experience selling on the platform, Amazon is far from being a trusted and consistent source of high quality, safe and non-toxic dog and cat products. That’s not to say that you may not find good dog and cat products there, but they are often buried among cheap, low-quality options.

Truth be told, the platform’s inherent strong dependency on overseas sellers puts in question the quality of the vast majority of products sold there. Especially when it comes to dog and cat products.

The risks to consumer health stemming from products manufactured overseas have been widely documented by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP), the University of Michigan, the Killino Law firm, and by many other reputable sources.

At toe-beans we focus on serving the needs of the discerning, well-informed and knowledgeable pet parent and their fur children. To do that we invest heavily in educating pet parents via our research-backed blog as well as in product research and development.

We believe every pet parent has the right to know with certainty three basic things about the products their fur children consume: who made them, where they were made as well as the specifics regarding raw materials such as where the raw materials come from and whether or not they are safe and free of contaminants and cancer causing substances.

This is why every single product listing on our site has a product anatomy image which provides the most complete list of specifications in the market today about each product. No other similar products provide such degree of  transparency and specificity regarding the make of our products. Check out all our product anatomies here.    

Every product in our small but continually expanding catalog (except for a handful – which make no deceiving “packaged in the US” or the like claims) is designed and manufactured in the USA with raw materials sourced from vetted US suppliers.

Our research, design, development, and manufacturing processes adhere to the highest standards of transparency, quality, and ethics. We also hold third party certifications such as the USDA Organic NOP, which requires third party verification of our supply chain and production processes.

Without exception, all our suppliers are handpicked based on corporate values alignment. We only work with suppliers with whom we share commonalities in terms of our core believes and corporate values. Particularly when it comes to supply chain transparency, quality and sustainability.

Every product delivered at your doorstep has a clear mission: To improve the life of your fur children or fur friends, whichever way you prefer to refer to them. Take some time to learn what other pet parents think of our products by picking a product and reading its reviews.

Healthy and Happy Dogs and Cats Make for Happier and Healthier People

Ingrained in our mission is the core belief that healthy and happy dogs and cats are key contributors to the well-being – both mental and physical- of their parents. We believe passionately in the power of love and joy animals bring.

We would be incapable of delivering on our mission by relying on global supply chains fraught with manufactures that thrive on human exploitation and oftentimes dangerous and toxic raw materials.

To offer unique, reliable, high-quality, safe, and non-toxic dog and cat supplies that improve lives, we need strong relations with high quality domestic supply sources along with a high degree of predictability in our total costs.

We would not be able to do that on Amazon where selling costs are an everyday moving target. The pay-to-play nature of the platform would constantly increase our costs (which given the high quality of our inputs are already high) thus forcing us to cut corners resulting in low quality and unsafe products. We simply won’t do that.

For the discerning, well-informed and quality-craving pet parent there is toe beans. For the rest, there is a great platform called Amazon and many similar ones.

Here is to longer-living, healthier, and happier dogs and cats!