Roughly a year since Amazon first debuted its new automated A+ template system in Europe, the first glimpse of the rumoured “A+ 2.0” update has surfaced unannounced on the company’s Amazon.it Vendor Central portal. The relative size and selection of their Italian operation makes it the perfect place to soft-launch a system that has, until now, been a victim of the growing importance of Amazon as the place to get products noticed by consumers.
This increasing demand to feature enhanced product content on the Amazon website was seemingly the driving force behind last year’s roll-out of self-service A+ templates for vendors. It’s likely that by implementing a new system, Amazon was hoping to transfer some of the content pressure (and cost) back to the vendors, in exchange for quicker QA and load times. In reality, the results have been mixed for both sides. The new template designs were soon found to be frustratingly inflexible, and a poor fit for many of the vast array of products now carried by the Amazon network across Europe and globally.
There was also a surprise in store for those unfortunate marketers tasked with getting content loaded to an entire range – the template system forced users to repeat the entire process for every single product submitted. Even now, after almost a year of continual operation, upload delays occur on a daily basis and most will attest to an inconsistent response as to what’s acceptable from country to country, category to category.
So, does A+ 2.0 fix these problems?
At the risk of jinxing ourselves, it certainly looks promising. Built using similar LightBox functionality to that we’ve seen implemented elsewhere across the Amazon family, A+ 2.0 seems to offer a great deal more flexibility whilst hopefully heralding both faster build and submission times.
Yes, that’s correct. You now have the option to build and submit the same A+ to multiple ASINs in one go, saving considerable time and resource. Instead of creating on an ASIN by ASIN basis, A+ 2.0 allows you to add multiple ASINs to a single “project”.
Not only that, but there is now an option to tweak individual A+ content for specific products. No longer will there be increased pressure to make pages as generic as possible to ensure that they fit on multiple products. With the A+ 2.0 system you get to create the basic shared A+ for all your selected products, and then drop down into each individual ASIN and add the specific text and features as necessitated by your product line-up.
It’s not a perfect system by any means. For example, when elements are created in the master they become locked in the individual pages, meaning that changing a word here and there isn’t possible without redoing the entire paragraph for each individual ASIN. However, it is a useful freedom to have, and could go a long way towards helping reduce customer returns due to ambiguously-worded generic content.
Rather than having to choose between the pre-built templates of the past, A+ 2.0 now gives you the option to customise your page by plugging in up to 5 “modules” – page sections laid out with combinations of headers, text, images, bullet points, and breakout boxes.
Pulling together a page is now a case of dragging and dropping the elements you want/need into the page layout and rearranging them as you require. In this way it is reminiscent of certain Webcollage systems, but on a much simpler and cleaner level. There’s also cost considerations to this approach, but we’ll cover those in more detail later.
Comparison tables done well
No, that’s not a typo. A+ 2.0 is the first self-service/template system that manages to make a half-decent job of one of the most fractious elements of any A+ page. We’ll run through the customisation options towards the end of this post.
Building a Page
Selecting an ASIN
Many aspects of the system do remain from version 1.0, but not without merit. Beginning the process of building an A+ page starts with a single product ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number), which the system then uses to pull back the Product Image, Title, and any marketing agreements that apply. It’s fast, and useful to get confirmation that the product is the intended one before the building process begins. However, there’s still no option to input ASINs in bulk, and there’s still a question mark hanging in the air over how quickly ASINs will pull through after they have been set up – something of key importance to any manufacturer looking to get full content coverage before a flagship product goes live.
Customising your template
As mentioned previously, you now have the option to customise your page by plugging in up to 5 “modules” – page sections laid out with combinations of headers, text, images, bullet points, and breakout boxes.
Adorably (or sickeningly, depending on your point of view), Amazon has decided to illustrate these layouts with incredibly persuasive content on the wonders of dog ownership. So, with cute/cloying trigger warning in effect, let’s take a closer look to see what’s on offer.
The modules are split into 3 categories: Headers, Features, and Advanced.
A good introduction to any product (even if it isn’t fuzzy Labrador puppy), Header 1 allows you a 285 x 285 main product image on the left, header/sub-header/paragraph in the centre, and a boxed-out bulleted list below. Interestingly, on the right you get breakout section with a single 230 x 100 header image followed by a header/paragraph/bulleted list – perfect for highlighting a larger product range, company bio, or simply your USP.
A large header and 300 x 300 hero picture on the left dominate this layout. In the centre, there’s room for another header and two sub-header/paragraph combos, whilst on the right there’s a text-only breakout box, with the option of up to two sub headers, a bulleted list and a paragraph.
We lose the larger page header on this module, but gain 3 sub-header/paragraph combos in the middle. The right-side section for this one features a bullet list in a grey box – perfect for adding some texture to an otherwise sparse page.
Simple – a large 300 x 300 image, a header, and a paragraph in your choice of alignment. Used alternatingly, they might be a good option for the centre sections of certain product pages.
Interesting additions to the line-up, these modules give any page creator access to one of the elements previously reserved for those vendors with large marketing budgets. A large hero image of 900 x 300 ensures your graphic will dominate the product page, and the choice of white or black overlay boxes adds a nice element of customisation whilst keeping it firmly on Amazon brand.
A layout we’re more accustomed to see on Amazon in twos or threes – this layout gives you the option of up to 4 images with accompanying paragraphs underneath each. This is a layout that’s hard to get right even in a bespoke A+ page, so to have it included as an option here is a real bonus. The image sizes are generous – 220 x 220 each – suggesting we might start to see a relaxation of Amazon’s famously strict page weight guidelines in the future.
A more familiar three-way-split. The images are full hero 300 x 300 size which might make them feel unbalanced above any amount of text that isn’t as significant.
Something that many have been longing for is a proper implementation of comparison tables, and it looks like this is what you get here. The key with comparison tables is customisation, and it seems like they’ve chosen enough options here to keep many of their vendors happy.
- Columns: 2 -7, including the title/header column. Yes, 2 column layout is seemingly available, although it remains to be seen as to whether this would get past QA.
- Rows: 1 – 10, not including image row
- Images: Up to 6, 150 x 300 each
- Cell contents: Either ticks, text or empty. No apparent word count limit on text per cell, but line breaks/paragraphs removed automatically
This module is essentially an editorial version of one of Amazon’s automated “Similar/Related Products” widgets. You get 4 images with titles, which when moused-over display a 300 x 300 version of the image, with header and accompanying paragraph.
Once you’re happy with the order of your modules, clicking “Next” sends you through to a page with a familiar layout to input your own content. Image boxes have been retained from the previous templates, with the option to upload by drag-and-drop as well as by browsing your files. There are also options for View Larger images and alt-text as before.
Images remain auto-sized and optimised by Amazon. Although this isn’t a huge issue due to Amazon’s years of experience with formatting product imagery for their website, occasionally you’ll see noise or other quality issues with images that you submit, especially those that combine both photographic and graphical elements. It would’ve been handy to have the option of formatting and providing your own image, but it’s a relatively minor concern.
Text is inserted by clicking on the desired element, which causes a text box to appear. Interestingly, there does not seem to be an automated word count limit on the text you submit, and dividing into multiple paragraphs does not seem to provoke a response from the system either. This is especially useful in the bullet list sections, where you can seemingly add as many points as you need.
Obviously this isn’t a sign that Amazon has suddenly gone slack on guidelines, and there’s still likely to be a strong human editorial presence at the QA stage. However, it is interesting that Amazon either can’t or won’t introduce automatic limits at this stage of the process.
The next stage, Preview, wasn’t functioning for us when we tried to compile some example pages. Images weren’t displaying and layouts weren’t pulling through, leaving us in the most part with a single column of text. We don’t know if this is just a temporary glitch, but it would be disappointing if it didn’t eventually provide a rough guideline of what the finished A+ would be like.
The costing system of this new A+ is both new and familiar at the same time.
On the new front, you’ll now only pay for the modules you use in creating your page, with each module having a fixed cost per ASIN. This is a great step, as it opens the door for having attractive enhanced content on products that previously wouldn’t be able to warrant it, or that didn’t have enough text and imagery to fill one of the previous templates.
Going from the Vendor Central IT website, the costings (in Euros) are as follows:
- Header Module: 200
- Features Module: 200
- Advanced Module: 300
Obviously these prices are subject to change and are likely to differ from locale to locale, currency to currency. As these are rate card figures, those with existing marketing agreements should probably expect discounts or allowances in line with those currently offered.
However, as you may have already noticed these figures are once again quoted on a per ASIN basis, even for submissions of multiple products. Amazon are currently offering one module free for any Vendor using the new system, but once that offer ends it could be within the realms of possibility to face costs of up to 1200 Euro per product for a single A+ page.
QA and Uploading
There are also a number of unanswered questions left by this new system. For all the freedom and flexibility that it provides, the lack of restriction also suggests the continuing necessity for Amazon to have human editorial input at their end. Currently, this is the major bottleneck for the Amazon A+ system – workload backlogs lead to A+ content being delayed for weeks and months at a time, even when the content meets all guidelines without question. For those instances where there are questions, inconsistent implementation of guidelines across the Amazon locales means that providing content for multi-national product ranges continues to present a challenge.
Also notable by its absence is the lack of visible word-count/page weight/page length checking within A+ 2.0. By restricting A+ to just 5 modules, and charging for each one, it’s clear that Amazon hope that the content submitted within that limit lands somewhere within a reasonable range. But, given Jeff Bezos’ previous intense focus on the issue of page loading times, is this a sign that Amazon accepts internet speeds have grown to a point where quibbling over a few KB is futile?
Only time will tell.
In Europe, Amazon A+ 2.0 is currently only available for use on Amazon.it products. Roll-out to other locales has not been announced, but is likely to occur sometime within the next few weeks.