After leaving his job in global business development at Amazon, Aaron Kerson used his knowledge of the platform’s sales algorithms to power up his new business. Pacific Northwest Components, launched in 2017 with his wife Emily, slowly became a success, selling handlebars, levers, and other mountain bike parts. But when the pandemic hit and a global shortage battered the bike industry, Kerson realized one company was causing a lot of problems: Amazon.
Now Kerson’s company is part of a slew of businesses turning their backs on Amazon and removing their products from the platform’s marketplace. In the last two years, brands like Nike, Ikea, and Birkenstock have pulled their merchandise, citing frustration with business practices, counterfeit products, and lack of access to customer data.
“Is this worth it?” Kerson kept asking himself as he decided how much of PNW’s limited stock to list on Amazon. The responsibility of running a small business had been getting to him: “The multitude of scariness just keeps getting bigger.” But he had to change something.
In June, Kerson removed all of PNW Components’ products from Amazon. He wanted to reallocate the inventory to independent bike shops in an effort to save an industry shell-shocked by the effects of the pandemic. It would mean that 20-30 percent of PNW’s sales would disappear overnight. But there were upsides to leaving Amazon, too; PNW would regain direct control of customer service and returns, much of which was ceded to Amazon.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected supply chains everywhere. By the end of March 2020, there was a global shortage of bikes and bike parts, while demand surged. Most bike manufacturing is based in Asia, and as the pandemic wore on, PNW parts that used to take 45 days to ship from Taiwan took up to 200 days to arrive. By the start of 2021, Kerson heard of bike shops on the brink of closing down due to such high demand and low inventory. Pulling his products from Amazon, he thought, could help those independent bike shops — and rid PNW of an ongoing frustration.
Amazon had been posing serious customer service problems for PNW. Shopping for bike parts is complex, Kerson says, because choosing the right item depends on specifics about the customer and their bike. Amazon offers no way to provide that kind of expertise, so the rate of returns is high.