Amazon Prime is a service that many consumers find invaluable (I know I do). That's because the program offers free two-day shipping, free movies and TV shows, free unlimited photo storage, free Kindle books, and ad-free music.

What's not to love?

It's not just an awesome service for consumers, though. Merchants can sell their products to Prime customers who are shopping on Amazon's massive e-commerce site.

If you've got something to sell, you can boost your brand-name recognition while simultaneously getting a nice sales lift by selling your products on Amazon. More people are actually starting their shopping now on Amazon than Google. 

But how can you reel in those Prime customers?

Let's answer that here.

1. Start by Selling on Amazon

Before you can start selling specifically to Amazon Prime customers, you need to sell to all Amazon customers. You do that by becoming an Amazon merchant.

Fortunately, it's not that difficult to form a partnership with the e-commerce giant.

Start by filling out the application form to get the ball rolling. You'll need to provide all the information that you'd expect, including your business name, address, EIN, and bank account numbers for money transfers.

You'll also have to fill out a seller profile. That will include an "about" paragraph that describes your business, a graphic logo, and your return/refund policies.

When it comes time to start listing products, you'll have to provide information about each item, including its SKU, UPC/EAN number, title, description, and images. You'll also need to provide search terms that will get people to your product when they're searching for something on Amazon.

Once you've uploaded all your product information and you're selling on Amazon, it's time to take a look at how you can gain exposure to Amazon Prime customers.

2. It's All About Shipping

When a customer buys one of your products, you have two options for shipping:

1. Seller Self-Shipping

2. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)

When you opt for seller self-shipping, you're shipping the product right out of your own home or office, as the name implies. That means you pay all shipping costs and ship the products on your terms.

It also means that you're not part of the Amazon Prime program.

Why? Because, as we've seen, Amazon Prime guarantees that customers receive their orders in two days. If you're the one doing the shipping and you're shipping on your own terms, then Amazon can't guarantee that you're going to get the product to the customer in just a couple of days.

On the other hand, if you decide to use FBA shipping, Amazon can fulfill your order for Prime customers within two days. That's because Amazon will be handling the shipping from one of its own fulfillment centers.

Of course, you also have to ship your products to one of Amazon's fulfillment centers to benefit from FBA shipping. The good news about that, though, is that Amazon uses economies of scale. The shipping rates for sending your products to an Amazon fulfillment center should be significantly lower than what you'd expect if you were shipping them anywhere else.

Also, when you use FBA, you benefit from Amazon's customer service and operations management. You don't have to do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself.

Unsurprisingly, though, Amazon will take a cut out of your profits for all of its services, thank you very much. Make sure you price your products so that your margins can keep your business profitable.

So the bottom line here is that if you want to market to Prime customers, opt for FBA shipping over self-fulfilled shipping.

That's how you should do it at first, anyway. Once you've got plenty of experience selling online with FBA, there's still another option for marketing to Prime customers.

3. Seller-Fulfilled Prime Shipping

I mentioned above that merchants who handle their own shipping aren't technically part of the Prime program. That's true for a greenhorn, but once you've got some experience selling with Amazon FBA shipping, you can move on to Seller-Fulfilled Prime Shipping.

And that could be a game-changer.

However, not just anybody can opt for Seller-Fulfilled Prime Shipping. You have to be eligible.

For starters, you have to apply to the Seller-Fulfilled Prime Shipping program. If you're accepted, you'll go through a trial period that spans 300 orders before you're formally part of the program.

This is what Amazon will be looking for during that trial period:

·         On-time shipment rate of 99%

·         Use of Buy Shipping Services for at least 95% of the orders

·         A cancellation rate of less than 1%

Keep in mind: if you don't fulfill at least 300 orders within 90 days, the trial period will reset and you'll have to start all over.

The advantage to using Seller-Fulfilled Prime Shipping over FBA is that you won't have to pay all the fulfillment fees. You'll be handling everything on your own.

Of course, that means you'll be responsible for shipping costs and operations at your local establishment. That might cost you more in terms of time and money.

That's why you should definitely fire up your spreadsheet and run some numbers before you make the jump from FBA to Seller-Fulfilled Prime.

Get Going Now

If you want to sell on Amazon, you should absolutely make certain that your products are Prime-eligible. Otherwise, you're going to miss out on sales from a significant portion of the Amazon community. Fortunately, you can market your products to Prime customers by using FBA or Seller-Fulfilled Prime Shipping.

There are so many people using Amazon now that my company has launched a new set of services specifically designed to help Amazon sellers. It is one of our fastest growing divisions. I recommend all eCommerce sites jump into Amazon as fast as possible and take a hard look at Prime. 

Published on: Jun 29, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.