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ASIN: A Users Guide

ASIN: A Users Guide

To many new users of AOM, the ASIN is a confusing concept, mainly because its usage in categories is very different from nodes. Let’s take a detailed look at what it is, and how it works in Associate-O-Matic.

The Amazon Stock Information Number is simply a nine to thirteen character string assigned to each and every item Amazon carries. To people familiar with the world of retail, an ASIN is the same thing as a SKU number (Stock-Keeping Unit). These numbers or codes are ways to keep track of inventory in a computer, just like a bar code. The ASIN for the Kindle DX is B002GYWHSQ, for example. Most use a mix of letters and numbers, but some books will use all or part of their ISBN number, such as 0439785960 for one of the Harry Potter books (ISBN is International Standard Book Number, used to identify books world-wide).

The only important thing to remember out of this confusing mess of letters and numbers is that everything you sell in your store will have its own unique ASIN.

ASINs are used in AOM in three ways:

  1. As a single item Home Page option
  2. As a list, either on the Home Page or as a Category/Subcategory
  3. As a file for a Category/Subcategory

Let’s start with the home page options first, then the categories.

The Home Item section under the Home Page tab

Under the Home Page tab of your AOM control panel, select the Single Item option. This requires one ASIN under the Home Item section (as shown above). This will then display the item on your site’s home page.

ASIN list controls for the home page

For the Home Page ASIN list feature, you would select the ASIN List option, then enter a list of ASINs separated by comma in the Home ASINs box, as shown directly above. The list can be as long as you like, but only a maximum of ten items can be shown. As seen in the figure, you can change this number to anything between 2 and 10. The randomizer feature will select different items from the list (if the list is more than ten items) every time the cache is cleared (usually every 24 hours, or every time you save/change tabs in the control panel). Otherwise only the first ten items will be shown. With the home page, you can mix and match ASINs from different categories, but not different locales. You cannot use an ASIN from Amazon.co.uk in a store set up for Amazon.com, for example.

Category view, showing the ASIN list option

Using an ASIN list in a category is very similar, but there are some fundamental differences. Under the Categories tab of your control panel, you would set up an ASIN category as shown above. Instead of selecting a node-based category (Amazon Category), you would select ASIN List. The Keywords box will then display ASINLISTHere. You then paste your list of ASINs in this box, again separated by commas. One major difference is that all the ASINs you use in this list must be from the same category – you can’t mix Books with DVDs, for example. You can mix things like televisions and stereos, since they are both from the Electronics main category.

Generally speaking the ASINs will display in the order you put them. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. There is no way to ‘force’ a list order.

ASIN file category setup

Another option is to use an ASIN file. This works just like the ASIN list category, except instead of entering the ASINs in the Keywords box, you create a separate text file containing the ASINs (again, separated by commas). The URL or file path to this .txt file goes in the Keywords box. So if you create a file named shoes.txt with a list of shoe ASINs, you would put shoes.txt in the Keywords box (if it’s in the same directory as the admin.php file). If it’s in a separate subfolder named ‘lists’, then /lists/shoes.txt would go in the box. Or http://www.mysite.com/lists/shoes.txt, etc.

The great advantage to this method is that the ASINs are not stored in the same file as your control panel settings (cfg.saved.php). This keeps the store files from becoming bloated and possibly affecting performance. It’s also easier to edit the file; you wouldn’t even have to open the control panel. Just edit the file using notepad and upload it to your server. But note the items may not change to the new list until the cache is cleared or you open the control panel and click on a ‘Save’ button.

Subcategories work very much like Categories; so much so that almost everything discussed above applies. You can create custom subcategories of ASIN categories, but the main category will not contain the ASINs of the subcategory unless you manually enter them. Otherwise the main category and subcategory products will not overlap.

What are the disadvantages of using ASIN lists?

Using an ASIN list gives you total control over what items are displayed in your store. But there are a number of disadvantages to using this method, which we will discuss below.

One big drawback is that there is no easy way to harvest ASINs to put into a list. You must manually copy and paste them, either from the Amazon URL (http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Kicked-Hornets-Nest/dp/030726999X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300789475&sr=8-1) or from your site with the Display ASINs option turned on (under the Display tab), as shown in this example below:

Example of an ASIN in a product listing

This process is slow and unwieldy, but there is no other way to do it. For this reason, ASIN categories tend to be short.

Another problem is that unlike node-based categories, ASIN categories are not automatically updated. Since you control what items are contained in the list, new items are not added. Old items are not removed. You have to do that manually. So if an item is discontinued, it will still show up in your store, uselessly. You can configure the site to email you if an ASIN is discontinued (under the Reports tab), but it will not be removed for you.

ASIN categories may look like node-based categories to your site visitors, but they are not. The resemblance is purely superficial. As far as Amazon’s data feed is concerned, they are not typical categories. Therefore, none of the accompanying details of a usual category apply to them. ASIN list categories will not generate the information required to populate things like the Bestsellers, Narrow by Brand/Price, New Release, Most Gifted, Related Categories, and other side boxes. Nor can they be sorted or searched.

But oddly enough, ASIN lists do require categories to work. Many products found on Amazon can be located in more than one category. GPS units for example, can be reached either through Automotive or Electronics. Amazon will assign each ASIN to a ‘home’ category, regardless of how many it may show up in. An ASIN will not display on your site unless you have the home category set up as a typical node-based one. So if you try to use a book as a single-item ASIN home page without a Book category, you’ll see an error message similar to this:

Application Error: From the Control Panel, the Amazon ASIN list you have defined for your Home Asins homepage format contains the following item(s) not from your store Categories:
• 030726999X (Book)

If you don’t want this category to appear to your site visitors, you can set it up as a hidden category. Simply uncheck the T, M, S & B boxes under the Categories tab. The category will be available for the ASIN list, but not accessible by anyone who goes to your site.

Uncheck these boxes for 'hidden categories'

ASIN lists are useful, and commonly found on home pages, where you can have total control over the items shown; they tend to be more difficult to use in categories because they require greater effort to initially set up and then maintain. But if you understand what’s involved, they can be versatile, especially for sites with a very tight and well-defined niche.

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