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Amazon business without degree: Woman graduating

Educational Backgrounds of Successful Amazon Sellers

People often assume the road to owning your own business follows the same few steps. Do well in high school, graduate college, earn an MBA, and boom—you’re ready for entrepreneurship. Right? 

Not so fast, say Amazon sellers. Ecommerce is shaking up traditional ideas about who can succeed as a business owner—including whether or not you need extensive schooling. 

Being your own boss is a popular goal among Amazon sellers—42% listed it as a reason they launched their businesses. For many, this dream has already come true: over one in five sellers earn income solely from their ecommerce businesses. Clearly, selling on Amazon is a viable way to make a living, and we suspect the percentage of successful, non-degree holding sellers is higher than the labor statistics might suggest. 

Perhaps there’s a better use for hard-earned savings than taking out college loans. Now may be a great time to explore alternative revenue streams by launching an ecommerce business. 

To get the full story, we examined the data from our 2021 State of the Amazon Report and spoke to dozens of Amazon entrepreneurs about what influence (if any) their schooling has had on their selling experience. 

In the spirit of breaking norms, let’s run the numbers: do Amazon sellers who have formal or higher education have more success than others?

 

Education level of Amazon sellers

Amazon sellers are — for the most part — highly educated, with the majority (86%) having obtained some level of post-secondary education. 

Here’s a breakdown of Amazon sellers’ highest level of education, ranked by the most common degree (or global equivalent):

  • Bachelor’s degree (BA): 43% of Amazon sellers have a BA
  • Master’s degree(MA): 26%
  • High school diploma/GED (HS): 12%
  • Associate’s degree (AA): 13%
  • Doctoral degree (PhD): 2%
  • No high school or GED completed (NHS): 2%
  • Trade/Technical/Vocational/Other schooling(TS): 2%

We filtered our data to explore how Amazon sellers with different educational backgrounds managed their businesses — and how successful they were.

 

How does a degree affect an Amazon seller’s income?

First, to investigate the business impact of different education levels achievement, we examined three primary financial metrics: net profit margin, average monthly sales, and lifetime profit. 

Net Profit Margin

On average, sellers at nearly every education level achieve profit margins between 21-50%. Higher education appears to have little payoff here. While attaining at least a high school diploma or GED boosts profit margins to those achieved by college degree holders, these benefits taper off after reaching a master’s degree. 

In fact, sellers with less formal education—those with high school diplomas or Associate’s degrees—tend to have higher profit margins than sellers with Bachelor’s degrees and above.

Notably, sellers with doctorate degrees were far more likely than others to say their businesses were unprofitable—27% of doctorate degree-holding sellers have yet to turn a profit on Amazon. 

Average Monthly Sales

In general, sellers without at least a high school diploma tend to earn less than those that are more educated. But there are plenty of high performers who didn’t finish high school, as seen on the graph below. 

Again, an analysis of monthly sales indicates that extensive higher education isn’t necessary to achieving success as an Amazon seller. At monthly sales figures of $5,000 and up, sellers who ended their formal education after high school perform as well or better than degree holders.  

High school graduates keep pace with college-educated sellers until monthly sales surpass $100,000, at which point Master’s degree- and doctoral degree-holders pull ahead slightly. 

As a cost-benefit consideration, paying for advanced degrees won’t necessarily benefit Amazon sellers—at least when it comes to their monthly earnings. 

Lifetime Profit

As further evidence that Amazon sellers can succeed without a college degree, high school grads performed as well or better than degree holders at lifetime profits of $100,000 and up—even as that figure rose into the millions. 

It’s clear that 7-figure success is available to sellers without a college degree: high school grads achieve million-dollar lifetime sales on Amazon at higher rates than any group of degree-holding sellers. 

Lifetime Profit HS or GED Associate’s degree Bachelor or equiv. Master or equiv. Doctoral
Over $50K 30% 27% 30% 29% 36%
Over $100K 19% 19% 20% 22% 9%
Over $500K 13% 6% 11% 14% 0%
Over $1M 9% 5% 5% 8% 0%

Additionally, at least 50% of sellers at every education level said their Amazon profits increased in 2020. The group that saw the biggest year-over-year bump? High school graduates. 

 

What do successful Amazon sellers say?

Echoing survey data, sellers from all educational backgrounds shared with us the impact their formal education — or lack thereof — has had on their Amazon business.

Some Amazon sellers say they use their degrees, others do not, and many believe that whatever level of academic experience they achieved has prepared them for entrepreneurship in other ways. 

Amazon sellers’ responses converged on a few main themes:

    • Higher education develops valuable research skills, problem-solving techniques, networking abilities, and self-reliance.
    • Studying business, finance, economics, and accounting may be more relevant to selling than the arts or sciences. 
    • International experience obtained by studying abroad in the U.S. or learning another language helps sellers succeed in the U.S. market and communicate with overseas suppliers. 
    • Ultimately, online FBA courses and seller software (like Jungle Scout) are more helpful for developing ecommerce skills than seeking higher education.

Interestingly, many college graduates said that if they could go back in time, they’d skip college in favor of jump-starting their FBA journey. 

This sentiment is reflected throughout the survey responses: 66% of all sellers say they wish they’d started selling on Amazon sooner, including 63% of high school graduates and 64% of doctoral degree holders.

Amazon business without degree: Seller comments from social media

 

What do all Amazon sellers have in common?

Regardless of how many degrees they’ve racked up, sellers can agree on some key aspects of selling on Amazon. 

For instance, sellers in each group say the top contributors to success on Amazon include: 

  • Having the time to commit to growing a business
  • Possessing exceptional drive and ambition
  • Being motivated to make money

Indeed, Amazon sellers are an ambitious bunch, regardless of their educational credentials. At least 94% of the sellers in each group plan to expand their businesses in 2021, by launching new products, boosting their marketing budget, or branching out to other ecommerce channels. 

All sellers know that Amazon entrepreneurship presents a specific set of challenges. Interestingly, an advanced degree doesn’t necessarily help sellers navigate Amazon-related obstacles. 

Sellers from all education level groups rate the following challenges at similar levels of difficulty:   

Sellers also share similar concerns about selling  on Amazon, whether about competition from other sellers, staying informed about changes in the marketplace,  or having their listings shut down for seemingly no reason. 

Sellers’ shared concerns about selling on Amazon

Education Level Amazon shutting down my account  Needing more capital to sell effectively  Keeping up with relevant seller knowledge  Amazon’s Terms of Service changes Competition driving prices down
High school diploma or GED 65% 57% 48% 50% 74%
Associate’s degree 64% 59% 41% 54% 73%
Bachelor or equivalent 57% 52% 51% 51% 73%
Master or equivalent 61% 47% 48% 52% 63%
Doctoral or equivalent 73% 55% 27% 18% 64%
Trade/technical school 60% 60% 60% 20% 60%

 

The bottom line

The numbers don’t lie: you can succeed as an Amazon seller at any level of education. While having at least a high school diploma correlates with higher sales and profits, sellers with a high school diploma or less can still collect significant income through FBA. 

The internet is exploding with opportunities to learn how to build an Amazon business. Here at Jungle Scout, we empower sellers with a variety of free, up-to-date educational resources, like our Beginner’s Guide, the Million Dollar Case Study web series, and regular educational webinars. Jungle Scout members also have access to expert-led training through Academy

If you’re not sure if college is right for you or you need a career change, take note from highly profitable Amazon sellers: your success could lie with FBA.  

We want to know what you think. In what way has formal education helped you (or not) as an Amazon seller? Tell us how you learned your best practices in the comments below. 

 

Methodology

Data represents insights from Jungle Scout’s 2021 State of the Amazon Seller Report, in which over 4,000 Amazon sellers shared information about their experiences selling on Amazon. 

 

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