It can be incredibly frustrating for a brand that goes to sell on Amazon and they find that there are multiple sellers already selling their product. It can cause brands to wonder:
• How did these sellers obtain our product?
• Are the products authentic?
• How can I control the number of sellers of our products on Amazon?
Unauthorized resellers can stifle a brand’s growth on Amazon in several ways. Counterfeit goods can cause permanent damage to a brand’s reputation and brand affinity. Multiple resellers can cause brand erosion with a race to the bottom on pricing.
Even authentic goods can cause Amazon businesses to suffer as multiple sellers can also remove a brand’s ability to hold the Buy Box, which can, in turn, prevent the brand from running Amazon Sponsored Ads.
Handling unauthorized and inauthentic goods on Amazon is always a hot topic for brands. Today, we’ll figure out what types of unauthorized sellers exist on Amazon, whether you can fight them, and what specific actions to take to protect your brand. We invited Michelle Bonadonna, Sales Executive with VantageBP, and created this article based on our conversation.
Michelle Bonadonna’s story:
Hi there, my name is Michelle Bonadonna and I am a Sales Executive with VantageBP. VantageBP is an online brand protection technology that automates the process of identifying rogue resellers, preventing unauthorized sales, and stopping intellectual property infringements across over 160 different marketplaces (including Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba). Our process reduces both grey and black market infringement activity, quickly and affordably.
Who are Unauthorized Amazon Resellers?
Unauthorized Amazon resellers are 3P or third-party sellers who sell your authentic products on Amazon without your permission. These sellers could be purchasing your items in retail stores, buying from a distributor, or sometimes they buy directly from you without disclosing they plan to sell the goods online.
These third-party sellers can interfere with a brand’s need to ensure that the way their brand is presented on Amazon is consistent with their brand style and culture. They can also limit a brand’s ability to run ads. Additionally, they can violate a brand’s copyrighted images or list products in a way that could cause potential liability for the brand.
This is distinct from sellers with inauthentic products who list counterfeit or knock-off inventory on your product detail page.
Unauthorized resellers can use the following tactics to try and avoid detection from brand owners:
• According to Amazon's policy, new listings can be created for even slight variations in the product specifications. Unauthorized resellers create additional duplicate ASINs for each of your products they want to list. These duplicate listings can cause customer confusion and delay a brand noticing that they have unauthorized resellers on their listings.
• They can use a store name that is different from their legal entity name, change their store name frequently, or switch between multiple seller accounts to avoid being tracked.
• Although Amazon now requires that resellers provide an “address” on Seller Central, we are not yet seeing that they are checking to ensure the addresses are accurate. We’ve seen resellers give PO boxes, gas station addresses, etc., in an attempt to avoid their identity being uncovered.
Brand protection services like VantageBP can help to identify some of the resellers through their seller notification process, along with their reseller database, which currently consists of over 100,000 identified resellers.
If a reseller has authentic goods, Amazon will not get involved with removing that seller from your product. The only way to remove those sellers is to tightly control the distribution of your products.
Amazon will work with brands to remove the following types of infringement:
• Trademark Infringements: when a reseller uses your intellectual property, such as a logo or name in a product listing when the product is not related to your brand.
• Patent Infringements: when a reseller uses your patents in a product listing, but their products are not related to your brand.
• Counterfeit Infringements: products claiming to be the products being advertised but may have been manufactured illegally and/or have material differences from authentic products.
How Does Amazon View Unauthorized Listings?
Amazon generally has a very “open” reselling policy on their marketplace. We wrote about the four fundamental truths that shape the way brand control is managed on Amazon:
• Anyone with a product that matches what is being described on the product detail page can list their offer alongside yours.
• You can’t stop your product from being listed on Amazon just because you don’t want your products on the platform.
• Anyone can create a listing, regardless of the presence or absence of a formal relationship with your brand.
• Amazon does not get involved with distribution agreements.
Therefore, resellers can easily create new product listings that aren’t always approved by the brand.
In Amazon’s view, an unauthorized listing is a product listing or seller that is in violation of their policy, not your brand’s policies or interests. Amazon does not consider unauthorized sellers a listing violation.
Amazon generally limits its involvement in manufacturer-retailer disputes, except for the cases of intellectual property rights violations (trademarks, brand name, etc.). Amazon explicitly states their position when you report infringement:
“Amazon respects a manufacturer's right to enter into exclusive distribution agreements for its products. However, violations of such agreements do not constitute intellectual property rights infringement. As the enforcement of these agreements is a matter between the manufacturer and the retailers, it would not be appropriate for Amazon to assist in enforcement activities.”
When Amazon conducts an investigation into your complaint against a retailer, they will be looking for violations of Amazon’s own seller policies, such as:
- Product is materially different from what is advertised – products that are used, expired, defective, etc. being sold as new products.
- Product violates a brand’s intellectual property rights – trademarks, copyright images, patents.
- Duplicate ASIN violation – the product already exists on Amazon’s marketplace. In this case, they will merge the duplicate listings.
If you can prove any of these violations, Amazon can quickly remove a retailer's listing from its marketplace.
How Can Brands Effectively Control and Maintain Distribution?
1. Sign up for Amazon Brand Registry and Amazon Project Zero.
Entering the Brand Registry platform certifies you as the brand owner and opens up entry into a host of special programs that can protect and promote your brand on Amazon. The Brand Registry platform allows you to quickly identify listings infringing on your copyright: you can search for your images, copyrights, and trademarks used across the marketplace.
Find out more recommendations on protecting your intellectual property via the Brand Registry platform from Robyn Johnson.
You will need a live trademark to participate in this program or you will need to apply for one as part of the Amazon IP Accelerator program.
Brands which are enrolled in Amazon Brand Registry and have trademark rights can participate in Amazon Project Zero, the project intended to drive counterfeits to zero. The one requirement is that you should have submitted reports of potential infringements with an acceptance rate of at least 90% in the last six months.
Here's what you can get with Project Zero:
• Automated protections – Amazon's machine learning algorithm automatically scans over 5 billion product listing updates every day, looking for suspected counterfeits.
• Self-service counterfeit removal tool – you can directly remove listings from the Amazon store.
• Product serialization – mark your products with a unique code that allows you to individually scan and confirm the authenticity of every single purchase.
2. Monitor your listings.
Protect your listings by being notified when any changes happen to them, and deal with the problem before it becomes unmanageable.
You can monitor them manually (see here exactly what you should monitor) or use an automated brand protection solution that monitors and enforces your brand’s rights at scale across online marketplaces.
Try the Amazon Listing Alerts tool, which alerts you about losing the buy box, positions for your keywords, or if the price of the product has been changed. With it, you can instantly respond to unwanted listing changes and traffic loss.
If you encounter counterfeit products marketed under your brand name:
•. Take a screenshot of the seller’s store name and ID.
• Conduct a test buy.
•. When the item arrives, take photos of incorrect packaging and a side-by-side of the counterfeit product and the authentic product.
•. Submit your evidence that the product is counterfeit to Amazon.
3. Monitor third-party sellers.
When you have unauthorized sellers on your listing, think about whether they could purchase the product from a legitimate source. Brands can verify whether 3P sellers are selling authentic goods by either performing a test purchase of the item and validating the product once received or by contacting the seller requesting an invoice or receipt.
Unfortunately, Amazon does not allow you to contact a seller directly and will block a verification attempt from going through their messaging system. However, some brand protection agencies such as VantageBP have an approved ability to contact the sellers on your behalf to request this information.
If you determine they sell legitimate items, Amazon won’t help you remove those sellers. However, you can take them under your control – let's talk about that in the next paragraphs.
4. Find out more about 3P sellers in this article, written by someone who started out as a 3P seller herself.
Establish a solid reselling foundation by having the right documents and policies in place with your sellers.
Amazon will not get involved with retail agreements like reseller distribution agreements. However, if you have these in place with all of your wholesale buyers you can look to enforce these through your legal team.
The first line of defense when it comes to protecting your brand from having a large number of resellers on Amazon is to have clearly outlined reseller agreements, MAP (minimum advertising pricing) policies, and to vet potential new wholesale customers to limit the number of resellers of your products on Amazon.
Having these policies clearly outlined on your website, price sheets, and reseller agreements can drastically limit the number of resellers your product has.
Enforcing these policies is just as important as having them in place. A popular listing with lots of unauthorized sellers will only attract more unauthorized sellers.
5. Bring distributors in on the process of preventing unauthorized sellers.
Notify your distributors that you have a reselling policy that restricts sellers from selling across online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.
If you encounter one of the sellers violating this agreement, then notify the distributor with the information you’ve gathered so they can cut off the seller's ability to continue purchasing your products.
In some instances, increasing prices to distributors can be the only way to deter unauthorized sellers. This, when coupled with the brand selling directly at the MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price), can significantly decrease the number of sellers on Amazon.
How Can Brands Control Unauthorized Listings With Sellzone?
One of Sellzone’s tools exactly serves the purpose of monitoring and protecting your Amazon listing from undesired changes – the Amazon Listing Alerts tool.
Listing Alerts is an automated monitoring system that you can use to monitor your own listings or scout for competition:
• Keep watch on each of your Amazon listings’ visibility and Amazon rankings, thereby avoiding traffic loss.
• Get notified about changes in keyword positions, Buy Boxes, prices, and listing suppression.
• Get suppression alerts if there's volatility in price points and Buy Box ownership.
Here’s how Listing Alerts works:
- Enter the product page’s URL or ASIN and click “Monitor” to start monitoring any product.
2. Customize what information you want to track.
You can add the keywords your listing is trying to target to know whether your product shows up in Amazon search results for those keywords.
You can also add the seller’s name to keep watch on Buy Boxes. You can enter yourself to quickly spot if you no longer win the Buy Box and benchmark your price competitiveness against other Amazon sellers.
3. Set up notifications if you want to receive notifications about any listing changes via email or SMS.
In an incredibly volatile Amazon ranking, you want to be vigilant and continually track your listings and identify unauthorized sellers. Utilize our 5 must do’s to protect your brand credibility and fight off unauthorized Amazon resellers.
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We explored several tactical tips you can use to protect your brand on Amazon in the following areas:
- Protecting your intellectual property (copyright, trademarks, and patents)
- Protecting your listing copy and brand presentation on Amazon
- Controlling unauthorized sellers
- Identifying and removing counterfeit sellers