Posted on 18th July '16 in MAP Enforcement - Comments
Amazon. This one word can strike fear in the hearts of brand managers and bring to mind a fanciful array of instantly available products for consumers.
Navigating the online behemoth can be exhausting and frustrating, especially when you’re trying to find out who the heck those merchants are that are selling your products.
We’ve been asked this question countless times: how do you find a merchant’s real identity on Amazon?
We’re in this with you - fighting the same fight to bring you one step closer to getting your MAP policy under control. By the end of this read, you’ll know all about the different types of Amazon resellers, why it’s difficult to find their real identities (red flag: these are usually your violators), and strategies to uncover who these merchants are.
WHO ARE THESE AMAZON RESELLERS?
Wading through the swamp of Amazon resellers can be murky at times. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can easily get lost. We’re all about making life easier, so here are the most common types of resellers that we’ve come across:
The reseller lists on Amazon with their retail store name and ships the orders themselves. These guys are on your side: they’re usually compliant and easy to identify. Wish the world had more of these merchants...
The reseller lists on Amazon with their retail store name; however, has Amazon warehouse and ship their products/orders. They’re similar to the above reseller in that you know who they are - yay!
Hold tight and get ready for the next three. They’ll cause you the most headaches.....
The reseller lists on Amazon under (1) a fake name or (2) a name that isn’t tied to a website or retail store, yet they are shipping the products themselves. These merchants make it a hassle to find out who they and where they’re getting their products from. It’s not impossible, just difficult. Try placing an order with them, and you’ll typically get what you need to uncover who they are and where they are located.
The reseller lists on Amazon under (1) a fake name or (2) a name that isn’t tied to a website or retail store, and has Amazon ship their products. Alright, so these are even more difficult than the previous merchants. Why? By having Amazon ship their orders, they hide the information that allows you to identify them. Sneaky, sneaky. They make up about 1 - 5% of brand sellers. Is your product high in demand? Then that percentage will be even higher! Oh, the pitfalls of success!
Sells and ships from Amazon.com. These are the nastiest little buggers. They are the hardest merchants to identify and deal with. Who’s selling them your product? Will Amazon stay at MAP price? You’re only left with unanswered questions with these guys who are hiding behind Amazon’s armored gates.
PROTECTING YOUR BRAND
Let’s get this straight: Amazon doesn’t care about your brand’s signed agreements with your sellers. Why would they? It’s an agreement between you and your sellers -- not you, your sellers, and Amazon.
The law is a different story. If Amazon is approached with accusations of trademark infringement or copyright violation, they’ll listen.
DISCLOSURE: We’d like to make this very clear that we’re not telling you to go out and start filing lawsuits. We’re definitely not in the position to do so, and we only advise you to consider these options. Drastic times call for drastic measures.
TACTIC #1: Stay away from Amazon, completely
Letting your sellers advertise on Amazon means they chip away at profit margins, making it a lose-lose for you and your sellers. What’s actually happening is that by associating your brand with discounting, you’re eating away at the very limited brand equity that you hold. Gaining more visibility for your product is a steep price to pay in the long run -- one that could run your business into the ground.
The only competitive variable within the Amazon marketplace is price. Once your product is in the marketplace it’s a game of ‘how low can you go?’
Implement a new term in your agreement. Don’t let dealers sell on Amazon or any third party website for that matter. Think of how much time and stress you'll save enforcing your policy.
Independent online stores wield so much more power on their own when it comes to relationship-building and establishing a customer base who will repeatedly come back. It’s a relationship that establishes a solid foundation for growth and maintaining profit margins.
Tactic #2: Do some private investigating
Staying completely off Amazon might not be an option, but then you’ll have to be willing to put in more time and effort to find out who’s hiding behind the beast.
You’ll probably need to make a purchase or two from the seller to see where they ship from and/or attempt to make a return. Try requesting a phone number from the seller, pop it into Google, and you should find what you’re looking for.
Tactic #3: Track serial numbers
Popular brands and a few of our client brands are testing the waters with serial number tracking. They’re take monitoring MAP compliance seriously, and this is especially important if your products are increasingly in high demand with big payoffs. Everyone wants a piece of the pie.
Serial number tracking lets brands keep track of which retailers are purchasing units of their products from distributors and what’s being done with them. You’ll always know where your products are and who they're with.
The biggest drawback is that all your distributors need to be on board and have the computer system in place to handle this type of process, but if you’re a high-margin / sell-well brand, this might be something well worth looking into.
Tactic #4: Copyright Infringement
The Copyright Law of the United States of America outlines copyright infringement as “anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner.”
Copyright infringement can be evoked if an unauthorized seller is using the brand’s product image. Product photography is the brand’s property and is not fair game for anyone online to publish. There are laws prohibiting this when used for profit, as Amazon well knows.
Tactic #5: Trademark Infringement
United States Patent and Trademark Office defines trademark infringement as the “unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services.”
Trademark infringement might be a more difficult path to take since your brand needs to be trademarked to begin with. It can also be harder to argue as various factors come into play. It’s a means to get their attention and send a signal in the right context for them to communicate with you.
Complaining about pricing to Amazon and the resellers won’t get you any closer to identifying merchants and getting your MAP compliance rates under control.
You’ll need to join the ongoing battle constantly faced by independent retailers. Supporting each other is our best defence, as well as enforcing a no-Amazon/marketplace policy to sellers. If that’s not an option, then put on your detective gear and try your hand at uncovering who these merchants are yourself or invest into serial number tracking.
The most effective options are the ones that are usually the most drastic. In this case, consider highlighting the legal issues with the unauthorized use of your brand’s property. Maybe that’ll get Amazon talking.
Bottom line is, if you do nothing about your unauthorized resellers, they will continue hiding behind the giant wall known as Amazon, while eating away at your brand’s image and value. What will you do?