Consider a hypothetical. Your brand’s presence is growing across Amazon.
More resellers are listing your company’s products than ever before on the marketplace, resulting in an increasing number of Amazon sales pages dedicated to your products and an increasing number of customer ratings and reviews for your brand. Question: Is this a good thing?
It certainly can be good news – terrific news, in fact – if you’re effectively managing your resale channel. When handled properly, a growing presence on a major ecommerce marketplace like Amazon can mean expanded reach for your brand, access to new markets, and more sales. But if you are not properly monitoring and controlling your online resale network, then an increasing presence on Amazon might actually be harming your brand.
Consider also that ecommerce platforms like Shopify let anyone set up an online store and then easily sell products through many marketplaces simultaneously. Because such platforms give inexperienced retailers or even unethical, gray-market sellers an exponentially expanded reach for selling your products online, they can also magnify the risks of bad resale experiences that can harm your brand.
Here are a few clues that your Amazon and other online sales channels could be undermining your company, and how to protect your brand on these marketplaces.
Search your products on these marketplaces frequently, and look for resellers you do not recognize.
Many of the reseller-related headaches manufacturers face stem from rogue retailers – businesses that don’t have any official relationship with the manufacturer, and who may even use dishonest means to get their hands on the company’s products for resale.
One clue that your brand might be facing some danger is if you monitor the Internet (that means all marketplaces, not just Amazon) for your products, and spot resellers representing your brand who aren’t part of your official resale network.
As we’ve previously written, one trick rogue retailers use to hijack your products and sell them online – usually advertising them below your MAP policy’s approved prices, thereby undercutting your legitimate retail partners – is to mask their identities, to use different company names on their Amazon or other stores. Even if you catch the rogue company in the act and threaten them with legal action, they will often pull down the offending listing… and then just post it again under yet another company name.
Playing that game of whack-a-mole would be difficult enough if you only had to keep a constant eye on the Amazon marketplace and its millions of retailers. But given that ecommerce platforms like Shopify make it easy for retailers – yes, even rogue retailers – to quickly upload their resale inventory and then sell it through many Internet marketplaces at the same time, monitoring the entire ecosystem of online stores for your products’ presence is really not feasible, unless you use an automated platform to do the 24/7 searching for you.
Establish an authorized dealer program.
If when researching your products’ presence across Amazon and other online marketplaces does turn up lots of resellers whose company names you don’t recognize, then chances are there’s a leak in your resale process. Either your wholesalers or distributors are selling to anyone and everyone claiming to be a legitimate retailer, or your own internal sales teams are selling to rogue retailers (possibly without even realizing it).
In either case, it’s a good idea to create an authorized dealer program if you haven’t already. With such a program, you can restrict which companies your reps and your wholesalers are able to sell product. Only those retailers who apply to and are accepted into your authorized dealer program can get their hands on your brand’s inventory for resale – and they will need to sign agreements stating that they will sell only to end users and not to other retailers.
This will make it much more difficult for rogue sellers to get their hands on your products in the first place, which will make it less likely you’ll find gray-market retailers selling your products on Amazon (or leveraging Shopify to sell your inventory on other marketplaces or their own site) without your permission.
In fact, even if your research of these marketplaces does not turn up rogue retailers selling your products, you probably still want to create an authorized dealer program to prevent such problems from happening in the future.
Monitor your customer reviews on these marketplaces.
Another clue that your products’ presence on Amazon and other marketplaces could be causing harm to your company is that your products’ customer ratings and reviews on these sites are trending downward.
One of the reasons gray-market sellers can cause such damage to brands is that their only interest is making the sale. They have no long-term interest in maintaining a healthy relationship with the manufacturer (they have no relationship in the first place) or earning goodwill with their own customers. As a result, these sellers might use misleading product information on their sales listing pages, and they will rarely if ever offer any of the support promised with the manufacturer’s products.
You can imagine what happens next. A customer buys your product on Amazon from what appears to be a legitimate seller, but then discovers only after making the purchase that the product isn’t exactly as advertised on the listing page, or that the seller doesn’t offer any customer service. Or the customer contacts you directly, asking for an exchange – but your company doesn’t even have a record that they bought the product in the first place, because they purchased it through a rogue retailer who wasn’t authorized to sell it.
If you have the internal resources to monitor your products’ ratings and reviews on Amazon and all other marketplaces on a regular basis, we highly recommend doing so.
A better alternative, however, would be to deploy an automated review tracking system to record all of your product reviews across these sites, and then report this information back to you as frequently and with as much detail as you wish.
Use the tools available from these marketplaces to catch violations of your brand’s intellectual property rights.
Yet another way to find out if your online sales channels are becoming a problem is to check these sites for trademark infringements and other violations of your company’s copyrighted material.
If you enroll in the Amazon Brand Registry (specifically, the company’s new 2.0 version of the program), the marketplace will provide you with tools you can use to sniff out rogue sellers who are using your company’s copyrighted content without your permission – which is illegal.
That’s one reason we argue in our Amazon Brand Registry How-to Guide that signing up for the program is worth the effort.
With the brand registry, Amazon allows you, as a manufacturer or trusted brand representative, to enroll as the designated “brand owner” for your products and brand. This gives you several advantages – for example, the ability to control the sales listings and other content relating to your product published on the Amazon marketplace.
But an equally important reason to sign up for the Amazon Brand Registry is that to help protect its marketplace from intellectual property violations, Amazon gives brand owners a suite of powerful online tools to search for such infringements of their intellectual property rights across the entire marketplace. You can use these tools to scan for rogue sellers misusing your sales copy, your images, your company’s logo, and your trademarks or registered marks.
This can make it much easier for you to catch a rogue retailer who shouldn’t be listing your products on Amazon – and to report the violation to Amazon itself, which they are likely to quickly address because they don’t want their site to be a party of intellectual property theft.
But there is a simpler, more effective strategy…
Of course, all of these methods of protecting your brand across your online sales channels will require a lot of hands-on work for your internal staff—a lot of scanning, monitoring, sending warning notices, reporting violations to marketplaces, etc.
A simpler approach to this entire brand protection undertaking—not only on Amazon but for your brand’s presence across the entire Internet—is to use an automated brand protection platform that performs all of these functions for you.