Let’s say your in-house team just found an unauthorized Amazon 3P (or a grey market retailer on another marketplace) selling your products online without your permission.
Better yet, let’s assume instead that you’re using an automated platform for MAP monitoring and enforcement, because doing so will be so much more effective (and affordable) than trying to manually keep eyes on the entire eCommerce landscape, at all times, looking for problems with your resale channel.
Either way, you just caught someone selling your products who shouldn’t be.
Here’s the question: now that you’ve found the offender, what will you do?
In this article, we’ll discuss first why this specific unauthorized Amazon 3P’s listing is not your brand’s real problem, but rather just a symptom of the real problem. Then we’ll talk through a few things your monitoring software should automatically do for you. (If it doesn’t do these things, you need a better MAP monitoring and enforcement solution.)
Finally, we’ll walk through a five-step strategy that you (or a trusted brand protection partner) can take to fight back against both this unauthorized seller and the other problem companies in your distribution channel.
An Unauthorized Listing Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
When your team catches an unauthorized seller listing your products on Amazon, it can be extremely frustrating, even angering. But you can’t afford to direct all of your anger toward this one seller.
After all, that company got its hands on your inventory somehow. If they aren’t one of your official resale partners, that means there’s a leak in your distribution channel.
The problem could stem from failing to restrict where your distributors are allowed to sell your inventory. It could be the result of your own internal sales department willingly selling to grey market retailers, either to offload inventory quickly or to boost their sales numbers.
The point is, an unauthorized listing is often a signal that your brand has a systemic problem. You need to focus at least as much energy on tracking down the source of that problem as going after the unauthorized seller. (Don’t worry—you can do both.)
What Your MAP Monitoring Software Should Do Automatically in Response to an Unauthorized Listing
If your company is using an automated platform to monitor your online sales, you should expect that solution to automatically take the following steps as soon as it spots an unauthorized listing. If it doesn’t do all of these things for you, you need to look for a better solution.)
Document the listing in detail.
Using our unauthorized Amazon 3P example, your software should be continuously scanning the Amazon marketplace for uses of your content. This includes your brand name, logo, sales copy, images, product specs, etc.
Your software should also be checking any pages using your content against your list of authorized dealers. (Speaking of which, you’ll need an Authorized Dealer Program if you don’t have one already.) If the system catches your content in use on a listing page from a retailer not on your authorized dealer list, the app should immediately take screenshots of the listing.
This documentation can bolster your case to Amazon, because if you can make the case the retailer is violating your intellectual property, Amazon will be more likely to pull the offending listing—and more closely scrutinize future listings from that seller. These screenshots can also support your legal claim, if you ever choose to file suit against the offending reseller.
Issue a warning to the unauthorized seller.
Your monitoring and enforcement software should also automatically send your standard warning notice to the offender.
There are legal implications to this, so you’ll need the help of either legal counsel or a brand protection expert. But you definitely want your software to take this step—to put the offending retailer on notice that you’re aware of their shenanigans.
Alert the right people at your company.
Time matters in these instances. If your legitimate retail partners spot an unauthorized seller getting away with listing your products—and likely undercutting their prices—this can jeopardize your most important sales relationships.
So you will also want your automated MAP monitoring solution to immediately send notices to the appropriate people at your company, or even your legal counsel, so you can take additional steps to remove the offending listing.
Contact the marketplace.
Finally, you’ll want your MAP monitoring and enforcement solution to send a notice (ideally with documentation) to the owner of the marketplace—Amazon, in our hypothetical—letting them know the seller has no relationship with your company.
Often, Amazon will not intervene just because you tell them a seller isn’t part of your authorized dealer program, or even if you tell them the company is violating your MAP policy. But they might help if you (or your software) can present evidence that the seller is violating your brand’s copyrights, trademarks, or other IP. If there are safety or authenticity concerns, then you’re in luck; the right brand protection partner can execute a powerful de-listing strategy, which will remove the offending 3P seller from your product pages.
A 5-Step Strategy to Combatting Unauthorized Sellers
Now, even if your MAP software takes all of these steps, you (or a trusted brand protection partner) will still want to investigate. Remember, an unauthorized 3P’s listing could be an indication that you have a much larger problem. So here’s what you should also do
Step 1: Add serialization to your products
These first steps are actually preemptive steps you’ll want to implement before you spot a problem with unauthorized sellers.
Your first step is to add serial numbers or some other unique identification numbers to your products. Each unit must have its own unique number, which must be easily identifiable on the product’s packaging or bar code data.
Step 2: Track your inventory by serial number through your distribution channel
Next, develop a system to track which distribution or wholesale partner receives which serial numbers as inventory from your in-house team.
If you also sell through an internal eCommerce team, you will also need to track the inventory this team receives as well.
Step 3: Monitor the online landscape at all times—using automation, of course.
This is an important step because if you are not using an automated platform to monitor your brand’s online sales presence, there is simply no way you will be able to spot all unauthorized listings and advertisements of your products across all marketplaces and websites.
Step 4: If you find an unauthorized listing, conduct a “test buy.”
This is your first reactive step, and it involves making a purchase from an unauthorized 3P seller when you spot their listing.
When you receive the product, you can check its unique serial or ID number and trace it back to the offender. This could be a distributor, wholesaler, another retailer, or someone within your own company violating your own rules.
Also, if the product is actually a counterfeit, you will learn that as well, because the product will not have your unique ID number. This can help you make a strong case to Amazon—which aggressively targets counterfeiters on its site—and they will likely help you remove the listing.
The test buy can also help you locate the offending seller (many will not put their contact information or even their geographic location on their listing pages). You can use the shipping address or even the carrier to help track down the actual company or pinpoint any kind of drop shipping relationship.
Step 5: Take appropriate action against the offender(s).
Now that you’ve identified the source(s) of this leak, you can take appropriate action.
This might mean taking your case to Amazon. It might mean contacting the offending wholesaler to reprimand the company. It will probably also mean going directly after the unauthorized reseller (perhaps even the help of with legal counsel) and threatening legal action if they don’t stop selling your inventory without your permission.
Conclusion: Fighting Unauthorized 3P Sellers Takes Strategy—and Help from the Experts
The bottom line here is that you can’t ignore the unauthorized 3P problem, nor can you solve the problem only by sending threatening letters to these retailers. These unauthorized listings are often just symptoms—infuriating symptoms, we know, but still just symptoms—of a much larger problem for your brand’s health.
Which is why you need strategies like these to combat unauthorized sellers, and why you should really be working with a team of brand protection experts.