“How do we use our MAP policy to stop rogue 3rd party sellers from listing our stuff on Amazon?”
It’s one of the most common questions we hear at TrackStreet from frustrated manufacturers and brand owners tired of discovering retailers they have no relationship with somehow listing their company’s merchandise on Amazon—and, in most cases, advertising it for less than their MAP policy allows.
Actually, they’re usually so frustrated that the question sounds more like: “How do we use our MAP policy to stop these #&%@%$# Rogue Retailers from selling our stuff on Amazon?!”
Unfortunately, you can’t actually enforce your MAP policy against unauthorized retailers. That policy is designed to establish incentives and consequences for resellers that are part of your legitimate resale channel, and these rogue retailers by definition aren’t part of that network. So the maddening truth is that these companies have nothing to gain or lose from your MAP policy, and within the policy’s rules you really won’t have anything to threaten them with.
In fact, if you have an Authorized Dealer Program in place to control the companies allowed to sell your products (we’ll discuss these programs more below), then by definition these Rogue 3rd Party Sellers have already violated your company’s reseller rules just by selling your products without permission. They shouldn’t have been able to get their hands on your inventory in the first place, let alone resell it. So your MAP policy or any other reseller pricing policy you have in place won’t be the right enforcement tool to stop them.
But you do have options for dealing with rogue resellers on Amazon. In fact, we’ve written an online guide to dealing with unauthorized Amazon resellers. For this post, we’ll briefly run through a few steps you can take to stop (or at least slow) these *%!*^@, who are harming your legitimate retail partners and probably doing damage to your brand.
6 Ways to Deal with Rogue Amazon Resellers
Sign up for the Amazon Brand Registry.
We’ve devoted an entire blog post to the Amazon Brand Registry—specifically the new and improved version of their recently updated Amazon Brand Registry 2.0.
There are several reasons you might want to join this program (including the ability to post your content to the live Amazon marketplace more quickly and easily), but what’s important to know regarding rogue resellers is that the Amazon Brand Registry offers some tools to help you spot even the more sophisticated sellers representing your brand without your permission.
For example, one way that clever rogue retailers can get away with selling products on Amazon without permission from the brand owner is by “hiding”—sometimes creating phony ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers) for products, and sometimes, that’s as simple as just changing their own company name when they get caught by the manufacturer.
The Amazon Brand Registry also gives you access to tools that enable you to merge duplicate ASINs, more easily report IP-infringing or counterfeit sellers, and more.
Send some scary-as-heck legal warnings to the rogue sellers.
Here’s the one way that your company can actually benefit from the fact that a rogue Amazon retailer isn’t part of your resale network. When dealing with your legitimate retail partners, you always need to step carefully to avoid the legal pitfalls involved in setting, monitoring and enforcing your pricing guidelines. (This is one of many reasons we recommend not trying to draft or implement your reseller pricing policy alone, but instead working with brand protection experts who know where those legal pitfalls are.)
When you issue warnings to a resale partner who has violated your MAP policy, for example, you have to be mindful of several things to stay on the right side of antitrust law. For example, you must make sure you’re enforcing your policy’s rules and consequences consistently, because making an exception for one could be deemed creating an “agreement,” which is legally risky.
But when it comes to a rogue retailer, a company you have no relationship with and haven’t authorized to sell your products, you can be as aggressive as you want. You’re going after these companies not based on the prices they’re selling your products for, but for the fact that they don’t have authorization to sell them at all. As a result, you won’t have to worry about antitrust issues. Actually, their presence is interfering with your business practices, and that interference is causing your business harm—use it as a legal lever.
This means you can—and should—have lawyers draft some really scary, really aggressive letters and be ready to send them to rogue retailers. You can threaten them with suits, threaten to take your case against their rogue behavior to Amazon (or other online marketplaces), whatever you and your legal team think will have the greatest impact. Go after them!
Create an Authorized Dealer Program.
What’s great about an Authorized Dealer Program is that it allows you to limit the companies to which your distributors and wholesalers are allowed to sell inventory (only to your approved list of retail partners), and then it restricts your retailers to sell only to end-user customers. This can make it much more difficult for rogue retailers to get their hands on your products.
Like your MAP policy, your Authorized Dealer Program can be effective because the businesses subject to it—your legitimate wholesalers, distributors, and retailers—all have something to lose by violating it. Your program’s policy, for example, can state that violators can lose inventory for a period or even be dropped from the program altogether. This gives incentive for your resale channel to honor your program and police its own behavior.
With an Authorized Dealer Program, businesses interested in selling your inventory must apply to your program, giving your company the chance to vet each would-be partner. And if you do catch a rogue retailer selling your products on Amazon, having this program in place can help you more quickly determine how that company got its hands on your inventory—because your authorized dealers can’t sell to just anyone.
For more information about Authorized Dealer Programs, you can read our blog comparing these programs to MAP policies.
Complain directly to Amazon (but compile the right type of evidence first).
This strategy is actually hit-or-miss. Amazon itself makes a big point across the Amazon Seller Central portal for retailers that the marketplace thrives on competition and wants more customers to have more choice, from more sellers, when it comes to buying a product.
So simply complaining to Amazon that a retailer is selling your products without your permission won’t result in Amazon pulling those listings or removing the rogue retailer altogether.
Amazon may intervene when it finds a violation of a company’s copyrights or other infringements on that company’s intellectual property, when the listing of a product poses a safety concern to the consumer or there is a concern of counterfeit product being sold. By removing these pages and ads, Amazon can minimize the risk of being roped into a lawsuit.
So if you find a rogue retailer on Amazon, one strategy is to build a case that the retailer is violating your intellectual property rights, if that is the case. You’ll have to do some research here, but perhaps if the company has “stolen” your sales copy, or is using your product’s images without your permission on its sales page, those acts could put that retailer on the wrong side of copyright law.
Here’s where getting accepted into the Amazon Brand Registry as your company’s official Brand Owner across the Amazon marketplace can help. If you can use Amazon’s sophisticated search tools to find instances of retailers using your content (such as copy, images, or videos) without your permission, you might be able to persuade Amazon to take action against that retailer.
Apply to become a Restricted Brand on Amazon.
For most companies, probably yours included, Brand Gating will be hard to achieve. But let’s talk it through, just in case it’s an option worth pursuing.
Amazon’s Restricted Brand status puts your brand (or just some specific products, if you prefer) on a list that limits which resellers can offer those products on Amazon’s marketplace. This approach is usually reserved for brands most vulnerable to counterfeiting—luxury apparel, high-end handbags, and consumer electronics.
The downside is that for many manufacturers it will go too far in other direction— making it more difficult for even the manufacturer’s legitimate retailers to sell its products through Amazon. That means it could ultimately cost you retail partners and revenue.
Sellers often complain that Amazon prevents them from listing certain products on the marketplace even though they are members in good standing of the manufacturer’s Authorized Dealer Network.
Also, getting onto this Restricted Brand list requires effort, starting with an application to Amazon and requires a documented history of problems on the marketplace involving counterfeit product and safety concerns triggered by the listing of products from unknown or unvalidated sellers.
And if Amazon accepts your brand onto its Restricted Brand list, they will be much more aggressive in preventing sellers from creating sales listings of your products on Amazon (other than those retail partners you specifically allow).
Unless your company is trying to prevent counterfeiters from selling phony versions of your products on Amazon, this might be too aggressive an approach to dealing with unauthorized resellers.
Set up an automated brand protection service that actively tracks and monitors many of these rogue sellers.
One final suggestion, and probably the most practical and cost-effective options for dealing with rogue retailers on Amazon: Deploy an Internet brand protection solution backed by a team of experts who can also help you specifically address rogue retailers on Amazon.
The team here at TrackStreet has been monitoring Amazon and other online marketplaces for many hundreds of brand owners for years—and we maintain and continuously monitor our customers’ products against a database of rogue retailers across Amazon. We are always looking for sales pages and ads that shouldn’t exist because the sellers don’t have our customers’ permission to represent their brands. And we often must take action against malicious actors so that brand owners can focus their time and attention on things that help them build relationships and grow revenue.
If you’d like to learn how this can work for you, let us give you a free demo.