Join me as I host Bruce Anderson of E-ENFORCE as we discuss strategies and resources for Brands to shut down duplicate listings, counterfeit sellers, deal with unauthorized sellers and MAP violators on Amazon.
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Shannon: OK. Well, welcome to Marketplace Seller Courses Facebook Live webinar. Thank you guys, everyone who’s here and joining us. I’m here with Bruce Anderson. He is the E-Commerce Director for Enforcement for E-Enforce as well as the co-founder for Cyber Investigation Services. And today, we ‘re going to be talking about specifically how to stop unauthorized sellers and counterfeiters and MAP violators from basically abusing your account on Amazon or ruining your brand’s reputation really.
And so, we’ll go ahead and get started. If you have comments or questions, you can put them in the Facebook comments on our page. Or, you can also enter them in the chat section here on Zoom on our live webinar platform. And of course, if you’re unable to attend the whole thing that’s not a problem .We’re going to be recording the whole thing. It will be available on Facebook Live afterwards and it will also be available on our website at MarketplaceSellerCourses.com. So Bruce, thank you so much for joining and we’ll go ahead and get started.
Bruce: Thank you so much for having me.
Shannon: Of course. So Bruce, you got a background that’s really unique. It combines law enforcement. It combines cyber investigation and then it also has– it’s tied into a lot of the legal aspects of it. I think that’s what makes E-Enforce so unique in terms of the services and we’ll get into that further down the line and you even got a special offer for participants in this webinar for that. But let’s start at the very beginning and talk about infringement because there are a few types of infringement on Amazon that we see most common.
Trademark Infringement on Amazon
Shannon: And the first sort of section that we’ll talk about is infringement. And then we’ll talk about sort of the distribution side of it. So, starting with infringement, let’s just kick it off with trademark infringement. What does that look like on Amazon? What are the biggest violations that we tend to see on Amazon in terms of trademark infringement?
Bruce: Well, there’s a difference between what people think as trademark infringement on Amazon versus what is actually happening in trademark infringement. But as most people think about it is brands or saying lots of sellers that are not authorized to sell their product but are posting up on and selling their products and a lot of different as you said, distribution we’ll talk about later, but where are they getting these products? How are they getting these products? But they’re now advertising that and quite frankly they’re– most of them are selling below MAP pricing. In fact, in our– our record show that about 75% of the unauthorized sellers are selling below MAP.
And so, what this is doing is causing a downward spiral pressure on brands because ultimately, you know, if that person is getting the Buy Box then you know I can be buying at the store locally go in and go “hey, I found it on Amazon for half price of that, you know, will you match it?” And it just creates this real problem. So, from a trademark viewpoint, that’s kind of what is creating a problem. But what we also see is that most brands including a lot of the major global brands that we’ve worked with really didn’t have their trademark protection structured right in order to be able to enforce their trademark. So there’s a difference between having a trademark and just because you have one, and it’s up on Amazon and someone is using that trademark doesn’t mean that you can enforce that. There are certain things that have to be done in order to overcome that trademark violation and the First Sale Doctrine.
Shannon: So let’s talk a little bit and break that down because I think this is important. If I’m brand owner, I had a registered trademark and I create a listing on Amazon using my branded trademark. I’m giving, whether people realize it or not, I’m giving Amazon authorization to keep that content up basically globally and as long as I’ve created that listing anybody can sell on that listing as long as the product that they’re selling matches the description. So if they’re selling the same product as far as Amazon is concerned, they’re OK with anybody selling on that listing.
And we most often see trademark infringement in terms of you have a branded trademark and other people are using that brand or trademark name in their own product titles, in their product features or descriptions in order to garner traffic that would normally just go to their brand in order to sway people to buy their either imitation product or just counterfeit product or what have you that it’s the use of the branded trademark term in their product listing that you did not create that they created. That tends to be the most consistent violation that we’ve seen and is also the quickest to be able to shut down if you point that out to Amazon through a trademark infringement.
Bruce: Yeah. And what we have though enforcing in that method at least of us and we’ve done over the years now is that the biggest fight that everybody will have is the First Sale Doctrine. So it says, they might be using the trademark but nevertheless is they’ve bought that product and you know I can go to Walmart and buy 10 cases of anything and go put it on Amazon or eBay and sell it for a penny. And I’ve done nothing wrong unless brands are protected themselves against that type of thing.
Copyright Infringement on Amazon
Shannon: Right. So that’s– that deals with and addresses most of the trademark issues. The second most common that one that we see is the copyright infringement, and that is typically done by use of photos. People literally just going on Amazon or e-commerce stealing photos off. And there’s again, there are two sides to the use of this. On one side of copyright violation could be they are actually selling their product, it’s actually your product. They’re buying it wholesale or bulk or discount or just to resell or sometimes even drop shipping. And they take your photos off of your website or social media and may create an Amazon listing without your permission even though they’re selling your actual product. That’s a copyright violation. And the other side is they steal your photos for their listing to promote their product that is not your product.
So those again are the two most common copyright infringements that we’ve seen. Rarely do we see an actual you know people stealing text or copy although we have seen that as well. And to your point, photos typically I know do not necessarily need to be registered with the US Copyright Office in order for Amazon to help enforce that. I know that there’s a lot of pass regarding but as long as you can show proof whether they’re on your website or what have you that Amazon would probably take those down. But what else do you find in terms of the copyright infringement side of things when it comes to Amazon?
Bruce: I think you’ve really outlined and we don’t really attack the copyright angle just because we– the challenge that most brands are facing when you zoom out is they’re having these seller all kind of different ways so either violating copyright, trademark both and ultimately it’s impacting their sales and ultimately what you’re fighting is loss of sales for that company. And what they have explained to us is even though Amazon does certain things in there but they’re not really wanting to be all that helpful and relation to taking that down.
And so you mean even if you have brand, you know brand registry and even though you’ve done some brand gating and those types of things, you can do certain stuff and it helps in some ways but it just doesn’t solve the unauthorized problems for most brands. And the word we hear most of all is whack-a-mole is we take 100 down and 100 come right back up and I’m just doing this for the rest of my life. What do I do? And that’s really what we’ve attacked at E-Enforce.
Counterfeit Infringement on Amazon
Shannon: Let’s talk a little bit about counterfeits because again I think there are some common– and a couple of different forms and variations. Say for example I have a legitimate listing right, for my branded product and somebody jumps on that listing and they’re selling a product that is not my branded product. That could be considered counterfeit and the other one is where people are actually near duplicating their product and actually you know just completely ripping it off and selling it on their own listing with their own brand, their own name that kind of thing. What again are the common cases that you see counterfeit infringement on Amazon and how that typically plays out?
Bruce: Yeah. We’re actually seeing both of those. So, one is a lot of times the folks will come out of the products. I’ll give you an example, we have someone came to us the other day with the product that they had. They had a bill in the US specifically to protect it. They had a patent on their product. And they came out on Amazon, it was a hot seller and the next thing you know it’s being sold in volume around the world. And what they’ve done is that some of them are utilizing the actual name of the product itself and others just actually took it and reproduced it and selling it on another name. So that’s one aspect of it.
Secondarily is, is that you can to have brands that have a product that you know takes something like a pillow that got back covers on it or whatnot. And they may be an expensive pillow that’s being sold by someone else, you know for let’s say $40 or $50 and, but someone is now knocking it up selling it under that ASIN but now selling it for $4 and obviously counterfeit in that aspect. And we’re seeing all of the above in a variety of games that are being played both domestically and internationally as it relates to counterfeit.
Shannon: Yeah, we even had a situation where we were cleaning up listings and we went through an order product from all the sellers. We wanted to just get a feel for what was out there. We wanted to see what people were selling where they drop shipping it from retail stores with some of them were, were they selling older outdated product. And we found in once case that they were selling product that had the brand name on it, the logo on it, it came in a cardboard box and it had the materials and inserts and everything in it but it was not our product. I mean it was basically a highly engineered counterfeit. And when we filed an infringement against the seller, they actually came back to us and said, “We had no idea we actually thought it was legitimate”. And obviously, there are situations where people will say that. But it indicates they’re buying from a gray market. They’re not buying from a reseller but– or a distributor.
But, the point is that there are some cases where people can unknowingly be selling a counterfeit product. In fact, I know there was client where it was a pretty highly engineered electronic product and it got out to the point where the box was the same, the insert was the same and the only thing that was different was the gauge of wiring inside the product. Other than that, it was like this perfect replica counterfeit and…
Shannon: We literally– they send it to the manufacturer and the manufacturer couldn’t tell the difference between the counterfeit and their product. So…
Shannon: There are challenges where even when you file a counterfeit infringement, there’s always that little bit of investigation to find out how it’s actually coming about and whether somebody is maliciously guilty or they just fell into it, they were looking to sell some extra product in Amazon and made a bad decision.
Bruce: Yeah. Counterfeit comes in all the different shapes and sizes and from complex to simple and like you said, where you’ve got exact knock offs of really you know sophisticated product. And this is the problem that– and so we see a lot of the global brands having with some of their products as well.
Distribution Enforcement on Amazon
Shannon: So, let’s get in and talk a little bit about distribution because this is where you guys really shine and I feel like it’s the biggest aspect that E-Enforce deals with. I want to start with talking about this idea of prevention versus intervention. Because prevention always seemed expensive upfront but is always cheaper in the long run. And so, I want to cover some of that. The three things sort of that I see that we’ll get into are unauthorized sellers, duplicate listings and MAP violators, so we’ll kind of hit each one of those first.
But in a general stance for prevention versus intervention, what do you see as the biggest thing that brands can do to prevent a lot of this from the get go and even you talked about being able to enforce a trademark just if you have a trademark doesn’t mean you can enforce a trademark. What are things on the distribution side that are really, really important on the prevention side for brands and manufacturers?
Bruce: One of the things that we’ve learned is that enforcement and prevention and etc., is kind of a lump together package is really involves legal. It involves technical visibility. It involves proactive stance. It also involves investigative capabilities in order to identify who you even swinging at in this deals. What we have– so one of the biggest challenges that we find with a lot of companies that we work with regardless of size is that they have not stepped through the right legal steps in order to be able to enforce their trademark. And I just want to make a disclaimer here, we’re not attorneys and we don’t practice law and we work with top 200 law firm and so we go through a lot of this.
First thing, you got to have a trademark. Second thing is you got to show that someone is violating that trademark or is actually using a trademark. And the third thing that has to happen is that you have to show that there is confusion being made in the marketplace. And that confusion is, is what do I get if I am buying something from an authorize seller versus an unauthorized person? Is there a distinguishment between that? And those things can be material differences such as warranties and guaranties and date stamps, product control, special offers, a variety of things that if I bought from you and you’re authorized then I get it. And if I buy from somebody else, Joe in his truck, I don’t get it and that then causes a confusion in the marketplace. And if you can structure your agreements with your distributors and your retailers and certain clauses related to that as well as create material differences in that particular product now you can have an enforceable trademark to address that violation .
Shannon: Right. It’s about having that infrastructure setup before you get the problem because once you have 50 people you know knocking off your product or reselling on Amazon, you’re already in the weeds. You’re way past prevention side. At this point, it’s having to go back and do clean up. So, you know again I know that I’ve heard some really good articles on making sure that you not only have an agreement with your distributor but also with the resellers that the distributor sells to. And again, I don’t do distribution law but the idea that you would have the ability to actually approve every reseller before you sell to them. And we do some aspects where if somebody is– that were selling to you has an account, we want to know what their Amazon seller ID is so that we can always track that in the future and know that this is one of the people that we’re selling to. Because trying to go back and find it later can be impossible in some circumstances but we’ll get to some solutions in a minute regarding that.
Duplicate Listings on Amazon
Let’s talk about duplicate listings because this is a problem that we see all the time even in some cases with authorized resellers that even if they’re an authorized reseller, they’re creating a duplicate listing in what this does for brand is, it hurts your brand and it hurts your sales. And I’ll explain two ways that happens. The first is if I had my primary product and my product listing. I will have invested a significant amount of time, energy and money to optimize that listing so that has the best brand appearance, the copy is good, the lifestyle photos, now you can do enhance brand content and so forth.
If somebody creates a duplicate listing, they are most likely far less time, energy and effort into that. So it’s going to be subpar, it’s going to be old photos, low resolution, low copy. And if somebody comes across their listing before yours it gives a very bad brand impression. The other thing that it does is it separates your product review. So if I have two listings of the same product and may each have 50 reviews where you have considered that if that duplicate listing has never been there, all the products would have been purchased through a single listing and you would have 100 reviews. And the similarly, you’re supporting your sales. So if you have a number one best seller, you’re going to have that if that reseller split around 3 to 5 to 10 ASIN’s.
So those are kind of the biggest things I see in terms of duplicate listings. What are some of the things that you guys see most often with that when you are enforcing on Amazon or eBay or some of the other marketplaces.
Bruce: I think you’ve outlined it perfectly is you know there’s different things that brands are impacted by, one of then is obviously loss of sales and loss of money in what they’re doing as well as disgruntled distributors and retailers. The other piece of this is their customer base. And if you’re getting you know, so now you can start to tarnish reputation that you know some companies have spent the last 50 years building. And so now, you’re getting in for your product and for your packaging and for your everything that’s not the latest and greatest. And so it’s creating, as you said, that false image of that particular brand that the brand spent tons of money in order to make it you know crisp, sharp and relevant. And so, we see exactly the same thing there. And for some brands that’s important. Ultimately, they have a bad enough problem, it becomes important for everybody.
Bruce: But sometimes it’s just not a big enough problems yet where that has impacted brand to the reputation just more on the financial side.
Shannon: And here are a couple of things that I want to mention in terms of the prevention versus intervention. We found launching brand new products, emerging brands and new product lines, if you keep the sellers off, it’s much easier to keep any new sellers off. If you already have a problem and you’re coming down and there are 50 sellers on it, it’s nearly impossible to get everybody off by yourself. It just, it doesn’t happen. The psychological phenomenon to this is known as deindividualization. And it’s the whole concept that in a riot, people will walk up through a storm through, will break through it and go on and grab a bunch of stuff. But it’s because they feel like there’s a bunch of other people doing it and they’re not going to get caught. There’s no personal identification whereas normal person would not walk down the street and just randomly pick up a brick and toss it to a window.
So, the idea is that if you have one person on the list you’d be violating MAP, it’s much easier to call that person now and hold some accountability as opposed to if you have 20 people violating MAP because I’ve got an email responses, they’ll say, “Hey, well so and so is doing it and I’m losing the Buy Box to them and you know these other people are doing it so why should I comply because I’m not the only one and it’s hurting my sales” and that side of things.
Enforcing Unauthorized Sellers on Amazon
Bruce: Well, you bring up a good point is that the earlier on that you can adapt this as a strategy of gaining control over your unauthorized sellers is really important because it’s kind of like crabgrass you give a brand there and it grows a little bit not too bad and then you go just a little more and you still don’t feel like willing. And the next thing you know you got a lawn full of it. And that’s exactly what we see happening in the unauthorized sellers. But if you start early it’s much easier to manage, it’s less costly to manage for brands. And we also see a lot of– you know we have both brands that are mature brands but now are rolling out with a whole new product line. And so the sooner that we can now go after that product line early on, it does a couple of things. One, it puts people on notice that you’re reinforcing that. And secondarily is we take different tasks or understand where is the distribution leakage early on. And so, where we may wait a while before we actually do investigations of an individual, identify them etcetera because of the way our system works. But in that scenario in a roll out we may reverse that and we do a heavy investigation early on so we can cut the distribution leakages off of the past.
Shannon: Yes. So there are a couple of comments on that. One is really small brands with just a couple of products and we’ve seen brands that are brand new, modern pop, gourmet food companies or solo inventors and they’re shocked to find that people are already knocking off and creating duplicate listings. But you do not have to be a huge brand that we have a woman who sells a gourmet sauce product and I was doing some research and I’m like, “You have like three or four different resellers selling duplicate listing. They’re just on multi packs of your products and that sort of thing.” And so, it’s not just the big brands product or a big brand problem a lot of that…
Shannon: A lot of even bigger sellers, they’re not even aware it’s happening. And so, a colleague of mine was working with his business partner and they were helping a client and they said, “What are you going to do about the infringement that’s happening?” And they go, “I don’t have an infringement problem. Nobody is knocking anything up.” And they immediately sent him like 10 listings that were all duplicate knock offs in their product. It was like, oh my gosh, they didn’t even know that they have a problem.
Shannon: So that sort of lack of awareness or ignorance like if you’re– ignorance is bliss except when it’s not on e-commerce on Amazon then it’s a problem.
Bruce: Well, we have– we see the same summer thing is that where folks are so focused on Amazon that they’re never looked at eBay. And when they look at their– and then they go over to e-bay and realize that their eBay problem is three times the size of their Amazon problem, they go, “Wow! And I had no idea that even existed.”
Protecting Your Verified Reviews on Amazon
Shannon: And that’s going to be part of the special offer that we’ll share at the end of the webinar. But, the third point that I want to make that’s right in line with this why it’s so important to have distribution enforcement early on is product reviews are gold on Amazon, verified product reviews. But if you have somebody who’s selling a product on your listing and there’s a problem with it either it’s on our counterfeit or just hasn’t been handled well, it hasn’t been stored well, it’s past the expiration date, it’s an older version, whatever the case may be. If a customer purchases from that seller and then leaves an Amazon verified purchase review, it’s almost impossible to get that review removed.
So, for us, it’s much easier to shut down another seller’s listing if it’s a counterfeit or a trademark infringement. But to protect your own listings from unauthorized sellers because of the negative product reviews that has a huge impact. And I think it’s actually one of the most important parts that’s often not discussed as much because it has a huge long term component to it especially in terms of product sales for that particular listing.
Bruce: You know that’s true and one of the components of our enforcement system is we actually monitor what’s happening on reviews and pricing and then there’s several indicators that will also flag that someone’s potentially counterfeiting with that. And so, so you get to see you know, it’s a different way of flagging bad stuff and we also have that built in.
Enforcing MAP Violation on Amazon
Shannon: So, let’s talk a little bit about MAP violation and then we’re going to get in to some of the– what sellers and brands can do to sort of prevent and clean this up. MAP violation is just huge. MAP according to US law is enforceable. You can have a minimum advertised price and to provide a little background and context for Amazon. Minimum Advertised Price does not mean the price that they sell it at. It is what you advertise it as being sold at. So for example, the way Amazon has handled this technically is if the MSRP maybe is $35 and the MAP price is $25. I can put the MAP price and I found a reseller, from an authorized reseller. I can put the MAP price into $25 but then sell it for $19.95 and what Amazon has done technically is it will say, add this cart to product in order to see their price.
And so, basically it’s a little extra work for the consumer but it does protect the pricing sort of in terms of what’s displayed on Amazon which is at least helpful for some brand protection. Nut it’s important to know that just because they’re it at that price does not mean they’re violating MAP per se. But there is an aspect where people just don’t care and they’re advertising at a lower price and selling at a lower price. And that is 100% a whack-a-mole game because you can tell them to stop on Friday and they’ll start again on Saturday. Or you can tell them to shut it down on Monday and they’ll bring their price up and you know immediately within days or hours they are right back to violating MAP again.
Bruce: Absolutely. And what we’re hearing from the brands these days is their biggest concern is not so much MAP from authorized groups. For the most part, people are playing fair with that as long as they had some kind of organization in their structure of agreements and those kinds of things with distributors and MAP policy, etc. And there’s tons of other folks out there that do MAP monitoring in the brand that’s really not what our focus is, you know we have the capability of doing it.
But what they’re complaints are and it is really how do I control the people that are not selling MAP that I have no agreement with, I have no control over. They’re just selling it for anything they want. And I don’t know who they are. I don’t know if they’re my distributors, I don’t know if they’re my retailers, I don’t know through linkage I don’t know if it’s counterfeit. I don’t know who they are. I have no idea how to get a hold of them. What do I do and these are the challenges that I think a lot of the brands, at least that comes to us that are struggling with that– where we help them in that enforcement area.
Identifying Unauthorized Sellers on Amazon
Shannon: So let’s talk about the two aspects of that. The first is that Amazon does not enforced distribution. Their policy is distribution is between a brand and the seller. So that’s going back to our previous point, it’s important to have those distribution agreements in place, in fact, if you’re planning on selling an e-commerce product that is one of the first things that I think you need to do is consult with the distribution attorney or your own attorney and make sure that you have solid distribution agreements in place, who can sell, who can resell where they can sell and for what pricing they can sell. That is part of the prevention aspect to it. The biggest challenge that a lot of sellers face in terms of this is the whole concept of the seller anonymity, right? So all of a sudden I’ve got Joe Schmo who can sell under any seller display name they want and I don’t know who they are. And that’s one of the biggest challenges that people face on Amazon. What are some of your thoughts on that aspect of it?
Bruce: Yeah. It is true. They don’t know who they are and they play a lot of games. Though change store names at will, they’ll come down for a few days, come back up you know they’ll sell at night when they don’t think anybody is looking. They do all kind of games with that. And consequently, that’s where when I said the three pillars of the legal, technological and investigative. The technological aspect got to be able to have visibility of that and know exactly what’s happening with that. But in terms of the anonymity, yeah, people are– what we find are three types of sellers: One, is that they don’t know they did anything wrong. They have been told they can sell product First Sale Doctrine and applies yada, yada, yada, I’m good. And most of those people when you start enforcing them will go away, right?
The second group of people are those “Ahh, I’ve seen those before. I’ve wall-papered my office with cease and desist letters. Nobody is going to do anything. They can’t enforce this, yadi, yada, yada. I’m not going to stop.” And then the third person is that “I know exactly what I’m doing. I bet skin in the game and that I’m making no money on this and so therefore you got to make it more painful for me to go away than just sending me a piece of paper.”
The Best Way to Protect Your Brand on Amazon
Shannon: And you guys know how to do that so… [Laughter] So let’s– I want to mention sort of just the general concept. This is not a recommendation for brands, it’s just what I’ve seen as successful. And so I just want to mention this as a key point. The brands that I’ve seen be most successful on Amazon. In terms of this whole aspect, the distribution enforcement and infringement tend to be the sole seller of their products or they have selected and identified and given brand registry to a sole reseller that will allow them to do everything from listing that listings properly, optimizing the listings properly at an enhanced brand content and then monitoring the marketplace.
So, again, I’m not making a recommendation, I’m just saying from my experience, it’s much easier if you have a single seller on that listing that if you have one person pop on we’ll send them a message and then typically, they’ll say no problem and they’ll jump off. A lot of people are just drop shippers, the price is higher, they’re never going to win the Buy Box but we found that one person is much more likely to go away than 12 people. And it doesn’t really make sense to have 12 or 15 or 20 authorize resellers on Amazon because again, they’re always going to be fighting for the Buy Box, there’s more temptation to create duplicate listings whatever they can do to earn income.
So, again from my perspective as a consultant, that’s what I’ve seen most effective is single seller from the brand or single authorized reseller and just the information that is actually important is your conversion rate increase if a product that is your brand is sold from and ships by that brand. It is actually huge conversion rate increase. So, if your product is acne product, and it ships from and sold by acne source, your conversion rate is going to go up because the customer confidence level is there. So we had a client that was selling directly and they said, “Well, we’re going to outsource this to our distributor.” And the distributor’s name was completely different, nobody knew who they were. They had made some other mistakes. What wee did– they did see a significant drop off in sales just because it was no longer sold from the trusted brand name.
Bruce: Yeah. No, that makes total sense. We would agree with that. If you have the opportunity to start fresh is– and as you’re from our consultant on your side you’re absolutely right. One may at most three or four sellers that are sitting there and even then like you said, you’re competing by– so there are a lot of reasons why not to necessarily have a bunch there but it also helps controlling all the rest. So many of the brands that are coming to us, you’re talking about 10 or 12 sellers. We’re saying hundreds of unauthorized sellers sitting on there. And they don’t know who’s their people, who’s not their pe– they may– well, we think we got about 10 people that will be – yeah, they’re just no control.
But a lot of this quite frankly is five years ago and even before that is distribution models to brands where this is getting out everywhere it didn’t matter, you know, we never even thought about this thing on Amazon that – because it used to be if I get 10 boxes of something I sold them to my grandmother, my uncle and their friends and then I’m out, right? But if I’m now on Amazon, the rest of the world sees it and now it becomes very competitive and it’s a whole different game today that the distribution models of yesterday are not designed for today in the Amazon world.
Solutions for Infringement on Amazon
Shannon: Let’s go ahead and talk about solutions and I’ve kind of got mapped out sort of a four step solution. And these are all for different size brands, different size companies, different size manufacturers and even applicable to those who are private label who have achieved sort of a brand status where people are familiar with your brand or it’s very successful private labels that do that. Trader Joe’s being an example in the retail world but…
Number one is so it depends on the size of your brand as well as the size of the problem. So we’ll kind of just ramp up from small to big. But the first one is just manual search. If you’re a brand and you have not gone on and create your own brand name in Amazon search and gone through all the pages you’re probably missing something. There are probably some duplicate listings that you’re not aware of. There are probably some sellers using your branding and their listings that you’re not aware of. And that’s really like the bare bones, start from scratch, hey, let’s just d some searches and see what’s out there, because I think a lot of brands will be surprised that no matter how big or small you are there’s probably some duplicate listings of your product already.
Bruce: One of the things we see often when we run an ASIN count on a brand they think that they maybe have 50 ASIN’s that they’re working with and they may really be sitting there with 400. And you know “Wow, I didn’t even know those existed”. And so yeah it can get away from you pretty quickly there so it’s really important to know exactly what’s out there.
Benefits of Brand Registry 2.0
Shannon: So, step two is if you’re a brand and you have brand registry 2.0 which is everybody knows at this point, you need a registered trademark so it’s required a registered trademark to get brand registry 2.0 now. They do have a really neat tool that you can use where you can put in your trademark name and then will actually search all ASIN’s that have that trademark in it. Whereas of course if you are just doing a search on the Amazon.com search page it’s going to be more limited by using back-end tool, we found it will pull up old listings, for example, once they have been archived, they aren’t active but it gives you an indication of a problem.
The second thing you can do with that tool is you can do a photo or a copyrighted image search so I can upload a product photo and see all the listings that are using that image. And I’ll give you an example, last year I was working with a company and I was doing a search on it and all of a sudden it showed a related product and I’m like that’s the same product but it’s a totally different name but they were using the same product images. And so it’s a situation where if you’re just searching for your brand name somebody may not be suing your brand name at all but they’re still using your copyrighted images to create a counterfeit product. And without that image search, again, you would never know that somebody was using them. Because they’re not using the same brad name, they’re not using the same information. So Amazon is starting to provide some limited tools that are helpful to empower sellers to begin to use some investigation. But again, it’s all very manual. You have to go through it one by one. You’ve got to look at all the sellers and so forth. Any thoughts on that in terms of some elementary tools that Amazon is providing?
Bruce: Yeah. I think that you know the way tell all brands, regardless of the size, is use the things that Amazon provides you. And so, do the brand registry, to the brand gating, use the tools with that. And the smaller the brand, the easier that is to do, when you start to now have hundreds of spears and lots of different products and pricing and packaging and blah, blah, blah that becomes– starts to become much more difficult. And so, small brands and obviously they are trying to control their cost and so do as much as you can. Just know that at the end of the day, if you let it get out of control and you have a serious unauthorized problem, these tools and Amazon are not going to be much help.
Shannon: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a good indication of a starting point of how big is the problem just come and getting your head wrapped around it but again, we ‘re going to have an offer that’s going to help out with that. One of the things I just want to mention that on my side is the, the seller display name, this does not need to be in any way, shape or form your legal business name, have anything to do with a personal name and I lot of people know that. But to your point, they can change their seller display name everyday of the week. And Amazon doesn’t care and you’re not going to mess with that.
In our fifth course on Amazon Seller Issues where we look at distribution enforcement and explain a lot of these principles to people, we talk about how to find the seller ID in the URL of their seller profile because that does not change even if their seller display name does change. So, again, an important tool that if you’re going to start to be doing some of these yourself, recognize that the display name has a little to no value if you’re trying to track people unless you have that seller ID because that’s really what Amazon uses to track and keep track of the sellers.
Amazon Notification Tool: AMZ Alert
Shannon: I want to talk about sort of stage three. Now, this is for people who are aware some of the listings, are aware some of the issues, AMZ Alert is a great resource that we use, I use it for all the companies that I work with. And what AMZ Alert does is it allows you to put in ASIN’s that you sell on that are your listings and it will let you know if a new seller has been added, if a seller has been removed. It also gives you a separate grade alerts in terms of if the price fluctuates and I think that they’re working on adding a MAP component to that so if you put an amount price it will let you know if it drops below MAP.
And it not only does an email notification but a text notification so that you don’t get it like 12 hours later if it happens Friday night, you’re not just getting it Monday morning. You’re able to deal with the issue much quicker. But again, that only deals with the ASIN’s that you’re aware of. And to your point, it doesn’t deal with maybe if you got 50 listings, if you’re using AMZ Alert to track, it doesn’t deal with the other 350 that you didn’t even it were there or were, or potential issue.
Let’s talk a little bit about E-Enforce, how it evolved, I love the story I loved sort of brain up to speed and then talk about everything that E-Enforce does in that process of you know if there’s a customer or client that is curious how they onboard what you guys do and just sort of take us to the process. But let’s start with our evolution of the company because I find it really fascinating.
Amazon Distribution and Infringement Enforcement: E-Enforce
Bruce: Sure. Yeah, E-Enforce first of all is a division of an International Cyber Investigation Group that does a lot of high profile litigation support for criminals, civil cases worldwide, kind of a private FBI, if you will. And back in 2012, we got approached by a skin care manufacturer that was ZO Skin Health. And they had a serious problem, they sold only to the doctor marketplace but they had tons of products being sold on Amazon and eBay and they had a mess. And at that time, we couldn’t spell e-commerce very well and– but we know then because we had a logical tools and capabilities and us in conjunction with a top 200 law firm Vorys, Sater we collectively figured out and solved the problem for them and their sales exploded, etc.
And so, we said you know that ought to be interesting to other companies, we didn’t even know there was a market out there it for that. And so, since that period of time, now we’ve got over 50 companies that are, you know, that range from global, national to small companies and that are utilizing our services. But– and what we learned over that period of time and this is where I was saying earlier that it really– you can’t do this on the backend. You can’t just usually go– you can’t just use technical tools to alert you. You can’t just go investigate who it is and solve the problem. It is a truly an enforcement issue and this is where a lot of brands just. They’ve tried to do it themselves. Most of the big brands that can’t do it says, “Look, we’ve been doing it ourselves, we’re still playing whack-a-mole, we can’t make it stop, how do you make it stop?”
So, what we– so the very first piece of that is what we’ve already talked about is that you have to have the legal standing in order to be able to enforce your trademark utmost and foremost. Secondarily is then having the visibility. And what we’ve done over the years, we have our own proprietors of software so we’re able to see the entire ecosystem of Amazon and eBay. How many sellers are there authorized and unauthorized? What price points are they selling? How many SKU’s or ASIN’s are sitting there? Do they change the store days? Do they pop back up? Do they sell at off times? All of that information we have complete visibility of that. And we have deliverability to be able to send notifications directly to the sellers. And so, a lot of other people that have tried enforcement had tried doing it through Amazon and working with that and it just not– it’s just a mess. And consequently, what we realized is that the way to do it is go after the seller.
And so, the second thing is that a firm adapting the attitude of a zero tolerance policy. And a zero tolerance policy says is that we’re going to enforce our brand. We’re going to enforce our reputation, our pricing and control that. And so the first thing that we do is we go out with a well-written legal cease and desist that’s not just the general run in the mill stuff you see from most attorneys there, that goes out and says “Look, you’re in violation, stop.” And that goes to everybody in the entire ecosystem.
24-7 Infringement Monitoring and Enforcement
And then secondarily is, is that next day, anybody new that comes in so you can imagine if you’re a new seller and you’re selling somebody’s products and the very next day when you just put up you product and you got a notification from a big company and says “Hey, you’re in violation. Stop.” It’s unnerving for a lot of people. And again, a lot of people don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong. They can’t do that. There’s a lot of people teach them that they can. And so, therefore you got that person. But then our system automatically tracks in volume. And again, as you’ve mentioned earlier, a small brand when you’re you know when you get 1c2c’s that you’re dealing, yeah, you can do that yourself when you’ve got hundreds and you know of sellers and issues and products that are all interweaving and it becomes a very difficult challenge to be able to manage that.
And so, what we’re able to see is did they comply? Did they come down? And if they didn’t comply, we graduate then a more forceful letter that goes to them and saying “Hey, you’re still in violation. You need to come down and do this.” And– or if they change their store names, “Hey, we saw that. You changed your store name. You’re still in violation. You need to come down.” So, now, it gives the impression, “Well, golly, they’re watching everything I’m doing here on Amazon.” And so, consequently, we just keep that pressure up. What we find is about 40% to 70% of the sellers will go away with that constant pressure. Because they now believe and it’s all about the credibility of are you really going to enforce this? Do you really mean this and do you have the capability of enforcing it.
Bruce: And if people understood that and believe that then they will comply. The people that then are left over are those folks as I said earlier that are “Oh, I’ve got a cease and desist before and I wallpaper my walls you know with that and let them come after me. They can’t– they don’t even know who I am.” Right? Or, the guys that are saying “I’ve got real skin in the game, come after me because I’m making a lot of money.”
So our next step is this is where the cyber side of our world comes in then is we have the ability to now go out and identify who those people are. I mean we have law enforcement databases. We have all kind of cool cyber tools and a variety of ways that we identify these people. And oh yeah, by the way, even the benefit of that constant pressure and the other is what we’re finding is even a lot of the FBA sellers, OK will wind up going away because of the aggravation of that constant pressure of what they’re having to do and do that. And henceforth and we build this whole models so that you didn’t have to spend a ton of money on legal. That was the whole purpose of this because a lot of companies were just spending a lot of money on legal to try to enforce this and they were still of whack-a-mole.
But once we identify that person, now we go back to them and then say, “Hey, John Tamil, we know who you are. We know where you live. We have social security number. We know you’ve been doing this. We told you twice to stop. Stop! Or else we’re coming after you. We’re going to file federal trademark lawsuit against you.” A certain number of those people will fall off from there. The ones that do not, then what we do with the brand depending upon who’s there, what volume, what’s– there’s just over a lot of choices that happen there where that’s working with the brand because kind of like a bulldog enforcement group for them.
Stopping Infringement using Legal Notices & Federal Trademark Lawsuits
We’ll then say, OK, let’s take these next steps and graduate that enforcement on the person that we know, all the way to the last part of that enforcement is where we’ll send out a draft legal notice or draft complaint that is made out on their name and there exactly on says “Look, now you have to do two things. You have to stop like we told you to and you have to tell us where you’re getting your product. And if you don’t, we’ll file a federal trademark lawsuit.” And almost invariably 99.99% of the time, people have lawyered up and then lower your site. You do not want this fight. And that’s why it’s so critical to have all the pieces together where you got the ability to enforce. You’ve got the constant pressure and the image that you will enforce your brand. And at the end of the day is the ability to identify them and go after them if they don’t want to comply further from there and that’s kind of the gist.
Shannon: Yeah. It reminds me so much of the CBS show Hunted that I watched last season, you know it’s this whole idea, we got this whole team and people and you’ve got cyber and technical and legal and the law enforcement components all coming together. But in all seriousness, that is what you had done and a lot of companies only do one side. They only handle the legal side. Or they only handle the monitoring. Well, the monitoring is great but it doesn’t work without the legal stuff then you can have the legal team send letters but if you don’t have the investigators side you still remember the people are.
And you told me a remarkable statistic that the number of sellers that you can find out who they are– in addition to the fact then a lot of the unscrupulous sellers who are doing this show up on tons of products. I mean they’re on thousands of products so we’ll see the same sellers on two completely different product launch, completely different brands and they’re still sort of a pain in the neck on both sides. And you guys have a percentage of people that you’re actually able to [A] identify or [B] you most likely may already have them in your database and have identified them and know exactly who they are and what they’re actual physical location or address or information is.
Bruce: That’s exactly right. And that database just continues to grow every person we ID in our entire system with that that is recorded, kept and followed. And ultimately, ideally, is you could take an entire industry group go out and identify everybody that’s selling in that particular industry where you can do that and you could make a significant impact on that too.
Shannon: I want to handle one more thing and then we’ve got a handful of questions so, we’ll get to those in just a second. I want to address all these. The last component is this is actually something that you can quantify and qualify. So people go, “Well, you know, I don’t know how big the problem is…” and when I did this manually and I have to say it took me three-and-a-half months and there are still a couple of sellers that after we can identify, there are still a couple extra listings that we haven’t been able to shut down, like there’s a couple of extra things that like men it just wont go away. It’s a very manual time consuming process. And it is incredibly tedious. And we only know we’re finding and searching.
Stopping Your Loses from Counterfeits, Duplicates & Unauthorized Sales
Shannon: So, in fact, you can kind of build this but we use, we employed manually tactic that you guys are able to employ a little more automatically and that’s actually looking at this is the actual quantifiable loss of sales due to some of these other sellers. Talk really briefly about the ability to quantify that if you say you’re a losing $50,000 a month here’s how much it’s just going to cost you to clean up. That becomes a no brainer. Talk real quickly about that and then we’ll get to some of these questions.
Bruce: Sure. Yeah, one of the things that we have the ability to do is to run a snap shot where it would tell us how many unauthorized sellers either on Amazon and eBay, they will tell us how many ASIN’s, what SKU’s that will tell us how much money is actually being lost in those particular sales. And let me tell you, for a lot of companies, just a handful of SKU’s is big money not just little money, I’m talking about millions of dollars.
Bruce: And so, if you can now control the Buy Box of that, focus on those types of things and what we tell a lot of brands is that you know, you might have 500 SKU’s but you may have 20 of this costing you 90% of your money. So maybe let’s focus on those 20 and go after that and eliminate that. And so, anyhow, so we do have the ability to quantify how much money is being done and the way that we, the way we do that is we factor in– we figure with the basically if you get Buy Box, you get about 84% you know of the sales. And so, who’s getting that Buy Box and so and we also see that when we’re managing for a client is that we see who’s getting the Buy Box and that becomes part of the people that we’re going after as far as enforcement as well.
Shannon: Yeah, I want to do a quick pitch for that and then we’ll get to the questions. If you want to setup a consultation with E-Enforce and get the special offer which is that Amazon and eBay snap shot to get an idea how many listings, how many sellers, there’s a link in the Facebook link, there’s also going to be a link in the webinar email and it will also be on the follow-up as well that you can setup an consultation to get that offer.
And let’s go ahead and address some of these questions. So the first question is to be clear, you’re saying that we can make ourselves the only authorized dealer if we have the legal trademarks. That sort of an open-ended question but go ahead and let’s see if we can address that a little bit.
The Importance of Registering Your Trademark
Bruce: OK. If I understand the question right, is that first thing is that if you’re selling a brand, you need to go trade market and register that with the Trademark Office and so that is indeed registered so yes. And then, secondarily to your point, the lesser of the people that you allow to sell on Amazon, the better. And that is controlled by– who gets to sell is controlled through your distributor and your retailer agreements and you want to consider things in your distributor-retailer agreement like that if they do sell on, they do sell on Amazon, if they’re allowed, you have to know that they have to give you the store name and if not, they’re in violation of the distributor agreement that they can’t sell to others for the purposes of retail. There’s a variety of different types of clauses that want to gets wrapped into this that get control of your distribution network which quite frankly, this is where most of the problem arise in the first place.
Shannon: Yeah. I agree. I mean I think brand gating were something that people had looked at for a little while. It was something that Amazon had considered playing with where a brand would be gated and you could authorize you know white list sellers or Amazon with you know protect black list sellers from selling on that brand. But that only solves the problem for products that actually identify your brand. Meaning there’s still a whole situation where people could just be infringing on your trademark or copyrighter, that sort of thing and not use the brand and the product bringing– in which brand gating doesn’t even have any applicability anyway.
So, we’re going to go ahead and wrap up here. I do want to just say again, if you like an initial consult within E-Enforce, you can set that up by clicking through either the link in the Facebook or on MarketplaceSellerCourses.com in our resources, you can click the link to set up a consult for E-Enforce and that will give you that free snapshot of Amazon and eBay that’s going to be a huge benefit.
Also, for Marketplace Seller Courses, if you haven’t already checkout the website or subscribe to our email list, you can go do that at MarketplaceSellerCourses.com and our course Amazon Seller Issues which is course number five that really talks about a lot of trademark, copyright aspects as well as distribution enforcement, you got a 20% off coupon right now. Again, that’s in the webinar link or on Facebook and that will be good for the next few days. So if you’d like to get 20% off the entire package, you can do that again. It allows you to go through the whole course and it covers everything from optimizing your listings to setting up a distribution to making sure that you are getting the best out of Amazon and making the most of that opportunity.
So, I want to thank everybody for joining us today. And Bruce, thank you again. Any other thoughts or words as we finish up the webinar?
Bruce: No. I think we’ve covered it. I appreciate you having me.
Shannon: Great. Well, thank you so much. And everybody else, again this will be available on our website. Of course, if you want to get updates you can subscribe at MarketplaceSellerCourses.com. Like us on Facebook and the most important thing is of course if you enjoyed this webinar, we would ask you share it with anybody that you know that would be able to benefit from it. So again, thank you so much. And wish you a great day!