Shadow Hierarchy: How Grey Market Sales Really WorkHow Grey Market Sellers Operate
Which Amazon Brand Protection Agency Do I Choose?
Hi, I'm Emmanuel. I work with brands ranging from small health brands to billion dollar camera companies, helping them remove the most stubborn of unauthorized sellers. I'll be glad to guide you on your journey as you clean up your marketplace, once and for all.
Looking for Amazon Brand Protection? The biggest misstep that brands make when choosing a brand protection provider is assuming that this is a commodity market. It is not. One size does not fit all. If you have seen one, you have not seen them all. But, here's the thing, you want the best ability to monitor your online reseller channels, right?
There is a tremendous amount of nuance between providers. Some are competent, some are not. Some are cheap DIY tools, and some are customized and managed solutions. Some care about your brand, and some do not. It is important that you know what to look for and how to cut the wheat from the chaff.
Most importantly, each brand has unique needs. The reason your problem is unique is because your supply chain may be unique, or your manufacturing process is unique, or your authorized seller network is unique, etc. There may be common themes, but the way these themes come together to make up your problem is anything but common.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to read as much as this article as you can, beginning to end. Bookmark it if you have to. Online brand protection is a fast-developing market specifically when it comes to the grey market side, and techniques that worked last year may not work this year. There are distinct differences between brand protection solutions that we will go over that may not be clear if you are new to brand protection or even if you are shopping around for the 2nd or 3rd time because you were unhappy with your previous brand protection agency.
I wish you luck and success in your search for a solution.
Part 1 - The Basics
Online Brand Protection vs Offline Brand Protection
This topic might seem obvious, but do not be too quick to overlook it. Unless your product is 100% digital like a Kindle Book or Audio Book, your product had to exchange hands multiple times to end up on Amazon, and in the possession of an unauthorized seller.
The top of the iceberg may be online, but most of the damage is happening offline through distributors selling sideways or retailers trying to make an extra buck.
Some brands may not be as concerned about online sales, instead focusing on parallel imports between countries that are sold in stores outside of their jurisdiction. This is more common in the diamond industry or beverage companies like Pepsi or Coca Cola.
If you are considering counterfeits, then customs surveillance, investigation, and raid actions are key to prevent fake goods from moving between countries.
In the IT world, products and licenses can be sold via partnerships with certain distributors or word of mouth/referrals that happen offline. This is nowhere near as common as it used to be in the 80's and 90's.
Things to Think About
1. What is happening offline to cause my products to appear in the wrong hands online?
2. Is my main focus on protecting my brand online or offline? Or both?
Black Market Goods vs Grey Market Goods
This is the first fundamental distinguisher between online brand protection providers. Do you have a grey market problem, a counterfeit/knockoff problem, or both?
Black market goods are considered illegal products that constitute a trademark infringement and can be challenged in court. This includes counterfeits, knockoffs, and replicas. Below is a quote from an excellent article regarding the differences between these trademark infringement types.
Grey market goods refer to authentic product that is being sold through unauthorized channels, as determined by the manufacturer.
Monitoring vs Enforcement
It key point to understand is that there is a distinct difference between a monitoring service and an enforcement service. Very simply, a map monitoring service will only display violation data on a dashboard or send you email alerts when new violations occur. They will not remove the violations. At best, these services will give you a low-quality Cease & Desist template to send to violators yourself, if you can figure out how to contact them. We empower brands with the ability to manage their online presence.
Keep in mind that for many brands, this is all that they need. They simply want to have a birds-eye view of their marketplace, either to create reports for team members, because they cannot get approval for enforcement, or just to stay on top of what is going on. Other brands are only interested in monitoring their authorized channels and prefer to do the contacting themselves. There are also many large enterprise brands that have internal legal departments with unique compliance standards that do not want 3rd parties involved in enforcement, for various reasons.
Enforcement services take action on current MAP violators and unauthorized sellers. This can take many forms.
Authorized Seller enforcement that contacts authorized channels who are violating MAP. These emails or letters are much softer than unauthorized seller Cease & Desist letters since the brands usually are not yet ready to cut off the channel and prefer a gentle reminder.
Unauthorized seller enforcement is much more aggressive and requires Cease & Desist letters, Brand Registry complaints (if necessary), test purchases, investigation, etc.
Trademark Infringement vs Copyright Infringement vs Grey Market Goods
Trademark and copyright enforcement is important when focused on counterfeits, knockoffs, or even grey market goods. The better educated you are on this topic, the more power you have to identify correct enforcement angles to get violators removed.
Copyright applies to original works of authorship that are produced by the author's own intellectual effort instead of copying or modifying it from an existing work.
When it comes to brand protection, copyright removal applies to all images owned by the brand and sales copy written by the brand on it's website. This is important because lazy sellers will often copy and paste the official image of a product or the sales description on their listing. This is an easy removal on all large online marketplaces including Amazon, Ebay, or Walmart. This is why you see so many listings where a seller takes their own picture. They protect themselves from a copyright complaint, but they take a loss in sales from the amateur-looking picture.
The main differentiator between copyright and trademark is that trademark has to do with the words, symbols, and colors that are associated with your brand. If a brand has a trademark registered with the USPTO, then that is an easy take-down if a seller, domain name, or knockoff is using your logo or name or something similar that can cause customer confusion.
If you are serious about trademark enforcement, start the process of registering for a trademark immediately if you have not done so already. Once your trademark is approved, you can sign up for Amazon Brand Registry which will give you access to enforcement tools that protect your trademark and copyright in an organized manner. Furthermore, this will lead to easy take-downs on most online marketplaces, Google searches, domains, etc. and add more bite to your Cease & Desist letters. Finally, if necessary, will give you the ability to win lawsuits over anybody infringing on your intellectual property. You can thank the Lanham Act for that.
First Sale Doctrine
You may be thinking that copyright and trademark enforcement only applies to sellers who make lazy mistakes or sell counterfeits, but that is not true. Savvy brand protection specialists can use trademark infringement techniques on grey market listings.
The first concept to understand is the First Sale Doctrine. The Doctrine states that the owners of a copyrighted work can sell, lend, or share their copies without needing permission or paying fees. You can't make and sell your own copies - the copyright holder has those rights - but if you bought a copy of a book, you have the right to resell it to whomever you'd like, with no restrictions.
This is the foundation of Amazon, Walmart, and eBay third-party sales. This is the law that makes it legal to resell new or used products. If you have any experience sending Cease & Desist letters to gray market sellers, then you know that many sellers are quick to yell "First Sale Doctrine" the instant they receive a letter. They are not 100% wrong there, particularly for items sold as used, but they are not 100% correct either.
Which brings us to the concept of Material Differences. This concept arose from a 2005 ruling in Beltronics USA, Inc. v. Midwest Inventory Distrib., LLC, 562 F.3d 1067, 1072 (10th Cir. 2009) which concluded that the First Sale Doctrine does not protect resellers who sell trademarked goods that are materially different than those sold by the trademark holder.
Basically, the question to ask is, "What does materially different mean in terms of brand protection?" Well some examples of materially different include products whose warranties or service agreements do not apply when sold by unauthorized resellers, products with international packaging sold on listings with USA packaging, products with specific temperature control requirements, wrong expiration date format, etc.
This is the road you need to learn to drive on if you want successful trademark infringement complaints on Amazon Brand Registry for grey market goods.
MAP Price Enforcement vs Unauthorized Seller Enforcement
These are the two most common types of violators for grey market goods. Think of it like a Venn Diagram. An authorized seller can violate MAP pricing, but so can an unauthorized seller. Furthermore, an unauthorized seller can be unauthorized but not violate MAP pricing.
According to Tinuiti:
"A MAP price is a minimum amount that resellers agree not to advertise below. For example, if a backpack company sets a MAP price of $50 for its best selling item than all resellers including brick and mortar stores and Amazon resellers are obligated to advertise this product at $50 or more."
MAP Enforcement focuses solely on getting both authorized and unauthorized violators to bring their offer price to or above the MAP (minimum advertised price).
With this method, there is less focus on unauthorized sellers that are at or above MAP. The data is more focused on MAP violations and the Cease & Desist letters are worded to strongly enforce the MAP price, rather than the full removal of listings. For authorized sellers, friendly email reminders may be preferred in order to maintain a positive relationship. The authorized seller may have just had a pricing error or forgot to raise the price after a promo ended.
Unauthorized Seller enforcement is focused on removing all unauthorized sellers regardless of their price. Strong focus is still placed on MAP violators and those at MAP price since they share the Buy Box, and the Buy Box makes up 96% of all sales on Amazon. The Cease & Desist letters go out to every unauthorized seller and are strongly worded to indicate full removal of all of the brand's listings by the seller.
There are similarities and differences in enforcement techniques. MAP pricing enforcement is typically less work since it is only a percentage of all authorized and unauthorized sellers. Authorized seller enforcement is typically easier since authorized sellers only require notifications that let them know they are being monitored. Unauthorized sellers might be more willing the raise their price to MAP, rather than not sell the listing at all, due to the investment made into the inventory.
Unauthorized seller enforcement is aggressive and strategic since the sellers may have made large investments into their inventory and do not want to take a loss. This type of enforcement requires investigation, prevention, test buying, and many other advanced techniques. Since many of these sellers are well-funded, smart, and successful, there is a higher degree of enforcement difficulty involved.
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Part 2 - Diving Deeper
Do-It-Yourself Tools vs Managed Agency
Now we will begin delving into differences between brand protection firms which may not be immediately obvious for shoppers. The first of these is DIY tools vs Managed Services firms.
There are two types of Do-It-Yourself Brand Protection Tools:
- Data only tools
- Data + Enforcement tools
Data only tools are the cheapest brand protection solutions on the market. These are solutions that provide a dashboard for you to view price changes and receive email alerts or SMS texts whenever an unauthorized seller appears or has broken MAP on your listing.
Some of these solutions are brand protection focused, but more likely they were originally built to monitor competitor pricing and have pivoted towards brand protection as the demand has increased. Pricing for these tools starts anywhere from $99/mo to $750/mo.
Data + Enforcement tools are a step above Data only tools in that they also provide a method for DIY enforcement. There are various degrees of tools provided.
- Some tools provide a very basic (and ineffective) Cease & Desist template for brands to (somehow) message sellers with.
- Higher quality tools have the brand provide email addresses of their authorized channels and the platform automatically emails the authorized sellers whenever a violation occurs. Some platforms allow you to edit the message and make it appear that the notification is coming from the brand's domain.
- Very good tools have large investigative databases with email addresses connected to the unauthorized seller or website. They then allow you to send a Cease & Desist letter to the email address on file.
DIY Tools are good for brands with internal brand protection and/or legal teams. If brands feel they are competent at brand protection and simply need a premier monitoring service to organize large quantities of data, then DIY is the way to go.
Other brands which may be interested in DIY include enterprise companies with unique compliance standards (which do not allow 3rd parties to perform enforcement), companies who are only interested in viewing the online landscape of their brand, or companies that would like to only monitor their authorized channels.
The biggest negative to DIY tools is that most brands do not have the internal resources or specialized knowledge to make grey market brand protection successful. Solving grey market problems is not easy, and often requires strong expertise and sharp attunement to marketplace behavior. Furthermore, investigative databases are often very lacking in terms of accuracy and miss a majority of Amazon sellers. If the email is incorrect or missing, the brand is out of luck when it comes to messaging a seller.
In our experience, there are many brands who are currently under contract with a DIY software that are not aware that very effective managed solutions exist on the market. Without further adieu, I will present these solutions and show you why you need map enforcement software (see MAP minimum advertised pricing).
Managed brand protection services are a great compliment or substitute for internal brand protection teams including 1 or 2 person teams that are juggling brand protection with other large projects. A good managed brand protection agency will have strong specialized knowledge and will provide a customized solution with a personal touch, along with all the data tools that DIY software companies offer.
Managed solutions are especially important for strong enforcement results. Brand Protection teams come with a wealth of tools, techniques, and experience that allow them to quickly identify and act on sellers which may never be identified by a DIY software or an internal brand protection team. Simply, managed services identify more sellers and get enforcement letters through to more sellers.
For the brand, less internal focus can be placed on brand protection. This relieves stress and pressure on the company and opens up employees to focus on other important tasks. Brand protection agencies have tremendous cutting-edge experience that internal teams may not have as a core competency.
The potential downside is that managed services are pricier than DIY tools, but the Return on Investment is much higher. Do not automatically assume that a managed brand protection team is out of your budget. You may be surprised by the affordability when considering ROI.
Authorized vs Unauthorized Seller Enforcement
In general, authorized seller enforcement will be easier since you know who they are, you have their contact info, and you have a relationship with them. The most important thing for the brand is that a distribution agreement has been signed by the authorized seller that specifically prohibits violating the MAP or UPP price and/or selling the products on certain online marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, eBay, etc.
Monitoring is important. Screenshots, timestamps, and email alerts for proof of map violations. It is surprisingly common for authorized sellers to violate during evenings and weekends and then correct prices during business hours so they don't get caught.
Price Cascading is also a factor if your brand is sold on Vendor Central and/or other large websites such as Target, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. Large retailers will price match each other and start a cascade that drops the price lower and lower. The secret to stopping this is to monitor for first movers every hour. When a retailer drops the price first, you take a screenshot with a timestamp, and bring it to the retailer as proof. This prevents the common scenario of retailers pointing the finger at each other.
Authorized Amazon map enforcement starts off gentle with easy reminders in order to preserve the relationship. The authorized channel must be made aware that they are being watched and that they must be vigilant about respecting the MAP price. Repeated violators can be contacted directly by the brand (with proof of violation) and eventually removed from the authorized sales list. Legal options are also available for brands with strong distribution agreement wording.
On the other hand, unauthorized seller enforcement requires harsher Cease & Desist letters. These letters focus on potential trademark violations, marketplace policy violations, being an unrecognized seller, and material differences. Multiple letters are required with increasing degrees of seriousness.
Investigation and source identification is important for sellers whom Cease & Desist letters did not remove. This includes sending physical Cease & Desist letters, test buying, Brand Registry complaints, and creating Do Not Sell lists for the brand and it's distributors.
Monitoring is equally as important with unauthorized sellers in order to identify them quickly and take action but does not require price cascading alerts. On the data side it is important to know the seller's inventory counts so you can prioritize which sellers to enforce on, calculate your revenue loss from losing the Buy Box, and determine the estimated date you will regain the lost Buy Box.
Stubborn unauthorized sellers are much more dangerous than authorized sellers who violate because they have no relationship with the brand, no distribution agreements, no respect for the MAP price, and it is unclear where they receive inventory from so they can keep restocking.
Basic Data Monitoring vs Advanced Data Monitoring
What good is a data tool if it doesn't have the right data or KPIs on its dashboard?
The Very Basic Package
- Price, MAP Price, Compliance - This goes without saying and is the foundation for your data tool. You need to know the price and availability of your product and if it is compliant or a violation compared to the MAP price.
- Data Frequency - How often do you need your data updated? For smaller brands with a limited amount of sellers, once a day might be fine. For large brands with many different price changes throughout the day, every 3 hours might do the trick. If you are tracking price cascading, every hour is a necessity. Keep in mind that your pricing goes up with frequency so be very sure to ask your provider for their base data frequency.
- Multi-Marketplace - Which marketplaces does the solution cover? Some will charge you by marketplace and some by SKU count. Will they build a custom crawler for your authorized channel websites? This is a very fundamental question to ask.
- 3rd Party Seller Data - On websites such as Amazon or Walmart where 3rd party sellers make up a large percentage of sales, it is important to monitor each seller's price since only some of them will violate the MAP price. Believe it or not, some solutions only pull the lowest price on Amazon and not each distinct 3rd party seller's price.
The Premium Package
- Inventory Levels and Inventory Value - Among the most important data points in brand protection is seller inventory count. It allows you to understand the scale of the problem at hand and begin prioritizing and strategizing solutions to solve the problem. Not every provider offers this crucial data point, so be sure to ask upfront.
- Enforcement Results - Many providers try to hide this KPI since they don't want you focusing on their lack of results, but this is one of the most important figures on your dashboard when it comes to your bottom line. How many sellers are you messaging and how many of those sellers are being removed? Is your enforcement working? How much inventory have you removed?
- Daily or Weekly Email Alerts or Reports - Dashboards can contain an enormous amount of information and some people are too busy to check everyday. That is why daily or weekly custom email alerts can be very convenient.
- Buy Box Data - Since 96% of all sales on Amazon come from sellers who possess the Buy Box, it is crucial to know who is holding the Buy Box and for how long.
The Luxury Package
- Historical Data & Charts - Having a historical view of each SKU or seller can quickly identify trends that are difficult to spot by looking at the raw numbers. Who was the worst violator in the last year? Which product was the most hijacked? How much does unauthorized inventory increase during the Holidays? All this and more can be inferred from historical data.
- Price Cascading Alerts - Since this requires complicated logic and frequent price crawling, only a small number of brand protection agencies offer price cascading alerts. If price cascading is a problem that your brand is dealing with, I cannot stress more the value of having a service that offers this.
- Variance Data - Who is the worst violator by percentage below MAP price? Which marketplace averages the worst MAP violations by dollar amount? Variance calculations can be used to quickly identify the most lethal violators so you can take immediate priority action and stop the damage to your brand.
Email Enforcement vs Platform Enforcement
Now we are entering the realm of brand protection that few brands are initially aware of when shopping for a solution. However, this does not make this information any less important. Few things can affect the electronic Cease & Desist enforcement removal percentage like choosing between email or platform enforcement.
The majority of electronic enforcement solutions are email-based. This means that the brand protection provider or the brand is required to have the email address of the unauthorized seller in order to send an electronic Cease & Desist.
Due to the intense obfuscation methods that are utilized by many unauthorized sellers on Amazon, it is nearly impossible to obtain accurate and up-to-date email addresses for most sellers without high-level investigation. While mailing addresses of sellers may be available on Amazon.com as of September 1st, 2020, email addresses are not. In our experience, using the type of Google search techniques practiced by basic investigative firms, less than 20% of seller's email addresses can be found. Most of the time, these are sellers who are going out of their way to not hide their identity.
Due to the low number of unauthorized seller email addresses that are discovered, a small percentage of sellers can be contacted with electronic Cease & Desist letters using the email method. Furthermore, many of these email addresses are likely to be incorrect, or worse, the emails are immediately placed in the spam or junk folder, never to be seen by the unauthorized seller.
In other words, if you have 100 violators and you only obtain email addresses from 20 of them, your best case scenario is a 20% removal rate. These are the type of removal rates that some of the most well known brand protection firms on the market offer, and the #1 reason that brands will shop for new providers or quit brand protection solutions altogether.
We recommend email enforcement only for marketplaces that have extreme spam filters and/or provide email addresses of all sellers. Walmart.com is the best example of this. Their spam filter is very strong, but in the past provided customer service email addresses for each and every seller. They no longer publicly provide seller emails, however Brand Alignment has a large and comprehensive internal database of Walmart seller emails that makes email enforcement possible at a very high level (95-99% of all seller emails).
Platform enforcement is much more effective and efficient for electronic enforcement. Several years ago, most brand protection firms offered platform enforcement on Amazon. Whenever a brand needed a Cease & Desist letter sent, they simply clicked "Contact Seller" and sent the enforcement template.
Around the same time, foreign trademark-hijackers began sending harassing messages to sellers saying that they were the trademark holder of certain brands and that sellers must remove their listings immediately. The foreign hijacker would then list the product themselves and win the Buy Box. This created a hostile environment of suspicion which affected brand protection companies since sellers did not know whether the Cease & Desist letter was real or fake.
Amazon responded by "throwing the baby out with the bath water" by implementing a powerful spam filter that blocked most keywords related to trademark enforcement from being sent via the seller contact forms. While it solved the foreign trademark-hijacker problem, it made it nearly impossible for authentic Cease & Desist letters to be sent by law-abiding brands and brand protection firms. Very simply, most brand protection firms quit platform enforcement altogether rather than find a solution.
However, not all brand protection firms quit. Some of them found solutions. Those that did were able to send electronic Cease & Desist letters to 100% of all unauthorized sellers. Furthermore, Amazon requires all sellers to respond to every message within 24 hours, so brands were guaranteed to not only get the letter through to the seller, but have the seller notice the letter within 24 hours and take action.
Compare this to email enforcement which only reaches a small percentage of sellers, and even then the contact information can be wrong or sent to the junk folder, or perhaps the seller only checks that inbox once every few weeks.
Are you beginning to understand why the majority of brand protection firms are terrible at enforcement? You are now beginning to learn the secrets of picking the correct provider and beginning to see through the marketing and sales pitches.
That's not all. Since most Amazon sellers are very nervous about any marks on their accounts, they will likely remove the unauthorized items, just in case. To take things to another level, graduated enforcement techniques are available which send Cease & Desist letters in increasing degrees of aggressiveness (1st warning, 2nd warning, final warning) for sellers who may think you are bluffing or may not notice if they don't remove their products or return to the listing (very common). Even if a seller is not removed right away, they are likely to be discouraged from restocking that brand in the future, and want to sell out their current inventory as quick as possible.
Due to all these things working in your favor, you can expect removal rates between 75-100% with platform enforcement depending on various factors such as your supply chain, the types of unauthorized sellers, the industry, etc.
If you are serious about enforcement, there is no other option but platform enforcement. Nothing provides better results and ROI.
Brand Alignment is proud to be one of the few brand protection agencies in the world that offers platform enforcement.
Cease & Desist Enforcement vs Advanced Enforcement
In online brand protection, electronic Cease & Desist letters are the recommended first line of enforcement for grey market sellers. In our experience, strong platform electronic Cease & Desist messaging removes 75%-100% of sellers off the bat, and 85%-100% of sellers over time due to discouraging active sellers from restocking (see email enforcement vs platform enforcement to learn more about the differences).
There are certain types of unauthorized sellers that electronic messaging particularly affects. Inexperienced sellers and sellers with low inventory count are the quickest to remove their inventory. They do not want to risk harming their Account Health over low-return items. Same goes for drop shippers and arbitrage sellers with no real connection or history reselling the brand.
Sellers who do not want to risk the relationship with their distributor, in case they get their identity found out, will often remove high amounts of inventory, as well as brick & mortar retail storefronts that are not allowed to sell their product online. Some sellers with high inventory they can't afford to take a loss on will sell out, and then avoid restocking that brand in the future. Often times, messaging is effective because it lets sellers know that they are being watched from now on, and that the wild west days are over.
Of course, electronic Cease & Desist messaging is not perfect. There are plenty of unauthorized sellers who are not phased by letters and have been in this business a long time. They may have been sued in the past and wiggled their way out of it, they may have had their Amazon accounts suspended and hired Amazon lawyers to reinstate it, etc. In other words, they're not going anywhere until the inventory they have is sold out and they made their money back.
In these cases, and they are common, the only thing you can do to eliminate the problem is to stop them from getting the inventory in the first place. This cannot be done with basic Cease & Desist messaging. More advanced techniques are required to increase removal rates and clean up the market long-term.
This is when it is important to learn what advanced enforcement techniques your brand protection firm offers. Here are the most common:
- Physical Cease & Desist messaging - This is a good second line of defense for sellers who did not take action from multiple electronic Cease & Desist letters. This lets them know that you know who they are, where they live, and that they cannot hide behind online anonymity.
- Investigation - Since so many sellers hide their identity behind anonymous LLCs and mailboxes, more advanced investigation is required. This includes identity investigation and source investigation to uncover where the seller acquires product from, in order to cut their supply.
- Test Buying - By purchasing product from sellers you can check return labels for seller addresses (potentially different from what is displayed by Amazon), packaging and stickers to identify where the product was sourced from, and serial numbers to trace the product back to a distributor.
- Brand Registry Complaints - Knowing how to use Amazon Brand Registry effectively and correctly is one of the best assets a brand protection firm can have. There are some brand protection agencies that will take the lazy route and file a counterfeit complaint with every unauthorized seller, but we assure you that it will backfire x100 when you tick off the wrong seller who turns around and sues your brand and wins. Make sure your brand protection agency is very careful when crafting and testing Brand Registry complaints. Do not be tempted by the easy way out.
- Do Not Sell Lists - The key to making high level investigation and product sourcing work is a Do Not Sell list that the brand strongly respects and enforces on their distributors. If a distributor refuses to stop selling to somebody on a Do Not Sell list, the brand may need to make the difficult decision to cut them off.
- Advanced Investigation - This can include investigative reports and dossiers, parallel import tracking, private investigator database searches, seller linking, and whatever else is necessary to get the job done. There are only a few Amazon brand protection agencies out there currently that offer these types of services, and Brand Alignment is one of them.
- Strategy Development - Like advanced investigation, strategy development is only offered by a few high-level firms. This involves analyzing data and offering a recommended brand protection strategy for a brand to follow. This can include changing certain international distributors, demanding that authorized channels implement quantity control limits during promos, and many other proprietary or custom methods depending on the situation.
- Legal Services - There are brand protection firms with a legal focus that can get your distribution agreements and Cease & Desist letters crafted correctly, and allow you protect your trademarks and copyrights at a higher level. It is always a huge plus if a brand protection firm has a strong legal partner or in-house lawyer to help your brand, if necessary. Of course, we also recommend avoiding unnecessary legal fees and lawsuits by using regular brand protection techniques, but we understand that sometimes legal methods are the only way forward.
Basic Investigation vs Advanced Investigation
Many brand protection agencies are beginning to offer new investigative services to clients as an add-on. On the surface, shoppers may not realize that there is a difference between one investigative provider and another. As you have seen many times in this article, there is a difference. A big one.
Basic investigation is exactly what it sounds like. There is usually no expertise or specialization involved whatsoever, and it is the same type of investigation anybody with basic Google skills can manage themselves. They take the names, companies, addresses, and phone numbers already publicly available on Amazon or another marketplace and plug them into Google. From here, they take whatever they find, usually with little vetting, and plug the info into a database. If you are lucky, they understand how to use Google search operators to narrow down search results.
Another thing to watch out for is any brand protection agency that has purchased lists containing seller contact information. There are several salesman in foreign countries who contact brand protection firms offering to sell these types of lists. In our experience, the information is accurate on less than 25% of sellers and has outdated information if you are lucky. Otherwise the information is usually completely inaccurate and was gathered using Google scrapers who pulled the first possible (and almost always wrong) result based on the seller's storefront name. At worst, this information can get you in deep legal trouble if you send enforcement letters or take action on the wrong person.
Advanced investigation is an entirely different thing. To avoid repeating ourselves, please read the previous section on "Cease & Desist Enforcement vs Advanced Enforcement" to see what types of techniques are offered by serious investigative and enforcement brand protection agencies. They are few and far between, so be sure to consider them when choosing a provider if strong enforcement is a requirement for your brand.
Part 3 - The Decision
Which Solution to Choose?
Now that you have gone through all of this information, you may be starting to get a clearer picture of what's out there and may be starting to develop a wish list of services and features that you would like to approach brand protection agencies with.
Below I am going to summarize the questions you should be asking yourselves in regards to monitoring, enforcement, and investigation in order to help you pick the correct solution for your brand. After answering these questions yourself, we invite you to try our free assessment which can quickly direct you to the best type of solution based on your brand's needs
What Type of Monitoring Do I Need?
1. Am I looking to monitor grey market product, counterfeit product, or both?
2. Do I want to monitor my authorized channel only or unauthorized sellers as well?
3. Which marketplaces would I like monitored? Which countries?
4. How many SKUs would I like monitored? Keeping in mind that price may go up with increased SKU counts.
5. Do I feel comfortable uploading my data to a SAAS software dashboard myself? Do I need help from a managed team?
6. Do I have the Amazon ASINs for all of my products already, or will I need a team to find them for me based on my UPCs/EANS.
7. What type of KPIs am I looking for? Do I need inventory counts? Historic data?
8. Am I interested in Price Cascading alerts?
9. Will I have time to check the dashboard or do I require daily or weekly email alerts to summarize my KPIs?
10. If I do my own reports, does this monitoring solution have the ability to export data?
11. How many times a day do I need pricing crawled from marketplaces?
12. Do I need screenshots of violations for proof when confronting authorized channels?
What Type of Enforcement Do I Need?
1. Do I need enforcement at all? If so, do I need grey market enforcement or IP/Trademark/Copyright/Counterfeit enforcement?
2. Do I need to enforce authorized channels, unauthorized channels, or both?
3. Do I need to enforce MAP violators only or all unauthorized sellers?
4. How would I like to enforce my authorized channels? Do I want to take a soft or aggressive stance?
5. Which marketplaces would I like to enforce? Which countries?
6. How many SKUs would I like enforced? Do I need all the SKUs that I monitor to be enforced? Maybe I can cut costs by only focusing enforcement on priority SKUs.
7. Can I provide my own Cease & Desist letters or will I need letters crafted by an attorney? Am I fine using a Cease & Desist template provided by the brand protection provider?
8. Do I already have a distribution agreement for my authorized channel? If so, does it include verbiage forbidding unauthorized online sales?
9. Do I know who my brand's unauthorized sellers are and where they are getting the product? Do I know what category of unauthorized seller they are? How much inventory they have? Smaller inventory sellers are easier to remove with Cease & Desist letters.
10. Do I have the time and resources to enforce sellers myself? Do I have employees that can handle this themselves? Do I need a managed brand protection team to enforce sellers for me? Do I know how to contact unauthorized sellers? Do I have their contact information? Can I find it myself? Do I have the time?
11. Do I have any unique legal or company compliance requirements?
12. Have I tried enforcement before? What kind? How successful was it? Do I need to try a different type of enforcement?
13. Do I know how to file Brand Registry complaints myself? Do I know how to do this without putting my company at legal risk?
14. Does this brand protection agency provide a dashboard where I can view my enforcement results?
15. What kind of enforcement would I like to try? Electronic Cease & Desist letters only? Mailed Cease & Desist letters? Brand Registry complaints?
What Type of Investigation Do I Need?
1. Have I already tried enforcement techniques? How effective were they for my brand?
2. Why do I need investigation? What actions can I take once I have identified a seller? What actions can I take once I have identified where they are sourcing my brand's inventory from? Will it be effective?
3. Do I have the power to put a seller on a Manufacturer's Do Not Sell list once I have identified them? Do I have the power to convince my distributors to enforce the Do Not Sell list? What actions will I take if a distributor refuses to respect the Do Not Sell list?
4. Do I need domestic investigation only or international too? Do I have a parallel import problem?
5. Do I need to do test buys? Do I know how to conduct test buys properly? Do I know how to properly inspect test buys for seller information or sourcing evidence. Do I have a test buy budget?
6. Does my product have serial numbering which can trace back to distributors or retailers? Is the serial numbering easy or difficult to tamper with by the seller?
7. Do I need to develop an advanced strategy for enforcing sellers?
8. Do I have a lot of promos on websites and marketplaces that attract arbitrage sellers?
9. Do I know that certain authorized channels are selling sideways but need proof before I can cut them off?
10. Does my product have geolocation activation data?
Take Our Free 2 Minute Brand Protection Assessment
Don't Have the Time to Do It Yourself?
Let us Take Care of Your Monitoring, Enforcement & Investigation
The first step in removing unauthorized sellers is spotting them on your listings and that is exactly what the Brand Alignment Monitoring Dashboard will do for you. With price updates every 1-3 hours and inventory totals for every seller on every listing, you will get the most complete picture possible of your brand on every major online marketplace.
Of course, the most important step in removing unauthorized sellers is prevention and enforcement. This is where Brand Alignment is leagues above the competition.
- 1Clear over 80% of unauthorized sellers: Brand Alignment will make a custom strategy for your brand to ensure the highest rates of removal
- 2Control Your Authorized Channels: Daily emails informing you of authorized channel violations and price cascading events
- 3Risk-Free Guarantee: Brand Alignment is so confident in their removal rates, that we will create a custom guarantee for every brand. We will remove x% of sellers or you have the option to terminate the contract early
100% Satisfaction Guaranteed
Free Marketplace Evaluation
Will Enforcement Work for My Brand?
In short, the answer is Yes.
We have had our 80%-90%+ enforcement rates in every single industry we have worked in. That includes the following:
- Consumer Electronics
- Apparel and Shoes
- Health & Beauty
- Sports & Outdoors
- Mobile Phone Accessories
- And More
As you are already aware, each industry has their own bells and whistles. Please contact us if you have any specific questions about enforcement in your industry.
Are There Any Risks Involved With Enforcement?
Brand Alignment gives the brand the option of using their own personal Cease & Desist letters or the option to customize Brand Alignment's proven high performance Cease & Desist letters. These letters were crafted by Intellectual Property lawyers with a full focus on minimizing liability.
Any infringement complaints filed by Brand Alignment are done with the utmost care and transparency. We do not file counterfeit complaints without test buys and approval from the brand. Our trademark complaints are done with caution and all bases covered.
Finally, in this world, anybody can sue anybody for anything. But it does not mean it will stand up in court. There is nothing we can do to prevent frivolous lawsuits from disgruntled sellers. However, we do everything we can to prepare you to have any case against you quickly dismissed. After over two years in business, we are proud to say that neither us or any of our brands have had any legal issues of any kind related to our service.
How Much Money Are You Losing By NOT Switching to Brand Alignment?
How Much Money In Sales Are You Losing Each Year Due to a Lack of Quality Brand Protection?
100% Satisfaction Guaranteed
Free Marketplace Evaluation
100% Satisfaction Guarantee
You are fully protected by our "Brand Alignment Enforcement Guarantee". If we don't reach the custom benchmarks that we agree upon during negotiation, we will give you the option to terminate the contract and you will not be charged any further.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take to Get Started?
Our on-boarding period takes between 1-2 weeks depending on the amount of custom work required.
I Have More of a Counterfeit Problem Than a Grey Market Problem. Can You Help?
Currently, our specialty is grey market sales. If you are dealing primarily with counterfeits or knockoffs, we recommend speaking to a IP Takedown service instead. If you are interested in both, our services compliment IP Takedown software very well.
Do You Work With Third Party Vendors or Only Directly With Brands?
In the past we worked with 3rd party vendors, however due to liability concerns we now only work directly with brands. We do offer a referral commission so please feel free to contact us if a brand you work with needs help with brand protection.
What Are Your Enforcement Rates on Other Marketplaces Besides Amazon?
We do not offer removal guarantees for other marketplaces, however it is not uncommon to see removal rates on Walmart or Rakuten in the range of 50%-90%
My Grey Market Problem Extends Outside the USA. What Can You Offer?
We LOVE investigating international grey market trade. Contact us about the countries you would like to monitor and enforce, and we will be glad to help.
I Had a Bad Experience With My Last Brand Protection Provider, Why Will You Be Any Different?
We understand your concerns. We are aware of many unhappy brands who have worked in the past with our competitors.
We can talk all day about how we are different, but instead we would like to show you with our Brand Alignment Enforcement Guarantee. Contact us to learn more.
P.S.: Due to the constant changing nature of online marketplaces, our Enforcement Guarantee is a limited time offer.
Please contact us now to ensure you are locked in with your guarantee.
Read Our Other Articles!
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How to Deal With MAP Violators And Map Violations - Tips & TricksFrom
The 8 Types of Unauthorized Sellers on Amazon (2023)
The 8 Types of Unauthorized Sellers on AmazonAnd How to Remove Them!Who Are
Co-Founder of Brand Alignment
About the Author
Emmanuel is among the world's leading cybersecurity experts in online grey market monitoring and removal. With a focus on proactive brand protection, he advises some of the most recognizable global brands on prevention and removal.
One of the Co-Founders of Brand Alignment, Emmanuel has led the charge in the removal of nearly $10 million in unauthorized inventory from Amazon in the last year.
For questions about how Emmanuel can help your marketplace, he can be reached directly at [email protected]
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