The Hijackers Are Getting More Sophisticated.
If you’ve been selling on Amazon for any length of time, you’ve likely had a listing “hijacked.” I wrote about my experience last year in this post. But recently I discovered that Amazon FBA listing hijackers are getting more sophisticated and you have to be vigilant about watching your listings.
Like thieves in the night, they’ll swoop in and syphon off your sales and in the worst cases, ruin your brand reputation.
I’ll explain why I refer to these some of these sellers as thieves, but first…
Before You Get Your Hackles Up
I’m not talking about someone selling an item on your listing that they legitimately own and want to sell. That’s allowed. And, there is a lot of good information supporting that statement.
For example, there’s a great write up describing the First Sale Doctrine on the United States Department of Justice website that explains it perfectly. Here’s an excerpt:
While irritating when someone puts up an offer on a listing you consider yours (it actually belongs to Amazon), that’s just part of running this type of business. At the core, this is the basis of retail arbitrage.
My gripe is with the unscrupulous sellers who just want to ride my coat tails and benefit from my creativity and sweat.
So What Exactly is a Hijacker, You Ask?
Based on my experience, there are four unique types of hijackers. I thought I’d have a little fun and create an infographic to help explain the four types, the risks associated with them and what you can do if they show up on your listings.
Want to use this infographic on your site? Go ahead and download the PDF or PNG file but please provide attribution to PrivateLabelPreneur.com!
Why I Consider Hijackers as Thieves
With the exception of the first type of hijacker — the Legitimate Seller — I consider the remaining three as thieves. Here’s why. Thieves are intent on taking something of yours and using it to their own advantage. Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary defines a thief.
This may sound like a harsh accusation, but for those of us who private label or invent new products, we’ve worked hard to design, develop, brand, list, promote and sell our products. It most definitely feels like being robbed when you find someone taking advantage of your work and syphoning off sales.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the three worst scenarios…
Drop Shippers’ Sticky Fingers Can Undermine Your Sales AND Tarnish Your Brand Reputation
While drop shippers aren’t necessarily violating any laws or rules that I’m aware of, they are price gouging customers and stealing sales when they occupy the buy box. More importantly they increase the likelihood of negative reviews and that can be very bad for business.
I recently experienced drop shippers on several of my listings and was horrified to see that they were asking triple my selling price. If they should win the buy box and a shopper purchased from the seller at their price, my brand could suffer with a bad product review. The long-term effects of their presence can be devastating.
Drop shippers usually price their offer at triple your offer and list as FBM (fulfilled by merchant). This way they don’t have to carry any inventory; rather, they simply buy from you if they get an order and have Amazon ship directly to their buyer.
But drop shippers aren’t your only worry…
Unwitting Victims of Unscrupulous Manufacturers Are Still Unlawfully Trouncing Your Brand
I think it’s unfair to assume a seller with a lot of inventory has consciously counterfeited your product for his/her own gain. They could have innocently violated your rights simply because the product was available and offered by a manufacturer.
Let me give you a personal example to help illustrate what I’m talking about.
While at the ASD Tradeshow earlier this year, I found a product offered by a Chinese manufacturer. I became very interested after some initial research and number crunching. But after digging a little deeper, I discovered the only seller on Amazon actually had a patent on the design I was interested in private labeling.
I believe the manufacturer was knowledgeable and aware of the issued patent. Why? Because when I went back the following day, she was immediately able to locate the patent in the US Patent and Trademark Office’s database.
Had I invested in this product, I would have been infringing on the owner’s intellectual rights and may have had to destroy all my inventory.
Word to the wise…it pays to do your research!
The Dreaded Counterfeiter and a Simple Way to Protect Your Brand
If you’re selling a product that is doing well, you are more likely to encounter an actual counterfeiter on your listing or on a different listing but it’s clearly your product and your brand. These are the worst offenders in my opinion.
It’s important to know the difference between someone using good ‘ole American capitalism to their advantage vs someone who is outright copying you. I’ll give you a personal example to help illustrate:
When I started My Beer Cozy, I could see that simple designs with with lettering on black stock appealed to consumers. So I set out to create this set to capture a slice of that market.
There are other sellers who have similar designs. Nothing about this is really proprietary and anyone can create similar designs…many have and now this is a fairly overcrowded space.
Now contrast that to this set, which is very defendable. We had the artwork designed through a 99designs contest so we own the copyright to the art. And, we had our branding built into this design. I can clearly defend our intellectual property rights here. And trust me…I do!
I’m a firm believer in using art as a differentiator and a way to protect your products/brand from hijackers. If this strategy appeals to you, check out my post where I give you tips on how to run a successful 99designs contest.
An Ounce of Prevention Goes a Long Way
Here are some tips to help you deter hijackers and fight them when necessary.
- As mentioned above, use art to differentiate and add a layer of intellectual property to your product. This can be as simple as having a logo made and stamped somewhere on your product and on your packaging.
- Register your brand with Amazon’s Brand Registry at the time you set up your seller account. (You’ll need a simple website to meet their requirements. I use GoDaddy to purchase my domains and Blue Host for hosting a simple WordPress site.)
- Before you have your product made, ask the manufacturer to reply in writing that they will not use your art or produce your brand’s product for anyone other than you or your designated company representative.
- If you sell your merchandise wholesale, put it in writing that resale is restricted to the buyer’s brick-and-mortar stores and their company website. Selling on major eCommerce platforms is not permitted including Amazon, ebay, Etsy, etc. Violations will result in termination of the vendor relationship.
While implementing these strategies won’t stop hijackers, they do give you more and better ammunition for fighting them.
How to Monitor to Look for Amazon FBA Listing Hijackers
Staying on top of your listings is the first line of defense against hijackers. You can do it yourself manually or use a tool to automate the process.
The manual method
To check to see if you have a hijacker on your listing:
- Go to your inventory list in Seller Central.
- Click the title of each active listing. This will open the listing in Amazon.
- Look to see if there is anything that shows how many sellers are offering the product. Typically you’ll see the multiple offers just below the bulleted feature list or near the add to cart button.
- Click to see all offers.
- Based on my descriptions above, determine what type of hijacker you have.
Caution: Not all views of your listing will show all the offers. For example, if you click through from your brand’s Amazon storefront you will not see the other sellers. I discovered this the hard way and didn’t notice the sneaky thieves right away.
The automated method
If you have a lot of listings, monitoring can be a problem. There are tools available, like Listing Eagle, that will alert you when someone places an offer on your listing.
I haven’t used them because I can easily monitor the listings I have. However, people I respect, like Spencer Haws of Niche Pursuits, use this tool and highly recommend it.
What to do When (Not if) You’re Hijacked
If you’ve determined that what you have is a legitimate seller, you have no recourse except to buy them out of their inventory. It’s unlikely that they’ll show back up because they aren’t making any real money off the transaction.
If it’s not a legitimate seller, I assume the worst and send a take-down notice similar to this:
I’m Ree Klein, owner of My Beer Cozy. It has come to my attention that you have placed an offer against our brand’s listing.
We own the copyright to the artwork, images and listing copy for this product. I’m emailing because you may be in violation of our intellectual property rights.
Please remove your offer immediately or contact us to explain how it is that you are not infringing on our rights.
In the spirit of cooperation, I will wait 24 hours before taking a more formal action by reporting you to Amazon through their Report Infringement process.
Respectfully, Ree Klein Owner, My Beer Cozy
While dealing with hijackers is a nuisance and potentially damaging if you don’t act on it fast enough, it comes with the Amazon FBA seller territory. If you want to build a physical products business and achieve any measure of success, you’ll bump into people who will lie, cheat and steal to leverage off of your hard work.
But don’t let that discourage you! Put into practice all the measures possible to prevent problems and arm yourself with tools to solve the problems as they occur.
Call to Action
I’d love to know if you got anything of value from this post and it would be great if you have tips you can add. Just leave a comment below or, if you’re shy, shoot me an email at Ree@PrivateLabelPreneur.com. I love hearing from readers.
Now back to work for me!
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