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Anonymity and The Amazon Marketplace

Userby MapCop
No matter how well-written it is, your MAP policy is only ever as good as your ability to enforce it. Maintaining a Minimum Advertised Price requires constant monitoring of your product's prices, swift communication with policy violators, and a willingness to blacklist retailers where necessary. Systems like MapCop make this easy by constantly monitoring prices, automatically generating emails to send to MAP violators, and maintaining a history of MAP infractions so that you can identify the repeat offenders.

Amazon Makes it Easy for Resellers to Hide

Unfortunately, rogue retailers aren't always easy to catch. While online monitoring tools makes it easy to find out where your products are being sold, online marketplaces like Amazon make it very easy for their sellers to remain anonymous, and therefore difficult to take action against. To sign up on Amazon as a seller, all you need to do is provide your name, address, telephone number and credit card details. None of this information is displayed to the customer, and sellers do not even have to reveal it when requested. In any case, resellers can provide information that is difficult to tie back to the source of their products. To make matters worse, Amazon does not enforce MAP policies, and in fact often sells products below MAP prices itself.

Your Manufacturer's Warranty as a Valuable Tool

For manufacturers, then, shutting down MAP-violating sellers on Amazon is a difficult and often futile process. Amazon will not remove a seller simply for selling products below MAP, and so manufacturers have to resort to other methods. One common tactic is to use a manufacturer's warranty that is only valid when the product is bought from an authorized retailer. If unauthorized resellers advertise the product as new, then they can be reported for selling it without the original warranty. If they advertise it as used, then they are no longer competing directly with authorized retailers.

It's Cat and Mouse

However, even if you are able to shut down unauthorized Amazon sellers, which isn't guaranteed, there is nothing to stop them from restarting under a new name. Because making a seller account is so easy, shutting down unauthorized resellers is a lot like a game of Whack-a-Mole. For each one that you knock down, another pops up, because shutting them down doesn't stop their owner from having access to your products. Even if you are able to get Amazon to remove each one from their online marketplace, the process takes time, and that time allows the resellers to make sales. Without a way to trace the supply to these online pop-up stores, rogue retailers are therefore able to violate MAP more or less with impunity.

Identification is Tricky but Possible

If manufacturers are to enforce their MAP policies in Amazon's largely unregulated marketplace, they need a way to identify which of their customers is supplying the MAP violators. There are warning signs that you can look out for. If a small authorized retailer suddenly starts ordering a lot more product from you, this could indicate that they are reselling it through unauthorized channels. However, it could also indicate that your products are selling particularly well, or that they have expansion plans. A more involved method is to give each product that you manufacture a unique serial number, allowing you to track the individual products sold to each authorized retailer. Products sold by unauthorized retailers can be traced back to the authorized retailer who supplied them. The system can also help to uncover counterfeit products: if the serial number hasn't been officially issued, it means that it was manufactured without authorization. However, serialization can be expensive, particularly if you sell a large number of products that have to be tracked, and may not be worth it for low-margin items.

Diligence Will Pay In The Long Run

Amazon's lack of regulation of its own marketplace tips the playing field in favor of unauthorized resellers, and makes it difficult for companies to police the prices at which their products are being sold. Anonymity allows the same resellers to reappear on Amazon over and over again, demanding constant vigilance and rapid action from manufacturers. Allowing them to sell your product unchallenged damages your relationship with legitimate retailers and erodes your brand's reputation. Ultimately, Amazon will help you as little as they can get away with, and so it is up to you to protect your MAP prices.
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