If you are a manufacturer or brand owner worried about gray market retailers selling your products on Amazon without your permission, you might find this news troubling, but you need to hear it.
Your company bears most of the responsibility for taking action against unauthorized sellers on Amazon - because it is not the marketplace’s policy to remove sales listings when a manufacturer or brand owner complains that a retailer is selling its products without permission.
Amazon’s online Report Infringement form states the company’s position with frustrating clarity:
“We do not enforce exclusive or selective distribution. Amazon respects a manufacturer's right to enter into exclusive distribution agreements for its products. However, violations of such agreements do not constitute intellectual property rights infringement. As the enforcement of these agreements is a matter between the manufacturer and the retailers, it would not be appropriate for Amazon to assist in enforcement activities.”
What Will and Won’t Amazon Help Protect Brand Owners Against?
According to its Report Infringement form, Amazon does encourage intellectual property rights owners (such as brand owners or manufacturers) and their agents to “notify Amazon of alleged intellectual property rights infringements such as copyright and trademark concerns.”
In other words, Amazon actively works to prevent and remove listings on its marketplace that represent illegal acts using a brand owner’s intellectual property without permission because doing so is a crime. But because gray market listings don’t necessarily represent an illegal act, Amazon might not intervene even if you bring it to their attention.
So what can you do?
Pro Tip: Ensure Gray Marketers Are Always Selling a “Materially Different” Product from the Ones Your Authorized Dealers Sell
Because Amazon’s primary concern is for the customer, and not the health your business, if you hope to remove gray market listings of your products (or prevent them from being published on Amazon in the first place), you need to find a way to align your interests as the brand owner with the interests of Amazon’s shoppers.
One way to do this is to ensure that only your authorized retail partners are able to sell your product in precisely the way you advertise it - meaning that any unauthorized seller will by definition be selling a “materially different” product, a condition that Amazon takes very seriously.
Under its Buyer Dispute Program, Amazon explains that one condition under which a buyer may file a complaint against a seller is if the product they receive is “not as described” in some way.
So let’s say you include in your product - ideally right on the packaging, in fact - language to the effect of “This item includes a 1-year warranty if purchased through an authorized dealer.” Now any gray marketer will be selling a “materially different” product, one that harms the customer experience for anyone who buys that product on Amazon from that unauthorized seller.
Bam! Now you’ve a built material element right into your product - a manufacturer-issued warranty - that only the members of your authorized dealer network are able to offer customers. This does not guarantee Amazon will promptly pull down every sales listing on their marketplace of any retailer you claim isn’t one of your authorized dealers, but it will greatly improve your chances that Amazon will take action if you follow the proper channels.
Here’s how you can increase the chances that Amazon will help you remove that rotten reseller.
Conduct a test buy.
When you spot what you think is a gray market listing of your products on Amazon, you’ll first need to conduct a test buy: purchase the product yourself, just as a customer would, and document the entire process, including taking pictures of the packaging that shows your warranty.
(Of course, if the gray marketer has changed the packaging and removed the warranty verbiage, then they have still materially altered the product and you still have a legitimate complaint for Amazon.)
Contact the gray marketer and ask for your warranty.
You should then contact the gray market seller immediately and ask about the warranty. Demand to know if they are authorized to sell the manufacturer’s products, and whether the manufacturer will honor your warranty.
The gray marketer’s response here will likely bolster your case to Amazon that they are, indeed, selling a materially different product - one that cheats customers out of the manufacturer’s warranty.
Submit your evidence to Amazon
Finally, you’ll need to gather up your documentation and present your case to Amazon Seller Central. If you are able to prove that the seller is in fact advertising a materially different product on the Amazon marketplace from that offered by your Authorized Dealers, you will have a stronger chance - although not a guarantee - that the marketplace will remove the offending retailer’s listing of your product.
More Resources to Help You Thwart Gray Marketers on Amazon
If you’d like more suggestions for dealing with gray market retailers selling your products on Amazon, we have several helpful resources:
Learn how to gain greater control over your content on Amazon in our other free Online Guide: Amazon’s Brand Registry.
Or, if you’d like some hands-on help from experts at protecting brands on Amazon, schedule your free TrackStreet demo.