How Amazon Sellers Can Fight Bad Actors and Win

I led a panel at the recent PROSPER Show in Las Vegas about fighting bad actors.  On the panel were several sellers: Brandon Young, CEO, Seller System; Bogdan Popa, President, Core Med Science; President VI for Life; Janelle Page, Vice President of Marketing and Online Marketplaces, Nutraceutical Corporation and fellow Amazon consultant Chris McCabe of eCommerce Chris.  In this closed-door, non-recorded session, these hardened Amazon seller warriors talked openly about bad actors they’ve had to fight off on the platform, their struggles and what they do today to help keep ahead.  

I thought I’d share some of their combined wisdom here.  For those of you who missed it, PROSPER is offering a virtual session  with our panelists to talk about the topic from July 15, 2021.

  • Trouble in Every Direction – Our panelists talked about intellectual property games, changed listings, sudden category changes, counterfeiters, fake reviews, improper up and down voting of reviews and more.  The bottom line? These attacks can take many forms, and you must be alert for all of them.  
  • Bad Actors Probe for Vulnerabilities – Panelists shared that they were taken by surprise the first couple of times.  They thought maybe these changes were technological glitches or mistakes by Amazon.  They weren’t necessarily buttoned up, so the bad actors pounced on their vulnerabilities.  Often a bad actor will attack a less important ASIN to see if you are paying attention, for example.  If you don’t take immediate action, they will take advantage of your inattention; suddenly a lot of listings are down, and you are scrambling to get them reinstated.  It is important to be aware and defend against every bad move quickly. Often, the bad actor will move on to an easier target. If you haven’t registered all your trademarks and patents, the bad actor will.  There are companies in China where all they do is register other companies’ intellectual property.  You must make sure you are registered in Asia and Europe as well as the US.  
  • Build A Defense System – Our panelists talked about specific tools they use to help them detect changes on their listings, watch for IP hijinks with the USPTO, and track reviews on their listings and with competitors. They also talked about disciplines they incorporated into their operations like reviewing their returns reports every week and paying close attention to buyer complaints and reviews.  While this is always a good strategy, it’s especially important if you are fighting off bad actors.  Buyer complaints are sometimes the first warning that a listing has changed or a counterfeiter is on your listing.  A common trick, for example, occurs when the counterfeiter only appears on your listing in the dead of night when you are sleeping.  When you look at the listing in the morning, you are the only seller but all of a sudden you are getting negative reviews for a shoddy product.  Returns reports are also illuminating if your bad actor is buying product from you over and over again and then returning it.  These strawman purchases are designed to increase your return rate and get the listing shut down.  A good defense system uses both technology and human analysis to detect unusual behavior.  
  • Understand The Trick – Through painful experience and self-education our panelists learned how the trick was done so they could be more effective in stopping it.  For example, one seller shared that he makes sure every column in his flat files is filled with something so the bad actors can’t add to his listings.  For example, bad actors will add keywords designed to get you shut down for restricted products by adding the words to an empty spot in your listing flat file.  If you are the brand owner and have filled every column, then they can’t do this.  
  • Get Brand Exclusivity – This is Amazon’s term for what all brands think they have with Brand Registry (spoiler alert: they don’t).  It is very hard, but not impossible, to get brand exclusivity if you are having persistent problems with bad actors changing your listings through Vendor Central (also known as “Amazon Retail”).  Once you get brand exclusivity, it means that only the brand’s changes are accepted by Amazon.   
  • Use Amazon’s Programs – The panelists talked about the pros and cons of using Amazon’s Transparency and Project Zero programs. It was generally agreed that if you are an Amazon only brand, then Transparency makes sense.  However, for brands that sell multi-channel, this can be a very expensive proposition. Brand gating is no longer offered to brands unless they are an “Amazon exclusive” which is another program with its own costs.  The group acknowledged that there is no one program that stops bad actors. Any solution has to be pieced together from Amazon programs, legal measures (like automated “cease & desist” letters and lawsuits) and reporting bad actors to Amazon.  One of our panelists found success using the patent mediation program against counterfeiters and knock-off sellers – literally dozens of bad actors taken down in a short time.  None of the bad actors fought the case because they knew they would lose and they weren’t going to put up the money to fight.  Another good case for having your IP buttoned up.  
  • Report Bad Actors – Most panelists have had mixed experiences reporting bad actors to Amazon. Sometimes Amazon takes action and sometimes it doesn’t. The consensus was to report because you are building a case for Amazon to eventually act or give you Brand Exclusivity or whatever you are seeking by reporting.  
  • Sue – Not every seller has the resources to sue the bad actor, and some bad actors are beyond our reach in another country.  However, we have all seen cases where suing was effective not only for the bad actor at the time but as a deterrent to future bad actors.  Most of the cases I see are for IP violations, but I have seen some cases where one company successfully sued another for review manipulation and other scurrilous behavior.  
  • Not All Bad Actors are Chinese – This is my two cents about bad actors.  Sometimes sellers think they are helpless against bad actors because they are in a foreign country, or they assume the bad actor is Chinese and untouchable.  In fact, bad actors are everywhere in every country.  A good trial attorney knows ways to take the fight to the bad actor – even in China.  It’s not always possible, but there are more options than people think. 

Hopefully this blog has given you some ideas about how to detect and protect against bad actors on your listings.  One thing that was made clear by the hundreds of sellers attending the panel is that bad actors are proliferating and causing a lot of damage.  What used to be a rare occurrence is now common.  

Everyone on the panel agreed that if you are successful on Amazon, you have a target on your back and need to be prepared to defend yourself. 

For this reason, we created our eGrowth Partners Bad Actor Defense Systemto help sellers detect and defend against bad actors.  It is an extension of our compliance and maintenance services that we offer to help sellers stay in good standing with Amazon. We use tools and human analysis to investigate potential bad behavior on our clients’ accounts and help them fight back to get their listings reinstated. 

 Whether your competitors are counterfeiters, listing saboteurs, trademark/copyright infringers, review manipulators, or some other form of liar and cheat, we can help you fight and take back control.

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