Recently, we wrote on how a confluence of initiatives by different groups within Amazon are causing problems for sellers of Amazon bundles. There were a lot of follow-up questions from our clients and the community. Special thanks to Charlene Anderson’s Wholesale Sourcing Experts group who invited me to answer questions on a recent podcast. Many of these questions are from their members.
Why is Amazon enforcing their UPC/GTIN policy with bundles?
It is part of their efforts to stamp out inauthentic products and infringing listings on the platform. Without a proper UPC code from the brand owner/manufacturer, it is difficult for Amazon to know if the products in our bundles are genuine and bought from the manufacturer or from a gray market source. They chose GS1 because it is the industry standard database of UPC codes. Their system is integrated with GS1 making much of the work automated. It is also about responsibility and liability. If you have branded your bundles, then you are the manufacturer. If anything goes wrong with the bundle, then you are on the hook for it. As the manufacturer, if you are registered with Brand Registry 2.0, you can use your own UPC codes or no codes at all in some cases. This issue with GS1 UPC codes, then, is for sellers creating bundles where they are not the manufacturer or brand owner.
If bundling items from the same company, do we need to get the vendor to provide the bundle packaging and UPC?
The answer to this depends on who the manufacturer. If you have created these bundles with your own packaging and brand, then no, you don’t need the vendor UPC. If you look back at the example of the Cravebox food bundle from my previous blog, the manufacturer is Cravebox even though all the food items inside are from Frito-Lay® and other brands. However, if you are bundling items from the same manufacturer and you want to list them as the manufacturer and name them in the title of your listing, then you need their permission and UPC code. I have a client who bundles boxes of tea from a popular brand. The brand took the seller down for infringement because they didn’t give permission to bundle their teas or to use their name, logo, etc. on the listing. Ideally, our client would have gotten that permission and a unique UPC code from the brand first.
Should we stop selling on existing bundle listings other sellers created as they likely may not have manufacturer/brand-provided UPCs?
Your options for this situation are: 1) create your own branded bundle with the same items and create a new listing with your UPC code; 2) get a UPC from the manufacturer and add it to the current listing or; 3) hope the brand won’t enforce. If there’s a UPC code on the listing, you can do a search to see if it belongs to the brand by doing a GS1 search.
What do we do about the current listings for which we have bought barcodes from eBay? Apply for GTIN exemption?
Once you have placed the UPC code on the listing, you can’t remove it. All you can do is add another UPC code to the listing. If you get one from the brand, you can add it, for example. If you are the brand, then technically you can use the UPC codes from eBay if you are brand registered and claim the listings. Or you could declare that you don’t use UPC codes and get an exemption. This does not work for all categories of goods. Some require a UPC regardless. It also won’t work if some of your listings already have UPC codes.
As a reminder, Amazon wants us to use GS1 codes:
We verify the authenticity of product UPCs by checking the GS1 database. UPCs that do not match the information provided by GS1 will be considered invalid. We recommend obtaining your UPCs directly from GS1 (and not from other third parties selling UPC licenses) to ensure the appropriate information is reflected in the GS1 database.
Important: All invalid product UPC listings will be removed and may result in your ASIN creation or selling privileges being temporarily or permanently removed. For more information on licensing UPCs from GS1, see the GSI standard website.
The answer to this question is really about your long-term strategy. When you want to sell your business in the future, the company will be more valuable if you’ve set yourself up properly as a business with its own intellectual property and its own internationally recognized UPC codes. I encourage my clients to think beyond the bundle of the moment and consider the company they wish to build and one day sell or pass on. If a GS1 code is “too expensive” for your bundle, there’s something wrong with your bundle either in terms of margin or the fact that you only plan to sell a few of them. A business is built on repeat sales with decent margins.
For my clients with hundreds of bundles, GS1 is a no-brainer decision.
If mixing items from two different brands, do we apply for GTIN exemption? Do we need written permission from both brands to sell that bundle?
You can apply for GTIN exemption. Just remember this only applies to certain categories. Read about those categories in Seller Central. Amazon states that “Major brands require a UPC, but exemptions may be requested for private label brands” for most categories. In Grocery & Gourmet food, they add “specialized, artisan, and select giftable products.” Again, you can see where Amazon is pushing sellers to go with this one. If you are a private label seller, you can get an exemption.
While you technically do not need permission from the brands to create a bundle under your own label, you DO need permission – and invoices – from the brand to prove authenticity to Amazon’s satisfaction. In other words, if you are accused of inauthentic and all you have are grocery receipts, that may not be good enough for Amazon. Also, if you are using branded products in your bundle you take a risk of an infringement takedown if you are using those brands in your title or back-end keywords. In fact, it IS a trademark violation to use their brand name in your back-end keywords. If you are buying from the brand or authorized distributor, make sure you have permission to sell that product on Amazon.
Do we need a manufacturer UPC or GTIN exemption separately for bundles that are variations?
To be clear, Amazon states that a bundle is NOT a variation in and of itself. You can’t create a listing where there’s a parent and then the variations are parent items plus another item. Variations are things like color or size (for clothing).
Every variation needs its own UPC, EAN, JAN or ISBN code. Obviously if this is a parent/child variation, you would have one listing with child options. Check out Amazon’s inventory file templates here. For example, you are selling a gift basket and offer different ribbons for the basket like “Happy Birthday” and “Congratulations”, or a party supply bundle in different colors to fit a party theme – all-white, red, black, blue, yellow, etc. Those are variations on a bundle.
When we brand the bundle with our brand name (aka private labeling), isn’t this infringing IP as we are presenting this as OUR brand?
No. You are not saying the items inside the bundle are your brand. You are saying your brand is the bundle. For example, I sell candy. I have a competitor that sells the same candy I do, but they have a nice, branded gift box that they package the candy in. It is quite stylish. When you are buying from them you are buying the gift box, as well as the candy. It is the bundle they are selling and have branded. We are both selling someone else’s candy. In my competitor’s case, he/she is buying the candy in bulk and breaking it down into 1lb packages. I assume he/she has a food-grade facility for this. I don’t. I sell my candy in bulk (5lbs, 10lbs or more) or single retail units – all stating the brand as the manufacturer. I use the brand’s UPC code. My competitor has her own UPC code. My competitor kills it and sells a lot more candy than I do.
One of my clients sells millions in candy every year. They have a food grade facility and a professional bagging machine with labels, etc. When you buy their candy, it is branded, labeled and professionally sealed. Inside, however, is the same candy I’m selling. Neither one of us is infringing. Their listings don’t say “Twizzlers® bundle,” they say, “Red Licorice Whips.” But when you look at the picture, you can see right away they are selling Twizzlers. Mine say “Twizzlers” and yet they are eating my lunch with their bundles because either the portions or the gift box is more popular than my retail offering.
To look at it from a different perspective, a client’s bundle was taken down by a brand. The brand had the right to do this because the bundle was created with the brand’s name as the manufacturer and in the title. They did not authorize this bundle of their products. However, if my client creates her own brand of gourmet food bundles, she will be able to create the bundle again under her brand (with her own pictures, etc.) without violating trademark. She buys her product direct from the brand’s US distributor, so her product is authentic. We were not able to get her original listing back because she was technically in violation, but with her new listing we will be able to prove to Amazon that she is not violating trademark and that she is buying from an authentic source.
What is the “right” way to create bundles from a UPC/GTIN standpoint? Do we first apply for GTIN exemption or ask the Manufacturer to provide a UPC and then go create listings in Seller Central?
Either. Both. Depends on the bundle. If you can get a manufacturer’s UPC code for your bundle (all items from the same brand), then that is better for you because you can use their brand in the title, etc. If your bundle includes items from different brands, then you will want to either private label it, or get a GTIN exemption.
Seller Central says including the word “bundle” in the title is “recommended,” but is this now the rule?
To avoid problems, I suggest doing what Amazon recommends. I have seen them take sellers down for not setting up their listings properly. Some sellers have even lost their ability to create new listings because they were not following Amazon’s guidelines. Some categories, like jewelry, are so strict that misplacing even one word will get you suspended. So far, I have not seen anyone specifically suspended because they used “Set” instead of “Bundle” or they didn’t use “Bundle” at all. But, why invite trouble? They could change their minds tomorrow and decide to enforce their recommendation.
If there are two identical baby bibs being sold together, is that considered a multipack? If yes, should we apply for GTIN exemption?
This is a multipack. You need a UPC code from the brand, not an exemption. You cannot get a GTIN exemption in this case. Also, if you don’t have permission from the brand to create the multi-pack, you cannot offer it for sale on Amazon. I know, I know. There are zillions of multipacks on the platform not approved by the brand. That was then, this is now. The rules have changed. Amazon says you must get the brand’s permission for multi-packs now.
What if you’re selling two different bibs from the same manufacturer? I’d still recommend getting a UPC code from them. You could create your own branded baby bundles with bibs, pacifiers and baby spoons if you wanted: “Sweet Dreams Baby Bundle – 4 items, two bibs, pacifier and package of baby spoons.” In the picture and first bullet they would see that these are all Sesame Street® or Disney Baby®.
In the title, is it ok to use the brand name if the items are from the same company, and to use your own brand name when items are from mixed brands?
You can only use the Brand name in your bundle if you have a UPC code from that manufacturer for that bundle. Otherwise you have to say something like: “Bundle — 2 Items: Princess-themed shampoo and conditioner” for a Disney® bundle of princess shampoos and conditioners. You would say the same thing if the bundle consisted of princess items from different brands. The difference would be in the first bullet where you describe what is in the bundle, and the pictures.
What do you enter in the brand name and manufacturer fields when (a) items are from the same company (b) items are from 2 different brands?
When the items are from the same company and you have the brand’s UPC code, enter the brand or manufacturer/brand. If you do not have a UPC code from the brand and this is your bundle, then YOU are the manufacturer and you must use YOUR brand as the brand.
Some of my clients have parent companies and then multiple brands underneath that parent. In that case, the parent company would be the manufacturer and the brand would be whatever brand they are using for this bundle. These clients have bundles in different categories and, thus, different brands for baby, toys, food, sports, etc.
If your items are from two or more different brands, then you MUST enter your brand. I strongly urge you to have a GS1 UPC code as well or apply for an exemption. Even though brand owners are allowed to have their own UPC codes, be aware that it can cause problems if those UPC codes are not GS1. I’m all about avoiding problems.
What if all my products in the bundle are generics?
Then this is YOUR bundle from your brand. You are the manufacturer. Your bundle is also extremely easy to replicate. If your bundle is popular, you can expect to have other sellers on your listing soon. Thus, if you find that your Easter bundles for Christian kids are a home run the first year, be sure to brand and package them for the next year’s sales or everyone will be selling your bundles.
I was looking in Seller Central for the part in Amazon’s bundling policy where they want us to package the bundled items in our own packaging. Can you provide a link to this policy?
There is no specific link. This statement of mine is based on 1) observation of recent listing suspensions and 2) natural conclusion of Amazon’s combined IP, Brand Registry, and listing policies. For example, if you want to get into Brand Registry 2.0, you must show Amazon a picture of your brand on a product or bundle. Having a name or logo is not enough. Here’s a direct quote:
“Images of products and packaging that carry the trademarked brand name. If the product is not branded, the packaging must be branded.”
Whether this is a box, shrink-wrap and a label, a special bag, a basket, etc. is up to you. You need to look closely at Amazon’s requirements for brand placement on your bundle/product.
Also, while Amazon FBA will tell you that you can create a bundle with polybags, the fact is these types of bundles have the most issues with inauthentic, used sold as new, fake, counterfeit and damaged claims. The reason is that by the time the buyer gets your items in the polybag, they look like crap. The warehouse is hard on items in bags. I strongly recommend that sellers package nearly everything in a ship-ready box. We can’t rely on Amazon to package our goods adequately for shipping to the buyer. If you make that box/basket/container branded, then you serve dual purpose. You protect your items and you’ve branded them. Think back to the “Crave Box” example.
It is also easy for other sellers to jump on your listings if you don’t have a unique brand and packaging. While that may be OK while you are testing a bundle, you will eventually want your best-sellers to be better protected.
The answer is you do NOT need to be a private label to create bundles…but your life will be easier if you do. If you are a serious bundler, then you should be thinking about this. Amazon wants us to have GS1 UPC codes, branded bundles and authentic products. They aren’t forcing it…yet.
Do I need retail packaging for all my bundles?
Some of my clients don’t have retail packages. All their goods are packaged in branded Frustration Free Packaging (like the Kindle if you have one of those). This is nice because your packaging – once designed – is overall cheaper and will get to the buyer in good condition with less waste and is easy for the buyer to open and use. In addition, you can send large glass items if they are FFP – great for bundles with sauces, candles, soups, oils, etc., that are otherwise not allowed to be shipped FBA. I have a client that sells TV wall mounts and other accessories in a branded brown box that is ship-ready. This makes a lot of sense for a brand that sells online exclusively, and his products arrive in perfect shape every time.
Are you still a bundle of nerves?
We are happy to offer hourly consulting on bundles or any other topic that concerns you. Simply sign up here for an hour of a consultant’s time to discuss whatever is on your mind.
My bundles are compliant but they’re not selling!
Our new brand management services include PPC advertising, enhanced brand listings, regular listings, Amazon storefront pages and more. We will help run your campaigns, optimize your listings and get those sales going for you. We offer services for brands and for sellers who represent brands as their agents. Check out our services here.
I don’t have a trademark – how can I get into Brand Registry fast?
The USPTO takes 10+ months to approve a trademark and that assumes there are no problems. For this reason, we are helping our clients get additional trademark registration in countries that are faster – 6 weeks to 4 months on average – so they can get into Brand Registry sooner and set up their Enhanced Brand Content. If you pick a country where you plan to sell in the future anyway, it is a win-win. Please note that you cannot enforce your trademarks in the US until you have an active, registered US trademark. If you’re interested in registering in a foreign country as well as USPTO, check out our legal services.
I’m in the UK. Do we have a separate Brand Registry?
Yes! It just opened. If you are selling on the UK platform and want to enforce your intellectual property rights, you will need an EU or UK active trademark. If you want help getting set up and claiming your listings, check out our brand registry services.
I’d like Cynthia to speak to my group!
That can be arranged! I participate in podcasts, webinars, live speaking events/conferences and news interviews every year. My goal is to help explain complicated Amazon issues, so sellers can make the best decisions for their businesses. Just send your inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org.