Picture this. Your private label business is humming along, when one day you receive a weird negative review.
“The product I received is not at all what was described! It’s shorter than Amazon said, and the material felt very cheap right out of the box. Sure enough, it broke after two days of use. Incredibly disappointed — avoid this seller at all costs.”
That’s odd, you think to yourself. I’ve been selling the same product since I started out, and I’ve never seen a failure like that. How did this customer get such a low quality product?
So, you set out and do some sleuthing. You notice as additional seller on your product page that you don’t remember seeing before. Plus, he’s selling your product for a ridiculously low price — so low that he couldn’t possibly be turning a profit! Fortunately, you still have the buy box, but that might not last very long at this rate.
That seller is a listing hijacker. He saw that your product was doing well, and tried to piggyback some of that success by creating “his own offering” of that product. Only problem? It’s counterfeit. Customer will be displeased and leave negative reviews while the hijacker rakes in cash and cackles in his basement (at least, that’s what we imagine hijackers do).
Now, listing hijackers are a serious problem, but not every additional seller on your product page (which technically belongs to Amazon) isn’t necessarily a listing hijacker. Amazon fully supports multiple sellers listing on the same page, as long as the product is the same between all sellers. Let’s go over what a listing hijacker is NOT.
What a Listing Hijacker Is NOT
Someone selling your own product against you. Even if you’re a private label seller, this can still happen. Brand Registry, despite its many benefits, does not prevent other sellers from offering your product.
For example, have you recently launched any huge promotions or giveaways? If so, these sellers might have picked up a decent supply of your product for pocket change, and are now selling them against you on your listing.
Since they’re selling your exact product, you can’t do anything anything about these sellers. It may be annoying, but there is good news: they have a limited stock by definition. Soon, they’ll run out of units, and they’ll disappear off your listing, off to haunt some other seller. If you don’t want this to happen too often, be more cautious about running giant promotions.
A drop shipper. These are sellers who don’t hold any inventory — instead, they fulfill orders by buying the product from you, and having you (or Amazon, if you’re using FBA) ship the products directly to their customers. Drop shippers often list at double or triple your price, which can be dismaying when you’re trying to build a brand identity behind your price. However, drop shipping is permitted under Amazon’s Terms of Service, and they’re selling exactly your product, so there’s nothing you can do.
Anyone selling your product in violation of an exclusive manufacturing agreement. Whether it’s an Amazon seller who’s been duped by your manufacturer, or an old manufacturer violating a contract and continuing to produce and sell your product after you’ve moved on, Amazon will not arbitrate these conflicts.
Yes, the manufacturer is violating a contract, and you can take action against them for that, but it’s not Amazon’s problem. They clearly state that exclusive distribution agreement violations are not under Amazon’s jurisdiction to arbitrate, and that you’ll basically have to deal with it yourself.
These types of problems can be avoided by branding your product and registering a trademark (more on those later), but just know that you’re on your own if manufacturer conflicts come up. Filing an infringement claim with Amazon won’t help you here.
So, who does that leave? Basically, it leaves counterfeiters: sellers who are knowingly imitating your product, often with an inferior design, and listing on your product page while claiming it’s the same product. These are the most damaging type of listing hijacker, but fortunately, you have a number of tools for getting rid of them at your disposal.
Of course, to deal with listing hijackers, you’ll have to identify them first. Since they can pop up so sneakily, you won’t be aware of them right away, and they may be sitting on your listing for quite a while before you notice. Here are a few ways you can keep an eye out for listing hijackers.
How to Monitor & Identify Listing Hijackers
Watch Your Reviews
That example from the beginning wasn’t totally fictional. Reviews are often the first tip-off that you may have a listing hijacker in your midst. Of course, not every negative review is going to be a red flag, but you should read all of them carefully. If something seems off, make a mental note and investigate further. Maybe they’re describing a problem that you’ve never seen before, something that couldn’t possibly be a manufacturer defect. If more than one strange review comes in, you should definitely be hearing alarm bells.
Check Other Sellers
You’ll want to see how your listing looks from the customer’s point of view every now and then. This is good practice in general, but in the case of listing hijackers, you’ll especially want to look at who else is selling on your page.
The other sellers, as explained before, might have bought your product at a discount; they might also be drop shippers, in which case they might be charging double or triple your listing price. However, you’ll want to look for sellers who are:
- Undercutting your price massively, such that there’s no way they could be making a profit, and/or...
- Seem to be fairly new sellers (counterfeiters often have to delete accounts and start new ones).
Now, neither one of these conditions, in a vacuum, is a sure sign of a counterfeiter. Some sellers might really be driving their businesses into the ground by selling at absurdly low prices, and they might legitimately be a brand new seller. These factors aren’t a smoking gun, but they should make you a little suspicious.
Buy Their Product
If you think you have a pretty good lead on a listing hijacker — you’ve gotten weird negative reviews, you found an unknown seller on your listing selling way under your price, etc. — you should buy their product.
Buying their product is the only way to know for sure that they’re a legitimate listing hijacker, someone who’s counterfeiting your product and passing it off as yours.
Hopefully, you know your product well enough that as soon as you receive the item, you’ll be able to determine whether it’s counterfeit or legitimate. If it’s counterfeit, you’ve struck gold — or as close as you can come in such a frustrating situation. The most important course of action is to document everything. Take tons of pictures, do side-by-side comparisons with your legitimate product, and compile as much evidence as possible. It will become absolutely vital should you need to reach out to Amazon.
Now, if you’ve bought the seller’s product and confirmed that it’s counterfeit, the next step is to get rid of them. You have two main claims that you’ll be able to use to your advantage in this task:
- They’re selling something materially different than the listing. Amazon will get involved if you make this claim, as this is one of their criteria for the removal of a seller from a listing.
- If your item is trademarked, the seller is infringing upon your trademark, which Amazon takes very seriously.
How to Get Rid of a Listing Hijacker
Now, it’s important to stress how important it is that you’re sure they’re legitimately a listing hijacker. At this point, you absolutely should have bought their product and compiled evidence proving that it is a counterfeit.
Send a Cease and Desist Letter
The first thing you’ll want to do is send a cease and desist letter. It doesn’t have to be a formal one at first — this is just a method of de-escalating the conflict without having to get into the legal weeds.
Basically, you should let them know that:
- Amazon takes counterfeiting very seriously, they’re in violation of policy (and your trademark, if you have one), and it warrants strict punishment if they continue.
- If they don’t take their listing down within 48 hours, warn them that you will submit a complaint to Amazon, as well as a formal cease and desist letter.
The majority of the time, this step is as far as you’ll need to go. The seller will usually take their offer down, afraid of further legal action. They’ll stalk off to bother some other private labeler, and your business will be in the clear.
However, it’s entirely possible that after 48 hours, their offer is still there. In this case, you’ll have to play your last trump card — submitting a complaint to Amazon.
Submit a Claim to Amazon
Here’s where your evidence comes into play. Make sure you really have all the evidence you need; then, you’ll need to file an infringement complaint to Amazon. Go to this link and fill out all the necessary details.
After you submit your claim, it’s not a done deal — there will likely be some back-and-forth with Amazon before the seller is finally kicked out. Most Amazon interactions will inevitably be this slow and plodding, but this claim is a necessary step if you’ve come to this far and the listing hijacker is still around.
Now, you probably don’t want to go through this whole process again in the future. Instead, there are some actions you can take that reduce your risk of being targeted by listing hijackers in the future. You may already be using some of these, but know that a complete package of all these defenses is the surest way of warding off hijackers.
How to Deter Future Listing Hijackers
Use FBA so that you’re less likely to lose the buy box. Listing hijackers can have their worst effects when they steal the buy box from you, leading to a flood of unsatisfied customers and negative reviews. This is a very real threat, since counterfeiters can list at such low prices. By using FBA, you safeguard yourself a little bit more against losing the buy box — but nothing is guaranteed.
Brand your products and clearly show the brand in all images. Listing hijackers are much less likely to go after products with strong branding — they’re that much harder to successfully counterfeit. Make sure the brand is clearly displayed on both the packaging and the product itself, and feature it heavily in all your images.
Join Brand Registry to make future claims simpler. The Brand Registry program does not prevent other sellers from offering your product, so it’s no iron wall of defense. However, if you’ve already registered your brand with Amazon, the process of submitting and completing an infringement claim will be much smoother, since Amazon already has all your brand’s details on hand.
Register a trademark for more anti-infringement leverage. Registering a trademark will run you up a few hundred dollars, but it’s worth it in the long run. This is arguably the strongest defense you can mount against counterfeiters, but only once you’ve reached the point of filing an infringement claim. Ideally, you’d stop them before they even latched on to your listing.
Getting your listing hijacked is one of the worst feelings in the world — you put so much hard work into this product, only to see it piggybacked by a random crook looking to make a quick buck. You accumulate negative reviews, lose customer faith, and waste your own time, just because some people are that malicious.
However, hijackers are by no means a reason to give up selling on Amazon. You’ve already come this far — the simple fact that people are copying your product means that you’re relatively successful in the first place. Now, more and ever, is a time to dig your feet in and stand behind your product in full force. Although they are frustrating, it’s always possible to remove hijackers, and you can take steps to prevent future hijackers as well.