This post is by Leah McHugh, an ecommerce consultant for ecommerceChris.com.
Amazon began restricting or “gating” brands on a large scale in 2016. Out of the blue, anyone who wanted to sell well-known brands such as Adidas, Levi’s or MAC Cosmetics, would have to go through an approval process.
The new requirements to sell a restricted brand on Amazon could include official invoices, a letter of authorization from the brand owner and, most controversially, a non-refundable “approval fee” of thousands of dollars.
Here are the answers to some of the most important questions on brand gating that sellers are asking today.
What is Amazon brand gating?
Brand gating is when Amazon requires that third-party sellers go through an approval process prior to being allowed to sell a specific brand, or sometimes a specific product within a brand.
What are Amazon restricted brands?
Restricted brands and brand gating are the same thing. If a brand is restricted, sellers will be blocked from selling it on Amazon until they have successfully passed an approval process.
When did Amazon start restricting brands and why?
Amazon started restricting brands in a major way in 2016. As with most things Amazon, they didn’t give a straight answer as to WHY they decided to start doing this. But it’s pretty clear that it was to do with counterfeiting and product quality issues on the marketplace.
Rather than waiting for buyers to make inauthentic item complaints, and having to dedicate countless investigator hours, gating brands allows Amazon to enforce supply chain requirements before there are issues. They are combating inauthentic complaints by addressing the problem upfront.
How much is the fee to sell a gated brand?
When brand gating was introduced on a large scale in 2016, Amazon required sellers to submit an “application fee” to apply for brand approval.
This could range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars and was – unsurprisingly – very unpopular with sellers. It would require a large sales volume to make the fee economical, and as it was non-refundable sellers would be even more out of pocket if their application was rejected.
The good news is that we haven’t seen Amazon request an application fee for brand approval in a while. Amazon is treading more carefully when it comes to seller relations, and charging a fee to sell certain brands could look like it’s controlling competition.
Which brands are gated on Amazon? Is there a list?
There isn’t an official list of brands currently restricted by Amazon.
You can usually find unofficial lists of restricted brands on ungating services websites. These should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as they are simply compiled from sellers’ feedback about brands they have attempted to sell.
Watch out for brands that are included on lists but not actually gated. This can happen because sellers have offered the brand on Amazon, without needing approval, but then received IP infringement notices or cease and desist letters from the brand.
The most accurate way to tell if a brand is gated is to use Amazon’s “add a product” tool in Seller Central. This will tell you if there are listing limitations on that particular ASIN.
Which categories have the most restricted brands?
It’s difficult to know which categories have the most gated brands, as there isn’t an official list.
Amazon tends to prioritize brands with high levels of counterfeit activity and products where safety is a concern. So, you’ll likely find more gating in high-end brands, consumables, baby products and electronics.
How do you get approval to sell a gated brand on Amazon?
Again, it depends. Some gated products aren’t open to new applications at all.
Those that are, usually require one or both of:
- Original and verifiable invoices
- A letter of authorization from the brand owner
This isn’t a popular point of view, but my opinion is that Amazon sellers probably shouldn’t be selling anything on Amazon without verifiable invoices and authorization from the brand owner.
Not only are these needed for gated brands, but we’re also seeing Amazon asking for these earlier and more often to head off inauthentic complaints, IP infringement notices and product quality issues.
How do I get a letter of authorization from the brand?
Ask the brand owner for a letter of authorization on their company letterhead.
It’s a good idea to provide them with a template to make it easier, and ensure they provide all the information Amazon needs. This is a good example:
Authorization to Sell Brand on Amazon
The seller identified below is authorized to sell [BRAND] products on Amazon.
[POSSIBLE LIST OF SPECIFIC PRODUCTS OR ASINS]
SELLER NAME: [Name of seller as it appears in seller account]
SELLER STORE NAME: [Amazon store name requesting authorization]
SELLER EMAIL: [Email of seller as registered with Amazon]
SELLER PHONE NUMBER: [Phone number of seller as registered]
SELLER ADDRESS: [Physical address of seller as registered]
BRAND NAME(S): [Brand name]
BRAND OWNER: [Company name]
BRAND OWNER EMAIL: [Email of brand owner]
BRAND OWNER PHONE NUMBER: [Phone number of company]
BRAND OWNER ADDRESS: [Physical address of company]
BRAND OWNER CONTACT:
[Name of contact person]
[Title of contact person]
[Email of contact person]
[Phone number of contact person]
BRAND OWNER SIGNATURE: ___________________________Credit: papyrophilia, via the Amazon seller forums.
Do I need to change my sourcing practices to sell gated brands?
That depends on how you’re sourcing. The safest sourcing model for Amazon is one that is as close to the brand as possible. So, if you’re the brand owner, then you don’t need to worry about getting authorization to sell your brand.
If you’re buying directly from the brand owner, and they know you’re selling on Amazon, then you should already have verifiable invoices, and can easily ask for a letter of authorization.
Conversely, if you’re buying from retail stores, and the brand owner has no idea who you are, then you won’t have verifiable invoices, and getting a letter of authorization is going to be difficult. This is why dropshippers and arbitrage sellers are frequently being suspended.
Do brand restrictions apply to used items?
Brand restrictions usually only apply to new stock, but can sometimes apply to refurbished items (though we more often see that at the category level).
Make sure that the item condition is accurate on the products you sell, and don’t use it to try and get around brand gating. Sellers have been known to list new items as “Used – Like New” and then enter condition notes that say the item is actually brand new. This is a clear policy violation.
If I’m already selling a brand that gets gated, can I keep selling it?
Maybe. Some sellers do get “grandfathered in”, but this can be revoked at any time. Amazon has not provided any guidance as to who gets grandfathered in, and who doesn’t. It seems to be luck of the draw.
So, just because you are not immediately prevented from selling a brand, don’t assume it’s safe to sell without verifiable invoices or a letter of authorization. If you buy a truckload of inventory without that assurance, you could be in for a shock.
How is brand gating different to brand registry?
Brand Registry is a program which identifies brand owners to Amazon. It helps brand owners protect their intellectual property and product content on Amazon.
Brand gating is a program that limits the sellers of a particular brand to only those that have completed an approval process. It’s important to note that the approval process is decided by Amazon, not the brand owner. Brand gating doesn’t necessarily mean that the brand owner gets to pick and choose who can sell their products on Amazon.
How do restricted brands differ from restricted categories?
Both brands and categories can be restricted, and it’s important to understand the difference between them.
Simply put, category gating is enforced at the category level, so you need to apply for approval to see any product that is listed under a gated category.
Brand gating is enforced at the brand level, or even the ASIN (individual product) level. You need to apply for approval to sell any product of that brand.
The two types of gating are separate and one does not trump the other. Just because you have approval to sell in a category, doesn’t mean you can sell any brand in that category. You will require additional approval to sell a gated brand or product.
How can I get my own brand restricted on Amazon?
There isn’t an open application process for brand gating. You need to contact Seller Support and ask for your brand to be gated. It can take 8 or more weeks to get approval, and there is no guarantee that Amazon will agree to your request or that they will gate all of your brand’s ASINs.
In order to request brand gating you should be able to answer yes to each of the following questions:
- Do you have a pending or registered Trademark with the USPTO
- Are you enrolled in Brand Registry?
- Have you had issues with counterfeits of your products?
- Have you taken proactive steps to solve the counterfeit issues?
In addition, if counterfeit versions of your products pose a safety concern to consumers you should let Amazon know as it can certainly help your case.
A quick Google search will show many companies offering to handle your brand gating application for you. These companies may have experience with getting brands restricted, but don’t expect them to have special access to Amazon or be able to bypass the rules.
Is brand gating open to abuse by sellers? Can it be used to sabotage?
In my experience, EVERYTHING is open to abuse by sellers. Brand gating is no exception. We’ve seen:
- Brand owners gated from their own brand.
- Authorized sellers removed while unauthorized sellers remain.
- People pretending to be rights owners.
- Lawyers sending baseless cease and desist letters.
- Services claiming to offer “inside help” for a price.
Remember, part of the reason brand gating is not widely available is because Amazon doesn’t want controlled distribution on its marketplace. They want ruthless competition, helping to lower prices and push sales. Unfortunately, this means they’re not always quick to close loopholes.
What have sellers tried to do to get around brand gating?
Amazon sellers are very creative and resourceful, and there are plenty of anecdotes of sellers getting around brand gating. Some techniques break Amazon policy, and others are outright illegal.
Here are some of the actions I have seen taken:
- Faking invoices or faking letters of authorization. This is fraud, and if caught, you’re pretty much guaranteed an account suspension.
- Putting gated products into a bundle to get around the restriction. Definitely against Amazon policy.
- Changing the brand attribute and GTIN and creating a new ASIN without the brand restriction. That’s at least four policy violations in one listing.
Finding a way around restrictions is extremely risky, and just because you have found a way to “make it work” doesn’t mean there won’t be dire consequences in the future, such as permanently losing your selling privileges.
This post was by Leah McHugh, an ecommerce consultant for ecommerceChris.com.
This article was originally published in September 2016 and fully updated in July 2020.
Very informative, great post Leah. Good news that it won't affect those sellers already selling branded goods.