This post is by Tina Marie Bueno, Marketing Director for iLoveToReview. Tina has an MBA in International Business plus over 20 years of content marketing experience both in the US and overseas. This post was originally published in two parts on the iLoveToReview blog: Brand Registry & Hijacking: How to Protect Your Amazon Business and Protect Your Amazon Business: Frustration-Free Packaging.
You take your first few sips of freshly brewed coffee as you sit in front of the computer to review your Amazon performance from the day before. You look at your daily sales on one product… up 15%.
You look at the next product and instead of your smile getting bigger, your mouth drops open and a sinking feeling prevails as you notice that you’ve lost the Buy Box and your sales have bottomed out. You immediately realize your listing has been hijacked!
This is unfortunately an all too familiar scene in the growing private label market. With over 200 million products being sold on Amazon in the U.S. by 2 million merchants, you are bound to have competition that sometimes catches you off guard with questionable activity such as:
- Hijacking your product listing, then changing your title and descriptions; or,
- Knocking off your product, and undercutting you or possibly selling more than you which leads to being beaten in search rankings.
With 100’s of campaigns running every month at iLoveToReview and clients ranging from those launching their first product to those doing $5M+ a month, we have seen virtually everything when it comes to challenging experiences on Amazon. It almost appears that no one’s Amazon business is completely safe.
Amazon has recognized that Sellers who manufacture and/or sell their own branded (including private label) products need assistance with maintaining some level of control over their listings. That led Amazon to create the Brand Registry program with their goal being “to make it easier for sellers to manage their own brands and list their products on Amazon.” Reading that last part again, it does seem a bit basic considering the hard-hitting competitor activities mentioned above.
Nonetheless, we should take Amazon’s protective offering, no matter how thin it may appear. After all, the intended benefits of the Brand Registry program include:
- Giving registered sellers expert status for more authority over listing content such as titles, details, images, and other attributes.
- Precluding anyone else from being able to use your registered brand name.
- Generating a unique Global Catalog Identifier (GCID) for your products, which reduces matching errors to similar products.
- Helping Amazon shut down counterfeits of your product.
Okay, the benefits add more oomph to their goal. While Brand Registry may be useful and sometimes exactly THE solution you seek, please note that it is not impermeable, so we recommend adding Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP) into your protection mix. Why? Because the Brand Registry program does not:
- Prevent other sellers from selling your product even if you are the brand owner and have not authorized them as distributors. (For example, if a buyer purchases from a brand owner, then turns around to resell the item, it is considered as selling an authentic item.)
- Block sellers from buying the same product from a manufacturer (maybe even from yours) with a slight variation, branding it themselves, and directly competing against you.
- Make Amazon responsible for any trademark infringements nor enforce US trademark laws.
- Guarantee automatic Buy Box status.
Stepping up your game
When it comes to building your Amazon business, there is a list of actions to take which help keep you one step ahead of the competition. Building your brand name is most certainly a key component in your marketing strategy especially if you are a manufacturer and/or have developed private label products. You are the group that Amazon’s Brand Registry program targets. Although there are no guarantees, Amazon highly recommends that you enroll. In fact, they may send an email suggesting that you do so. But you don’t have to wait for their invitation.
Only the following sellers may enroll in the Amazon Brand Registry program:
- Manufacturers or brand owners; and,
- Distributors, resellers and other individuals or companies who have the written authorization from the manufacturer or brand owner to manage a brand’s content on Amazon. Below is the authorization letter Amazon requires for this option.
Keep in mind that products in these categories are currently not eligible for the Amazon Brand Registry:
- Books, Music, Videos, and DVDs (BMVD).
- Products in the Entertainment Collectibles and Sports Collectibles categories.
On a side note… even if you are getting products from China (or elsewhere) and private labeling them, you are still considered the manufacturer in the context of Brand Registry with Amazon. That info will come in handy when you fill out your online form.
How to prepare
It really is a quick and short application form if you prepare Amazon’s requirements in advance. Be aware that you cannot continue the process if everything is not filled out on the first page, which looks like this:
If you haven’t already created one, an active website that displays your brand name and products is required by that one little box which reads “Company website”.
Even if you offer one product, it is critical to have a website (one page works too) with your product picture, product details, company name, address, phone number, and a company domain email address. Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail addresses are unacceptable to Amazon. It doesn’t matter if you have a trademark or patent – that company domain email address is mission critical.
To complete your enrollment process, you will need to provide the following items:
- An image of your product packaging with branding visible on the packaging.
- An image of a product with your branding visible on the product itself.
- A unique key attribute for each product that will have your brand name.
Amazon considers a good key attribute as unique to the product and never changes. It should be easily discoverable by your distributors and customers on your packaging, on your website, or in your catalog. If it is not unique to your product, then you will receive an error message when submitting your application.
No two products in your brand should have the same value for the key attribute. You can select one of the following as the key attribute:
- Manufacturer Part Number
- Model Number
- Catalog Number
- Style Number
After submitting your application, Amazon may follow-up with some documentation requirements to prove you genuinely deserve to be registered as the owner of your brand name.
Once your application for Brand Registry has hopefully been approved, make sure that your products are listed with your brand name exactly written as in the application and unique identifiers (the key attribute you submitted).
Also, Amazon will have assigned a GCID (Global Catalog Identifier) to every SKU you included in your application. Since each GCID is unique, it will now be much harder for third party sellers to change your content… although that excludes product images.
The GCID is directly tied to a product and does not change, whereas the ASIN is tied to the product listing and product listings can easily be changed.
By the way, you will not know your GCID unless you look for it in your downloaded Excel Inventory Report. If you have been assigned a GCID, it will be a 16-character value with no spaces or hyphen in the column titled “product-id”.
It’s good to know where to find your GCID, in the event you need to refer to it in a case submitted for any of the hijacking issues mentioned earlier.
On a final note, while it is not required, Amazon Support does recommend that you get a trademark for your brand and register it with the US Patent and Trademark Office (or equivalent body in your country). This allows you to use the ® mark next to your private label brand name on your listing. (Don’t use it in the box that says “Brand name” during the application process because oddly, Amazon’s system does not accept symbols.)
Although Amazon does not get involved in any trademark issue, you will have empowered yourself with legal recourse and sometimes a threat to take legal action is all it takes for counterfeiters to remove their listing.
As we mentioned previously, Brand Registry is not a 100% deterrent. At iLoveToReview, some of our seasoned sellers also use a much less-known Amazon program that offers big protection: Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP).
What Is FFP?
Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging is an initiative designed to alleviate “wrap rage” by featuring products in recyclable boxes that are easy to open and contain fewer excess materials.
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com:
We’ve all experienced the frustration of trying to remove a product from nearly impenetrable packaging like plastic clamshell cases and products bound by dozens of wire ties. We’ve worked with both manufacturers and customers to design Frustration-Free Packaging that is easy-to-open, protects the product and reduces waste.
You already know that Amazon is customer-centric so the power wielded by customer ratings and feedback drive much of Amazon’s customer experience programs. FFP is no different. They helped guide this program on product packaging. This advice has been the driving force behind hundreds of packaging improvements each year.
As you can see from its purpose, FFP was not created for seller protection reasons at all – however, it is indeed a major bonus side effect.
How does FFP help my Amazon business?
Amazon’s Rule: Once a product is certified FFP, only manufacturers and authorized resellers may list the FFP product on Amazon.com.
What this means for you is that while Brand Registry offers some leverage with Amazon, if you also use FFP, you have in essence, built an extremely protective layer around your products since NO ONE else can use FFP for your brand.
CPC Strategy, a leading ecommerce marketing firm, explains that if a brand’s existing packaging qualifies for FFP, Amazon will not allow any other unauthorized sellers to sell against that listing (without their approval under FFP). As a result, FFP can provide brands with a significant advantage over the Buy Box and help protect them against unauthorized sellers.
Below are preparatory steps to set FFP enrollment in motion:
- Your product must already exist in the Amazon.com catalog to be evaluated. If it is a new product that is still being developed, Amazon recommends that you create the ASIN with a future release date. All products must be new, not used.
- Set your listing to Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). FFP products are FBA only.
- Enroll in the Brand Registry program. You must be registered for the brand of the product you plan to submit to FFP.
- While you are waiting for Brand Registry approval, design and order samples of your packaging according to Amazon’s Frustration-Free Guidelines (PDF). Do your homework! Amazon’s Library of FFP Designs (Seller Central login required) is the go-to resource for acceptable materials. Depending on your current packaging, only a few minor adjustments, if any, may be necessary. Just imagine your product packaging and label is mail-ready. In other words, it is ready to ship without being put in another box. Also, protect your product inside (if needed) which may require a corrugated insert or a simple air pillow. (By the way, if you do not need a custom made insert, Amazon also sells corrugated, recycled boxes.)
- Once you have your packaging component(s), upload pictures (two minimum) of your FFP product. One picture should display the outside of the closed package, including markings for proposed graphics. The second picture should display the internal packaging a customer would receive in the mail. Additional pictures of internal components or alternate views help to expedite the certification process.
Heads up… Amazon may ask for physical samples. When you are finally (hopefully!) FFP-certified, it will be time to send your inventory into FBA.
FFP could mean spending more on packaging than originally planned, but securing your product listing is priceless.
Taking care to protect your listings and brand name is one more thing to check off that strategic action plan you should have to keep your Amazon business competitive and growing.
Every layer of protection counts, whether there is a drizzle or downpour of competitors.
iLoveToReview is a product review service for Amazon merchants in the US and the UK, helping sellers to generate fully compliant reviews. Clients range from those launching their first product, to companies selling close to $100 million of products a year on Amazon.