“New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09” by Kieth Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
As reported by Bloomberg, Amazon began suspending sellers with listings for NFL branded items about two weeks ago.
In some cases, they had not sent prior warnings at all. In others, they had, but only on one or two ASINs. In all cases, Amazon chose not to warn and remove listings asking for the usual amounts of supply chain documentation.
Instead, they wanted to act fast to suspend each account pending review of such documents.
Their new and consistent approach to hot-button brands revealed itself in short order: if it’s Apple, NFL, MLB or other lightning rod brands, they prefer to shoot first and ask questions later.
What motivated the change?
Amazon perceives more risk and liability when big name brands lean on them about unauthorized resales. Brands know that reports of rights infringing or inauthentic items prompts an internal investigation, and they know that resellers will have a hard time producing the kinds of info Amazon asks for.
It’s a calculated and methodical approach to kicking sellers off profitable listings, and it’s definitely intentional. Amazon would much rather maintain a relationship with a large well known brand than with individual sellers and they are petrified of counterfeit allegations by big brands, too.
And in the case of the recent NFL suspensions, Amazon also has their own interests at heart. The easier their cooperation on this particular matter now, the easier they could negotiate an NFL streaming deal later on, as reported by CNBC.
What’s Going On? A Quick Rundown
Amazon is suspending sellers by the truckload who listed and sold NFL branded items due to “inauthentic complaints.” All of this began about two weeks ago, just in time for the Super Bowl. We’ve seen past instances where major sporting events resulted in the cancellation of listings and a generic message is easier to defend from their standpoint. Amazon usually refers to vague “item quality” complaints or possible Intellectual Property violations. Bottom line, they want to kick resellers off those listings and either Retail wants to sell those products themselves, or nobody gets to sell them, for other unseen reasons. For example, around the World Series, all Chicago Cubs merchandise appeared to vanish from the listings. Back in March during the NCAA’s March Madness, more listings were cancelled. Other examples outside of the Sports category do exist, especially in terms of anyone selling some of the numerous LG listings Amazon cancelled last fall. . For Amazon’s own reasons, they wanted these products gone, and there did not appear to be much point in trying to retrieve those listings. Here’s an example:
We have removed your listings at the end of this message because they may infringe intellectual property rights and be inauthentic.
To maintain a trusted marketplace for buyers and sellers, we take immediate action to address intellectual property rights infringement.
What you can do
Refrain from listing these items.
What happens next
Please remember that additional intellectual property rights infringement may result in the removal of your Amazon selling privileges.
Sellers should understand our policies regarding intellectual property. To learn more, search “Intellectual Property Violations” and “Prohibited Content” in Seller Central Help.
We appreciate your cooperation and thank you for selling on Amazon.
Seller Performance Team
When you asked What Can I Do? They simply said refrain from listing the items. Case closed.
What is a Rights Owner Infringement versus an Inauthentic Claim or Complaint?
Amazon policy teams treat these two very different categories of complaints in similar ways, at least in terms of recent suspensions. As the lines between them fade or blur, I help sellers create Plans of Action that will address both areas.
In recent messaging for account suspensions, Amazon referred to “received complaints about the authenticity of the items.” Yet no ASINS were specified, only “NFL-branded items.”
Then later in the same messaging, “Items offered on our site must be authentic. The sale of any item that has been illegally replicated, reproduced, or manufactured is strictly prohibited. If we determine that a seller account was used to engage in fraud or other illegal activity, then we may permanently withhold any payments to you.”
Ok, so you need to provide invoices and supplier information to prove legitimate supply chain, and the sale of genuine items, right? Instead you’re asked this time for “A Plan of Action addressing Intellectual Property Violation complaints.” This is not what you’d normally provide if buyers complained that your products are not authentic. This is a brand demanding a listing takedown and enforcement actions against an Amazon seller who has violated their rights.
Instead, this time the requested information includes this: “provide NFL license for the products you are selling on amazon.com” which is a very different kind of document to provide. You’re a reseller, and you buy from a supplier who has this licensing agreement with the NFL to sell the products. But will they show it to you? Can you produce a copy of it to Amazon? Are they even supposed to be selling their merchandise for resale on Amazon?
Once you have specific ASINs you know the invoices to provide and which supplier info to include with your Plan of Action, in case Amazon wants to contact them to verify legitimacy of the items. If you haven’t written a solid enough POA, you probably haven’t received a positive response yet, so you’d see this one next:
Please reply to this email with License Agreement from NFL and a plan that explains
— The issues that caused the complaints.
— The actions you have taken to resolve the issues and prevent similar complaints.
— Plan of action to prevent the sale of potentially infringing and counterfeit materials on the platform.
Potential infringement must be avoided in the future, because Amazon seeks to reduce the number of brands chasing them to chase you off those listings. When they consider your Plan adequate, they still hassle you over the documents. Do you have one of these after pestering your supplier? Do you have anything else to show like a letter from your supplier?
— NFL License Agreement (this is required to consider account reinstatement).
Why is This Happening?
Amazon is not interested in any wars with major brands, especially if simply deleting listings or suspending the accounts of resellers fixes the problem at the source. Today it’s the NFL, tomorrow it’s another brand. The pattern remains clear here. Amazon envisions thousands of future contacts from brands, either in the form of test buy reports of inauthentic products or infringement forms, and they are doing their best to eliminate that workload now, not later. Amazon must be as proactive as possible to keep their investigators away from multiple hours a day warning sellers and removing their listings. The best way to handle it, from Amazon’s standpoint? Suspend the accounts and require authorized resale documentation that many sellers don’t or won’t have. Only those with a good Plan of Action describing their steps for future avoidance of this problem and those who also delete and remove all NFL products from sale will return, while those without will not.
OK, So What Do I Do?
Pray that if you’re listing against a “danger brand” but don’t know it yet that you’ll get a prior warning on one of the items before the entire account falls.
Make sure if you’re selling a potential danger brand that you’re sourcing from a supplier who is willing to show you a copy of the agreements Amazon ultimately asks to see.
Don’t Sell Major Brands, the risk isn’t worth it. Reselling isn’t what it used to be.
Don’t ignore rights owner infringement claims just because you have no plan to list or sell those items anymore. Enough of those piling up in your notifications can lead to suspension.
Understand that Amazon is more likely to suspend you with little warning and possibly on a first offense (some NFL suspensions were based on only a single listing) than ever before. Take proactive actions whenever you’re selling in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation by removing those listings now, before Amazon and the brand come calling for your head.
Don’t take the approach of waiting until you sell through all your inventory before making listing deletions and Removal Orders a reality. Move now to protect the overall health of your account. Tomorrow could be too late, and no one truly knows when that lightning will strike.
Resources mentioned in the show:
Learn how to handle blocked listings and Amazon suspension with our Amazon Appeal online course
Web Retailer: False Infringement Claims are Rife On Amazon
Amazon’s Report Infringement form
World First Ales & Sales Networking Event – February 23rd, 7:30-10:30pm, Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn New York