If you do any one task long enough, you will undoubtedly start to see trends. Play several rounds of golf, for example, and you may notice deficiencies in your short game. Commit to doing a beach clean-up once a week and you will start to see the same kinds of trash filling your garbage bags.
The same is true with manufacturers’ monitoring of unauthorized sales online – particularly in the realm of Minimum Advertised Price (“MAP”) Monitoring. After a few weeks of watching illegitimate sellers violate MAP, companies notice that watching is very different from stopping. An experienced E-Enforcement team will echo this consistent pattern. Yet, over and over, companies are turning to monitoring services when what they really need is a total enforcement approach.
Having a proven enforcement process and team is crucial in an ever-growing E-Commerce world. In 2016, E-Commerce accounted for an estimated $400 billion in sales in the United States alone. As those dollar figures continue to climb, incidents of E-Commerce crime also climb. Smart manufacturers are putting enforcement plans and strategies in place now to set the standard that their brands will not tolerate unauthorized sales or the flurry of problems they cause.
Deficiencies in In-House Enforcement Efforts
In-house teams, believing that monitoring is the same as enforcement, set out to handle the process themselves. In fact, most in-house enforcement teams start by purchasing software tools to track MAP violations. Some packages even go so far as to identify MAP violations and send out Electronic Cease & Desist Notices (“E-C&D Notices”) to sellers. This certainly sounds simple – and it is. In fact, MAP Monitoring products are a great first step in tackling an unauthorized seller issue. So why not simply rely on MAP Monitoring to solve the problem?
MAP Monitoring programs have several drawbacks. For instance, while the software may send out E-C&D Notices to illicit sellers through platforms like Amazon or Ebay, those platforms themselves may have limitations rendering the notices virtually useless. Many will only send these notices to site-users accused of selling counterfeit products – they will not address unauthorized sellers of genuine products. Additionally, E-C&D Notices rarely impact the individuals behind the business shells selling illegally obtained products online. In those cases, receipt of an E-C&D Notice is simply an invitation for the offending seller to switch business names or move the manufacturer’s product to another platform for a few weeks.
When these initial “enforcement” efforts fall flat, the temptation for in-house teams is to turn to outside lawyers for help. While a threatening Cease & Desist Demand from an attorney can certainly be effective, it can also be costly, with many lawyers charging upwards of $500 an hour for their services. Thus, in house teams often inject one more step before calling in the big guns: the “Internal Detective.”
An Internal Detective is a designated individual within a company who is tasked with sniffing out unauthorized sellers. Often, this investigator will begin buying and receiving offending products in an attempt to identify the unauthorized seller via shipping paperwork or other documents created through the purchasing process. Others use sites like Google or Spokeo to try to hunt them down. Unfortunately, these tactics rarely work. High volume sellers (i.e., the ones most companies really care about) are usually too sophisticated to be identified through such pedestrian means. Once again, companies are left frustrated in their efforts. Even worse, they still have not done a thing to stop these sales. At this point, manufacturers have two choices: (1) give up and allow illicit sales to continue; or (2) call in professionals who operate in this realm every day.
The E-Enforcement Difference
The first choice set forth above is not really a choice at all. Unauthorized sellers can wreak havoc on a manufacturer’s brand image and tarnish relationships with authorized distributors over time. Consequently, calling in E-Commerce enforcement professionals is the only real choice to be made.
Established E-Enforcement teams have the expertise, know-how and tools to stop unauthorized sellers in their tracks. They employ a multi-pronged approach that ranges from proprietary tracking methods to effective legal warnings to the filing of legal proceedings against illicit sellers.
As noted above, many initial E-C&D Notices are ignored or avoided through shady business tactics. This is where a seasoned E-Enforcement team becomes a fundamental tool in the manufacturer’s attack. What sets E-Enforcement teams apart is their ability to identify the people behind these sham businesses. They have databases that track illegitimate sellers by their business names, selling techniques, open source information, breadcrumbs and modus operandi. Their databases are filled with names, last known addresses, sales volume histories, favored products, selling tactics, platforms and the methodologies they use to cloud their identities. Additionally, E-Enforcement companies have access to law enforcement databases that are simply not available to other professionals who operate in this space – MAP Monitoring Services and law firms among them.
More Importantly, a professional E-Enforcement Team knows how to escalate pressure on the seller utilizing a variety of other enforcement tools. Those tools include: (1) the initial E-C&D Notice; (2) post E-C&D Notices of Non-Compliance (often sent to an individual at their home or business address); (3) consistent tracking and notification of the sellers’ online maneuverings to obfuscate their activity; and (4) a graduated pressure on the seller letting them know that their options are running out for a peaceful, non costly solution. These actions send a clear message that they are dealing with a brand that is dead-set on enforcing its trademark rights.
If the seller remains non-compliant after those tactics are exhausted, E-Enforcers, in conjunction with a manufacturer’s legal team, will simply file a lawsuit against the individuals and notify them of the case number to put them on notice that their luck has run out. This typically puts an end to the manufacturer’s unauthorized seller dilemma. The key to this level of enforcement is having the expertise, knowledge and access to proprietary tools that will root out illicit sellers personally, a monitoring system to let them know there every move is being watched, and a communication system that continually increase pressure on them until they stop.
In sum, there is much more to MAP Enforcement than MAP Monitoring. While Monitoring is an important first step in identifying the breadth and scope of a manufacturer’s unauthorized seller problem, it is the Enforcement arm that will put an end to that problem. Many MAP providers are now working with E-Enforcement teams to combine both the monitoring systems of MAP providers and the enforcement system of E-Commerce professionals to provide a comprehensive approach to stopping e-commerce abuse.
For more information, contact the E-Enforce™ enforcement team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at (800) 892-0450. You can follow us at e-enforceCIS@twitter.com, Ecommerce Enforcement Group on Linkedin and E-Enforce.com.