For any brand, knowing who they’re dealing with (and who’s dealing in their goods) is smart business. It’s one of the best ways to ensure consistency in pricing, maintain a healthy perception of the brand among online customers, keep profit margins high, and, in general, keep the business strong.
In a perfect world, finding third-party seller information would be as simple as conducting a quick search on eBay or Amazon. Unfortunately, the process is often less-than-ideal, with various methods shrouding their identity (DBAs, ghost accounts and so on), less scrupulous sellers can be notoriously difficult to track down.
I’ve experienced the aggravating runaround of trying to locate a mysterious seller’s details myself, and while it can seem a Herculean task, there are some strategies brands can employ to ease the burden. The following addresses both how certain techniques employed by sellers make them hard to find and how brands can keep tighter control over their products.
How DBAs and Ghost Sellers Work
First, some background on how sellers often disguise themselves. One potential method is through a DBA (Doing Business As):
“A company is said to be 'doing business as' when the name under which they operate their business differs from its legal, registered name.”
Also known as a “fictitious business name” or a “trade name,” such aliases can be used by both sole proprietors and LLCs to operate a different identity to open bank accounts, write checks, enter contracts and more.
There are, at times, protections in place to prevent shady dealings in these instances, like registering any new names with the county or state, and putting out a “fictitious name ad in a local newspaper for a certain amount of time” to alert the public.
Such steps are not always required (or followed), so deceitful sellers can potentially use alternate business names to obscure their identity. Even in cases where fictitious business names are on file with a local or state authority, it might not be readily apparent a seller is using one, or there might not be a simple process to link the seller to a DBA name.
Another bit of eBay or Amazon trickery shifty sellers might employ is the use of ghost accounts. To help engage in unethical behavior on Amazon, some sellers might take to using fake accounts that are not linked to their true identities when they are selling online.
While operating multiple accounts is, for the most part, not allowed on Amazon’s platform, there are less-than-legal methods and services sellers can avail themselves of which provide methods for circumventing Amazon’s and eBay’s restrictions or grant access to fraudulent or hacked accounts sellers can then use with relative impunity.
In both instances — DBAs and ghost accounts — sellers can mask who they are to engage in sordid eBay or Amazon behavior, like advertising goods below allow MAP Policy pricing. Since these sellers have taken care to purposefully shroud their identities, brands that want to avoid the perils caused by phantom sellers need to get creative in controlling the flow of their products.
How Controlling Distribution Can Help
Even if a seller is using fake names to conceal themselves, they still have to get the products they wish to sell from somewhere. By keeping track of where their products are going at every point throughout the distribution chain, brands can gain a better handle on who their resellers are and maintain tighter control over their M.A.P. pricing and other factors.
For many brands, employing some form of serial number tracking for products holds the answer here. With a number on each product, brands can readily identify their goods, and track where their products are heading as they pass from distributors to various resellers.
As long as serial numbers are scanned when the brand’s product changes hands, brands can maintain a progress history of their wares as they work their way from distribution to the hands of resellers and customers. With those properly numbered or scanned products, brands can ascertain who has their goods and what distributor they were procured from, even if a reseller is going to lengths to hide their identity.
To help ensure distributors adhere to a thoroughly monitored system of scanning serial numbers and tracking where products, brands need to maintain strong relationships with their distributors.
Maintaining control over the distribution network requires brands to be more than simply vendors of products. They should consider themselves partners in their distributors’ success and take the time to explain why a well-tracked distribution chain is beneficial to all.
Remember the MAP Policy
For brands, knowing who has their goods is part and parcel of cultivating a trustworthy seller network. Distribution control makes the process of tracking down sellers who violate MAP much simpler, even when sellers attempt to obfuscate their identities, and is an option I think most brands should seriously consider if they want to maintain an edge in the online space.