You've taken all the necessary steps to protect your brand by setting up a solid MAP policy, but it's not much use if you aren't able to identify violations. It's an even less worthy endeavor if you fail to follow up with retailers who are breaching your policy.
Unfortunately, it's a more likely occurrence than you might realize, as in many cases, retailers have received few (if any) penalties for breaking the rules in the past. If you want your MAP policy to remain effective, you'll have to take action. Here are a few things to consider when formulating your gameplan.
MAP Monitoring Is Essential
If you can't detect when sellers aren't complying with your MAP policy, then you've already lost the battle. We've discussed the multitude of reasons why trying to monitor your sellers manually is ineffective, and, indeed, your best bet of catching violations will be through the use of automated MAP monitoring services/software. Using the right software goes beyond simply detecting violations, though. With a fully-featured suite of MAP monitoring/enforcement tools, you'll also streamline the process of collecting evidence of individual violations -- something that will become vital during the enforcement process.
A Step-by-Step Plan for Times When Sellers Break Your Policy
With your violators identified and evidence in hand, what should you do? The first thing to remember is to remain cool and stick to the plan of action. With those tips in mind, the best way to proceed is as follows.
Step 1: Send an Initial Warning
No need to go "all out" at the first sign of a violation. In fact, it pays to start out in a rather cordial manner, giving sellers the benefit of the doubt. After all, it could just be an oversight on their part (as opposed to willfully circumventing the rules).
Keep the "first warning" light and friendly, along the lines of "noticed your pricing for X is below MAP, just wanted to reach out and let you know." With the warning sent, you should give the seller time to comply. Remember that MAP software can help in this regard, as well. It's an easy way to keep contact information, pricing info, reminders and more all front and center.
Step 2: The Second Warning
If the seller has responded favorably to your initial warning, you can shoot them a quick "thank you" and be done with it. If they've not adjusted their prices accordingly by the end of your predetermined time frame, then you'll need to follow up with them again -- in a sterner tone. Remind them that they are in violation, and be sure to indicate how much time they have to comply before you take further action.
Step 3: Terminate the Relationship
If at this point a seller still refuses to comply, then you'll have to consider cutting ties. You'll need to make an effort to remove the offending listings by way of third-party service providers, marketplace specific tools (such as eBay VERO, the verified rights owner program) or legal avenues.
When going the legal route, you should always work closely with your legal counsel, as they can advise you on the particulars of applicable laws and what specific actions you should consider. It's also advisable to save any and all communications from violating sellers in case the matter ends up in the courts.
There's also the DO NOT SELL List to consider. It's a means of establishing which retailers are unauthorized to purchase and resell your products, and while it might seem drastic, when you've exhausted your more conciliatory options it's a necessity.
Remember, your good sellers will respect you and take your MAP policy seriously, but only if you take action in a clear, predictable manner. If you're inconsistent, not only do you run the risk of losing the trust of your trustworthy sellers, you run the risk of more sellers violating your policy (since they'll interpret your enforcement behavior as lax). You might also open yourself to the possibility of litigation since you aren't applying your policy evenly.
Furthermore, attempting to engage in drawn-out negotiations with violating sellers could be construed as an agreement in court, so it's best to just issue your warnings, wait and take action if sellers don't get on the ball.
As for the DO NOT SELL List, you shouldn't hesitate to use it, especially if you are selling directly to various retailers. The reason why should be obvious.
Though you might be fearful of reducing your total number of sellers and affecting revenues, the fact is that having a smaller number of trusted retailers is much more advantageous than having a large number of untrustworthy ones. In the long run, you'll be able to predict your revenues better and plan appropriately because you'll know exactly what your products are selling for across the board.
If you sell through distribution, then you MUST have a good relationship with your distributors so they put your violators on a DO NOT SELL List. Again, if police officers never gave speeding tickets, then everyone would speed. It's just human nature.