Preventing Hijackers

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We Regret to Inform You, But You’re Acting Like
The TSA Agent of your Amazon Listing

It is time to be a real hero in keeping your listing safe from hijackers.

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This is clearly a serious problem that is affecting a lot of Amazon sellers. If it has not happened to you yet, it will if you’re not careful…  

Popular Facebook groups and blogs reveal the desperate cries for help of Amazon sellers who see their sales tank when unscrupulous competitors come in and hijack listings. Your listing! The product you spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours perfecting has someone leeching off all your hard work.

There are already a bunch of great articles out there describing preventive measures to take once your listing has been created.

Our friend Steve, from My Wife Quit Her Job, put together a terrific blog post with tips for what to do it your listing is hijacked:

  1. Reclaim your listing. If you have to drop your price, do it! Whatever it takes to make sure false products don’t get in the hands of your customers.
  2. File an A to Z Complaint to Amazon. First have a friend (not relative) purchase your product and then ask them to report the problem that the product is not materially the same. Once they’ve done that, file your request against the Amazon seller saying the goods are fake and counterfeit.
  3. If your brand is not registered with Amazon, register it now! Click here to get started.
  4. Next, step up your photo branding game. Add more photos with your product’s logo, and if you want to try to get away with it, add a watermark to your photo too.

– Nice work Steve!

So all of this is fine and dandy, but it is a lot of work to do all while you’re dealing with lost revenue from your hijackers’ attempts to overtake the buy box.

What if I were to tell you that there was a way to greatly reduce the chance of a hijacker from the very beginning? This means, before your order even arrives at Amazon, you’re already in an awesome position that makes it even harder for these hijackers to view your listing as prey.

Understanding the Mindset of a Hijacker

Who are these guys!!??

There is a very good chance, if you’ve already dealt with a hijacker, they turn out to be from Asia, China specifically. I bet if you were able to track them down, your final location would resemble something incredibly close to the factory you’ve commissioned to produce your items.

Does that mean next time you visit China you should pull out your pitchfork and beeline it to your supplier?

Not so fast!

Simply put, you can’t guarantee it was your factory counterfeiting your products. Sure, there is a very good chance, and even if you hire a factory spy to go in and do some reconnaissance, there is no use pointing fingers – it is not going to help.

A hijacker preys on the young, weak and vulnerable. They are looking for the opportunistic listing, that can be easily taken with little effort.

There are four main reasons a product gets hijacked, and Steve already explained the first reason. Because your listing was not branded properly or protected. But the other three reasons seem to be missing from an awful lot of explanations.

Well here they are, and they are simple:

  1. The production line was painfully simple to follow. This means that literally any passerby could have picked up the scent of your successful product when they saw your fnSKU numbers labeled all over your order, or saw your notes specifically saying the goods were going to Amazon. So, while we’d love to believe it was a joint effort by the entire factory, there is no way of saying who is the mastermind behind the recent counterfeiting.
  2. Your supplier relationship meant very little to your supplier. Based off the recent hijacking, you clearly did a good job building your product, but you missed an integral step in the production process. Building your supplier relationship. Relationships mean a lot in China, they mean so much that people are willing to do insane things purely based on their perceived relationship. But this also means, if yours is not strong enough, the supplier will think very little of you when they notice a potential new financial opportunity they could benefit from.
  3. Anyone could have easily copied your product. The days of finding a high selling product on Amazon and remaking it with your own brand is just about over. The ‘good old days’ of Amazon have just about come to an end, and only the creative sellers are being successful. If your exact product could easily be found on DHGate or AliExpress, then you’re an easy mark. The best and most cost effective way to differentiate is to bundle. Complex product tweaks are often too capital intensive and take a long time to build before even validating, but a simple addition to your listing is something that can create added value and make copying the listing too time intensive.

The reason these three steps are often glossed over, or even skipped is because most people end up reading these guides after they’ve been hijacked. But, if you’re the responsible importer we hope you are, you’ve got your notebook out and you’ve already begun taking notes for your next production order.

I’m going to walk you through the necessary steps.

Making Your Production Line Difficult to Follow

This is a difficult feat. Essentially, the more hands that touch your finalized product, the more chances exist that someone will be savvy enough to check your sales history and see you as a potential prey. Even if only one person or company has access to your finalized product, and no legal recourse exists to prevent them from infringing on your work, the chances increase that they will become your hijacker.

Since you most likely don’t have any truly trustworthy friends in China, your only option here is to get your goods out of China before they are packed and prepped. While this is not the cheapest or most cost effective option, it is one that should be explained.

There are services such as FBA Forward, which not only help with shipment consulting, but they also offer FBA prep in house at their warehouse located in California. While I am always an advocate of the understanding that, if it can be done in China, do it there because of how much cheaper things are, this more expensive alternative means your packaged and labeled goods are not getting into the hands of someone who can easily trace your product back to the source.

By letting a company such as FBA Forward take over shipping and prep outside of China, your factory will have no way of knowing what country you’re selling your products in, let alone what market.

And I know what you’re about to say, “Sam, obviously the factory will know my goods are going to Amazon. Amazon is so flippin huge!” Well, it is, but then again it isn’t. I know it might feel like Amazon is taking over the world, but that is just because you and everyone in your entrepreneurial circle depend on the Amazon marketplace. But, take a look outside of your immediate scope, do your neighbors know about this? Your coworker? Great Aunt?

China produces a ton of stuff for the whole world. Only a tiny percent is going to Amazon. So rest assured, a simple step such as adding $0.25 – $2.00 per product for prep after the goods are imported might make sense for you.

I am not affiliated with FBA Forward, and since neither myself, my company, or employees sell on Amazon (Hello, that would be a huge conflict of interest if we did!) I can’t vouch for them, apart from what I’ve heard down the grapevine. But, in an effort to be even more transparent, here are some other similar services that handle FBA Prep outside of China:

Making Your Product Difficult to Copy

Lets face it, the more difficult your product is to copy, the less likely a lazy, opportunistic hijacker is going to steal your listing.

The answer to this… bundle, bundle, bundle. Add something to your product that makes your item a pain in the neck to procure. Essentially, you need to add a simple product from a different factory. Nothing crazy, just something that will make the item look like too much work.

Check out the difference with in these two sellers.

It looks like the above listing has a couple other sellers on their page. This most likely attributes to the lack of branding. Also, notice the logo’s missing from many of the images, and the product’s ease of procurement.

Now the second listing, which is a #1 Best Seller, is branded properly, the creator most likely asked the factory to throw in Duracell batteries, and they found an inexpensive set of safety glasses they rebranded as ‘UV Glasses’ as the added bonus to their bundle. Oh, and there does not seem to be any additional sellers hijacking this listing.

If it looks like your product can be easily sourced from one factory, then your chances of another seller coming on your listing greatly increase.

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Question… If I am a lazy, opportunistic thief, which option will I want to steal from?

I think you get the idea.

Improving Your Supplier Relationship

Ever hear of the word Guanxi? In Chinese, this word means “connections” and “relationships”. Essentially it is the idea that, by building your connections and relationships, more things can get done for you.

While it is often said to be quite difficult to build guanxi as a foreigner being outside of China, the understood philosophy does translate and can be taken advantage of, if you build your relationship with your supplier over time.

Check out this story posted by a fellow Amazon seller on his mindset of building relationships with his suppliers.

While I am unsure if he even realized, but his kind actions did a lot more for him than he understands.

When you build relationships with your suppliers, be it genuine or artificial, these actions are noticed and can get you places. I’ve spoken with a lot of suppliers, asking them what their favorite customers do. After understanding and knowing the exact product you’re looking to import, the overwhelming response is to treat them like humans. Become their friends and pen-pals. That’s right, the answer isn’t unsolicited gifts or false promises of increased orders, it is genuine interaction by sharing differences in culture and ideas.

A lot of sales agents are young adults in the early twenties, they learned English in a local Chinese University and have had little access to foreigners in their hometown. Sharing your culture and having genuine conversations with them are incredibly simple ways of building your relationship. While you may not develop the same levels of guanxi as you would if you lived close to them and met for dinner and drinks, your relationship might be all that is needed to either warn you of a potential hijacker.

The DIY Importer

If you’re a DIY importer, meaning you import entirely on your own without the assistance of third party services, then you’re going to see an increase in cost and time when opting to combat hijackers.

Let’s Sum This Up For You

  1. Get prep done outside of China. Hide your branding as best as possible to make your items unidentifiable at the times when the most amount of eyes are on your product. – Ever see iPhone’s being shipped from China? They are sent in unmarked boxes as to not stand out. Think like Apple and start being a little more secretive with your products.
  2. Build up your relationships. It is that simple, the more connections you have with people in China, the more they will be willing to help you. This means, if they see someone’s plan to hijack your order, they can help you stop them, or at the very least, warn you.
  3. See what additional things your factory can add to make your product unique without greatly increasing costs, and find an additional product from a separate source to add on your product. (Just be sure not to have the add on product shipped to your supplier as that would reveal too much.)

These strategies can be added to your existing sourcing and purchasing plan to begin generating preventative measures against hijackers. If you want to continue moving along as a DIY Importer, then here are the additional hours and expenses you’ll want to consider.

  • You’ll want to add a couple more hours per week of supplier communication to build your supplier relationships
  • Outside prep usually costs anywhere from $0.25 – $2.00, plus the cost to ship the goods to them and then forwarded to Amazon warehouses.
  • The cost of your inexpensive add on, plus the cost to ship this separately to your prep company – international shipping for small add on items could be in the high hundreds of dollars, if you’re lucky, and can easily get into the thousands of dollars.

Now you’re all set to keep your listings safe from hijackers! Sound like a lot of work? Well, it is. For sellers who want to use their time to focus on the big picture, we recommend hiring a team like Guided Imports to handle the day-to-day tasks like product validation, supplier relationship management and listing protection. Check out the different services we have to offer by clicking here.