If you have been selling FBA on Amazon for a while and you have a couple products that are selling with good velocity (e.g. 10+ units a day), then chances are you may have encountered “hijackers” — other sellers who have jumped on your original listing to sell what is supposedly your product. This is especially common if you are selling a fairly generic, easy-to-replicate product (think generic plastic or metal household items, etc.).
Two Types of Hijackers
Generally speaking, there are two types of hijackers — those who do FBA and those who do FBM (fulfilled by merchant).
Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM) Hijackers
FBM hijackers are actually very common but are generally of little or no concern to you. Typically, a FBM hijacker is either a Chinese company who is shipping the same generic item directly from China (takes much longer shipping), or it’s some reseller who bought your item but is reselling on your listing at a higher price.
Either way, the FBM hijacker is unlikely to steal your “Buy Box”, since Amazon will automatically give the Buy Box to sellers who use FBA. In the case of the latter, their resale price is higher than your price anyway so they certainly won’t steal your Buy Box. Without the Buy Box, these FBM hijackers are basically harmless — they won’t take any of your sales because they are not accessible to the shoppers, their shipping times are longer, and their prices are higher. I wouldn’t spend any time worrying about them.
Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) Hijackers
This is where things get really interesting… and irritating. In some cases, a popular but fairly generic product will attract hijackers who are using FBA. This means that these other sellers are literally sending a similar item (maybe only different in packaging/labels) into the Amazon warehouses and selling through FBA. This can be extremely troublesome because basically if they start selling the item at a lower price than you, on your listing, they will get the Buy Box! When they have the Buy Box, the majority of customers will end up buying from them because shoppers simply click on the yellow “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” buttons when they are shopping for a $15 item. They likely do not have any brand attachment to you and will not bother to click on the “other sellers on Amazon” for this listing.
If you have brand registry (which requires registration of your trademark in your country of business), then this is unlikely to be a problem because you have full control over your listing and you can report the hijacker for IP or copyright infringement. Amazon would be on your side and you should be able to kick them off your listing with relative ease.
If you are not brand registered, however, then you have little control over anything because, according to Amazon’s ToS, once a public listing is created, Amazon could accept potential listing modifications from all sellers on that listing! This means that if a FBA hijacker takes over your Buy Box, he/she may also be able to make changes to your listing description, bullet points, photos, etc.! This could be catastrophic for your listing, not to mention the potentially negative customer reviews that may come in if the item sold by the hijacker is of inferior quality/user experience!
My Experience Dealing with a Hijacker Who Used FBA
Unfortunately for me, I experienced an FBA hijacker jumping onto my top-selling listing recently. This gave me some major headaches as the hijacker was able to steal about half of my sales for that listing for 2-3 weeks!
They had some software in place where every time I lowered the price to be lower than theirs, their price would automatically adjust to be $0.01 lower than mine. It was extremely tedious and irritating, and I literally had to spend time sitting in front of my computer just to win back the Buy Box in real time. I noticed that if I reduced my price below a certain point (for example $12), then their bot would stop, probably because it was no longer profitable for them. So what I did was I had to keep the price at this low point just so I could regain sales momentum for a couple of days, while making almost no profit. It was painful.
Unfortunately for me, I have not treated my Amazon FBA business like a proper brand and I did not do brand registry at this point. Therefore, I had no grounds to make copyright/IP infringement claims since as I mentioned earlier, Amazon treats these “public listings” as… well, public. Basically, anybody can sell on them as long as their products match the listing exactly. As a side note, this is actually what all the “retail arbitrage” (RA) Amazon sellers were doing — they would buy something on sale from Walmart and resell it on Amazon under the original listing, as long as that particular listing was not brand gated.
The first thing I did was to start filing for my trademark registration with USPTO straightaway. It is said that this process typically takes several months, therefore I knew I had to get it started immediately so I can apply for brand registry as soon as possible. This is to ensure I don’t encounter such issues again with my business going forward. (2020 UPDATE: I have obtained my trademark and completed brand registry on Amazon, the whole process was lengthy but fairly straightforward)
At the meantime, to get the FBA hijacker off my listing, I tried the following steps:
1. Send a Cease & Desist Letter
This is the first step recommended by all “FBA gurus” or FBA blogs you find online, and this is what I did. I contacted the hijacking seller through my Amazon shopper account, and wrote a generic C&D letter asking them to remove themselves from my listing or risk actions escalated to Amazon or legal. I waited for a few days and no fucks were given by them. I sent a second letter and still, nothing. They continue to leech on my listing and automatically adjust their pricing to steal the Buy Box.
It is likely that with many of these Amazon hijackers who are Chinese trading companies or Chinese FBA sellers, they simply do not give a shit about your C&D letter. To them it’s just some pointless words that will do little harm, especially if you do not have strong legal grounds to take action against them (which is the case anyway since they are in China and play by different rules).
2. Do a “Test Buy” and Report a Violation
When the hijacker did not take any action from my first C&D letter, I knew I had to go to the next step, which is to do a “test buy”. This basically means you buy a product from the hijacker (ask a friend or family if you are not physically in the country), and upon receiving it, you see how it is different from your actual product.
I did exactly this, and upon receipt of the product, it is clear that they did manufacture something similar (it is a fairly generic product) and put it in a generic box with Chinese characters on it, without any branding or labels. Upon seeing this, I immediately updated my listing photos by adding photos that display my product and packaging with my brand logo clearly visible.
Once I’ve done that, I reached out to Amazon through the “Contact Us” page in Seller Central, and “Report a Violation”. I listed the hijacker’s seller name, the ASIN of my listing, and one sentence describing the issue — product received does not match listing photos. I attached photos of the hijacker’s item and filed the report.
Now, according to Amazon’s ToS, they won’t even let you know the results of any violation investigations due to privacy reasons or whatever, so there was no way to be absolutely sure that this was what led to a good result. However, since there was not much else to do, I have to assume that this worked, because a few days later, the FBA hijacker disappeared from my listing!
Things are back to normal for the time being and I am getting my sales back, but needless to say, I am not sitting cozy going forward. It is unfortunate that the trademark filing process in the US takes such a long time, but I have nothing else to do but to wait for it to go through. After that, applying for brand registry will be the first thing I do. Yes, the trademark filing will cost you a few hundred dollars, but in the long run it certainly is worthwhile if you plan to keep selling products under this brand for years to come.
PS: For anyone who’s doing or is new to doing Amazon FBA, JungleScout is a go-to tool for all FBA sellers. It is one of the longest-running and most accurate Amazon product research tools out there, and I am still using it today.