If your products are sold online, the odds are that you’ve got a number of sellers you don’t know. Not only are they unauthorized but you don’t even know how they got inventory. At MAPP Trap we call them “Ghost Sellers,” and they can hurt a brand in many different ways.
The more of these unknown sellers you have, the less control and transparency you have into what is arguably, your most important sales channel. Therefore, it’s essential that they be removed from the online picture. But first, you need to understand who they are and how they got your products.
Determining who they are?
Many times, online sellers are companies that you know but have adopted different names for various websites. Sometimes they do it because they want to differentiate themselves from their brick-and-mortar location, other times it’s because they don’t want brands to know it’s them. Here are some of the more common reasons:
They were told they couldn’t sell on a marketplace
They’re foreign and were told they couldn’t sell in the United States
They’re a distributor or a sales rep and don’t want the brand to know they’re selling online
They’re an employee or an employee’s relative
They’re the factory that manufactures the products
They don’t want consumers contacting them directly
They’re a dropshipper
Clients of MAPP Trap benefit from our professional investigators and account cross-referencing tools but many brands opt to research sellers on their own. If you do this on your own, we recommend that you validate any information you find in at least three sources and that you call every number and check every email. Here are some recommendations for do-it-yourselfers.
If you have any information, look at your current chart of accounts. You’d be surprised at how often it’s right under your nose.
Look at the privacy and term of use pages on dedicated domains. These pages frequently have addresses, telephone numbers and/or emails.
On marketplaces, look at the source code on the seller pages.
Use the Wayback Machine to check websites that have no contact information. Sometimes sellers remove the information after they’ve been found out.
Public databases like BBB, Secretary of State and Manta can be helpful but definitely should not be counted on 100%. Information changes rapidly and these sources don’t get updated so fast.
Private databases like Melissa data and Intellius can be good tools for 2nd source information.
Here are a few tips for researching via Google:
- Do broad searches (don’t search exact addresses and use the street number and the city, state)
- Change the order and structure of searches (e.g., search area codes with and without parenthesis)
- Add terms like “seller,” “user,” and “registrant” before seller names
- For emails, use the company name followed by “.%” This will search for all email domains associated with the email address.
Unfortunately, having contact information about a seller isn’t always useful because they’re not in your chart of accounts and your distributors don’t recognize the information. That’s when you need to understand how they are getting your products.
How did they get your products?
The barriers to entry to becoming an online seller have never been lower. Anyone can create an Amazon store, or use Shopify to set up shop on Walmart. They don’t even need to be a real business; just have a bank account where funds can go.
The difficulty is product procurement. But today, retailers have the greatest access to inventory in history. They can simply set up drop ship accounts with the brands, their distributors, 3rd party drop ship businesses, Ali Express, other online sellers, liquidators or buy close-out products from big box brick-and-mortar (retail arbitrage). You need to turn over every stone.
Here are a few tips:
Ask them! Seems simple but not everyone does this. You’d be surprised that some sellers are willing to reveal their sources.
Pretend you’re an online seller that wants your brand. Check for your products on dropshipper websites like Doba and Worldwide Brands.
Compare their products to other online sellers. If they’re an exact match that’s very telling (MAPP Trap has an application that creates Merchant Clusters for this). Are there any accounts that purchase that exact product mix?