One of the biggest challenges brands face when trying to enforce their online policies is identifying who the sellers are. And that makes a lot of sense because, let’s face it, if you don’t know who they are then you can’t stop them from getting inventory. And if you can’t stop that, then enforcing Minimum Advertised Pricing Policies, Authorized Reseller strategies and/or IP Rights policies is next to impossible.
MAPP Trap has been uncovering merchant contact information since we started in 2015. Since then, we’ve identified nearly 1,000,000 sellers. If you don’t subscribe to a price monitoring and policy enforcement service, but you’ve got the staff, the time and the desire to identify unknown and unauthorized sellers, you can still do it yourself.
In order to help, here are some tips for DIY merchant identification. Some of them may be obvious to those who’ve been doing it on their own, but even for them, we’re sure there are some new tidbits.
1. Contact Information From the Websites/Marketplace Stores
Most ecommerce sites and marketplaces provide some contact information about the stores. Amazon, Walmart, and Rakuten actually require their sellers to publish some information about themselves (even though they don’t vouch for the accuracy). This information can be found on the seller’s company page.
For dedicated ecommerce sites, the “about us,” “contact us,” “terms and conditions,” and “legal information” pages contain corporate contact data. But like the marketplace information, this self-reported data isn’t always accurate. Sometimes it’s intentionally wrong, other times it simply hasn’t been updated.
The challenge becomes corroborating and/or updating the available contact information. If you don’t want to pay for subscriptions to contact databases there’s plenty available for free. We practice and recommend that information be confirmed by at least three sources.
2. Secretary of State Websites
When people register businesses, they must file with the state where they do business. This information is available on the specific Secretary of State websites. Always look for the legal names and/or store names in the specific state (or adjoining states) for this. Some states even allow you to search for principal and/or registrant names. Since each state maintains its own database, there are 50 websites. A quick search for “SOS + Entity Search + Specific State” will help to find it. For example, to find the right site for California, search “SOS Entity Search CA."
3. Department of Revenue
We’ve all heard the expression, “Follow the money.” All retailers need to have resale certificates and many states have websites where this information can be searched. Sometimes, but not always, tax id or resale certificate numbers are required. If the site doesn’t provide a search tool, you can email them to ask for the information.
4. Better Business Bureau
A quick visit to the Better Business Bureau can be very helpful. While most businesses never register with the BBB (it’s a private company), addresses, principal names, telephone numbers, email addresses and websites can frequently be found there. Of course, getting the right name to search is important so try it different ways. There is a national site, as well as individual state sites for the BBB. Try them both.
5. RipOff Report
Hell hath no fury like a shopper burned! Generally speaking, people don’t report good news, only the bad. So, when an online shopper has a bone to pick with an online seller, RipOff Report is one of the favorite places to complain. Sometimes contact information is available.
6. Social Media
Because ecommerce sellers want consumers to know about their websites, many of them set up social media profiles. Many times, their profiles contain contact information, links to employee and owner names, clue-providing posts and more. A few searches on Facebook and LinkedIn can be very revealing.
7. Internet Archive
If a regular ecommerce website doesn’t show any contact information, that could be because they took it down to avoid being identified. However, there are online services that record and keep cached pages in an archive that can be accessed via their website. Check out the Wayback Machine to run those URLs.
8. US Patent and Trademark Office
Just as a brand wants to own the name of its company and/or product lines, many ecommerce stores want the same. Exact matches or variations of store names can sometimes be found along with the owner names on the US Patent and Trademark Office website.
9. Domain Registrars
When registering domains with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), companies are required to provide contact information. However, they can opt to have this information obscured to the public. That being said, domain registration info is still worth checking. Just enter the domain name and the information will show. Be careful because even if contact information is found, there’s no requirement that it be up-to-date. Many companies will register from one address, then not update the information when they move. It is a clue, though.
10. Webpage Source Code
Not all websites display all of the information that’s listed in the HTML code. You can see what’s “not” being displayed by right-clicking your mouse on a page and selecting the “view page source” option. On some marketplaces, non-displayed information can include telephone numbers, mailing addresses and email addresses.
11. Cross Reference Addresses With Your Own Chart of Accounts
Most brands maintain lists of clients in their accounting software (both shipping and billing information). Every data point should be compared with the internal information (MAPP Trap does this algorithmically). Billing addresses tend to be better identifiers since there are so many public fulfillment locations where products can be stored and shipped. Even if a brand doesn’t ship and bill to retailers, they should get lists from distributors and sales reps. They should also send their seller lists to their distributors since they should know who they sell to. We recommend that brands get applications from their distributors and sales reps to determine if they want them carrying their products. The more information you can get up front, the better.
12. Look For Related Storefronts
Many of today’s online sellers maintain multiple online stores. They may have one or more dedicated stores and also sell on marketplaces. Be creative in how you search. Use the words “seller”, “user id,” “Walmart,” “ebay,” etc. before the seller’s name. Put a % in front and back of words. So don’t just use the store name as listed, try it without spaces, reverse it, etc. Try searching the names of owners accompanied by words regarding the specific product types (e.g., “Seller Name” + “pet products.”). MAPP Trap has related storefront data available to users.
13. Overlay Merchant Product Selections
This is a more sophisticated, data-driven method but it can be very useful in finding sellers that operate multiple stores (or source product from the same place). While MAPP Trap does this algorithmically, it can be done manually or through a BI tool. To do it, look at the products carried by a store in question. Compare that product selection to other stores. If two sellers are carrying the exact same five products out of a catalog of 100 products, it’s a pretty good chance that they’re connected. The odds improve if they are from the same state, have the same prices and began listing at the same time. MAPP Trap has overlay reports available to users.
14. Compare Daily Pricing
Another data-driven method is to compare the daily listing pricing of your products and sellers. Merchants that operate multiple ecommerce storefronts will frequently list the same product prices every day. When compared to the product overlay (see above) this can be a very dependable method. They are also useful in determining who dropped their price first. MAPP Trap has these reports available to users.
15. Investigate Strategic Buys
Although many merchants use drop-ship services or purchase products from other merchants, sometimes a return address on a shipping label is useful. Best case is the return address is known. But even if it doesn’t actually reveal the customer information, it can reveal clues.
Because they want to remain unknown, many online merchants are experts at hiding their identities. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it yourself, but it can be done. And if you’re trying to enforce a MAP Policy then it really MUST be done. If you’d like help, MAPP Trap employs all of the strategies listed here and more. Our trained investigators use skip-tracing techniques, paid services, a huge database and sophisticated algorithms to uncover merchant data.