Season 1, Episode 84

Understanding Counterfeits & Black Hat Attacks with Carrie Miller from Helium10

Every seller wants their product to be successful, but this comes with unforeseen distress from counterfeiters copying your product and shady competitors looking for their golden opportunity to get your listings suspended. Chris McCabe and Carrie Miller from Helium10 dive into the treacherous world of account abuse that is rampant on Amazon, especially during the peak holiday season.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:07] Chris: Hey everybody, this is Chris McCabe of ecommerceChris host of Seller Performance Solutions. I don’t have Leah McHugh of ecommerceChris with me this week, but I do have Carrie Miller of Helium 10.

We’re really excited to talk to her. Hello, Carrie. How are you? 

[00:00:22] Carrie: Hello. Great. How are you doing? 

[00:00:23] Chris: Great. We’re here to talk about some dicey stuff but we’re excited to have you, number one because you’re with Helium 10. Number two, because we still have wonderful memories of the Sell and Scale Conference, which I guess was almost three months ago now.

Don’t know if it seems like more recent or distant past, but we had a good experience with that. We had good memories of it. And mostly talking to you about some of the brands you’ve been talking with this Q4 and this holiday peak because you’ve got some stories, of course we’ve of course got stories of brand nightmares, people getting attacked, abuse reports to Amazon, what Amazon does with it. But I thought we could start with your interactions with some people who have been dealing with counterfeiters, dealing with maybe detail page abuse, fake reviews, negative reviews that are extreme.

You had an example we were talking about just before we started, so maybe I’ll just kick this off by giving you a chance to kind of give us some background on that and then we can get into it. 

[00:01:23] Carrie: Yeah. So, one of our elite members is actually a creator of a product that went viral, and I actually get ads for this product all the time.

It’s very well known all throughout. And his wife actually is the one who created this product and patented it and so they have so many counterfeiters. They’ve actually lost retail deals because there’s so many counterfeiters people are using their exact packaging and branding and everything, not even just not even doing their own packaging.

[00:01:49] Chris: Copying their packaging?

[00:01:51] Carrie: Copying their packaging, copying the product, the logo, everything. Or they might remove it, like just subtly and it’ll still be the same packaging. So it’s been a nightmare for them. I was just jaw dropped listening to this story and how many millions they’re losing every day.

But that’s probably a big one is just some people with patented products that get their products counterfeited and they lose tons of money. So that’s a big issue. I have heard other people talking about it. This not as bad as this particular one. 

[00:02:18] Chris: Do they have an IP attorney quarterbacking some of the IP reporting to Amazon, or are they just using the brand registry tools and hoping they work?

[00:02:26] Carrie: Yeah, they had IP attorney, the wife is actually an attorney herself as well but they have outsourced to another attorney. They worked with another company too to try to try to get things sorted out and they have not gotten anywhere. They said, oh, we’ve been kind of nice.

And I was like, I don’t think you should be nice in this situation. I was like, you need to go hard on this. And they had people basically who they sent cease and desist letters too. They said, we’re going to attack your listings. We’re going to ruin your listings.

We’re going to attack your product if you don’t stop this, or if you get us taken down, they’re really harassed by people , I didn’t know how prevalent that was, but it’s like they’ve got a lot of that. 

[00:03:04] Chris: At this time of year it’s always, I mean, for years now it’s been prevalent, but if they’re making as much as you say they’re making with that kind of product they’re going to attract eyeballs.

They’ve got people, black hat types that are tracking their sales, that wanna make sure they get some of that money and they siphon off some of that revenue. And unfortunately, a lot of bad actors out there understand how to hit them, where to hit them, how often, they’ve kind of got a playbook for that.

And one of the things I wanted to make sure we talked to you about today was do brands have a response or like a counter for that? Do they go into the holiday knowing that they need to have an excellent, robust strategy in case they’re attacked before they ever are attacked? I know it’s a little bit late in the year to talk about what’s your prep for Q4?

But I mean, are people still getting caught off guard from your experience? Are they still kind of like, what do we say? What do we do? Do we open up a seller support case? Do we write an email to Jeff? I mean, do they grasp at straws or do you think they’ve got kind of a game plan that’ll help them at least get started?

[00:04:11] Carrie: I don’t think people have a game plan. They just start with what they think they can do. Maybe they’ll start with their attorney, they’ll start with seller central. They’ll try to open up cases. They’ll try to figure out what to do. They’ll google a lot of stuff.

They’ll see what they can do to protect themselves with patents. A lot of people that are in our group, they have patents not only in the US but all over the world and some of these products, You know, really, really genius . There’s another guy who patented his product in Europe.

He’s actually only had a few counterfeits. But it’s now just starting to get traction. So it’s really something that you think that if you have a patent that you’ll be protected and that your brand won’t get annihilated on Amazon and you won’t lose retail deals because of this.

So it’s really kind of disheartening all the money that you invest up front for those patents, getting it all designed, getting it out there.

[00:04:59] Chris: Do you find that people are, copyright’s been a big IP attack this year and last year, do you find that people are copywriting their images? Their detail pages? Do you hear that they have done it or do you hear that they should have done it but didn’t do it? 

[00:05:13] Carrie: Yeah, the first product that I was talking about that’s viral right now, it’s really huge. They copyrighted everything and they’ve tried to get things taken down. It has been very difficult for them, even though they have everything copyrighted. Their actual listing, their packaging, they’ve copyrighted everything cuz the wife is a lawyer, right? So, he knew because she’s a lawyer to do all of this stuff. But it hasn’t protected them, unfortunately. Like even the images, the exact copy, everything. 

[00:05:39] Chris: Yeah, because what happens sometimes with copyright is the other party copies your images and then tries to fake or misrepresent to Amazon that they have prior use of those images before you ever sold like two years ago. I mean, they try to fake that information and Amazon’s so gullible, they fall for it and they’ll think you copied those images. Of course, they’re your own images. That’s what’s so crazy about it and it took sellers and brands a while to catch up to that logic or illogical response by Amazon. Amazon finally understands this is a repeat abusive attack a year later, 15 months later but it still takes time to resolve it. That’s the problem. And like you said, it’s very disheartening.

[00:06:21] Carrie: And it’s kind of like whack-a-mole too. It’s like we got this one. Now there’s 20 more that have popped up. 

[00:06:27] Chris: Which is why the seller support cases, I’m sorry to say don’t work. That’s worth doing maybe in the first 60 minutes that you’re being attacked just so you can have a case ID in case people keep pestering you for it. But you can’t expect a resolution from a seller support case. Some people call account health reps and they talk to them about, Hey, what else can I do? And they get some generic copy and paste advice. It’s worth doing just to say that you’ve done it in case somebody else at Amazon bothers you about not trying the traditional paths or the established protocols.

Have you noticed one category being vulnerable versus another? I mean, at Helium 10, you come across brands in every category, right? 

[00:07:08] Carrie: Yeah, no, I think these are all spread out throughout. I think supplements are always, there’s always something going on with supplements. Grocery, there’s different things that happen with grocery, it’s more challenging than non-perishable product. .

[00:07:21] Chris: Food safety, product safety for sure. 

[00:07:24] Carrie: But for the most part it’s just these patented things that are, that are sticking out in my mind are just attacks on listings, bad reviews, which I’ve had that same thing happen to me. Writing those fake bad reviews that are just so outrageous, you know?

[00:07:36] Chris: Do you think they’re getting better at the fake reviews? Because a lot of times we see sloppy stuff where the language and the phrases are the same and they just copy over and over reproduce the same language and it makes it easier to complain to Amazon, Hey, they took the same review and duplicated it like a thousand times, you know? They used to do that. Do you think they’re getting more sophisticated with that? 

[00:07:57] Carrie: There is sometimes they’ll say, you know, you can tell it’s broken English, but it does seem that like they’re more sophisticated because the guidelines are really clear about how a review could get taken down. So unless it’s within those Amazon guidelines of, okay, we’ll take this down, they’re not getting removed for the most part. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been hearing. So any tips for that I’m sure a lot of people would appreciate.

[00:08:17] Chris: Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, pressure and pushing Amazon to act, pressuring them to review it again, if they ignore the first case email, lower level stuff, you have to bump it up. I think a lot of people have understood that the social media teams at Amazon are more enhanced, I guess now Twitter has become a much bigger deal over the last 12 months. Hey, we’re being slaughtered by fake reviews. I mean, you don’t need 180 characters or however many they give you to spell out, like we’re being hammered with attacks by fake reviews, a lot of them say the same thing. Sometimes you can report the reviewer. That’s gotten. Less common over the months and years, but sometimes you can find the reviewer and say, look, they’ve reviewed all these products the same way except for this one, seller’s products. Yeah. Like I tend to work with people in brands and categories where they’ll be eight top sellers and seven of them will be getting attacked and there’s one that’s not being attacked and there’s one that’s not having reviews loaded with negatives. So it’s kind of like you can’t show Amazon everything, but you can point them in the right direction. Amazon loves to make an excuse, like, well, you haven’t given us definitive evidence, smoking gun proof. They don’t say that in particular, but they give you the sense of, Hey, look, we’ll take a look at it. We can’t guarantee results. You have to kind of, unfortunately the burdens on the brand. I’m gonna start like a new YouTube video series or something called Burden on the Brand, which is unfortunate, but that’s the reality, which is like it’s on your shoulders to keep coming back and to keep, I mean, you’ve been to a lot of the same conferences I have and you talked to some of the same people.

You have to show that you’re never going away. I mean, it sounds crazy and it sounds like reckless and irresponsible, that it’s on you and not Amazon and it’s not a shared burden, but it is on you to show Amazon. We’re never gonna give up. We’re gonna keep coming back because this is a constant.

And honestly, your attacker, the black hat abuser of your brand, of your listings, they only get the message, quote unquote if they know that Amazon’s going to be continually reading reports about them, continually reviewing them and continually researching them. And it must be tough for like Helium 10. You don’t want too many dark clouds and you negative content. But that is actually what works is when Amazon understands like you’re gonna keep coming back. You put a lot of effort and money and time into your brand and there’s abuse here and it can’t be denied. Maybe you don’t meet their high lofty standard of what’s smoking gun evidence. I guess the question is, do you have trouble communicating somewhat unsavory message to like e-commerce entrepreneurs or new brand owners or new seller account owners at Amazon in terms of like, this is sort of a a dark side of the company. 

[00:11:15] Carrie: Yeah, I mean, I think, people don’t like to necessarily hear that. They wanna know what else can I do? So they’re not really giving up, I would say. They’re just like what else can I do? What else? What’s another avenue? Am I doing this wrong? What’s the technique? I think those are usually the kind of people that we have in our league group are kind of more like that. They’re like, well, I’m not giving up, but I gotta figure out another way because I’m beating my head against the wall. So yeah, it’s a rough thing cause we’ll just keep encouraging them to keep doing what they’re doing and to go hard. Like, this one particular, they’re like, oh, kind of nice about it. And I’m like, you need to go harder. You know, you’re a nice person but this is your business and your livelihood and your idea that they’re stealing.

[00:11:52] Chris: Yeah, it’s tough even for us as consultants because on the one hand, bedside manner is important because people are anxious and stressed and losing money and crazy stuff’s happening that’s out of their control to an extent, and we were sympathetic and we want to help. On the other hand, we have to keep telling people like, you are being too nice about it. You’re being too patient not even so much nice. Because there’s different ways of being nice and there’s different ways of being angry or negative. You have to be factual, you have to use data points. I mean, we’re definitely not telling people like write a lot of angry emails and send them to right to Jeff and his girlfriend and all these other people because invective doesn’t really work on Amazon. It never did, even back in the old days of executive seller relations, processing escalations like when I was working there.

But if you’re factual and if you’re data driven, right, there’s the right way to do it and the wrong way to do it. If you’re not getting any better quality answers, when you are data driven or factual, that’s not your fault, that’s Amazon’s fault and then you have to just surface it in more places.

Certainly be unique and be custom when you write to this executive versus another one. Don’t treat them all the same because they’re not all the same. And don’t treat every part of Amazon the same because Amazon’s very diffuse and there’s disparate teams that don’t necessarily communicate with each other very well. Again, not the brand owner’s fault that Amazon doesn’t know how to communicate internally but for strategy, it becomes your problem. Which is interesting because there are brand outreach and emerging teams and people that we even talked to and had involved in our conference in Oregon this past spring in terms of like brands that wanna launch a new product or wanna launch a new brand.

There are teams at Amazon that are receptive to that and help you do it, and they’re being bogged down too by some of these pain points. So it’s kind of strange that like brand owners have the same problems as some teams at Amazon have. Parallel universe. But that’s true. That’s the reality of what we’re dealing with. Are there any kind of parting thoughts or words, pearls of wisdom, words of advice that you have for people in terms of just finishing strong in Q4? And also jumping into 2023, we can kind of do a part two maybe for January. But any other words of courage that you can, you can share with our listeners?

[00:14:22] Carrie: You know, just keep going and especially right now, because you gotta really make most of your sales within the next week or so because of Christmas. So just keep your head down and keep working. And if problems arise. Just keep going for it. And if you get on seller support and you do need their help, just keep hanging up until you get the right person, because it’s the time of year where you need to get it done, you know? So I kind of do that. But yeah, just keep a good attitude. Try to be nice to those people that you do think can help you. And yeah, I think it’s been a good year, even though it’s kind of a down economy, which is exciting. 

[00:14:53] Chris: You do need quite a bit of fortitude to hang in there and it sounds like maybe generic advice, but really at this time of the year at this part of December is when people start getting a little bit weary, but the battle isn’t over yet.

Exactly. You know, you’re kind of in that in between like your post Black Friday, post Cyber Monday, but there’s still a lot going on.

[00:15:14] Carrie: Yeah. Keep your sales going too, like your coupons, because people are still looking for deals in a down economy. Keep those coupons on. I keep making really great sales and I think the reason why we’re doing so well is cause I have coupons on all of my products and I will until December 20th at least.

[00:15:30] Chris: That’s a great point. In a down economy, the dates on the calendar don’t necessarily line up with what’s going on in the markets and in the real world. So whether it’s December or January, you kind of wanna keep going just because there could be a sales spike in your future that you didn’t even necessarily anticipate.

[00:15:48] Carrie: Exactly. You’re getting paycheck to paycheck, they maybe couldn’t buy stuff last week, but they can now. So, There’s a lot a lot into it. I actually talked to a lot of people who are out of town and they’re like, I just didn’t have time to do any Black Friday actually, point of view. So they’re gonna be looking for stuff in the next week or two, and really this is, this is a good time to double down.

[00:16:09] Chris: That’s a great point that, that speaks to me personally because I’m so busy with reinstatement work and appeals and brands getting attacked over this whole week, black Friday, cyber Monday, that I do all my shopping in December after that peak, nightmare period is coming gone, nightmare in terms of like people losing sales from lost listings.

But Carrie Miller of Helium10, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate your insights. I hope we can do this again very soon, hopefully in January with the big banner 2023 that we’re looking at. We’ll share any information for your audience or for ours on this material.

Anyone who’s still getting attacked or struggling to appeal or strange things happening on their listings that result in a take down or they don’t understand what’s happening. Feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to give some some advice to people who are trying to rectify their own anti-competitive behavior problems or black hat attacks.

So thanks again and I will talk to you soon. Take care.

[00:17:09] Carrie: Talk to you later. Bye bye.

Hosts & Guests

Chris McCabe

Carrie Miller

 Resources

Helium10

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