As more people join the Amazon platform every day in a rush to build the e-commerce empire of their dreams, fighting Amazon hijackers and counterfeiters is more tricky than ever before. For every honest business person looking to build a store on Amazon and make an honest living, a counterfeiter is hanging out in the shadows looking to take advantage of their hard work.
In fact, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 3.3% of total trade worldwide is in counterfeit products. 3.3 percent! Now that's a staggering number. Think how much money you would lose upfront if 3.3% of your sales evaporated.
Now amplify that onto a global scale!
There's money to be made in counterfeiting in simplest terms, and its shady economy is booming without an end, or any particular controls, insight.
Unfortunately, there's been a cottage industry of successful Amazon hijackers for a while now. And even more unfortunate that factories, suppliers, and agents without much integrity are willing to help them get business done if it means a little more money in their pockets at the end of the day.
These relationships are one of many reasons why it's essential to vet out your factory and supplier partners to ensure you're working with trustworthy people who have integrity. That process is very complex and specific. A story better left for another day.
No matter your relationships with factories and suppliers - present and past - Amazon has gotten wise to the nefarious efforts of these Amazon hijackers. Regardless of their efficiency and creativity, they've put programs like Project Zero in place to stop them in their tracks.
What is Amazon Project Zero?
Amazon Project Zero is a self-service brand protection program for Amazon brands, with a primary goal of helping brands remove counterfeit products from the platform. Arguably the most potent aspect of Project Zero is that brands don't have to earn Amazon's approval - or even contact them at all - to remove counterfeit versions of their products from the platform.
This level of autonomy and self-service is invaluable to Amazon store owners. Many of whom are solopreneurs or managing small businesses where they're wearing all of the hats. And don't have time to constantly be scouring the platform for people hawking knock-off versions of their products to make money.
It's a brave new world that's working in sellers' favor where they can once again leverage the impressive computing power, artificial learning infrastructure, and machine learning capabilities that make Amazon the unquestioned leader in the worldwide e-commerce realm.
How Does Project Zero Work?
Amazon’s Transparency program works hand-in-hand with Project Zero to help Amazon sellers with brand protection. It’s the tracing service that helps sellers identify potential fakes at an item level, to head off hijackers and counterfeiters before they can develop too much traction.
To get started with Project Zero you first need to take the following four steps:
- Enroll all products in Transparency. It’s really as simple as identifying yourself as the brand owner so you’re able to get the codes you need to track what’s happening down to the item level.
- Apply Transparency codes to all of your products. Transparency issues you unique alphanumerical and random codes which you’re able to apply to your products once received.
- Amazon scans Transparency codes to ensure only authentic items are shipped to customers. Transparency keeps track of all codes and runs tests on all products to ensure they are authentic. If any codes fail transparency checks, they are evaluated as potential counterfeits.
- Customers use the Transparency or Amazon Shopping apps to check on the authenticity of products regardless of how they purchase. Brands can provide granular details through Transparency at the time of scanning to aid in the purchase decision and help with authenticity verification.
Transparency is a powerful program in its own right but is fully leveraged by three impactful features of Project Zero.
The Three Most Impactful Features of Amazon Project Zero
Three features of Amazon's Project Zero deliver the most significant impact to sellers on the platform:
1. Automated protections
2. Self-service counterfeit removal, and
3. Product serialization
When you provide data to Amazon, their built-in machine learning algorithms scan billions of product listings daily to identify suspected counterfeits.
And notify you of these to be flagged so you can take the necessary actions. This automated protection is massive. If you've been selling for Amazon for any length of time, you realize how much so. It was your responsibility as a seller to track down (and threaten) Amazon hijackers on your own for a long time. It was a very manual process. It still is for those just getting their feet wet and establishing a reputation.
Now massive web servers in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) network are your best friend and your biggest protectors, working around the clock to ensure your brand and intellectual property are safe.
As with many things that make the Amazon experience better, the addition of automation in tracking down counterfeiters is a massive relief for those dealing with an increasingly complex platform
Self-Service Counterfeit Removal
As previously mentioned, it's possible to remove counterfeit products once you have the data you need without having to contact Amazon at all or go through any extensive approval or review process. This self-service makes the process so much faster to get rid of fakers who shouldn't be your competition anyhow. But they can play like they are as long as their products stay on the platform and hinder your sales.
And even better, ironically, the more counterfeiters that try to get by with fakes, the better the Amazon platform gets at identifying the characteristics that make for a counterfeit product.
So, in essence, the more counterfeiters try to take advantage of the best Amazon sellers by ripping them off, the less likely they'll be able to in the future as Amazon's machine learning power builds momentum and gets "smarter."
Amazon's default assumption within Project Zero is that all products they think could be counterfeit are counterfeit. This assumption also applies to products you notify them of manually.
Once Amazon removes products from the platform, a team of judges evaluates them to ensure assumptions are correct and go from there. There's more peace of mind here that Amazon defaults toward action rather than taking a long time to see if the products are counterfeit.
After all, time is money. And if Amazon hijackers were still able to operate while Amazon was judging whether they should remove a product, the effect could be very damaging.
The ultimate protection comes in the ability to add unique codes to your products which Amazon scans. As they scan these codes, your product data is added to Amazon's massive brand protection platform to make it easier for the algorithm to identify people trying to knock off your best sellers.
This serialization feature is the only one of the three core functions of Project Zero that isn't free. You'll pay Amazon somewhere between $.01 and $.05 per item to have an item serialized, but that minute cost is worth it for the thousands it could save you in lost sales due to counterfeiters.
Another significant part of the core features of Amazon Project Zero is that serialization stands alone.
There's no requirement that you spend a dime if you want to take advantage of automated protections and self-service counterfeit removal. And want to wait until a later day when you have more of a runway to add product serialization protections to your product line(s).
No matter how you choose to use the features which Project Zero provides, there's no doubt its presence alone is a massive improvement in convenience for Amazon sellers versus what they had to do previously to try to curb counterfeiting.
The Key Limitations of Amazon Project Zero
Like any new initiative that's introduced, Amazon's Project Zero isn't perfect. It has some inherent limitations related to functionality, prioritization, and hidden costs.
There are a few fundamental limitations that are important for sellers to understand:
1. Enforcement responsibility still falls to brands
2. Other intellectual property issues aren't a part of the process
3. Amazon doesn't prioritize sellers by volume; for service
4. The hidden cost of trademarking as a part of the eligibility process, and
5. Manufacturing costs will be affected by serialization
Even though Project Zero helps you start the ball rolling when it comes to identifying counterfeiters, Amazon does not help brands with enforcement of these violations following identification. It'll be your responsibility to determine when and if to enforce a breach and put the mechanisms in place to get that done.
Project Zero focuses on counterfeiters. Period. It has nothing to do with other intellectual property issues you'll face along the way. So it's vital that you have all of your legal "ducks in a row" to make sure you have a legal team available and ready to protect you when things get sticky.
Do you sell tens of millions of dollars worth of merchandise on Amazon every year?
But, sorry, Amazon still won't give you priority over other sellers when it comes to reviewing counterfeit cases under Project Zero. Therefore, the impact of lost sales can be even more damaging the bigger you are since cases could get backlogged, yours included.
Because grabbing at least one trademark for a product is part of the process, it won't be cheap to access Project Zero. If you've had a product selling well that isn't trademarked. And have essentially been rolling the dice that counterfeiters will notice - that's no longer a luxury you can afford if you want protection.
You'll have to go through the process of grabbing a trademark, which also may include another hidden cost: legal fees. It's probably not something you want to do on your own without some legal advice.
And, finally, should you decide to spring for the $.01-$.05 per item to have those items serialized, then costs won't stop there. It's more than likely that your manufacturing partner will require you to pay for the process to be tweaked to make serialization part of the workflow. And, as you know, any changes to the manufacturing process don't come cheap.
However, the brand protection benefits of being a part of Project Zero far outweigh the drawbacks. Especially for mature Amazon sellers who need intellectual property protections to scale and protect a growing business.
Why Is Project Zero Important for Brand Protection?
The introduction of Project Zero as an option for Amazon sellers was a crucial step forward in improving overall protection for these sellers and removing manual actions from their businesses. Without the Amazon Brand Registry, however, Project Zero wouldn't have nearly as much power.
The Amazon Brand Registry helps Amazon sellers ensure their product listings are accurate. And reflect the brand style which these sellers have established.
Accuracy of product listings is one of the essential factors to ensure you have a chance to work your way into the Buy Box consistently, or at the least, the first page of Amazon rankings for your product. Amazon sellers can also use Amazon's search tools to find suspected counterfeits of their products and report these violations manually to Amazon.
While automation is compelling, and the artificial intelligence and machine learning backbone of Project Zero is undoubtedly impressive, that doesn't mean it's perfect. Now and then, there's something that AI will miss that a human will catch. Having a mixture of both available is very valuable for Amazon sellers building their businesses.
The best part about Project Zero is that it moves brand protection from being a reactive process to a proactive approach. No longer do you have to wait until your intellectual property has been infringed upon to do something about it.
Amazon's computing power is working on your behalf, around the clock, to prevent counterfeiters and hijackers from gaining leverage selling knock-offs of your products before they can ever get going.
Amazingly, this is available, and those of you who have spent hours combing Amazon looking for counterfeit products of your top sellers understand just how amazing in terms of time savings and peace of mind.
How Do I Determine If I'm Eligible for Amazon Project Zero?
There are several things you must do first before you are eligible to enroll in Project Zero:
1. Your brand has to be enrolled in the Amazon Brand Registry with at least one government-registered trademark. If you haven't trademarked your best-sellers yet, stop reading this article, and do that now!
Trademarking your products is the best way to protect yourself against counterfeiters. It provides you the cover you need to pursue legal action down the road if that should become necessary.
2. You have to have access to the Amazon Brand Registry via a currently active Amazon account. Simple enough.
3. You have to manually submit potential copyright infringements at an approval rate of at least 90% over the course of the last six months. If you haven't submitted any manual violations yet, you have to crawl before you walk.
There's something important to note here!
Be very careful about the manual submissions you send Amazon, and make sure you have a reasonable claim, so you don't get out in front of yourself. The last thing you want to do is become trigger-happy with manual submissions if you aren't 100% sure of their validity, as a bad record could prevent you from accessing Project Zero in the future.
Consider using DataHawk’s Amazon Products Alerts Tool as a way to set up your Amazon hijackers alerts, and stay on top of things!
How Much Does Amazon Project Zero Cost?
Amazon Project Zero is free, but as you've seen above, it's not exactly "free."
There are plenty of other costs you'll have to incur first along the way of building your Amazon business and getting trademarks and legal protections in place before you'll be eligible to apply.
While there are some up-front costs for brands to actively participate in Amazon's Project Zero, the long-term cost savings of catching counterfeiters before they can cause too much damage is well worth the investment.
However, it is essential to remember it's a "crawl before you walk" scenario. You'll need to become a master of reporting counterfeit violations manually and only reporting those with a high probability of being approved by Amazon's judges to have a chance to apply for Project Zero eventually.
It'll be tempting to report every single potential violation because of the damage they're doing to your business, but you must make sure a breach is happening! The cost to your business can be even higher than the loss from counterfeiting if you aren't able to ever access Project Zero because your numbers aren't good enough!
However, it's all a moot point if you don't have at least one item trademarked! If you don't, that's your next step.
Take the time to research the trademarking process and get the right people in your corner to get the job done. It won't be cheap, but again, this is spend money to make money scenario.
If you're going to get serious about protecting your brand an Amazon Project Zero membership needs to be in your future.
Do what it takes to get that done, and rest easier when you have Amazon working on your behalf, saving you time and the headaches and burdens of having to chase counterfeiters on your own without assistance constantly.
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