By Joanna Perry | Global Head of Marketing

The growth in marketplace sales across Europe has created a new challenge for consumer brands as poor online sellers damage their reputations.

Of course, retailers and other sellers misrepresenting a brand is not a new problem, but the rise of online sales - on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay - has bought new dimensions to the brand damage that they can cause.

The brand owners we work with want to protect themselves for the benefit of their end customers, but also to suport long-term retail partners who may have spent years investing in developing demand for the brand.

Below we outline five ways that bad online sellers damage the perception and reputation of the products and brands that they sell; and what brand owners can do about the issue.

Poor and fake customer reviews

Amazon generated a new level of transparency with customer reviews; and when done well, reviews on a product can help to give consumers confidence and generate sales.

Problems occur when sellers make some of the below mistakes - giving incorrect product information, poor customer service or selling goods that aren't up to scratch. While negative reviews may be specific to a single poor quality seller, they also reflect on the product and the brand.

In addition, the problem of fake reviews is endemic around the world. Sellers paying for fake positive reviews is one thing, but a bigger issue is sellers leaving negative reviews on other sellers' accounts.

Marketplaces such as Amazon have algorithms to try to deal with this issue - rules that prevent a sudden surge in reviews from customers who it hasn't verified as having purchased the product in question - but it is not foolproof.

Poor sellers who want to game the system will purchase a product from a competitor in order to leave a negative review, and then cancel the order/request a refund.

Poor product descriptions and imagery

Sellers who use unofficial product images, and those who provide poor or incorrect product information also damage consumers' perceptions of a brand and the quality of its products.

Poor imagery reduces the credibility of premium and luxury brands in particular; who are often selling a lifestyle as much as a single product.

At the worst, low-quality imagery or incorrect product information can outright mislead consumers as to the size, ingredients or features of a product.

All of these issues produce negative reviews and it is paticularly a problem when consumers increasingly use Amazon for product research, even when they complete their purchases on other sites or offline.

Poor online sellers damage conversion for high-quality sellers, and the brand itself too. 

Poor product quality control

There are various reasons why the products sold by unauthorised sellers might not be up to scratch. Fake products is one; unscrupulous sellers sometimes sell a mix of fake and real products to keep complaints down and boost their margins.

In 2018 research, Gartner L2 found that 40% of 1,000 product listings by third party sellers had reviews that mentioned products being counterfeit.

But even if the products are real other quality control issues can arise. Incorrect warehousing and handling, short expiry dates and grey market goods with packaging in the wrong language can all lead to poor consumer perceptions. This also leads to negative product reviews.

Poor customer service

In just the same way that poor product handling can damage perception, so too can poor customer service.

If the seller cannot answer technical questions about the product, or deal with product faults in an effective manner, then consumer perceptions once again suffer.

On Amazon within the EU, there is the added problem that poor-quality sellers may list their products on all five Amazon marketplaces, but not have a customer support team to handle queries in multiple European languages.

Poor online sellers damage commercial relationships 

All of the above can lead to a brand's trusted long-term retail partners becoming frustrated too.

Controlling product quality, ensuring brand content guidelines are met and delivering great customer service all costs money. In addition, high-quality sellers and retail partners will often invest considerable amounts in marketing a brand's products to drive awareness and demand too.

Once poor-quality sellers come into the market and undercut the competition that invests in the brand, it is a race to the bottom. Incentives to invest are eroded to nothing.

Setting online seller standards

Practicology has just published a report on how brands can implement a selective distribution system in Europe. It's particularly relevant to brands who are suffering from the problems listed above, and can be downloaded for free here.

Selective distribution systems allow standards to be put in place for sellers of many types of consumer goods, to ensure the customer experience and quality of product being sold.

For more information on selective distribution systems or how Practicology and our parent company Pattern - a global top 10 Amazon seller and partner to 50 consumer brands - could help you, please get in touch. Email us at hello@practicology.com with your query or to arrange a call-back.

 

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