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  • Writer's pictureArt Fletcher

Things to Consider & Where to Start - Addressing the Grey Market.

Updated: 3 days ago

In the fast-paced world of commerce, maintaining control over the distribution of your brand's products is crucial for ensuring authenticity, preserving brand reputation, and maximizing profits. One persistent challenge that brands face is the presence of grey market listings, which can undermine carefully crafted pricing strategies and erode consumer trust.

We’ve written previous blog posts ( on how a scenario will play out if brands don’t take action against the grey market. In this blog post, we will delve into some of the reservations that a brand may have and how to start implementing effective strategies and actionable steps regain control over their distribution channels and eliminate grey market listings.

From leveraging advanced technologies, like ours, along with a robust monitoring systems, we'll explore a comprehensive approach to safeguarding your brand's integrity and maintaining a strong foothold in the market. If you're ready to take charge and protect your brand from the pitfalls of the grey market, read on for valuable insights and practical solutions.

We’ll break this effort down into four sections,

1. Advantages of brands with minimal grey market activity.

2. Potential reservations about addressing the grey market.

3. Numerous strategic options to address the grey market.

4. Tools available for every grey market strategy.

Brand protection manager using technology to battle the grey market.
Grey Market Sellers use technology to compromise your product values and distribution strategies, technology to battle this exists and must be used to coordinate a grey market mitigation strategy.

Section 1 - Advantages of Minimal Grey Market Activity for Brands

In the global marketplace, brands strive to maintain control over their products and distribution channels to ensure a consistent and positive customer experience. One significant challenge faced by many companies is the presence of grey market activity, wherein products are sold through unauthorized channels. However, brands that successfully minimize grey market activity stand to gain numerous advantages, ranging from enhanced brand reputation to increased customer loyalty.

1. Brand Integrity and Reputation:

When a brand has minimal grey market activity, it can better control the quality and authenticity of its products. Authenticity is crucial for maintaining a positive brand image and instilling trust among consumers. Brands that consistently deliver genuine products through authorized channels are perceived as more reliable and trustworthy.

2. Customer Trust and Loyalty:

Consumers value transparency and consistency. A brand that actively combats grey market activities signals to its customers that it is dedicated to providing a reliable and authentic experience. This commitment fosters trust, leading to increased customer loyalty. When customers are confident in the authenticity of their purchases, they are more likely to become repeat buyers and brand advocates.

3. Control Over Pricing:

Grey market products often enter the market at lower prices, undermining the brand's pricing strategy. By minimizing grey market activity, a brand can maintain control over its pricing structure. This not only protects the brand's perceived value but also ensures fair competition among authorized retailers, fostering a healthy and sustainable market environment.

4. Enhanced Customer Support:

Brands with minimal grey market activity can focus their resources on providing superior customer support to their authorized distributors and end-users. This results in a more streamlined and efficient support system, where customers can easily access assistance, warranty services, and product information. Improved customer support contributes to overall customer satisfaction and strengthens the brand-consumer relationship.

5. Consistent Brand Experience:

A brand's success is often tied to the consistent delivery of its promises and values. Minimal grey market activity ensures that customers receive a uniform brand experience, whether they make a purchase online, in-store, or through other authorized channels. This consistency reinforces the brand's identity and helps create a strong, positive brand perception.

6. Legal Protection:

Actively combating grey market activities provides legal protection for the brand. Unauthorized sellers can lead to legal complications, including intellectual property infringements. Brands that take proactive measures to minimize grey market involvement are better positioned to protect their trademarks and patents, reducing the risk of legal disputes.

7. Employee Satisfaction:

A symbiotic relationship exists between healthy brands and employee satisfaction, forming the cornerstone of a thriving workplace. When a brand prioritizes authenticity, values, and a positive corporate culture, it fosters a sense of purpose among employees. A strong brand identity creates a shared vision, instilling pride in the workforce. Conversely, satisfied employees become brand ambassadors, reinforcing the company's image externally. The trust and loyalty cultivated internally translate into improved customer interactions, contributing to the brand's overall health. In this virtuous cycle, the alignment of a robust brand and content employees enhances organizational resilience and propels collective success.

Sales Manager deep in thought about channel conflict and enforcing sales policies.
Channel conflict exists, long standing distribution has been impacted by marketplace sales channels. A brands response to protect product values and drive native business is the key to brand equity.

Section 2 – Reservations about addressing the grey market.

Brands may be reluctant to address the grey market for various reasons, as dealing with this market poses both challenges and potential risks. Here are some reasons why brands might be hesitant to tackle the grey market:

1. Relationship with Authorized Distributors:

Brands typically have authorized distributors and retailers with whom they maintain business relationships. Addressing the grey market may strain these relationships, as it could be perceived as the brand questioning the integrity of its official distribution network.

2. Resource Allocation:

Brands may prioritize other business aspects, such as product development, marketing, and customer service, over actively combating the grey market. Allocating resources to address the grey market may divert attention from core business activities.

3. Lack of Transparency:

The complex nature of supply chains and distribution networks can make it difficult for brands to monitor and control every aspect of their products' journey to the market. This lack of transparency can make it challenging to identify and address grey market activities effectively.

4. Potential Legal Complexities:

Pursuing legal action against unauthorized sellers can be a complex and time-consuming process. Brands may be concerned about the legal costs and resources involved.

5. Channel conflict:

As marketplace sales channels like Amazon, eBay and others have emerged over the last several years, a brands distribution channels likely have utilized them to move product. Addressing how these products are distributed could limit unhealthy demand from an existing sales channel, causing that channel to miss their budgeted sales numbers.

options exist to battle the grey market.
The healthy option doesn't always taste as good, but in the long run a brand will benefit.

Section 3 – Custom solutions and options for every brand.

In the dynamic landscape of global commerce, the emergence of grey markets poses both challenges and opportunities for brands. The grey market necessitates strategic responses from companies seeking to protect their brand integrity and market share. Recognizing the diverse nature of this phenomenon, every brand is confronted with a spectrum of options to address the grey market effectively. From implementing robust distribution controls and channel monitoring to deploying innovative marketing strategies that differentiate authorized products, brands have the flexibility to tailor their approaches. The key lies in understanding the source of product to the grey market, which will inform the decisions that brands are faced to make. This intricate dance between protection and engagement defines the contemporary challenge for brands navigating the complexities of the grey market.

1. Option 1 – Zero tolerance

A zero-tolerance strategy for addressing the grey market involves taking strict and uncompromising measures to prevent, detect, and eliminate grey market activities. Here are some elements that may be part of a zero-tolerance strategy for addressing the grey market:

A. Strict Enforcement of Distribution Agreements:

Manufacturers can implement rigorous distribution agreements with authorized sellers, clearly defining territories and channels. Strict enforcement of these agreements helps prevent unauthorized sales.

B. Advanced Tracking and Traceability Systems:

Implementing advanced tracking and traceability systems (cough…cough…counter diversion) for products can help manufacturers trace the movement of goods throughout the supply chain, making it easier to identify and address grey market activities.

C. Legal Action Against Offenders:

When policy enforcement and adjustment of internal business practices can’t work, taking legal action against individuals and entities involved in grey market activities sends a strong message and acts as a deterrent. This may include pursuing civil and criminal charges.

D. Channel Partner Training:

Providing training to authorized distributors and retailers on the risks associated with grey market activities and what the brand is doing to address the issue and protect the customers business can help ensure their cooperation in maintaining the integrity of the distribution network.

E. Continuous Review and Adaptation:

A zero-tolerance strategy requires continuous review and adaptation to new challenges and methods employed by grey market operators. Staying proactive and responsive is essential.

It's important to note that the effectiveness of a zero-tolerance strategy depends on the commitment of the manufacturer, the legal and regulatory environment, and the cooperation of all stakeholders involved in the distribution chain.

1. Option 2 – Strategically addressing grey market activity.

As we addressed above, as the retail landscape has shifted historically strong sales channels for brands have been impacted by marketplace sales channels in one way or another. The problem for brands is, every time more than one offer for a product exists on a website or detail page, it is going to put pressure on the products value. To win the sale, a lower price is often a deciding factor. If a zero tolerance approach is not an option, brands can and should identify what products in their line they consider luxury and do everything in their power to protect the product value of these products. By implementing this approach, they can often drive demand back through the native channels of their historically strong sales channels, as long as those sales channels have continued to evolve to engage with their targeted customers.

Table outlining the difference between luxury products and budget products.
Protecting the product value of luxury products is crucial to long term brand health.

Section 4 – Tools for every grey market mitigation strategy.

As outlined above, brands need a great tracking partner to monitor marketplace listings (if you don’t have one, we can recommend options based on your strategy and resources). Several of these partners have the ability to send policy violation notifications. To achieve success in a brand protection program, it is important to understand which policy needs to be enforced against each seller, consistently and in volume. Our approach at Counter Diversion is to identify the source of product to each seller and break the listings into several categories.

1. Approved – These are sellers that are approved by the brand to sell their products on the monitored marketplaces and websites. These listings are often enforced through a brands Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policy.

2. Known Product Diversion – These are sellers who are authorized accounts of the brand but are not authorized to sell on the monitored marketplace or website. These listings are often enforced through a brands distribution agreement policy.

3. Wholesale moments – These listings are the byproduct of authorized marketplace moments, Accounts going out of business and liquidating products, MAP holidays significantly below normal MAP pricing, Prime Day, etc. These are moments in time and there usually isn’t a sales policy that can be enforced in these situations. These listings act as learnings on how to manage distribution and MAP policies going forward.

4. Consumer Resale – These listings are from consumers getting products at a company’s stores, often Factory Outlets. Again, these listings usually fall outside of the jurisdiction of a company’s sales policies. These listings also inform decisions about distribution and in-store pricing and promotions. They can also help a brand make decisions about what products they need to consider as luxury.

5. Company e-Commerce – Same as Consumer Resale, but consumers are getting product from a company’s e-commerce site. These sellers often use coupons, sale moments and membership discounts.

6. Cross-Border Shipping – These listings originate outside of the market where they are being offered. The Counter Diversion solution allows for global coordination of marketplace listings. While a listing may be considered Cross-border shipping in one market, it falls into a different category in the market in which it originates.

7. Market Manipulation – These listings are offered significantly above the Manufacturer’s suggested retail price. They do not impact product values and often do not win the Amazon buy box. They are however inconvenient and create a messy shopping experience. These listings can be enforced through Amazon’s unauthorized drop shipping policy.

table illustrating the categorizations of marketplace listings for a brand.
Categorizing listings drives enforcement and distribution intelligence.

Identifying and categorizing all of these listings allow brands to execute a holistic approach to brand protection. The culmination of the listings in each category quickly illustrate actions that need to be taken to protect brand health.

Table illustrating franchise listings on a marketplace for a brand.
Franchise or subcategory deep dives unlock a myriad of possibilities to tailor a custom grey market solution.

Every brand should be honest with what they ultimately want their marketplace and overall sales distribution to look like. This can be for the entire brand, product sub-categories, or specific brand franchises. The ability to understand the source of product and enforce the sales policies a brand puts in place to drive this strategy is the key for long term brand health and equity.

The journey towards implementing a total grey market mitigation strategy is not just a business necessity but a crucial step in safeguarding long-term brand health. As we've explored throughout this blog, the grey market poses multifaceted challenges, from eroding brand equity to compromising customer trust and affecting revenue streams. By embracing a comprehensive mitigation approach, companies can not only protect their market share but also fortify the very essence of their brand.

The importance of maintaining control over distribution channels cannot be overstated. Through diligent monitoring, strategic partnerships, and cutting-edge technology, brands can establish a robust defense against unauthorized sales. In doing so, they signal to consumers that authenticity, quality, and consistency are non-negotiable aspects of their brand promise.

Moreover, the long-term benefits extend beyond immediate financial gains. Mitigating the grey market fosters a positive brand perception, enhancing customer loyalty and advocacy. A brand's reputation is built on trust, and when consumers can rely on the authenticity of their purchases, that trust grows stronger.

In the ever-evolving landscape of commerce, where global markets are interconnected, a proactive stance against the grey market is an investment in resilience. It's a commitment to sustained growth, innovation, and customer satisfaction. As we move forward, the successful integration of grey market mitigation strategies will undoubtedly separate industry leaders from those left grappling with the consequences of uncontrolled parallel imports.

In essence, implementing a total grey market mitigation strategy is not just a tactical move; it's a strategic imperative for brands aspiring to endure and thrive in the competitive marketplace. By embracing this proactive approach, companies can secure their brand's legacy, ensuring it stands the test of time with integrity, authenticity, and unwavering consumer trust.

Counter Diversion is a boutique SaaS company - we don't have marketing and we don't use high-pressure sales tactics. Our goal is to have solid, honest conversations about the issues at hand and then either recommend our service or another one that is a better fit for your needs. If you'd like to engage in that type of discussion, please schedule a free consultation.


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