Amazon Competitor Attacks: Everything You Need to Know

It’s a scenario that Amazon sellers see far too often. After months of planning for a new product launch, spending weeks on research, another few days perfecting your listing content, and investing your earnings into a new product, you wake up two days into the launch and find that your ASIN is blocked. 

I don’t think it’s possible to explain the rage that follows soon after you download your inventory file only to find that your backend keywords have been changed to something insane, such as klip dagga, peyote, mescaline, and ketamine salts with pesticides.

And worse, when a seller turns to Amazon for assistance with reactivating a listing that’s clearly been attacked, we get something like this:

Basically, when a product detail page gets hijacked and removed — even when it’s done by a malicious competitor — the burden of proof lies on the seller. That means that when your ASIN gets blocked for containing coca leaves, it’s up to you to show Amazon that it actually does not. 

So, short of Amazon actually taking control of these insane, loose cannon catalog contributions once and for all, what can honest sellers do to revive and prevent their listings from an attack? Let’s examine some strategies in damage control, resuscitation, and prevention.

Hijacked ASINs: A Guide in Damage Control

Along with the many years of experience we have in assisting sellers with increasingly vicious ASIN attacks, we’ve experienced it on our own accounts as well. Throughout all of this, it’s disheartening to say that we do not have a foolproof method of dodging the bullet entirely. The best strategy is to immediately attempt to remedy the situation with the following techniques. A combination of methods, like documenting the incident with Amazon, working to resolve the malicious keywords and remove them from your listing, and escalating the case to product compliance is your surest shot at getting the ASIN reinstated right away. 

Report the attack immediately.

The sooner Amazon is made aware of a competitor attack, the better the outlook is for your hijacked ASIN. Open a case and let Amazon know your listing has been attacked before you make any attempts to fix it. This way, you can later say that you reported the situation on a certain day, a certain amount of time after it occurred. More importantly, this documented report of an attack will give you more power when you request reinstatement shortly after. 

Check your listing details and  your inventory file.

Check the backend of your listings for any strange changes you didn’t make. After that, check your category listing report for the same. If you don’t regularly use your category listing reports, request access to this inventory report through seller central. Once you download it, check it for any changes you didn’t make yourself. If you find something, document the changes as proof of an attack.

Revise and re-upload your listings via flat file.

Fill up any additional fields that weren’t previously filled out – extra keywords, item types, description (even if you have A+ content). Add your images with an image URL from a hosting provider, such as imageshack.com. Make your images as large as possible. With a solid inventory upload, there’s a chance that your ASIN will come back on its own, depending on the severity of the attack. 

AMAZON FLAT FILE

Contact seller support and get in touch with the catalog team.

If your ASIN is listed on a foreign marketplace, which can override your proper contributions, the catalog team can either fix it or let you know so you can fix it yourself. Get confirmation from the catalog team on whether or not all of the malicious contributions have been eliminated — be persistent and don’t accept the usual “we’ll resolve it in 2-4 days” response.  

Open a case and request that product compliance review the ASIN for reinstatement immediately.

Once all of the malicious contributions have been resolved, appeal the situation to product compliance through your case log. Detail each point in the process so far: you reported the attack, checked for any malicious contributions, and resolved them either through your inventory file or with a catalog team member on the phone. Attach your invoice, your material documents, and an image of each side of your product that shows the packaging and the UPC. If you have your own website for your brand, include your URL in the case as an additional authoritative source for this product. 

Stay on top of the case, don’t open additional cases, and escalate if needed.

One huge mistake we have made ourselves in the past is opening up too many cases about the same issue. We get it — the situation is outrageous and it shouldn’t happen. Still, opening multiple cases about the same issue will spread it out and end up requiring multiple separate solutions from multiple separate members of Amazon seller support. This is the last thing you want, since we all know how difficult it is to get even one of them to properly resolve any issue at all. Even if it’s not moving quickly, you’re much more likely to reach a solution sooner by responding on the same case number. If several days pass and you haven’t received a response – or if you’ve received the same canned response over and over – escalate that same case, outline the facts of the situation again, and be firm in asking for an immediate solution. 

How to Prevent Hijacked ASINs

Although there’s no foolproof way to fully prevent your ASINs from getting attacked, we have noticed several factors that might help you dodge a competitor attack in the future. Techniques as minor as using a larger size image and filling up every field of your inventory file can make a major difference when it comes to the Amazon catalog.

Register your brand.

When you don’t have content authority over an attacked listing, you have very little control over whether or not it gets reinstated. So if you’re selling on a large brand’s ASIN and they aren’t persistent with its reinstatement, there’s not much you can say about it. However, it’s true that these larger household name brands don’t experience this issue anywhere near as often as smaller private label brands. Having brand registry (much to our disappointment) does not prevent the attacks from happening entirely. But, it does give you a louder voice if it does occur. 

brand registry

Use a flat file for your inventory, and fill out every possible field.

The details of the Amazon catalog play a much larger technical role in the reinstatement process for attacked ASINs than many sellers think. It works like this: hijackers and competitors manage to attack your listing by overriding your content for listings they then list from a separate account, using your branded ASIN. This can happen in a few ways, for example, when you do not fill out every keyword field in your flat file. Why? Because in this case, a hijacker can take your flat file, add their own content (most likely copied and pasted directly from the restricted products pages) and re-upload your file to alter your branded ASIN from a different seller account. The account that carries out the “flat file attack” will most likely get suspended immediately, but they’ll still have successfully altered your listing details from their flat file. The Amazon catalog is universal for all sellers on any specific ASIN. So when another seller provides a more comprehensive product listing for the same ASIN, your details can be overridden and possibly removed entirely. Another example of this is your product description. Sure, you have EBC — keep your description in your file, because if you simply fail to fill it out, someone else can fill it with restricted words and possibly get your listing removed. 

flat file inventory loader

Use LARGE images.

For any specific ASIN, the strongest product detail page contributions usually prevail – even when it’s an account that isn’t the brand owner. On a very specific technical note, we have noticed that images of a larger size (for example, 3500-4000 pixels square) can, in some cases, prevent malicious contributions from overriding the proper ones. So when you launch your new product, have your designer make your listing images around this size, to appease Amazon’s algorithm as well as protect your listing.

amazon product \image

Be aware of international marketplaces.

We encountered one situation with a brand we previously managed where competitors listed our same ASIN in Canada, and added malicious contributions to our listing from this foreign marketplace — even though we never sold in Canada. The same happened later in the year, from the UK marketplace. We were only informed that this was the case from speaking with the catalog team. To resolve that situation, we had to successfully override the contributions in Canada from our own account. We had never sold in Canada, but from that day forward, we kept our ASINs listed and inactive in every possible international marketplace. By maintaining an inactive listing, we were able to keep competitors from very easily manipulating our ASIN from abroad. 

Act fast.

The sooner you start working to report and resolve the situation, the sooner it will likely get resolved. So if you see an issue, report it to Amazon immediately and start taking the steps we outlined above to resolve it right away. 

Competitor Attacks: Final Thoughts

Successfully reinstating your listing after a competitor attack can be a much tougher gig than we expect when we’re simply trying to sell on Amazon. Hopefully in the not too far off future, the platform will be able to reign in malicious contributions more efficiently and be able to see the “bad guy” clearly. In the meantime, we encourage you to make good use of these techniques to protect your listings and your brand reputation.