If SKU mapping leads to suspension, why do online marketplaces allow it?

Editor | Sep 15, 2020

Indian Online Seller (IOS) has actively discussed online marketplace account suspensions with the seller community and why it is a necessary action at times. And selling fake products is one of the prime reasons for terminations and a major concern for etailers & brand owners.

It is very easy for anyone to copy a seller’s existing listing and start selling on online marketplaces like FlipkartAmazoneBayShopcluesPaytm and Snapdeal. During the product listing stage of the on-boarding process, vendors are given the choice to select ‘sell similar’ option. Once selected, it maps the products a vendor wants to sell on the marketplace and allow them to add the matched product SKUs in their listing. Hence, the word ‘SKU mapping’.

While it makes the on-boarding process smoother and easier for some sellers, we see few other sellers & brand owners often complaint about brand infringement. IOS had shared an Amazon seller’s ordeal related to brand infringement issues.

SKU mapping and its connection with account suspension

The SKU mapping step has to be followed/backed by a brand authorization certificate or product invoices (in case of brands that allow reselling). Marketplaces don’t mandatorily ask for it for all product categories. But if a brand infringement claim or fake product claim is raised by brand owners and buyers, then sellers without any valid proof would find themselves in trouble. When sellers fail to submit a valid document to prove (if someone raised a brand infringement claim) the authenticity of their listings, marketplaces have the right to terminate accounts. This is how SKU mapping is related to account suspensions.

Seller Farooque Memon, who runs an e-store The Cotton Chef on Amazon has filed multiple brand infringement cases and managed to get many seller accounts suspended for copying his listings.

“A couple of sellers tried to copy my listings by adding ASIN to their product catalogue. This is done by clicking on ‘Have one to sell? Click here’ or ‘sell similar. Once the product is copied, the brand owner doesn’t get any notification. But ‘available from other sellers’ button appears in the owner’s listings,” shares Memon while speaking to IOS.

Why allow SKU mapping at the first place, ask sellers

Many sellers who suddenly find themselves locked out of their account, due to SKU mapping an existing listing, wonder why it is allowed. If marketplaces would eventually deactivate their accounts, then why give the option of sell similar at the first place, ask sellers.

RV (name withheld on request) was feeling cheated when Amazon suspended his account due to the same reason. Even after submitting a Plan of Action, the marketplace refused to budge. Another Amazon seller CT (name withheld on request) lost his selling privileges without any warning due to SKU mapping. To be fair to the marketplace, CT didn’t submit brand authorization certificate and/or invoice. And Amazon is pretty strict about its policies.

What happens when a seller has all proofs in order?

Sahil Puri was a happy seller running a successful online business on Flipkart for the last 4 years. But 4 months back, the ecommerce biggie suspended his account. The reason? Flipkart accused Puri of selling fake products on its platform because of which they delisted his seller account.

“We were selling branded product of Intex power bank of Flipkart. The brand Intex is selling the power bank as battery charger. So the Flipkart team said that ‘you are selling this product as power bank instead of battery charger’. They said that we are selling fake product. To top it all, Flipkart’s sister concern company Retail Net is also selling the same product as battery charger,” states Puri while narrating his case to IOS.

He adds,

“We selected similar option as we were selling it earlier also and same product is still getting sold by Retail Net. We have submitted the valid proofs numerous times. The only answer they told us was that the account is suspended and cannot be reinstated.”

The seller has been following up this case from the last four months but no one from the Flipkart team has expressed any interest in solving his issues.

IOS checked the same product on Flipkart’s website. The Intex battery charger is indeed available on the marketplace under ‘power bank’ tag (see the above image). Why Puri wasn’t allowed to sell the same is something that only Flipkart can answer.

One possible explanation could be that the seller was selling duplicate Intex battery chargers, right? But Puri has all the proofs to back his claim that the products are genuine.

The seller affirms,

“We had shared the invoice copy of Intex company where they have clearly mentioned that it is battery charger and we have authorization certificate also to sell their product online.”

IOS has reviewed the copy of invoices shared by the Flipkart seller (March 2016 and February 2017), in which the Intex suppliers’ addresses, invoice dates & numbers and quantity purchased are clearly mentioned besides the other tax invoice details. We have also reviewed the brand authorization letter given by Intex Technologies India Limited to the seller for the sale of mobile & CDIT products, dated May 2015.

We asked Flipkart to share their comments on this issue. The company spokesperson said,

“We have a very strong business ethics policy and conduct stringent background checks prior to onboarding sellers to ensure that they meet the necessary quality and performance standards. As a responsible marketplace, we have our customers’ best interests in mind and in the event of sellers not adhering to specified guidelines which threatens to hamper customer experience, we suspend them with immediate effect. They are reinstated in future only once we are thoroughly assured that they fully comply with our non-negotiable quality and performance parameters.”

Marketplaces are pruning their seller base

After boasting about their respective huge seller base, marketplaces seem to be on a cleaning spree. Just last month, selected Amazon sellers received policy warning that hinted at seller account suspensions. Paytm Mall too delisted 85,000+ sellers from its platform to prevent fraudulent retail! And quite obviously, sellers aren’t happy about this sudden pruning. Many believe that this is just marketplaces’ way to support their own seller entities and eradicate competition.

Sahil Puri has been losing monthly sales of about 2-3 lakhs due to account suspension. Therefore, all he wants is that somehow his account is reinstated and he can continue to sell on the platform. But would Flipkart do that? As of now, the ecommerce giant’s seller support team says to Puri, “Your account will not be activated as the invoice(s) you have submitted has failed our investigation”

If raising claims and correcting your mistakes still can’t convince etailers to reinstate your account, then there’s another option. You can relist your products by following the steps neatly explained in this IOS article. The seller who relists by creating an alias of the product would have to start from scratch as the previous reviews, ratings and visibility would disappear.

Sellers, what do you think Sahil Puri should do next? Should he relist his products or is there any other alternative? Have you ever been in a similar situation? Do you think Flipkart would reinstate his account?

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