Most established brands have a well-defined brand image. It comes with guidelines, style books, visuals, writing rules, etc. Coping with the guidelines and maintaining the brand image is pretty easy on brand-controlled touchpoints (website, webshop, newsletters…). The issue is that brands and manufacturers share these touch points with third-party retailers.

Bad online merchandising on retailer websites not only decreases sales on this particular website, it durably damages the brand. It’s easy to feel helpless since there is no direct control over these websites. There are however a variety of ways for brands to grab back some power and maintain their brand image on retailer sites.

1) Avoid out of stocks

Back in the brick-and-mortar era, driving to a store only to find a particular item to be out of stock was the ultimate frustration. Nowadays, the consumer’s patience has been shortened. Landing on an out-of-stock product page is definitely frustrating. If you’re lucky, the consumer will buy your product from another retailer. If not, he may turn to a competitor. In both cases, he will have seen a web page with your name at the top and an ugly, red, Out-of-Stock mention.

As a manufacturer, you have an influence on your retailers’ stock-levels. Your sales team can reach out and offer a reassortment. Alternatively, you may want to ask for the page to be taken down.

2) Improve product page content

Quite often, brand image is just that: image. If you’re like me, you shiver at the sight of a pixelated logo or watermarked pack shot. It’s even worse when this logo or pack shot is yours.

There’s plenty of content online about how to write convincing and efficient product pages. The first step is obviously to empower retailers to do just that. Make a good copy and great pictures readily available to them. Retailers, however, deal with hundreds of product pages and sometimes they drop the ball. Product name typos, terrible pack shots, misleading claims about your product… As a brand, it is your job to hunt this mistakes and have them fixed.

3) Get better reviews

We’re not going to discuss the impact of reviews on consumer decision making. If you think your business can get away with bad reviews, you either have a lot to learn or a lot to teach!

For a brand, reviews can be terribly frustrating. They’re not even within your retailers’ control: how could they be in yours?  The first influence you can have as a manufacturer is to increase the share of satisfied customers who review your product. Going an extra step: you just want to increase the share of customers who write up reviews. That’s because there is a natural overrepresentation of dissatisfied customers within reviewers. By increasing the global amount of reviews, you can shift the average up.

Even if most of your distribution is surrendered to 3rd party retailers, you still own many buyer touch points. Ways you can increase reviews include:

  • Attaching a card inside the packaging
  • Suggest customers they write a review when you close a support ticket
  • Prompting customers when they register their product
  • Engaging promoters on social media (and transform good feedback into good reviews)
  • Responding to more reviews to incentivize reviewers (you’re more likely to speak if you know the brand listens). See the next point for more on this issue.

Check out our article on how to monitor and improve your product reviews at scale.

4) Respond to more reviews

Many e-commerce websites offer the opportunity for brands to answer the reviews they get. Amazon, incidentally, is one of them. It’s a chance that you should always seize. There’s an ongoing debate as to if brands should respond to positive feedback. But when it comes to bad reviews, there really isn’t any debate at all: you should always reply.

There are many strategies when it comes to dealing with negative feedback. A few tactics you may use include:

  • Show empathy and offer help/compensation publicly
  • Reassure other customers that the issue has since been fixed
  • See the glass half full and start your reply with what went well
  • Imply that the problem faced is not relevant to most of your customers
  • Try to have dishonest reviews taken down by the website.

A bad review with a good reply is like a defused bomb. You still don’t want to throw it around, but at least there’s a good chance it will not blow up in your face.

Once you are confident with your review-responding skills, you want to make sure no reviews slip through the net. Monitor your product pages constantly! And set up email notifications where possible.

Positive reviews are also interesting to take into account. We wrote an article that advocates in favor of answering to positive reviews.

5) Mitigate grey-market

Grey-market sales diminish your ability to control your brand and may durably hurt your image. Grey-market merchandise is usually sold at a substantial discount by unauthorized, shady retailers. They are typically acquired through unauthorized channels and sometimes avoid fair taxation.

Grey market is a tough subject because it’s hard to forestall, detect and terminate. The first step, however, is to be lucid about the extent of the threat grey-market poses to your brand. It is entirely possible that you do not even need to take action.

6) Enforce your selective distribution

You may or may not have defined a selective distribution policy for your brand. If you did, it’s just as important that you enforce it. Managing unauthorized retailers is more of a grey-market-tackling issue. You should also be worried about what and where your legitimate retailers sell your products. Many retailers have websites in several countries (Conrad, Mediamarkt, Fnac, iStyle are examples of retailers with websites across Europe). Mediamarkt could decide to sell on its Spanish site a product for which you gave the exclusivity to

This is reason enough to always know where your products are assorted and maintain productive relationships with your retailers.

We discuss many issues relating to selective distribution in our blog post How To Choose Online Retailers For Your E-Commerce Distribution.

See also: 5 Reasons for Brands to Monitor Online Assortment.

7) Avoid brand image-damaging pricing

Pricing is a critical element of the brand image. Products are created with a price in mind. Brands spend a lot on marketing to support a price point. So when a products end ups being sold off, it damages the brand image.

Again, pricing may seem out of your control. In many jurisdictions, the price is a tense issue and brands are strictly banned from engaging in any form of price control. BlueBoard doesn’t and never will encourage price-fixing practices.

There are however a few levers that brands can (legally) pull:

  • Keep great retailer relations. Good two-way communication can help surface problems before they turn into catastrophes.
  • Have reasonable objectives for your distributor
  • Don’t overproduce.