All Your Favorite Brands, From BSTOEM to ZGGCD

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Even in obscure categories, success on Amazon can be hugely lucrative. According to Helium 10, a service that tracks sellers on Amazon, one of the most successful deep-tissue massager brands, Opove, which is based in Shenzhen, is selling more than a $1 million worth of products each month. Its trademark, which describes nail clippers, scissors and electric razors, does not mention massage devices. Numerous smaller brands, including WuBeFine and UGBDER, are clearing six figures in monthly sales, driven by high search placement and customer reviews.

That’s not to say that conventional branding doesn’t matter on Amazon. The company has been courting major brands since the early 2000s. More recently, it has created hundreds of its own market-researched brands and fostered outside-but-Amazon-exclusive brands from companies large and small, even assisting, in some cases, with marketing — particularly when the partner is based abroad. But in certain categories — commodity goods, or types of products where shoppers don’t have much brand loyalty in the first place — a product can succeed without a brand, or even despite one.

In those categories, sellers mostly “use Amazon’s brand name to sell their products,” said Kevin King, a longtime Amazon seller and consultant. If an item is on Prime, it’s got a high star rating, and it’ll be at your house in a couple days, a listing can get attention. To the extent it has a brand, it’s more Amazon than UGBDER: sold under the Amazon banner, through Amazon Prime, fulfilled by Amazon and shipped in an Amazon box, perhaps even purchased through an Amazon device.

Reviews and search placement are important for any product on Amazon; in categories dominated by new and unrecognizable brands, getting an edge within Amazon’s various systems is singularly important. These categories attract sellers willing to practice black-hat tactics, including fake reviews, click-farming to boost search results, and competitor sabotage. Sellers operating under barely-established brands have a lot to gain and little to lose if Amazon decides they’ve gone too far. (A seller that depends on years of brand recognition needs to tread carefully; a factory selling under a half-dozen interchangeable trademarks, maybe less so).

The result is something like a trade war in miniature, with corresponding Amazon-specific battles over intellectual property, counterfeit products, product pricing and business ethics. “Even Amazon doesn’t really know how it works,” Mr. King said. “They know the big corporate picture, but the guerrilla marketing, the fake reviews, all the manipulation. They don’t understand it.”

“We work hard every day to protect the shopping and selling experience in our store,” an Amazon spokesperson wrote in a statement. “Bad actors that attempt to abuse our systems make up a tiny fraction of activity in our store, and we continue to evolve our tools and techniques to stay ahead of them. We invest significant resources in automated machine learning, manual investigations, and partnerships with others that are making it increasingly difficult for bad actors to commit abuse.”

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