The 7 Deadly Sins Of Brand-Retailer Relationships


Steve Olenski

September 12, 2017

The brand-retailer relationship is paramount for success. Yes that is obvious but we’re all human and we make mistakes. However, there’s a huge difference between making a mistake and committing a sin, especially a deadly sin.

This piece sheds light on these deadly sins along with tips on how to avoid them in the first place.

So, let’s jump right in.

If you’re a CMO/brand marketer, etc., ask yourself these questions:

  • Do any of your retail partners complain that they aren’t treated as well as another partner?
  • If something went awry with your top partner, would your sales be diversified enough to handle the blow?
  • Are you confident that your brand is being accurately and authentically represented on all of the channels you’re selling through?

If any of these questions gave you even a moment’s pause, read on to learn more about the 7 deadly sins of brand/retailer relationships. Then, find out if you’re guilty, and what you can do for absolution.

First, let’s set the stage. All of these sins impact the relationship between a brand and its retailers, but ultimately they impact the customer journey.

To better illustrate this point, we’ll follow the path of 3 different parties throughout the piece:

  1. Piper, a consumer who is looking for a new dress
  2. Mallory & Finn, an apparel brand that manufactures dresses and more
  3. Vêtir, an upscale retailer whose name literally means “clothe” in French.

Sin #1: Gluttony: Hoarding of information

Are you hoarding so much product information that you’re being considered for your own episode of “Hoarders: Brand Edition”?

Let’s think about Piper here. She’s a savvy online shopper. She knows her measurements, which colors look best on her and what dress length is just right for a big night out.

She goes to the Vêtir website to check out a head-turning Mallory & Finn red dress she’s eyeing for an upcoming party. She sees that the dress is red, lace and selling for $249.99, but she can’t find any information about the sizing, length, material, and whether it needs to be dry cleaned. (Piper is a wash-and-wear kind of girl.)

Frustrated, Piper leaves the site and searches for dresses elsewhere. 

We don’t need to spell out the moral here, but we will: Stop being gluttonous and share that product information! Don’t keep that good intel to yourself. If you want your retailers to know about hot products, new styles, updated videos and more, you have to share that information in an organized and routine fashion.

Brands need a solid content strategy to partner more closely with retailers and to ensure that their brand and product vision are clear to the customer. You can’t expect your retail partners to know the intricacies of your brand strategy and content.

The Penance:

  • Product specs are table stakes…create a process and define internal stakeholders
  • Establish content owners, curators, a creative team to provide compelling content that differentiates your products from the competition
  • Create distribution channels to ensure that retailers receive information in a timely and organized fashion

Sin #2: Greed

Time to check back in with Piper. She’s now popped over to Amazon to check out what they have available in the red dress department. She is a Prime member after all (along with 80 million of her friends).

She finds the same Mallory & Finn dress, and it’s available from a third-party seller on Amazon for $249.50. Piper doesn’t know this, but that’s less than the $249.99 MSRP. She shops around a few more days then decides to pull the trigger on the Mallory & Finn dress, but it’s no longer listed. Mallory & Finn found out that the third-party seller was breaking MSRP and had Amazon pull the product.

Now, some branded manufacturers like Mallory & Finn are thinking, “Good job! Way to hold firm on pricing.” Which isn’t technically the wrong thing to think… but aren’t you being a little greedy about that 50 cents? And are you willing to give up a $249 sale and a prospective new customer over that piddly 50 cents?

Don’t get me wrong, MAP may be a critical component of managing your brand and product equity, and channel strategy. And even 50 cents can turn into a downward spiral.Then again – don’t be afraid to listen to your retailers for pricing hints. If you see them consistently breaking MAP policy to put your product at a lower price, is that what the market is really holding? The moral is don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

The Penance:

  • Building on our gluttony and greed sins, make sure that you’re sharing any promotions, seasonal discounts, rebates or lowering of your MSRP. Don’t be a brand-hole! Find the balance of what works with your brand and your retailers to maintain the value of your brand, but prevent being unnecessarily greedy.

Sin #3: Sloth/Neglect

Woe is Piper! Now that she can’t find the dress on Amazon (and Vêtir happens to be sold out too), she’s not sure what to do. She goes to the Mallory & Finn website to see if she can find the dress, but the site just has some runway video of the Fall collection and contact information for the corporate office.

Piper goes to Google to search for the dress and ends up clicking on an ad for an unauthorized seller. Or, worse yet, Piper finds a competitor with a similar dress (and better content about the dress), and abandons Mallory & Finn altogether.

Why is Piper having to work so hard!? Answer: because Mallory & Finn is a slothy, lazy brand. They have neglected their website and aren’t showing customers a clear path to purchase.

The Penance:

  • Invest in your website! Add your products and compelling product information to make your website a resource and an advocate of your own brand!
  • Add a “Where to Buy” widget–send customers directly to where they can find the product they are looking for…and not just to a retailer’s website…to the EXACT product page. This will also help ensure that your authorized retailers are getting the love they deserve via referral traffic. BONUS: Mallory & Finn can also track how many clicks and purchases various products are getting, and use that information to inform future manufacturing decisions.

Sin #4: Lust

Where’s Piper now? She’s trying to find this elusive dress that her mind is set on, so she goes to the Vêtir brick and mortar location near her house.

Turns out that Vêtir decided to no longer carry the Mallory & Finn line. Vêtir was Mallory & Finn’s main retailer, and now the brand has lost its cash cow, with no solid plan in place to mitigate the risk.

It seems Mallory & Finn had fallen in love with one retailer, when the brand really needed a diversified channel strategy.

The Penance:

  • Consumer behavior is a constantly moving target. Make sure you have a broad mix of distributors and retailers so that you can react to the way consumers shop and provide many opportunities to convert a sale, no matter where or how they are shopping.
  • Beyond having a mix of distributors and retailers, make sure you have a diversified channel strategy as well. If you are hyper-focused on one channel, what happens if that channel stops producing?

Hmm… technically, we’re telling you to play the field, which is actually a bit “lusty.” Semantics!

Sin #5: Envy

Beware the green-eyed monster! Though for most brands, they likely feel like a referee between a slew of green-eyed monsters.

Now that Mallory & Finn has lost its favorite retailer, Vêtir, the brand is working to bring other retailers on board. But they are finding that there is more in-fighting with their retailers than a political convention.

Each retailer is jockeying for exclusive stock, lower prices, fresher content. And just like a pack of siblings, they relish the opportunity to tattle-tale on any rivals that are breaking the rules, as well as complain when they feel like a rival has received preferential treatment.

This environment of envy isn’t productive for anyone, least of all your brand.

The Penance:

  • Level the playing field between retailers by implementing a retail partner program (RPP).
    • A RPP can include various tiers to set expectations for the requirements and benefits of each level of partnership. Creating a RPP also allows you to act on a set of rules, making you more neutral and retailer agnostic.
    • How do you handle the tiers? Allow your retail partners to self-select which level they are in based upon the expectations of that tier. This also enables a smaller retailer that’s competing with a big box store to attain the same benefits by putting in a greater level of effort. For example, you may expect that a top-tier partner will advertise products three times per quarter, hit a predetermined dollar value of purchased goods, provide deeper analytics and point of sale metrics. In return, a top-tier partner receives access to additional marketing and sales tools, and more qualified leads passed along from your website.

Sin #6: Pride

Nobody likes being told that their products suck. And frankly, people can be brutal in online reviews. But, for every crazy person out there who is never satisfied no matter how fabulous your product is, there’s 10 more who are probably pretty honest. And if they say your product sucks…maybe it does?

Don’t let your pride cloud your judgement or cause you to reject reviews or user-generated content that can be really helpful.

Let’s revisit Piper and her original issues on the Vêtir website finding out information about the sizing, length, material, etc. of the red dress. What if there’d been reviews from other customers who’d purchased the dress–even pictures with people’s measurements to understand the sizing and where it falls on the leg?

Even if the reviews were negative, saying that it does, in fact, have to be dry cleaned — at least Piper would know that information and decide if it’s worth it to buy the dress anyways.

The moral is don’t let your pride convince you that product reviews aren’t worthwhile, or that you know your brand better than anyone else. Your retailers know their customers, and your customers are the end users. Both of these parties may have better ideas of how to position your products than you do.

The Penance:

  • Query your retailers. Ask for advice about your products. You may hear some truths that hurt, but the payoff will be well worth it. For Mallory & Finn, they could learn how consumers are accessorizing their dresses, or what sells best in the southwest versus what sells on the west coast.
  • Encourage your retailers to push for product reviews. According to Reevoo, 95% of consumers think that reviews are fake or edited if there aren’t any negative reviews. So put pride aside and embrace those bruising blows. If your products are worthwhile, there will be plenty of other helpful reviews providing balance.

Sin #7: Wrath

Rule of thumb: be a good partner that stands by their principals, not an evil overlord.

There is a time and place for wrath–but use it sparingly and meaningfully or risk alienating all of your partners. For example, if Vêtir had decided to sell the Mallory & Finn dress with content information for a very different dress and damaging the integrity of the brand, that would be a time to allow the wrath to show through.

Conversely, don’t bring down the hammer for a small miss in the content, for example if the sizing was off by ¼ of an inch. Retailers have to sell your products. If you don’t give them a little bit of a leash, they may go with another brand.

The Penance:

  • Make sure you don’t shoot first and ask questions later. There may be a perfectly plausible explanation for why the pricing is off–perhaps there was a user-input error? Get to the bottom of why there was an error before suspending a seller. You may find that a stern warning is as effective as a suspension, and that way you don’t lose a sales outlet.

So, what happened to Piper?

Well, as luck would have it, she visited the Mallory & Finn website, and they’d read a great article in Forbes and made a slew of changes. She was able to discover all of the missing details about the red dress, and the Where to Buy widget on Mallory & Finn led her right to an online site where she was able to purchase the dress just in the knick of time for the party. All was right in the world, and everyone lived happily ever after.

So, there you have it. Atoning for even a few of these sins can find you becoming a much stronger partner to your retailers, and an even more inspiring brand to your customers.


This article was written by Steve Olenski from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

Great ! Thanks for your subscription !

You will soon receive the first Content Loop Newsletter