There are many things to worry about when it comes to brand protection and MAP enforcement, and along the way it’s easy to get caught up in the paranoia over which seller was “First Violator.”  But I’m here to tell you now that devoting so much attention and precious resources to identify what seller violated MAP policy first is not only moot and ineffective, but it also sets a terrible precedent that will come back to haunt you and the very brand you are responsible for protecting.

First Violator Theory

If one seller violates a minimum advertised price (MAP) policy, then others will follow suit–and so the theory goes–it is important to catch and punish the first violator so that future problems will be nipped in the bud.

Sounds logical, right?  If we catch and eliminate all the first violators through various sanctions, then all we will be left with are perfect, rule-abiding, MAP-compliant sellers who sell at the appropriate price at the appropriate time, all the time. Right?

Riiiiiiiiiight. (Remind me later to tell you about my stable of rainbow-colored unicorns!)

Devoting time and energy chasing first-violators reminds me of a school principal investigating which students to punish for fighting by identifying who threw the first punch. Is there a rule against fighting? Yes. Did you all throw punches? Yes. Did you all inflict harm? Yes. Are you all responsible for your actions? Of course you are!

As most school principals would tell you, the best and fairest way to handle these delinquent students is to suspend them. All of them. Don’t you think that principal has more important things to do with her time?

Kids fighting

Problems with First Violator In Practice

The same logic applies to the “First-Violator” theory. While on first pass it sounds fair, first-violator theory is fraught with problems. For example:

1. It assumes that catching first violators will actually prevent that seller from violating in the future. Any brand that sells through Amazon knows that this assumption is delusional at best.

2. It assumes that there are a limited number of sellers who would violate first, when in fact the motivating factors for violating apply equally to all sellers at some point in time. Common factors include: excess inventory, meeting volume quotas, driving site traffic, winning big-volume holidays, and etc.

3. If sellers know that you only care (or care the most) about first violator, then you actually create more incentive for them to chase the violator’s price and lower theirs below MAP too. Yes I violated, but I was reacting to other sellers. In other words: “It wasn’t me – they started it!”

If this sounds childish, that’s because it is. I even heard this from my kids just last week!

Treat All Violators The Same: As Violators

Violations are violations. The truth is, first violators are just as important to catch as second violators, and second violators are just as important to catch as third violators, and so on. Let’s say someone breaks into your house and steals your wallet. Then another person comes along and steals your watch. Is the wallet thief any more of a criminal than the watch thief?  Actually, they’re both criminals, and both deserve to be punished.

The best policies in practice are always the ones that are the simplest to enforce. MAP policies that enforce pricing violations equally across the spectrum of violators are both consistent and simple, and they eliminate the disincentive for sellers to adhere to MAP after the first violation by another seller.

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The gap intelligence Lookout service helps brands identify all violations by randomizing the times of daily price monitoring (so sellers can’t predict when they are being watched), and by physically and manually vetting each violation that our system detects with human eyeballs that are connected to U.S. college-educated minds–not some outsourced office offshore that has no background knowledge of your products or your market. We validate and qualify each data point so that you don’t have to. Using this approach, we capture more violations than any other MAP compliance service provider, and that’s the gap intelligence guarantee!

If you are someone who monitors online marketplaces and your pricing and brand equity, please give us a call at 619.574.1100 or write us at to learn more.