Amazon and eBay Ideal Outlets for Counterfeits
Websites face a credibility crisis for counterfeit sales
January 10, 2017 - Los Angeles, CA – When e-commerce giants eBay and Amazon try to monopolize profits, the collateral damage for manufacturers and consumers can be enormous, and devastating.
Both eBay and Amazon have channeled their efforts into online “Marketplace” retail outlets which allow un-vetted global sellers to peddle hugely profitable counterfeit goods to unsuspecting consumers. America’s top trade official, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, condemned and blacklisted e-commerce competitor Alibaba and their online Marketplace, adding them to the list of the world’s most notorious markets for facilitating counterfeit goods.
The problem isn’t just the well-known fakes; watches, shoes and handbags, but a vast counterfeit universe of auto parts, cosmetics, drugs, electronics, sporting goods, toys, and much, much more.
Many manufacturers have spent millions, perhaps billions, researching and building their products, only to have their companies destroyed by Chinese counterfeits sold on e-commerce websites. The e-commerce websites are proving to be an ideal platform to distribute the counterfeit goods -- an activity that is profitable, difficult to track and widely unpunished. The move is drawing an avalanche of counterfeits from both U.S. and global un-vetted sellers. Consumers can see the authentic and deceptive counterfeits on The Counterfeit Report® website, a popular consumer advocate and watchdog.
eBay is migrating from the auction house of garage sale items and concentrating on Marketplace sales of new items (80%) at a fixed price (86%) from un-vetted global sellers.
For example, The Counterfeit Report identified over 2.6-million counterfeit items on eBay and reported over 1,743,890 to eBay for listing removal in 2016. Over 331,300 were reported already sold to eBay consumers. While the sellers usually remain and may relist, the deceived eBay buyers are never told by eBay they received a fake and may be entitled to a refund.
After reporting the counterfeit sales, including one fraudulent seller with over 250 fake item listings, The Counterfeit Report was told by eBay’s intellectual property enforcement unit (”VeRO”); "We are not going to stop them from listing something", "We will only act on the Notice of Claimed Infringement (“NOCI”) you send to us and in the order received." Many sales are concluded before eBay removes the listings.
The Counterfeit Report also purchased and received over 2,300 counterfeit products from eBay sellers. Many were fake items -- items that never existed in the manufacturer’s product line -- yet display the manufacturer’s trademark. The items remain listed on eBay, and eBay actually sends email solicitations promoting the purchase of the fake items. Weary of test purchases and refund demands, eBay responded by blocking all of The Counterfeit Reports accounts.
Remarkably, buyers can’t even turn to eBay's feedback as an indication of seller credibility – eBay admits it may be altered, and the counterfeit listings that have been removed are not reflected in eBay seller feedback to warn buyers.
Many Amazon consumers do not recognize that Amazon listings present three distinct global product outlet channels, including its 2-million Marketplace account holders who can ship counterfeit products, which are never inspected by Amazon, from all over the world. Business Wire reported Amazon's claim that Marketplace Sellers, the third-party vendors whose items are available alongside Amazon’s own merchandise, sold more than 2 billion items worldwide.
Apple recently claimed that 90% of Apple Chargers it purchased from Amazon Direct were fake. Birkenstock, a popular sandal maker, pulled the plug on Amazon sales citing an uncontrollable counterfeit problem.
The Counterfeit Report conducted dozens of name-brand test purchases from Amazon Fulfillment and Amazon Marketplace sellers, but never received an authentic item. Infringement notices were sent to Amazon for 12,699 infringing items offered on the website in 2016. Despite Amazon’s claim that the listings were removed, some listings still remained, or the sellers were allowed to relist inarguably fake items. Amazon allows multiple sellers to list against “permanent catalog page” images (stock photos) making identification of counterfeit products difficult without test purchases.
Amazon policy claims “The sale of counterfeit products, including any products that have been illegally replicated, reproduced, or manufactured, is strictly prohibited” but Amazon is inconsistent in how they treat counterfeit complaints -- a continuous source of frustration in removing counterfeit listings. Complaints are processed through Amazon’s system in an arbitrary manner. One complaint may result in a listing being removed, yet a submission for the exact same thing again may fail -- an experience common with manufacturers and The Counterfeit Report, a manufacturer’s agent.
Could you identify these actual fake items offered on Amazon or eBay? None exist in the manufacturer's authentic product line.
(Clockwise from left – Photo: The Counterfeit Report®)
A CNBC report attributes fear of retribution to limiting comments about the websites practices, which may be well founded. In addition to The Counterfeit Report having its eBay accounts blocked after thousands of counterfeit item test purchases, a letter from eBay counsel, O’Melveny and Meyer’s partner David Eberhart promises “eBay can and will contact the companies that have designated [The Counterfeit Report] as an agent, inform them of [the] conduct, and request that they obtain another reporting agent.”
E-Commerce giants, Amazon and eBay are no strangers to allegations of selling counterfeit goods. The e-commerce giants face a “credibility crisis” fueled by a failure to crack down on counterfeit goods and making it easy for the world’s largest criminal enterprise to peddle $1.7 trillion in counterfeit goods to unsuspecting consumers. Social media sites Facebook®, Twitter® and Instagram® have also become popular counterfeit outlets, while Walmart and Best Buy were also caught offering counterfeits.
Counterfeiting supports organized crime, terrorists and criminals who avoid taxes, destroy an estimated 750,000 US jobs, and cost US businesses over $250 Billion annually. Illegal counterfeiting activity is profitable, difficult to track and widely unpunished.