Forgery in e-commerce: why does Amazon send so many counterfeits?

Grafik:Travis Juntara
Graphic:Travis Juntara

Just a few weeks ago, the shopping centre around the corner from us ran an exhibition on counterfeiting. Recognise the fake Bosch chainsaw immediately? Impossible. and other knock-off products were virtually indistinguishable from the original. Where forgers used to write the name of the company wrong, e.g. “Adodas” instead of “Adidas”, today’s fakes look high quality at first… but they are still knock-offs.

Because it really comes down to trusting a shop in e-commerce, I was surprised that Amazon seems to have a lot of problems with counterfeits. The knock-offs aren’t just offered by other traders via the market place, but by Amazon itself, as they store them in their logistics centres. But whose fault is it? A look at one of Amazon’s biggest competitors gives us an idea.

When the perfume vanishes…

I became aware of the topic through a friend, who had ordered a perfume from Amazon he’d used for years. He soon noticed that he had received a counterfeit from Amazon, not the original product – the smell dissipated that quickly. Several customer reviews confirmed his impression, that it really was a counterfeit perfume.

Amazon verschickt verwässerte Fälschungen dieses Produkts.
Amazon sends a watered down knock-off of this product.

An email to the perfume manufacturer, Jean Paul Gaultier, provided more information – my friend was not the first to complain about it. According to Jean Paul Gaultier, Amazon does not even have a license to sell the original perfume. It is not clear, just how many counterfeit perfumes have been sent without anyone noticing. The problem with these products is that basically only connoisseurs can identify the counterfeits.

12 power packs ordered, all counterfeit

The American company isn’t just sending counterfeit perfume, but knock-off power packs as well. The c’t-Magazin ordered 12 Samsung powerpacks. 8 were purchased from marketplace traders, 4 directly from Amazon. It turns out that all of the power packs were knock-offs. You may be able to forgive marketplace traders looking the other way, but it should not happen with the big(est) player, Amazon.

Who takes the blame for shipping counterfeits?

Of course there is the question of guilt. Traders blame the suppliers, who in turn blame their suppliers…and so on. What is clear, is that you can make a killing with knock-offs, not least because access to them is easier than ever before. So where do the counterfeit power packs etc. come from?

It is worth looking at Amazon’s competitor: Alibaba. While prices for Samsung Galaxy S3 power packs can be up to 17 Euros, you can get Alibaba for 2-3 dollars. According to c’t-Magazin the number of counterfeit powerpacks, which customs have taken out of circulation has increased. While the authorities caught 7,000 power packs in 2011, this rose to 45,000 in 2014.

The price often has to be negotiated on Alibaba. After a quick search, I found a power pack for the Samsung S3 mini labeled as Samsung. I wrote to the seller and got an answer via chat within 1 minute. The nice lady sent me a quote (2.1 USD/piece) and a picture of the power packs, which did not however, match the image in the product description. Only after pushing did she admit that we were not talking about the original Samsung power packs the product picture suggested, but the opposite.

Amazon Fälschung
A manufacturer of ice cube containers, which  sells its products on Amazon’s marketplace had a different experience: if they delay their product delivery to Amazon’s logistics centre, where the ice cube containers are sent from, the proportion of counterfeit products rises. The manufacturer confirmed this with random sampling. The problem is that Amazon appears to mix up products from different suppliers in its warehouses and sends these out unregulated. If you order product A from company A, you can get product X from company B – a tangled mess.

What is Amazon doing about counterfeiting?

Of course the internet giant offers placation. They are ‘looking into it’ and linked customers can return the product at the current price. In some cases, Amazon reacts to manufacturers critique immediately, for instance, with the manufacturers of Hifi components Bose.

Just how high the number of unreported cases of counterfeited goods sent by Amazon is remains unclear. But the examples mentioned here are not lone cases, that’s for sure.

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