There is little doubt that Seattle, WA-based online retailer Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is a titan in the world of commerce and its effects on the world of e-commerce have had a definite effect even on brick-and-mortar retailers. Online merchandise sale analysis released last year by market research firm eMarketer indicated that Amazon’s share of the U.S. e-commerce market was expected to rise from 38.1 percent of U.S. online retail sales in 2016 up to 43.5 percent of U.S. e-commerce by the end of 2017. This January, e-commerce analytics provider One Click Retail announced that Amazon sales accounted for 4 percent of all U.S. retail sales online or offline.
To paraphrase a timeless maxim from the Gospel of Luke, to whom much is given, from that entity much is also expected. Many consumers who go to Amazon and spend their money there expect that the item they are purchasing is an authentic article (although doubtless some consumers knowingly choose cheap articles which are clearly counterfeits), especially if there’s some expectation of the quality of the product because of that product’s brand. It’s safe to assume that no one who shells out top dollars for diamonds is all that happy to find out that they’ve instead bought cubic zirconia.
However, news reports in recent years show that there is an actual and pervasive issue of counterfeit products which have no problem being bought by consumers through Amazon’s retail platform. In a blog post published on March 1st of this year, Elevation Lab founder Casey Hopkins ripped Amazon and the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, for allowing a Chinese wholesaler to market knockoff versions of Elevation’s Anchor headphone mount. Hopkins noted that, although an untrained eye might not spot the differences, the poor quality of the counterfeits did not live up to the authentic article and was likely to hurt Elevation’s reputation in the eyes of consumers receiving fake products.
“There is something extremely simple Amazon could do about [counterfeit products]. If you have a registered brand in the Brand Registry and don’t sell the product wholesale – there could be one box to check for that. And anyone else would have to get approval or high vetting to sell the product, especially if they are sending large quantities to FBA. I imagine there are some algorithmic solutions that could catch most of it too… Why Amazon doesn’t do this is mind-blowing and makes them complicit in the rampant counterfeiting on their platform. We are definitely not the first seller for this to happen to. And it lowers Amazon customers trust in the platform when they unknowingly receive knockoffs. And the real sellers also have to police this themselves, Amazon isn’t active in going after them – and Amazon can hide behind the fact that independent sellers are doing the counterfeiting.”
Last October, German luxury automaker Daimler AG sued Amazon in California federal court over claims of trademark infringement. Daimler accused Amazon of being complicit in the sale of counterfeit wheel center caps which bear the branding of Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Amazon web pages selling these items indicated that Amazon was selling and shipping those infringing, unlicensed items which were produced by Otis Inc. LA.
Daimler is not the only owner of a well-known brand which has been targeted by copycat artists selling counterfeits on Amazon. Apple, Chanel, Kylie Jenner and Louis Vuitton are all popular brands which have attracted counterfeiters to Amazon’s e-commerce platform according to recent news reports.
Although Amazon is typically quick to reference its anti-counterfeit policy as proof of its commitment to weeding out inauthentic products from its retail platform, watchdog groups continue to point at major concerns regarding Amazon’s true intentions regarding the sale of counterfeits. Most recent among these is a press release issued on June 5th by The Counterfeit Report which strongly suggests that Amazon and Jeff Bezos have every intention of skirting the rules to continue the financial benefits they receive from the sale of counterfeits. The Counterfeit Report received multiple e-mail responses to counterfeit product issues it presented to Amazon. Those official Amazon e-mails indicate that Bezos received e-mails from The Counterfeit Report and that the e-mail sender was answering on Bezos’ behalf. Amazon’s official stance, as outlined by these e-mails, counterfeit products will continue to be listed on Amazon’s website in countries where the trademark covering the brand isn’t registered. As The Counterfeit Report notes, these counterfeits, of which Amazon is knowingly enabling sales, include both consumer goods as well as fake badges for the Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigations and the New York Police Department.
Think about that: Amazon and Bezos are so willing to profit from the sale of counterfeits that they’re fine with the potential of consumers being capable of impersonating federal law enforcement officials. This isn’t the first time that The Counterfeit Report has pushed Amazon rather publicly on its unwillingness to deal with a major problem posed by counterfeiters. In the early months of 2017, the watchdog organization announced that it had sent more than 32,000 notices of counterfeit items on Amazon’s platform to Amazon but that many of those items remained available for purchase online, even items which Amazon was notified of multiple times. There were also instances where infringing items were taken off of Amazon’s U.S. website but remained available on Amazon’s foreign e-commerce platforms, which are still available to consumers in the U.S. through the Internet.
It should be pretty shocking to most that Bezos would personally be encouraging of such black market activity to take place on his very valuable e-commerce platform. However, it’s hardly surprising to those who are aware of Amazon’s involvement in the major push by American tech giants to devalue intellectual property overall, especially where patents are concerned. Amazon is a founding member of the High Tech Inventors Alliance (HTIA), one of the newest lobbying institutions serving the efficient infringer cabal in Washington. Amazon’s own Echo Show smart speaker is closely reminiscent of a Wi-Fi home intercom and video conferencing product developed by Nucleus, a startup which Amazon decided to compete against after investing $5.6 million into the company. And although Facebook has been taking nearly all the flak in the recent debate over the rights that Internet consumers have to keeping their data private, Amazon has been developing its own data tracking technologies which can pinpoint a person’s physical location using an Internet protocol address or even to identify users of bitcoin, a cryptocurrency which is supposed to offer its users complete anonymity.
Selling counterfeit products on the markets available in the United States is illegal. It would just be nice if the law applied to Amazon like it does to everyone else.