Update: October 3, 2018: In a statement emailed to Retail Dive an Amazon spokesperson said, "Amazon and the American Apparel & Footwear Association are both committed to protecting American intellectual property. We invest tremendous resources to protect our marketplace from inauthentic goods and will continue to work with AAFA and its members to protect their intellectual property and our customers."
The American Apparel & Footwear Association has appealed to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) asking that three foreign Amazon marketplaces — in Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany — be added to the government agency's Notorious Markets list for alleged involvement in selling counterfeit or pirated products, according to an AAFA press release.
The AAFA submission comes just days after a Los Angeles Times story detailed how counterfeit products help lower prices across the board on Amazon's marketplace. Amazon allegedly does little to protect the legitimate sellers, who are forced to lower prices to stay competitive with the counterfeits, that report stated.
The AAFA also said it is against the federal government's efforts to impose new tariffs on foreign products being imported to the U.S. The group believes the taxes will "incentivize the sale of counterfeit products" as counterfeiters look to evade the tariffs, while importers of legitimate goods will end up being penalized.
Sales of counterfeit products have grown as a problem across the entire global sector of online marketplaces, despite a fair amount of attention and awareness in the industry about the issue. Amazon is hardly the only online seller facing such issues, but it has been accused before of doing too little to fight this growing problem.
AAFA wants USTR to do more about an issue that all of the online marketplaces say they are taking seriously, but which still seems to be as much or more of a problem than ever. For example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported at the beginning of this year that its own study into counterfeits on marketplaces showed that 43% of 50 products it purchased on such marketplaces were found to be counterfeit.
In a statement emailed to Retail Dive an Amazon spokesperson reiterated its commitment to fighting counterfeits, a position it has long maintained, "Amazon takes a global approach to our anti-counterfeiting efforts and have a global team that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to and take action on reported violations and notices of potential infringement. Amazon investigated and took action on 95% of all worldwide notices of potential infringement received from Brand Registry within eight hours and brands in Brand Registry are finding and reporting 99% fewer suspected infringements than before the launch of Brand Registry."
But this is all continues to happen despite efforts like Amazon's Brand Registry, eBay's Authenticate program and the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance. All of these programs are set up to make it easier for shoppers to find authentic products, but it is unclear if they have had any measurable effect on the counterfeits problems. The e-commerce giants have been shy about sharing their progress.
If USTR does act on the AAFA's submission, it's not entirely clear what effect it would have on the Amazon marketplaces listed. Alibaba already made the "Notorious Markets" list last year, and adding Amazon will bring more attention to the problem, but it's not clear how much it would steer shoppers away from Amazon.
Ultimately, marketplaces like Amazon's are only going to feel pressure to do more to fight counterfeits if it starts affecting the bottom line in a way that can't be ignored. For that to happen, shoppers may need to work a little harder to understand what they are buying and why an item that appears to be from a reputable brand is listed way cheaper in one listing than in others.
That is a lot to ask of shoppers who desire affordability and convenience when shopping. If counterfeits are going to be beaten, the sector's best bet may be technology that can spot fakes more easily, and/or new processes put in place during order fulfillment that can catch discrepancies between authentic and fake items. Amazon and the other marketplace operators are said to be developing such solutions. Making these projects the highest possible priority could do much to fix the problem of fakes.