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Amazon Sellers See Fakes on the Rise

Almost overnight, Amazon has been getting flooded with thousands of counterfeit items posted by stores based in China, a seller is alleging.

Jerry Kozak, owner of the Ann Arbor T-shirt Company, has been struggling to make his case to Amazon and demonstrate the extent to which his category has become inundated by counterfeit merchandise.

“Obviously knock-offs in China are not a new phenomenon,” Kozak said in an interview. “But what me and several other sellers are seeing is a sudden (uptick in counterfeit listings),” he said. “It’s really been in the last few months.”

The issue appears to roughly coincide with a change that Amazon made in the way it administers the clothing and accessories category. A spokesman for the company says that the category is open to all approved sellers and said the requirement to submit images as part of the approval process was recently dropped.

The spokesman would not say why Amazon made the change, and declined to discuss the matter on the record.

Kozak and other sellers who have posted on Amazon’s forums say that they have observed the spike in knock-off goods only in the last couple months, suggesting that the illicit activity could have stemmed from the change in policy in the category.

“All I know is that it seems to be sudden, and spreading like a fungus. There have been a few posts on the forums regarding different products with one very common thread – Chinese sellers,” the seller Real Swag Inc wrote earlier this month on one thread discussing counterfeit listings. “We sell clothing, and when we started on Amazon, it was a very tightly gated category. There was a pretty extensive process to apply and be eligible. Overnight it seems the gates were crashed, and we’ve been flooded with hijacked listings. Counterfeit goods, too.”

Kozak, who said that between 75 percent and 80 percent of his business comes through Amazon, has been reporting sellers who seem to have been engaging in the wholesale copying of his proprietary t-shirt designs.

It’s easy for him to spot them, he said, because with a staff of around 50, Kozak’s company only sells shirts that were designed by his in-house team. “We do all of our own design and manufacturing – no one else has our stuff,” he said.

Kozak’s vice president of retail first brought the issue to his attention last month, reporting that a seller based in China had just opened a store that offered listings of more than 2,000 shirts with designs from the Ann Arbor T-shirt Company.

Kozak reported the issue to Amazon, and was instructed to make a test purchase to verify that the merchandise was, indeed, fraudulent. Several weeks later, the item arrived. Kozak described it as a poor quality shirt with an oily feel to the material and a cheap vinyl sticker on the front.

In the meantime, almost immediately after learning of the first knock-off site, Kozak found another shop operating on Amazon, also with upwards of 2,000 of his SKUs.

“There’s just been an onslaught of counterfeits. The issue is that Amazon’s entire system is reactive, so if I find the counterfeit, I have to report it. It tends to be really byzantine – A sends you to BB to CC to A – there’s a lot of that,” Kozak said.

“The big frustration here is that it’s not just that the mechanisms for complaining to Amazon are slow, it’s that they’re never going to be fast enough,” he added. “It’s that the nature of counterfeiting has changed.”

So after having submitted to Amazon multiple reports documenting the apparent counterfeit situation, including images of the knock-off goods he purchased as test orders, Kozak continues to wait for a resolution.

He acknowledges that he and other sellers are trying to protect their bottom line in bringing the issue to Amazon’s attention, but he also sees every reason for Amazon to take a more proactive role in stamping out counterfeit activity on its marketplace.

“It’s a really sloppy experience for the customer,” he said. “You’re going to train people not to shop for apparel on Amazon, and that’s a bell you really can’t un-ring.”

Note from the Editor: Clothing isn’t the only category where sellers are reporting an increase in fakes and copycat listings – see the following EcommerceBytes Blog post for more on this topic.

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

Kenneth Corbin on Linkedin
Kenneth Corbin
Kenneth Corbin
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn.