An eBay patent describes a method to reduce counterfeits for sale on its website, and if implemented, it could impact search visibility. When a seller attempts to list a particular brand, the system would match authenticity criteria contained in eBay’s database to the product the seller is listing to see if it’s a match.
For example, in the case of sneaker, eBay might signal to a seller that they should upload an image of the shoe’s toe stitching. If it indicates a match with eBay’s database of authentic images, eBay would give the listing greater visibility, according to the patent description.
Presumably eBay would develop a protocol for dealing with suspected fakes or simply push them down lower in search results.
The concept of checking products for authenticity (such as evaluating the stitching on a sneaker) is not new, and buyers and sellers have been engaging in crowd-sourcing techniques for years. However, in 2010, eBay discouraged the practice on its forums, as we noted on this AuctionBytes Blog post.
Many eBay users were upset at the time, saying they believed the crackdown on discussions of authentication would ultimately harm shoppers of designer items on eBay.
Here’s another example of authenticity criteria described in eBay’s patent, this one for a designer purse:
“…an authenticity criterion for a brand of purse may indicate that all purses of this brand exhibit the reference detail of having gold, black, and blue thread stitching on the handle of the purse. Only purses that exhibit gold, black and blue stitching on their handles would fulfill this authenticity criterion.
“A similar purse having black, gold, and green thread stitching on the handle would not fulfill this criterion and may be a counterfeit product or an entirely different product altogether.”
The image included with the patent indicates how it might compare images in eBay’s own authenticity database with an image uploaded by a seller.
The stakes are high – a government report from the GAO (Government Accountability Office) published in January 2018 said ecommerce is responsible for the market for counterfeit goods having shifted in recent years in two ways:
- from one in which consumers often knowingly purchased counterfeits to one in which counterfeiters try to deceive consumers into buying goods they believe are authentic.
- and in the sale of counterfeit goods from “underground” or secondary markets, such as flea markets or sidewalk vendors, to primary markets, including e-commerce websites, corporate and government supply chains, and traditional retail stores, where consumers typically believe they are purchasing authentic goods.
The GAO conducted a study in which it made undercover purchases of four trademarked consumer products (Nike Air Jordan shoes, Yeti travel mugs, Urban Decay cosmetics, and UL–certified phone chargers) from third-party sellers on five popular marketplaces: Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Sears Marketplace, Newegg.com, and eBay.com.
The rights holders for the four selected products determined 20 of the 47 items purchased were counterfeit.
“All 47 items we purchased were shipped from U.S. addresses, signifying that any items manufactured outside the United States were imported prior to being sent to us. Rights holders confirmed that at least a portion of the supply of authentic versions of the products purchased are manufactured abroad. Additionally, according to a 2011 IPR Center report, most physical counterfeit goods are manufactured abroad. Final production of some counterfeit items, such as applying labels and packaging items, may occur after items are imported into the United States.”
As counterfeiters grow more sophisticated and dupe shoppers, companies are trying to fight back with technology. Online sellers can only hope the technology doesn’t run amok.