Maria Montero

Amazon’s counterfeit product problem is getting worse as …

The Carhartt sweatshirt that Laura Serghe bought two years ago looked fake. And then what was supposed to be an Eastpak backpack recently arrived with dirty stitching and a tag on the inside that came off easily.

Amazon logo on top of the Amazon treasure truck. Image: AP

Both were bought from one place: Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, whose rapid growth, particularly among third-party sellers, has led to a counterfeiting problem.

“I’m not buying from Amazon anymore,” says Serghe, a freelance photographer in London who unknowingly bought what she believes to be fake. “I’ve had enough.”

Amazon has struggled with counterfeit products on its site for years. But the problem appears to have gotten worse, as Amazon first acknowledged in its annual report in February that counterfeit products could damage its business and reputation. Now it’s trying to crack down: On Thursday, it announced a number of tools that it says will help reduce the number of counterfeits on its site.

Counterfeits are a costly problem for the company, as Amazon often reimburses buyers who believe they were misled. Imitations could also cause buyers like Serghe to lose their confidence.

Looking back, Serghe says that the prices of the items he bought were suspiciously low. The backpack, for example, was about 60 percent cheaper than the authentic Eastpak backpacks I had previously purchased.

“Now I’m questioning everything,” she says.

Counterfeiters generally source their products on Amazon through its growing third-party marketplace, where sellers can list their products directly on the site. It is an important part of Amazon’s business as it allows Amazon to offer millions of more products on its site. More than half of all products sold on Amazon last year came from third parties.

The new tools Amazon announced Thursday include a way for brands to remove bogus items from the site, rather than reporting them to Amazon and then waiting for the company to do something. It also uses machine learning to automatically scan listings to remove suspected counterfeits and has created unique serial codes that can be placed on products during the manufacturing process, which Amazon can monitor on its site.

Amazon says that one of the brands that uses the tools is bag and luggage seller Vera Bradley, who says it wants to make sure its customers get authentic Vera Bradley items from Amazon.

For now, the tools are by invitation only, but the company says it will work to add more brands quickly.

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