Amazon will hand over unprecedented powers to brands to remove suspected counterfeits from its site, as part of a concerted push to eliminate fakes and frauds from the shopping experience.
Under the company’s new Project Zero programme, companies will now be able to remove counterfeit listings themselves, without having to wait for Amazon to take action.
For companies that face a serious counterfeiting problem, a further tool called “product serialisation” allows them even greater control. Manufacturers can now assign unique serial numbers to every product they sell and require Amazon to scan those serial numbers and check authenticity on every sale.
The two new features come alongside a claimed improvement in Amazon’s automatic detection of counterfeits. The company says that its machine learning-powered tools now “proactively stop 100 times more suspected counterfeit products as compared to what we reactively remove based on reports from brands”.
Project Zero comes after years of complaints from manufacturers about Amazon’s lack of care with regard to counterfeiting on its site. Amazon Marketplace, which allows third-party retailers to sell on the website, accounts for about 20% of Amazon’s total income, but has frequently resulted in bad press for the company.
In 2016, Apple said a former Amazon supplier, Mobile Star, had flooded the retailer with so many fakes that almost 90% of the products the iPhone maker bought in a sting were fake. That same year, Birkenstock pulled its products wholesale from the site, only returning a year later when Amazon announced the first of many attempts to crack down on counterfeiting.
In 2018, however, a Guardian investigation showed that Amazon was still awash with fakes, counterfeits and mis-sold items, including knock-off AirPod headphones, counterfeit streetwear, and fake Kylie Jenner lipgloss.
Project Zero may help, but already there are concerns about how the scheme will work in practice. For merchants, self-reporting still carries a cost when someone has to be finding counterfeits, and the product serialisation scheme carries a more literal cost, of up to $0.05 a unit.
For other retailers, there are fears that the scheme has handed too much power to brands, who may now use their new tools to take down legitimate second-hand sales or attack unauthorised supplements such as ink cartridges or razor blades.
Amazon also announced on Friday that it would be discontinuing its Dash buttons, small single-purpose internet of things devices that, if pushed, would place an automatic order for a single product. The buttons expanded over the four years they were on sale to support many products, from toilet paper to sexual lubricants, but never caught on among the wider public.