S’pore’s e-commerce platforms face an uphill battle in the fight against counterfeiting

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The US released its 2021 Notorious Markets List on February 17th, listing 42 online marketplaces that have been identified as major global intellectual property abusers and counterfeiters.

Among these online marketplaces, Singapore-based e-commerce giant Shopee made its way onto the list.

The US Trade Representative’s office has been criticized for “inadequate penalties” and “a lack of cooperation that Shopee offers to rightsholders in their investigations,” and said it has received numerous reports of counterfeiting in Shopee’s ex-Taiwan markets.

Alibaba-owned e-commerce giants Taobao and Aliexpress were also highlighted in the list, although Singapore-based sister company Lazada was not included.

Although Shopee was the only Singapore-headquartered company listed, it is not the only platform listing counterfeit goods. Just last December, a 29-year-old man was arrested for selling counterfeit goods and defrauding customers at online classifieds company Carousell.

This begs the question of how easy it is to get a luxury fake online and what exactly are Singapore e-commerce platforms doing about it?

Counter “real” products at the push of a button

Unlike the past where you had to go out of your way to buy a luxury dupe – be it by going overseas, a visit pasar malam or go to bag shops – such items can easily be ordered online and delivered straight to your door.

We recently did a little “window shopping” on e-commerce platforms Shopee, Lazada, ezbuy and online marketplace Carousell to look for fakes.

We started with Shopee and searched for “Chanel”. While there are no obvious counterfeit Chanel products at first glance, the second result shows a rubber band with a pendant identical to Van Cleef and Arpels, whose jewelry collection sells in the thousands.

Screenshot of a search for “Chanel” on Shopee versus a screenshot of a listing of a Van Cleef and Arpel necklace on the official website / Photo credits: Shopee, Van Cleef and Arpels
shopee dior
Photo credit: Shopee

A search for “Christian Dior bag” returned more suspected fakes on the first search, with the price being a giveaway. A similar tote bag from Christian Dior of similar size would retail for at least S$4,900 – a huge jump from Shopee’s S$32.50, although the offer has yet to attract buyers.

blackpink jennie shopee lazada
Photo credit: Shopee/Lazada

Bags aside, we found dupes of clothing at both Shopee and Lazada — a $4,250 Chanel cardigan worn by K-pop star Jennie.

Baobao Lazada
Photo credit: Lazada

On Lazada, a search for “Bao Bao,” an Issey Miyake bag that sells by the thousands, reveals more buyers for its fakes. We also found dupes for Chanel bags, Balenciaga shoes and streetwear brand Fear of God’s ESSENTIAL shirts.

carousel dior
Photo credit: Carousel

Similarly, a quick search for “Christian Dior” on Carousell turned up some suspiciously cheap products that suggested it might be fake, such as: B. a T-shirt for S$ 25 with the logo of Christian Dior. They do not claim to be fake, making them difficult to spot.

We also found it difficult to authenticate products through their listings alone, as they may have similar prices to official products and use images from the official brand’s marketing campaigns.

Ezbuy Gucci Crocs
Photo credit: ezbuy

When searching for Gucci shoes on ezbuy, the search bar autofill prompted us to search for “gg shoe” – which references the iconic Gucci logo. On the first page, we found a scammer next to a counterfeit pair of Crocs called the “Cross” which does better sales wise with 135 pairs sold.

Fighting counterfeiting is a “continuous battle” for ecommerce platforms

In Singapore, it is only illegal to purchase counterfeit goods with the intent to sell, trade or manufacture those goods. However, people who buy counterfeit goods can be confiscated by authorities at the point of entry, according to legal advice in Singapore.

Marita Galvez, Carousell’s Regional Fashion and Luxury Category Manager, shared that while such scammers are constantly evolving to avoid detection, the platform is “constantly innovating to stay ahead of the curve”.

As demand for luxury goods on the platform stagnates due to the Covid-19 pandemic, collectors are buying more as people resell at lower prices.

“While we saw fewer people transacting overall, those who bought made more purchases, which explains the increase in overall transactions,” she said in response to inquiries from the Vulcan Post.

To protect its users who seek to purchase such high-quality items, the company launched its Carousell Rights Owners Program in 2019, which allows trusted brand partners to directly remove listings from replica brands.

Aside from a team of moderators who manually browse the site, user reports, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital footprints help Carousell moderate its platform.

“Just last year, Carousell launched an InstantBuy program in Singapore, offering guaranteed authenticity or money-back guarantees on pre-owned luxury goods to provide users with a confidence and like-new experience,” added Marita.

Meanwhile, a Shopee spokesperson said, “We expressly prohibit the sale of infringing goods on our platform… and continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our trademark protection initiatives to provide a safe and positive experience for our community of buyers and sellers.”

Aside from user reports, the platform awards identified and verified sellers with the Shopee Preferred badge and has their Shopee Mall dedicated to selling products directly from authorized retailers and brands.

Similarly, Lazada’s spokesperson reiterated that the platform is committed to respecting intellectual property rights and being compliant with the law.

“Among other things, we launched the IP Protection Platform, which provides rightsholders with a channel to work directly with Lazada on intellectual property enforcement, and are also a pioneer in online-to-offline enforcement activities in the region, in partnership with INTERPOL , national law enforcement agencies and rights holders to take the fight to the counterfeiters on the ground,” he said.

Aside from educating traders about legitimate trades, it also uses artificial intelligence and detection technology to better identify such offers.

We have also contacted ezbuy and will update the article when they reply.

Are these measures sufficient?

lazada issey miyaki bao bao
A listing of a fake Issey Miyaki’s Bao Bao bag on Lazada / Photo credit: Lazada

Having done our fair share of luxe “window shopping” across the platforms, there’s definitely room for ecommerce platforms to do more against fake offers – although they have a hard time blaming them when those offers fall through the cracks fall and end up available to consumers.

For one, given the thousands of listings received from ecommerce platforms, scammers are not easy to spot as they avoid explicit mention of the brand names.

In the case of Chanel’s two-tone cardigan, the Shopee and Lazada listings don’t mention the brand, but do mention its wearer — BLACKPINK’s Jennie — which might make it easy to bypass. Likewise, Van Cleef and Arpen’s classic motif is simply described as a “stylish four-leaf clover,” which is easy to overlook.

As long as there is a demand for such counterfeit goods, such counterfeit goods will continuously find loopholes in the existing controls of e-commerce platforms, so e-commerce platforms need to do more to continuously innovate.

Selected Image Credit: HSBC / Ezbuy / Carousell / Lazada

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