The US released its 2021 Notorious Markets List on February 17, listing 42 online marketplaces that are identified for being significant global intellectual-property abusers and counterfeiters.
Among these online marketplaces, Singapore-headquartered e-commerce giant Shopee found its way on the list.
Criticised for its “insufficient penalties” and “absence of cooperation that Shopee provides to right holders in their investigations”, the Office of the US Trade Representative said it received high reports of counterfeits across Shopee’s markets, sans Taiwan.
Alibaba-owned e-commerce giants Taobao and Aliexpress were also spotlighted in the list, though its Singapore-based sibling company Lazada was not listed.
While Shopee was the only Singapore-headquartered company listed, it is not the only platform listing counterfeit goods. Just last December, a 29-year-old was arrested for selling counterfeit goods and cheating customers on online classifieds company Carousell.
This raises the question of how easy it is to get a luxury counterfeit online, and what exactly are e-commerce platforms in Singapore doing to combat this?
Counter “genuine” products at a click of a button
Unlike the past where you would have to go out of your way to purchase a luxury dupe — be it by going overseas, visiting a pasar malam or going to bag specialty stores — such items can be easily online and delivered right to your doorstep.
We recently did a little “window shopping” on e-commerce platforms Shopee, Lazada, ezbuy and online marketplace Carousell to hunt for counterfeits.
We started off with Shopee and searched for “Chanel”. While there are no obvious counterfeit products of Chanel at first glance, the second result showcases a rubber band with a charm identical to Van Cleef and Arpels, whose jewellery collection retails in the thousands.
A search for ‘Christian Dior bag’ showed more suspected counterfeits at first search, its price being a giveaway. A similar Christian Dior tote bag of a similar size would retail for at least S$4,900 — a huge jump from the S$32.50 on Shopee, though the listing has not attracted any buyers yet.
Aside from bags, we found dupes of clothes on both Shopee and Lazada — a Chanel cardigan worn by K-pop star Jennie valued at US$4,250.
On Lazada, a search of ‘Bao Bao’, a bag from Issey Miyake which retails upwards of the thousands, showcases more buyers for its counterfeits. We also found dupes for Chanel bags, Balenciaga shoes and streetwear brand Fear of God’s ESSENTIAL shirts.
Similarly, a quick search for ‘Christian Dior’ on Carousell revealed some suspiciously cheap products which suggested it could be a counterfeit, such as a S$25 tee with Christian Dior’s logo. They do not claim to be fake, which makes it difficult to discern.
We also found it difficult to authenticate products through their listings alone as they may be priced similar to official products and use images from the official brand’s marketing campaigns.
While searching for Gucci shoes on ezbuy, we were prompted by its search bar’s auto-fill to search for ‘g g shoe’ — referencing the iconic Gucci logo. On its first page, we found a dupe next to a counterfeit pair of Crocs called “Cross”, which is doing better sales-wise with 135 pairs sold.
Fighting counterfeits is a “constant battle” for e-commerce platforms
In Singapore, it is only illegal to purchase counterfeit goods with the intention to sell, trade or manufacture said goods. However, people who purchase counterfeit goods may get their items confiscated by authorities at the point of importation, according to Singapore legal advice.
Carousell’s Regional Fashion and Luxury Category Manager Marita Galvez shared that while such scammers are constantly evolving to avoid detection, the platform is “constantly innovating to stay one step ahead”.
While the platform has seen demand for luxury goods stagnant due to the Covid-19 pandemic, collectors are buying more as people are reselling at a lower rate.
“While we’ve seen fewer people in total transacting, those who have been buying, have bought more, accounting for the increase in overall transactions,” she said in response to queries from Vulcan Post.
To safeguard its users who wish to buy such high-ticket items, it launched its Carousell Rights Owners Programme in 2019, allowing trusted brand partners to directly remove listings of brand replicas.
Aside from a team of moderators who manually comb the site, user reports, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital footprints helps Carousell moderate its platform.
“Just last year, Carousell piloted an InstantBuy programme in Singapore, offering guaranteed authenticity or money-back for secondhand luxury goods to offer users a trust and like-new experience,” added Marita.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Shopee said: “We expressly prohibit the sale of infringing goods on our platform… and continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our brand 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 its Shopee “Preferred” badge and has its Shopee Mall dedicated to selling products directly from authorised distributors and brands.
Similarly, Lazada’s spokesperson affirmed that the platform is committed to respecting intellectual property rights and being legally compliant.
“We have introduced, amongst other efforts, the IP Protection Platform which provides rights holders a channel to directly work with Lazada on IP enforcement, and are also a pioneer in online-to-offline enforcement activities in the region, partnering with INTERPOL, national law enforcement agencies and rights holders to take the fight to the counterfeiters on the ground,” he said.
Aside from educating merchants on lawful commerce, it also uses Artificial Intelligence and detection technology to better identify such listings.
We have also contacted ezbuy and will update the article when they respond.
Are these measures enough?
Having done our fair share of luxury dupe “window shopping” on the platforms, there is definitely room for e-commerce platforms to do more to combat counterfeit listings — though it is hard to fault them when said listings fall through the cracks and end up available to consumers.
For one, dupes aren’t easily detectable considering the thousands of listings received by e-commerce platforms as they avoid mentioning the brand names explicitly.
In the case of Chanel’s two-tone cardigan, the listings on Shopee and Lazada makes no mention of the brand but mention its wearer — BLACKPINK’s Jennie — which might make it easy to bypass. Similarly, Van Cleef and Arpen’s classic motif are simply described as “stylish four leaf clover”, which can be easily overlooked.
As long as there is demand for such fake goods, such counterfeit goods will continuously find loopholes in e-commerce platforms’ existing checks, so e-commerce platforms need to do more to continually innovate.
Featured Image Credit: HSBC / Ezbuy / Carousell / Lazada