Amazon extends anti-fake serialization programme

E-commerce giant Amazon appears to have upped its counterfeit crackdown by extending its fake-fighting Transparency programme to third-party sellers, according to a media report.

Media and marketing news site Digiday UK spoke to three third-party vendors who confirmed the Transparency programme had now been extended to all products across the platform. It had initially been launched in March as a pilot to prevent counterfeits of Amazon's own products.

The programme is designed to allow sellers to label their packages with a unique 2D code, which consumers can then scan using the Amazon app to cross-check their purchase against official information, including manufacturing date, location, materials, ingredients or other product information. The serialised 26-digit alphanumeric code is purchased from Amazon, with each unit of a specific stock keeping unit (SKU) having its own unique code.

It aims to pick out counterfeit products rather than kick off dodgy or unauthorised sellers. It is separate to Amazon's new Brand Registry programme, which allows brands to register their logos and intellectual property with Amazon to speed the removal of product listings or sellers accounts that promote counterfeits.

Both programmes follow intense criticism, pulled product lines and brands, and even lawsuits over claims that Amazon allows fakes on its platforms, which jeopardise brand reputation and bottom line, as well as presenting a risk to consumer health and safety.

"Amazon wants to get out of the concept that they're just a mass retailer," Michael Levine, vp of marketing at retail agency Photon, told Digiday UK. "The problem they've had in the past is legitimacy. Essentially, coming out with their own universal product code (UPC) means guaranteeing authenticity."

Sellers that Digiday UK spoke to welcomed the move, saying it would provide an extra level of "comfort" against counterfeiters potentially selling on the Amazon marketplace.

There is also speculation that the programme will become mandatory for sellers. Amazon is reportedly telling sellers who have registered SKUs with the Transparency team that they will need to add the codes or they could risk their products being removed from the marketplace or the inventory not accepted. This essentially means products without a code will not be considered authentic by Amazon.

It's believed Amazon could even begin charging for the codes, which are currently free, says the publication. Pricing could be several cents for a million codes.

Amazon, however, is being strangely non-transparent on the matter. In a statement to Digiday UK, the marketplace declined to comment specifically on the Transparency programme or its wider roll out, saying: "As part of our investment in brand protection, we are building powerful tools tailored to the needs of rights owners. In order to detect bad actors and potentially counterfeit products, we employ dedicated teams of software engineers, research scientists, programme managers, and investigators to operate and continually refine our anti-counterfeiting programme. When a business registers to sell products through Amazon's Marketplace, Amazon's automated systems scan information for signals that the business might be a bad actor, and Amazon blocks those bad actors during registration before they can offer any products for sale."

News of the Transparency programme follows a rushed recall in August of potentially counterfeit solar eclipse glasses that had been sold on Amazon ahead on the US solar eclipse on 21 August. Just weeks before the event, reports surfaced claiming that "unscrupulous companies" were taking advantage of the boom in demand for the specialist eyewear and were selling non-genuine and potentially unsafe glasses on the platform.

In response to the reports, Amazon tightened its policy, requiring sellers to provide details of safety, accredited ISO certification and origin of manufacture before being granted approval to sell on the marketplace but then later decided to also issue a recall and remove listings that could not be verified as safe.

Despite the damage control moves, Amazon has been hit with a $5m lawsuit by a couple who claim their eyesight was damaged from using counterfeit glasses during the eclipse. They say they never received the recall notice and describe Amazon's actions as "woefully inadequate" and negligent.

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