Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Era of Widely-Peddled Fake Products

Ganda Suthivarakom, the Wirecutter:

The rise of counterfeit goods and other phony products sold on the Internet has been swift — and it has largely gone unnoticed by many shoppers. But make no mistake: The problem is extensive. Most people don’t realize this, but the majority of listings on Amazon aren’t actually for items sold by Amazon — they’re run by third-party sellers. And even though many, many third-party sellers are upstanding merchants, an awful lot of them are peddling fakes.

A major Wall Street Journal investigation recently revealed that Amazon has listed “thousands of banned, unsafe, or mislabeled products,” from dangerous children’s products to electronics with fake certifications. The Verge reported that even Amazon’s listings for its own line of goods are “getting hijacked by impostor sellers.” CNBC found that Amazon has shipped expired foods — including baby formula — to customers, pointing to an inability to monitor something as basic as an expiration date. Because of the proliferation of counterfeits and what Birkenstock describes as Amazon’s unwillingness to help it fight them, Birkenstock won’t sell on Amazon anymore. Nike announced that it is also pulling out of Amazon. “Many consumers are … unaware of the significant probabilities they face of being defrauded by counterfeiters when they shop on e-commerce platforms,” reads a January 2020 Department of Homeland Security report (PDF) recommending measures that would force e-retailers to take counterfeits even more seriously. “These probabilities are unacceptably high and appear to be rising.”

Counterfeits, overwhelming choice, Prime Day, poor-quality recommendations, deceptive advertising, and its myriad private labels combine to make Amazon feel increasingly like a low grade flea market mixed with a liquidation store.

Here’s a true and dumb story about your silly writer: last Wednesday, as I was trying to put my MacBook Air on the coffee table, I missed and instead allowed gravity to place it directly onto my foot. My laptop is fine. One of my toes, however, is broken. I got it checked out on Thursday just to be safe — universal health care is a very good thing — and was told that I could keep buddy taping it; it’s not a serious break. They recommended I pick up a cohesive bandage, which they said could best be found on Amazon. So I tried finding it, and spent a solid hour poking around the Amazon storefront. It’s not that there’s a shortage of choice; it’s quite the opposite problem. I just wanted to find a small quantity of the narrowest bandage available. I ended up frustrated and buying a six-pack with multiple sizes made by a company I’ve never heard of. It was, oddly enough, the best choice, but not even close to the correct one.