When I was 18 years old, I bought a baby Louis Vuitton handbag off of eBay. It was about $400 and light blue. I loved it. Then the zipper broke, and when I took it to the Louis Vuitton store to get repaired, the snooty sales girl informed me that it was counterfeit. Eighteen-year-old me was incensed, humiliated and embarrassed, but I learned an expensive (if important) lesson: Don't buy designer goods off of eBay.
Counterfeiting is a big problem on eBay and other online marketplaces like Amazon, and it only seems to be getting worse. Amazon is meaningfully addressing its counterfeit issue after getting sued by merchants. And now it finally looks like eBay will address the problem as well.
On Thursday, eBay said it will be launching a new program called eBay Authenticate to help "boost consumer confidence" for higher-end transactions. Ebay has a long history with counterfeit products and has previously been sued by luxury goods makers like LVMH (parent company of Louis Vuitton) and Tiffany & Co over the problem.
The idea is that sellers can opt-into a service where a third-party examines an item before it is shipped off to a consumer. So if I'm selling a $US15,000 ($19,984) Hermès Birkin bag, I can pay to have professionals authenticate that the item is real before it's sent to me. Ebay also says it will allow consumers to pay for the authentication service on their own, if the seller doesn't want to pay for it.
The program will launch sometime later this year, and although the plan is to target high-market items like luxury fashion items and jewellery, if it goes well, it could be expanded to other product categories too.
I'm appreciative that eBay is at least trying to curb the counterfeit problem, but it's a little concerning that this is an opt-in program. Ebay isn't saying how much this service will cost, but I can't imagine it will be cheap. Shipping to a middle-man alone will add dollars to a purchase. Customers always have the right to only buy from places that offer authentication, but my fear is that the added expense will mean a lot of sellers simply don't take advantage of the feature.
For a $20,000 handbag, paying extra to make sure it's legit is probably a smart idea, but I wonder how many sellers or buyers will opt for this option for sub $500 goods.