Can you tell the difference between a real Rolex and a fake one? Do you care if your LV bag is genuine, as long as it looks good? And would you ever be tempted to buy discount designer makeup from Wish?
Fake luxury goods are nothing new. You’ve been able to pick up knockoff purses and couture for decades in most major US cities. And if you travel overseas, you’ll find endless products from “Calvin Kleen” or “Guccy” in bustling bazaars.
But these days, the fakes have moved online. And they can be really difficult to tell from the real thing. There are two basic categories: Sites that operate like the knockoff peddlers on the street, and those that allow counterfeiters to sell alongside legitimate brands.
Wish is the biggest, most recognizable online marketplace for cheap goods. Many people think Wish is a scam site, but that’s not technically true. They won’t steal your money; if you order a fake GoPro for $20, you’ll get it eventually. But it probably won’t work, or at least not well.
Wish claims to ban counterfeit products, yet you can find plenty of YouTube videos featuring hauls of knockoff makeup or clothing ordered from the site. Most of the goods on the site are sold directly by manufacturers in China and other Southeast Asian countries.
The products are, more often than not, poor quality. But they also cost a fraction of what you’d expect to pay in traditional retail settings.
There are similar sites, such as Alibaba or AliExpress, that allow consumers to buy direct from factories. As long as you don’t expect the products to be any good, I guess you can order yourself a pair of $1 earphones or a wedding dress for ten bucks.
If you’ve learned your lesson about Wish, it might seem like shopping on Amazon is a safer bet. After all, everybody has ordered something on Amazon before. They’ve even got fleets of trucks bringing stuff to our houses the day after we order it!
But here’s the thing: Amazon is not a brand, per se. They don’t make anything except the Fire and Kindle products, along with a few “basics” that they’ve slapped their name on, such as batteries. Everything else on that site is listed by a third party.
Many of those brands are familiar to American consumers. For example, we’ve all heard of Birkenstocks, the pricey leather sandals loved by hippies and hipsters alike. But Birkenstocks refuses to sell on Amazon anymore. They discovered that aggressive scammers were peddling knockoffs on the site, the listings indistinguishable from the legitimate page. When customers received the inferior knockoffs, they complained to Birkenstocks’ customer service.
The bottom line is that you can’t automatically trust Amazon, any more than you can trust any retail site that allowed third-party sellers to list their products with little to no regulation. That’s the case on Amazon, but also on Walmart’s e-commerce platform. Counterfeiters, scammers and con artists will take advantage of any loophole–but on Amazon, they don’t even have to hide.