Amazon’s Elaborate Trust-Building Exercise


Amazon really wants you to trust it.

Counterfeits and copycats have been a thorn in Amazon’s side for years, with companies like Birkenstock, Allbirds and LVMH complaining of imitation products being sold on the site. It’s one reason high-end brands resist selling on the platform alongside the broad, supermarket mix. But amid 2020’s accelerated push to online sales — and increased scrutiny from government bodies — Amazon is seizing the opportunity to position itself as the good guy in the fight against fakes.

Not only has it partnered for the first time with a luxury brand, Valentino, on a joint case against a business they claim sold copycats of its patented Rockstud leather heels on the site, but they have also set up a new Counterfeit Crimes Unit, a team of data analysts and prosecutors, including former US Department of Justice’s Cristina Posa, to investigate and help prosecute counterfeiters.

“With more people buying online with the virus and a general sense of uncertainty with the future of in-person retail, Amazon’s positioning itself to say, ‘We are a safe place to be. Unlike other places, you can trust us,’” says intellectual property lawyer Jeff Trexler, who is associate director of the Fashion Law Institute.

The Valentino combined lawsuit is the first time Amazon has partnered with a luxury fashion brand and is a coup for the tech giant, Trexler adds. It’s unusual for a retailer to join with a brand in a lawsuit because there’s generally not much in it for the retailer; Amazon’s complaint, for example, is a small breach of contract claim. “This is a pure press move,” Trexler says.

Valentino has never worked with an online retailer in this way either. “Valentino is a mirror of society,” the brand said in a statement. ”We feel this connection with Amazon will highlight the importance, also in fashion, for greater awareness, knowledge and understanding by shielding the brand online and its resources.”

Until recently, Amazon’s preferred method of fighting so-called “bad actors” of counterfeit goods was waiting until it had an assured counterfeit case to share with law enforcement. In 2019, Amazon invested $500 million to fight fraud and successfully blocked more than six billion listings.

Their work will make it easier to “dismantle criminal networks”, said Amazon’s Dharmesh Mehta, VP of customer trust and partner support. In addition to criminal referrals, the unit will also make it more effective to pursue civil litigation, like its new joint lawsuit with Valentino, which marks a big step in its relationship with luxury.

Mehta says Amazon’s efforts, which include technology, investigators and legal professionals, are more effective when it can partner with brands, through initiatives such as its intellectual property registry tool and Project Zero, a self-service counterfeit removal tool.

“We’ve been able to bring stronger, more robust cases to court and to law enforcement for criminal prosecution when we work in partnership with brands,” Mehta says.

It’s also a move to build consumer confidence as a destination for fashion. Last week, Amazon launched its first “Big Style Sale”, a global fashion-only sale billed as “an opportunity for fashion brands of all sizes to expand their reach”, including those participating in the recent Common Threads: Vogue x Amazon Fashion partnership. Still, as yet, large luxury brands have not shifted to the site.

Read the full article in Vogue Business.