Knock it off with the knockoffs
SHOP SAFE Act lets consumers know which products are legitimate
Too legit. Too legit to quit — or not. Turns out that businesses and lawmakers are fed up with sellers posting knockoff products in online consumer sites. Is this a problem for consumers? In a world where knockoff brands earned $461 billion — with Louis Vuitton, Nike, Ray Ban and Rolex at the top of the list — for knockoff products, buyers may have mixed feelings.
But last month that didn’t stop a group of bipartisan lawmakers to try to curb counterfeit goods from being sold online. According to the House Judiciary Committee, a March 2020 bill was created for trademark liability relating to online marketplaces that allow third-party sellers to post and accept income for fake, unsafe products. The bill — Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce (SHOP SAFE Act) — would prevent counterfeits and dangerous knockoff products such as airbags, baby formula, batteries, car seats, chargers and cosmetics.
While a knockoff name-brand hoodie may not be the end of the world, beauty, health and electronic products with toxic chemicals inside (and no warnings) certainly are. (And Amazon has already faced continuous heat for not policing product safety guidelines for its third-party sellers.)
Recommended Read: “When Amazon Ignores Responsibility”
“Congress must create accountability to prevent these hazardous items from infiltrating the homes of millions of Americans,” said Doug Collins (R-GA), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, in a recent press release. “The SHOP SAFE Act would make families safer by requiring online sellers to help prevent the sale of counterfeit products to consumers.”
The timeliness of this bill is critical considering the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 746K Americans. Quartz already found 12 concerning searches on Amazon — one from an incognito account while logged out and 11 from different accounts that they created — all resulting in misleading information related to holistic cures, prayer healing and incorrect medical advice related to coronavirus. Essential oils and herbal remedies were also visible in “coronavirus” search results.
While it’s up to online marketplaces to take responsibility for shutting down online sellers and removing fake products, the SHOP SAFE Act would give them something more official to work with. It would establish trademark liability claims; suggest a best practice option to remove repeat offenders; filter through sellers to confirm which ones are legitimate; and hold online marketplaces more accountable to prevent counterfeits or face liability claims.
Does this help customers as much as it does retailers?
In the past month and a half, retailers are well-aware that apparel and beauty products have taken a dive into the deep end and don’t appear to be rising anytime soon. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, retail sales were down at least 6.2 percent from February 2020 and 3.8 percent below last year. Clothing and clothing accessories stores were down 50.7 percent from last year. So apparel retailers are hurting regardless of which third-party sellers are plotting on copycat inventory.
But that’s not so much what the SHOP SAFE Act is focused on protecting. Lawmakers’ goals for this bill are to make sure that what consumers see is what they actually receive. And according to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 20 of 47 items purchased from third-party sellers on popular consumer websites were counterfeit.
Consumers already have increasing concerns regarding social isolation. Meanwhile some online retailers have inconsistent rules regarding returns for third-party sales. This leaves sketchy sellers with more flexibility to refuse return purchases and blame it on coronavirus risks instead of dishonest posts. Then, far too often, consumers may prefer to ditch the hassle of questionable products altogether rather than leave their homes. The sketchy third-party sellers win, and the consumers lose money. If this act passes, this can help consumers feel safer during their online buying experiences.
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