It’s no secret that Amazon has become a haven for unauthorized and fake merchandise. Type in the name of any music artist or group appended with the word “shirt,” and up comes scores of them emblazoned with the the artist’s name and image.
Then there are products on Amazon that are knock-offs or copies of other best-selling products. For example, in November 2019, no less than Nike pulled all of their products off Amazon because of the unauthorized selling of products with their logo.
Any company can create their own store on Amazon and add products without Amazon verifying that they have the rights to the name or brand, or even that their product claims are accurate. It’s the responsibility of those that are violated to complain to Amazon and follow a tortured and costly process to claim their brand and get the fakes removed.
Amazon announced last June that they would be taking a big initiative to fight these violators. According to The Verge, “Amazon would be launching a new Counterfeit Crimes Unit as part of their latest effort to fight counterfeit products on its website. The new team was made up of former federal prosecutors, experienced investigators, and data analysts who would work to proactively go on the offensive against counterfeiters, instead of just reacting by trying to identify and block bad listings…..The new Counterfeit Crimes Unit will make it easier to file civil lawsuits, aid brands in their own investigations, and work with law enforcement officials in fighting counterfeiters.”
It’s a huge problem and has been rampant on Amazon for years, so this seemed to be good news. While they certainly have a difficult job to police their site with millions of listings, you’d at least think, based on this announcement, that their policy is to try harder to eliminate the knockoffs and counterfeits.
But then this week I received an emailing from a US company that makes high quality photo and travel bags that I’ve purchased, used, and like a lot. Peak Design of San Francisco noted how Amazon itself has just knocked off one of its most successful products, their Everyday Sling bag. The Amazon version costs $33, compared to the Peak’s version at $80. The Amazon is nearly an exact copy of Peak’s original design, down to the little trapezoidal-shaped label. While copying another product without using the company’s brand is not quite counterfeiting, the impact to the business is the same.
Peak’s email was titled, “A Tale of Two Slings: Peak Design and Amazon Basics,” and explained,
“Designing incredible products is hard work. It takes years to dial in the materials, the features, the details. It costs a lot to use the most sustainable fabrics available, and to ensure fair pay and safe working conditions for our factory workers. And paying to measure, reduce, and offset our entire carbon footprint? Talk about leaving money on the table! When we found out Amazon copied the design (and name) of our Everyday Sling and started selling it as their own, we had a bit of a moment. But we got the grumpies out of our system real fast. Our goal is to make the best things. If we tried to make the cheapest things, we wouldn’t be us. Amazon reminded us of that. Thanks for the pep talk, Amazon. And thanks to our customers for supporting what we do. Onward and upward.” Following the message was a humorous video imagining what Amazon’s design process must have been to create their copy.
You have to admire Peak’s advertising campaign, but it really isn’t humorous. Peak Design, a company that grew out of a hugely successful Facebook campaign, has been developing scores of high quality, cleverly designed products for the photo and travel markets. Their products are designed with many features that set them apart from more conventional designs. They typically require months of design time, then building and testing prototypes before producing them. A copy requires much less effort, since the designers rely on their competitor’s proven design. Often the copiers will simply send the competitor’s product to their manufacturer and tell them to copy it.
Peak has relied on Amazon as a sales partner, and Amazon has profited from selling Peak Design products. Apparently, that’s not sufficient for Amazon. But, is Amazon really making more money selling their copy? Amazon’s profit on the $33 bag might be around $20. Their profit from selling the Peak Bag for $80 is likely $16 to $20.
It also calls into question Amazon’s claim of supporting the environment. Peak Design’s bag incurs extra costs by using 100% recycled post-consumer materials and being responsibly manufactured as a carbon-neutral product.
So, why does Amazon go to all this trouble to make a couple of extra bucks, while alienating one of their resellers, being highly unethical, and damaging their brand? The best answer is that because of their monopolistic position, they can do whatever they want.
While Amazon has copied many generic products such as cables, chargers, and batteries under their Amazon Basics line, this incident is so blatant and so unethical on several levels, that it may just serve as fodder for the upcoming Congressional hearings on Amazon’s monopolistic power.
Apparently, as a result of Peak’s email and the resulting outrage, Amazon changed the name of their product to “Amazon Basics Camera Bag.” Yet the Amazon link to that product still displays the original name, “Everyday Sling.”