Is that Hermes real? With eBay Authenticate, you'll know for sure

The new program will create a network of authenticators to make it easier to sell big-ticket items online and keep out fakes.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

This eBay sign is legit...no, really!

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Some of the biggest names in e-commerce are grappling with fake goods problems. Amazon in November filed its first-ever lawsuits against alleged counterfeit sellers, and Alibaba's Taobao a month later got placed on a US list of notorious markets for fakes. This month, Alibaba, too, filed its first-ever suits against alleged fake sellers.

Looking to avoid similar woes, eBay on Thursday said it's developing a new authentication program for some of its higher-end items. Under the name eBay Authenticate, the online marketplace will create a network of professional authenticators it can use to verify that Rolex watch you just bought on its site is legit.

eBay is starting with a pilot program in the US for top-end handbags. It plans to spread to more items throughout the year and hopes to grow the program internationally.

The new program is another tool to keep fakes out of online marketplaces, while helping boost consumer confidence in these sites. Amazon, eBay, Alibaba and others already use sophisticated algorithms, human monitors and other methods to snuff out fakes. Amazon has said just "a small number of bad actors" are involved in counterfeiting on its site. eBay said "less than a fraction of a percentage point" of the items listed on its site were flagged as potential fakes.

"We're not seeing in the marketplace increased pressure on counterfeiting," Laura Chambers, head of eBay consumer selling, said. "We're not seeing that problem getting worse."

While fakes on eBay aren't proliferating, many consumers likely still hesitate about buying big-ticket items online, especially those heavily targeted by counterfeiters, such as Nike shoes, Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton handbags.

eBay hopes to allay such concerns and make it easier to sell those products on its site with the help of the new program. More high-priced item sales would allow eBay to make more in commissions, which could help jump-start the marketplace's sluggish growth.

Chambers said eBay Authenticate likely won't be useful for $20 handbags, or even $200 ones, since the cost of authenticating goods is not cheap. However, there's still no lack of big-ticket sales on the site already.

"We need it to be incredibly high-quality," she said, "because it's designed to produce buyer confidence."

She added that many sellers were already using their own ways to authenticate items, like bringing them into stores or hiring their own authenticators, so this program will help bring those tools to more sellers.

For a fee that varies per item, eBay will allow a seller to send an item to an authenticator after selling the piece. After the authenticator reviews the item, he will send it over to the buyer.

A buyer, too, can choose to pay for an authenticator if the seller has not.

eBay is still working out the fee structure, but Chambers said it will be inexpensive enough for sellers to use regularly.

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