Online Brand Protection, From A to Zero
Online infringements and Amazon’s challenge, from Brand Registry to Project Zero
There is indeed still need for the right tools capable of defeating the ever-growing phenomenon of online counterfeiting: according to an old saying of the Internet, counterfeiters and hackers are always a step ahead with new solutions and ways to avoid controls, therefore it is no surprising that one of the latest surveys about this topic reports that 47% of brands lose revenues because of copied or counterfeit products (https://www.markmonitor.com/download/report/MarkMonitor_Online_Barometer-2018-US.pdf?elqTrackId=f36b781866e24054b73ac25b7a51c20d&elqaid=1171&elqat=2).
It is such a cross-cutting issue that it represents a problem not only for companies suffering from counterfeiting, but also for e-commerce platforms whose success basically depends on the users’ trust about the effective match between the products they see online and the ones they are going to get. Even Amazon, in its 2018 Annual Report released last February, identified this reliability issue – related to its sellers’ illicit activities – as one of the major risks for the development of its business.
So no wonder anti-counterfeiting is one of the greatest challenges of the industry, both for “political” reasons regarding the relationship with big brands and for a mere economic calculation: investments in the fight against fakes assure a return also in terms of business growth. That is why both eBay and Amazon are investing in it: as of now, they are already offering dedicated tools to brand owners, giving them – on one hand – the chance to share information about their products and facilitate the automatic controls set by the two marketplaces, while on the other hand to access easy notification tools (VeRo program – https://pages.ebay.com/seller-center/listing-and-marketing/verified-rights-owner-program.html and Amazon Brand Registry – https://brandservices.amazon.it respectively).
Project Zero: How it works?
With Project Zero, Amazon is now trying most of all to speed up procedures, namely the time necessary to identify counterfeit products and that in between the notification made by brands and the enforcement made by the platforms.
To do so, Project Zero supports the already existing automatic protection systems, scanning more than 5 billion products every day and looking for counterfeit or non-compliant articles.
In details, this new service comprises three different tools:
- Automatic protection
Amazon’s automatic protections run a continuous and autonomous scan to trace suspect products, adapting to counterfeiters’ images and publication methods thanks to AI systems: they are based on Amazon’s machine learning and constantly get information in order to prevent the offer of counterfeit products effectively.
Starting from its launch, according to Jeff Bezos’s company, Project Zero has already blocked – only in the United States – over 65 million suspect ads before they were put on sale, with a success rate which Amazon calculates to be near 95%.
- Self-service enforcement systems for counterfeit products
Instead of turning to complex systems to notify infringing articles, brands registered to Project Zero have also the chance to remove immediately the ads regarding products considered as counterfeit. This gives them the possibility – for the first time – to check and remove infringing offers from Amazon’s stores directly. The cancelation of the product from the catalogue is immediate.
Every removal gets then included in the automatic protection tool, so as to allow the machine learning system to autonomously identify in the future potential similar counterfeit products. For each suspect product removed from the e-commerce by a brand, Amazon maintains to be able to block and proactively remove more than 500 different offers.
As explained by Dharmesh M. Mehta, Amazon Vice President, it is necessary to keep “the sophisticated knowledge that brands have of their own intellectual property and how best to detect counterfeits of their products. Over 3,000 brands have already enrolled in Project Zero in the US, and we’re excited to see more brands partner with us to drive counterfeits to zero in Europe.”
Of course, companies will then exploit this tool to protect their products, but they will have to act in compliance with the guidelines defined by the platform: no abuse will be permitted or they will get excluded from the program. Moreover, people in charge of monitoring the ads should absolutely go through a training period in order to thoroughly understand the functioning of this tool.
- Products’ serialization
Finally, the last functionality of Project Zero is linked to one of the anti-counterfeiting systems adopted by producers in the physical world: the labelling. This enables the brands to match each product with a serial number, in order to make it traceable and allow Amazon to scan and confirm its authenticity before it gets bought and sent. However, in this case the service is not free: it costs from 0,01 to 0,05 dollars for each product, depending on the volume.
“Even though products traceability is a matter of choice, the best results against counterfeiting are for those brands registered to Project Zero and choosing to use this tool” says Mehta. “Up until now, brands enrolled in Project Zero haven’t even used the self-service enforcement tool for their traceable products yet, because the combination of automatic protection and traceability contributed to bring counterfeit issues to zero.”
Of course, Amazon is still experiencing the effectiveness of these tools, therefore at the moment the participation to Project Zero is not extended to all brands, but available by invitation only.
In order to line up, companies should express their interest via the official website (https://brandservices.amazon.com/projectzero): in this new European phase, Amazon intends to collect further feedbacks and notifications before giving the final touch and make its debut worldwide.
A complex challenge
Even being so ambitious, Project Zero represents only one of the available instruments to fight against counterfeiting and its effectiveness should be tested and will anyways be limited to Amazon’s marketplace. No matter how important, it remains only one of the e-commerce that the brands should keep on monitoring.
In order to set up an effective online protection strategy, it is therefore always advisable to seek support from a professional, who can help you identify those marketplaces which are particularly critical for your products and organize suitable monitoring projects and take-down systems.