EBay Inc. states that only a “small fraction” of the merchandise transacting through its online marketplace is counterfeit. Nevertheless, the company is stepping up its long-standing fight against illegal goods by rolling out an authentication program called “eBay Authenticate” later this year.

“This program will help build trust and opportunities for both buyers and sellers on our marketplace,” Laura Chambers, vice president of eBay consumer selling, told WWD.

The program will provide, for a fee, authenticators to both sellers and buyers for a two-fold purpose — to boost business and give shoppers on eBay greater confidence that when they buy high-end merchandise, they’re getting what they expect. If after someone buys a product and an eBay authenticator determines it’s a counterfeit, eBay will double your money back, Chambers said.

EBay Authenticate will enter a beta phase soon, with the intention of making the service broadly available toward the end of this year. Executives said it was too soon to say how many authenticators will be involved initially, or to specify what the fees for the service will be to buyers and sellers. An official launch date is to be determined, though Chambers said it would be soon.

The program will launch with handbags, considered the category most widely counterfeited, and will expand to other categories typically subjected to counterfeiting. “Anything high end has a high instance of counterfeiting. We will start in handbags. Watches are the next logical extension,” said Chambers. And shoes and jewelry could follow, she added.

Authenticators will be utilizing a variety of means to determine if a product is counterfeit or not, including technology, image detection and manual examinations.

Regarding the fees charged to buyers and sellers, “It will be competitive,” Chambers said, and depend on how much time and labor is involved in examining a product, such as whether it requires just a visual examination, or a greater amount of labor, that for example, could involve opening the back of a Rolex watch.

“On eBay, there is an incredibly low instance of counterfeiting. It’s a tiny fraction,” said Chambers. “We have spent many years eliminating counterfeits. They’re virtually eliminated. EBay Authenticate is really taking it to the natural next step.”

According to statistics, since 1982, the global trade in illegitimate goods has increased from $5.5 billion to approximately $600 billion annually. Most counterfeit goods come from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Taiwan.

Though eBay says few counterfeits actually show up on its site, “We know that many shoppers may be hesitant to purchase high-end products online,” Chambers said.  “This service is designed to help quell some of those concerns — and in turn — enhance the opportunity for our sellers to get top dollar for their items.”

For eBay sellers who opt into the authentication service, their listing will indicate that the item will be reviewed by an authenticator before it’s delivered to the buyer. If the seller doesn’t use the authentication service, the buyer can opt to use it.

Chambers characterized the authentication program as an extension of  anti-counterfeit initiatives eBay has had in place for years. “We utilize a combination of sophisticated detection tools, enforcement and strong relationships with brand owners, retailers and law enforcement agencies,” she said.

In 1998, the San Jose, Calif.-based eBay launched its Verified Rights Owner program, which allows more than 40,000 rights owners to quickly report possible counterfeit goods. According to eBay, a significant number of the flagged and reported listings ultimately are determined not to be counterfeit.

Chambers said that while buyers utilizing eBay Authenticate will gain “another layer of trust to allow them to shop confidently…the service will be most beneficial for those who are looking to part ways with their high-value items, but don’t necessarily have a long-established selling history on eBay. For our more established sellers, the service may not be as meaningful given they’ve likely established a trusted reputation, but it will certainly be available to all sellers.”

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