As the global e-commerce market becomes increasingly democratised and is predicted to reach a value of $9.3tn by 2027, the risks of counterfeit goods being traded on online platforms have escalated.

eBay is on the frontlines of this battle as one of the world’s most popular e-commerce marketplaces, with 132m buyers in 190 markets and 2bn live items on the platform at any given time (as of the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023).

The company’s senior director of global policy and regulatory management Mike Carson spoke to Retail Insight Network about the steps eBay is taking to prevent counterfeits and create a trusted and safe marketplace for buyers and sellers.

Authentication technology and investigation

eBay’s buyer and seller protection programmes provide a money-back guarantee, shipping label refunds and cover for damaged items.

But Carson explains that these protections are just one layer of the company’s multi-pronged approach to transparency.

eBay’s Authenticity Guarantee offers consumers items verified by trained investigators and organisations such as the Gemological Institute of America.

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The guarantee covers handbags, sneakers, watches, jewellery, loose gemstones and trading cards. Streetwear was added in 2023, and eBay plans to expand additional product categories for fashion buyers.

“The success of these programmes has led to us setting up local authentication centres in the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan,” Carson states.

This global reach is taking the company from strength to strength. It reported a 2% increase in revenue for Q1 of the fiscal year 2024 (FY24), reaching $2.55bn from $2.510bn in Q1 FY23. 

AI and authentication at eBay

eBay has made major investments in AI and image detection technology. The platform’s algorithms evaluate items during the listing creation process to identify prohibited items and flag listings for review by investigators – or in some cases, automatically block the item from being published.

The technology helps sellers accomplish their jobs faster and at a higher level of quality.

“Our sellers’ time is valuable, and we want to ensure our tools allow them to meet their listing goals and drive more sales,” says Carson.

In 2023, eBay acquired 3PM Shield, a provider of AI-based marketplace compliance solutions to further enhance its monitoring to prevent the sale of counterfeit items, unsafe products and illegal goods.

The company has also recently been granted a patent for a method that automates image capturing and listing creation for items on its platform. The technology involves removing backgrounds, manual editing, inferring item information and presenting listings in an augmented reality environment.

According to Carson: “AI is not just a buzzword at eBay. It’s a key component of our product strategy and part of our goal to make our sellers’ experiences the best possible.”

Safety for e-commerce consumers

Carson confirms that eBay “has no tolerance for criminal activity on its platform and has taken steps to battle organised retail crime (ORC)”.

The company’s Criminal and Regulatory Investigations Team (CRI) looks for possible misuse of the platform and proactively refers cases to law enforcement for prosecution.

Through its Partnering with Retailers Offensively Against Crime and Theft (PROACT) programme, eBay collaborates with retail loss prevention departments in North America and the UK seeking assistance with investigations related to ORC.

The PROACT programme was recently highlighted for helping shut down a Philadelphia retail theft ring in partnership with retailer and pharmacy CVS.

eBay’s community also supports safety efforts through its “report item” functionality. In 2023, 1.1m items were reported for removal and 27,000 accounts were suspended for IP [intellectual property] violations and listing prohibited items.

eBay also encourages rights owners to provide feedback and share their expertise through its Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) programme.

In the company’s 2023 Global Transparency Report, CEO Jaime Iannone stated: “The eBay community is built on trust, and our team is deeply committed to driving safety and transparency across the marketplace for our customers around the world.”

Carson echoes this. “We’re proud of these moves”, he says, “but we know we can keep doing more to strengthen our platform and invest in maintaining a transparent and safe marketplace for our customers.”