Last year, in response to external pressure to do more to protect consumers from unscrupulous sellers, Amazon began mailing sellers a postcard to their business address after they create an account as a way to verify a seller’s identity and help weed out bad actors. On the postcard is a verification code. Sellers have 60 days to submit that code through their online seller portal to verify their address and, if they fail to do so, Amazon can block their account or withhold seller funds from the account.
Almost a year into the use of the postcard verification process, we are curious to know: “Is it working?” Unfortunately, it’s hard to answer the question. Amazon has not made public, nor could we verify, the number of seller accounts it has suspended, if any, for an unverified mailing address. Last year, Amazon announced that it had blocked 10 billion listings to crack down on counterfeit listings. Amazon reported that it spent more than $700 million last year on its anti-counterfeiting efforts and that it currently has 10,000 people working on counterfeit mitigation. There is no question Amazon is going after counterfeiters and are taking measures to verify seller identities.
However, the verification program has not been rolled out to all Amazon platforms. Based on unverified comments by individuals who claim first-hand knowledge, only about 10% of sellers who create an account are sent a postcard. Because of the current limited scope of the program, it’s difficult to determine how effective the seller address verification program has been.
One problem with the verification program is that it doesn’t prevent sellers from creating multiple fake mailing addresses, assuming they have multiple operating companies, which is fairly easy to create. Operating with multiple fake addresses allows sellers to switch between accounts if one account is suspended and sell through one of their other accounts.
At IPSecure, we analyze, score, and monitor millions of Amazon sellers per year, with a significant focus on their physical business locations. A quick analysis of the 5,000 lowest scoring sellers detected over a 60-day period reveals that 8.8% - or about 440 sellers, have either incomplete or non-deliverable business addresses. Our sample of sellers was drawn from an already highly suspicious group, so it's unlikely this ratio is maintained across a broader analysis, but it is certainly an indication that current efforts have not eradicated the problem.
At the end of 2020, when Amazon began publishing all U.S. sellers’ names and addresses on their profile page, it was intended to create more transparency and enable consumers to know who they are actually buying from. But what if the address is an open field located in the middle of nowhere, or an abandoned empty storefront? Could a consumer be reasonably certain that the seller has been verified?
Is a Seller Profile like this even remotely helpful to a consumer?
In the United States, there are several pieces of proposed legislation that will require online marketplaces to verify the identity of every seller on its platform. Two of these bills that are receiving the most attention are the SHOP SAFE Act and the INFORM Consumers Act. While these bills, if enacted, will make seller identities transparent and therefore likely to discourage some counterfeiters, both have shortcomings such as allowing sellers to claim an exemption to verification requirements if they certify they have no phone number or physical mailing address.
While enforcement of the policies that require sellers to list their ‘accurate’ place of business is lacking teeth, marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart should receive some credit for acknowledging the problem of counterfeit sales and taking measures to verify seller identities. If other marketplaces follow their lead and enact similar programs, legislation may not be necessary, or, worse, potentially go too far.