The answer is yes.
The recent news that Amazon is giving refunds to huge numbers of people who fear they might have bought fake glasses for viewing the solar eclipse has thrown a spotlight on the fact that Amazon is full of fake products. Have even a quick glance at the process – or rather the lack of one – that Amazon uses to vet sellers, and this will come as no surprise.
However, the rise of fake products on Amazon causes some confusion among free-market liberals like myself. I have no problem with people selling stuff, of course, and think they should be free to do so without government interference.
That said, I’m forced to admit that in some cases, government guidelines should be respected, and Amazon should do more to crack down on unscrupulous sellers.
This is especially true when it comes to items bought to be used with firearms. Amazon is full of “fake” – read: “cheap Chinese copy” – holsters, ear protection, and even gunsmithing tools.
For a lot of products, buying cheaper Chinese copies of American-designed items is not a huge problem. After all, they are cheaper, and the majority of things we buy do not need to “perform” in hostile environments.
For gun accessories, however, things are different. Guns are, let us remember, inherently dangerous devices, and if your holster fails you run the risk of your weapon falling out, and shooting yourself in the leg. To take another example, the government mandates that protective hearing devices sold for shooting need an ANSI certificate. Without this, there is no way of knowing that the ear protection you are buying will actually protect you, and you could damage your hearing before you realize you have bought a fake.
The Scale Of The Problem
The scale of this problem is huge. Reliable numbers are hard to come by because of course, Amazon tries to keep it out of the public domain. However, some independent reports suggest that up to 70% of the items sold by third-party sellers on Amazon are fake. That’s right, 70%.
These items are typically bought on Chinese versions of Amazon, such as AliBaba, where Chinese knock-offs of Western brands are rife. Third-party sellers then list them on Amazon, sometimes with misleading descriptions that make them appear legitimate.
The problem has grown so large because a lot of these listings fall into a legal gray area. If outright patent or trademark infringement is proven, then Amazon can take action and remove fake items. However, in many cases, sellers are clever about listing fake items in ways that do not run afoul of copyright law and the original manufacturer is unaware that someone is copying their patented item. In these instances, Amazon can do nothing.
Amazon’s defense here is that they are merely facilitating people buying and selling products between themselves. In the absence of gross copyright violations, therefore, the responsibility for spotting fake products lies with the consumer. That’s you.
What Is To Be Done?
As I said above, stories like this create something of a moral quandary for me. I think that people should be free to buy and sell whatever they want, without the interference of the government. And, I have to admit, that right should extend to “fake” items, and its this right that prompted me to write this essay.
Ultimately, I think that these poor-quality products should be allowed to compete with American-made ones. In that spirit, and though some people are calling for it, I do not think that Amazon should interfere in this matter.
This leaves us, the consumers, with the responsibility for spotting fake products, and not buying them. For most people, this should not be too difficult, because there are a few key things to look out for.
The first, pretty obviously, is the price. If a product is listed on Amazon for 50% of the price it normally retails at, it is probably a Chinese copy. If a seller has a low rating, which on Amazon means less than 3.5 stars, then it’s likely they have had complaints in the past. Also look out for the seller’s name – if they are listed as “generic”, and not the name of the company who produces the item, they could be a fake seller. When the item arrives, a quick once-over at its coating and finishing should tell you all you need to know. Fake or copied products will look and feel cheap to the touch.
Of course, my belief in the free market also extends to you, the buyer. You are free to buy these “fake” items if you like, and for some people, the reduced cost of them can make them a legitimate option. I would just say that, when buying accessories for shooting, respect the fact that you are using a deadly weapon, and buy your accessories accordingly.