eBay takes on fashion resale startups with new authentication program

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Ebay is not taking the rise of fashion resale businesses targeting high-end clientele lying down. The over 20-year old marketplace today announced it will launch a new authentication program, called simply eBay Authenticate, which will allow sellers to opt in to have their goods verified. Buyers will be able to see that the items will be authenticated when viewing listings – a move aimed at boosting consumer trust, as well as increasing the prices sellers can charge.

While eBay’s program isn’t necessarily targeting just pre-owned items, that’s a segment of the e-commerce space that’s seen a lot of growth in recent years. A number of online businesses today (think The RealReal, Tradesy, ThredUp, and others) sell pre-owned fashion apparel, handbags, shoes, and jewelry, allowing consumers to buy high-end brands at a discount.

Many, if not most, of these businesses authenticate the goods as part of the process to keep forgeries off their site. Because the items are verified, consumers feel they can trust what they’re buying is the real thing – that’s something larger marketplaces like eBay but also Amazon, have been lacking.

“We know that many shoppers may be hesitant to purchase high-end products online,” admits Laura Chambers, Vice President of eBay Consumer Selling, in the company announcement. “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,” she says.

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To use the program, sellers can opt in for a fee when listing their products. When the item sells, it will be first sent to a professional authenticator to pass inspection before being forwarded to the buyer. As an added bonus, if the item fails inspection, eBay will refund the buyer double the cost of the item price. This extra protection may encourage buyers to shop on eBay, instead of other online competitors.

The company plans to use “a network of professional authenticators,” which means authentication is not be done in-house, but rather through partners. Ebay tells us the exact operational elements on this front have not yet been decided.

Even if sellers don’t opt in, there will be some categories where buyers can choose to use the authentication service for themselves, for a fee.

Ebay hasn’t yet disclosed what fees will be associated with the service, either on the buyer or sellers’ side, nor has it announced a launch date. The company instead says it’s only piloting the program for the time being, and will initially target high-end fashion items before expanding to other categories.

However, the company tells us fees would be differentiated by category (e.g. handbags vs. watches).

The company already utilizes a number of anti-counterfeit measures, including detection tools, enforcement mechanisms, plus relationships with brands, retailers, and law enforcement, among other things. It has been running its Verified Rights Owner program since 1998, which allows over 40,000 rights owners a means of reporting possible counterfeit goods. It has also authenticated high-end items that came through the valet, but never disclosed this previously.

Ebay Authenticate is considered an extension of these earlier efforts, Chambers explains.

“This program simply helps our buyers have more confidence on the great, authentic inventory that we have on the site – and enable our sellers to benefit from that confidence,” she says.

Following high-end fashion items, which today is a significant portion of eBay business, the program will likely expand to jewelry and watches next, eBay told us. Ebay Authenticate is expected to launch broadly by year-end, but only in the U.S.

Updated 1/12/17, 8 PM ET with further details from eBay.