Randy Hetrick first noticed counterfeits on Amazon.com Inc. in 2013. He had been selling his TRX Training System– an exercise kit of suspension straps– on the site since 2008. When he began noticing cheap imitations, he had his employees scour Amazon for more, then go through the tedious process of reporting them for removal. But new imposters would pop up right away, and by 2014, “We realized this was an epidemic,” said Hetrick, who estimates phonies cost him $100 million a year, twice his annual sales.
Amazon’s Marketplace gives inventors like Hetrick exposure to hundreds of millions of shoppers without the big expense of building and promoting a website from scratch. Merchants give Amazon a commission on each sale. But a hot-selling product on Amazon encourages counterfeiters to make flimsy knockoffs with cheap materials, steal sales and damage a brand with few consequences.