EBay’s Now Authenticating Luxury Handbags

·5 min read

EBay’s Authenticity Guarantee has a brand new bag.

The service, which launched with premium watches in September and expanded to collectible sneakers in October, now covers high-end handbags as well.

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New and pre-owned bags eligible for authentication must be worth more than $500 from a select group of 16 luxury brands — namely Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Hermès, Saint Laurent, Celine, Dior, Prada, Fendi, Goyard, Burberry, Chloè, Valentino, Givenchy, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta — putting the new category between the $100 threshold for sneakers and $2,000 qualifier for timepieces.

The goal, according to eBay, is to foster trust.

“Before we started authentication, we looked at a lot of consumer data and did a lot of surveys just to understand what our customers want,” Charis Márquez, eBay’s vice president of fashion, told WWD. “By far, this ‘trust’ piece came up as the biggest thing that customers were looking for, so this is a direct response to what our consumers were already telling us.”

The mechanics of how it operates is simple but not easy: The company employs a team of professional authenticators trained to conduct comprehensive, multipoint physical inspections. When a shopper purchases a premium bag, the seller ships it directly to the team, which evaluates the item and verifies that the product and collateral materials are consistent with the listing title, description and image.

Goods go out to the customer, via expedited shipping, only once they pass muster. EBay does not charge the seller or the buyer for the service.

In other words, the service is not a direct revenue source for the company. But it has plenty of reason to ensure shoppers have confidence in buying their prestige bags from the platform.

“We sell a handbag every 12 seconds, so we already had a ton of business here,” Márquez said.

On average, the company sees 1.41 million handbag listings daily and in 2020, it sold more than 2 million handbags in North America alone. That could have prompted the company to start with the high-value category, but it intentionally chose to wait.

“We just wanted to make sure we got it right, so we started with watches and then sneakers,” she continued. “Frankly, we wanted to just make sure we had the program down as we started to add new categories — especially a category like handbags, that’s so huge and so important.”

It’s such a priority, in fact, that authenticated bags even carry an NFC tag, a piece of high-tech kit that can conjure authentication information with a tap of a smartphone. “Once you see that tag, you know it’s gone through the process,” she added.

NFC, or Near Field Communication, is the same technology that makes tap-to-pay work at store checkouts and transit centers. Most modern smartphones and smartwatches come equipped with it, and now that eBay has started equipping products with the tech, it’s exploring what else it can do with it. Some day, those tags could include other data, like sourcing or sustainability information.

For now, the company is focused on its authentication quest for luxury categories.

“Demand for luxury items on eBay is soaring — an iconic Hermès Birkin bag was recently sold for $98,000 and our watches business doubled last quarter,” Tirath Kamdar, general manger of luxury at eBay, said in a press statement. “People come to the marketplace knowing that they’ll find the designers and items that they’re coveting. And now, eBay is delivering a more seamless and accessible experience that lets shoppers buy and sellers sell luxury handbags with total confidence.”

The focus on authenticating luxury is creating interesting conversations inside the company. It’s even inspiring it to explore new territories, such as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. The blockchain-based technology can intrinsically verify ownership of unique goods, both digital and physical, and it’s nearly impossible to fake or alter. Think of it as another weapon in the fight against knock-offs.

Counterfeits have been a scourge in a retail world forever dogged by copycats. In 2017, as Global Financial Integrity noted, the intense profitability of transnational crime of between $1.6 trillion and $2.2 trillion annually, it also singled out counterfeiting as the most lucrative, at $923 billion to $1.13 trillion.

The problem has only intensified since the pandemic. Heightened online buying has collided with supply chain and delivery issues to create scarcity and deepen demand — in other words, a perfect set of circumstances for illicit operators to take advantage of retailers and the public, especially in the online shopping environments that have exploded when the coronavirus surged.

The issue has become too big for marketplaces to ignore. Amazon recently announced that it blocked 10 billion listings for counterfeits and “seized and destroyed” 2 million knock-off products last year. In April, Facebook and Gucci teamed to jointly file a lawsuit in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, against an international online counterfeit business operator who has evaded the platform’s prior enforcement efforts.

By that measure, the hundreds of thousands of products that eBay has clocked through its Authenticity Guarantee so far may seem small. But that doesn’t mean it’s not big business.

Since introducing the service for watches and sneakers, the business reported notable growth. Sneaker sales have grown at a triple digit rate year-over-year for several quarters, the company said, while watches jumped from 16 percent to 38 percent in the first quarter. EBay credits its Authenticity Guarantee as one of the main drivers of momentum that’s lifting sales in other areas.

One of them is handbags. Already, the category saw an increase of more than 31 percent in sales compared to last year, and surges since February alone have ignited subsets like mini purses and clutches by more than 72 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Now eBay’s betting that it can explode the key bag category even further by building its cred as a known, trusted source for legit Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga.

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