How do eBay check for counterfeit sneakers at its new Authenticity Guarantee centre?

Ebay has opened its first authentication centre in Britain which focuses on high value shoes with the aim of stamping out on any counterfeits.   

The online marketplace launched the centre in response to the surge in demand it saw last year with a pair of trainers selling every nine seconds.

Through its latest programme, Authenticity Guarantee, the most popular sneaker brands sold on eBay UK for over £150 will be fully vetted and verified by an independent team of industry experts – Sneaker Con.

Unfortunately, due to the high value and demand for the expensive shoes, there are a large number of counterfeits being sold as the real deal – with many convincing even the most enthusiastic sneaker lover. 

Authenticity: Sniff tests are just one of the checks to ensure that sneakers are not counterfeits

This can be problematic for collectors who treat sneakers as an investment piece with the shoes often increasing in value over time. 

As an example, Red October Yeezys that launched in 2014 for $179 dollars now often retail in their thousands when being resold on websites such as eBay. 

This shows the popularity of the industry is soaring with the sneaker trade worth £6billion globally in 2020 – and expected to increase again this year. 

It is hoped with the authenticity checks, customers will feel confident enough to shop for new and used sneakers online without fear they could be purchasing fakes.  

Rob Hattrell, head of eBay Europe, said: ‘This move to launch Authenticity Guarantee in the UK is a big one. We have seen sneakers become an asset class for many- a new way of storing your money as they grow in value over time.

‘We want enthusiasts to know eBay’s got their back when they are looking to invest in sneakers and we’re here to help sellers build their businesses.’

This is Money went to the warehouse to find out how the process works, what is done with any fake products and why collectors are willing to spend thousands on a pair of shoes. 

What is the criteria for shoes being checked? 

The program currently authenticates the most popular sneaker styles and brands on the marketplace – Nike, Adidas and New Balance in new and most recently, used condition.

As these three brands are the most popular, they unfortunately have some of the most counterfeited shoes. 

These include the top three favoured sneakers in the UK which are the Nike Air Jordan 1’s followed by the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2’s and the Nike Air Max 90’s. 

For shoes to be covered by the guarantee they must be purchased for £150 or more on eBay.  

By the end of the year, the programme is looking to include more brands and sneakers at lower price points.

Wahaaj Shabbir, a sneaker lover, works to help sellers make the most of their listings on eBay

Wahaaj Shabbir, a sneaker lover, works to help sellers make the most of their listings on eBay 

How does the process work?

I went to visit eBay and Sneaker Con’s new warehouse, tucked away on an industrial estate on the outskirts of West London, where the trainers are sent and checked over in great detail by experts. 

Ebay provide the facilities for SneakerCon so experts can do the authentication with eBay paying for the warehouse. 

There is no extra cost to buyer or seller – the authentication is free for the customer. 

Top tips to win an eBay listing

For those who have their eyes on a limited edition pair of trainers on eBay, there are some things you can do to give you the best chance of winning the listing.  

This includes visiting the site in the middle of the night when less people are online. 

It may be then you can put in a winning bid without being noticed by competitors. 

Sorting listings on the site by those ending first is another top tip as it means you can closely keep an eye on the bidding – and hopefully are more likely to get your hands on a pair. 

Another point to note from the experts is that, whilst in the UK we call sneakers trainers, for real collectors and fans of fashion even in Britain, they are still known as sneakers. 

Trainers would be referred to as something more practical, for example, running shoes. 

The first part of the process comes when the staff carefully unpack the sneakers that have been sent to the warehouse by eBay sellers. 

At the time of visiting, there were racks of sneakers waiting to be checked over, showing the authentication process is already popular with sellers despite the warehouse only opening at the end of April. 

After the boxes are unpacked, a licence number and sticker is given to every item that comes into the warehouse so staff can keep track of its contents as it moves from station to station. 

As many of the sneakers are valuable, it is important that everything is handled carefully and that nothing gets mislaid.  

The rack of sneakers is then handed over to other staff members who authenticate the trainers via a series of tests including a smell test  – something I gave a go. 

When comparing authentic trainers to the fakes, the smell is, admittedly, much different.

The counterfeit smell is somewhat chemical, comparable to nail varnish, whereas the real deals smell more like tennis balls. This is a result of cheaper glues being used on the fakes.

The experts can sniff out a fake from a mile away. 

If the sneakers are deemed to be legitimate, they will be sent straight to the eBay buyer

If the sneakers are deemed to be legitimate, they will be sent straight to the eBay buyer 

The number of tests done are vast – from checking boxes carefully to see if the plastic used is the same as the brands variety to removing the insoles to see if the type of glue used is correct.

I learnt the stitching and gluing – as well as the labels – are important and experts can easily tell if a cheap material has been used. 

One of the workers at the warehouse tells me it can depend a great deal on how long a pair of trainers takes to check – some fakes are easier to spot than others.  

However, if the shoes do pass the process, they are given an eBay tag which, when scanned on a smartphone, will bring up the product and the listing on the site. 

If buyers want to immediately relist the item they have just bought – possibly for more money – the tag allows them to do so quickly and easily with a touch of a button.

It will also list the checks done and confirm that it has passed the authentication process.  

The workers are not just checking for counterfeit products, though, they are also looking to see if the sneakers sent match what was listed on the bidding site.

Sometimes the seller may accidentally send two left shoes, if they are selling in bulk, or perhaps the item was listed as new but they seem used.  

A tag is given to the shoes that have passed the checks to show they are the genuine article

A tag is given to the shoes that have passed the checks to show they are the genuine article

If there is a fake or a problem, the product goes over to the exceptions team who will contact the seller and the buyer and explain what the issue is.

In this scenario, the money will go back to the buyer and the shoes will be shipped back to the seller. 

For sellers that are found to have sold a pair of fakes, the team keep an eye on those that are continuing to offend.

Nike Air Jordan 1's are some of the most popular shoes - and the most counterfeited

Nike Air Jordan 1’s are some of the most popular shoes – and the most counterfeited

Wahaaj Shabbir, the sneakers category manager at eBay UK, works to help sellers make the most of their listings on eBay by advising what details they need to put in. 

He said: ‘After the first offence, we reach out to the seller – if they’re a big seller and I’m working with them then I’ll have a conversation with them.

‘A lot of the time sellers themselves don’t know they’ve got a fake, as they’ve bought from another supplier.

‘If someone is continually offending, we will review their account and take necessary steps.’

Whilst the necessary steps were not named, it is likely this would include a ban from the site for a time or altogether.

Do you have to be qualified to authenticate? 

It can be hard to spot the fakes – in some cases, they can be extremely high quality.  

Therefore, those working at the warehouse are professionals and have to pass entrance tests before starting their job.

This includes a blind test where they will have to tell if a sneaker is fake just by smell and feel.

Their work is ever evolving as there are always new, popular shoes that are copied, and they have to examine and learn about. 

Everyone working at the warehouse has a true passion for sneakers and all were decked in high end shoes, showing how passionate they are.   

Stitching, gluing and the fabric are all signs of whether a pair of shoes are real or counterfeit

Stitching, gluing and the fabric are all signs of whether a pair of shoes are real or counterfeit

Why is authentication necessary?

The long process of checking if sneakers may seem a bit overboard but for many who buy or collect trainers, they are investment pieces that can be sold on at an extraordinary profit years down the line.

Lotta Lindquist-Brosjo, the director of authentication at the warehouse, said: ‘Many people work hard and have two jobs to be able to fund their collection. 

‘If they pay out, often a lot of money, on what turns out to be a pair of fakes, it is a great loss.’

Therefore, to know that the hundreds – and sometimes thousands – they are spending is on legitimate items is incredibly important. 

As such, for many who purchase the sneakers, they do not wear them and keep them safe in their boxes until they are ready to sell on. 

The team at the warehouse refused to say the ‘fake rate’ – AKA, how many pairs of shoes were fake each day compared to those which are genuine – but they said there were a number of fakes spotted everyday.

Ultimately, if they didn’t, there would be no need for the authentication system. 

Profit: Nike Yeezy 2 shoes originally retailed for £130 but are now selling for around £9,000

Profit: Nike Yeezy 2 shoes originally retailed for £130 but are now selling for around £9,000

When did the authentication idea begin?

The guarantee authentication began in the US in 2020 with the UK warehouse opening at the end of April this year.

The US authentication system gained traction after eBay did a drive through experience during lockdown where people could bring their sneakers to be checked over.

Traditionally, it is a young demographic who are interested in the sneaker collections but the experts say this is beginning to change as time goes on with more and more people of different ages taking an interest.  

For example, Wahaaj said it used to be a male dominated industry, with suppliers making their shoes predominantly in male sizes 8, 9 and 10 meaning those in a smaller size are rarer and therefore, more valuable.

However, more women’s shoes and sneakers in smaller sizes are now being more counterfeit as more people start to invest.

I asked whether the need for authentication has come from brands like Nike, who have been vocal about cracking down on counterfeit shoes.

However, Lotta said the need has been driven by the community rather than brands who want to ensure they’re buying genuine articles.

Of course, brands are happy the community feels this way and most do what they can to support the eradication of counterfeit shoes. 

People pay thousands of pounds for new and used sneakers online as investment pieces

People pay thousands of pounds for new and used sneakers online as investment pieces

What makes a trainer popular? 

The lengths people will go to to obtain expensive sneakers should not be underestimated.

Wahaaj said he currently has a collection of around 50 pairs of sneakers and whilst he wears most, there are a couple he keeps as collectables as they rise in value.

He said: ‘I queued in Hackney for two days once to get a wristband to then come back and queue again for a pair of limited edition trainers.’

For some, this will seem completely ridiculous but when you know that Nike Yeezy Twos, which when released retailed at £130, are now worth around £9,000, it is smart business. 

So what makes a pair of sneakers popular and worth queuing days for? 

Wahaaj said the most popular trainers are dependent on the ‘hype’ surrounding them.

‘Many trainers will only be released in a small batch meaning they are hard to get your hands on and are therefore, more valuable.’ 

Yeezy trainers – created Kanye West – are an example of this with the rapper only releasing a set amount of products at a time, creating a buzz about who can get their hands on them. 

As the trainer authentication process gains traction, with more brands being added to the guarantee programme soon, is there any chance of eBay extending the offer to either commonly counterfeited items?  

Currently, the US site is considering other products including designer watches and handbags to check – something they are considering in the UK. 

However, this has not been confirmed and eBay said it is now focusing on the success of the sneaker authentication which, by taking a look at the warehouse, is certain to grow in popularity, much like the industry itself, in the coming years.