Fake products, fake news, fake emails – it’s a faking nightmare…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 27th July 2018

My comments in last week’s Blog about ‘Amazon Slimegate’ certainly seem to have struck a chord. Within minutes of the Blog being posted, I started to receive emails, calls and social media comments from retailers and suppliers, all agreeing that we’ve reached a tipping point where something has to be done. However, there is no escaping the fact that the situation is highly complex and workable solutions are not easy to come by.

On this occasion, Amazon metaphorically taped a target to its chest, stood two metres away and offered me a free shot. I certainly wasn’t going to turn that down. But, of course, Amazon is far from the only culprit. A tweet from Isaac Larian this week suggested that fakes can be found “in every mall in America and around the world” and went on to implicate Alibaba, Apple and even the Chinese government in the scandal! Isaac has been fighting his own battle with online Chinese marketplace TomTop, where even photographic evidence of its US operation caught red-handed handling fake L.O.L. Surprise merchandise was not sufficient to secure a conviction. And let’s not forget the likes of eBay and Chinese etailer JD.Com, which has announced it will be expanding its operation into Europe by the end of the year.

I’m also told that, despite what common sense might tell you, Amazon has supposedly already been victorious in a court of law, which ruled that it is NOT legally responsible for vendors on its marketplace platform. That being the case, you have to question if the law is fit for purpose or whether it needs to change – arguably it no longer reflects the huge developments that have taken place in the online retail channel in recent years. But who has pockets deep enough to take Amazon on in court? And which parliamentarians would be brave enough to address the problem, especially when there are a few other minor things going on right now that might require their attention.

Putting legality aside, it has been suggested to me that it would probably take a child suffering injury (or worse) to force Amazon to face up to its moral responsibility. How sad is that? Individual companies feel powerless, afraid of being singled out and bullied for adopting a strong stance. The BTHA has started a dialogue with Amazon, as has the Toy Association over in the US, but Amazon is nothing if not a slippery beast – I can’t imagine progress will be easy or quick.

But should that stop us – collectively, as an industry – from trying? Absolutely not. The online sphere already resembles the wild west in so many areas; surely, we should at least attempt to rein in its worst excesses and transgressions? For example, could Amazon ever be persuaded (or, preferably, legally required) to channel all transactions through its vendor scheme, giving it at least a modicum of control over certification and regulations? As I said, there are no easy answers, but I know that there are some people out there working hard behind the scenes to get to grips with the situation. I wish them well.

Over in the US, it has been quarterly results week: Mattel’s latest results featured a couple of bright spots, including double digit increases for both Barbie and Hot Wheels, but they were not enough to prevent the announcement that over 2000 jobs would be disappearing from the global workforce. Sad times. Meanwhile, Hasbro exceeded analysts’ expectations; while revenue fell by 7%, that was half the drop that had been expected, so media coverage and share movement was positive.

Mind you, confusion briefly reigned as a New York Times reporter quoted CEO Brian Goldner saying that Hasbro would be “moving the bulk of its China production out of the country” to purportedly avoid President Trump’s trade war. Worse, some other media outlets (including one UK toy magazine) repeated the claim, without bothering to check if there was any truth in the story. As it turned out, it was ‘fake news’; only a very small proportion of production is affected. If you’ve been in the industry any length of time and have even a modicum of understanding about the global manufacturing situation, perhaps an alarm bell might have rung in your head on reading such a claim? First of all, there are no US tariffs on mainstream toys – not yet at any rate (although Trump’s announcement that he is prepared to add a 10% tariff to every product coming into the US from China must have alarmed a few people – even if it is almost certainly a really bad bluff). And where exactly would Hasbro move the 70% of its range currently manufactured in China? Where else has the mass production capability, infrastructure, experienced workforce and capacity at such short notice? In an era where false information is rife, it is incumbent on media outlets to report accurately and, when appropriating other people’s stories, to verify that what they’re repeating is at least plausible.

There is just time to tell you that Jeremy Pateman has parted company with Tactic Games and that former head toy buyer Ian Chaplin left Argos this week, before sharing one final amusing email exchange I had this week. Someone sent me an email that he had received, which was purportedly from Asda. The email, which was signed by the splendidly named Mr Anthony Hemmerdinger, said: “We are interested of most of the products that you have on your profile.” It went on to request a price list and express an interest in establishing a “long-term B2B relationship with your company.” The person who forwarded it admitted that he was 99% sure it was fake and wanted me to alert people about the scam. I can say with 100% certainty that the email was fake: firstly, as I understand it, Asda would never contact anyone out of the blue – companies which trade with them tell me they can’t ever find anyone to speak or answer an email, yet alone an unlisted supplier. Secondly, I really think that if there was anyone at Asda with that illustrious name, I would have heard of them. And finally, even allowing for the fact that people from Yorkshire speak a unique form of English vernacular, I’ve never heard any of them mangle the English language quite so badly (“We are interested OF” indeed…). Mr Hemmerdinger, you’re not fooling anyone.