China has a long-standing problem of counterfeit goods, which have plagued all sorts of ecommerce platforms. One of the businesses that’s affected is NetEase Kaola (网易考拉 wǎngyì kǎolā), a cross-border retail site that has been called out multiple times on social media for constantly downplaying the issue and actively seeking ways to evade legal responsibilities.
But after getting away with negligence for so long, it seems that someone has finally put NetEase Kaola in a hot spot. Part-time WeChat blogger 儿不说, who works as a journalist and has revealed his last name to be Ma 马, is taking NetEase Kaola to court in hopes of holding it accountable for selling fake items.
It all started with a bottle of cleansing oil. Labeled by the platform as an imported item by the Japanese cosmetic brand Shu Uemura, the product was purchased by Ma’s wife from NetEase Kaola in August 2018. According to the blogger, the product, priced at 380 yuan ($55), was clearly fake. Two dead giveaways are its shipping information — the oil was delivered from Zhenzhou in China rather than Japan, and its artificial smell quickly convinced Ma’s wife that the product was a blatant knockoff.
But just like most Chinese online shoppers who tend to let it go when the counterfeit goods they bought aren’t too expensive, Ma initially didn’t make a complaint or ask for a refund considering the great amount of time required for such actions. It wasn’t until Ma heard more similar stories from his friends that he realized his experience was not a fluke. In search of further proof, Ma showed the oil to several shop assistants working for Shu Uemura, who unanimously told him that the product was fake.
Ma then contacted the platform’s customer service and was told that he needed to provide evidence to back up his claims. “I am confident enough to say that 99.9 percent of customers who have received fake products from NetEase Kaola would give up at this point. No one would spend thousands just to prove a 300 yuan item is fake,” Ma wrote. “The only way to get out of this situation is blaming yourself for not having discerning eyes to tell the good from the bad.” But Ma, who called himself “a man of persistence,” took an unusual approach — he pulled some strings and asked a chemistry lab to analyze the components of the phony oil, which turned out to be completely different from that of the authentic oil.
On May 30, Ma published his story on WeChat. Titled “After spending 285 days collecting evidence, I sued NetEase Kaola,” the article (in Chinese) quickly gained traction on the Chinese internet and prompted the ecommerce site to respond with a press release riddled with passive-aggressive remarks. In the statement, the platform insists that the controversial product is authentic and the company had been in “effective communication” with the journalist and responded to his complaints with “great enthusiasm.” “We have total respect for Ma’s valid requests as a normal customer,” NetEase Kaola says. “But we won’t satisfy his other needs that are irrelevant to the item.” In response to the company’s subtle implication that Ma, as a blogger, leveraged his platform to fulfill his desire for attention, he wrote another article (in Chinese) that’s written in a more journalistic style, which contains extensive interviews with people from different sides of the matter and the findings drawn from his in-depth research.
Ma’s case is to be continued, but it’s worth noting that this is not the first time that NetEase Kaola has come under fire for selling fakes. Last year, the platform found itself in trouble after a customer allegedly bought a fake Canada Goose coat from it. But the complaint remained unsolved (in Chinese) due to contradictory results given by various authentication services. In the meantime, people found out that it’s extremely difficult to hold NetEase Kaola liable for selling fakes because of some clauses in its customer agreement that preemptively avoid repercussions against it.
“My basic principle is that since you are still claiming that the product is legit, let’s get dispute settled first,” Ma wrote, adding that this time he’s determined to force the platform to face the problem and take a stance.