Ryan Amberg works for Pygar, the US distributor of Felco tools. He says recent one-star reviews stemming from counterfeit shears sold on Amazon (like the one on the left - which does have a Felco logo just under the red handle cover, by the way) have hurt the Swiss tool manufacturer's reputation.
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Ryan Amberg works for Pygar, the US distributor of Felco tools. He says recent one-star reviews stemming from counterfeit shears sold on Amazon (like the one on the left - which does have a Felco logo just under the red handle cover, by the way) have hurt the Swiss tool manufacturer's reputation.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Sellers fight back against Amazon counterfeits

In the battle against counterfeiters, Felco is taking matters into its own hands, even as Amazon shows increasing resolve to tackle the problem.

Felco makes Swiss-made, premium garden shears. But lately, people have been purchasing counterfeit Felcos on Amazon, thinking they’re real.

At his office in Seattle, Felco distributor Ryan Amberg demonstrates the difference between real and fake while cutting a branch from a plum tree.

Amberg one-hands the Felco tool, and it quickly makes the cut.

"If I move to the counterfeit product… I can’t do it with one hand," he said. Amberg adds a second hand, and after leaning into it, the shears snap through the stick.

“So the counterfeit does make the cut. But if the end user gets this and expects a Felco product, they’re definitely not going to be satisfied.”

Ryan Amberg demonstrates the difference between real and fake Felco shears in November, 2019.
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Ryan Amberg demonstrates the difference between real and fake Felco shears in November, 2019.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Felco estimates consumers have purchased between 3,000-6,000 fakes through Amazon over the last few years.

Some of the customers have left one-star reviews warning about the problem with counterfeits, but many of those reviews have been purged from Amazon since KUOW approached Amazon for this story.

An Amazon spokesperson explained that after fraudulent sellers are identified and shut down, negative reviews associated with that particular seller are also removed. This process can take some time, they said.

When Amazon lists a product, that listing consolidates reviews for many different suppliers of that product. Some of them might be official Felco dealers, others may be arbitrage buyers who've picked up pruners from overseas suppliers at a discount.

While that decentralized distribution system can help Amazon get goods to customers quickly, it can lead to confusion when it comes to quality control, according to Amberg.

In the excerpts from Amazon reviews below, many experienced gardeners identified their faulty pruners as counterfeit. But other reviewers, especially new customers to the brand, might be more inclined to blame Felco.

Screenshots from reviews expressing disappointment in Felco's pruners. Orders for these pruners on Amazon are fulfilled by many different sellers. Some of those sellers provide counterfeit products - bringing the rating for all sellers down. 
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Amazon disclosed its counterfeit problem in recent financial documents. It said the problem is likely to grow, as the numbers of third party sellers on its site increases. In its 10-Q document, the company warned investors "we could face civil or criminal liability for unlawful activities by our sellers."

Amazon is fighting back. It recently sued a ring of alleged counterfeiters, launched new services designed to help sellers identify fakes, and refunds customers who can prove fraud.

(Note: an Amazon spokesperson clarified that no proof is needed. "If the customer claims it is counterfeit, we will refund them," the spokesperson said).

But Felco’s taking matters into its own hands. It started a program where if you got fake shears, you can trade them in at Felco for real ones.

Felco's website, which moves the process for resolving complaints outside of Amazon's control, could spell trouble for Amazon.

When companies bring lawsuits against Amazon over counterfeit issues, such as when Williams-Sonoma sued Amazon because sellers there sold expired or overpriced peppermint bark, complaints about fraud can become evidence in court.

For Felco, the complaints it collects support the idea that Amazon has failed to protect them.

For Amazon, each complaint it collects offers a lead in their effort to track down fraudulent sellers and shut them down.