After filing numerous complaints about offshore counterfeits of the Mini-Clip—the patent-pending slip-on adapter produced by veteran-owned Optimum Performance Solutions (OpSol Texas) that enables most Mossberg shotguns to reliably digest Aguila’s popular Minishell—reappearing on Amazon.com earlier this year, the Internet’s most popular retail site suspended the company’s legitimate listing in late March. Correspondence received by Twain Henry, sales and marketing partner in the company, explained, “This product has been identified as a gun magazine accessory or component, or a shotgun extension tube. Amazon policy prohibits the listing or sale on Amazon of gun magazine accessories or components, and shotgun extension tubes, including those marketed for air guns, airsoft guns, or paintball guns.”
An appeal was filed the same day, although Henry said further efforts to reestablish an Amazon presence are no longer being pursued due to the intellectual property theft. “We were disturbed to find our Mini-Clip copied, complete with our OpSol Texas logo (with a small ‘s’), packaged in a replica of our copyrighted box and sold on Amazon by other ‘sellers,’” he explained in an e-mail. “We were in shock as Amazon refused to act despite photographs and complaints from OpSol and customers, and watched as they knowingly continued to fulfill orders from their warehouses with product that was not as depicted or described. We were then in disbelief as ‘sold and shipped by Amazon’ popped up as a seller when OpSol has never been approached by them and has never sold them a single Mini-Clip.”
“We placed three separate orders and when the first two arrived, to our surprise, we found Mini-Clips from our Amazon inventory that we’d marked with tape. On the same day we started getting e-mails from customers who received counterfeits even though they followed the link to our specific Amazon seller page. Upon angry inquiry, we were informed that Amazon co-mingled our stock with that of the other ‘sellers’ and said they would separate ours from the others.”
I contacted Amazon in early March about the situation and within 48 hours the retail site’s legal team contacted OpSol and its counsel. A solution seemed to be imminent, but the notice of suspension followed shortly after.
The Amazon.com sales approach is multi-layered. On one level it stocks and sells product under the "sold and shipped by Amazon" banner, but the website also hosts other retailers—including some willing to violate of its terms of agreement. “We work closely with vendors, sellers and rights owners to strengthen protections for their brands on Amazon,” a company spokesperson explained. “We remove suspected counterfeit items as soon as we become aware of them, and we remove bad actors from selling on Amazon.” A dedicated team of “software engineers, research scientists, program managers and investigators” are employed to monitor and refine the firm’s efforts to monitor the wares, but the OpSol experience indicates it’s a frustratingly laborious game of Whack-A-Mole.
“The ring usually operates one seller at a time, but has various seller names in the queue,” Henry explained. “If Amazon gets enough complaints (from customers), they shut that one down only to have another activate in hours. We saw that FBA [Fulfilled By Amazon] even fulfills product for counterfeit operations on eBay. Amazon made about $3 on our purchase price of $15 in addition to the fee to sell there in the first place. They generally make the same off the counterfeiters. Giving refunds to people who complain is a mere drop in the bucket even if the ‘seller’ has disappeared. They’ve even told some of our customers to keep the counterfeit and don't worry about sending it back.”
Henry said a low estimate on how much the counterfeiting cost the company is a little less than $100,000. Three high school students working part time to pack and ship orders were also laid off as a result.
The Mini-Clip’s reliability has made them a popular aftermarket item, so much so that they’re currently out of stock on the company’s website. Some authorized dealers still have stock and Mossberg shotgun owners who want Aguila’s Minishells to run reliably in their firearms are encouraged to patronize them.
Henry had a final warning for on-line shoppers. “Whoever controls the ‘Buy Box’ on an Amazon product page controls the product page. Whoever has the cheapest price controls the ‘Buy Box’ and can hijack the page from the legitimate owner of a product and relegate them to the tiny box on the lower right of the page with other sellers. We refused to participate in a price war when we have local gun stores across the country selling the Mini-Clip. That would have been wrong. In the past it was relatively easy to spot the bad-seed sellers on Amazon. They had computer generated names like Ephil00 and they were not fulfilled by Amazon. Now, the counterfeiters send their stock to Amazon to fulfill through FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) knowing how to play the game.”