Chinese online retail giant Alibaba has taken a series of steps to curb the sale of counterfeit goods on its platforms and improve transparency. After being slammed by the State Administration of Industry & Commerce (SAIC) in January, the company assured regulators that it would leave no stone unturned to crack down on fake transactions and other illegal activities.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd And Its Battle With Brushing

Brushing is more pervasive than Alibaba can handle

Alibaba says it has developed “sophisticated tools” to identify and punish merchants that log fake orders. But according to Gillian Wong of The Wall Street Journal, the issue of fake transactions is far more pervasive than the Hangzhou-based company can handle. Fake orders, or ‘brushing’ as Chinese merchants call it, has become a common practice on Alibaba’s Taobao platform.

And merchants are forced to resort to such transactions. There are more than six million sellers on Taobao, according to the NYU Finance Society. So, it’s almost impossible for a seller’s product to be seen on the first few pages of the search results on Taobao. Visibility on the platform depends on a merchant’s sales figures, number of customers and reviews.

How brushing works on Alibaba platforms

So, vendors turn to ‘brushing’ to increase their sales figures and gain standing on the marketplaces. In China, you can become a brusher if you have a Taobao account, an online payment account and Internet connectivity. Merchants claim that without brushing, their products will never be visible to potential buyers. Sellers pay brushers the cost of the goods ordered, plus a service fee. The brusher places an order for that seller’s product using the money they received from the seller. Thus the money reaches the merchant, and they ship an empty box to the brusher in return of positive reviews.

Now it has become a vicious cycle. Even an honest seller has to resort to brushing because their rivals are doing so. They risk left behind and become invisible on the marketplaces if they don’t use brushing services to boost sales figures and get positive reviews, just like their competitors are doing. That’s one of the reasons Chinese consumers have lost faith in positive reviews and featured merchants. They are increasingly preferring international merchants to buy goods from.