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Can sneaker resellers stop looters from profiting?

Looters ransack stores in downtown Long Beach on Sunday
One person wields a skateboard, another a hammer at a ShoePalace store.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

High-end sneakers and other luxury goods have been targets of choice for thieves amid the unrest in cities across the nation on recent nights, as small groups of troublemakers took advantage of mostly peaceful demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.

But those seeking to profit from the sale of stolen goods might struggle, as the businesses responsible for moving most of the merchandise in the $2-billion sneaker resale market said they would be alert to anyone listing suspect goods on their platforms.

“One of our top priorities is to ensure there is trust and safety in the sneaker industry,” said Matt Cohen, vice president of business development and strategy for the GOAT online marketplace and Flight Club sneaker consignment chain, which merged in 2018.

Flight Club’s North Fairfax Avenue location was among the stores picked over by thieves, as was the competing Cool Kicks store on Melrose Avenue.

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“Over the years, we have worked tirelessly to prevent fraudulent activity and we intend to continue our robust practices with increased vigilance, especially in light of recent events and concerns around stolen products,” Cohen said. “We will not allow for these stolen products to be sold on our platforms and all suspected products will be removed.”

The biggest sneaker resale platforms, including StockX, and online marketplaces such as EBay said they already were on the lookout for illegally obtained merchandise.

“Our fraud team is investigating the situation and will take any available measures to prevent the sale of stolen goods on our platform,” StockX said in a statement Monday.

Poshmark — an online marketplace where users buy and sell new or used clothing, shoes and accessories — said that it had not seen any increase in suspiciously sourced goods, but spokeswoman Kelly Groves said, “We will work with law enforcement to investigate should this change. We are actively monitoring activity on our platform to ensure that stolen goods are not being sold on Poshmark.”

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EBay, one of the first online marketplaces to host sneaker resales, said it was “fully committed to providing a secure online shopping experience to millions of people globally,” spokeswoman Ashley Settle said. “We have zero tolerance for criminal activity on our platform — stolen items are illegal and we actively work to prevent them.”

In the tumult after Floyd’s May 25 death, businesses of all kinds were targeted by both opportunists jumping through broken windows and teams strategically pulling up and filling their vehicles with merchandise before quickly driving off. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia characterized the vandalism, looting and arson in his city as coming from organized criminals not affiliated with peaceful protests.

Facebook, Google and Amazon have all called for racial justice, but their records in some cases tell a different story.

StockX went out of its way to strike a sympathetic note for its loyal customer base, saying, “We understand the frustration that led to this point. StockX supports peaceful protest, and we stand with the many people around the country who are using their voices to speak out and demand change.”

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GOAT and Flight Club went even further, issuing a statement that said: “We are committing to contribute to the bailouts of peaceful protesters, and we encourage our community to do the same. The sneaker industry, and businesses like Flight Club, would not exist without black culture and the support of the black community. We share in the anger and frustration that so many people are experiencing right now.”

StockX and GOAT like to promote their platforms’ rigorous authentication procedures so that buyers know they aren’t paying a stranger hundreds or thousands of dollars for sneakers, watches, handbags and other items that end up being counterfeit. Tracking the provenance of merchandise will probably become even more important now.

Sneaker collectors are probably concerned about the effect of widespread looting on reseller platforms, said Robert Mulokwa, who owns KickPredict.co, an online platform where people interested in dabbling in the sneaker investment market can bet on whether popular sneakers will rise or fall in price.

Mulokwa, who has been collecting sneakers since 1993, said he thought a lot of the stolen sneakers “are probably not going to move through the big reseller platforms because those guys are on alert now and are just waiting to see if some of those stolen goods are going to come in. I think they know exactly what’s out there and what was taken.”

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Some of the stolen sneakers probably will be sold without much risk through smaller peer-to-peer apps and exchanges, as well as out of the trunk of cars and backs of trucks, Mulokwa said. That’s because sneakers, unlike other high-end collectibles such as fine watches, don’t have serial numbers that can be traced for the legitimate buyers, he said.

“I’m bullish on adding serial number on sneakers or some other kind of identifier on the higher-end products,” Mulokwa said. “The technology, for the most part, is there. Now you’ve got to get the manufacturers, designers and collaborators like Nike, Adidas, Jordan Brand, Yeezy to integrate that into their logistical processes.”


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