Over the years, The RealReal's authentication claims have been called into question a few times here and there — by customers in review forums who've claimed they received counterfeit goods; on Instagram by accounts like Diet Prada; by brands like Chanel, who filed an actual lawsuit; and by news outlets like this one. And a new report lends credence to those who have grown skeptical of the retailer's standards when it comes to authenticating luxury goods before listing them.
From day one, authentication has been The RealReal's "thing." It's right there in the name, for one, and when the site emerged in 2011, it positioned itself as the most reliable source (compared with, say, Ebay) for secondhand designer goods. And its purported leadership in this area helped it raise $300 million in a recent IPO. "We employ 100+ brand authenticators, gemologists, horologists and art curators. They inspect thousands of items each day, so you can be sure every item is 100% authentic," reads a page on therealreal.com.
This week, The Capitol Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that conducts in-depth investigations into potential consumer protection issues, published its findings following one such investigation into The RealReal's authentication process. And they suggest that the above claim is misleading at best.
The report alleges that hourly workers with the title "copywriter," rather than professional authenticators, are performing the majority of authentication of consigned items before writing their descriptions and posting them on the website. Seven former TRR copywriters were interviewed for the report, all of whom said they didn't feel it was appropriate for them to be authenticating.
For one, the training they received was reportedly quite minimal. "They give you a quick 5-minute presentation on what things should look like and then have you go. [...] I should not have been authenticating an Hermes scarf, for example, but all they care about is the product getting on the site," said one former employee. Additionally, according to the former employees, the job had such a high turnover rate that experience levels remained low.
"The pay was so low and the work so grueling that everybody thought of it as just a temporary job," said one interviewee, "so no one really took it that seriously because they'd be gone in a couple of months."
Employees are also reportedly required to hit quotas that could exceed 120 items per day, per person. And, according to their accounts, that's 120 processed items; items found to be inauthentic didn't count, and while they could pass items they were unsure about off to be reviewed by professional authenticators, that process would take time away from meeting their mandatory quotas. Per one former copywriter, "Training was rushed and they put a lot of pressure on meeting our daily goals, so a lot of fake items slipped through the cracks because of all the goods we had to authenticate in one day, which could be 130 to 155 depending on what department you worked in. Our days were super long and draining, so a majority of employees were rushing to meet the quota so that they would not get fired. It was more about not getting fired than authenticating the goods." There were also allegedly perks for exceeding one's quota, like site credit.
Asked to respond, The RealReal confirmed to Capitol Forum that copywriters do authenticate products that it identifies as "low-risk" while more trained professionals take "high-risk items," also saying that "we're not training them on everything, they have guides they can refer to." The company also claimed that employees could take as much time as needed to authenticate goods but would reportedly not acknowledge the existence of quotas.
Obviously such an environment would leave room for inauthentic pieces to slip through the cracks — Capitol Forum even spoke to professional authenticators who confirmed as much. It is also not too surprising when you think about the volume of items on its site, and the speed with which it processes consignments. But that is not a very good look for a company that promises authenticity to inspire trust in its customers and investors.
In response to the report, The RealReal provided the following comment to Fashionista: "This company’s actions and misrepresentations are clearly calculated to sell their subscriptions and improperly manipulate the market for the benefit of short-sellers on behalf of their subscribers. These people are not journalists and they are not credible. The RealReal stands 100% behind our state-of-the-art authentication process."