After four years managing a private delivery company in the Chinese city of Ningbo, Chen Qian has acquired a new skill: he can tell which packets are fake even before he picks them up. Some are hollow boxes, some rattle with a piece of candy or a keychain. Recently, he says, merchants sending fake deliveries have started putting toilet paper rolls to give some heft.
Mr Chen says these account for about a quarter of the 4,000 packages his company handles every day. The phenomenon is widespread throughout China; a consequence of the country’s booming e-commerce industry and, specifically, a practice known as shuaxiaoliang, or literally – “sales brushing”. Online sellers are recruiting their friends, relatives and even professional fraudsters to make fake orders because shipping more goods would give them better placement – and therefore a better chance to garner more real sales – on websites such as Alibaba-owned Taobao.
“We’ve only started brushing recently,” said one Taobao shop owner in Hangzhou which sells hats and traditional silk scarves, who asked not to be identified. “There is no other choice for us. A lot of the other shops have been doing this for years, and we realised that no matter how well we did in sales, we could not compete with those who brushed.
A rather weird and wasteful practice, as described by the Financial Times.
Every system that allows itself to be gamed, will be gamed, if some people gain from that. Everyone would be better of if nobody would do this anymore, but how to coordinate this?
The above delivery company in Ningbo handles about 1.5 million packets of which about 400,000 are fake. But that is just one delivery company in one city, the total amount of empty packages per year must be huge, at least in the millions, probably more.