Much has been written inside and outside of eBay on the topic of "spotting TNF fakes" and "authenticating North Face products." This is due to the proliferation of fake TNF apparell on the market. While there is no 100% reliable method for determining whether the item in a listing is authentic before bidding on it, here are some general guidelines.
1.) Feedback. This is a buyers greatest ally. If someone is selling fakes, it will pop up in their feedback. It pays to read through several pages before buying an item. Also take time to note not only the number of negative feedbacks but also the reason for them. The issue might be shipping delays, not authenticity.
2.) Origin. It's fairly well-known that The North Face has only four factory outlet stores in the U.S. They are located in Berkeley, CA; Birch Run, MI; the Woodbury Common Outlets in New York; and our local store in Freeport, ME. A seller of legit Factory Outlet products will most likely live near the store to be able to take advantage of unadvertised sales and will have no problem telling you they purchased from a Factory Outlet. A seller who is selling all new products at great prices without the o-block (see below) is probably selling fakes. We are occassionally able to get a great deal on some end of season TNF items at L.L. Bean or Dick's Sporting Goods, but that is very rare and makes up less than 2% of our items sold every year.
3.) The North Face website. The North Face website is a good source for comparison pictures. When purchasing from a seller that has purchased their products at a TNF Factory Outlet, however, you will need to bear in mind that the Factory Outlet items are from previous seasons, or are custom made especially for the outlets (more on this below). The North Face website under the FAQ section states that The North Face Factory Outlets sell North Face discontinued, special make-up, and slightly blemished apparel and equipment at significant discounts.
4.) RTOs. RTO stands for "Right to Outlet" and is a designation that The North Face gives to articles that only go to the four Factory Outlet stores. It is our understanding from talking with the managers at our local store in Freeport, that these products are often the result of a surplus of material. When a surplus occurs that is not large enough to serve all of the thousands of retail locations, they make custom items for the Factory Outlets. We steer away from these jackets and sell the more recognizable retail jackets.
5.) The letter "R". The letter "R" in The North Face logo is very unique. One of the fastest ways to spot a fake is by taking a close look at the letter. If you visit The North Face website you wil see what the true letter "R" should look like. The fake "Rs" have too little tail or too much tail.
6.) Price. If you see a seller selling NWT Women's white Denalis at a Buy It Now of $50, it is almost definitely fake. Sellers that are selling all the most popular colors for incredible prices are often buying their products off the black market. We rarely have the most popular items, and when you see them in our store, the price will be high, because our price is high. It's true that we occassionally lose money on our TNF auction items, but our BIN pricing is set so that we make a profit and you get a great deal.
7.) Pictures. We strongly recommend that you don't purchase from a buyer that has only one picture in the listing. At Coastal Trades we take pride in the quality of our pictures. As you know, colors from digital cameras don't always show up on your computer screen the way they do in real life. This is especially true of different fabrics. We take time to adjust the colors so that the red in the picture is the red from the jacket, not the camera's interpretation of the color. While on the topic of pitures, it should be noted that we have elected to include both non-copyrighted professional photos and photos of the actual items. It has been our experience that our listings are more successful when professional photos are included because it gives buyers an idea of what the jacket will look like on a person. We are, however, currently reviewing this policy and may discontinue the use of professional photos. We have also elected to photograph just one jacket from a size run (xs, s, m, l, xl) and then include a close-up of the size tag for each individual size. This saves us hours of time which is the only way we can operate this little store in our spare time.
8.) O-block. The "o-block" is the manner in which The North Face indicates that an item has been purchased at a North Face Factory Outlet. When new product arrives at the Factory Outlet, the store pays one of it's employees to take a Sharpie pen and color in the letter "o" on the inside tag of every jacket. This indicates that the jacket was purchased at a Factory Outlet and it voids the warranty. Our listings show the o-block which means our items do not come with the TNF warranty.
9.) Local TNF retailers. We recommend that you take your "recently purchased TNF item of questionable origin" to a local retailer of TNF products. The opinion of the un-trained high schooler should be taken for what it is. The real value in going to the store is to be able to compare logos, features and zippers (more below). If you still have questions, visit The North Face website and get the number to talk to their customer service reps. If they tell you your item is a fake, call back a little later and ask someone else. If they agree, then you probably got scammed. Contact the seller (if they're selling fakes, expect them to be uncooperative), contact eBay, leave negative feedback. The negative feedback is very important as it helps the entire eBay community.
10.) Zippers. Many TNF items are zip-in compatible. Do a quick web search on your new item (the tags will also tell you) to determine if it is zip-in compatible. Then take the item to a North Face retailer and see if it zips in.
11.) Feedback. Feedback works. The backbone of eBay is it's feedback system. Prompt, accurate feedback helps everyone. Take the time to read through a seller's feedback before making a purchase.
There are many other tips for spotting TNF fakes. Some sellers and websites have detailed information on particular styles (number of pockets on a Denali, zipper on left or right, placement of logos, etc.). These are all very helpful and are for the most part accurate and from well-intentioned individuals.
The bottom line when buying new TNF is do your research.