This year, I gift my wish to brand owners combatting counterfeit goods this Christmas
Christmas is almost upon us and with it comes the usual fake goods warnings to shoppers. The global counterfeit goods industry is estimated to be worth around US$460 billion a year with online sales accounting for most of that trade.
The scale of the fake goods market is vast and at this time of year items such as toys, hair straighteners, clothing, trainers and alcohol are just a few of the most popular gifts. Blame Brexit or otherwise, everyone is feeling the pinch and a few (or not-so-few in many cases) pounds saved can make a big difference to many people. This year’s most sought-after toys include Fingerlings, small plastic monkeys that fit onto a child’s finger and Trading Standards up and down the country have seized and destroyed counterfeit Fingerlings so they cannot pose a risk to children. The UKIPO has released a comical “The 12 Fake Days of Christmas” YouTube video with a serious message reminding consumers of the dangers of purchasing fake products as gifts. But it is not only shoppers who should be on their guard: brand owners are facing their greatest challenge yet with online counterfeiting up by 80% since 2008.
A massive 89% of counterfeit goods are imported from China and it is proving near-impossible to effectively police the illegal manufacture and trade of fake or copycat goods produced in such enormous numbers. One of the difficulties for brand owners is that these mass-produced fakes are finding their way to UK consumers via online marketplaces such as ebayand Amazon. These platforms have procedures in place to deal with counterfeit products: ebay’s Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) programme and Amazon’s Brand Registry on which brand owners can register their brands, but is either company fulfilling its responsibility in the prevention of the sale of counterfeit and in many cases potentially dangerous goods? As such a large percentage of online sales are conducted via these two sites alone, should they be offering more assistance to brand owners and consumers in the fight against online counterfeiting? Amongst the numerous issues is that even where sellers or businesses are found to be selling counterfeit goods and prevented from selling again, many simply set up under another business or seller name and continue.
For now, brand owners are faced with the gargantuan and lengthy task of targeting the counterfeiting at source whilst attempting to stamp out the individual sellers each time they find their goods on UK websites. One drastic alternative adopted by some brand owners is to refuse to allow third parties to stock their products so that any items sold outside the strict confines of the brand owner’s business are known to be fake. Meanwhileconsumers are still unwittingly buying fake goods or in some cases choosing to buy a cheaper, potentially fake and dangerous item to save a few pounds. Is it really going to take a disaster to force online retailers to change their policies?
Despite the difficulties, and until a more adequate solution is found, brand owners are urged to police as effectively as possible the sale of their branded goods on online marketplaces, and there are some relatively simple measures that can be taken: brands should be registered with website providers through the relevant procedures; frequent searches of all marketplace websites should be conducted, either in-house or using specialist companies and software, to locate suspect products; and brand owners should listen to consumers – often buyers leave comments following a sale and if they believe a product to be fake many will air their frustration on the seller’s feedback page.
Meanwhile, the message to consumers this Christmas is to exercise extreme care when buying online. Goods sold at much-reduced rates on marketplace sites are highly likely to be fake, but even those with a price close to the RRP should be treated with caution. Where possible shoppers should buy from known and trusted retailers and preferably visit the stores and purchase goods in person. Many will ignore these warnings in their quest for a bargain and in that case the message is ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is’.