Online counterfeit goods are costing UK consumers far more than they think.
In an independent research report commissioned by Corsearch, only 43% of the consumers reviewed received a refund after reporting counterfeit sellers, while the average consumer loses around £85 a year from unknowingly buying counterfeit goods.
But it’s not just wallets that are suffering – according to the research, 32% of consumers who have bought one or more counterfeit goods online in the past year have suffered a health issue as a result of using the product. Tellingly, 83% of those people have been put off from buying from that brand again, irrespective of whether it was the legitimate product or not.
Clearly, the cost of online counterfeit goods extends beyond just monetary. Consumers are being deceived by sellers, with many left physically hurt as a result of the fake products they buy.
Online counterfeit medicine, alcohol and food
As a Europol report states, “Many consumers are unaware that counterfeit goods don’t undergo the same rigorous testing that legitimate manufacturers apply to their products to ensure they are safe. The fake products are often poorly made, do not comply with European safety standards and could be potentially lethal.”
Take pharmaceuticals for example. Online counterfeit medicine might be contaminated, contain the incorrect quantities of active ingredients (or none), fail to be processed correctly by the body, or may contain additional ingredients that are not on the label and may be harmful if consumed. In addition to this, the labels themselves might contain incorrect or illegible information.
All of this presents a tremendous risk to anyone purchasing counterfeit medicine. It might be cheap but there’s ultimately no way of knowing 1) what’s in the medicine itself or 2) if it has been manufactured to the relevant health and safety standards. Using such medicine could easily result in sickness or worse, fatalities.
The same applies to alcohol and food. Legitimate alcohol is produced using ethanol – a clear, colourless liquid that is rapidly absorbed – which makes it safe to drink in moderation. Fake alcohol, however, is often produced using chemical substitutes for ethanol, which recreate the effect of actual alcohol but can be a serious risk to someone’s health.
According to Drink Aware, some of the most common substitutes for ethanol include: cleaning fluids, nail polish remover, automobile screen wash and methanol and isopropanol (which are used in antifreeze and some fuels). These chemicals can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, drowsiness and dizziness and lead to kidney, liver or other long-term health problems.
Finally, food. The number of food fraud cases has risen drastically in the last few years. The horsemeat scandal of 2013 revealed the deep-rooted problems surrounding the traceability of food, highlighting that it was far too easy for wrong or harmful ingredients to be included within products. The issue was soon found to be EU-wide, prompting a widespread investigation by European authorities.
Low-quality manufacturing processes
In addition to the things we consume, counterfeit clothing/protective gear and consumer appliances are also an issue. For instance, Corsearch conducted comprehensive research to analyse the cycle helmets being worn during the 2018 Tour de France. The research found that a “wide range of counterfeit options” used by the cyclists were being sold online to consumers, including helmets, handlebars and brake parts.
Fake e-cigarettes are also the subject of much scrutiny. Stories about e-cigarettes melting, catching fire and blowing up often comes down to the fact that the devices in question are either fake or include low-quality, counterfeit materials.
As these counterfeits have been manufactured using low-quality materials, they naturally have internal defects or structural inconsistencies that make them prone to failure. For example, too many volts might be passing through the circuits, which in turn raises the temperature of the battery and increases the heat of the device to the point the battery starts melting, catches fire or explodes.
Many fake e-cigarettes also use counterfeit batteries. These batteries are not designed for the voltage passing through them and naturally begin to fail. Cases of consumers modifying their e-cigarettes with new batteries or items are well-documented. A man in the US died when his vape pen (a modified e-cigarette) exploded – the device made use of a ‘mechanical mod’ which does not use inner circuitry to regulate the voltage.
Consumers should always try to buy from a legitimate, reputable supplier – especially if the battery needs replacing.
Where does the responsibility lie?
Most counterfeit goods are distributed through online marketplaces. According to The Guardian, Amazon is rife with potentially dangerous and other knockoff goods despite years of attempts to crack down on them. The greatest irony is that of those reviewed in the Corsearch research, 59% cited Amazon as their most trusted online platform.
Though it is somewhat difficult for brands to readily intervene and identify counterfeit goods online, the responsibility lies with both brands and marketplaces to verify sellers and validate the goods they sell.
When shopping online, consumers can follow some simple practices to identify online counterfeit goods, but that shouldn’t be their responsibility – and it’s not always easy to do so.
The problem is that many marketplaces are keen to expand – to make the buying and selling process as quick and easy as possible – and in many instances this makes it far too easy for sellers of online counterfeit goods to profit off unsuspecting consumers.
When brands consider for a moment that 83% of consumers who have been injured or suffered a health issue as a result of a counterfeit product have been put off from buying the brand again, this has a tremendous effect on customer sentiment and revenue generation. Brands must always step in to protect their customers and ensure that counterfeit goods are removed from online marketplaces.
If you want to find out more about the scale of the counterfeit goods problem in the UK – as well as how consumers have responded to it, download our free, in-depth market research report.
This blog was originally published on the Incopro website. Incopro was acquired by Corsearch in 2021, with the two organizations combining their technology and expertise to better serve the market.