Research at Brock University looks into the counterfeit product industry

Shoppers on New York City’s Canal Street checking out “designer” bags. / Yahoo News

For some people nothing beats the rush of a new purchase. A new designer handbag or a pair of must-have sneakers can make all the difference in a hectic week, or even just as a treat. A designer brand that everyone is talking about can make a person feel one step ahead in life. However some opt for the designer look and feel without bothering with the designers themselves, and instead reach for a knock-off. These ‘fake’ products range from cheap and unconvincing to more accurate emulations of the original. Either way, these almost-designer items are counterfeit and often that means illegal.

Kai-Yu Wang, an associate professor at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, recently published research online in The Journal of Business Research asking the question: “Why do people choose to buy counterfeit products?”.

“The demand for counterfeit luxury brands is robust and growing, although the consumption of counterfeit goods is viewed as unethical. If saving money is the main reason for counterfeit goods consumption, why don’t consumers simply choose cheaper generic brands instead?” stated Wang in a press release.

Products that bear a similarity to designer goods, or are even based on their designs, eventually make their way into mass-market, fast-fashion stores such as Forever XXI, H&M, and even Walmart, but that is often not what these counterfeit hunters are looking for.

Though some are genuinely fooled by counterfeit products and simply believe they are getting a very good deal on a hard to find product, some people “intentionally purchase counterfeit products even when the act doesn’t align with their personal morals.”

Wang says the researchers “wanted to find out how consumers cope with cognitive dissonance associated with their unethical counterfeit consumption behaviour.”

The study suggests that consumers use classic Orwellian ‘double-think’ to disassociate themselves from the illegal act of buying counterfeit products. Once they have their knock-offs safely at home, consumers reject any potential guilt they may be feeling “by denying responsibility or by identifying with loyalty to something else,” meaning they tell themselves the moral ambiguity is not in purchasing the product but rather in the making of it. They haven’t done anything wrong, they’ve simply purchased a product available to them.

In the course of their research, Wang and his associates conducted interviews with people who buy counterfeit products and found that many of the interviewees justified their purchases with the phrase “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” convincing themselves, and possibly those around them, that they are actually doing the designer brand a favour by promoting them. Others acknowledge that they may be damaging the brand with their purchases but are often in it for the community involved, the sense that they are part of a “secret society” of people who know where to get a good deal.

Despite counterfeit products often being illegal, and always being morally questionable, Wang says the industry is always growing and brings in about $1.77 trillion.

Wang’s study was co-authored with colleagues Xuemei Bian from the University of Kent, Andrew Smith from the Nottingham University Business School and Natalia Yannopoulou from the Newcastle University Business School.

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