As with any supply and demand scenario where official channels are unable to provide all needed goods, the void is capitalized on by sellers—including fraudulent sellers.
This is what we are witnessing amid the Covid-19 economic crisis. Opportunistic sellers are buying home, health and hygiene-related products in bulk and selling them online at a markup. Counterfeiters are taking advantage of the opportunity to sell untested and potentially dangerous products, making bogus claims on trusted marketplaces.
Many of the infringers are agile. They examine and react to market trends. They use proven go-to market strategies, as legitimate businesses do, leveraging advertising and marketing tactics, such as SEM, SEO and social media marketing. Facebook, for instance, has had to remove millions of ads promoting the sale of fake masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and Covid-19 test kits.
Online marketplaces like Amazon are also known to contain counterfeit products. A recent report cites a 272% increase in listings of non-genuine hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes on ecommerce marketplaces in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the equivalent period in 2019. Online marketplaces are trusted by consumers, which means that the uptick in counterfeit hygiene products contributes to serious public health risks due to consumers believing they are protecting themselves when the products are likely ineffective.
The current increases in counterfeit goods are not limited to hygiene and health products. With the massive surge in online shopping due to retail closures and lockdowns, there has also been an increase in counterfeit activity overall. Even unrelated sectors such as household goods, sporting goods, luxury shoes are seeing spikes in knockoffs.
As many consumers turn almost entirely to online shopping, it’s imperative for marketers to support brand health. The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified an already existing problem for brands. Fraudsters can easily access consumer audiences online to peddle fake products that not only eat into the rights owners’ revenues but also erode authentic brands’ reputations.
Brand marketers can help protect consumer safety and defend brand trust. Some strategies to consider are the following:
Prioritize platforms you are monitoring for counterfeit goods
Spreading resources across too many online platforms will have a negative impact on protecting consumers from the increased risk of unsafe, non-genuine products. Instead, focus on tracking down knockoffs on platforms where your customers shop most. Prioritize these platforms based on where your brand and authorized sellers operate and where customer confusion is most likely. Push for enforcement on the infringing sellers appearing on the first pages of the online platform’s search results to remove them from visibility of the customer, thereby driving the legitimate results to the top. The goal is to keep these pages clear of infringing products that divert your customer’s attention.
Temporarily refocus offline resources in the online space
While lockdowns and stay home orders are in place, organizations can leverage some of their offline resources for the online space to protect their consumers and support their online programs. For instance, a freed up employee who is a brand expert can help identify infringing products online and audit online sellers.
Track changes in seller behavior
Sellers adapt to changing consumer trends and online platform enforcement measures. Throughout the pandemic, Amazon and other online platforms have been making an effort to prevent sales of items associated with certain description terms, such as “coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, counterfeiters have been getting around these efforts by making false Covid-19 claims in images (as opposed to text) to avoid detection, thereby making these listings more difficult to track down through search and automation techniques. Closely monitor how seller behavior is evolving and how counterfeiters are tricking systems to counteract them in relation to your brand.
Don’t just look for IP infringements
There are many enforcement mechanisms that can protect consumers from dangerous counterfeit product listings beyond focusing on IP claims. For instance, regulatory compliance is another way to stop unauthorized third parties from selling products outside the regulated guidelines. Many products such as cosmetics, food and medical devices are regulated so a seller is prohibited from selling products that are tampered with or expired.
Another way that brands can tackle infringing behavior that falls outside of straightforward IP infringements is by reporting listings that violate the platform’s terms and conditions. An example of this is an ad that falsely claims a product is compatible with a branded product. This type of ad confuses the consumer into thinking that they are buying a genuine item. Identify the enforcement techniques that work best for your brand and be sure to include them in your monitoring and reporting plan.
Involve your customers
Research has shown that some consumers are tricked into purchasing knockoffs while others do so willingly. Consumers can be educated about the harm of buying counterfeit goods, such as how these products often fund criminal networks and terrorism, as a result of intervention by rights holders. Allow your customers to report knockoffs through your website or another channel to empower consumers to help and support your brand.
As consumers spend more time online during the pandemic, it’s vital for brands to proactively monitor key channels and report counterfeiters. Brands that are most effective at protecting themselves online work on proactively identifying entire networks of counterfeiters as opposed to reactively enforcing individual listings. Not only will this help contain leaks from the digital funnel, but most importantly, it will protect the public along with your brand’s reputation, ensuring that online consumer experiences reflect brand values.