The world is full of fakes.
Whether it’s Louis Vuitton bags or Cartier watches, The North Face jackets or Nike Air Jordans, Levi’s or Ugg boots, counterfeit goods have flooded the consumer market. It’s estimated that counterfeit goods led to $1.2 trillion in global sales in 2017, translating to billions in losses for brands from online sales alone.
That number has undoubtedly been helped along with the rise in sneaker culture, to the point where some have been able to make entire careers out of identifying real or fake Adidas Yeezy sneakers online (which can retail for over $1K).
With fakes so easy to come by, and with some that are now nearly indistinguishable to the untrained eye (‘super fakes’), CivicScience gauged how consumers felt about the (very illegal) counterfeit goods industry and dug up some interesting insights along the way.
A survey of more than 1,690 U.S. adults revealed that the majority of respondents were concerned about fake or counterfeit goods, but nearly 40% were not.
However, it’s a leap between those who aren’t concerned and those who have actually purchased counterfeit goods, knowingly. Only 22% of respondents said they purchased a counterfeit item in the past, and a little more than half had no idea they’d bought a fake. Still, close to 20% of respondents were unsure whether or not they have ever purchased a counterfeit item.
Altogether, the numbers are representative of a few major problems in today’s consumer economy: that it’s all too easy to 1) buy counterfeit items, and 2) get completely ripped off when shopping online.
Online Shopping, Social Media Influence, and Age
The rise of online shopping has created endless possibilities for counterfeit manufacturers to peddle their wares and fly under the radar of law enforcement. While sites like Amazon and Ebay don’t allow counterfeit goods to be sold, counterfeit items still manage to sneak through on some major online marketplaces and smaller websites.
Par for the course, the survey shows that people who have bought counterfeit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, are bigger online shoppers than those who have never purchased something counterfeit. Nearly 1 in 3 of those who have bought counterfeit do all or almost all of their shopping online, compared to less than 1 in 4 who have never bought counterfeit.
Of course, we can’t ignore social media. The survey backs up other findings that claim social media plays a key role in the sale of counterfeit goods. In particular, Instagram is attractive to counterfeit sellers, who take advantage of the platform’s features to evasively promote their goods, while legitimate ‘Instagram influencers’ and social media personalities may unintentionally drive counterfeit sales through hyping trends and brands.
The survey shows a correlation between counterfeit purchases and social media use, specifically Instagram — 32% of intentional counterfeit buyers use the website daily to weekly, compared to 21% of those who have never purchased something counterfeit.
In addition, the survey shows a significant correlation between intentional counterfeit buyers and social media influence — 30% said they derive fashion inspiration from social media, compared to less than 11% of others in the survey.
In line with Instagram users and online shopping trends, intentional counterfeit goods buyers skew younger in age — 18- to 24-year-olds are the most likely to knowingly buy counterfeit, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds. . As a whole, 18- to 34-year-olds are twice as likely as older age groups to knowingly buy counterfeit goods. On the other hand, it’s 35- to 44-year-olds who get scammed the most, with 14% unknowingly having purchased something counterfeit.
Fakes vs. Knock-Offs
The fashion industry, and especially fast fashion, thrives on knock-off designs that trickle down from runways and leading brands, although social media is disrupting that traditional paradigm. The lines between a counterfeited replica and a knock-off can get murky, but in general, knock-off designs are legal while replicas are not. How do you feel about buying a pair of inexpensive shoes from Target or Amazon that look similar to Birkenstocks, but don’t have the logo and are made from cheaper materials?
It turns out that a little over half of U.S. adults probably wouldn’t care. Nearly one-quarter of respondents said they wear knock-off clothes and shoes all the time. Just under one-third of adults said that they never wear knock-offs.
Price and income are likely the biggest drivers in the equation. When it comes to buying clothes and accessories, CivicScience data show that price typically wins over brand for most Americans, but those who wear knock-offs all the time strongly prioritize price over brand. Those who sometimes wear knock-offs are more likely to say that both price and brand matter, while those who never wear them are the most likely to value brand.
As such, the less you earn, the more likely you are to buy knock-off clothes and shoes. However, the opposite is true for counterfeit buyers — the survey reveals that the more you earn, the more likely you are to knowingly purchase counterfeit goods. About 15% of adults who annually earn $100K or more confessed to having intentionally purchased a fake item.
Here’s another interesting twist — the survey shows that women are twice as likely as men to regularly wear knock-offs, but men are more likely to purchase counterfeit goods, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Contrary to what you might expect, the survey shows that the fake goods industry isn’t entirely propelled by low-income earners, looking to display social status through certain brands. And men seem to be more brand-conscious than women, as they’re more likely to buy counterfeit and less likely to buy knock-offs.
Moreover, the study shows that even though just 10% of respondents claimed to have willingly bought something counterfeit, the massive counterfeit goods industry is propped up by shoppers tricked into unknowingly purchasing fakes. Online shoppers and fashion-conscious social media users are at greater risk of being scammed. On the other hand, more Americans, especially women, are fine with legal knock-offs but not counterfeits, implying that quality and brand name are less important than price and style.