Over the past few years, the Chinese and Hong Kong
governments have touted progress in fighting counterfeits, and
many agree that there has been improvement. In Hong Kong, the
general belief is that counterfeit goods are no longer
available in physical stores, though may still be found in some
street markets. in China, the 2011 US Trade
Representative’s Section 301 Report
highlighted Taobao, the largest online marketplace in the
country, as an example to follow for its anti-counterfeiting
A new marketplace
But not surprisingly, counterfeiters have found other ways
to peddle their wares. In Hong Kong and southern China, sellers
are now reaching out through word of mouth. Interested
customers get a phone number, and they communicate directly
through the instant message service WhatsApp or the similar
Chinese program WeChat. Customers can ask to see photographs
and haggle via text messages and delivery is arranged.
One Hong Kong-based customer, who we will call Wilma,
spoke to Managing IP about her experiences buying from one such
vendor. Wilma says that a friend had purchased a bag from the
same counterfeiter and passed along the contact information.
Using WeChat, the seller, who goes by the name
Vivi, provided a list of her stock along with pictures.
Interestingly, Vivi had different tiers for fakes of the same
product; the customer gets to choose the quality of the fake,
with the most expensive version supposedly indistinguishable
from the genuine article.
HK$1,500 ($194) seems pricey for a fake
After Wilma picked out a bag, she made arrangements to pick
up the product. Vivi agreed to meet near Wilma’s
home, something that is logistically feasible given Hong
Kong’s size but perhaps less practical in
sprawling cities such as Beijing.
Wilma says that she was quite satisfied with the purchase
and reached out again soon after to buy a higher-quality fake.
Wilma and Vivi again arranged the purchase via WeChat then
agreed to meet up. This time, however, Vivi said that she did
not have the product in Hong Kong, and it would have to be
shipped from China. The meet up, therefore, was for
Wilma received the purse about a week later in a parcel, but
whereas she was happy with her first purchase, this new
purchase was of noticeably poorer quality, even though this was
supposed to be a higher-quality imitation.
She complained to Vivi but, not surprisingly, no refund was
Know your consumer
Rights holders are aware that enforcement actions are just
one tool to fight counterfeits, and that addressing demand is
just as important. That’s why a
recent report from the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong
Kong on counterfeits had some good news for brand owners;
it found that more than half of Hong Kong consumers say that
the social stigma and negative self-image from owning a fake
would be enough to stop them from buying one. If China, with
its seemingly insatiable demand for luxury goods, is
similar, then this may be a sign that brand owners are making
progress in their fight against fakes.
Obviously, not all consumers are the same. Perhaps
Wilma’s attempts to buy a higher-quality fake
indicates that she may be worried about the social stigma of
carrying a counterfeit. Reaching these consumers may be more of
a challenge, though perhaps appealing to their desire for high
quality may work: no matter what a vendor may say, brand owners
need to show that no fake can match the quality of the real
In the end, despite her desire for a fake bag, Wilma did her
small part for brand owners’ rights. After Vivi
refused to give her a refund,
she filed a report with Hong Kong Customs.