A letter from the counterfeit wars

A letter from the counterfeit wars

This weekend I received an email from a consumer in the United Kingdom, who had just learned that a hair iron she had purchased from a website for a favorable price (90 pounds sterling, approximately US$180..00)  turned out to be "faulty," and she was told by the manufacturer that it was counterfeit.  She reports that she purchased the hair iron from www.silkylustre.com.  But type in this URL on your computer and the URL to which you are directed is actually http://www.njzhzx.com/lmf/ .  This English language web page shows a nice picture of a particular brand of hair iron selling at a 30% discount.  There was even a logo indicating that the website was an "authorized" dealer of this brand's product.  But there were clues on the website that might indicate otherwise. The public "Contact" information for the website is merely a GMail address, and while there was a phone number provided, when I dialed it (on the assumption that the phone contact was in the United Kingdom, because there was no country code provided) I received an error message that my call could not be completed.  Internet research suggests the phone number may be a Vodaphone cell number that has not been issued yet. There was no street or mailing address given for anyone at silkylustre.com; however, when the URL is typed in as just www.njzhzx.com it actually reveals a Chinese language website for an intermediate school that appears to be based in Nanjing, China.  Most consumers probably don't dig this deep into the web information and research that is available to them, and they take the web site at face value.  For websites they are not familiar with, consumers need to look harder and deeper.

The lure of the discount price on electrical products needs to face consumer resistance if the consumer cannot authenticate the source of the product as an authorized supplier of genuine brand products.  The redirected URL is one consumer clue that should lead to resistance.  And if you have suspicions, an Internet search engine that looks for the words "counterfeit" or "fake" and the particular brand may provide other clues.  Look what I found when I typed in "counterfeit" with the brand name for this hair iron.  http://www.bidorbuy.co.za/item/6679483/G_H_D_HAIR_IRON_genuine.html   Even eBay had a forum talking about counterfeit hair irons.  http://forums.ebay.com/db2/thread.jspa?threadID=2000174242&tstart=40&mod=1205962621455  These online discussions are enough to give any consumer pause and cause them to search out known authorized distributors of the genuine product and steer clear of vendors with whom they are not familiar and may not be able to honor a demand for return of goods or respond to a warranty claim.

One of the economic benefits of Internet search engines is that it has the potential to drive down consumer search costs for product information.  Consumers should pause at the bargain offer long enough to continue using these Internet tools to verify that they are purchasing a genuine product from a known, reputable dealer of that product.  Send an email to the brand owner/manufacturer of the product if you have any doubts.  This small incremental increase in consumer search effort will be far less than the loss one suffers if the bargain product turns out to be fake, faulty, or fatal.  For products like electrical products, pharmaceuticals, auto parts and the like, where the counterfeit is strongly correlated with the substandard and the potentially injurious, this is essential consumer behavior. 


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