Even after living in New Delhi for nearly over 6 years, I still feel like a stark stranger in a city famous for notoriety and opportunities (in equal measures). Only recently, I had an interesting experience. I wanted a camera phone badly and checked all shops for a good Nokia handset. Imagine! I did get what I was looking for but at a much much lower price. On close scrutiny, I realised that it was a fake model: a replica of the original, though Nokia was scripted boldly on front of it.
Well, this is not the only example. The world is flooded with fakes and they have always been there, less known, until the efforts of our Chinese counterparts accelerated their growth at top speed. No wonder, they have reached every nook and cranny now.
While they are producing each and every product that they could under the sun with less concern to the sentiments of thousands of brands they are hurting in the process, the end receivers are making the most of it by owning brands(fakes) that they couldn’t afford earlier, even though at the cost of real brands’ chagrin. Much debate and legal battles have time and again ensued to discourage them all, but they haven’t stopped at that-the game is still on!! What’s more, the Chinese have gone a step ahead and graduated to copying “full stores” as is in cloning.
China: the trend setter
A rush of Apple look- alike stores had sometime back flooded the China market; they were so similar that even the Apple officials suffered from bouts of doubts as they entered the shops. Not only were the walls painted in the same colour but even the shelving done in similar fashion and not to forget their staff that wore similar uniforms.
Well, I think this is a tad too much when it comes to copying. But the excitement was short lived as the Apple officials got a whiff of the ongoings and following immediate suit, some shut down since the company took action while some changed their names. Word has it that with a US lawsuit over the stores, China officials are doing whatever to keep the stores from fooling the passersby.
While Apple so far has refrained from commenting on the grouping of shops, a trademark infringement law has been filed in the U.S. suggesting the company's been busy behind the scenes. That suit, filed in New York, takes aim at three companies and some 52 other individuals. One of those is Apple Story Inc., believed to be the match of a similarly named Apple retail look-alike in Flushing, N.Y.
Chander Mohan Lall, from Lall and Sethi Advocates had a different view altogether when asked about the trend, “Well, it is without any doubt that the trade is flourishing under the guise of Chinese government’s apathy. It should be pointed out that even the mere creation of interest by faking the appearance of a shop is wrong and calls for a trademark infringement lawsuit. This is a serious threat to the companies that have taken years to build up their brands. The company has every right to be protected. There is no reprieve to the fact that the Chinese government is encouraging and flourishing on fakes”. He added further, “Although, it is but without any doubt that as and when there is a noise, the government catches hold of some fall guys and makes them scapegoats while the business continues behind the scenes”.
Recently, there was news that even fake IKEA stores have joined in the new crop.
India does it too?
Recently, whilst I was on a trip to Saket, I stopped at the famous coffee shop Barista for a cup of coffee. No sooner did I enter the shop, I realised that I had been fooled. It wasn’t Barista but a fake shop, designed on similar lines. My tired limbs did not allow me to move out of there so I had to make-do with that. I had my coffee, piping hot which did taste similar too, feeling really lost like the little Alice in wonderland with no idea to what I was compromising with; silent curses escaped out of me slamming Barista for allowing these to flourish.
As I came out, my mind raced unstoppably with a thousand questions, the prominent being, would this trend( of copying stores) become an order with us soon?
Brands do a whammy
It goes without saying that the original brand suffers due to copying. But the concern is more acute in rural areas then in urban areas. In rural areas, where illiteracy is high, the consumers can recognise spellings not complete words and hence be mislead easily to enter a fake shop. So, brands are at much more danger here.
Secondly, good brands fail to reach where they are needed due to bad distribution system in remote areas. For example, rural areas take advantage of illiterates and you will see more fakes enter those areas.
Thirdly, lack of surveillance by company officials allows the fakes to enter and flourish easily. In the end, whatever the way of copying, Brands suffer most by way of revenue and image.
Pricing is obviously an issue during conversion from fake to original. It costs almost 1/4th of the real price to produce and market it . The use of cheap ingredients, zero expense on advertising etc is a pointer to the dangerously high health and safety hazards that fake stores pose which could actually prove very harmful to the real brand. It has also be found that in most cases, original and fakes coexist and the company deliberately does not take action against them. But after Apple filed a lawsuit, setting example for others to follow, there is hope that the problem can be tackled.
Fakes can also be tackled in the following ways:
- Ensure regular retailer contact and product availability
- Create awareness in the customer of the difference between a fake and a real brand. Educate gullible rural consumers through interactions
- Ensure effective reporting and swift criminal action.
India is slowly waking up to IP (Intellectual Property) law. Let’s take the bull by the horns and counteract the menace of faking.