Most people know that buying counterfeit knock-offs of luxury products is unethical and even illegal, but that hasn’t stopped the soaring demand for cheap fakes of high-end brands of shoes, golf clubs, perfume, clothes, sunglasses and countless other consumer items.
The manufacture and sale of fake brands is a $1.77-trillion global industry, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
New research by Kai-Yu Wang, associate professor of marketing at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, looks at what motivates people to intentionally purchase counterfeit products even when the act doesn’t align with their personal morals.
“The demand for counterfeit luxury brands is robust and growing, although the consumption of counterfeit goods is viewed as unethical,” says Wang. “If saving money is the main reason for counterfeit goods consumption, why don’t consumers simply choose cheaper generic brands instead?”
The research shows that beyond the obvious money-saving tactic, people are motivated to buy counterfeit items by wanting to enhance their self-image and because they enjoy the “thrill of the hunt” or feeling as though they are part of a “secret society” of discerning shoppers who know just where and how to spot good deals on luxury brand knock-offs.
“We also wanted to find out how consumers cope with cognitive dissonance associated with their unethical counterfeit consumption behaviour,” says Wang.
Counterfeit luxury in hand, consumers may feel guilty after their purchase but deal with these feelings by denying responsibility or by identifying with loyalty to something else — for example, reasoning that they actually prefer the counterfeit design to the real thing.
The research also shows that people who buy counterfeit items do not get embarrassed or feel ashamed of their purchase, but instead can experience these feelings if their deception is exposed to their social circles.
Through in-depth interviews with counterfeit-savvy consumers, Wang and his co-authors discovered a range of personal morals — from recognizing the damage they were doing to the brand to rationalizing that the fakes were good for the brand, embodying the saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
The study, co-authored with colleagues Xuemei Bian, University of Kent, Andrew Smith, Nottingham University Business School, and Natalia Yannopoulou, Newcastle University Business School, has been published online by the Journal of Business Research.