Social media influencers 'play a big role in counterfeit market'

People with a following on social media sites – commonly known as influencers – are exerting a "significant influence" on demand for counterfeit goods, according to a UK study.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) study – conducted by the  University of Portsmouth – took the form of a survey of 1,000 female consumers in the UK, and found that 17 per cent of them had knowingly bought a counterfeit item in the past, and one in five of them were habitual buyers.

Tellingly, just over 13 per cent of respondents revealed that they had been influenced to make a counterfeit purchase by social media endorsements, either knowingly or inadvertently.

A majority of those who had purchased a knock-off (70 per cent) were in the 16 to 33 age group, which accounted for more than three quarters of counterfeit demand (77 per cent).

"Influencers are regarded as trusted opinion leaders in their online communities, so their views matter to followers," says the IPO report.

"Some, complicit influencers, promote the illicit wares whilst reassuring potentially susceptible followers that buying counterfeits is both rational and acceptable," it continues.

The role of social media influencers in the counterfeit trade is witnessed by a 2020 lawsuit in which online retail giant Amazon launched a legal action against two influencers – Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci – claiming they were "promoting, advertising, and facilitating the sale" of fake luxury goods through Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook accounts.

A feature of the activity was a so-called “Order this/Get this” ploy. The listings promoted using social media might be for a generic wallet style, for example – making them hard to detect. However, tipped off purchasers would be aware that they would in fact receive a knock-off.

Fitzpatrick and Kelly-Krejci eventually reached a settlement with Amazon making payments that were donated to charity.

They were accused of selling copycat Gucci belts, tote bags, purses, and sunglasses, Disney wallets and Dior handbags and bracelets, which ties in with the IPO's findings that the most popular product categories targeted by "deviant" influencers were fashion, accessories, jewellery and beauty products.

The study also found that a hard core group – 3 per cent of respondents – actively sought out counterfeit items, using social medial posts to assist in their searches.

All told, 10 per cent of purchasers were prompted to buy a knock-off because of a social media post, 7 per cent knowingly and 3 per cent by mistake.

According to the research, the power of the influencers stems from four factors. Younger adults are more susceptible to trust them, are less likely to perceive risks associated with buying fakes, and have a higher tolerance for risk.

They are also more likely to construct rationalisations which justify the purchasing behaviour.

"When combined, these factors are a noxious mix that increases the likelihood of deviant purchasing.," concludes the report.

"Further research is required to understand how and the extent to which the influencers manipulate the four factors in order to overcome these residual inhibitions.

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