This is a guest post by Alex Berger, a partner at DSTORE, an international retailer of prom dresses with a focus on the Brazilian market.
Knock-offs and counterfeit prom dresses are a huge problem here in the US for brands and retailers alike.
Can you imagine what is going on in places where laws are not as strict or not enforced as they are in the US?
Our company operates an online store that specializes in the Brazilian market. In Brazil, until about one year ago, there were only legit web sites selling prom dresses. The legit sites were contributing to improve internet sales reputation in the country. A tough job to do, but as long as you deliver, as promised, quality products on schedule, word of mouth spreads the good word.
Little by little knock off sites started to appear. At first they were very shy, as if testing the waters. They could not get good organic search results, so only a few paid sponsored results here and there.
We, the good ones, always tried to follow Google’s recommendations to the teeth, once we were always told that of you don’t comply with them you will get penalized: perfect grammar structure, lots of contents, only legit back links (people who link to your site – some people sell links and Google always said that if caught one gets dropped in search results).
Unbelievable as it might seem, Chinese knock off sites, using automatic translators, with horrible grammar structure, even hard to understand what they are trying to say, now show up in the first 5 or 10 organic (free) search results for prom dresses in Brazil. What ever happened to Google’s recommendations?
And that is on free search. As far as the paid results, they are on top of all results. It is their invasion. A pay per click ad on Google that used to cost pennies a year ago, now costs up to a dollar per click. No legit business can afford it anymore.
Google just launched in Brazil Google Shopping, a service that most people believe is just a free goodwill service provided by Google to show you who sells what. Not true anymore. Google shopping is a paid result advertising product just like any other of their ads or sponsored results.
Needless to say, these knock off and counterfeit sites advertise the same products we do, using in many cases the same images (which they steal from legit sites). Difference is that they do not deliver the same product. Instead, they deliver a very poor quality copy of the product. Whereas a legit dress would cost $500, they sell a copy for $100. A misinformed customer, especially young girls, do think that they place an image of the product they have to offer and intend to sell. Some customers even ask us why are we so overpriced compared to other online stores. Some sites don’t even care (at least in Brazil) and advertise the product as being authentic and original from the American brand.
What consequences does it bring?
Well, besides the obvious, which is to hurt legit people’s businesses, both the retailers and also manufactures, they are contributing to a much more serious outcome: the reputation of e-commerce as a whole. We are now hearing many stories of people saying: “I know someone who got screwed buying online, therefore I will never buy anything online”. It is becoming very hard to differentiate us from them. They used to have cheesy sites, but they have become professionals. Customers become inclined to believe that they are serious and legit.
People like Google, only interested in making a quick buck, are killing their own businesses, their own golden eggs. They will be responsible for destroying the online business that they helped to create.
As long as Google, Bing, Internet providers and other players in the industry allow them to advertise as a legit business, things will only get worse. It is as if we are moving backwards in e-commerce, at least in our industry. These players have to accept their responsibilities and protect the internet future.
It will be impossible to stop knock offs and counterfeits, but a good place to start is for Google to respect copyrighted images, and remove them when requested by the copyright holder. The watch industry managed a few months ago to get US ISPs to ban certain sites they were selling knock off Rolexes and Omegas. But they came back with different store names.
We all know that we should not believe everything we see online. But the problem is when something is advertised. It kind of borrows the trust and reputation of the vehicle, in this case, Google.
The advice we can give our customers is: do your research. Contact the brand. Check is a retailer is authorized to sell a certain brand. Check the store’s reputation. Don’t rely solely on what you read online.
And, finally remember this old saying:
“When a deal sounds too good to be true, it’s generally because it is too good to be true”