London-based fashion brand Karen Millen is accelerating efforts to tackle the ongoing threat of counterfeit websites as it considers joining forces with other fashion brands to undertake the costly process of entering clothing factories in Asia in order to prevent fake goods being produced.
Speaking to The Drum at an event hosted by brand protection company MarkMonitor, in-house legal counsel at Karen Millen James Corlett, said that the fashion brand, which has so far delisted over £500,000 of counterfeit products on eBay, is constantly assessing the threat of fake goods to the brand, particularly after swathes of vendors moved away from Alibabi and toother Asian marketplaces when it floated on the stock market.
“We’ve taken it really seriously. Now it’s about building on that and moving forward and monitoring how big an issue for us this is on an ongoing process. We’re in the process of [assessing the] cost benefit of physically going into places and mapping the factories and taking action over there but that’s not a cheap or easy action to take.”
“There is potential [to go into factories] and I know that there are brands that are looking at plugging together.”
Corlett explained that usually counterfeit sellers sell their products at just under the retail price of a genuine Karen Millen product and then place them on discount to fool consumers – an issue he said has increased online over the last three years and is “ really confusing” for buyers.
“That worry is there throughout the year,” he revealed. “Retailers at the moment are running lots of sales over the year and counterfeiters are clever enough to time their promotions in with those sales periods. I haven’t got any specific evidence but I image there are several counterfeiters who probably high jacked Black Friday and Cyber Monday.”
Asked how much revenue Karen Millen is potentially losing out on, Corlett admitted it is “really difficult to quantify”, and as a consequence the Karen Millen board directors demanded an ROI on the cost of employing anti-counterfeit companies such as MarkMonitor, as it is “not cheap to defend a brand like Karen Millen”.
Corlett and his team have placed a big focus on shutting down counterfeiting websites, around 65 to date, and have succeeded in reducing the visibility of the sites on Google search results. However, with the rise of social media counterfeiters have begun to move increasingly from search to social, and though not yet a huge threat to Karen Millen, it is an issue that Corlett is keeping an eye on.
“Instagram is one that hasn’t really been an issue for us but I know for other brands it has. In particular where they’ve had celebrity endorsements, there have been issues with that person’s Instagram being hijacked by a counterfeiter commenting on images because the brand may not check that.”
Taking action against these websites is as much about maintaining brand equity as ensuring sales and profit are not snatched away from Karen Millen, claimed Corlett, who said that the brand has a dedicated page on its website called ‘Join our Fight’, which encourages customers to protect the brand and inform them if they come across a suspicious site.
The initiative is occasionally promoted via social media, said Corlett, but often this gets forgotten during busy sale periods. “Occasionally it does get pushed but I guess in the drive up to sales in falls on the way side. It’s me and the brand teams banging the drum on it and It’s not the easiest thing to resource because at the end of the day Karen Millen is there to sell products. It’s educating not just the customers that we’ve got, but the staff members as well in terms of looking out for what is counterfeit and forming policies around it.”
According to the MarkMonitor shopping report, which surveyed almost nine million shopping sessions, the number of consumers looking for a bargain price over a fake item has grown substantially since its previous study, with a ratio of 28 deal-seekers to one fake-seeker, compared to 20-deal seekers to every one fake-seeker.