Buy­ing coun­ter­feits has a cul­tural spin, re­search says

The National - News - Business - - Front Page - Cé­cile Chamaret is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Paris Sor­bonne Univer­sity Abu Dhabi and in charge of the lux­ury goods re­search pro­gramme. Ju­lia Pueschel is a part­time teacher at Paris Sor­bonne Univer­sity Abu Dhabi. Béatrice Par­guel is a re­searcher at CNRS, t

A new study shows that when Emi­rati con­sumers buy coun­ter­feit goods, they jus­tify the pur­chases in ways re­lated to cul­ture and a per­ceived lack of risk. Th­ese in­sights can help pol­i­cy­mak­ers to fight the prac­tice among shop­pers of all stripes, write Cé­cile Chamaret, Ju­lia Pueschel and Béatrice Par­guel

Is it a real one?

As coun­ter­feit prod­ucts be­come com­mon in the UAE, who has never won­dered whether one of the many top-brand hand­bags proudly sported was a fake?

And quite rightly. Al­though cit­i­zens of the UAE have one of the high­est per capita in­comes on the planet, one third of them are be­lieved to oc­ca­sion­ally buy coun­ter­feit lux­ury goods, as was shown by re­searchers from Paris Sor­bonne Univer­sity Abu Dhabi, who re­cently un­der­took a se­ries of stud­ies to ex­plain this para­dox.

So why do Emi­ratis buy coun­ter­feit goods when they could af­ford the gen­uine prod­uct? One ex­pla­na­tion may be that they do not per­ceive such pur­chases as risky, feel­ing there is:

No le­gal risk (the risk of sanc­tions for buy­ing or us­ing coun­ter­feit goods);

No fi­nan­cial risk (even though poor-qual­ity coun­ter­feit goods carry no guar­an­tees);

No eth­i­cal risk (per­cep­tion of com­mit­ting a morally rep­re­hen­si­ble act);

No macroe­co­nomic risk (per­cep­tions of tax eva­sion, or the loss of jobs and the trade deficit that could re­sult from coun­ter­feit con­sump­tion);

No psy­choso­cial risk (feel­ings of shame or guilt about buy­ing or con­sum­ing coun­ter­feit goods, partly be­cause of other peo­ple’s crit­i­cisms of con­sumers of coun­ter­feit goods);

No per­for­mance risk (re­lated to the poorer qual­ity of coun­ter­feit goods).

A quan­ti­ta­tive study of 104 Emi­ratis con­firmed that they see ab­so­lutely no le­gal or fi­nan­cial risk in the pur­chase of coun­ter­feit goods, as well as low eth­i­cal and macroe­co­nomic risks. How­ever, they do as­so­ciate such pur­chases with sub­stan­tial psy­choso­cial and per­for­mance risks. So when Emi­ratis buy fake goods, they do so de­spite the pos­si­bil­ity of the prod­uct fail­ing them or their peers crit­i­cis­ing their choice.

To fol­low up this first study, the Paris Sor­bonne Univer­sity Abu Dhabi re­searchers con­ducted a se­ries of 19 in­ter­views with Emi­ratis rep­re­sent­ing a range of pro­files. First, th­ese in­ter­views con­firm the per­cep­tion of sub­stan­tial psy­choso­cial and per­for­mance risks.

Re­gard­ing psy­choso­cial risk, the in­ter­vie­wees ex­press their con­cern in the fol­low­ing ways: “What if some­one caught me with some­thing fake?” and “They will judge me and will think ev­ery­thing that I own is fake”.

Re­gard­ing per­for­mance qual­ity, they ex­pect that “the qual­ity won’t be the same” or “I’ll use it for a month and then it will need re­pair­ing”.

More in­ter­est­ingly, the in­ter­views show the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion strate­gies used by Emi­ratis to cope with the risks they as­so­ciate with buy­ing coun­ter­feit goods.

A first strat­egy re­lies on Emi­rati con­sumers’ high ex­per­tise in lux­ury prod­ucts, which they draw on in or­der to se­lect only the best fake prod­ucts – “A- grade fake”, “AAA copy”, “copy num­ber 1” – some­times cost­ing sev­eral thou­sand dirhams. This is a way for con­sum- ers to re­duce the risk of buy­ing a poor-qual­ity prod­uct, as well as the po­ten­tially as­so­ci­ated psy­choso­cial risk of be­ing caught.

A se­cond, and par­tic­u­larly cre­ative, strat­egy con­sists of us­ing both gen­uine prod­ucts and copies, de­pend­ing on the oc­ca­sion. Au­then­tic ar­ti­cles are pre­ferred when the in­di­vid­ual is at­tend­ing so­cially mean­ing­ful events, and fakes are used in ev­ery­day sit­u­a­tions. Own­ing gen­uine branded goods some­how “au­then­ti­cates” the coun­ter­feit prod­ucts, and pro­vides con­sumers with greater pro­tec­tion against the risk of de­tec­tion.

A third strat­egy, la­belled the “fash­ion­ista strat­egy”, con­sists of favour­ing copies of very re­cent or lim­ited- edi­tion prod­ucts. As th­ese types of im­i­ta­tion goods are usu­ally avail­able just a few weeks af­ter the orig­i­nal prod­ucts go on sale, they are less fa­mil­iar to the gen­eral pub­lic. This makes it more dif­fi­cult to spot the tell­tale dif­fer­ences be­tween the gen­uine and fake ar­ti­cles, and also lim­its the psy­choso­cial risk at­tached to coun­ter­feit pur­chases.

There is also a fourth strat­egy, the “be­liever strat­egy”, founded on the idea that buy­ing gen­uine lux­ury prod­ucts can have an im­moral di­men­sion when other peo­ple are liv­ing in poverty. In this case buy­ing coun­ter­feits is jus­ti­fied by re­li­gion, and in par­tic­u­lar by the fact that the money saved can be given to the poor.

Ex­am­in­ing the cul­tural speci­ficity of lux­ury con­sump­tion in the UAE, the re­sults of the work by re­searchers at Paris Sor­bonne Univer­sity Abu Dhabi add to the large body of work con­cern­ing western and Asian con­sumers of lux­ury goods. In­ter­est­ingly, they show that Emi­ratis buy coun­ter­feit items par­tic­u­larly be­cause they are struc­turally large buy­ers of lux­ury prod­ucts. The ris­ing num­ber of col­lec­tions launched by lux­ury brands in a sin­gle year could in­crease de­mand for gen­uine prod­ucts as much as for coun­ter­feit goods. Fur­ther­more, be­cause they help to ex­plain what stops peo­ple from buy­ing copies and the strate­gies used more or less con­sciously to over­come their ret­i­cence, th­ese re­search find­ings sug­gest a cer­tain num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions for pub­lic pol­i­cy­mak­ers in charge of anti-coun­ter­feit mea­sures.

First, anti-coun­ter­feit ac­tion plans should aim for a more con­crete pre­sen­ta­tion of the risks that are not per­ceived by Emi­ratis when they buy im­i­ta­tion goods. They could re­mind con­sumers of the le­gal risks they run, par­tic­u­larly if they are go­ing to cross in­ter­na­tional bor­ders, and the sanc­tions ap­pli­ca­ble could be re­in­forced.

More em­pha­sis could also be placed on the eth­i­cal and macroe­co­nomic risks as­so­ci­ated with pur­chases of coun­ter­feit goods made by child work­ers in Asia, and the harm done to the UAE econ­omy could be­come a main theme of their con­sumer in­for­ma­tion and education cam­paigns.

Anti-coun­ter­feit plans could then try to foil the strate­gies used by Emi­ratis to ex­plain and jus­tify their pur­chases of im­i­ta­tion goods. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns should stress the re­al­ity of the psy­choso­cial risk at­tached to coun­ter­feit pur­chases, and present such pur­chases as po­ten­tially shame­ful.

The Na­tional Staff

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