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Survey: Counterfeit Athletic Footwear Finds Plenty of Market Space Online

Counterfeits, it seems, are a much bigger problem for brands than consumers.

Roughly seven out of 10 consumers who buy counterfeit footwear are still satisfied with their purchases to some extent, according to trend market researcher and intellectual property firm Red Points, which said brands must be more aggressive in protecting their profits as knockoff merchandise becomes more acceptable by the mainstream consumer.

Athletic footwear is expected to eclipse $114 billion in gross market value by 2022, and it’s one of the industry’s strongest and most consistent sectors. As profits continue to grow and supply falls behind demand—as well as the high price tags of some items—the prevalence of “look-alikes” and counterfeits online has increased.

The Organization Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that over a three-year period, counterfeit footwear was the most smuggled product found in border seizures, and it expects that number to continue growing. The business of counterfeit athletic footwear is valued at a $12 billion, according to some estimates, and is assisted by a remarkable agility in the marketplace. Counterfeiters are now able to respond to niche-market demand, affecting newer, more obscure mid-range brands for the first time.

According to a Red Points survey of U.S. consumers ages 18 to 35, 20 percent said they had purchased fake footwear online at some point, and 35 percent of those purchases were made unknowingly. Roughly half of the consumers who purchased fake items bought them with the original intention of buying the real product. And about 69 percent of those surveyed said they were still satisfied with their counterfeit products post purchase.

Red Points’ finding revealed only 9 percent of surveyed consumers actually set out to find counterfeit goods, and more than one-third of responders were simply looking for a shoe visually similar to a more expensive item, suggesting fake purchases are primarily driven by price sensitivity. Just under half of those surveyed admitted they would purchase counterfeits for a sufficient discount, with the majority placing that discount in the 50 percent range.

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Most consumers look to Google, Amazon and official retailer sites when looking for athletic footwear, Red Points found, but savvy counterfeiters have started using SEO to lure prospective purchasers to their platforms, using search terms like “cheap” or “alternative.”

Meanwhile, 61 percent of respondents said they use social media to shop for athletic footwear, yet social purchasing is most associated with counterfeits, and consumers are largely unaware of just how prevalent it is, according to Red Points.

Counterfeit productions of Adidas’ limited Yeezy sneaker line outnumbered the real thing by six to one online within three months of the product’s official release. On average, the fake versions were selling for roughly 20 percent of the actual retail price.

The only way for brands and retailers to get ahead of the game, according to Red Points, is to educate consumers before they make the purchase. Roughly 32 percent of consumers surveyed said they weren’t confident they could identify fake sports shoes online.

“Brands should be investing in online content about how to detect fakes, including telltale signs on the product and perhaps even price ranges,” Red Points said. “Many manufacturers today will include whitelists of channels where they operate, though these can be problematic when it comes to the grey market.”