You may have heard the term dupe when referring to products that have a resemblance to others.
If you haven’t, dupe, short for ‘duplicate’, refers to a product that closely resembles a more expensive or high-end product. Dupes aren’t designed to deceive customers into believing that it is the more luxurious version.
For example, the image below shows Dr Martens (left) with a price tag of £139, and a dupe from EGO for only £27. These products have a similar design but since EGO hasn’t presented the product in a way that deceives customers into thinking they are genuine DMs, the product can be considered a dupe.
Comparably, knockoff products are almost a carbon copy of a higher-quality product, mimicking the appearance, design and branding of the original product with the intent to deceive customers into thinking they’re purchasing the genuine item.
Customer trends promote dupes
If there’s one thing TikTok is undeniably good at, it’s facilitating trends. One of the most iconic TikTok-trendy products right now is Stanley Tumblers. The genuine product (left) retails for £45, but the dupes are much cheaper, like this one from Amazon (right) which is only £16.
These two tumblers are easily distinguishable due to the Stanley logo sitting front and centre on the genuine product, so no consumers are being deceived or scammed by the Amazon dupe. However, this isn’t always the case…
UGC creator, Queen Tay, was sent a ‘Stanley Cup’ by a brand which she then promoted in a TikTok video. The product was later flagged as fake by TikTok’s anti-counterfeit systems. The creator claims that the product had identical features to her legitimate Stanley products, including original packaging, logos and stickers, and had been gifted to her under the pretence that it was genuine, so she had unknowingly advertised a knockoff.
Many consumers are happy to purchase dupes to save some money, but they deserve to know that what they’re buying isn’t genuine. Dupes often can’t compare with the craftsmanship of the original product, and when it comes to quality, I doubt any of the dupes on the market can compare to the Stanley Tumblers.
This is a little bit of a side note, but although I think £45 is a ridiculous price to pay for a tumbler, the durability of the Stanley cups does need an honourable mention here.
A TikTok user shared a video back in November 2023 showing the aftermath of a fire which had engulfed her car. The interior of the car was severely damaged, but her Stanley cup remained in the cup holder, only slightly charred. This is impressive in itself, but the real kicker is when she picks up the cup and shakes it to show that despite being in the centre of the flames, the tumbler still has ice inside. I doubt any of the dupes could match this.
Also, another side note, the President of Stanley reached out to this creator after seeing her video, offering her not only a range of new Stanley Tumblers but also a brand-new car to replace what she’d lost. The video racked up over 55.7M views, and considering how much consumers value seeing humanity and care from brands, I reckon this garnered a more than respectable amount of sales too – an incredible PR move from Stanley.
Okay, back to scheduled programming…
Dupes and knockoff products are found in abundance on fast-fashion, heavily discounted ecommerce outlets. These platforms are constantly pumping out new designs and styles in quick succession to meet the current trends, sacrificing quality for speed and often compromising on ethical values for low prices.
The below image shows the Van Cleef & Arpels Vintage Alhambra Bracelet (left), which retails for £3,950, with a dupe product from fast-fashion site, Temu (right), priced at £4.49, although at the time of writing it’s on sale for just £1.77.
Temu is known for its low-quality but low-cost items, and for an over 99% reduction in the price, it’s safe to say that the two bracelets couldn’t even begin to compare in terms of quality. But that’s okay because Temu customers are well aware that this will be the case.
Dupe or scam?
What if you don’t want a low-quality dupe? There are plenty of higher-quality, cost-effective alternatives for popular products, so they shouldn’t be hard to find, right?
Content creator Safiya Nygaard recently did some digging into the dupe vs scam advertising dilemma. Over four weeks, she counted 54 different ads on TikTok from 32 different companies, all using variations of the same images and videos of a specific dress.
Some of the people shown in the ads are content creators who had purchased the dress from House of CB and then reviewed it on TikTok, having their clips stolen by multiple other companies and reused to advertise the ‘same dress’. One of the women in the ads claims she’s reported ‘dozens’ of ads that were using her videos but none have been removed from the platform.
The websites of each advertising company mostly had identical product images, videos and descriptions for the dress in question. Some sites were empty apart from this one product listing, and most were riddled with spelling errors and broken English. Safiya recognised barely any of the brands, and there was little to no information available on TikTok or elsewhere on the web to provide insight into who these brands really were.
Most of the product listings had customer reviews with images, initially adding credibility, however, Safiya discovered that lots of these review images were identical across the advertisers’ sites, stolen from the review section of an Amazon dupe of the dress.
Classing the House of CB dress as the ‘original’, since that seemed to be the product in most of these ads, could the original dress, which retails for $225, truly be the exact same product as a $4 dupe promoted by companies on TikTok?
She put it to the test.
Ordering the original dress and four dupes, Safiya compared the quality of each. The original dress was exactly as pictured, very high quality with thick material with a supportive design, but House of CB is a known reputable brand, so this was little surprise.
Now before talking about the dupes, it’s important to mention that a key feature of the original dress (the dress shown in almost all of the ads and product listings) was a corset lace-up back. Spoiler alert, none of the dupes had this feature.
The four dupes were priced between $65 and $4. One didn’t arrive at all, and when Safiya tried to contact the company, their website conveniently didn’t exist anymore. Of those that did arrive, one was sent in a different colour to what she’d ordered, none of the dresses matched the pattern of the one shown in the ads, and every single one was made out of cheap, flimsy fabric, with little shape or support. And of course, no corset back on any of them.
These products can’t be classed as dupes or knockoffs – this is false advertising, tricking customers into purchasing an item that isn’t at all what is shown in the ads or on the companies’ websites.
It comes down to the age-old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is”. If the price of an item seems ridiculously low, alarm bells should be ringing.
It may sound like there were countless red flags throughout this process… because there were. But the problem is, Safiya only became sceptical of these products after seeing multiple ads, leading to further suspicious discoveries. However, many potential customers may only ever see one of the ads, without diving deeper, making it much harder to raise questions about legitimacy. It’s too easy for consumers on platforms such as TikTok to see an ad, click through to the site and immediately purchase the product, without any further research.
Taking control of counterfeit products
In the instance above, TikTok is letting its customers down by not thoroughly vetting the advertisers on its platform. It managed to identify the knockoff Stanley Cup, so how are so many other companies able to fill the platform with false advertising?
Online marketplaces must take action against counterfeit products to safeguard consumers and protect brands, but brands must also employ their own tactics to help protect against knockoff products and scams:
Secure intellectual property rights – Register trademarks, copyrights and patents for products, logos and any other unique identifiers. This provides a foundation for any future legal action against those producing or selling knockoff products.
Invest in anti-counterfeit measures – Include holographic labels, QR codes or other security features to product packaging so that genuine products can be easily identified. Incorporating unique and hard-to-replicate packaging design elements and security features makes it more challenging for counterfeiters to accurately mimic the packaging.
Collaborate with ecommerce platforms – Many platforms have preventative measures that allow brands to address any intellectual property infringement. Take advantage of these systems to detect and remove counterfeit listings on ecommerce sites and online marketplaces.
Educate consumers – Be vocal about the risks associated with knockoff products and the ways to identify genuine items so that consumers can stay aware and vigilant.
Since creating dupe products isn’t illegal, there isn’t much brands can do to fight this other than continue building a strong brand identity and maintaining high-quality products and services.
A brand that cleverly responded to widespread dupes is the Canadian athletic apparel company, Lululemon. Realising that they couldn’t keep up with the array of dupes for their products, Lululemon announced a ‘dupe-swap’, where they encouraged anybody who owned a dupe to their Align Pants (left, retail price £88) to attend and swap them for a genuine pair, for no cost! The yoga leggings have a modest design, with countless similar products on the market from a range of brands, such as this pair from Shein (right) which retail for only £7.49.
The dupe-swap aimed to not only remind existing customers why their products are better than cheaper alternatives but also to entice new customers who, perhaps, had never purchased from the brand but had bought resembling products to achieve the same look. Although the brand took a loss in providing these free swaps, many consumers were likely impressed by the quality of the product in comparison to the dupe, returning to Lululemon for other purchases in the future.
Dupes and knockoffs are inevitable, but brands should stand their ground and fight to make the ecommerce space safer for everyone.