Copycat works

September 28, 2009
Fake Gucci-branded handbags are displayed at a store on Le Loi Boulevard in Ho Chi Minh City

The popularity of imitation-brand products in Vietnam’s shops and markets is a formidable obstacle in the government’s campaign to stigmatize counterfeiting.

Brand theft is more common at the retail level in Hanoi than in Ho Chi Minh City, but the southern metropolis is the country’s main producer of counterfeit goods, according to a survey released last week.

The survey by the Italian Trade Commission and Nielsen Vietnam found that fakes account for a staggering 45 percent of brand-name retail purchases in Hanoi, and 35 percent in HCMC.

In all, 200 shoppers were quizzed and 670 samples taken from shops and markets in the two cities.

Of the consumers polled, 78 percent of Hanoians bought counterfeit goods, well above the 52 percent in HCMC.

The survey covered clothing, footwear, fashion accessories, wine and other alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and white goods like microwaves and refrigerators.

Clothing brands were counterfeited the most in HCMC, whereas electronic goods, household appli-ances and pharmaceuticals were the likeliest fake brands in Hanoi.

About 83 percent of the phony brands for sale in Hanoi’s shops and markets came from China, while 65 percent of the counterfeit goods on store shelves in HCMC were produced in Vietnam.

Thailand, Cambodia and Laos were also reported as sources of fake goods.

Hanoians had a stronger preference for expensive brands, with 70 percent of them saying they liked to buy luxury-brand products, against 60 percent down south.

Barely 29 percent of Hanoians denied they shopped for fancy brands to draw attention to themselves, while 48 percent of Saigonese were quite forward about their vanity in this respect.

Catherine Eddy of Nielsen said Vietnamese consumers like the lower prices of counterfeit goods, and retailers like the higher profits they generate.

She said that buying fakes is a personal decision and not influ-enced by third parties. If something stands out, looks good and is reasonably priced, a Vietnamese shopper is inclined to buy it.

One reason why fake brand-name clothing is popular, just to give one example, is that the danger to health is minimal, unlike pharmaceuticals.

The harder economic climate plays a major role in the public’s liking for imitation as people have less money to spend or are fearful of splashing out when they might need the money for later.

And, in a deteriorating market, retailers are struggling to make a profit.

Another factor is the difficulty for shoppers in telling the fake and the genuine apart.

As the survey only canvassed shoppers and retailers in downtown Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the people polled were among the nation’s higher income earners and therefore had the most discretionary spending.

A similar survey in the countryside or the outlying districts of Vietnam’s two biggest cities would have found that price was everything as consumers had less money to spend and could not afford genuine brands anyway.

Martino Castellani, head of the Italian Trade Commission’s Intel-lectual Property Rights Desk, said counterfeiting is a major issue in Vietnam and affects everything from luxury goods to computer hardware, software, liquor and pharmaceuticals, all of which are easy to obtain in the marketplace.

Castellani said several Italian fashion houses have been deterred from setting up shop in Vietnam because of the prevalence of brand imitation over here.

It’s not just Italian clothing, either. Castellani said he found an obviously fake Italian-brand chocolate bar at an airport shop in Vietnam that had been produced in Vietnam and exported to other countries.

Nguyen Van Vien, chairman of the Intellectual Property Associ-ation in HCMC, said little progress is being made in the war against counterfeiting as too many shoppers and retailers express their tacit support for fakes by shelling out money for them.

Reported by Minh Quang

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