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Tourists: why you should avoid buying from street hawkers

Posted by Red Points on Thursday, Jul 27, 2017

Street hawkers sell designer goods at a fraction of their genuine cost, but at what price? Here’s why you should avoid buying fakes on holiday this summer.


With summer in full swing, it’s high time to get out the beach towel and flip-flops for a well-deserved holiday. But when you arrive to Venice, Athens or Barcelona, it’s a good idea to stay afloat of your potential risks. No, we’re not talking about sunburn. We’re talking about fake designer goods.

Holidaymakers are a big part of the global counterfeit industry, with a report revealing that almost half of UK tourists buy fake products when they are abroad. Worryingly, the 2010 report by Kelkoo found that just 17% said they thought it was illegal to buy these counterfeit products and bring them back into the UK.

Risks of fines

It is most certainly illegal anywhere in the EU to import items that infringe on an intellectual property right. This is true even for importing a single item for personal use, although officials are usually focused on commercial-scale seizures. However, some countries have experimented with tighter laws: in Italy a tourist was fined €1,000 over a fake Louis Vuitton purse and a French campaign warns that purchasing counterfeit goods could land you with a €300,000 fine.

‘Looky looky’ street hawkers populate city centres all over Europe, selling everything from fake football club jerseys to knock-off Gucci handbags. It’s a hard practice to clamp down on, and it’s not a good one to support. Prevalence of street hawking often leads to an increase of urban crime as supply of immigrant workers fails to meet demand. Further to this, the existence of counterfeit goods damages creativity and innovation in a wealth of industries, and as an OECD report outlines, caused a loss of €85 billion across the EU in 2016, not to mention thousands of legitimate jobs.

Lesser quality

The inferior quality of fake goods mean that they often break before you’ve even had a chance to board a plane home. Worse, they are entirely unregulated by trading standards, and some can even be harmful: often seized goods are found to contain illegal levels of dangerous chemicals, and that’s not to mention counterfeit goods such as pharmaceuticals and alcohol, which have regularly been found to contain all manner of toxic ingredients.

The problem of fakes is unquestionably made worse by tourists supporting the illicit trading by purchasing goods. As summarised by the European Commission, “one of the principal methods of dispersing counterfeits is the 'ant-like' traffic of tourists returning home from holiday, bringing back souvenirs”. Recently voicing support for criminalisation of purchasing fake goods, a Dubai police officer adds that “whoever buys counterfeit goods is involved in ensuring the constant battle between government and criminals who sell fake products”.

Street hawkers are typically illegal immigrants, who, unable to work legitimately, turn to selling fakes. The business is usually part of a complex organisation, with many vendors answering to the same group of leaders who distribute goods amongst the network. At the upper end of the supply chain, goods are purchased in bulk and without logos, which are later stitched on using industrial sewing machines. Most fake designer goods spotted on the street in Europe are bulk-bought from Chinese-run stores, who, it is safe to assume, likely buys their wares from e-commerce sites like those run by Alibaba, a group of marketplaces who have long been struggling to control a problem with counterfeiting. These products originate from Chinese factories which have turned to mass-producing counterfeits following the ‘Made in China’ manufacturing shift.

Who is to blame?

Working out who’s to blame for counterfeit goods is thus a tricky subject, as the supply and the demand sides of operations perpetrate the illicit industry. Regardless, it’s clear that both have a part to play. Tourists, rather than seeking designer bargains in Europe this summer, should at least work to support efforts to work with governments and legitimise street selling, like the fashion label recently launched by street hawkers in Barcelona. Brands should take steps to combat counterfeiting of their products at the source, namely in Hong Kong and China, where, as explained by the OECD report, 84.5% of counterfeit goods are produced. The problem of counterfeiting will undoubtedly continue to harm popular brands and consumers alike until both supply and demand have been restricted.

So this summer when you spot a cheap pair of fake Ray-Bans, try not to forget the true price of your “bargain”. To find out more about how brands can protect their IP, take a look at our free eBook:

Brand Protection specialists Red Points' market research study on counterfeit football jerseys on social media

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Red Points

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