The 2023 Global Anti-Counterfeiting Consumer Survey:
Reflections and the Way Forward!

Saleem Alhabash
Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, College of Communication Arts & Sciences, MSU
Associate Director of Research, A-CAPP Center, MSU

It has been about three months since the A-CAPP Center released its benchmarking global consumer survey focused on understanding consumer behavior as it relates to buying counterfeit products. The survey, administered in seven languages, recruited over 13,000 participants from 17 countries. It sheds light on important aspects of not only the prevalence and acceptance of counterfeit buying, but also on understanding the social-psychological mechanisms underlying such risky consumer decisions.

Since the release of our survey findings and the associated actionable insights for consumer education and awareness-raising efforts, we received various responses from the brand protection community.  For example, our findings that over half of the global sample knowingly buy counterfeits and two-thirds are duped into buying counterfeits while shopping online were met with head-nods from within the community – including brand owners, law enforcement, and government agencies, as the magnitude of the problem is far from new information. On the other hand, as we shared prevalence findings with those external to the brand protection (e.g., members of congress, journalists, and lay audiences), the response was a mix of alarm and disbelief. This highlights the importance of translating our research findings into actionable insights to raise consumers’ awareness about the dangers of buying counterfeits.

Consumer Attributes Matter

Some of our findings were counter intuitive. Contrary to our expectations, males were more likely to buy counterfeits than females.  And some findings were expected, such as that younger consumers, given their technology habits and ease of use, were more frequent buyers of counterfeits than older consumers. Counterfeit purchase was also more prevalent among those from lower income and larger households. Finally, we found that consumers who self-identified as religous were more likely to buy counterfeits and plan to do so in the future than their less-religious counterparts. Jokingly, members of our research team concluded that “it’s as if God is telling us to buy more counterfeits.” Joking aside, more in-depth analysis of these findings is provided in the full report and could be important for future work in this domain, particularly in creating specific messaging for consumers.

Consumer Psychology Explains a Lot

The uniqueness of our global study stems from its emphasis on going beyond describing the problem of counterfeiting to further understand the social-psychological mechanism underlying consumer decision making as it pertains to buying counterfeit products. In our study, we used theories of motivation, planned behavior, and protection motivation to predict counterfeit purchase intentions and behaviors.

A few findings are worth mentioning. First, even though economic benefits motives (buying counterfeits to make use of a good bargain) were the highest rated among participants, it was hedonic motives (buying counterfeits impulsively as part of online shopping rituals) that were much stronger predictors of counterfeit purchase intentions and behaviors.

Second, our findings point to a plausible fatalistic when it comes to enacting protective behaviors that stem from counterfeit risk perceptions. Though participants reported high levels of awareness of counterfeit risks and indicated a high level of confidence in their ability to protect themselves against those risks when shopping online, it was those who felt more vulnerable to counterfeit risks who were more likely to buy counterfeits and even want to do so in the future.

That points to a conundrum that begs more serious attention when communicating with consumers about counterfeit buying risks. Efforts should center on persuading consumers that not only they can protect themselves against those risks, but also persuading them that it is for their own benefit and the benefit of others to do so.

What’s Next?

Our global consumer study presents a benchmark for understanding why and how consumers buy counterfeit products around the world, but it barely scratches the surface. More work is needed!

It is also critical to highlight the importance of basing interventions and strategies targeting consumers on research evidence. The exponential growth in the volume and velocity of counterfeit product availability on the global market is only expected to grow in the digital era of e-commerce and social commerce, thus rendering efforts to contain this problem near impossible, especially with the increasingly important role of artificial intelligence (AI). Engaging consumers in learning and thinking about the dangers of counterfeiting has never been more critical.

To do so effectively, a deeper understanding of consumers should guide human-centered efforts to curb the prevalence of counterfeiting here in the United States and globally. From takedowns and seizures to legislation and regulations, a consumer-centric approach is needed to change the global discourse related to how people think and what they do when faced with counterfeit products online. The problem is far too urgent for us to rely on intuition; data should take the driver’s seat in guiding global and country-specific strategies.

Want to learn more?
You can access the executive summary and purchase/download the report here.

The study was co-authored by Saleem Alhabash, Anastasia Kononova, Patricia Huddleston, Heijin Lee, and Moldir Modalgaliyeva.