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5 minute read

Peter Shackleton
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Valuable lessons to learn ahead of back-to-school sales. Sponsored article by SmartFrame. 

As the ease and convenience of online shopping continues to shape our buying behavior, the need to stay vigilant against counterfeit goods grows more important.

Back-to-school sales, once the preserve of supermarkets, stationery retailers and clothing stores, have now proliferated from physical shops through to a raft of online retailers and marketplaces. Typically launched a month or so ahead of the start of the school and college year, the sales provide the opportunity for parents to stock up on everything from discounted textbooks to sportswear, as well as to buy a costlier laptop or tablet with a more agreeable price.

While it may lack the kind of publicity and frenzied purchasing associated with Black Friday, this sales period still accounts for a significant chunk of retailers’ annual revenue. Deloitte estimates that consumer spending on this year’s Back to School sales for the K-12 category (kindergarten to year 12) alone will reach $27.8bn in the US, with an average spend of $519 per student. Even in the UK, the sales period has grown to be the third must lucrative time of the year after Black Friday and Christmas, netting retailers £915m.

The prominence of the event, however, together with the broad array of product categories subject to discounts, make it a prime opportunity for fraudsters to dupe unsuspecting parents with counterfeit products. Although many shoppers may assume that they sufficiently protect themselves by shopping through well-known sites, consumers have shown to value price, product and convenience the most, ahead of the reputation of the store itself.

But even the biggest names in online shopping are far from immune from this activity. Indeed, their popularity only makes them more attractive as targets – and for fraudsters, it’s big business. A report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and EU’s Intellectual Property Office has found that 3.3% of the world’s trade is now in counterfeit goods, a figure that’s only expected to rise.

Established, well-known physical retailers maintain two key advantages over online stores, namely a relatively straightforward supply chain that mitigates the risk of counterfeit goods making their way onto shelves, together with the option for the purchaser to physically assess products for authenticity, prior to any sale taking place. While online retailers may claim to have checks in place to minimise the chance of counterfeit goods being sold through their channels, the more complex logistical chains in popular online marketplaces, together with the more anonymous nature of the third-party vendors on these sites and the option to buy secondhand goods, makes this way of shopping naturally more susceptible to problems.

But why is this an issue for shoppers? With significant cost often associated with back-to-school shopping, aren’t counterfeits – while disingenuous – just offering shoppers a cheaper alternative? It’s true that counterfeit products will be more attractively priced than the genuine item, but they are also not subject to the same rigorous testing, quality standards or guarantees of authentic products. As a consumer, there is no way of confirming the quality or even the safety of a counterfeit product, which is all the more worrisome when the product in question is destined to be used by a child.  

Manufacturers of genuine products based in the EU, as well as importers of products originating outside of the EU, are required to adhere to the General Product Safety Regulations (2005), which makes clear their legal responsibility to ensure that products sold to consumers are safe in their normal usage. Understandably, mistakes can happen and faults may be found after some time, although these can be minimised through swift product recalls. Those invested in manufacturing counterfeit products have neither the interest nor the means to issue similar recalls, which increases the likelihood of harm to consumers from defective products. 

SmartFrame image
SmartFrame image

Aside from achieving a standard of production that makes it hard to differentiate counterfeit goods from genuine articles, fraudsters exploit two key pillars of online shopping to increase the likelihood of a purchase: product reviews and high-quality images. In the absence of the opportunity to physically vet online products in any way, these are the most reliable factors that help the consumer decide either way on a purchase.  

Images that allow for the prospective purchaser to assess a product’s finer detail from different angles give the clearest indication of what buyers will receive. It is, therefore, in the manufacturer’s interest to furnish retailers and other places of purchase with high-quality images at an appropriate resolution. The ease with which such images can be stolen and used to market counterfeit goods elsewhere, however, highlights a problem that hasn’t traditionally had an obvious solution – and the better the quality of the images, the more attractive they appear to thieves.

Most approaches to addressing image theft have focused on preventing the unauthorised use of images that have already been stolen, rather than protecting them from being taken to begin with. Deterring would-be thieves is of paramount importance to manufacturers, both to protect legitimate sales of their products and also to maintain the integrity of the brand in the eye of the shopper. Of course, it may be the case that the shopper is happy to buy a product in the knowledge that it’s not genuine – particularly if it can be had at a fraction of the cost of the original – but making its images harder to repurpose is a vital first step in combating the promotion of such goods. 

It’s important to understand whether the unauthorized copying and use of images is covered by law, as it is something that many internet users do on a daily basis. Obviously, regulation changes from country to country, but images generally are protected by copyright, and unauthorized reuse of those images is an offence. In the UK, images are protected by copyright as artistic works, with the copyright owner being the photographer (or, if the images were taken as part of a professional engagement, the employer).

SmartFrame’s approach not only tackles the initial attempts at theft, but also allows users to keep an eye on where their images are being used or shared, all from a single portal. Attempts to save a SmartFrame, be it through right-clicking on it or capturing a screenshot, are met with a warning sign that prevents the image from being saved in a usable form. Meanwhile, Deep Zoom functionality lets the shopper scrutinise a product’s finer details by zooming further into high-resolution images, with constant protection provided by SmartFrame over their unauthorised downloading.  

This is compounded by more granular control over how the image appears to the user long after it’s been published, with the option to adjust sharing permissions or remove instances, wherever they may appear, as and when such measures are required. Marketing messages can also be added or amended to SmartFrames, together with information on specific aspects of a product’s functionality, which can be delivered in an interactive widget. Insights on how users are interacting with these images can also be used to inform future campaigns, in turn helping sales.

As online shopping becomes an accepted way to purchase a greater range of products, the need to protect those items from being muddled with counterfeit alternatives becomes more salient. While only so much can be done to prevent their manufacture, having a robust system in place to limit the potential for their fraudulent marketing is critical for manufacturers and IP holders. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated.

Find out more about SmartFrame

SmartFrame image
SmartFrame image

If you would like to know more about UK copyright, please have a read of the Intellectual Property Office Copyright notice for digital images, our guide on GDPR compliance may also be of interest. 

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Peter has been building commercial operations within Tech businesses for almost 20 years, now helping to redefine the digital image standard with SmartFrame...otherwise a cyclist and general sports nut.

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