Survey: One in Five Brits Bought Counterfeit Products in the Past 12 Months

February 18, 2021
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2021 Counterfeiting in the UK Survey | engage™

Counterfeiting is becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the United Kingdom. According to the most recent OECD report on counterfeiting, imports of counterfeit and pirated goods to the U.K. accounted for GBP 13.6 billion in 2016 - roughly 3% of total genuine goods imports. More than 86,000 jobs were lost in the country because of counterfeiting and piracy, with ICT devices being the most ‘popular’ counterfeit goods. 

The most interesting finding in the report, however, is the fact that 47% of counterfeit goods imported to the U.K. in 2016 were sold to consumers who knew they were buying fake products. That got us thinking, how aware are people in the U.K. of the dangers of counterfeiting? How many of them have purchased something that turned out to be counterfeit in the past year? 

We ran a survey to analyze the behavior of online and in-store shoppers in the U.K., to see how aware they are of the dangers of counterfeiting, and what they do to protect themselves from fake products. Here’s what we found. 

48% of UK shoppers are ‘somewhat aware’ of how widespread counterfeiting is at a global level

We wanted to measure the level of awareness when it comes to counterfeiting, so we asked respondents how aware they are of this issue. Close to 48% of U.K. respondents said they were somewhat aware of how widespread this issue is on a global level, with 7% stating that they had no idea. That might not seem like a big number, but it’s an alarming sign that there are many shoppers out there who aren’t aware of the dangers of counterfeiting, and these shoppers are the most vulnerable and most likely to unknowingly purchase a fake item. The good news is that over 45% of respondents said they were very aware of this issue, and it’s more than likely that they’re doing their best to protect themselves from fake products. 

35% of respondents might have purchased counterfeit items in the last 12 months

We asked respondents from the U.K. whether they (knowingly or unknowingly) bought something counterfeit in the past 12 months. 19% of them said that yes, they did purchase something that turned out to be counterfeit, while 66% said no, and 16% were unsure. The number of respondents who responded affirmatively is alarming, but even more alarming is the number of buyers who aren’t sure whether they purchased an original product or a replica. 

Their response emphasizes the fact that counterfeiters are becoming more and more skilled, to the point where it’s incredibly difficult to tell the difference between the original item and the replica. Think of Louis Vuitton bags, iconic Cartier Love bracelets, flagship iPhones, and even sneakers; these are some of the most popular products and product categories that create a lot of revenue for counterfeiters, and cause a lot of headaches for brands and consumers. 

Even more troubling, according to our analysis, is the fact that only 24% of shoppers in the U.K. actually reported a purchase they made that turned out to be counterfeit. Close to 46% of respondents said they never reported a fake purchase. The explanation for this is two-fold: either shoppers didn’t want to, or weren’t able to, report and return the item, or they knew they were buying a counterfeit product from the get-go. Interestingly enough, 31% of respondents said they’ve never been in that situation - that they know of. This category poses the most concern, as these shoppers might have actually bought something counterfeit in the past year, but they don’t even know it.

58% of consumers would lose trust in a brand after unknowingly buying a replica

Counterfeiters are highly skilled at what they do, and they know exactly how to lure unsuspecting buyers to buy their products. More often than not, shoppers will be drawn by significant discounts and special offers, high-quality images and detailed descriptions, and product details that look identical to the original. 

The fact that counterfeit manufacturers have become so skilled at replicating products is a major cause for concern for brands. Consumers end up buying items that they believe are authentic, and then they lose trust in that particular brand once they realize it’s a fake. Other times, consumers won’t even realize that the product is not genuine, and end up disappointed in the subpar quality of the product. This eventually causes significant damage to a brand’s reputation, no matter the cause. 58% of respondents told us they’d lose trust in a brand if they were to unknowingly purchase a replica of one of their products.

Buying counterfeit items clearly has a massive impact on a brand’s reputation, which also leads to a loss in revenue as consumers lose trust in that brand. Things are slightly different, however, when it comes to shopping from online marketplaces like Amazon or eBay. 39% of respondents said they would return to the same online marketplace after buying a counterfeit item there, and 23% were undecided. What this means is that, while consumers might return to an online marketplace after being deceived, they would probably not purchase again from the same brand that they had problems with. 

81% of respondents think the fashion industry is the most affected by counterfeiting; they’re (somewhat) right

We asked our respondents to give their opinions on the industries most affected by counterfeiting, encouraging them to add their own answers, as well. As it turns out, respondents picked the fashion industry as the most affected by counterfeiting, followed by the beauty industry and then electronics. Other industries that they chose were automotive, sports goods, and pharmaceuticals. While it’s true that these industries are heavily impacted by counterfeits, in reality, the fashion industry isn’t at the top of the list. 

According to the OECD counterfeiting report, which is based on the most recent available dataset from 2016, ICT (information and communications technology) devices were the most counterfeited type of goods in the U.K. in absolute terms. An estimated value of GBP 2.5 billion fakes were imported to the U.K. in 2016 in this category. 

In relative terms, however, the fashion and accessories industry, together with toys and games, were the most targeted by counterfeiters. Fakes in these two industries represented 9.3% and 8%, respectively, of U.K. imports in 2016. Consequently, our respondents weren’t wrong when they picked fashion and electronics to be among the most affected industries. 

The beauty industry has become more vulnerable and popular among counterfeiters in recent years, following an explosion of new brands and makeup/beauty-related YouTube influencers. The result? Counterfeit cosmetics are the third-most investigated fake products in the U.K., according to an ITV This morning broadcast last fall. 

76% of respondents go to online marketplaces like Amazon when shopping online

Through our survey, we wanted to see where and how often people in the U.K. shop, so we asked them about their shopping preferences. 76% of respondents said they go to online marketplaces like Amazon when shopping on the web, instead of buying directly from a brand’s website. It could be because these marketplace often boast lower prices for brand items, and special offers and discounts are also commonly available. On the downside, online marketplaces pose more risk of counterfeiting than buying directly from a brand’s official website, so shoppers need to be careful.

When it comes to in-store shopping, things are a bit different, as 84% of respondents choose brand stores over resellers, outlets, or second-hand shops. Nowadays, people do their research online before making a purchase, and they often head over to brand stores to see the product in real life and make a decision. This is the safest way to stay protected from counterfeits, as shoppers get to check the product in-person and make sure that it satisfies their needs. 


We ran a counterfeiting-focused survey on Pollfish in January 2021, to gauge the shopping behaviors of people in the U.K., and measure their level of awareness when it comes to the counterfeiting industry. 

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