As we approach the holiday season, many of us will be purchasing toys and gifts online. Shopping online is convenient and nothing beats shopping in your pajamas! However, there are some pitfalls and one is purchasing a counterfeit item when you thought you were buying the real deal.
There's an increasing and disturbing trend of counterfeit or knockoff kids' toys and products that look very similar or even identical to some of the brand names we think we are purchasing. Here's the lowdown on the situation and what you can do to protect yourself from falling victim.
Companies Speak Out About Counterfeiting
Several well-known toy and children's gear companies have been encountering serious counterfeit product issues. Yookidoo is a popular and innovative children's developmental and bath toy company and one of the many brands having issues online with counterfeit products.
Yookidoo Management says, "We are in the middle of a 'war' with dozens of sellers on major e-commerce sites selling fake Yookidoo items. On one retailer's site, the Yookidoo Spout, our bestselling item, had 72 sellers during the last holiday season, most of them shipping from China whereas our authorized sellers ship solely from the US. From our internal investigations, some of these Chinese sellers do not have any items at all and the rest have cheap counterfeit products.
Photo: Yookidoo Counterfeit Waterfall Toy
This is a major issue as the cheap counterfeits are not manufactured according to world safety standards and they also stop working very quickly, leaving consumers upset while harming our brand reputation. We put our best efforts to develop safe quality toys and consumers that innocently purchase knockoffs end up with low quality hazardous toys."
Yookidoo has been diligent about finding these sellers but the process is ongoing. They have been sending cease and desist letters from their legal department. Yookidoo company reps go on to say, "Often, retailers are cooperative—they didn't realize they were in violation of our trademarks or design patents and are happy to cooperate. We've also been submitting IP infringement complaints to a number of online retailers and sites.
Photo: Yookidoo original Submarine Spray Station
We are fighting back with our team of attorneys and are in the middle of some pending suits, as well as prospective ones. We recently began using a software that detects online infringements. This software scans online marketplaces worldwide and assists us with the legal process."
Another company which has incurred similar issues is Playgro a developmental toy company for infants and young children. Tim Olivas at Playgro USA shares, "We've had an issue with many independent sellers selling counterfeit products online unbeknownst to them. The reason why this is so worrisome is that each product goes through rigorous testing and these counterfeits are reaching the market untested. When customers come to us with a counterfeit product, we work with them directly to create a mutually beneficial outcome. Child safety is our number one priority. We have a responsibility to serve our customers with quality developmentally appropriate products keeping their kids safe, healthy and happy."
Similar to Yookidoo and Playgro, the baby/kid gear and product company MACLAREN has suffered at the hands of counterfeiters to the point that MACLAREN now has an entire section of their website dedicated solely to the issue. They say, "MACLAREN products are made to rigorous standards of design and manufacture. Fake and counterfeit products pose a substantial safety risk to your child and to yourself. Most sale of unauthorised or counterfeit product happens online via the internet. These sites often mirror the look and feel of the official MACLAREN website, or create the impression that they are authorised by or associated with MACLAREN, when in fact their products are fake. Many of these sites will copy photographs and text directly from our official site. Buying from these sites results in you buying a low-quality fake, or sometimes nothing at all."
What Consumers Can Do
Learning that major toy companies are having such a challenging time with counterfeit products, what's a consumer to do? Jennifer McDermott is the Consumer Advocate for personal finance comparison website finder.com which helps consumers make better decisions with their money. Jennifer says, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Steer clear of brand names that have their prices heavily discounted. If it's suspiciously cheap, it's likely counterfeit."
She also says to perform your due diligence to ensure that the product you're buying is indeed real. "It can be hard to tell online, but once you receive the product you should give it a thorough inspection to make sure there are no spelling errors, faded or damaged packaging, or if there's a difference between the one you have and the one on the site. eBay offers reimbursements within 30 days of receiving the item if it isn't as described, and Amazon offer refunds for defective items," says McDermott. In the case of Yookidoo, and brands with an entire line of toys, check the sellers. If they only have one item not the entire brand line that's a red flag, and if the rest of the items they sell come from China there's a good chance they're counterfeit.
Jennifer also suggests that consumers carefully read the description of a product, then read it again. She says, "It can be easy to miss things, especially if you're not expecting to see them. Keep an eye out for words like 'approximately' or 'similar to', in case they do explicitly say in the description that it's a replica." Another thing to look for is grammatically incorrect language on the package or something just doesn't look right. Many counterfeits coming from China are riddled with oddly worded descriptions and misspellings. Also pay close attention to the web URL of the site you're shopping on. Websites can look correct but may be off by a few letters so they aren't the real site you're intending. Parents not paying full attention may miss that they purchased a knock-off.