Are you buying fake goods online?

Tuesday February 25 2020

A customer points at a product on an online

A customer points at a product on an online store in Uganda. The National Information Technology survey for 2017/2018 found that 1.7 per cent of all individuals had ever made a purchase online. Photo by ERONIE KAMUKAMA 

By Eronie Kamukama

Six years ago, there were a new breed of stores with not only a variety of products and services but also convenience. These shops have since driven up the appetite from certain sections of society to shop via the internet as one can purchase anything by the click of a button.
However, the presence of certain shops is now reigniting the talk about whether what is bought is genuine among its users.
Fake goods are usually of substandard quality and pass off as made by the brand owner. Since they are produced illegally, they are not manufactured to comply with relevant safety standards because cheap, hazardous and unapproved materials are used to cut costs.

Customers’ experiences
Helena Mugobya has had not one but two experiences in which she claims she felt fleeced by the stores.
“I saw a phone tripod stand on I liked it and so I ordered. Jesus! When the thing was delivered, it looked like a toy stand, very minute and of poor quality. It broke the first day I placed my phone on it,” she claims.
On her next purchase, she was very keen on the brand and went as far as reading reviews about the product.
“Another time, I ordered a smart watch on Jumia. They delivered and it looked as good as I had seen it on their website. But, it never worked. I charged and charged and charged, it did not work. They promised to pick it and make a replacement but that did not happen.”

Online shopping
The National Information Technology survey for 2017/2018 found that 1.7 per cent of all individuals had ever made a purchase online. About 81.5 per cent of these bought their goods within Uganda. They bought clothing, footwear, travel products, electronics, groceries, cars, spare parts, cosmetics, sportswear and their accessories. About 25 per cent reported the goods were not what they expected as they looked different on arrival.
Ms Shirley Muhimbise has had her enthusiasm for online shopping reduced by what she claims are fake goods.
“I saw a gorgeous watch on a local store. It cost about Shs20,000 so I ordered. I picked it from this store in Mukwano mall and as I put it on, it shed its golden colour. In a few days, it had turned silver and the sellers argued that I could not return it because that is what I ordered for and it did not have a defect,” Ms Muhimbise says.

What online stores say says it is aware the market is flooded with fake goods and that it has been fighting any such products through its agreements with highly rated sellers and manufacturers in United States of America.
“Websites that deal with local sellers are likely to list fake or counterfeit goods from unscrupulous importers that take advantage of the lack of standards policies in the country. We have never heard cases of clients receiving counterfeit goods ordered off our platform. Customers that claim received fake goods should return them and we shall refund with ten times more the value of those goods,” responded in an email.
Jumia Uganda, in its defense, believes its quality check processes and product warranties especially on electronics would not let a fake good slip through to a customer.
“We also have a strict ‘‘no fake” policy with our sellers. So should we receive quality complaints about products from a seller on our platform, we immediately delist their shop and their products from our platform,” Ms Samantha Abaho, head of public relations at Jumia Uganda, says.

Fake goods
Away from online stores, computer equipment, phone accessories, cosmetics, solar equipment, clothing, shoes, electronic appliances and their accessories, are some of the most fake products sold in the market. Two years ago, government said it would use the digital stamp to sniff out fake goods. This is yet to be implemented.
Uganda Registration Services Bureau, the agency charged with protecting intellectual property says it has not carried out enforcement action against fake goods online. All enforcement action is commenced via complaint from the owner of the trademark being counterfeited. Consumers are now made to understand that it is the responsibility of the trademark owner to ensure they can identify genuine products.

“The trademark used on counterfeits resembles the registered mark. Usually, it is a misspelt word such as MIKE instead of NIKE, SQNY instead of SONY. Counterfeits are usually substandard quality and of inferior craftsmanship. Counterfeits are usually cheaper than the genuine products. Counterfeits are usually poorly packaged or packaged in inferior materials. Counterfeits lack relevant standard certifications. Counterfeits are usually distributed or sold by unfamiliar sources than from their expected sources,” Ms Provia Nangobi, head public relations URSB, says.
Mr Fred Muwema, Anti-Counterfeit Network director legal and corporate affairs, blames unawareness on the part of consumers but says online stores are liable for any such sale of fake goods and must sensitise their users.


Verifying online goods
With remedies such as the seven-day cash back policies by online stores, sometimes there are issues of identifying whether the product the store sold is indeed what has been returned. But well packaged products that have batch numbers should be easily traced.
“They have the responsibility to notify the manufacturers to supply genuine products but if they continually knowingly receive and aid the counterfeiter to sell goods, they commit an offence because they are assisting,” Mr Muwema says, “A consumer can sue in the civil court for damages if it injures them or for loss of money. There can be a suit for infringing on a trademark.”
Many Ugandans look for low cost knock-offs of major brands but the thought is that stores must be in control if not for customers’ sake, for their own sake.
“The reputational damage you suffer as a distributor is real because people will not come to do repetitive business, the consumer experience is bad,” Mr Muwema says, adding: “They may be aware they are selling fake goods but not know their rights and responsibilities. The motivation for selling fake goods is profit and owners of platforms may sell to make money.”