iPhoney, Mock-Mickeys, and Swedish-ish Furniture in China: Ripping Off The Customer Experience, But Not Really


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Apple. Disney. Ikea. Nike. What do these four brands have in common? Brand recognition. Brand recognition, however, is a double-edged sword. Once your company’s brand becomes an international household name, it also runs the risk of being pirated. Whether you call the sale of unlicensed retail products – and even the hijacking of an entire brand experience – a copycat, a knockoff, fake, or look-alike, it’s ultimately piracy. The recent exposés of fake retailers in China reveal a vast market for pirated goods.

Your average Joe Shmo can do the “what” of a product, but it takes a special spark – or what we refer to as an Emotional Signature – to capture the “how” of a customer experience. To accomplish the “how” of a product, you must emotionally engage your customers with employees capable of imparting your company’s vision as a part of every single interaction. Physical attributes, or the “what” of a product, are inadequate by themselves. The “how” comprises the intangible aspects of how you share your product with customers, and it’s what sets your customer experience apart from your competitors.

Retail spending in China is set to increase by two-thirds by 2015 ($4.3 trillion), so the Chinese market is fertile ground for such piracy. A severe lack of intellectual property laws and enforcement allows it to happen.

The recent discovery of fake, but very real looking, Ikea and Apple stores in China shows that proprietors can do the “what” of a brand: the physical attributes of an iconic storefront, or stocking popular products like iPhones and iPads (real ones, as it turns out). Ikea, whose name is “Yi Jia Jia Ju” in China, has paved the way for “11 Furniture” (Shi Yi Jia Ju) to make profits off its brand. The 11 Furniture knockoff stores copy the “what” of Ikea. The stores have blue signs, yellow arrows, mock living rooms, miniature pencils and minimalist-styled cafeterias.

The Apple retail format follows Ikea in suite. The recently busted unlicensed Apple stores in Kuniming had storefronts complete with all-glass walls where employees with “Apple” t-shirts wore the signature plastic-see through necklace nametags.

Disney and Nike are also part of the club. A Nike representative estimates that one out the four Nike shops on Zhengyi Road in Kunimang are fake, where even employees are not aware that they sell “fake” goods.

Mimicry, it should be noted, is often the highest form of flattery. What should also be noted, however, is that brand recognition works to sell products because of the customer’s association with a specific experience. In her recent Reuters article, Melanie Lee observes that the most successful consumer companies have built brands that “encapsulate ideals, values and aspirations.” Anyone can sew a Nike swoosh symbol on a tennis shoe or hang an Apple sign on a storefront. The reason brands like Ikea, Apple, Disney, and Nike stand apart as retail giants is because while anybody can copy their products, nobody can replicate the experiences they give customers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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