What Counterfeit Masks Taught Us About Supply Chain Visibility | 2022-02-22

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, bad actors have taken advantage of mask shortages and misinformation to sell inferior products. Nearly 60% of N95 and KN95 masks sold in the United States are fake – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and do not meet the agency’s standards for air filtration.

Fake face masks are a prime example of how difficult it is for manufacturers to fend off counterfeiters. In 2019 alone, it was estimated $509 billion value of counterfeit products represented on the world market. Moreover, customers were aware of the dangers of counterfeit products even before the pandemic: a 2020 investigation from IBM and NRF found that 79% of Americans thought it was important for all brands to offer proof of authenticity for their products.

Counterfeiting can affect any business, especially those with low visibility supply chains. How can brands and distributors guarantee the authenticity of their products? Here’s what we’ve learned over the past two years.

Beware of “squatters”

Counterfeiters are most effective when there are no roadblocks to making fakes, or when brands are passively fighting each other. Rather than waiting for your knockoffs products to appear on store shelves, start your search now. If you can’t find your knockoffs product online, marketplaces have tools in place to help you weed out fakes quickly — and search engines offer tools to help prevent these items appearing in retargeting ads.

While doing your due diligence, keep an eye out for “cybersquatters”. These counterfeiters will buy domain names that are common misspellings of your brand name, or resemble your brand name, in the hope that confused consumers will end up on their website – or that you will pay to get the domain name. If you own a mark on your brand name, you may be able to prove the cybersquatter’s malicious intent, but if you don’t, you may be required to pay the squatter. To avoid this, buy all domains similar to yours as soon as possible and have them redirect to your main website.

Look at sales channels

Conducting a thorough audit of potential infringing websites is a great place to start, but with the sheer number of tools at a cybercriminal’s disposal, it won’t be a one-time battle – you’ll need to constantly monitor channels. sale looking signs. of trouble. This can help you avoid counterfeiters before they cause too much damage.

It might seem like a good idea to focus your efforts on sites where sales are exclusively in the user’s control, like eBay, on the grounds that it’s easier for pop-up fakes in person-to-person transactions. person. But in today’s e-commerce driven economy, it’s just as important to monitor marketplaces like Amazon or Wal-Mart where you have a presence. While these sites have strict guidelines for sellers, it’s possible to slip through fake ones – and because your customers are more likely to trust these marketplaces, they’re less likely to assume counterfeit products are fake products. purchases.

It is also very easy for counterfeiters to take advantage of promotional strategies that give their fake products more credibility. Their tactics are no longer limited to spam emails and pop-ups; invest heavily in SEO tools and other software to help their counterfeit products break into the mainstream, perhaps even buy ads on specific keywords to have their products appear before yours in search results. research. Keep tabs on websites using your product images without your consent, and monitor not just your search rankings, but the sites that appear around and above yours.

Share information

Counterfeit products strike at the heart of a brand: customer trust. If a customer buys an item thinking it came off your production line and is faulty or broken, they will hold it against you. That’s why, in the fight against counterfeits, activating your customers is just as important as prosecuting counterfeits internally. Strengthening this last line of defense gives your brand another resource to tap into.

Start by making your proactive efforts transparent. Fighting counterfeit items behind closed doors makes customers less aware and more sensitive, and providing customers with the tools to identify counterfeits gives you a million eyes in physical stores and on the internet that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Launch a website or create a new area on your current website where you can post notices of identified counterfeit products and where customers can share information about potential counterfeits.

It is also important to share information about the risk of buying from unauthorized sources. While a customer discovering that they have purchased a counterfeit handbag can only damage their reputation, a customer purchasing counterfeit makeup or drugs – or, to highlight recent news, N95/KN95 masks – may have an impact on a client’s health. Leverage your website or social media channels to ensure notices of potentially dangerous counterfeits have high visibility.

Adopt the technology

Fighting counterfeiters can often feel like playing the mole game – once you remove counterfeit products from a physical or online market, more counterfeits appear elsewhere.

The good news is that businesses today have a wide array of tools that allow them to be proactive, vigilant, and informative. Tracking and authentication technology provides brands with a new level of supply chain visibility and enables brands to strategically monitor the entire lifecycle of their products:

  • Manufacturers can scan product components as they enter the factory to ensure nothing is lost or stolen during production.
  • Retailers can scan incoming cases or pallets to ensure they are from the genuine manufacturer, rather than a counterfeit.

Customers can scan products on the shelf to verify their authenticity, as information such as serial numbers and lot numbers cannot be tampered with by counterfeiters.

Technology will also play a vital role if you need to sue counterfeiters. By tracking your goods from the assembly line to the store shelf, you can quickly identify how many goods are counterfeit in which markets, making it easier to weed out counterfeits and create a record of counterfeit goods if you have need for evidence in the context of legal proceedings.

As long as there is a demand for a product, counterfeits are inevitable. It is important that you do not wait to identify your vulnerable products until counterfeits appear on store shelves. Start now by performing a thorough audit of how your products are sold and advertised online and in-store, educate your customers to help you stay alert, and invest in technology that can help you track and authenticate goods while along the supply chain. It’s a recipe for success that you can’t fake.

Scott Fletcher is CEO of LocatorXA global asset tracking and authentication company.

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