That's no Starbucks: What's with China's fake stores?
CTV News.ca Staff
Published Sunday, August 7, 2011 7:23PM EDT
Shopping in China can give you a serious case of déjà vu.
You can follow the arrows to browse bookcases in an Ikea-like blue-and-yellow warehouse. There are employees in familiar blue shirts selling iPhones under an Apple sign that isn't Steve Jobs-approved. Even the food court, serving foot-long subs and thick Oreo ice cream treats, could fool you into thinking you're at a Subway or Dairy Queen.
There have been dozens of cases of Chinese businesses spotted emulating the retail experience of major world brands such as Nike, Ikea or Starbucks, right down to the smallest detail.
Counterfeit products have long been available in the Chinese marketplace, but now it's the retail experience that is being counterfeited. Due to weak copyright laws and a growing population of shoppers hungry for Western brands, the knock-off retail market has proliferated in recent years.
Here's a list of some of the pirate stores found in China:
- 11 Furniture, a 10,000-square-foot furniture warehouse, is bathed in Ikea's well-known blue and yellow colour scheme. There are miniature pencils to write down the numbers of furniture, and the merchandise bears more than a passing resemblance to the common-sense look of Ikea. Mock-up rooms? The Chinese version has them, too. Plus, the minimalist cafeteria serves Swedish meatballs that can also lead to authentic tummy regret.
- In Kunming, China, five stores selling real Apple products were investigated in July because they imitated the actual Apple store to such an extent that customers unfamiliar with the real deal couldn't tell the difference. But three were allowed to stay open because officials couldn't find any actual fake products. Apple only has four official stores in China.
- Also in Kunming, there are four Nike stores on one popular pedestrian-only street. Trouble is, Nike lists only three of its stores on that street, meaning one is an imposter.
- In 2006, Starbucks won a copyright lawsuit against Shanghai Xing Bake Café, which was using the company's Chinese name and copying the design of the Seattle-based coffee shop.
- Western fast-food chains are also finding stores mimicking their brands. For example, there are sub shops selling six and 12-inch subs (like Subway), and one shop will even accept Subway stamps. But since Subway has only about 200 shops in China, the mimicry may actually be expanding its brand awareness.
- Shijingshan Amusement Park was forced to close down in May because their characters looked just like Disney's Mickey and Minnie Mouse. And the park's familiar centerpiece, labelled "Cinderella's Castle," could easily be mistaken for being in Disney World. A promo banner for the park even said, "Disney is too far, so please come to Shijingshan."
Get rich quick?
According to Panos Mourdoukoutas, an economics expert in New York, China's desire to copy and clone Western brands comes from a series of factors relating to culture, politics and weak laws.
Writing in a recent article for Forbes, Mourdoukoutas spoke about a pervasive "get rich quickly mentality" as China attempts to recover from years of poverty and failed communism.
However, Mourdoukoutas notes that despite this desire to raise living standards at home, some business owners "have yet to grasp the meaning of modern capitalism: a system of wealth creation within certain social norms, including respect for other people's property."
On the other hand, scarcity may be contributing to the issue, as Chinese entrepreneurs move in to take advantage of consumers with increased spending cash.
While brand knock-offs are garnering headlines and legal action in China, are North American entrepreneurs much better?
Eddie Murphy fans will remember the fake fast-food spot McDowell's in the 80s movie "Coming to America" as a key reminder of domestic rip-off artists.
In the real world, it's common to find fast food spots named Dairy King or B&W in many towns and smaller communities that haven't been granted franchises by bigger chain restaurants.
Plus, while many fake brands are made in China, Canadians have no problem purchasing cheaply made imitation iPods and other devices at big-box stores.
In fact, the Office of the United States Trade Representative placed Canada on a "priority watch list" in 2011 for counterfeiting, alongside nations like China, Russia and India.
"Unfortunately, Canadian efforts in 2010 to enact long-awaited copyright legislation were unsuccessful," the U.S. report said.
The report also recommended that "Canada should provide its customs officials with (official) authority to effectively stop the transit of counterfeit and pirated products through its territory."
Certainly, it's something to keep in mind this winter, when you spot a "down-filled Canada Goose parka" online for a fraction of the price.