Low prices too good to be true? Be counterfeit savvy

April 12, 2019

You might have a customer ask you why the products you’re suggesting are so much more expensive than, say, a product from an online reseller. Or, at some point in your career in wholesale, you might be approached directly from an importer of products, wishing you to stock their very attractively priced products.

Cheaper products are, of course, always attractive. After all, who wouldn’t want to get a good deal on a product? However, as the old adage goes: some things are too good to be true!

If a price of a competitor product seems significantly lower, there might be a reason for it: this market is awash with counterfeit and non-compliant products – and these products carry real risks of harm to people and installations.

What’s the difference between ‘counterfeit’ and ‘non-compliant’?

Counterfeit products (also called ‘copy’ but probably most commonly called ‘fake’) use stolen intellectual property of the registered owner. For example, someone copies the registered brand name and/or trademark of the original owner and applies it to their own product.

Non-compliant products (also called ‘sub-standard’, ‘non-conforming’ or ‘non-approved’) carry false or misleading information about their performance (very often to a recognized standard) or ability to satisfy relevant legislation (e.g. carrying the CE mark where relevant) – or don’t carry any information about their compliance at all!

The majority of counterfeit products are also non-compliant.

Risks and consequences

Sadly, the risks and consequences of selling and/or installing these products can be greatly underestimated. In fact, the consequences can be wide-ranging and include:

  • injury to or death of persons (possibly leading to legal action, fines or imprisonment);
  • damage to property;
  • loss of business (ranging from an individual customer to an entire business);
  • damage to reputation (for selling or installing a product that has failed);
  • cost (the cost of replacing the failed product, including travel and labour costs); and
  • inconvenience (due to a lack of performance and/or reliability).

What to look for

Although there is no ‘golden bullet’ to identify a counterfeit of non-compliant product, there are a number of basic checks that can be undertaken, which will go some way to mitigate the risk of being tricked into handling these products.

Suggest these to your customer – and keep them in mind when purchasing your own products:

  • buy brands that you know, from people that you know and trust;
  • check that products carry all relevant markings;
  • check the general quality of finish of the products (jagged edges of mouldings or uneven paint finish may
  • be an initial indicator for concern);
  • check the quality of the markings on the product;
  • beware of secondary packaging; and
  • if the price looks too good to be true – you’ve possibly answered your question!

Where to go for help

You’ll likely find counterfeit and non-compliant products throughout the entire spectrum of electrical installation products.

The Electrotechnical Market Surveillance (EMS) group, led by trade association BEAMA, has been focusing on raising awareness and supporting actions by the relevant enforcement authorities in the areas of cables, lighting, circuit protection, wiring accessory and motor control products.

This article appears in each of the 12 Textbooks in the EDA Product Knowledge Programme.


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