People buying fake 'luxury brand' goods experience a range of psychological motivations – including the 'thrill of the hunt' – new research has shown.
Consumer behavioural expert Dr Xuemei Bian, of the University of Kent, together with researchers from three other universities, carried out the first in-depth study of why consumer demand for counterfeit brands is growing.
The researchers found that the 'thrill of the hunt' and 'being part of a secret society' are often prime motivational factors behind purchases. They also found that, following the purchase of known counterfeit goods, people experienced a range of associated emotional outcomes, including shame and embarrassment as well as positive hedonistic feelings.
The research team chose the Chinese marketplace for the study as China is both the largest producer and the largest consumer of counterfeit products. They found that there were three primary themes relating to unethical counterfeit consumption and purchase behaviour: First, motivations and coping strategies; second, a consumer hierarchy based on uncertainty and consumer expertise in counterfeits, and third, risk, rewards, and self-conscious emotions.
All of the respondents could readily account for their desire for luxury brands or could provide accounts of their associates' preoccupations with such brands. This desire was thought to be a result of people feeling aspirational and social comparison pressures, which are common in rapidly developing economies.
Although some respondents were conscious of the harm to the brand being copied, others expressed little concern, with some even arguing that counterfeiting is good for the brand being copied, almost as if the illegal counterfeit industry is paying the brands a compliment or is promoting the legitimate.
The researchers found evidence that various 'neutralization' techniques were employed by consumers to rationalise their unethical purchases. The most common of these involved a 'denial of responsibility', where the consumer argued that she/he is not personally accountable for the behaviour that violated social norms because factors 'beyond one's control' were involved.
The research, entitled New Insights into Unethical Counterfeit Consumption (Xuemei Bian, Kent Business School, University of Kent, UK; Kai-Yu Wang, Goodman School of Business, Brock University, Canada; Andrew Smith, Nottingham University Business School, UK; Natalia Yannopoulou, Newcastle University Business School, UK) is published in the March issue of the Journal of Business Research. See: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0148296316300030
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Note to editors 1. The researchers conducted sixteen in-depth interviews (one-to-one) with Chinese consumers. Profiles varied in terms of demographics and behavioural characteristics and included males and females aged 18-35 years old from varied educational and economic backgrounds. The main interest of this research was participants who had experience with counterfeits.
2. Established in 1965, the University of Kent – the UK's European university – now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 16th in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.kent.ac.uk/about/partnerships/eastern-arc.html).
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.