Fighting the fakes: The importance of cracking down on the industry's counterfeiters

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

September 19th 2016 at 11:51AM
UPDATED September 19th 2016 at 11:56AM
Fighting the fakes: The importance of cracking down on the industry's counterfeiters

The issue of counterfeiting has long plagued the toy industry, last year costing it £183 million in lost revenue. ToyNews asks ToyShop UK's listing how big an impact the problem with bootleg toys has on them.

The growing issues surrounding availability of fake toys on the UK market has been labelled ‘mad and unfair’ by the UK’s independent retail scene.

Up and down the country, toy sellers have united in the belief that counterfeit versions of the industry’s hottest products are far too easy for consumers to come by upon the High Street.

Among those singled-out as major contributors to the UK’s growing issues with fake toys are the High Street’s discounters  and pound shops, as well as the likes of online retail giants Amazon and eBay.

Last year, the BTHA highlighted that sales of counterfeit toys could account for up to 10 to 15 per cent of toys on the UK market, costing the industry around £183 million. Meanwhile, across Europe more than 6,150 jobs are lost within the toy industry due to misplaced counterfeit revenue.

These are no small numbers, so it’s no surprise that the UK’s toy retail scene has voiced its frustration at a ‘fraudulent  faction’ interested only in ‘undercutting margins and undermining the industry.’

“It is mad and unfair that counterfeit toys are still freely available,” Julian Shelford, owner of the Plymouth toy, games and collectables retailer, Final Frontier, tells ToyNews.

“Not only are they undermining the industry, they are potentially dangerous. I doubt there will ever be a 100 per cent crackdown, but more needs to be done.”

Some of the most notable lines to have been hit by counterfeiters in recent years have been the game Bananagrams, collectable craze Loom Bands and Disney’s Frozen, which has suffered particular plight in the Middle East in the last few years.

Add to that haul this year’s big-ticket brand, Pokémon – fuelled by the runaway success of Pokémon Go – and it stands to reason that retailers are still feeling the sting of an issue that according to the industry body BTHA, remains hugely impactful.

“Right now, Pokémon is one of the biggest brand’s around,” explains Duncan Connor, owner  of the Scottish retailer, Bus Stop Toy Shop.

“I have visited High Street stores in Glasgow to find racks lined with unlicensed Pokémon products of really poor quality. It’s hugely damaging to the brand and to retailers like us that will only sell officially licensed products.

“This appears to be going on unchecked and unsanctioned.”

While the anger at such action is understandable, efforts have been made to stem the flow of counterfeit products into the UK market.

However, whether it’s austerity or a lack of understanding that is to blame, recent years have seen Government funding for its policing reduced.

“Trading Standards has always been the front line defense against cheap imports and counterfeit toys and made best efforts to remove them from the marketplace,” comments Natasha Crookes, director of public affairs and communications at the BTHA.  

“Sadly, this has become more challenging over recent years as Government funding has been reduced, resulting in less officers going out and doing searches.”

According to one report from 2015, trading standards offices across the UK were operating with half the amount of staff they had five years prior to that. But even if trading standards were operating at full kilter, it seems highly unlikely that it would holster enough manpower to police the ever increasing number of routes to market these counterfeit products find themselves selling within.

Often likened to a Wild West frontier of those operating outside of the law in order to turn a profit, online trading has been cited as a major contributing factor to counterfeiting concerns.

“It’s contributed hugely to the issue growing exponentially in an area which is even more difficult to control,” continues Crookes.  “The rise of online counterfeiters makes it harder than ever to warn consumers about the dangers, and the rise of online toy sales makes any advice about sourcing only reputable retailers a lot less black and white.”

Particularly, it seems, when counterfeit products find their way into the listings of some of the biggest household names in online trading, such as Amazon and eBay.

“The mighty Amazon and eBay are full of bootleg and knock off gear, it’s atrocious and big retailers should be policing it themselves,” says an enraged Matt Booker, owner of the Corsham comic and collectables retailer, Automattic Comics and Toys.

“It’s no longer just market stalls purveying this fake, non-lion marked or CE tested garbage. I could find ten or more fakes on Amazon in a short time, it’s really something they should be policing themselves more.”

Of course, it is not only from a financial perspective that counterfeiting is damaging the toy industry, and many have rallied to call out those responsible for the fakes over their irresponsibility in their approach towards health and safety standards.

“Most alarmingly, counterfeit toys pose a threat to children’s safety and as a consequence, the reputation of our entire industry,” continues Crookes. “A counterfeiter has no thought, expertise or interest in ensuring the toy meets safety requirements. There is a huge risk that sourcing these products will put children’s safety at risk as there is no way of knowing whether the toys comply with current safety standards.”  

It was during the run up to Christmas 2015 that a haul of fake dolls based on Disney’s Maleficent film were found to contain 18 times the legal limit of phthalates, a chemical that can cause serious long term health problems. Linked to cancer, asthma and fertility problems later in life, use of the chemical is tightly restricted across Europe where toy manufacturers must by law include no more than 0.1 per cent within their products. 

It is a big risk and thankfully an issue that the BTHA will continue to tackle head on with the severity it needs. This includes forming a new working partnership with the police and the European body, Toy Industries of Europe.

“We welcome the beginning of a working partnership with the BTHA and opportunities to tackle the counterfeit toy market,” says Detective Sergeant Kevin Ives.

“The importance of disrupting the sale of sub-standard and potentially dangerous goods cannot be underestimated, and we look forward to progressing a collaborative approach to deterring criminals who try and cash in on compromising the public’s safety by exploiting this highly regulated industry.”

But what can be done to challenge the number of counterfeit toys that seem to be falling through the cracks and into the hands of the UK’s children in the meantime?

David Grounsell, owner of Dave’s Classic Toys in Gloucester, believes both consumers and retailers need better educating on what they are purchasing, suggesting that until more solid policing is in place, it is up to everyone involved in the industry to be more vigilant.

“Shops need to know what they are selling and consumers need to be aware of the products they are buying,” says Grounsell.

It’s a sentiment supported by Crookes herself, who adds: “Retailers can assist in the fight against counterfeit toys by ensuring that counterfeit products do not make it onto the shelves of reputable and well-known High Street shops and online stores, which consumers put their trust in.

“In the same way, the same rule applies to retailers as to consumers – if something looks too good to be true, it probably is,” she concludes.