Amy Faria in Kenya
Amy Faria in Kenya

Do you own any counterfeit goods? If so, are you concerned about the consequences of your purchase? Apparently, a lot of consumers don’t care, considering that global sales of counterfeit goods totaled $300 billion Cdn in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

For her master’s thesis with Profs. Scott Colwell and Anne Wilcock in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, Amy Faria looked at Canadian and Chinese consumer attitudes toward counterfeit goods. She examined three cultural factors — subjective norm, materialism and moral intensity — and found that the last two had little effect on either consumer group.

Subjective norm, or how opinions of family and friends affect consumer behaviour, was particularly influential among Chinese consumers. “I wanted to look at which factors influenced the Canadian versus the Chinese consumers more than whether or not there was a difference between the two groups,” she says. For her research, she interviewed international students and Chinese immigrants who had lived in Canada for less than a year.

She found that Chinese consumers were more influenced by how their family and friends felt about counterfeit goods than were their Canadian counterparts. If their social circle opposed counterfeit products, Chinese consumers were less likely to buy them. If friends and family favoured counterfeit goods, they were more inclined to buy them.

Based on her qualitative research, she found that Chinese consumers were driven by social status and the opinions of others. “They want that status, and they want those luxury products to have this face value and keep up with their social class, and that’s why they purchase counterfeit goods.”

She says Chinese consumers are drawn to counterfeit goods because they’re more affordable and available. “If they were searching for a certain product, they would automatically look for the counterfeit version of this product before going and buying the real thing, because they know there’s so much out there and it’s so accessible to them and easy to get.”

Faria says Canadian consumers were more deterred by negative associations of counterfeit goods, including child labour, unsafe working conditions, support of terrorist groups and organized crime, and job losses among workers making genuine products. Counterfeit goods often fail to meet safety regulations.

Despite their awareness of these issues, she says, Canadian consumers are still willing to buy some of these goods. They are more likely to download music or movies illegally, for example, than to purchase counterfeit clothing or accessories. “I think it has a lot to do with accessibility,” she says of illegal downloading. “You can go online and get it right away.” Other types of counterfeit goods are more difficult to find in Canada than in China.

She says growing materialism and media pressure help drive counterfeit purchases. “The media is putting this in our head that we need the best products and the best brand names, and people can’t afford it. It’s just something that’s being fed to us continuously. Counterfeit goods are just an option for people. They see it as a way to fill that need.”

Faria began teaching ethics and social responsibility at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., in September. In February and March, she volunteered in Africa with an organization called Living Positive Kenya and helped establish a centre for women and children living with HIV/AIDS.