We all see them – whether on Amazon, eBay or another e-commerce site, looking at a seller’s information can raise a few red flags. It may be odd contact information, identical 5-star reviews or a poor translation but often we can assume they are not who they say they are. Indeed, there have been reports in the news of consumers receiving fake or in some cases potentially dangerous products from fake sites claiming to be a UK-based seller.

Yet what these reports do not demonstrate is the other side of the story – where such sites (usually with a ‘.co.uk’ address) are not aimed at selling to Western audiences, rather used to increase sales within their own countries.

Brand Image of a ‘.co.uk’ website

The reasoning here is that a Western brand holds a perception of being a higher quality or having gone through a more rigorous health and safety process, particularly following product safety scandals over the past decade (see the 2008 Baby Milk scandal).

The best way to demonstrate is with an example. We found one small Chinese company who had both a Chinese site and a ‘.co.uk’ site in English for their product. However, looking at the English site it was clear that there was no UK location or branch – for instance:

Their contact information was ‘Tel: 0123456789’
The address was simply ‘London’
Poorly translated text that made little to no sense
No explanation of the product other than a picture

The site was not built to sell the product within the UK, rather it was made so that when Chinese customers are researching the product it will appear to come from a more reputable, international company. If the product appears to be sold within Western markets, it automatically attains a different perception from the consumer – the high-quality/safe Western brand.

So why does this matter for UK-based SME’s?

What is important here is not the fake-brand’s themselves but rather the market-opportunities they represent. The Chinese market has grown at an astounding rate, and does not appear to be slowing. Indeed, the UK’s relationship with China has been discussed in depth following Brexit (for instance, Theresa May’s recent visit to develop relations and David Cameron securing trade links earlier this year as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. While big businesses have been working with China for sometime, these ‘fake brands’ demonstrate the potential for SME’s.

Chinese consumers are buying products from such sites as they have a preference for high-quality, unique and niche products – particularly with the growth of the millennial generation who are more open to globalisation. The current ‘competition’ plays off this desire with such sites and branding. However, a Western-based SME could capture this market with the real product that the customer desires and overtake them and their sales in this area with the correct marketing strategy.

Obviously there are expenses and barriers when dealing with exportation (something we will cover in a future post), but with the right strategy and connections there is a large, untapped market for your company.

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