When hot products get hard to find during the holiday season, we all face the inevitable question: Is a knockoff good enough?
Sure you can save a few bucks, but you've got to weigh the risks against the cost savings when you deal with products that are being mass-produced in the likeness of an original, especially toys. The potential trouble runs from disappointment — Grandma could be met with some sad faces if she shows up with some inferior toy — to threats to safety.
Take the insanely popular Pillow Pets, one of the season's hottest toys. The As Seen On TV item is sold directly through its own website or at a handful of approved retailers, for about $20 each. But like popular children's items of seasons past — Zhu Zhu pets, Furby and even Beanie Babies — Pillow Pets can be hard to find. Pet-pillow-like items are everywhere for lower prices, but f you're considering buying one: beware.
For fun, we pit an original Pillow Pet against an imposter. You can see the results:
Some knockoffs don't pretend to be the precise item, but rather take advantage of a product's popularity and attempt to come as close as possible to the original. These aren't technically illegal, since they vary in size, composition or name.
Others that attempt to use the original name are illegal. Companies like Pillow Pets spend a good amount of time and money trying to shut down retailers and stop individuals from selling these look-a-likes, as they not only eat into profits, but pose a potential risk as well.
When you buy something from an established company or brand, you can expect that company to stand behind the product and guarantee its safety. Or at the very least, to issue a recall and take appropriate measures should some danger or hazard arise. Not so with frauds, which are often made with cheaper materials and is sold under the radar.
CSA International, a certification and testing agency offers some advice about counterfeit products this holiday season:
- Avoid electrical toys that are missing a certification label from an accredited certification organization.
- Counterfeit packaging often has an inferior design or partial illustrations. Look for misspellings and unclear print on products and labels.
- Check for a discrepancy between the contents of the toy package and its description.
- When a toy or game doesn't include a brand identifier or trademark, it may be a fake. Look for missing return addresses or company contact information.
- Check the "look and feel" of toys. Fakes are often light and flimsy.
- Buy only from reputable stores with clearly stated return policies.
Odds are good that an inferior product won't last as long as the original either. Knockoffs are just that — knocked off quickly to take advantage of an items popularity. The company making them isn't building a brand or reputation. There's a reason we call certain businesses "Fly By Night" organizations. In the dark of night, it will be gone.
According to Heidi Niehart, spokeswoman for My Pillow Pets, fraud is a significant problem for the company and if you want to buy an original, look for the My Pillow Pet tag sewn onto the leg of the pet.
Laura Heller is a freelance writer based in Chicago who specializes in mass market retail trends and consumer electronics industries. You can follow her on Twitter @lfheller. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
Photo credit: Amazon.com.
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