Counterfeits vs. Rental

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

The luxury world’s relationship with the counterfeit industry is puzzling. The counterfeit industry seems to cannibalize the luxury industry by offering products that presumably people would have bought from the luxury industry in the first place. However, as I commented in the past (I need to find the article) the luxury industry does not fight the counterfeit one wholeheartedly.

The luxury industry has very good reasons to allow the counterfeit industry to exist. Having counterfeits means that the original has increased status, as Prada’s CEO announced recently, “We don’t want to be a brand that nobody wants to copy.” The counterfeit industry allows the wider society to become fans of the brand while those who use the true product feel more elite and more respected. More significantly, a Sloan MIT business professor Renee Richardson Gosline found that people use counterfeit as an entry-point to luxury. Gosline discovered that within two years, 46% of buyers of counterfeit subsequently purchased the authentic version of the same product they had purchased the counterfeit of — even though other people could not necessarily tell the difference.


However, there are problems with buying counterfeits. James Lawson, director of Ledbury Research, points out that most of the time their quality is inferior and it is socially uncomfortable to admit to using a fake. Therefore Lawson suggested that renting luxury products could become a superior substitute for counterfeits, and provide an entry-point to the brand as well. Renting genuine luxury products seems to offset the problems of low-quality and social discomfort associated with fakes. One can experience the thrill of having true luxury products at a lower cost, and then return them later.

It is true that renting luxury may eliminate some of the problems with buying counterfeits. However, from the luxury marketer’s perspective, a major difference exists between them: the time span. People who buy counterfeits become accustomed to having the product in their lives. They identify with the brand that the counterfeit is imitating, and often seek to buy the real thing eventually. Renting luxury doesn’t give this experience at all. People have the great feeling of using luxury, but for a short time only. They don’t necessarily identify with the brand, and there is so far no evidence that they move on to buy the real product. While renting luxury may replace buying counterfeits in the short-term, it is clearly inferior from the perspective of being an entry-point to the brand.

I feel ambivalent about this increasingly popular phenomenon. I would argue that a major component of the luxury experience is purchasing a luxury item at a high price. Renting luxury does not provide a luxury experience just because it involves luxury products. Unlike counterfeits, it is also not an entry point to luxury. However, while it may not fit the definition of luxury, nor lead to a luxury experience, who does not want to be king, even if only for one day?

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