Tim Lince

Sellers of counterfeits and imitation products on various online marketplaces are adopting brand-based keywords to avoid being caught by search filters implemented to identify and remove listings for fake goods. While the use of keywords is an extra hurdle that brand owners must overcome when enforcing against counterfeits, it also demonstrates the extra effort that sellers must now go to due to additional rights protection mechanisms being implemented by e-commerce platforms.

We’ve written extensively in the past on the evolving methods being used by counterfeit traders online. Last September, for example, we investigated the increased use of Chinese image-based social network Yupoo to sell fakes, with many merchants hosting their store catalogue on there and pointing potential buyers to innocuous-looking online marketplace listings. A few months before that, we reported on counterfeiters using bots and hashtags on Instagram to promote fake goods.

The latest tactic appears to be the use of dedicated brand-based terms to disguise the sale of fake goods. Specifically, in a bid to avoid filters that search based on legitimate brand names, counterfeiter sellers are assigning keywords (or, as sometimes referred to on forums, "codewords") to popular brands. While this tactic has been used in the past, the increased use of search filters on online marketplaces – especially across Alibaba’s platforms – has necessitated this tactic amongst traders.

Our research suggests this strategy has been primarily promoted as a workaround on AliExpress (Alibaba’s small business trading platform), which screens for listings offering branded products and removes those not posted by the official brand owner. However, we also found numerous listings using brand keywords on eBay and Taobao. There appears to be hundreds of different brand names with keywords being used, and they often change as online marketplaces or brand owners update their search filters. We’ve collated some of the most prominently used at the time of publication:

Brand

Brand keyword(s)

Burberry

Burbry

Diesel

Disel / DSL

Dior

D**r / Diorissimo

Gucci

GG

Michael Kors

Michaeled

Oakley

Okly

Prada

Prd

Ralph Lauren

Big Horse / Tommyingly / Tommyed

Rolex

Role / Roleingly

Versace

Merdusa

Zara

Za**


A constantly-updated list of brand keywords is difficult to find, as they tend to be shared on private online forums of prolific counterfeit buyers and sellers. Some extensive brand keyword lists exist on AliAddictAliFake, AliFinderAliQuest, MyBizShareMyChinaBargains and Trustsellers.com, but many of those listed are now out-of-date. One of those sites, AliFinder, even informs buyers on how difficult fakes of various brands are to find on Alibaba platforms; ranking brands such as Armani, Chanel and Moncler as ‘easy’ to find and Gucci, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent as ‘hard’ (and, curiously, Lonsdale is the only brand listed as ‘impossible’). That same site has a range of additional advice for buyers to locate fakes on AliExpress: “A trick that works for us very well when searching for a brand [is] to write the generic product (in English or Spanish) [plus] an adjective that identifies it; [so] instead of Rolex, writing ‘luxury watch’ or ‘reloj lujo’,” it says.

More positively from Alibaba’s perspective is that one counterfeit advice site claims that it is now untenable to sell counterfeits there and suggests an alternative marketplace. “AliExpress has made it almost impossible to sell replicas for the merchants,” said the author on MyChinaBargains. “Therefore the merchants alter the search terms almost daily. The best option now, I think, is using DHGate instead. [It] works completely the same way as Aliexpress but there it is still very easy to find the brands you are looking for.”

Indeed, various forums we visited now use links to DHGate rather than AliExpress or Taobao (the most commonly found link sources 12 months ago), suggesting Alibaba’s efforts to crackdown on fakes is cutting through to sellers. But this increasing use of brand keywords suggests marketplaces and brand owners have their work cut out to identify fakes and refine auto-filters, with rights holders needing to constantly keep on top of new keywords they should monitor for. On the flipside, the existence of these keywords means consumers will be finding it increasingly difficult to buy counterfeits (either intentionally or by mistake) – and that should come as some relief to affected parties.

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