TVOntario’s flagship public affairs program The Agenda Tuesday (8 pm EST) will examine how the rise of online shopping has also led to greater sales and distribution of counterfeit products – a topic also the focus of recent Consumers Council of Canada research.
The episode is titled Amazon’s Counterfeit Problem and pledges to explore why it is getting harder to tell what’s real and what’s fake online, as Canadians are on track to spend $64.5 billion online this year. The Consumers Council report Consumer Attitudes and Their Role in Reducing the Impact of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods and Services concluded that consumers find it difficult to identify the perils of buying counterfeit goods and pirated media, and industry intellectual property protection campaigns don’t help them.
The research included a 2,000 person national web survey and focus groups. It noted that consumers do not have the same ability to examine the goods, packaging and labelling that could help them determine authenticity. It noted that problematic goods pose serious risks to consumers, such as fake pharmaceuticals and forged safety certifications. Among the report’s recommendations:
• A single body to co-ordinate anti-fraud initiatives by governments across Canada.
• Business, government and consumer organization joint engagement to address marketplace risks born by consumers and facilitate consumer education.
• Governments and business should provide sustainable funding to consumer organizations to play an independent role in curbing marketplace fraud.
The report also urged stronger enforcement by governments of general consumer protections.
That theme was also an important part of a second 2019 Consumers Council research report. Super Complainers: Greater Public Inclusiveness in Government Consumer Complaint Handling noted the trend of Canadian regulators to reduce or even withdraw from pro-active inspections. In that report’s survey of 2,000 Canadian consumers, public confidence was low (84%) that government complaint handling would be helpful in distant transactions. Consumers supported measures that would reduce their risk in distant transactions such as a national consumer complaint data bank, international cooperative agreements and frequent issuance of consumer complaint trends.
A third Consumers Council of Canada report examined another element of consumer protection in online transactions. Consumer Redress, Chargebacks and Merchant Responses in Distant Transactions examined how remedies to different problems in distant (online or telephone) transactions can differ by how the consumer chose to pay for the purchase. It discussed how the protections offered by credit card chargeback programs compare to online dispute resolution choices, and how poorly chargeback protection is disclosed to consumers.
The program will be rebroadcast at 11 pm, and then available through TVO’s online archives.
Canadian consumers find it difficult to identify perils of buying ‘counterfeit’ goods and ‘pirated’ digital media, and industry intellectual property protection campaigns don’t help them, report finds.
Canadian consumers find it difficult to identify the perils of buying ‘counterfeit’ goods and ‘pirated’ digital media, and industry intellectual property protection campaigns don’t help them, new research by Consumers Council of Canada found.
The Council based this conclusion, found in its just-released report Consumer Attitudes and Their Role in Reducing the Impact of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods and Services, on a 2,000-person national web survey and focus groups conducted by Environics Research and on a review of academic literature and interviews with experts.
“Generally speaking, consumers set out to find a good deal when they shop and most of them don’t go looking for the kind of trouble that buying fake goods and pirated media can bring them,” said Consumers Council of Canada President Don Mercer. “But when consumers knowingly do so, their reasons can range from saving money to engaging in civil disobedience.”
The research found industry and government make little meaningful effort to work with consumer groups to address the growing presence of counterfeit and pirated goods in the marketplace. Trends reports indicate that trade in counterfeit and pirated goods has risen steadily in the last few years and now stands at 3.3% of global trade, according to a recent report by the OECD and the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office. Some sources claim this trade fuels organized crime and terrorism worldwide.
“Problematic goods are harming and sometimes killing Canadians, from fake pharmaceuticals to goods bearing forged safety certifications,” said Mercer. “Stronger enforcement by government of general consumer protections could take more counterfeits off the market, yielding better results for consumers and business and raising consumer consciousness of their risks associated with counterfeiting and piracy.”
The research found online sales are problematic because consumers do not have the same ability to examine the goods, packaging and labelling that would help them determine if a product is counterfeit as they do in a ‘bricks and mortar’ retail setting. However, it also found consumers encounter fraudulently presented goods in traditional retail settings.
Among the reports recommendations:
A single body to coordinate anti-fraud initiatives by governments across Canada
Engagement and partnership by business and government with consumer organizations to address related marketplace risks born by consumers and facilitate consumer education
Governments, in particular, and business should provide sustainable funding to consumer organizations to play an independent role in curbing marketplace fraud
Consumers Council of Canada has received funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada or the Government of Canada.
Council report finds Canadian consumers feel cautious about using online reviews of products and services used by other consumers, but nonetheless feel information from this source if carefully considered makes them more savvy shoppers.
Canadian consumers feel cautious about using online reviews of products and services used by other consumers, but nonetheless feel information from this source if carefully considered makes them more savvy shoppers, according to a Consumers Council of Canada research report.
Consumers appear to rely on the most unreliable method of all for judging the trustworthiness of individual consumer reviews -- 'gut feel.' However, consumers are not particularly satisfied to rely on their intuition about reviews, and believe review sites on the Internet need to do a good job of offering features that help them understand and compare reviews and reviewers, sort and sift reviews to read ones that are more or less positive, evaluate reviews and reviewers against their own needs and personal life contexts.
Consumers and experts consulted by the Council’s researchers say online review sites contain many false reviews, created for many reasons, including businesses seeking advantage, friends helping friends, employees supporting employers, and consumers getting even.
"When business or consumers are not honest in their reasons for writing a review they harm us all," said Consumers Council of Canada President Don Mercer. "A review does not need to be perfectly accurate to be of value to the marketplace. It does need to be honestly offered."
A variety of business models have arisen for services providing online consumer reviews, and each presents risk and benefits to consumers, depending on different potential sources of conflict of interest, which if unmanaged, can adversely affect the moderation of review content on sites, leading consumers to be misled, the research found.
Gaps in critical thinking skills or access to online consumer reviews can disadvantage some consumers, because consumers increasingly have turned to the Internet for information to support buying decisions about products and services.
Traditional sources of expert reviews, such as paid circulation magazines, appear, consumers say, to be disappearing, partly because they face competition from ‘free’ online consumer review sites. Many consumers say they favour expert reviews as part of their decision-making process. However, individual buyers sometimes find consumer reviewers who use products and services in ways similar to their own uses, leading to unique insights not provided by expert reviewers.
"Consumer online reviews, when enough of them are available and considered ahead of a purchase, can help a consumer," said Mercer. "But one review on its own should be taken with a grain of salt.
"Take care not to use a review to justify, rather than inform, a buying decision. A review may be found to fit almost any pre-conceived notion."
The research found sites that offer consumer reviews may have very different objectives in offering them, depending on how site owners define their objectives to make money.
"In some contexts, reviews, regardless of authorship, should be considered 'advertising' subject to the regulatory expectations of advertising," said Mercer. "In other cases, reviews may just be 'fair comment,' much as opinions appear in review sections or letters pages of newspapers."
Consumers have a difficult time identifying the motives and business models of review sites. The report recommends greater transparency concerning review site business models, so users can come to better-informed conclusions about a site's utility and reliability for their purpose.
The Council's report contains many more recommendations about how to improve protection of consumers in the rapidly growing online consumer reviews industry.
The Consumers Council of Canada has received funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development’s (ISED) Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in the Council’s report are not necessarily those of ISED or the Government of Canada.