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From Lululemon to Birkenstock, duplicate styles lure holiday shoppers

Published Nov 20, 2023 06:13AM ET Updated Nov 20, 2023 11:57AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. Lauren Maginness rides an exercise bike wearing Dupes, short for duplicate, at her apartment in New York City, U.S., November 10, 2023. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton 2/2
 
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By Katherine Masters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lauren Maginness is a fan of Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU). But the 31-year-old product marketer in New York City is increasingly supplementing her activewear with less-pricey brand duplicates she picks up through e-commerce site Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).

One of her favorites: CRZ Yoga's $32 high-waisted yoga pants, resembling Lululemon’s popular $98 Align (NASDAQ:ALGN) leggings. Maginness learned about CRZ from an influencer on short-video platform TikTok who describes herself as a former Lululemon employee.

As the holiday shopping season gets under way, top-sellers from Lululemon, Abercrombie & Fitch, Birkenstock (NYSE:BIRK) and Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL)'s Tom Ford (NYSE:F) perfume are competing for shoppers like Maginness and their growing love affair with TikTok-popularized "dupes" - sufficiently similar replicas of higher-priced products.

CRZ Yoga is doing brisk business, selling an average 88,633 pairs of the leggings a month and earning around $2.84 million in average monthly revenue, according to data from e-commerce analytics firm Jungle Scout. CRZ, which according to its website is owned by a Hong Kong trading company, did not respond to a request for comment.

Growing demand for lookalike products, coupled with a pullback in spending due to inflation, is cutting in to sales of some trendy, big-name products. “Dupes” have become so widely accepted, particularly among younger consumers, that Maginness said she would consider gifting a faux-Lululemon activewear set to a friend. “After all, you do have more room in the budget with the dupe,” she said.

Hashtag searches for dupes of major brands - including Skims underwear and Deckers' Ugg boots - have been viewed millions of times on TikTok. Influencers accepting commissions regularly tout similar, alternate products from value retailers such as Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Target and fragrance e-tailer Dossier.

Last week, "Passionate Penny Pincher," a discount blog that accepts commissions for sales, touted $29.99 Dearfoam shearling "Ugg dupe slippers" as holiday gifts in an email to followers. Department store chain Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) pitched original "Ugg slippers on everyone's gift list" for $115.

Dupes have become so widely available from such a broad range of sellers that experts say it is difficult to quantify how much market share they may steal from the original products this holiday season. Most at risk are brand-name perfumes, cosmetics and mid-tier clothing and footwear, particularly those "commodity" products that are easy to replicate, said Leslie Ghize, executive vice president of retail consulting firm Doneger Tobe.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. consumers said they plan to give a beauty product such as perfume as a holiday gift and 55% plan to give clothing, shoes or accessories, according to a survey of 3,429 people by Circana Inc.

Lululemon, whose revenue rose 18% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, launched a two-day “dupe swap” promotion in Los Angeles in May where shoppers could trade lookalikes for Align leggings. Lululemon declined to comment. Chief Executive Officer Calvin McDonald told investors in June that roughly half of shoppers who attended the dupe swap were under 30 and new to Lululemon.

FROM FAST FASHION TO E-COMMERCE

Experts say the current excitement over dupes traces back to the start of fast fashion. Inditex-owned Zara, which opened its first store in 1975, made a business of replicating luxury designs. Its shorter production cycles allowed more styles to enter the market quickly, sparking "the habit of shopping more frequently," said Ian Taplin, a professor at Wake Forest University.

E-commerce platforms Amazon, eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Shopify (NYSE:SHOP) and Etsy (NASDAQ:ETSY) helped dupe sales accelerate, by making it easy to compare prices on similar goods. Newer technologies like the Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Lens app allow people to take photos of items they like and find similar products for sale.

For prospective dupe-makers, the Chinese marketplace Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) makes it simple to find and hire manufacturers. Some manufacturers use the same materials and fabrics as big-name brands, said Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of e-commerce analytics firm Marketplace Pulse.

In other cases, dupe sellers opt to replicate the look of higher-priced originals with cheaper materials to maximize profit.

Either way, sellers on shopping platforms like Amazon typically do not have the same overhead costs as retailers with brick-and-mortar locations, allowing them to bring goods to shoppers more cheaply. "They might not be exactly the same, but they're much cheaper," Kaziukenas said.

Thirty to 49% of shoppers have been disappointed with "dupes" purchased online, according to a survey of 3,000 millennial and Gen-Z consumers conducted by consumer review platform Trustpilot across the U.S., UK and Italy.

Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti said the company does not allow its sellers to use the words “dupe,” “fake” or “faux” connected to a brand name when describing their products on the site. However, it cannot always keep up with sellers who violate the rule, according to Mike Scheschuk, president of small and medium business at Jungle Scout.

As of last Wednesday, multiple products available on Amazon appeared to violate the policy, including a pair of clogs listed as "dupes" of a popular style by Birkenstock and priced more than $100 below than the original.

A spokesperson for Birkenstock said it "takes the issue of brand and product piracy very seriously" and takes a "rigorous approach" to defending its intellectual property. However, experts say dupe sellers have grown increasingly skilled at avoiding brand logos and other design features that could infringe existing patents or copyrights.

From Lululemon to Birkenstock, duplicate styles lure holiday shoppers
 

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