Why Gen Z admits to buying knock-off goods

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TikTok, Instagram and other social media services have aided the proliferation of dupes. Creators use the platforms to post reviews and tips about dupe products as well as offer links to followers about where to make the purchase.

Diptyque’s Feu de Bois candle.Credit:

Some creators might get a small commission each time a shopper clicks a link from their page to buy a product. TikTok launched TikTok Shop earlier this year, which made it easier for creators and small businesses to allow users to shop right from the app. Both Instagram, part of Meta Platforms, and TikTok, owned by ByteDance, have policies prohibiting the sale of counterfeit goods.

The proliferation of dupes can be a problem for luxury brands that use exclusivity as part of their business model. The Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags are notoriously difficult to buy directly from the retailer and have waiting lists that can be years long. The rise of social media influencers carrying bags that at a glance look similar to the originals could damage the brand’s ability to make the product seem scarce.

Most generations have some level of “stick it to the man” ethos in their teens and 20s. Gen Z is at the right age for wanting to challenge institutions and reject the way their elders have behaved, and dupes allow them to do that.

At the risk of sounding older than I am, back in my day we tried to play off dupes as the real thing and rarely would have admitted to buying imitations. Today, that behaviour might be labelled “gatekeeping”. The term is used to admonish anyone who withholds information or access from the majority. Publicly sharing dupes is certainly one way to grant access. And what better place for Gen Z to share information than on TikTok?

TikTok, however, is not where dupes were originally popularised. Beauty YouTubers are often credited with launching the term “dupe”. After all, trying to find a cheaper but effective version of a high-end lotion, lipstick or eyeshadow makes sense. You just need something that’s effective because you aren’t touting the logo around town. It doesn’t matter if it’s a drugstore brand or $250 a bottle.

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The popularity of dupes can seem at odds with a desire among many younger consumers to prioritise environmental and social responsibility. But Gen Z isn’t a monolith, and even socially conscious consumers might see social value in the power of dupes to democratise luxury goods for the masses.

The real question is whether Gen Z will fall in line as generations have before to purchase the real version of designer goods once their financial status catches up with their tastes.



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