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China's Kunming Adds Fake Ikea Store to Apple Clones

Posted by Abe Sauer on August 1, 2011 10:00 AM

In China, fake Apple stores in Kunming are so yesterday. Now, it's all about the fake Ikea.

Copying the Swedish furniture-maker's characteristic blue and yellow branding, “十一家具" or "Eleventh Furniture" is a huge, multi-level store that sells mod furniture and even has an in-store cafe, just like Ikea. Take a closer look below and tell us if you think Ikea should be concerned.

Much like with the fake Apple store examples, those working there do not seem to care much about working for a carbon copy.

Asked about the similarities,an employee shrugged her shoulders and told reporters "If two people are wearing the same clothes, you are bound to say that one copied the other. Customers have told me we look like Ikea. But for me that's not my problem. I just look after customers' welfare. Things like copyrights, that is for the big bosses to manage."

It's not just the bricks and mortar branding that's been lifted; Eleventh Furniture's advertising and "catalog" even copies Ikea's, even if its website, 11jiaju.com does not.

Ikea is likely aware of its Kunming clone, as Chinese bloggers noted Eleventh Furniture's Ikea likeness last year.

It's also noteworthy that this knock-off Ikea store is in Kunming, in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, the same city in which the fake Apple store was found. Apparently, copycat retail branding is something of a cottage industry there these days.

In fact, city officials may be missing a branding opportunity: "Visit Kunming, Knock-off Capital of the World!" Or the copycat slogan: "What's copied in Kunming, stays in Kunming... until you buy it and bring it home!"

[Ikea images via]


Phil Mead Netherlands says:

There is a quite a difference between the Kunming IKEA and Apple ‘fake store’ stories.  

In the former case, the IKEA brand name is not being used by the yellow and blue store which in any case calls itself ‘Eleventh Furniture’ (though I hear the Chinese names sound phonetically similar).  This is an example (in legal trade mark parlance) of “passing off”:  creating a proximate similarity to the IKEA brand (colours, products, packaging, store layout, etc), but not an exact sameness that would otherwise result if IKEA’s entire brand identity was purloined.    The store has stopped short of using IKEA’s name and logo.

In the case of the fake Apple stores (five of them in Kunming by most accounts) the Apple name has been used to brand the retail outlets, in addition to making the stores’ interior design near-perfect replicas of the real thing.  This is an unequivocal example of brand piracy and outright trade mark infringement.  

Whether it’s classed as ‘passing off’ or TM infringement doesn’t in any way make brand imitation legal or desirable from a Western standpoint.   However, when it comes to the reactions of China’s consumers there is a more nuanced story.

Being bamboozled into the belief that you’re purchasing the authentic brand because of the store name and retail environment (as with the Apple fakes) leaves a very different consumer ‘experience’ to one where you know you are buying stuff that imitates – but doesn’t actually claim to be – the real brand-owners’ products.  In China this is the practice of ‘shanzhai’ which has become an integral part of consumer culture.   For many shoppers buying imitations or near-perfect replicas serves as a proxy for buying the authentic (often more expensive and unaffordable) global brand.  

Most Chinese consumers who buy the shanzhai products from shanzhai outlets do so knowingly (as with ‘Eleventh Furniture’), unlike the Apple case where there seems to be a clear intent to misrepresent and deceive.    No consumer, East or West, appreciates being conned outright.

Until China’s authorities rigorously and actively enforce their own intellectual property laws there will be many more examples like this.   Unfortunately, not only to the detriment of global brands that have poured serious money into building brands and innovating products, but also for the reputation of the national ‘Made in China’ brand.

August 2, 2011 08:59 AM #

A Sauer United States says:

This is a great comment and the short post here was a little flip on the comparison; it's important to note that the Apple and 'Ikea' examples are, as noted, not the same.

I did not include it at the time b/c it slipped my mind, but I believe Ikea in Chinese is "Yijia" and 11th Furniture's name is just reversed as 11th "Jiayi." So, it really is a little closer to a true ripoff, kind of like a carmaker calling itself WMB and making very close BMW replicas.

As for the noted culture of 'shanzhai' I'd note that this is hardly only a Chinese thing. I remember when I was a kid in the late 1980s we went to Walmart and bought red and black imitation sneakers that were very similar to the iconic Nike Air Jordans, but 1/10th the price.

August 2, 2011 03:32 PM #

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