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Knock It Off��Copycat Web sites are hurting retailers and manufacturers alike. It�s time to fight back.

Mainstream retailers such as J.Crew venturing into bridal and the changing face of couture aren�t the only issues facing bridal retailers today. � Also a problem: Knock-off Web sites, which sell cheaply made versions of supposedly authentic designer gowns, fooling unsuspecting brides and prom girls into thinking they�re getting the real deal for a much cheaper price than they can find in your store.� Some of these sites fraudulently post actual manufacturer photos (giving the impression, of course, that they sell the real thing); others advertise that they�ll make a copy of any manufacturer�s dress and proceed to list the names of many well-known bridal companies.� Regardless of their approach, the result is the same: Knock-off Web sites hurt manufacturers and retailers� profit margins by stealing away business. � In addition, they leave customers furious � at you for refusing to price match; at manufacturers, for supposedly making cheap dresses; and at the bridal industry in general for creating a bad shopping experience and allegedly trying to rip them off.� This trend is maddening � and in real danger of becoming endemic in the bridal and prom industries, according to Claudine C. Hamm, chief operating officer of Alyce Designs, who is actively involved in a campaign to stop Fashion Piracy (learn more at www.alycedesigns.com/stopfashionpiracy).� Below, Hamm answers key questions, and talks about why it�s important for retailers and manufacturers to band together and fight the copyhouses, one signature at a time.��Why is the problem of copycat/knock-off Web sites so widespread?� Unfortunately, it is so easy for someone to set up an Internet e-commerce site if they have access to a supplier in the Far East. � Even when we inform the owners of those illegal sites that they are breaking the law and demand that they take down my copyrighted photos, they dismantle their Web site and within two weeks are up and running a brand-new Web site. � Pursuing these shady organizations is time-consuming: it could be someone�s full-time job. ��Do you anticipate this problem getting better or worse in the next two years?� I do anticipate that the copycat problem will get worse over the next few years because manufacturers are not united in the attack on knock-offs, plus the cost of a lawsuit is too great for one company to carry.� Manufacturers need to band together to stop knock offs before they tear the industry apart. We can share the cost of prosecuting the copycats and help save our industry.��How are knock-off Web sites affecting designers and manufacturers?� The inferior quality of the knock-off hurts my brand name. A knock-off must be made cheaply for it to be manufactured lower than my price. So when a customer buys a knock-off online, thinking it is an authentic Alyce, and instead they get a cheaply made dress, the customer thinks we�re some sweatshop churning out cheap dresses. � We�re not looking to make a quick buck: we�ve been in business more than 40 years. We care too much about providing our customers with the best service possible. When we hear about the problems our retailers experience with copycats, this affects the type of high-quality service for which Alyce is world-renowned.��What effect are they having on consumers?� Retailers are really affected on the front lines because their customers may confuse a cheap knock-off with the real deal. So the customer will demand that the retailer discount their own authentic Alyce to match the knock-off price found online. � Knock-offs really hurt our honest, hardworking retailers in towns big and small across the United States. ��What steps can bridal retailers take to protect themselves against these sites?� There is a bill sitting in Congress, the Design Piracy Act, that could be pushed through with enough support (which translates into signatures on a petition) that will make it easier for people to pursue restitution for the knock-off problem. � Other than that, retailers and manufacturers alike can remain vigilant and write down the names of offending Internet sites. People can e-mail them directly to say they are violating International copyright law. � The absolute very least we can do is keep these dishonest copycats scrambling to change their Internet site every two weeks. ��What is the most effective way retailers can educate brides about this problem?� Retailers should stress to brides the amount of work that goes into making their special gown. We spend months designing and making and perfecting these gowns. � People should reflect on their own jobs: How would they like someone to steal in broad daylight their own hard day�s work, sell it for less and put them out of a job? It�s not fair to hardworking Americans.��Anything else about this topic you think is important for retailers to know?� I�m afraid that the squeaky wheel indeed does get the grease. If no one speaks up, then our consent is essentially tacit; people will think that no one cares about this issue.� Let�s speak up! Visit my Web site, www.alycedesigns.com/stopfashionpiracy, to learn how we can urge Congress and together make a difference. ���Claudine C. Hamm is the Chief Operating Officer of Alyce Designs.��SIDEBAR1:�FACT: 75 percent of retailers surveyed by VOWS: say knock-off Web sites have hurt their business. On a scale of 1-10, they rate the average amount of damage these sites have done at 4.6. ��SIDBAR2:�GOOD NEWS! Fifty-four percent of brides surveyed by VOWS: say they would �never even consider� buying their wedding gown online. Another 32 percent are �highly unlikely� to do so. (Now if you could just do something about the remaining 14 percent...)���SIDEBAR3:�Eleven Ways to Fight Back�You might not be able to stop knock-off Web sites from appearing, but that doesn�t mean you have to sit back passively while they eat up your business, either. � In addition to e-mailing the offending sites to say they are violating International copyright law and helping pass the Design Piracy Act (learn more at www.alycedesigns.com/stopfashionpiracy), here are 11 proactive measures you can take to educate your customers about the dangers of knock-off Web sites.��In the store. . .�1. Keep a binder in your reception area that informs brides about the problems that may occur from ordering a dress from a knock-off Web site. Be sure to include photos of some of the worst copycat gowns, as well as angry letters from girls who�ve been duped.��2. Post articles in your dressing rooms that warn brides, in detail, about the risks they take when ordering a dress from one of these sites. Remember that people likely won�t take the time to read huge chunks of text. So to capture their attention, make a bulleted list and use eye-catching colors and fonts. (Bonus points if you also hang up newspaper articles about real consumers getting ripped off). This is also a good warning to post in a prominent spot on your Web site. ��3. Order a knock-off gown and display it in your store next to the original, so customers can actually see and feel the difference. Assign a staffer to stand nearby so she can explain these contrasts in detail.��4. During the consultation, tell brides horror stories about people who have been ripped off from shopping online. To come across as credible, make sure you are presenting facts (�Amy ordered a gown from XYZ site that arrived one week before her wedding date in the wrong size�), not making judgments (�Buying a dress from one of these sites is the worst mistake you�ll ever make.�) ��5. Educate customers on the benefits of buying a gown from a full-service store. This is basically the opposite approach of telling horror stories, but it�s effective because it plays up your superior customer service while reminding consumers of all the fine points (steaming, alterations, etc) they�ll still have to pay for if they order a dress online. Result: They�ll begin to question on their own if an Internet purchase is worth it.�6. Keep an ongoing list of copycat Web sites that you�re aware of, and either post it in your store or print it out and share it with customers (See sidebar �China Copyhouses� for a starting point.) Make sure you update this list regularly and (very important!) check out each Web site for yourself before including it on the list.��In the media. . .�7. Write an article for your local newspaper or magazine about the dangers of shopping online. If writing isn�t your thing, at least present the publication with the story idea, which they can then assign to a staffer (using you as an expert source, of course). Hint: If you�re able to provide them with names of customers who�ve been ripped off and who are willing to speak, your chances of getting the article printed improve.��8. Approach the local television and radio stations with this same idea. You could also put a more positive spin on this story and, instead of talking about the dangers of buying from an online site, educate people on the benefits of buying from a full-service store.��9. Join Reporter Connection (www.ReporterConnection.com), a free service that connects members of the media with experts available for interviews. Sign yourself up as a bridal business expert and each week you�ll receive e-mails detailing the different stories people are working on (media outlets that participate range from major women�s magazines like Cosmopolitan to TV/Internet stations like CNBC). When you see a topic you�d like to comment on, responding is literally as simple as clicking a button. ��10. Post links on your Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as on your Web site, to horror stories about ordering a gown online. You can find these stories via a Google search or on news Web sites, such as foxnews.com, occasionally.��11. Make a YouTube video that explains the risks of buying online, and post the link on your Web site and social-media accounts. Showcase the differences between a real and fake gown, and get customers to talk about their own experiences shopping online, as personal testimonial is very powerful. (For a good example, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2NdxlFkXcE.)��Finally, keep in mind. . .� While it�s important to educate brides about the problems associated with knock-off Web sites, you must accept the fact there is only so much you can do. � Bottom line: If a consumer is determined to order a gown online, nothing is going to stop her. Once you�ve explained the risks of shopping this way, back off. Overplaying the fear factor will only come across as self-serving and erode your credibility. Some people have to learn from experience, and while this reality can be frustrating, there is also a silver lining to it. � Many consumers, burned by ordering cheap dresses from knock-off Web sites, will come into your store panicked at the last minute, needing repairs and alterations - or even a replacement gown. � Instead of getting upset, view this as a legitimate business opportunity. � After all, offering services to these customers (at a higher rate because it�s last-minute and/or the dress wasn�t purchased in your store) not only adds to your bottom line, but just may gain you a grateful, relieved fan for life. And this is exactly how word-of-mouth referrals start.��SIDEBAR4:�China Copy Houses��According to Claudine C. Hamm, chief operating officer of Alyce Designs, these are some of the offending sites:��www.thecustomdresses.com�www.topbridaldresses.com�http://smartandswanky.com�www.florasbridal.com �http://shop.storeofdress.com �www.dresses-gowns.com �www.peridress.com �www.prom-dress-gown.com �www.beautifulpromgowndress.com �www.weddingdresscity.com

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