Following our previous article on the Euro 2020 football tournament that looked retrospectively at domain name registrations relating to the competition, this article considers activity on eCommerce marketplaces.
For this study, CSC used its Discovery Engine technology to conduct a regular series of scans across key international online marketplaces. We monitored for listings (offers of sale) relating to Euro 2020 clothing and merchandise. The scans focused on the top-listed results1 (i.e., those most visible to potential buyers) that were returned from a series of competition-, product- and team-related search queries. We categorized results by marketplace and the team name mentioned in the listing. In the four weeks between May 25 and June 21, 2021, we identified and analyzed more than 35,000 listings. We first looked at listings identified during the two weeks immediately preceding the competition, where the data had not been affected by any match results. Unsurprisingly, one key finding was that the greatest numbers of listings were identified for the higher-ranked teams in the competition2 (Figure 1)—potentially those with a larger fan base, and therefore a greater demand for associated merchandise. However other factors, such as the target markets of the marketplaces themselves may also have an impact on the number of listings for each team. It’s also interesting to note that comparatively, the number of listings do not drop off as steeply as might be expected for the lower-ranked teams. This is because the scans incorporated explicit searches for all team names, thereby returning disproportionately more results for the lower-ranked teams than would be expected purely based on the raw total numbers of listings on the marketplaces.
Figure 1: Numbers of highly ranked eCommerce listings for each Euro 2020 team, over a two-week period prior to the competition, compared with their FIFA world rankings3.
Table 1 shows the total value of the top-listed items identified across the whole analysis period. The calculation accounts for the total number of items offered in each individual listing and the unit price per item—fields Discovery Engine can automatically scrape from the sites because the format of the listing pages is known in advance.
The calculation also makes use of a data cap, applied in cases where a seller is offering an unrealistically high quantity of items (see Figure 2), to avoid the calculated values being artificially high4. This can make a large difference to the overall numbers, particularly on marketplaces were high quantities per listing are typically seen (e.g., Alibaba, DHgate, and Shopee in this study), and may result in estimates that are more realistic in terms of the value of items actually held in inventory.
This type of analysis forms the basis of a return-on-investment (ROI) calculation that can be carried out as part of a monitoring and enforcement program. In reality, only a certain proportion of the items offered on each site will actually be infringing (i.e., counterfeit), and this value varies between sites. Therefore, any enforcement program needs to incorporate an analysis component to determine which listings are for potentially legitimate items and which are infringing and can be removed. In practice, ROI calculations can be carried out at regular points during the brand protection service to determine the actual value of goods removed. Using suitable assumptions, you can extend this to estimate the proportion of this revenue that may be reclaimable (by virtue of consumers purchasing legitimate items through official channels once the infringing items become unavailable).
Table 1: Total value of items (converted to USD5) identified across the top listings on each marketplace during the four-week analysis period. Marketplace names marked with an asterisk denote that multiple different country versions of the site in question were included in the calculation.
|Marketplace||Total value of items (USD) (raw data)||Total value of items (USD) (quantity capped at 1,000)|
Figure 2: Example of a marketplace listing for football jerseys, offering a very high quantity of items, with 5,998,851 in stock.
CSC’s Discovery Engine also makes it possible to generate clustered visualizations of data relating to the identified results. This can help identify top entities for further investigation or as priority takedown targets, or identify links between infringers. Figure 3 shows a cluster of sellers offering items relating to the French national team, showing entities that are active across multiple country versions of the Lazada site, as a way of maximizing their exposure to potential buyers.
Figure 3: Example of a clustered visualization of sellers offering items referencing the French national team (individual seller names obfuscated for privacy reasons).
Within the overall set of individual listings identified in this study, there are a number of interesting trends and observations. Many offers of sale incorporate a variety of keywords—frequently the names of popular players from the teams (see e.g., Figure 2) —as a means of attracting search traffic. Often the items are customizable upon request from the buyer (Figure 4), a trend that CSC also sees more generally for football clubs outside the Euro 2020 competition.
Figure 4: Examples of marketplace listings for customizable items: a) football jerseys and b) face masks with options for various event- and team-related logos.
In many cases, the sellers use product images featuring just the back of the item or a generic product view, presumably to avoid showing any event or sponsor logos (Figure 5). Sellers probably do this to make the listings harder to identify by brand protection service providers making use of logo recognition, or to reduce the degree of trademark infringement in the listings, making them more difficult to enforce upon.
Figure 5: Example of a marketplace listing featuring no official logos or brands in the product images.
Recommendations for brand owners
CSC’s top five tips for brand owners to combat counterfeits6 forms the framework of good practices that should be incorporated into any comprehensive brand protection program. In the context of this study, these recommendations may be applicable to the owners of the trademarks relating to the competition, organizers or teams, to any official sponsors, and to the manufacturers of legitimate products.
1. Ensure your IP portfolio is in good shape
Having all relevant brand terms suitably protected—that is, having appropriate trademarks registered in all relevant product classes and jurisdictions—is an essential pre-requisite for an effective enforcement program, and greatly increases the takedown options available.
2. Employ an automated monitoring solution
CSC’s Discovery Engine automatically monitors a range of marketplaces and other relevant online channels, pulls out rich datasets for each result (seller name, price, quantity, etc.), and aggregates information to identify top targets. The system also uses a customizable rules language, allowing the searches to be configured for brand variants, misspellings and other relevant keywords, and in multiple international character sets.
3. Perform test purchases
A key part of the enforcement process is analyzing individual listings to identify which are infringing and therefore actionable. While a number of factors such as features in product images, price point, quantity, item location, etc. can provide indications that an item may be counterfeit, it’s never possible to prove this definitively based solely on information in the listing itself. Carrying out a test purchase, and thereby obtaining a sample of the item actually shipped, is the only way to determine its legitimacy.
4. Educate your customer base
Customer education is an essential way to bring the quality and safety implications of non-legitimate goods to the attention of potential buyers. Brand owners should also employ initiatives to promote their official suppliers and sales channels so customers are aware of the sources of legitimate goods. Brand owners may also want to consider rolling out the use of product verification tools (e.g., QR codes and unique serial codes in individual listings) that can be checked by prospective buyers against official databases.
5. Choose the right partner
Collaborating with a brand protection service provider that offers a holistic suite of products and services is vital. It enables brand owners to monitor across all relevant online channels, allows for efficiency in monitoring and enforcement processes, and can provide analyst support across all of these areas to keep the brand owner informed of service and industry developments.
1 The exact depth of the searches varies between marketplaces; typically the scans analyse the top 10 pages of search results
2 Correlation coefficient = (-)0.68
3 fifa.com/fifa-world-ranking/ranking-table/men/ (data correct as of 27 May 2021)
5 Exchange rates taken from xe.com/currencyconverter/ (data correct as of June 21, 2021)