You may or may not have noticed that knock-off versions of our products are popping up in various places around the world. In recent months, there seems to be an uptick in the number of companies who are openly copying our products and trying to tell them on the open market. The hot spot, naturally, is here in China.
The S250 seems to be a particularly popular model to copy, though others are also producing their own versions of the S10. One company in China even went so far as to copy nearly our entire website, attempting to pass off the company, the products, the branding–even all the awards we’ve won–as their own.
We knew this day would come. And yes, there is something flattering about being copied. It affirms that our product designs are attractive and our market success significant enough that others want to imitate us.
Last week I wrote about how much I appreciate having competition–how it drives us to do better. Those who choose to copy our products rather than creating their own are in an entirely different category. While it may be tempting to laugh off their shockingly blatant knock-offs, the reality is that these "products" lead to serious, and seriously negative, consequences. There’s a reason why they’re called pirates.
Besides the clear violation of IP–which, by the way, does not mean very much in many parts of the world–the danger of pirated products lies in how they screw up the market and alienate our customers.
Solar-powered consumer electronics are an entirely new category for most of our customers. As a result, a significant portion of our marketing efforts are in customer education, explaining what solar power is, how the product works, and why it’s a worthy investment. Our customers are understandably skeptical of the technology and the reliability of our products. Those who choose to purchase our products are taking a real risk with a significant amount of their savings.
When our sales and marketing staff are out in the field, we’re certainly asking customers to buy our products. But even more importantly, we’re asking them to trust us and to trust the technology we provide.
Pirated products have the potential to destroy any trust that we have developed. Knock-offs promise the exact same performance as the original, but at a significantly lower price. This makes them attractive for our very price-sensitive customers. But there’s a reason why the price is lower–the quality is not anywhere near that of our products. So a customer may invest in what is seemingly a similar but lower-cost option, only to discover that the product does not perform as promised, or breaks altogether, in just a matter of weeks.
Because this may be the first and only experience that the customer has had with this kind of technology, the result is that he or she may choose to write off the entire category of products: All solar lanterns are unreliable; solar power is not a viable solution for me.
In one fell swoop, a knock-off product can destroy months or even years of marketing and customer education efforts that we and other legitimate competitors have been doing.
Pirates are not interested in providing excellent products; they just want to make a quick buck, not build a brand or stay long-term in the market. Therefore, they are motivated only to make a product that can move off the shelves, not a product that will provide a valuable service for families for the long term.
At d.light, we’re always saying that our customers deserve better. They deserve better products; they deserve better service. What they don’t deserve is to be lied to and cheated out of their hard-earned money, and to be misled about the true possibilities that solar products can provide for them.
So, for the sake of our customers, we take piracy of our products very seriously. It’s certainly no laughing matter.