Ensuring Authenticity in the Supply Chain

It’s not just brands’ revenues that take a hit from counterfeiting activities. It can create risks to consumer safety and can dilute the brand, in turn negatively impacting the reputations that have been carefully built and protected.

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Counterfeiting is an age-old problem still creating headaches for brands across all industries. It is estimated that counterfeit goods cost the U.S. economy around $600 billion every year, or 3% of the U.S. gross domestic product.

It’s not just brands’ revenues that take a hit from counterfeiting activities. It can create risks to consumer safety and can dilute the brand, in turn negatively impacting the reputations that have been carefully built and protected.

The issue is significant and guaranteeing product authenticity is essential to protecting both brands and consumers. There are actions consumers can take to verify product authenticity before making a purchase, but the onus is on brands to tackle the issue at the source. 

Today, various methods have been developed to help brands cleanse the market of counterfeit goods, such as tracking products through the chain-of-custody using data and using counterfeiting technologies that employ covert, overt and forensic approaches.

Protection at the point of infiltration

Before any product reaches the store or end customer, it goes through a variety of processes and stages that exposes them to a number of infiltration points and leaves them vulnerable to nefarious actors. As such, if brands are to guarantee the authenticity of their products and understand where the supply chain might be breaking down and enabling counterfeit goods to enter it, they must be able to determine the provenance of their products and trace each item back to every point in chain-of-custody.

Key to the success of this approach is scoping out the many transition points that a product moves through and collecting metadata at each touch point. This metadata can range from what raw materials were used and where they were sourced to the factory in which it was manufactured and further down the chain, the volumes of items per pallet, where those pallets are being shipped to and the volume of items received at the other end. It is even possible to collect this metadata down to a granular level of detail to track, for instance, the sizes and colors of items included in each particular shipment.   

By using solutions that capture all of this data and mine it to identify anomalies, brands can more easily identify any deviation from the agreed route of their products and investigate it further. For example, if a shipment of 47 pallets of a certain product is sent out for shipment, but only 45 end up at the final destination, it will be captured by the data and the brand can trace it back to identify at which point the issue occurred to more easily resolve it. Similarly, this level of traceability helps to guarantee that the end product has been engineered using all of the specified parts from the required suppliers so brands can ensure it complies with health and safety regulations and any warranty stipulations.

Employing covert, overt and forensic approaches

In conjunction with tracking metadata, brands can also adopt security features at covert, overt and forensic levels to better authenticate and protect their product. This tiered approach allows brands to choose the level of brand protection they require, whether that’s through a tamper-evident seal that is visible to the human eye or a hologram that incorporates forensic detection features that can’t be replicated by counterfeiters.

By adopting such features, brands introduce an extra level of protection against nefarious actors and ensures the authenticity of products baring their brand name can be verified, either by the naked eye or using detection technology. This is useful not only to them and customers, it can also be used by enforcement officials when products pass through customs. The tracking of these safety features can then become another source of data when monitoring an authentic product’s journey through the supply chain, from factory to being in the customer’s hands.

Validating product claims

As well as helping brands to guarantee the authenticity of products and components, in a world where consumers are becoming more aware of the impact of how they shop and who they shop with, complete provenance will also help to build consumer trust. After all, by capturing data about components at their origins and being able to trace them back, it is possible for organizations to answer consumers’ questions about where products originated, how they were manufactured and how they got to them. This will help to substantiate any claims a brand or product makes about being ethical or sustainable and help to instill consumer confidence in their offering and brand at large.

Some brands are even taking this one step further by tracking recycled products that are used and what they were originally. As sustainability becomes a bigger business objective for brands and manufacturers, this circularity, and the ability to detail it, is becoming more popular.

Demanding confidence from the supply chain

Counterfeiting has become an even greater issue for brands over the last 12 months with increasing volumes of counterfeit goods entering the supply chain and making their way to consumers. Brands need to take action now before the problem escalates further.

Adopting covert, overt and forensic approaches and making more effective use of the data available to them will help brands to audit the supply chain process and reach higher levels of accountability. In turn, this will help protect revenues, reputations and customers. The more brands begin to use these methods, the harder it will be for counterfeit items to enter the market.