Why Retailers & CPGs Need to Embrace the Midrange Game

Jan. 9, 2024

By Phil Lempert, SupermarketGuru, Consumer Trend Tracker, Food Trends Editor, NBC’s Today, and Author

In the movie “House of Gucci,” there is a rather heated discussion between family members about the proliferation of unscrupulous manufacturers who were flooding the market with knockoffs of the then-prestigious brand. Lady Gaga, who portrays Patrizia Reggiani, the wife of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), fills a room with an assortment of fake Gucci goods, including various bags, mugs, and umbrellas. She confronts her husband and father-in-law Aldo Gucci, played by Al Pacino, about how these counterfeit products are hurting the brand’s image and perceived quality. Aldo disagrees, pointing out how these less expensive knockoffs afford the common person the opportunity to feel good about themselves and helps expand the Gucci aura to the masses, who presumably will aspire to afford the real thing.

Baby boomers grew up amid knockoffs. For some, it was a way to impress co-workers and bosses and raise their image and status. For others, it was just a way to save face (and cash). Watches, electronics, clothing, scarves, and handbags all could be found on city street corners, some that were identical to the originals, and some with intentional but subtle brand misspellings, like Gillete (for Gillette), Ferari (for Ferrari), and even abidas instead of adidas.

But today, led by Gen Z and millennials, the trend is a lot less scrupulous, and “dupes” (short for duplicates) are less-expensive alternatives to luxury goods. Unlike their knockoff predecessors, they are not trying to mislead consumers or offer lower quality. These dupes often replicate the look, style, feel, and quality of upscale and luxury brands and are being produced by smaller companies that are quickly growing.

Shein, for example, is a fast-fashion clothes brand founded in 2012 that has dupes produced by over 5,000 third-party manufacturers, mainly in China, and now sells in more than 150 countries and has filed for an upcoming IPO that is valued as high as $60 billion. The company has more than 250 million followers on social media and has reported 2021 sales of almost $16 billion.

According to an October 2023 survey, Morning Consult found that 31% of all adults have intentionally purchased a dupe of a premium product. Forty-nine percent of Gen Z consumers and 44% of millennials report buying dupes. Ellen Briggs, Morning Consult’s brand analyst, said that dupe shopping is now “something that’s actually a prideful thing for consumers” and is not an indicator of lower status or considered shameful.

TikTok has fueled the trend, with the #dupe hashtag now surpassing six billion views according to Morning Consult, which predicts that while shopping for dupes is being led by Gen Z and millennials, the practice could go mainstream across all generations. Sixty-one percent of Gen Z shoppers in the U.S., U.K. and Italy used TikTok most often to find dupes, according to a survey conducted by Trustpilot. TikTok and Amazon are easy tools to find dupes that shoppers can use to compare to more pricy goods, and their search functions are so refined that you can now type in (a brand name) dupe and find the top brands that make the dupes along with consumer quality ratings. These two generations, who have grown up online, are also using videos to show off what they bought and how much they have saved. TikTok Shop, the platform’s recent embedded shopping feature, allows viewers to buy dupe products directly from the video creator’s video.

For category managers that work for retailers, it’s important to offer and showcase dupes in-store, online and on social media. Otherwise, these important Gen Z and millennial shoppers – that number almost 172 million consumers – will find and buy dupes elsewhere.

For category managers that work for brands, it may well be time to create dupes of your own goods under a different label before your competitor does. It’s been done before. In 1979, Giorgio Armani introduced the Mani brand, focused on the entry-level men’s suiting buyer. Other brands like Valentino, Calvin Klein and Gianfranco Ferre all followed with their own midrange lines.

Who says there are no new ideas?