How Assay Assured is helping retail fight fakes

Scott-Walter.JPG

Find out about the scheme designed to combat counterfeit jewellery.

The Edinburgh Assay Office recently launched Assay Assured, an online initiative that provides brands and retailers with a mark to show that the jewellery the stores are selling is genuine. With some of the UK’s biggest brands taking it on, Kathryn Bishop finds out more.

Back in June the Edinburgh Assay Office (EAO) launched a world first — an online initiative called Assay Assured, designed to help combat the selling of counterfeit branded jewellery online.

The launch of Assay Assured has not come a moment too soon. The headlines have been filled with brands such as Links of London running high-profile anti-counterfeiting campaigns, and others such as Tiffany & Co. and Thomas Sabo regularly battling against fake products and the websites touting counterfeit copies of their jewellery.

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Scott Walter, chief executive and assay master at the Edinburgh Assay Office, explains that a culmination of events drove the EAO to launch the scheme. “The growth of online jewellery retail over the past four to five years was a driving force,” he explains. “It has been a mixed blessing as jewellers have had a new channel to sell through but it also opened up a powerful channel for counterfeiters.”

Walter says the EAO spotted the sudden increase in fake sites selling branded jewellery with domain names very similar to the actual brands’ names or sites. Auction sites were also a conduit for online stores selling counterfeit jewellery, sometimes copying retailers’ or brands’ names and logos.

“Our concern has always been that the consumer has the correct information about the product they’re buying,” Walter says. “We felt there were a lot of brands and retailers who wanted protection online and while we’re not here to enforce what customers can and can’t buy, we can offer a form of digital protection, especially where sales of counterfeit goods are impacting legitimate retailers.”

Jewellery retailers are free to explain hallmarking terms online through their websites if they wish, depending upon the type of information they see fit to offer to consumers. While Walter says hallmarking explanations can give a customer insight, the use of an example image of hallmarking or explanation is so easy to copy and replicate on a counterfeit site that brands risk finding themselves copied across all levels of their online presence, not just in terms of product.

“We felt that there was an opportunity to have some leverage and differentiation for brands and retailers,” explains Walter. “We have [hallmarking] standards set in the UK and our hallmarking model is one which many European countries have built their hallmarking standards on, so we’ve aimed to create a device that flies the flag for Britain as a nation that likes to do things properly.”

The Assay Assured initiative offers customers material for their sites that shows more than just a page of text about hallmarking or a jpeg image. Instead, Assay Assured allows retailers to use a piece of HTML script positioned on their site which, when clicked on, opens a pop-up certificate of approval that outlines that the particular brand or retailer is a certified member of Assay Assured and that the goods they are selling are genuine.

A number of brands including Ortak, Links of London and Monica Vinader, and retailers Diamond Geezer and ROX are already signed up, though Walter notes that many of those already involved are existing hallmarking customers of the EAO, and were thus “low-hanging fruit” when it came to reaching out to key brands and retailers.

“Originally we had a small consultancy focus and there was a resounding yes that Assay Assured was needed,” explains Walter. “The take up has been great. We have about 50 applications in the pipeline and a number of big retailers are also interested.”

While the EAO will not draw boundaries as to which companies can and cannot be part of the Assay Assured scheme, costs do vary depending upon the risk assessment of the company in question and the volume of its website traffic. Basic annual rates start from about £125 with costs added depending upon the services the client requires thereafter.

“We’ve had support from Edinburgh Trading Standards about Assay Assured [and] they were positive from the start,” explains Walter.

For the retailers involved, Assay Assured is essentially a contract that they sign to say that they are not selling any counterfeit branded jewellery on their website.

Clogau Gold signed up to the initiative and implemented it in just four days. Its managing director Ben Roberts found out about the scheme while in conversation with Walter.

“We were talking about the various measures [Clogau] was putting in place to ensure we are covered for all sorts of online fraud,” Roberts explains. “I see other brands spending a lot of money retrospectively correcting mistakes and I was keen to find out what these brands had learned to ensure we could make the right changes now. Trust and confidence is a big issue when shopping online and when our customers come to our site they must know it is the official Clogau website. This serves to help that feeling of trust.”

Scottish jewellery brand and retailer Ortak is long-time customer of the EAO. Its managing director Alistair Grey concurs with Roberts that joining Assay Assured is its way of increasing confidence among consumers shopping for its jewellery online.

“Assay Assured communicates to consumers that we are compliant with a code of conduct that ensures that the product we advertise online meets industry standards,” he says.

Diamond Geezer, an online retailer that sells unbranded diamond jewellery, was the first company to have the Assay Assured logo on its site and signed up to the scheme in just three days. Its director Luke Billing says being part of Assay Assured will add more reassurance for customers buying diamonds online.

“We have a lot of badges on the site that outline our credit card security but it is good to have one that is industry focused,” he explains. “We worked closely with Scott and, rather than having a link that took people away from the site to the Assay Assured page, we recommended that a pop-up certificate was created, which has now been rolled out.”

Interestingly the certificate of approval that pops up when the Assay Assured logo is clicked on features a link enabling shoppers to report a query to the EAO about the brand or retailer, if the shopper has any concerns about the authenticity of the products on sale.

“Although consumers will, in the first instance, be encouraged to report any queries relating to the code of conduct to the retailer, the certificate and the landing page will also allow consumers to report a query to Assay Assured about a product, should they fail to resolve their issue with the retailer,” explains Walter.

While the average consumer might not be aware of what the term assay means, the scheme at an industry level, at least, is a badge that many brands and retailers can wear confidently.

For Roberts, Assay Assured is part of Clogau’s scheme to build stronger corporate social responsibility within the brand. “Like all of these online assurances it’s not bulletproof but it goes a good distance to extending credibility to the site of a manufacturer or brand like our own,” says Roberts. “I think it will be popular for the EAO.”

Next up, the EAO will go on tour, exhibiting at IJL in September, where brands and retailers will have a chance to find out more about an initiative that has potential to pick up speed across the industry.

This article was taken from the August 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.

 

 

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