A New Zealand business has been flooded with negative reviews amid allegations of copycat behaviour.
The company being targeted is baby clothing retailer Jamie Kay, which relies heavily on online sales through its website.
The customer complaints centre on the release of a pair of gumboots (retailing for $50), in which they allege were copied from a competing Australian business called Hubble + Duke – an allegation Jamie Kay’s owner denies.
Disappointed potential customers have drawn attention not only to the similarities between the toddler shoes, but also to the fact that Jamie Kay appears to have copied text from the Hubble + Duke website for use on its own site.
In one section, which has since been updated, the copy featuring on the Jamie Kay website mentioned the Hubble + Duke site in care instructions.
The text of the Jamie Kay website read: “Our gumboots generally hold up really well and have been worn outside and enjoyed by many many children. However when purchasing Hubble + Duke boots please note WE, nor our APPROVED Retailers, cannot be held responsible for…”
This information quickly spread online and led to a flurry of negative reviews for the Jamie Kay brand on the influential Trust Pilot website.
The company is currently listed as having only a 2.2 rating, following the onslaught of one-star reviews. Of 164 reviews posted in total, 60 per cent have been given only one star – many of which were posted over the last few days.
The negative customer reviews reference accuse the company of copying a competitor, with particular emphasis placed on the use of the Hubble + Duke copy on the Jamie Kay website.
Hubble + Duke founder Rosie Pow declined to comment for this story.
Jamie Kidd, the founder of the beleaguered Jamie Kay business, told the Herald that the backlash has been “heartbreaking” for her team.
She stressed that her company did not plagiarise any of the products featuring on the Hubble + Duke website.
“We are a genuine hardworking and honest company,” Kidd told the Herald.
“We have designed our own gumboots with a custom sole, Jamie Kay floral pattern, colours and insole. These gumboots are not replicas. They have taken months to develop and perfect.”
To drive home her point, Kidd shared an image pointing out the differences between the two sets of gumboots.
Asked how copy from the Hubble + Duke website ended up on her site, Kidd explained it was an “admin error” which was “live for a very short time.”
She further said that it was only listed in the footer of the website and was not a product listing.
In an apology posted on social channels, Kidd elaborated further on the error, explaining that the information was intended for research rather than publication.
“While creating our gumboots we did research on care instructions to ensure we were meeting the global market requirements,” the apology says.
“These were saved in our files. We then formulated our own care instructions following best practices. These are the care instructions our manufacturer included in each box some months ago during production.
“Today we accidentally uploaded a research file to our website instead of our own care instructions file. This was a huge mistake from us and we are deeply sorry and embarrassed for this.”
Kidd said that she was “terribly sorry for any heartache or frustrations the upload might have caused”.
“It is never our brand’s intention to hurt or offend, on the contrary, our worldwide customers are at the heart of everything we do,” she said.
“We are deeply saddened by some of the social media abuse we have received.”
Kidd further added that members of her team were taking significant strain due to the impact of the negative commentary.
This is not the first time accusations of copycat actions have been raised between organisations selling online.
Even large organisations have been caught up in such disputes.
In 2019, numerous publications, including the Herald, drew attention to the fact that Amazon was selling a pair of wool-blend sneakers that looked uncannily similar to Kiwi-founded company Allbirds.
It initially looked as though the matter may go to court, but Allbirds ultimately decided to focus on the differences that made its product superior – particularly on the environmental impact side – to what Amazon was selling.
The other major topic the battle of the gumboots raises is the impact of social shaming on brands that are increasingly dependent on online channels for sales and sentiment.
Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo illustrated this on the grand stage of the Euro 2021 tournament, but even ordinary people now have the power to make their voices heard on social and review platforms.
When a groundswell of discontent gathers, this has the potential to severely damage the reputation of a brand – particularly when that reputation has largely been built online.
Studies on the impact of online reviews vary markedly, but a major paper released by the UK Government’s Competition and Markets Authority estimated that online reviews influence around £23 billion (NZ$45 billion) of customer spending in the UK every year.
With online scams growing, reviews are also playing an increasingly important role in guiding consumers to sites that they can trust.
Businesses that fall on the wrong side of the online review mob could see the profitability of their business hit hard.
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