A hot search term each holiday shopping season is “UGG Deals.” As the weather gets worse and teenagers write their letters to Santa, shoppers get desperate for a discount on the fuzzy and pricey footwear.
But I found those searches can lead to counterfeiters who sell boots that the real UGG manufacturer says are made of inferior leather, synthetic lining and adhesive chemicals that aren’t found in the authentic boots.
I searched “Discounted UGGs” and found hundreds of sites offering what they said were authentic UGG boots, including eBay and AliExpress.com. I ordered 7 pairs. Only 4 of the retailers actually charged my credit card and shipped the boots to me. 3 were mailed from China, including the pair from AliExpress. The 4th came from an eBay seller in California. The boots ranged in price from $100 – $190 with shipping. The cheapest boots were discounted 50 percent and the boots purchased on eBay were discounted 20 percent.
I took the boots to UGG headquarters in Santa Barbara, California. The company is well aware of the counterfeit problem, and say they have taken legal action against 60,000 websites selling counterfeit products. Leah Evert-Burks, the company’s director of Brand Protection, inspected them all. She said three of the four pairs were counterfeit, including all of the pairs shipped from China. Leah said that only the eBay pair was authentic.
Evert-Burks pointed out that the fakes used pig or cow skin instead of sheepskin. She showed how the synthetic polymer lining of the boot pulled away from the leather. “Real UGG boots are made from one piece of sheep hide that isn’t glued or stitched together,” Evert-Burks said. She showed how the fake fleece pulled out and poked through the seams. She flexed the soles of the boots and showed how much stiffer they were than authentic UGG boots. A dead giveaway on one of the boots was the Ugg logo on the sole of the shoe that had “Australia” spelled incorrectly.
When I tried the boots on, there were noticeable differences too. The toe-box of the counterfeit UGGs pressed down on my toes and pinched them. Evert-Burks explained: “They don’t use a foot form to sew each piece–it’s thrown together without the craftsmanship we put into the process.” Also the synthetic fiber in the counterfeit boots made my feet sweat. When I wore the authentic UGG boots, my feet came out of the shoes dry.
“We get lots of calls from parents after Christmas saying they’ve got a teenager in tears, that counterfeit boots were unknowingly purchased and wrapped under the tree,” Evert-Burks said.
The company is trying to help consumers make informed choices and even try to recoup their money if they purchased counterfeit boots, she said. On their website they offer a tool to check whether an online site is an authorized retailer of UGG products. They also offer step-by-step instructions to submit a dispute claim with your credit card company to recoup the money spent on a counterfeit purchase.
AliExpress, a subsidiary of The Alibaba Group, is an international marketplace of third party sellers where we purchased one of the counterfeit pairs of boots. A spokesperson for Alibaba told us: “The Alibaba Group works hard to eliminate products from our various marketplaces that violate intellectual property laws. Our strict rules about conducting business on our marketplaces are designed to maintain the trust that we have with our customers. We continue to collaborate with intellectual property owners and sellers to remove products that violate our strict policies.”
Evert-Burks of UGG warns against all such marketplaces including eBay, where we bought authentic UGG boots: “Platforms such as eBay you just run your chances (of) getting counterfeit or genuine product.”
EBay told us it works hard to take down counterfeit listings and offers a money-back guarantee if an item is not as described, and that includes products that claim to be authentic but turn out to be fakes.
But let’s get back to the original issue–are there ever any sales on UGG boots? From my own research during the holidays last year I found that many department stores that rolled out store-wide coupons for 15% or 25% off excluded things like make-up, perfume and UGG boots. Evert-Burks says you will see clearances with authorized partners but it’s usually seasonal, meaning after the holidays and rolling into summer. UGG does have a sale page on its site and retailers like Nordstrom Rack and 6pm.com carry discounted UGG shoes, but the sale items are rarely the classic boots.