Member Exclusive   //   June 11, 2024

DTC Briefing: Skin care brand Remedy is already battling product dupes on Temu

This is the latest installment of the DTC Briefing, a weekly Modern Retail+ column about the biggest challenges and trends facing the volatile direct-to-consumer startup world. More from the series →

When TikTok-famous dermatologist Dr. Muneeb Shah launched his skincare brand Remedy in March, the last thing he expected was for cheap dupes to pop up on Temu within weeks.

As the most followed derm on TikTok, Shah has leveraged his followers – over 22 million across social media – to help grow his new DTC brand. Thanks to Shah’s big following, Remedy’s products have already sold out a couple of times. This has created an opening for bad actors. As Shah detailed in a video posted on May 15, shoppers have become duped by similar listings of Remedy’s yellow-tinted serum — especially on Temu.

Fake Remedy listings by dropshippers have popped up on Temu, featuring similar-looking products with other names, or with misspelled branding like “RemOdy.” The Remedy for dark spot serum consists of pale yellow product in a frosted glass bottle. On Temu, there have been listings for a serum sold in a similar bottle, featuring a similar font to the one Remedy uses. But, it is sold under a brand called Hoygi. 

Remedy has perhaps had to contend with copycats earlier than other direct-to-consumer brands because of Shah’s large following. But, it’s a huge problem for many DTC startups that have to deal with everything from dupes on Amazon to fake websites run by advertisers trying to pose as them on Facebook. It’s a problem that’s also grown since the ascent of apps like Temu, which hawks thousands of products ranging from serums to at-home gym weights to cookware at almost too-good-to-be-true prices.

Companies like Remedy are trying to use trademarks to shut down these listings. However, sending cease-and-desists becomes more difficult and expensive to do on international shopping apps like Temu. While Shah is mostly relying on educational content to fight off Remedy copies, other DTC brands have chosen to invest heavily in protecting their IP.

Less than two months after launch, “we saw a negative review came in from a customer who got a counterfeit product,” Shah said. After searching the web, the Remedy team saw a few counterfeit product listings on websites using the brand’s images. A dupe version of its flagship product, a dark spots serum that retails for $38 on Remedy’s website, was available on Temu for $4.01. Another listing that popped up over the last few days is selling the copycat serum for $2.69. The company ended up sending the upset customer who’d purchased the counterfeit product a free serum. “But obviously we can’t do that for every person who buys a fake,” Shah said.

Shah said he knew many beauty brands deal with cheap Temu dupes, but they tend to be more established names. “I was surprised at how quickly they were able to identify the demand for a new brand,” he said.

Naturally, Shah has taken to social media to warn millions of his followers of the scams. Remedy has yet to send Temu sellers cease and desist letters, but the company is considering using a third-party provider that scans and takes down counterfeit listings. 

A few of the other sites masquerading as the brand were hosted by Shopify, which Shah said helped in getting them taken down. But the Temu sellers are harder to crack down on given that many are overseas. 

Shah said his products took almost three years to develop. Remedy’s flagship dark spots serum is patent-pending in the U.S. The problem for sites like Temu, said Shah, is “it’s hard to enforce trademark law in China and other countries.” So when a customer overseas buys what they think is a Remedy product from Temu, the brand is unlikely to be able to stop the sale.

Moreover, one of the top concerns for Shah is that 40% of his audience is not in the United States and many began requesting international shipping during Remedy’s launch week. This poses both an opportunity to expand internationally in the future. In the meantime, however, it’s fueling dupes on sites like Temu, which is available in over 50 markets worldwide.

On the bright side, the videos Shah posted about the Remedy dupes are helping bring more people to the brand’s website. “The content ended up helping convert some customers so that was a positive,” Shah said.

However, Shah said, with Temu and its massive advertising push rapidly dominating search engines, it will be a long-term battle trying to make new customers aware of the fakes. According to ad intelligence platform MediaRadar, 93% of Temu’s ad spend through the first four months of 2024 was invested in digital advertising. That accounted for $358 million of the $386 million spent on advertising during that span.

More established companies are able to spend more time and resources on protecting their IP. Germany-based water bottle brand Air Up has been battling counterfeits on Temu — as well as on other marketplaces like Amazon, AliExpress and Walmart — since its U.S. launch in 2022. The company was founded in 2019, and known for its scent-based flavoring system.

Christian Demers, the U.S. managing director at Air Up, said the company began seeing its water bottle’s patented designs on Temu as soon as it launched in the U.S. The brand’s official bottle retails for $44.99, is made of Tritan copolyester, and features a silicone mouthpiece and carrying strap. Dozens of Temu lookalikes feature the same design elements but under other brand names instead of Air Up’s logo.

The issue exploded in 2023, Demers said, with Air Up identifying and confronting over 10,000 infringing listings last year across marketplaces. The effort ignited a viral #airupdupe trend on TikTok, which amassed 2.1 million views at the time. The copycats ended up losing the company over $10 million in global revenue. 

Like many marketplaces, Temu allows brands to flag listings of products that infringe on their trademarks. However, since it launched in 2022, Temu hasn’t built out a dedicated portal to help businesses report sellers. Instead, brands can report copyright infringement by sending details about the listing to an email address dedicated to IP protection cases.

“We try to go that route first, but it’s a slow-moving process,” Demers said.

Now that Air Up is established in a number of markets, Demers said the company has become more aggressive about taking down fake listings by sellers on third-party marketplaces. “We have patent protection on how the bottle and flavor pods work,” Demers said. But this also means navigating the complexities of intellectual property protection as a young brand. The company also works with lawyers on the ground in China to serve cease and desists wherever possible, Demers said. “It’s had limited success so far, but it’s a fight we’re investing in.” 

The company also launched on Amazon in May to own its keywords and demand there. In addition, Air Up has been working with European Union customs to identify, intercept and seize counterfeit bottles sellers are shipping in from China. 

Trying to fight trademark infringement is a long-term problem, and newer brands have to choose whether they’re willing to invest heavily in fighting sellers on Chinese shopping apps like Temu. For a company like Remedy, Shah said he would be more worried if the Temu dupes look identical enough to not be able to warn followers against. 

For now, Shah is focusing on using his social media platform to educate customers on Remedy’s unique formulations that are difficult to copy for a few dollars. “We could spend a lot of time and money going after these people, but it probably won’t be worthwhile,” Shah said.

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