A luxury fashion store in Sydney is being investigated by fair trading authorities amid a growing number of customer complaints that the business unwittingly sold them counterfeit goods.
Marketing itself as “your new best friend in fashion”, Cosette says it sources authentic designer bags at a discounted price from European suppliers by taking advantage of parallel importing arrangements.
“Thanks to our exclusive networks and high-end buyers we are able to source only the very best, for less,” its website reads. “All items we receive from our European suppliers are new and guaranteed authentic.”
But, speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald last week, a number of customers accused the retailer of selling them “superfake” bags – high-quality copies of designer goods that are harder to differentiate from the real thing – after having them inspected by independent experts.
Cosette, which has been operating since 2015, has repeatedly denied the allegations, and there is no suggestion the business knowingly sold any fake products.
Hundreds more people, however, have since come forward with similar complaints, and a NSW Fair Trading spokesperson confirmed to news.com.au it has opened an investigation.
Since July 24, NSW Fair Trading has received 265 complaints involving consumer purchases valued at more than $450,000.
“An investigation has started and at this stage no further information is available,” the spokesperson said. “Fair Trading will liaise with other agencies if appropriate.”
News.com.au understands Fair Trading conducted a visit to Cosette’s warehouse on July 26, and the company will appear on Fair Trading’s official complaints register in August.
Under Australian Consumer Law, consumers are entitled to a refund “if goods have been misrepresented, including when fake products are represented as genuine”.
Customers who have purchased from Cosette are encouraged to lodge a complaint online to assist Fair Trading with the ongoing investigation.
In its initial report, The SMH identified customer Louise Cameron, who thought she’d “got the deal of the century” when she purchased a Saint Laurent Envelope Medium Chain Bag, which retails for more than $4000, for $2400 from Cosette.
When the bag arrived, however, something seemed off – photos on the authentication certificate that came with the bag looked different to the physical thing, and the serial numbers didn’t match.
Ms Cameron spent $40 to get the bag re-authenticated – which is most commonly done from detailed photos of the item – and within two hours learned it was a fake.
She contacted Cosette – which offered to run another check on the bag, or to issue a refund and, in Cameron’s words, “drop the matter”.
In a statement, Cosette denied that its refunding Ms Cameron and other customers’ money amounted to an admission that the bag was fake.
“Despite (and not because of) the incorrect belief that the bags were fake … the customers were immediately and fully refunded under Cosette’s returns policy or as a gesture of goodwill as we are about customer satisfaction,” a spokesperson told The SMH.
“Any claims that we sell fake bags or that these refunds imply that we have admitted that we sell fake bags are false.”
Another Cosette customer, Erin Kostopulos, told The SMH she’d had her Gucci Marmont camera bag for two years before she realised it was possibly a superfake.
After a friend had her Cosette purchase re-authenticated and learned it was fake, Ms Kostopulos did the same, with the same outcome. While Cosette rejected the “results on authenticity”, it agreed to give both women a refund.
“I feel really disappointed … and I feel almost a bit embarrassed,” Ms Kostopulos said.
“If you want to buy something fake you should by paying a ‘fake’ price. Some people save up for years to have something of this value. I bought that bag because I had achieved a lot in my life, and I wanted to treat myself. The experience sort of took that away.”
Several luxury-goods authenticators reported a substantial increase in demand this week for goods purchased at the store to be checked.
Following The SMH article and a Monday segment on A Current Affair, Cosette’s shopfront in The Rocks was closed, citing staff illness. The store reopened on Thursday with security present.
Under Australian law, companies which misrepresent the authenticity of products can face hefty penalties of whichever is greater — $50 million, three times the value of the benefit received, or 30 per cent of annual turnover in the preceding year (if the court cannot determine the benefit obtained from the offence).
Cosette has called for any customers with concerns to return their products for reauthentication.
“If Cosette finds any product to be non-genuine after re-authentication, the customer will be refunded fully,” the company said.
“Cosette is reauthenticating all product returned to us where a customer has concerns about authenticity. At this time, no product has been identified as fake.”
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