Digital Marketing Redux   //   February 14, 2024

Brands like Jolie and Lululemon are fighting off copycats through dupe swapping

While many shoppers today are on the hunt for dupes — products that offer the same quality or look for a cheaper price — premium brands are out to prove that their higher-priced products are superior.

To combat dupes, brands like Jolie and Lululemon have been initiating dupe swaps, where people could get a product from a premium brand for free if they turn in product from a competing brand. Filtered showerhead brand Jolie, for example, offered to replace any brand of filtered showerhead worth $120 and above for free. In May last year, Lululemon held a two-day dupe-swapping event in L.A., where people can swap out their old leggings from other brands for $98 Align leggings.

In the eyes of premium brands, any cheaper version of an item they popularized can be plausibly classified as a dupe. The term dupe has grown in popularity in recent years as people look for cheaper alternatives to premium brands, said Kassi Socha, director analyst at research firm Gartner. Value-based brands are even owning their dupe status and have gained sales as well as brand recognition. Google Search Data cited by NielsenIQ last year shows that searches for dupe + skincare rose 123.5% and dupe + makeup rose 31%.

Although imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, this trend has become a headache for the premium brands being duped. Not only do they lose potential sales but dupes could also impact people’s perception of premium brands. Through this dupe-swapping tactic, premium brands are encouraging shoppers to try out their brand and see the quality difference themselves. But, the reality is that it’s also primarily a public relations tactic, as dupe-swapping isn’t yet a common practice among brands.

“Consumers are still sharing that they’re being weary and strategic with their discretionary spending dollars,” Socha said. “Given this, if someone tries a bad dupe in a discretionary category, they may never try that product again,[or] they may never upgrade.”

Jolie’s CEO Ryan Babenzien said the company started seeing copycats of its signature filtered showerhead appear in 2023, roughly a year after its launch. In response, the company announced through social media in September that it was giving people the option to replace any filtered showerhead worth over $120 if they aren’t satisfied with their purchase. All they have to do is send a copy of their receipt and a photo of the brand to Jolie’s customer service or its social channels.   

“We want to make sure that people have the best filtering showerhead because it’s sort of a new market that we’ve created,” Babenzien said. “We want to make sure that people aren’t trying something that’s inferior and then thinking that that’s it. If it doesn’t work, we don’t want them to just end it there.” 

So far, 50 customers have taken up Jolie’s offer. Babenzien said the company plans to keep making this exchange policy available in the near future depending on how the market evolves. But he said the company can’t promise it would be available forever.  

Apart from the dupe-swapping policy, Jolie has mainly highlighted its products’ unique qualities to combat competition. Jolie made $28 million in annual revenue in 2023.  

“If you use something that doesn’t work the way you thought it was, you may never try a competitive version of it,” Babenzien said. “We want to make it really simple. If you’re using something that’s not working and you’re dissatisfied, we’ll give you one for free.”

Charlie Skuba, emeritus professor of the practice in marketing and international business at Georgetown University, said that dupe-swapping initiatives can be a good way to remind people of the quality of a brand. He added that shoppers that don’t have an established brand preference, could also be encouraged to try out the premium brand when the cost barrier is removed. 

“The promotion is to get people to the store and the promotion is to remind people of the premium quality of your brand,” Skuba said. “It’s a classic promotional excitement done in an innovative new way that appeals to the younger consumer.”

Indeed, dupe swapping can be used as a promotional tool. Lululemon’s dupe-swapping event drew in a crowd of about 1,000 people. The company gave out one type of product, black 25” Align leggings. Lululemon told Marketing Brew last year that the event was partly a response to the rising popularity of dupe culture.   

But while dupe swapping has its benefits, Skuba said brands have to set up constraints around the swap. “You don’t want to irritate the consumer by promising then withdrawing it too quickly or not making it available,” he said. “But at the same time, you can’t afford to make this available all the time.”