Dupes have gained an undeserved bad reputation, often used synonymously with illegal counterfeits of high-end, luxury branded goods. There is a world of difference between the two.
A counterfeit product is intended to deceive by using unauthorized trademarks. A dupe is a duplicate that is a near-identical substitute for a high-end product at a lower price; the trick is to find it.
That’s easy in many categories, but it can be especially problematic in beauty where brands sell “hope in a bottle.” Dupeshop Beauty has solved for that, using a science-based approach to study product formulas and test them with a team of industry experts to find authentic dupes.
Dupes’ Long History
Seemingly overnight, dupe shopping has become a “thing” online and in social media. CNBC reports TikTok videos with the #dupe hashtag have racked up nearly six billion views, but in reality, dupes have been around for years, called private label or store brands.
In the U.S., private-label food and beverage brands generated $112 billion in 2022 and got a nearly 10% bump over sales in 2021, according to Statista. Overall, private label accounts for about 20% of grocery revenues, with Costco and Walmart
Private labels are also a favorite dupe strategy for department stores. Nearly 20% of Macy’s business is generated from its 25 private label brands. Target
Shoppers have an extra layer of confidence buying retailers’ private brands. They trust the retailer, so they can trust the retailers’ private labels.
But suppose the consumer wants to venture further afield across a broader range of dupes. For that, they often need help and a whole cadre of bloggers and social media influencers, most especially on TikTok, have turned dupe shopping into a business.
Fashion and jewelry dupe shoppers don’t need much trust in the influencer to make a decision. All they need is the picture and the price to tell them if something is an authentic dupe.
Dupe shopping in beauty is another matter. What’s in the bottle or tube is of primary importance, and it takes real experts to guide dupe shoppers in that world.
Richmond, VA-based Brandefy took one approach, developing clinically-based dupe formulas for a narrow range of skincare products, such as a $32 Vitamin C serum that dupes a $182 Skinceuticals product. But for cosmetics or haircare, shoppers have to rely on the crowdsourced Brandefy app. And it doesn’t cover perfume dupes.
Across the pond, Dupeshop took another. Founded by Laghu Bhardwaj and Amir Awan in 2021, Dupeshop Beauty doesn’t manufacture anything. Instead, it employs a team of industry experts, including cosmetic scientists, dermatologist and professional makeup artists, to test products for performance and efficacy before declaring it a dupe for a high-end brand.
Awan came to the beauty industry via a circuitous route. He started as an eye doctor and found companies would charge double, triple, and sometimes quadruple markups on prescription lenses manufactured by the same company at the same cost.
“That was my first introduction to dupes, then I started talking with my cofounder who told me about beauty dupes and we were off building our business model on a science base,” he explained.
“The reason we exist is because there is no other place where you can find good quality tried and tested dupes in beauty,” Awan said. “Consumers have become a lot more savvy about the beauty industry, the benefits of skincare products and their ingredients. But it can be confusing too, because there are so many products on the market with long chemical ingredient lists. People need help figuring it all out.”
For example, its team got to work studying the cult-classic Crème De La Mer moisturizer and found an Avène moisturizer that performs in a similar way but sells for under $20 versus $200 for La Mer. It became an instant hit for Dupeshop.
Other home runs include a Garnier sun cream that mimics La Rouche Posay’s, a Maybelline gloss dupe for Fenty Beauty’s Gloss Bomb and Nirvana’s 14-shade eyeshadow palette that substitutes for Anastasia Beverly Hills Soft Glam Palette.
Dupeshop has rapidly built a viral following, including more than a million followers across YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, with its product recommendations viewed over 70 million times.
Currently, the company offers about 300 beauty dupes across skincare, makeup, and perfume and has started dabbling in haircare. It sources new dupes based upon consumer requests and by scouting the market for high-end products that are begging for a more affordable alternative. In addition, dupe manufacturers will send samples to earn a Dupeshop gold star.
“For example, we didn’t get many requests for a La Mer dupe, but we knew there had to be a less expensive product that would work just as well. So we decided to go out and find it,” he shared.
Dupes Add Value
The company is just getting started but reports it has over one million customers. Its business is growing rapidly from its U.K. home base and in the U.S. where it plans to increase its presence in 2024. And it’s developed a loyal following of dupe shoppers who keep coming back for more.
“One of the interesting things is how much consumers’ beauty routines have expanded because of dupe shopping,” he observed. “There’s been a price barrier in the category, and because of dupes, people can try new products, see the benefits, and as they become more confident, they come back for more.”
Another discovery that surprised the Dupeshop team was the widespread appeal of dupes across a broad consumer demographic. “Originally, we thought Gen Zs would be our primary customer, but after two years, we find a lot of people aged 35 to 70 years old are super interested in dupe shopping too,” he shared.
Older customers may be able to afford the name brands, but they have learned through a lifetime of beauty-buying experience that there is a huge markup in the beauty biz, and less expensive products without the fancy packaging and huge marketing budgets can often do the trick.
But regardless of age, everyone loves a bargain, and Dupeshop gives them confidence that their money will be well spent.
“Dupes are actually adding a lot of value to the beauty industry. They allow the whole market to expand because it allows people to try new types of products they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. And sometimes, after testing a dupe, customers will actually trade up to the higher-end brand,” he concluded.