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Knock-offs are not exactly breaking news in China, but the stakes are much higher with condoms, where a faulty johnny could result in unwanted pregnancy or nasty venereal disease.

And while some assumed fake condoms were only a problem when buying online or from shady shops in second and third tier cities, intrepid reporters from The Beijing News found fakes being sold at a branded pharmacy in downtown Beijing last week.

During the investigation, the reporters pretended to be a condom retailer and placed orders for samples with sellers on JD.com and Alibaba. The online deals were seemingly too good to be real, with many sellers offering a 12-pack of Durex, which goes for RMB 29 on Durex's website, for less than RMB 5.

The reporters checked the samples sent by the online retailers and with no surprise, they found that the condoms featured almost all of the characteristics of knock-offs: bad packaging; blurry production codes and expiration dates; a strong unpleasant odor; and last but not least, some condoms even leaked when being filled with water.

Later, reporters reached the online retailers again and asked about the quality issue in the samples. One retailer who runs an online shop called “Enduring Love” admitted that the condoms were “imitation products” (the Chinese word he used was gao fang (高仿), or "high quality imitation," in an attempt to distinguish it from jia huo (假货), which means "knock-off" or "counterfeit").

When the reporter asked another retailer, a man surnamed Wang who runs an online shop named “Dawning Dreams,” about the leakage, Wang said, “Maybe one or two in a 12-piece pack might have very tiny holes, but that’s not a problem in general  it won’t leak unless there is pressure, for example if you fill it up with water.”

Tiny holes can be problematic in that they can be large enough for viruses and bacteria to pass through, which substantially increases the probability of being infected by sexually transmitted diseases.

In order to convince the reporter to place a bulk order, Wang bragged that he was a supplier for many shops, supermarkets and pharmacies in Beijing. “Some pharmacies get their condoms from us for RMB 4 a pack and sell them at the price of the real ones,” said Wang.

The reporter later followed up on Wang's words and checked a Shiji Hualian (世纪华联) store, a popular supermarket in China with more than 4,900 stores nationwide, located in the Beiyuan residential area of Beijing. There he visited the pharmacy and discovered that the Durex being sold there were exactly the same as the knock-off packs he bought online with the exception of the selling price (RMB 30/pack).

Profits in the knock-off condom market are huge. An insider of the market named Jia told The Beijing News that a knock-off condom only costs less than RMB 0.08 to manufacture. not much more than USD 1 cent. Even adding the costs of the lubricant and packaging, each condom costs RMB 0.2 to make  or RMB 2.4 for a pack of 12.

Five years ago when knock-off condoms were reported on our blog, we passed on the advice to purchase condoms only in “branded supermarkets and pharmacies.” Now with Shiji Hualian being busted, we’d like to revise our suggestion to “purchase condoms only in branded supermarkets and check the quality as best as you can before purchasing."

Or better yet, order your condoms direct from Durex-approved vendors there's a list of links to them on Durex's website here. Those who want an English interface would be best to visit the Durex Shop on Amazon.

Meanwhile, here are a few tips to tell a real condom from a knock-off one:

1. Genuine condoms have better packaging. The colors on the package are more natural and the print is clearer.
2. The production code and expiration date are clearer on real wrappers.
3. Genuine condoms have neat perforation on their wrappers.
4. Genuine condoms don’t smell funny.

For a visual comparison of fakes vs real ones, visit bbs.tuan800.com, where the real deal is on the left of each photo and the knock-off is on the right.

More stories by this author here.

Email: patrickli@thebeijinger.com
WeChat: xinwurenli
Weibo: @lucky__strike

Image: bbs.tuan800.com


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