Pandora has glamourised collecting for grown-ups but needs to protect its brand

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Jewellery brand Pandora has capitalised on insights taken from the childhood trend of collecting things, but rogue traders are cramping its style.

How fondly I can recall my schoolyard days, where many a lunchtime was spent making, and collecting, friendship bracelets.

The childhood phenomenon of collecting is the topic of this week’s Trends feature, out in the magazine on Thursday. Based on a survey of 1,200 six to 11-year-olds, the feature suggests that brands that develop covetable collectables can stand the test of time.

The piece notes, though, that the novelty of collecting will tend to wane after the age of 11. A child stops collecting, and starts consuming, swapping coins and stamps for DVDs, video games, clothes and jewellery, which doesn’t involve the same dedication as acquiring branded items produced for the specific purpose of collecting.

But Danish jewellery maker Pandora, and its charm bracelet that burst onto the fashion scene in 2000, has taken insights from the emotional bonding experienced in the childhood collecting habit and channelled them towards a target audience of adult women.

Pandora produces countless charms that wearers can purchase to reflect a particular occasion, or part of their personality, from plain silver beads, to Russian dolls, footballs, teddy bears, baby carriages, and good luck tokens and I have many friends that wear their “Pandoras” as a summary of personal milestones and a portable token of social belonging.

In embedding such emotional attachment, Pandora has come up with what looks like the perfect collectable product for adults. Even a basic bracelet populated with the cheapest charms can cost a total of more than £300, with the bracelets themselves ranging between £40 and £1,000, and charms priced between £30 and £720. The beauty of it is, though, that the total price will rarely be paid for by just one person, as once they become known in their social circles as a Pandora wearer, additional charms become the gift of choice in future, so removing a potential barrier to purchase.

It looks like a foolproof strategy and company profits have grown 196% in the past two years, so what could go wrong? Pandora’s own website certainly tells a tale of a steadily thought out growth plan, solidified by a sound CSR policy that involves charitable giving and responsible sourcing of materials.

But search online for Pandora products and results are swamped with cheap fakes. Websites such as pandorabraceletuk.com and pandorastoreuk.com sell “Pandora” charms from £9. While the first website happily uses the Pandora brand name repeatedly without acknowledging whether it is certified or not, the second states in its FAQs: “Our merchandise are not (sic) manufactured by the authentic brand companies”.

Pandora’s challenge is a struggle against trademark infringement. While Pandora’s own website does not cover this, other sites, such as Trade Your Charms, and even eBay, feature statements from the brand against unauthorised sellers unlawfully using its brand name. These sites also advise that a Pandora warranty is compromised if a customer purchases a non-Pandora charm to fit onto their bracelet.

Why is Pandora not shouting about this more? It has taken some steps to keep its customers away from disingenuous traders by offering them membership to an exclusive online club, as well as certifying its official retail partners. But the lack of information on its website and in its advertising will confuse and alienate its customers.

Pandora might continue to distinguish itself with the quality of its products and the aspirational nature of its brand but shoppers buying fakes at a fraction of the price could seriously damage its desirability. To keep grown-up collecting from becoming a short-lived fad, Pandora needs to show its customers that it is not only protecting its brand but protecting them too.

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