How risky is it to buy and sell supplements online?

In Community and Relationship by kelly.rose1 Comment

The global value of counterfeiting and piracy could reach US$1.8 trillion by the end of 2016. One of the largest categories of counterfeits is medicines, including vitamins and supplements. Given the dramatic growth in online purchases, this is proving a major issue for brand owners and consumers alike.


Did you know counterfeit medications kill over a million people every year?¹

Counterfeit goods have been a consistent problem in the marketplace for, quite literally, centuries. Most recently, advancements in technology have seen a rapid increase in counterfeit products, which are currently valued at a whopping $600 billion to the global economy. It is a huge, worldwide problem – with potentially life threatening consequences. China is believed to have the largest reported counterfeit drug sales in the world.

Fortunately the World Health Organization estimates the amount of counterfeit drugs sold in Australia to be less than 1% (including web sales from Australian websites), proving that, when Australians shop locally, they can buy with confidence. The results are  good news for Australian consumers, who can continue to buy from retail stores, as well as online local stores that stock Australian-made products, with the certainty that the product/s they’re buying are the genuine item.

Interestingly, although almost 40% of the Australian population is buying online²,statistics show that most people are choosing to get their vitamins/supplements over the counter, suggesting that some consumers may still be apprehensive about buying their medications over the internet..

The biggest concern when buying online stems from dealing with the international markets – for consumers, when buying online and for brand owners, when exporting.

Brand owners have a variety of security packaging options available to assist them in protecting their consumers from counterfeit goods. There are broadly two different types of protection available for label or carton packaging: covert and overt. The covert branding options (such as Data Matrix Codes, Microtext and Variable Data Codes) require specialised equipment that allows brand owners to track the product through their supply chain.Overt options are more suited to consumers, as they are easily recognisable on packaging and provide a visibly identifiable way to tell if a product is legitimate.

Typically, there are are two main covert options consumers can use to check the product’s authenticity:


Each product is given a unique QR code and ‘gullioche’ fingerprint. Scanning this pattern on a mobile phone app allows the user to tell immediately if the product they’re holding is genuine.

QR codes 

QR codes can be variable, which enables brand owners to change the content as often as they like. If a brand were concerned about counterfeiting, they could use the QR code by educating the consumer on what to expect when they click on the QR code and change the content with every print run (or even per product using digital printing technology, if they wanted to).

Often a combination of overt and covert security  methods is adopted by companies wanting to provide anti-counterfeiting, movement tracking, inventory checks, theft protection and/or product tracking solutions. Depending on which solution/s brands choose to adopt, they can be used either as an in-house tracking system or by consumers in the marketplace.

Buying online is a fabulous perk of living in the digital era. Doing so in Australia carries little to no safety concerns. When buying internationally or exporting, take extra precautions to remove the risk of counterfeit products. For consumers, buy from verified registered sellers. For brand owners, use a variety of security solutions to protect your product from counterfeiters.

Product safety is an integral part of buying/selling online successfully. It only takes one incident to do irreparable damage. Don’t let it happen to you!’



Kelly Rose is Marketing Co-ordinator of Pemara Labels, manufacturers of labels, cartons and lids – and of course security solutions. Kelly has a Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing & Editing and a Diploma of Graphic Design. She spends her spare time writing articles for the web and photographing people.






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  1. I also live in Australia and we do buy a lot of our supplements online. I think for us, we tend to stick to the well known brands and ‘shop the sales’ rather than going for the cheaper options that can be found on EBay – which in this part of the world mainly come from Asia. We have found a number of counterfeit options also and identify them by their mailing address or ‘location’.

    You are right though – it is just not worth it to your health to take the risk.


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