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Over the course of Amazon’s quest for total world domination, few companies have been brave enough to stand up to the giant e-seller, to say “No thanks, we don't want to partake in your billion-dollar business.” Birkenstock, however, has taken a stance. The German footwear company beloved by Berkeley hippies and fashion folk alike ceased distribution on Amazon last summer due to the site’s inability to crack down on counterfeiting, of which it’s a constant victim.
One year later, Birkenstock is not backing down. CEO David Kahan recently sent a scathing letter to its retail partners warning that it would blacklist any authorized sellers that sell its products to Amazon. In the five-page note from July 20, which was obtained by the Washington Post, Kahan writes that Amazon has been contacting Birkenstock sellers in order to get its hands on the company’s product, and he calls the strategy something of “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Kahan does not even attempt to hold back his distaste for Amazon, calling the company “pathetic” and using lots and lots of capital letters along the way.
“By knowingly encouraging a breach of our policy, Amazon is potentially legally liable for 'tortious interference' with our business,” he writes. “I have never in my 25+ years in this industry ever heard of a retailer on such a scale as Amazon, actively soliciting other retailers for a brand's inventory in the case of such brand not choosing to sell them.... You are not authorized to sell, distribute, or ship our products to any reseller. By selling to Amazon, who may in effect re-sell the product, you would be breaking our policy. I will state clearly, any authorized retailer who may do this for even a single pair will be closed FOREVER. I repeat, FOREVER.”
Kahn's frantic, scorching note is a sober reminder that while so many brands are jumping on the Amazon train, not everyone is doing it enthusiastically. As NYU professor and L2 founder Scott Galloway told Racked back in April, “no one looks at Amazon and thinks that it’s a great partner. It’s considered the evil empire.” Kahan told the Washington Post that Amazon’s strategy is “modern-day piracy” and says it’s “a middle finger to all brands, not just Birkenstock.”
Beating Amazon at the e-commerce game is nearly impossible at this point. The company is notorious for using its algorithm to knock down prices, which can hurt a brand’s equity. Elaine Kwon, a former Amazon employee who now runs a business that helps brands get out of Amazon wholesale partnerships, told Racked last month that during her time at Amazon, she saw firsthand that its pricing strategy was “devastating” to businesses. There’s also Amazon’s giant problem with counterfeits, the issue that bubbled for Birkenstock in the first place. While some brands, like Nike, have turned around with a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, Birkenstock is holding out. Kahan writes in his letter that Amazon trying to go behind Birkenstock’s back to get its products is like dangling “a carrot in front of retailers who can make a quick buck.”
“The fastest growing retailer in the world is NOT afforded the privilege of sharing directly in our success and now sees some means by which to seek to ‘disrupt’ the market and seek backdoor way to get what WE WILL NOT GIVE THEM,” Kahn writes. “We, as the brand stewards, and those who have responsibility for YOUR SUCCESS with Birkenstock will not let them ‘ruin our good thing.’ I take their desperate act as a PERSONAL AFFRONT and as an assault on decency and all we, as a brand, as an organization, and as a partner, hold as shared values.”