Why the Birkenstock-Amazon Battle Has Been Brewing for Months

birkenstock Arizona
Birkenstock's iconic Arizona sandal for spring '17.
THOMAS IANNACCONE.

The love-hate relationship between vendors and online retailers has posed challenges on both sides for several years. And a tense situation between Birkenstock and e-tail giant Amazon is once again a reminder of how strained things can get.

Birkenstock Americas CEO David Kahan — who has been vocal about his frustrations with the online behemoth in the past — this week doubled down on his criticisms of the company.

Kahan’s latest comments came on the heels of news that Amazon introduced a new program in which the e-tailer would buy products at full price from third-party merchants and sell them to consumers on the site. In some instances, Amazon has reportedly approached third-party merchants after a manufacturer declined to distribute products through the platform.

“This is modern day piracy on the high seas,” Kahan said in an email to FN and others. “How can a major retailer who is not a vendor’s partner solicit and entice authorized partners to sell them via a back-channel?”

Kahan first severed ties with Amazon in January — citing concerns over the proliferation of counterfeit goods on the site — when he said Birkenstock USA will no longer authorize the sale of any of its products on Amazon.com, as well as no longer authorize any third-party sellers to do so. “The Amazon marketplace, which operates as an ‘open market,’ creates an environment where we experience unacceptable business practices which we believe jeopardize our brand,” he told FN in July 2016. (Birkenstock officially ended its partnership with Amazon on Jan. 1. Kahan had announced the decision in July 2016.)

This week, Kahan warned that if any current Birkenstock vendors were to take Amazon up on its latest offer, he would sever ties with them “immediately and forever.”

He continued, “This action they have taken is a ‘middle finger’ to all brands, not just Birkenstock, but all brands who value the consumer experience and exercise discipline to distribute in a manner that maintains brand equity.”