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Leonid Bershidsky

Birkenstock Can Defy Amazon But Not Beat It

Ignoring Amazon's power is a luxury the German sandal-maker can afford.
Not on Amazon.

Not on Amazon.

Photographer: ARNO BURGI/AFP/Getty Images

Why would a solid mid-size German company like sandal maker Birkenstock take on an American giant like Amazon? Birkenstock is doing it because it can afford to; but it's also showing the way for other companies wondering how much market power Amazon might have over them in the future. 

Birkenstock Americas -- which provides about 40 percent of the closely held company's sales, running currently in the mid-nine-figure range -- announced last year that it would stop selling on Amazon because it said there was no way to police fakes on the platform. That was rather a thin excuse: Counterfeit Birkenstocks aren't easy to find on Amazon. A search on the retailer's U.S. site still turns up a good selection of the iconic cork-soled sandals and Birkenstock's newer product lines, but they are the genuine article from authorized resellers, mostly at higher prices than in Birkenstock's own online store. The fakes are on Alibaba -- for $5 a pair compared to a minimum of about $40 for Amazon's U.S. customers. But refusing to work with Alibaba wouldn't make waves in quite the same way as taking on Amazon.