Jochen Gutzy, Head of Communications at Birkenstock: “Product piracy is part of organized crime.”
Birkenstock already stopped supplying Amazon in December. Luna Journal in conversation with Jochen Gutzy of Birkenstock, about the exact reasons for the delivery stop.
Why has Birkenstock stopped supplying Amazon?
Jochen Gutzy: Amazon has the Amazon Shop and the Marketplace. We found out that in the Amazon Marketplace there were many fake shops selling inferior copies of our Birkenstock shoes. Amazon did not show the necessary commitment to our requests to block these shops. The company has taken shops off the marketplace, but only when we have asked for it. Here, Amazon has to do more than just run the platform, the company is ultimately responsible. The sale of counterfeit products is fraud. Doesn’t whoever fail to stop this abet a fraud? We had similar problems in the United States, so we are now discontinuing direct deliveries to Amazon in the EU as well.
What damage does the Birkenstock brand suffer from counterfeit products?
The amount is considerable. On the one hand, it damages our brand image. Because product copies ruin our good reputation. After all, the counterfeit products are not quality products like ours but scrap metal products and often contain harmful substances. If a buyer does not know that it is a counterfeit because it is offered as an original, this damages the brand. In addition, we do not have any turnover if copies are sold instead of Birkenstock originals. In addition, there are costs for the prosecution of counterfeits and our investigations. All this goes into the millions.
You speak of your own investigations – how does Birkenstock proceed and what do you experience?
Product piracy is part of organized crime. The perpetrators are highly professional, know how to plant in their goods. For years we have therefore been investigating for ourselves in the countries of origin in order to find out who the perpetrators are and bring them to justice. For example, I was already undercover in the Philippines. It shows that product piracy is not a trivial offence: the working conditions are catastrophic! I have seen people working in windowless rooms at 45 degrees and 90 percent humidity. These workers have to do this 14 hours a day, seven days a week for a starvation wage. Child labor and modern slavery – the use of refugees – are the order of the day. Heavy metals are also used. If we investigate counterfeit products in our laboratories, these are the purest chemical bombs. And all this is only because the buyers want to make a bargain. That’s saving at the wrong end.
How big is the problem of product piracy for you?
It’s a huge problem. According to investigations, half of organized crime worldwide is now made up of product piracy. Margins here are higher than in the drug trade, but it is clearly more risk-free – for the manufacturer, not for the consumer. Because counterfeit medicines, poorly faked spare parts for cars, or fake clothing contaminated with harmful substances can seriously endanger the buyer.
Online trading is not the cause of counterfeiting. But is acting like an accelerant. Many online merchants close their eyes to the problem because they earn money from the sales of counterfeit products. You have to put a stop to the backers. We would have liked more support from Amazon.
What do you advise other entrepreneurs whose products are counterfeit?
Proceed with all harshness and all available means against it! Product and brand piracy is a serious problem. It’s like a multi-headed snake. If you do not put a stop to this, you are digging your own grave as a brand manufacturer.
Image: Birkenstock Portraits: Motiv Jochen Gutzy