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Hermès Faces Antitrust Lawsuit Over Alleged Birkin Bag Sales Scheme

 |  March 20, 2024

Hermès, the renowned luxury brand synonymous with exclusivity and high-end fashion, finds itself embroiled in a legal battle as two consumers, Tina Cavalleri and Mark Glinoga, file a lawsuit accusing the company of antitrust violations and unfair business practices. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Northern California on Tuesday, alleges that Hermès has manipulated the market for its iconic Birkin handbags, exploiting their scarcity and high demand to inflate prices and coerce consumers into purchasing additional products.

At the heart of the complaint is the accusation that Hermès has deliberately cultivated an aura of unattainability around Birkin bags, which often command prices ranging from thousands to over a hundred thousand dollars. Unlike typical consumer goods, Birkin bags are not available for online purchase and are seldom displayed in Hermès stores. Instead, the plaintiffs argue, access to these coveted handbags is restricted, with only select consumers deemed “worthy” by Hermès granted the opportunity to purchase them.

Cavalleri and Glinoga assert that Hermès employs a discriminatory system wherein sales associates are instructed to offer Birkin bags exclusively to individuals with a history of purchasing ancillary Hermès products, such as shoes, scarves, belts, jewelry, and home goods. Only after accumulating a sufficient “purchase history” or “purchase profile” with the brand, typically within a specified time frame, are consumers considered eligible to acquire a Birkin bag. This, the plaintiffs allege, effectively coerces customers into buying additional Hermès merchandise in order to gain access to the coveted handbags.

The lawsuit contends that Hermès’ actions constitute anticompetitive behavior, as the brand leverages its market dominance and the unique allure of Birkin bags to drive sales of its ancillary products while artificially inflating the prices and profits associated with its handbags. By restricting access to Birkin bags based on arbitrary criteria unrelated to their inherent value, Hermès allegedly engages in unfair competition and violates antitrust laws.

Hermès has yet to publicly respond to the allegations outlined in the lawsuit. However, if the case proceeds, it could have significant implications not only for Hermès but for the broader luxury goods industry, shedding light on the practices employed by high-end brands to maintain exclusivity and control over their most sought-after products.

Source: The Fashion Law