Facebook may copy your app, but Amazon will copy your shoe

Image: Amazon

Copying has a long and rich history in Silicon Valley, from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ infamous raiding of Xerox PARC to the legal nightmare that is the Apple-Samsung smartphone design dispute to the almost company-crushing extent Facebook has gone to keep Instagram ahead of Snapchat.

But while Facebook has earned itself a reputation as a modern tech giant unashamed of cloning its biggest competitors’ best features, Amazon has gone one step further. That’s right, it’s cloned a shoe. To be precise, Amazon has copied the hallmark product of Bay Area-based apparel company Allbirds, which coincidentally took Silicon Valley by storm a few years ago with its low-maintenance, ultra-comfortable running shoe.

Kudos to Tinder product chief Jeff Morris Jr. for cluing us into this brazen creative theft:

Much has been written about how Allbirds, a Warby Parker-style effort to simplify a traditionally involved purchase into something thoughtless and utilitarian, was able to take over the fashion-adverse tech industry. (The secret was making a nice shoe wrapped in an inoffensive design, simple colors and a modest price tag, and slapping the phrase “merino wool” onto it.)

But less has been written about the army of copycats that have since cloned the Allbirds design and peddled their knockoffs online at lower prices. In fact, Allbirds has gone to great lengths to defend itself against such copycats, including famous fashion designer Steve Madden. In that case, the result was a settled lawsuit over trademark infringement. If you search “Allbirds” on Amazon right now, you’ll find a wide variety of clones for sale.

Now, Amazon, through its in-house private label brand 206 Collective, has jumped on the Allbirds cloning bandwagon. Amazon has gone on a private label spree over the past few years, and it now sells its own products across dozens of categories and under various names entirely unassociated with the Amazon brand. It’s important to mention that this behavior has landed Amazon in hot water with regulatory agencies, specifically in the EU, where the company is under investigation for using sales data from third-party sellers to develop and sell similar products of its own.

Once again, here is the company’s new 206 Collective shoe side by side with an Allbirds one:

Image: Amazon

That said, the shoe looks nice and it’s $45, which is less than half the price of your standard pair of Allbirds. Somewhat more perplexing are the reviews. Each one appears to have been written by an Amazon Vine user, which are people Amazon invites into its exclusive program based on their reviewing history. Those customers get free products and are encouraged to write reviews about them, although they’re contractually obligated to disclose that.

Every single one of the 23 positively glowing reviews of Amazon’s Allbirds clone are from Vine users, save the most recent one earlier this month. It reads, “All birds copy cat. They suck.” It’s not clear whether Daniel from Santa Cruz, California purchased the shoes, but he apparently does not think highly of them or Amazon’s shameless copying behavior.

But does it really matter if the shoe is nice, comfortable, and cheaper than Allbirds? To people like Tinder’s Morris, it does indeed. “There are no rules anymore — if you build a product that works, Amazon or Facebook will copy it,” he wrote on Twitter. “People used to care. Not anymore.”

Nobody tell Morris that the fashion world, just like tech, is built on the unsavory tactic.

Comments

Good thing Vox stands by their values and doesn’t work with Amazon.

Seriously? What about those "buy for $399 on Amazon" affliate links?

There doesn’t seems to be one on this article. They disclose affiliate links. Frankly if you’re not paying for The Verge you shouldn’t get a say in how they make money. Affiliate links in my opinion are harmless if disclosed.

If you search "Allbirds" on Amazon right now, you’ll find a wide variety of clones for sale.

Is an affiliate link, you can see the "tag=theverge" in the URL if you click through.

I see why people write /s on reddit now, Americans don’t get sarcasm

I get sarcasm. And I understood it as an attempt at sarcasm. I just don’t get what point they’re trying to make or what ironic joke they’re attempting. I get that it’s sarcasm but I don’t get it.

That said, the shoe looks nice and it’s $45, which is barely more than half the price of your standard pair of Allbirds.

Allbirds’ "standard" shoes (the Wool Runner/Lounger and Tree Runner/Lounger) start at $95. Half that price would be $47.50.

Truly, how ever would we as a society function without user comments?

If I don’t leave a pedantic comment correcting the author’s math, who will?

Thanks for letting us know about this! My allbirds distorted and got holes after 3 months. Unacceptable for a $100 pair of shoes, but for $45, I’m willing to give these a try. Also, I like the look and lower profile styling of the amazon version.

I haven’t had any problems with my wool runners, and I’ve worn them heavily for over a year. Did you contact Allbirds customer service?

Copying is one thing, but these copycats also tend to go against the whole ethos of sustainability that Allbirds seem to focus on (and probably spend plenty of R&D on). I imagine that rankles the people at Allbirds just as much as a cheaper copy of their product.

Amazon needs to be broken up.

Either they are running the marketplace or competing in it.

Not both.

Are there any major US B&M retailers that DON’T have a generic/store brand they place strategically on shelves alongside third-party products? That’s been ongoing since the 80s if not before. Even B&M retailers are in a position to use data to keep a larger share of revenue using this tactic. How is Amazon’s practice different or unique, aside from being an online, lower revenue example of it?

The only thought I have that jumps to mind is that you have a limited amount of shelf space in a B&M. Amazon can literally bury a competitors product 10’s or even 100’s of pages deep and keep it’s own products at the top of the first page, essentially guaranteeing that they are the "only" option. In a B&M story, there is little effort needed to look at all of the options.

B&M has the similar control of visibility and stock. If the 3rd party won’t give the B&M margin, the B&M puts other products in better position and quantity on shelves, including the store brands the B&M had more control over. The Coke is on the shelf with the store brand, the Pepsi in the front by the checkout. The only reason similar products sit side by side at all is because it works out favorably for the B&M vs. the seller (and only sometimes both.)

Sure, but there is still a limited amount of space. You wouldn’t have an agreement with a B&M to sell a product, and then have the B&M stock it in the back of the employees only lounge where no one would ever see it. Amazon can essentially do that, if they want, by burying competitors products too far from the front page. So yes, a B&M having a generic competing with a name brand is something that’s been going on forever, no argument there. Amazon just has much more ability to ensure the competitor isn’t really an option.

Apple didn’t "copy" anything from Xerox PARC. They cut a licensing deal for stock and worked their asses off for years to develop a bunch of rough, prototype concepts into shippable products. Now, Microsoft was a completely different story.

No, during the tour of Xerox, Steve Jobs was shown the prototypes of windows, icons, and other essential parts of a modern operating system. They then stole that design for Apple’s computers. Microsoft essentially did the same thing.

Note also that Apple engineers visited the PARC facilities (Apple secured the rights for the visit by compensating Xerox with a pre-IPO purchase of Apple stock) and a number of PARC employees subsequently moved to Apple to work on the Lisa and Macintosh GUI. However, the Apple work extended PARC’s considerably, adding manipulatable icons, and drag and drop manipulation of objects in the file system (see Macintosh Finder) for example. A list of the improvements made by Apple, beyond the PARC interface, can be read at Folklore.org.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface

So looks like both his statements were correct?

Apple secured the rights to the visit; they didn’t license the GUI. It was underhanded as shit.

ironically, The Verge will help Amazon sell a bunch of this. Free marketing.

Many someone’s are getting paid. Allbirds gets attention. Amazon pays out affiliates. Well, maybe Amazon loses. All those negative comments from the peanut gallery of people reading this article and all the other ones that read the same.

1) the amazon shoe looks significantly different enough to not be a copy, especially in verge’s comparison shot. I mean, the fabric and sole are different colours!
2) I used to wear cheap, lightweight, black cloth shoes, with a rubber sole in gym class 40 years ago. So who copied who? (pro tip, no one)

The more interesting part of this story is that Amazon has clothing brands that it knows people wouldn’t buy if they were labelled Amazon.

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