Hermès sued over claims it only sells Birkin bags to ‘worthy’ customers

New class action lawsuit alleges luxury French brand engages in ‘tying’ purchases of Birkin bags to other Hermès items

Meredith Clark
New York
Friday 22 March 2024 10:46 GMT
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Related: The most iconic Hermès Birkin bags inspired by Jane Birkin

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Hermès has been accused of “tying” the purchase of its famed Birkin bags to other Hermès products in a class action lawsuit filed in California.

Two shoppers have claimed in the lawsuit filed on 19 March that they were required to purchase “ancillary products” from an Hermès retail store - such as shoes, scarves, belts, or jewellery - before they were given the opportunity to purchase a Birkin handbag.

The lawsuit claimed that Hermès sales associates only offer Birkin handbags to customers who have established a sufficient “purchase history” with the French brand. According to the filing, once shoppers “are deemed worthy” of purchasing a Birkin handbag, they will be shown the coveted item - which is allegedly not placed on display or available for purchase on the website - in a private room separate from the retail store.

“Birkin handbags are never publicly displayed for sale at Hermès retail stores. Indeed, it is often the case that there are no Birkin handbags at all at Hermès retail stores or, if there are, there are only one, two or at most three Birkin handbags,” their attorneys claimed in the lawsuit. “But even if there are Birkin handbags at a particular Hermès retail store, the handbags will not be displayed on the sales floor for the general public. In fact, most consumers will never be shown a Birkin handbag at Hermès retail store.”

The lawsuit alleged that Hermès’ practice of “tying” the purchase of a Birkin bag to the purchase of other luxury clothing or accessory items is in violation of US antitrust laws. The luxury retailer has also been accused of implementing “a scheme” to exploit its market power and increase the price of Birkin bags.

Attorneys pointed to the company’s commission structure for sales associates as driving the alleged scheme. Hermès retail employees receive “no commission” on the sale of Birkin bags, according to the lawsuit, but are paid three per cent on clothing or accessory items.

(PA/Getty)

“Although Hermès sales associates receive no commission on the most valuable and sought-after products sold by their employer, they are instructed by [Hermès] to use Birkin handbags as a way to coerce consumers to purchase ancillary products… in order to build-up the purchase history required to be offered a Birkin handbag,” the filing reads. “In this way, [Hermès is] able to use their sales associates to implement [Hermès’] illegal tying arrangement.”

One of the plaintiffs, Tina Cavalleri, claimed that she had been “coerced” into spending “tens of thousands of dollars” at Hermès in order to “obtain access” to a Birkin bag. When she contacted Hermès in 2022 about purchasing the luxury bag, she was allegedly told that the Birkin bag is only available to “clients who have been consistent in supporting our business”.

Meanwhile, plaintiff Mark Glinoga had made multiple attempts to purchase a Birkin bag last year, but was told on each occasion he needed to purchase other items and accessories.

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a court order barring Hermès’ allegedly anticompetitive practices.

Fashion lovers have long bemoaned the difficulties of scoring an Hermès Birkin bag, which range anywhere from $10,000 to over $50,000 - with some exclusive pieces selling for more than $300,000 at auction. However, Hermès previously denied accusations of “tying” practices to the Business of Fashion last year. “Hermès strictly prohibits any sales of certain products as a condition to the purchase of others,” the company said.

The Independent has contacted Hermès for comment.

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