For Christmas, Williams-Sonoma got Amazon the gift that truly keeps on giving: a federal lawsuit.
In a complaint filed Dec. 14, the home goods company accused Amazon.com of selling unauthorized Williams-Sonoma merchandise on its website. It also claimed the retail giant “unfairly and deceptively engaged in a widespread campaign of copying” designs of its West Elm furniture for its own furniture line, Rivet. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Sometimes the items are sold at a significant markup, the complaint states; other times, they’re sold at lower prices.
It’s widely known that third-party vendors sell counterfeit products on Amazon, but the company has sidestepped blame in the past by claiming it merely provides the platform and can’t control those vendors. This complaint is different. The knockoff Williams-Sonoma products are being sold and marketed by Amazon itself, putting Amazon in direct competition with Williams-Sonoma, according to the company’s lawyers.
Although Williams-Sonoma doesn’t license its branded products to other online retailers, Amazon markets some merchandise on its website as Williams-Sonoma products “in a confusing manner that is likely to lead, and has led, customers to believe” that they are buying licensed Williams-Sonoma goods, the complaint says. Products listed under labels like “by Williams-Sonoma” or “Best-selling products from Williams-Sonoma” are actually knockoffs, the complaint states. Williams-Sonoma said it has been inundated with complaints from customers who bought the knockoff items from Amazon, believing them to be genuine Williams-Sonoma products. Still more customers have complained on the Amazon website about the products, according to the complaint.
“Many of these products have been the subject of customer complaints on the Amazon website, are not subject to WSI’s quality control measures, and/or have been damaged or altered such that the Williams-Sonoma mark no longer properly applies,” the complaint states.
Amazon also markets the knockoff Williams-Sonoma products through targeted emails — one such email was sent to the president of Williams-Sonoma, Janet Hayes. Court documents show an email Hayes received with the subject line “Janet: Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark 1 Pound Tin and more items for you,” which linked to a holiday candy priced at almost double what Williams-Sonoma sells it for.
The complaint also alleges Amazon’s private-label home goods brand, Rivet, which launched in November 2017, sells products that are “strikingly similar” to West Elm’s, using Rivet products to compete directly with West Elm. Not only are the designs nearly identical to many West Elm products, but so are also the names and marketing terms. In 2016, West Elm began selling a chair called the “Orb” that was designed in-house for $299. In March of this year, Amazon began selling a nearly identical product, called the “Amazon Orb Chair.” The same thing occurred with an office chair, the “Slope,” which Amazon sells as the “Amazon Slope Chair.”
“Amazon has engaged in a systematic campaign of copying Williams-Sonoma’s West Elm products,” the complaint states. “Amazon deliberately chose to adopt West Elm’s brand identity and create a Rivet brand that gives consumers the same overall visual impression as West Elm.”
Williams-Sonoma is demanding damages of up to $2 million per counterfeit item being sold by Amazon, as well as legal costs. Williams-Sonoma’s legal counsel did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. Amazon declined to comment on the lawsuit. Williams Sonoma is a major home furnishings retailer headquartered in San Francisco. In addition to Williams-Sonoma stores, the company also owns and operates West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Mark and Graham.