It's a tale as old as Silicon Valley itself: A startup introduces a new product with a fun twist. Then, it catches on among tech workers and Silicon Valley power players, and goes on to enjoy national buzz and booming sales.
Then, somebody else starts selling a near-identical product for a fraction of the price.
That's what happened with Allbirds, the San Francisco startup whose $95 shoes, made from Merino wool, have swept Silicon Valley — and, more recently, the country. The startup was founded in 2014 and has gone on to shoe-industry success, raising $17.5 million in a round of venture funding in 2017, before opening its first physical retail stores in 2018.
But last month, an Amazon-brand sneaker appeared on the retail giant's site, with a look and branding that may seem eerily familiar to Allbirds owners. The " 206 Collective Galen Wool Blend Sneakers" are promoted with a comfortable soft wool blend and a memory foam insole, just like Allbirds.
There's one big difference between the two brands: The Amazon-brand shoe starts at just $35.18.
The similarity between the two shoes was noted by investor and Tinder executive Jeff Morris, Jr. on Twitter.
"There are no rules anymore," Morris wrote. "If you build a product that works, Amazon or Facebook will copy it. People used to care. Not anymore."
Indeed, product reviews of Amazon's wool sneakers were quick to point out similarities to Allbirds — which many reviewers cited as a selling point.
"I love Allbirds, and as these shoes seem to be a direct copy, I thought I would love them too," a user named T. Young wrote in an Amazon review.
"They are similar to my AllBirds, but a lot cheaper. I use these for everyday, and my Allbirds in the weekend," said Amazon reviewer A. Conrad.
Neither Amazon nor Allbirds were immediately available for comment.