As Birkin and Kelly Bags Become Increasingly Available, Hermès Changes Strategy

In the market for an Hermès Birkin or Kelly bag? Well, you are in luck. Something interesting is underway over on Saks Fifth Avenue’s Off 5th website. The retailer is offering Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags, and other products from the French luxury brand – and doing so at a discount, something of a known rarity for any Hermès enthusiasts among us.  

There are six Birkins and four Kellys currently listed on SaksOff5th.com, including a black Birkin 30 in Ardennes with gold hardware, a blue Birkin 35 in Togo with palladium hardware, a red Birkin 35 in Ardennes with gold hardware, a brown Birkin 35 in Togo with palladium hardware, a red Birkin 35 in Togo with silver hardware, and a blue Birkin 35 in Swift with silver hardware.

Also up for grabs: A black Kelly 28 in Box Calf with gold hardware, a red Kelly 32 in Box Calf with gold hardware, a red Kelly 32 in Ardennes with gold hardware, and a yellow Kelly 28 in Curchevel with gold hardware.

The Birkins start at $15,499.97 and cost as much as $19,499.97. The Kelly bags start at $11,999.97 and cost as much as $13,499.97. The bags, which are all listed as “previously owned,” appear to have been discounted by $0.03. They are also being sold in clearance and listed as final sale items.

The bags – which were made between 1991 and 2014 – can only be found by searching for “Hermes” and are not listed in the brand’s category when shopping by designer and cannot be found when shopping in the site’s “bags and shoes” category.

The addition of these products to the Saks Off 5th site – while not a new practice, a spokesman for Saks told TFL – is somewhat head-scratching for several reasons, namely because Hermès products are arguably much more suited to the retailer’s main, Saks 5th Avenue site, as opposed to its discount Off 5th spin off. Second, while Saks Fifth Avenue customarily only sells new products, it does, at times, boast vintage and/or pre-owned accessories at some of its brick and mortar stores and online, according to Saks.

The Hermes Strategy

The availability of Hermès’ most coveted bags on Saks’ Off 5th site, and at a small discount even, seems to shed light on the evolving strategy of Hermes, which has long been known for building up demand for its coveted bags and pricey (with new bags starting at $10,000, these bags can cost as much as over $100,000 retail and sell for more than $300,000 at auction).

The 10 Hermes bags being offered by Saks join over 150 pre-owned Birkins available for purchase on TheRealReal. Vestiare Collective has a stock of even more.

This poses a radical change to the Hermès model. For years, the only way to procure a Birkin bag was to get yourself on the brand’s notorious waiting list and hope for the best. Nowadays, thanks to the advent of the online consignment shop and the re-sale boom, getting your hands on a Birkin bag - recent reports suggest that there are about a million in circulation - is as easily as a few simple clicks. 

Still yet, Hermès has managed to keep its aura of exclusivity in check. For years, it “has pursued one of the most effective stratagems for marrying high sales volume with the perception of exclusivity — category segregation — by confining iconic, core-category products (like bags) to high-end price ranges while offering other categories (like scarves) at lower price points to aspirational consumers,” per industry analyst Luca Solca, who is the head of luxury goods at BNP Exane Paribas.

Solca, who says standard Birkin bags were available in Hermèsstores in Europe “for the first time in years,” suspects that Hermès might be experimenting with its core strategy. In addition to making some Birkin models available for sale in select stores, Hermès has been pushing lower-priced bags, such as its Evelyne, Constance, Herbag, and Garden Party styles, which boast price tags that are quite a bit less steep than the Birkin and Kelly models. And unlike the most coveted duo of Hermès bags, which cannot be purchased on Hermès' website, these other styles are just an e-commerce click away. 

As for whether the widespread availability of like-new previously owned Birkin and Kelly bags is in some way driving what appears to be a growing shift in the Hermès, it certainly seems likely.

This article was written in collaboratiin with David Boglin de Bautista, the editor of HauteeCriture.com.