Premium outdoor brand Black Diamond sent Walmart a cease and desist letter asking to be removed from the retailer's "Premium Outdoor Store curated by Moosejaw," a dedicated page on walmart.com the retailer launched Monday featuring an assortment of outdoor gear. On Tuesday, Black Diamond sent Walmart a notice directing the retail giant to stop using its name and trademarks "in a manner likely to confuse consumers into believing that Walmart is an authorized dealer of Black Diamond or that the new outdoor Walmart.com site is otherwise associated with or sponsored by Black Diamond,” according to a Black Diamond press release emailed to Retail Dive. Black Diamond had an existing relationship with Moosejaw that started prior to Walmart's acquisition of the outdoor retailer in 2017.
The letter also demanded that Walmart cease what Black Diamond deems "its infringing use of several hundred copyrighted photographs, the rights to which belong exclusively to Black Diamond," according to the release. "We did not see or approve the statement which Walmart released Monday and have never sold to Walmart," Black Diamond president John Walbrecht said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. "Black Diamond remains committed to our specialty retail partners and we do not plan on deviating from this strategy."
"[W]e would never activate a brand without their permission," a Walmart spokesperson told Retail Dive in an email. "The decision to be part of this new experience will continue to be up to each brand, and our hope is that brands, and even other retailers, share our commitment to driving a truly inclusive outdoor industry," the spokesperson said. "As we grow the Premium Outdoor Store, we will continue to look for leading brands and retailers that want to reach a new, wider audience." At time of publication, no Black Diamond products could be found in searches on walmart.com's Premium Outdoor page, but the products were available on Moosejaw's standalone site.
Black Diamond's issues with Walmart's selling its brands brings into stark relief the challenges the retail giant faces in shifting its position to a more premium stance. The retail giant acquired Moosejaw a little over a year ago for $51 million in cash, which the brand said has helped scale its business, and which Walmart has said helps it cater to a demographic that it doesn't traditionally reach.
But a close association with Walmart is a mixed bag for upscale brands because they enjoy loyalty from younger, wealthier shoppers who don't necessarily look favorably on an association with Walmart's corporate reputation, and might expect prices to come down, observers have warned. The average Walmart customer is less wealthy and quite a bit older than those typically shopping at young brands like Modcloth or Bonobos, now also owned by Walmart, as well as the average Target or Amazon shopper.
If Black Diamond's move, which the brand insists is driven by its commitment to specialty retailers, is or becomes more widespread, those efforts by Walmart could be stymied. It could also present trouble for Moosejaw itself, which was founded in 1992 and carries apparel and gear from more than 400 outdoor brands including Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot and Arc'teryx. While primarily focused on e-commerce, the company also operates 10 physical stores across the Midwest.
But a Black Diamond spokesperson told Retail Dive that the brand, which "has worked with Moosejaw for over 10 years ... [is] currently evaluating that relationship." Walmart declined to say whether other brands have similarly asked to end ties with itself or Moosejaw.
Moosejaw's move to Walmart's website is a shift in strategy. Last year, Walmart made clear that its newly acquired e-commerce brands would continue as standalone sites, and executives from those companies, which remained as Walmart executives, sought to ensure loyal customers that little would change.
It's not the first time an acquisition has ruffled feathers. Lashing Walmart's name to the Modcloth and Bonobos brands, in particular, seemed to rattle some of their fans, to the point where some said they wouldn't buy there anymore. Walmart officials told Retail Dive last year that those stories were overblown.