European Commission opens antitrust investigation into Amazon Marketplace

European Commission opens antitrust investigation into Amazon Marketplace

The European Commission yesterday opened an antitrust investigation to assess whether Amazon’s use of sensitive data from independent retailers who sell on its marketplace is in breach of EU competition rules. This is one of the last announcements from Margrethe Vestager, before she leaves the office.

Amazon yesterday said that third-party sellers “far exceeded $2 billion in sales this Prime Day, making it the biggest Amazon shopping event ever for third-party sellers when comparing two-day periods.”

Amazon third-party sellers represent more than 50% of Amazon’s retail business. This year, Amazon introduced a minimum sales fee in Europe and changed the seller fees.

“European consumers are increasingly shopping online. E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices. We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behavior. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules,” said the Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.

European Comission says Amazon has a dual role as a platform:

  • It sells products on its website as a retailer; and
  • It provides a marketplace where independent sellers can sell products directly to consumers.

When providing a marketplace for independent sellers, the European Commission says Amazon continuously collects data about the activity on its platform. Based on the Commission’s preliminary fact-finding, Amazon appears to use competitively sensitive information – about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace.

The Commission will look into:

  • The standard agreements between Amazon and marketplace sellers, which allow Amazon’s retail business to analyse and use third–party seller data. In particular, the Commission will focus on whether and how the use of accumulated marketplace seller data by Amazon as a retailer affects competition.
  • The role of data in the selection of the winners of the “Buy Box”; and
  • The impact of Amazon’s potential use of competitively sensitive marketplace seller information on that selection. The “Buy Box” is displayed prominently on Amazon and allows customers to add items from a specific retailer directly into their shopping carts. Winning the “Buy Box” seems key for marketplace sellers as a vast majority of transactions are done through it.

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