EU antitrust regulators ask if Amazon copies rival products

28 Sep 2018

Image: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

As part of a wider investigation, EU officials are asking online merchants if Amazon is copying their popular items.

The European Commission (EC) is taking steps to begin an investigation into Amazon. It comes after retailers gave feedback in a wider antitrust inquiry of online sales in the EU generally.

The probe is being led by competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is examining how the company gathers data on Amazon Marketplace sales made by competitors. At a press conference on 19 September, she stressed that the investigation was still at the early stages.

Vestager stated that the main question is about the information Amazon collects from smaller merchants on its site. “Do you then also use this data to do your own calculations, as to what is the new big thing, what is it that people want, what kind of offers do they like to receive, what makes them buy things?”

Quizzing smaller merchants

The EC is asking merchants who sell on Amazon Marketplace to fill out a 16-page form by 9 October, Bloomberg reported. The regulators want to know if Amazon has started selling items under its own brand that are “identical or very similar” to ones smaller sellers have offered.

The EU body is trying to get a sense of the financial impact such a pattern would have on smaller e-commerce retailers using the giant’s platform. Regulators are also asking for specific dates of when Amazon may have started to sell rival products.

Vestager said she and her team want to find out more about Amazon’s “dual purpose” as both a retailer and an online host to other merchants. The EU has not yet formalised its investigation, but numerous questionnaires have been sent to companies to take the temperature of the situation. Vestager added that the data collection on Amazon’s part may be “completely legitimate” in helping it improve services.

Earlier this year, the EU ruled that Google had imposed illegal restrictions on Android device makers and mobile operators to fortify its dominant position in internet search. While this particular probe is not yet a fully fledged investigation, Amazon could possibly face a similar outcome down the line.

A pile of Amazon boxes outside a house. Image: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects