Amazon likely facing antitrust probe over how it uses marketplace data

17 Jul 2019

The Amazon Seller login screen. Image: dimarik/Depositphotos

Margrethe Vestager is expected to finish her five-year term as the EU’s competition chief by opening a major antitrust investigation into Amazon.

E-commerce giant Amazon could be facing an EU investigation over its online practices. Bloomberg has reported that the outgoing European commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, is expected to open a formal investigation into whether the company is misusing marketplace sales as a way of undercutting smaller stores.

This follows on from the news last September when the European Commission (EC) said that it was to begin an investigation into Amazon. The revelation was part of a wider antitrust inquiry of online sales in the EU generally built on feedback provided by other retailers.

So far, both the EC and Amazon have declined to comment based on the reports to Bloomberg made by two sources familiar with the case who have not publicly come forward. If the antitrust probe is instigated, this will be the first time the EU has directly targeted Amazon’s online retail business model, but the third time it has found itself in the crosshairs of regulators.

Speaking last September, Vestager questioned Amazon’s relationship with smaller merchants and sales data. “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?” she said.

In October, the EC asked merchants to fill out a 16-page form asking them whether Amazon had started selling items under its own brand that are “identical or very similar” to ones smaller sellers have offered.

This news coincides with another antitrust probe expected to hit the chip manufacturing giant Qualcomm. Following its €977m fine in the beginning of last year for shutting down market rivals, the company could be hit with a second large fine within a week for allegedly underpricing its chips to squeeze out competitors.

The Amazon Seller login screen. Image: dimarik/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic