The European Commission has opened a formal 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.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "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 behaviour. 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.”
Amazon sells products on its website as a retailer and also provides a marketplace where independent sellers can sell products directly to consumers.
When providing a marketplace for independent sellers, Amazon continuously collects data about the activity on its platform. Based on the European Commission's preliminary fact-finding, Amazon appears to use competitively sensitive information – about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace.
As part of its in-depth investigation the Commission will focus on whether and how the use of accumulated marketplace seller data by Amazon as a retailer affects competition.
It will also look at 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.
If proven, the practices under investigation may breach EU competition rules on anticompetitive agreements between companies and/or on the abuse of a dominant position.
Amazon said it would cooperate fully with the EU investigation. The company earlier on Wednesday reached a deal with Germany’s antitrust authority to overhaul its terms of service for third-party merchants.
Two years ago, Amazon was told to pay back taxes of about 250 million euros ($280.35 million) to Luxembourg because of illegal tax benefits. That same year it settled with the regulator over its distribution deals with e-book publishers in Europe.