The EU’s antitrust division, famous for its multi-billion-dollar fines on tech companies like Google and Microsoft, apparently now has its sights set on Amazon. Last week, the regulator sent out a 16-page questionnaire to Amazon 3rd-party sellers, according to Bloomberg, asking whether they’d ever had products copied by Amazon.
If the report is accurate, it sounds like the EU is looking into whether Amazon leverages its power as a massive online merchant to boost direct sales of products it owns — in this case, by observing what products sell the best, and then copying them.
The investigation would likely be part of a larger EU probe into how Amazon gathers information on sales made by its third-party sellers. The Amazon Marketplace and its fulfilled-by-Amazon system enables third-party merchants to sell directly to consumers using Amazon’s platform (and, optionally, Amazon’s logistics system). In that role, Amazon is acting as a platform for merchants and buyers, rather than a retailer. It’s how Amazon’s platform and retail ambitions line up that the EU is reportedly interested in.
“The question here is about the data” Amazon collects from smaller merchants on its site, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters at a press conference last week. “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? That has made us start a preliminary” investigation, she said.
Sending out the questionnaire shows that the EU is still in a preliminary data-gathering phase, so there’s no suggestion yet that Amazon has done anything wrong. But given the EU’s track record of sizeable fines against tech giants, Amazon would be right to be a little worried.