Amazon's data collection and Buy Box under scrutiny as EU escalates antitrust probe

17 July 2019 00:00 by Nicholas Hirst’s use of data has raised concerns with EU competition regulators, who said they were opening a formal investigation into the e-commerce giant.

The inquiry, which is based on EU rules targeting both dominance and anticompetitive agreements, will focus on how Amazon’s retail business analyzes and uses data collected from sellers by its e-commerce platform. Officials were expected to open a formal probe, as MLex reported yesterday.

Officials have also trained their focus on the Amazon “Buy Box,” which promotes sellers at the top of Amazon’s results and guides a significant proportion of purchases on the platform. Investigators are concerned that, when selecting who appears in the box, Amazon may access competitively sensitive data.

“I have . . . 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 Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner for competition.

“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 anticompetitive behavior.”

The commission said standard agreements between Amazon and sellers allowed the e-commerce giant’s retail business to analyze and use data from third-party sellers.

Last year, the European Commission sent out questionnaires looking into Amazon’s “hybrid” business model, whereby it runs a platform for merchants to sell goods, and also itself sells goods on that platform in competition with those same merchants.

The commission said earlier this year that it had quizzed around 1,500 online merchants and traders about their experiences and relations with the e-commerce giant.

The opening of a formal probe means that the commission will “carry out its investigation as a matter of priority.”

Amazon also settled a German competition probe focused on the contractual terms imposed sellers.

A separate Italian inquiry is investigating allegations that Amazon favors its own logistics business over rivals to deliver goods sold on its e-commerce platform.

An Amazon spokesman said the company “will cooperate fully with the European Commission and continue working hard to support businesses of all sizes and help them grow."

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