- Federal Trade Commission investigators are interviewing third-party merchants that sell on Amazon Marketplace as part of a probe into the e-commerce giant and its market practices, according to a report from Bloomberg. Amazon did not immediately reply to request for comment on the report.
- The news service reported that the interviews "indicate the agency is in the early stages of a sweeping probe to learn how Amazon works, spot practices that break the law and identify markets dominated by the company."
- The Department of Justice signaled in June that competition law enforcers would scrutinize the practices of "digital gatekeepers." The Washington Post reported that same month that the FTC would have oversight of Amazon, but neither the FTC nor Amazon have publicly acknowledged the agency was investigating Amazon.
Scrutiny over Amazon's practices and market power has intensified this year, after years of mounting complaints from critics that have followed the e-commerce giant's accelerated growth and integration of new lines of business.
Along with the reported FTC probe — which was more or less expected since the DOJ's June announcement — the Democrat-led House of Representatives has opened its own inquiry into the biggest tech companies, which includes Amazon. At a hearing in July, a Democratic congressman grilled an Amazon lawyer about whether the company's marketplace, and data collected from it, gave it an unfair advantage in selling its own products. (Amazon's representative disputed that view.)
The European Union is also currently investigating Amazon, specifically around how it uses "competitively sensitive information" from third-party sales on its platform.
Critics have frequently pointed to Amazon's data-collection from third-party sales as an unfair advantage when making its own retail sales or selling its private label brands. The company also has the ability to promote products in search results or through the all-important "buy box" that points shoppers to an easy click-through option for buying.
Bloomberg reported in August that Amazon has penalized sellers for offering lower prices on competing websites. The news service wrote then that the practice could "draw antitrust scrutiny from regulators."
Industry group Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) — which includes some of Amazon's largest competitors, among them Walmart and Target — has asked competition enforcers to take a hard look at the tech giants. In a letter to officials, RILA alleged that sellers may have no other viable options beyond Amazon's marketplace, while consumers might not understand who they are buying from. The industry group also pointed to Amazon and Google's effective control over product search.
But plenty of observers think Amazon's market power is limited. For example, Moody's analysts in August wrote that the company only has market share dominance in physical media products and, while it has unquestioned dominance as an online marketplace, competition is growing. Moreover, the analysts noted, consumers have been the beneficiaries not just of Amazon's growth but also the investments other retailers have made as they try to compete with the e-commerce giant.