the European Union forces Amazon to respect its rules

Europe 1 with AFP
modified to

4:22 p.m., December 20, 2022

Brussels announced on Tuesday that it had obtained online retail giant Amazon that it put an end to practices deemed anti-competitive in the EU concerning in particular the exploitation of the data of independent sellers using its site. In July, the American group had made proposals to respond to the concerns of the executive which monitors compliance with the rules in the 27 member countries. “The Commission has accepted the commitments offered by Amazon,” announced the Vice-President in charge of Competition, Margrethe Vestager, during a press conference.

Jeff Bezos’ company now has six months “until June 2023” to come into compliance, she said. The platform has a dual role: it provides independent sellers with a marketplace on which they can sell products directly to consumers, and it sells products itself as a retailer, in competition with these sellers.

Two open investigations

The European Commission had opened an investigation in July 2019, accusing Amazon of relying on commercial data from independent retailers to calibrate its offer, considering that this distorted competition. It had opened a second investigation in November 2020 for suspicion of preferential treatment of sellers using its logistics and delivery services.

To close the first case, Amazon committed “to refrain from using non-public data relating to the activities of independent sellers on its marketplace, or derived from them, for its retail activities which are in competition with these sellers”. Regarding the second investigation, it promised, as part of its Prime program, to allow sellers “free choice to choose any carrier for their logistics and delivery services”.

Amazon was also suspected of bias in granting sellers access to the “Buy Box”, a button that allows customers to place items directly into their shopping cart and which highlights the offer from a supplier for a chosen product.

“Equal treatment”

The platform is committed to ensuring “equal treatment for all sellers when ranking their offers for the purpose of selecting the winner of the +Buy Box+” and “to display a second offer competing with that of the winner s’ there is a second offer sufficiently differentiated from the first as regards price or delivery”.

These commitments were the subject of negotiations with the Commission, which claims to have obtained some improvements from Amazon. The group has undertaken, in particular, to introduce a centralized complaint system open to all sellers and carriers.

The European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) “welcomed” this agreement which “avoids years of additional legal disputes”. Its director general, Monique Goyens, however invited the Commission to “closely monitor Amazon’s compliance with its commitments”.

“Engaged in a constructive approach”

“We are satisfied to have responded to the concerns of the European Commission,” reacted a spokesperson for the distributor. “While we still disagree with several of the European Commission’s preliminary conclusions, we are committed to a constructive approach,” he added.

Amazon emphasizes its contribution to the economic fabric, with some 225,000 small and medium-sized European companies selling on its stores. The group is putting itself in a position to comply with the new European legislation on digital markets (“Digital Markets Act”, DMA) which will come into force next year and covers some of the grievances listed in the Brussels investigations.

The Commission clarified that part of the agreement would not apply in Italy, where the national competition authority has already imposed enforcement measures. In the event of non-compliance with its commitments, Amazon will be liable to a fine of up to 10% of its worldwide annual turnover or a penalty payment of 5% of its daily turnover for each day of non-compliance.

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