Amazon promises fairer seller program to avoid EU fines

The company claims it will give all sellers equal treatment.

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Amazon is making some significant commitments in an attempt to escape EU fines for allegedly misusing seller data. The European Commission is asking for public feedback on Amazon proposals that theoretically give third-party sellers a better chance of competing with Amazon's direct sales. The company has pledged to avoid using private seller data in situations where there's competition with Marketplace shops, whether it's obtained through automated tools or employee access.

The firm has also promised "non-discriminatory" terms for third parties selling to Prime subscribers, including a choice in delivery and logistics services. Amazon also won't use participants' Prime data to give its own logistics a boost, according to one proposal. In another commitment, Amazon vowed "equal treatment" when ranking sellers in the Buy Box section that lets you quickly purchase goods. Runners-up will also have a better chance at grabbing your attention — you'll see a second offer in the Buy Box if it's substantially different in terms of price or delivery.

Comments on the proposals will remain open until September 9th. Whatever conditions the EU accepts, they'll remain in effect for five years with oversight by a trustee reporting to the Commission. They would also cover all of the European Economic Area, although the Buy Box and Prime changes wouldn't apply to Italy when the country already demanded changes to Amazon's behavior.

In a statement, Amazon told Engadget it still felt the EU was "unfairly" targeting the company with legal efforts like the Digital Markets Act, but that it "engaged constructively" with regulators to address issues. You can read the full response below. It previously denied allegations in an April 2020 Wall Street Journal report that it misused third-party seller data to launch competing products, and said the practice was against its policies. However, it caught flak from the US' House Judiciary Committee for purportedly withholding documents and obstructing an investigation into its practices. The internet giant maintained that it offered "good-faith cooperation" with the House inquiry.

Should the Commission greenlight the proposals, they could bring an end to a long saga. The EC opened an antitrust investigation in July 2019 over concerns Amazon might have been using sensitive Marketplace info to give itself an unfair advantage, and in November 2020 offered a preliminary stance that Amazon shouldn't rely on those merchants' business data to refine its sales strategy. With that said, Amazon won't avoid further trouble even if the EU deal moves forward. It's still facing a reported SEC investigation in the US, not to mention a Senate bill meant to help third-parties selling through platforms like Amazon.

"While we have serious concerns about the Digital Markets Act unfairly targeting Amazon and a few other U.S. companies, and disagree with several conclusions the European Commission made, we have engaged constructively with the Commission to address their concerns and preserve our ability to serve European customers and the more than 185,000 European small and medium-sized businesses selling through our stores. No company cares more about small businesses or has done more to support them over the past two decades than Amazon."

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