Amazon India allegedly copied products and promoted its own versions in searches

The company used knockoff goods to bolster its product lines, according to Reuters.

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NAPLES, ITALY - MARCH 22: A worker inside the Ariete 1 warehouse, during the first Amazon workers strike on March 22, 2021 in Arzano, Italy. The first strike of Amazon workers organized by the CGIL, Cisl and Uil unions at the Arzano headquarters was totally deserted by the workers who did not join the presidium to which, in addition to the unions, some formations of the extra-parliamentary left joined. The unions had called the strike day to ask for a review of many aspects of staff contracts: workloads, shifts, meal vouchers, bonuses, travel allowances and reduced working hours, and a general stabilization of drivers, the logistics sector and the administered employees. For some trade unionists, the absence of workers from the garrison should be read as "fear that their contracts will not be renewed". (Photo by Ivan Romano/Getty Images)
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Amazon allegedly "ran a systematic campaign" of copying other companies' products in India and gamed search results to promote its own versions. Reuters obtained thousands of pages of internal documents including emails and business plans that detail the practices.

A private brands team in India (which works on the company's own products) used data from Amazon's marketplace in the country to find and target goods and create knockoff versions, the agency reported. The goal was to find “reference” or “benchmark” wares and copy them. A document from 2016 detailed a plan for an Amazon brand called Solimo, which is tailored toward the Indian market. The aim was to “use information from Amazon.in to develop products and then leverage the Amazon.in platform to market these products to our customers.”

The document indicated that the private brands group aimed to form partnerships with the manufacturers of the benchmark items, because those companies use “unique processes which impact the end quality of the product.” The team sought to gain insights from the manufacturers and use the so-called "Tribal Knowledge" in its own versions to "fully match quality with our reference product."

After it made the knockoffs, the company manipulated search results with a method called “search seeding” so that AmazonBasics and Solimo items would pop up near the top of the page, according to the document. The company also "aggressively" used a technique called “search sparkles on PC, Mobile and App to specifically promote Solimo products on relevant customer searches from ‘All Product Search’ and Category search,” per the document. Sparkles are the banners placed above search results.

"As Reuters hasn't shared the documents or their provenance with us, we are unable to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the information and claims as stated," an Amazon spokesperson told Engadget in a statement. "We believe these claims are factually incorrect and unsubstantiated."

"Amazon identifies selection gaps based on customer preferences at an aggregate level only and shares this information with all sellers," the spokesperson added. "Amazon’s policy strictly prohibits the use or sharing of non-public, seller-specific data for the benefit of any seller, including sellers of private brands. This policy applies uniformly across our company to all employees — our internal teams receive regular trainings on its application and we thoroughly investigate any reports of employees acting contrary to this policy."

This is far from the first time we've heard reports of Amazon allegedly copying other companies' products. Over the years, the company has been accused of cloning the Instant Pot, Allbirds sneakers and a camera bag from Peak Design to name a few. A 2020 Wall Street Journal investigation also indicated that Amazon studied sales data of third-party products on its platform to inform the design and pricing of its own goods.

Regulators in India, the US and Europe have targeted Amazon over alleged anti-competitive practices. Reuters points out that an investigation in India is looking into whether the company unfairly promoted its own branded goods.

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