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Bloomberg has a story detailing ways in which Amazon manipulates its site and pressures its vendors - all with the goal of assuring that it has the lowest prices on items for which it deems it important. It is, the story says, yet another example of behavior that could prove problematic when examined by antitrust regulators.

Here’s how Bloomberg frames the story:

“Amazon constantly scans rivals’ prices to see if they’re lower. When it discovers a product is cheaper on, say,, Amazon alerts the company selling the item and then makes the product harder to find and buy on its own marketplace -- effectively penalizing the merchant. In many cases, the merchant opts to raise the price on the rival site rather than risk losing sales on Amazon.

“Pricing alerts reviewed by Bloomberg show Amazon doesn’t explicitly tell sellers to raise prices on other sites, and the goal may be to push them to lower their prices on Amazon. But in interviews, merchants say they’re so hemmed in by rising costs levied by Amazon and reliant on sales on its marketplace, that they’re more likely to raise their prices elsewhere … Merchants have long complained that Amazon wields outsize influence over their businesses. Besides paying higher fees, many now have to buy advertising to stand out on the increasingly cluttered site. Some report giving Amazon 40% or more of each transaction, up from 20% a few years ago.”

And here’s how the issue could create regulatory headaches for Amazon, according to Bloomberg:

“Antitrust experts say the Amazon policy is likely to attract scrutiny from Congress and the Federal Trade Commission, which recently took over jurisdiction of the Seattle-based company. So far, criticism of Amazon’s market power has centered on whether it mines merchants’ sales data to launch competing products and then uses its dominance to make the original product harder to find on its marketplace. Harming consumers by prompting merchants to raise prices on other sites more neatly fits the traditional definition of antitrust behavior in the U.S.”
KC's View:
It does seem to me that there are ways in which Amazon is going to have to be more careful about how it operates and the extent to which it applies pressure to the marketplace. The argument may be that in forcing low prices it is being consumer-friendly, but that may not be enough in the current environment, in which it seems that giving Amazon a regulatory proctological exam has managed to be one thing about which many Republicans and Democrats can agree.