business news in context, analysis with attitude

Reuters reports that Amazon has been sued "in a proposed U.S. class action accusing the online retailer of violating a consumer protection law by steering hundreds of millions of shoppers to higher-priced items in order to earn extra fees … The case differs from other private litigation over the 'Buy Box' by focusing on harm to consumers from deceptive practices, instead of antitrust violations or harm to sellers that do not join Amazon's fulfillment program."

The story says that the complaint focuses on "Amazon's algorithm for choosing what to display in its 'Buy Box,'" saying that "when shoppers search for products" the  algorithm "often obscures lower-priced options with faster delivery times."

"While ostensibly identifying the selection that consumers would make if they considered all the available offers, Amazon's Buy Box algorithm deceptively favors Amazon's own profits over consumer well-being," the complaint said.

KC's View:

Not to prejudge this case, but I'm a little surprised by this.  Frequently when I am shopping on Amazon and I find an item I am looking for, I am informed that the item may be cheaper from a seller other than Amazon.  I rarely make that choice, largely because faster, free shipping usually compensates for the pennies that I'd save elsewhere.

But maybe there is a larger case to be made.  However, couldn't it be said that tons of bricks-and-mortar retailers lay out their shelves so they can point consumers toward specific items?  Sometimes those items are private label, sometimes they are items with higher margins.  But that's what retailers do.

The question is whether Amazon will be held to a higher/different standard than other retailers.  Or should new standards being applied to Amazon also be applied to Walmart, Costco, Target, Kroger, et al.