Amazon Copied Sellers’ Products, Manipulated Algorithms to Display Their Own Versions First

Amazon Copied Sellers’ Products, Manipulated Algorithms to Display Their Own Versions First

An examination of thousands of internal Amazon documents by Reuters has revealed that the e-commerce giant systematically (read: intentionally) created copies of successful products sold through its site, then reworked its search algorithms to display its knockoffs first.

According to the emails and business plans in question, Amazon’s India private brands team—the one responsible for collections like Amazon Essentials, Amazon Elements, and others—used Amazon.in sales data to identify popular products sold by other companies, then copied those products to sell as their own. In one case, Amazon duplicated the measurements of a top-selling shirt sold by popular Indian clothing brand John Miller, then sold their own version. Amazon’s internal documents refer to the items they copied as “reference” and “benchmark” products, and include the fact that the company chose to exclusively work with the manufacturers of those items to create their copies.

Amazon Copied Sellers’ Products, Manipulated Algorithms to Display Their Own Versions First

Even worse, Amazon altered its algorithms to promote their copycats over the original items. According to Reuters, the manipulation of search algorithms was “part of a formal, clandestine strategy at Amazon—and high-level executives were told about it.” Of course, Amazon has denied the claim, calling it “factually incorrect and unsubstantiated” and promising their search results were solely based on relevance to the customer. But anyone who knows anything about Amazon’s business practices is likely to see right through this denial. Amazon is no stranger to search algorithm manipulation, having put their profits over sellers’ best interest before.

Amazon has been under significant legal pressure as of late, between an antitrust lawsuit from the DC attorney general and millions of dollars in arbitration fees associated with malfunctioning products. The company could very well face additional legal consequences now that their blatant rip-offs have come to light; the European Commission is already investigating whether Amazon uses its internal data to improperly boost its own sales, an investigation that Amazon India and US will have to cooperate with. Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission has spent the last four years accusing Amazon of gaining monopoly status through its private-label brands. Unfortunately for Amazon, the documents uncovered this week might as well be served to the EU and FTC on a silver platter.

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