EU forces Amazon to follow its rules

Brussels announced on Tuesday that it had obtained from online sales giant Amazon the end of practices considered anti-competitive in the EU, in particular with regard to the exploitation of data from independent sellers who use its website.

In July, the American group had made proposals to respond to the concerns of the executive who monitors compliance with the rules in the 27 member countries. “The Commission accepted the commitments offered by Amazon”, announced the vice-president responsible for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, at a press conference.

Jeff Bezos’ company now has six months “until June 2023” to comply, she said.

The platform serves a dual function: it provides independent sellers with a marketplace where they can sell products directly to consumers, and it sells the products itself as a retailer, in competition with those sellers.

The European Commission had opened an investigation in July 2019, accusing Amazon of relying on commercial data from independent retailers to calibrate its offer, considering that it distorted competition.

It had opened a second investigation in November 2020 on suspicion of preferential treatment by sellers who use its logistics and delivery services.

To end the first case, Amazon pledged to “refrain from using non-public data relating to, or derived from, the activities of independent sellers in its marketplace for its retail activities that are in competition with those sellers.”

Regarding the second investigation, it pledged, as part of its Prime program, to allow sellers “free choice to choose any carrier for their logistics and delivery services”.

Amazon was also suspected of bias in granting sellers access to the “Buy Box,” a button that allows customers to place items directly into a shopping cart and that highlights a vendor’s offer for a chosen product.

– “Equal treatment” –

The platform is committed to guaranteeing “equal treatment to all sellers in the classification of their offers for the purpose of selecting the winner of the +Buy Box+” and “presenting a second offer competing with the winners if there is a second offer sufficiently differentiated from the first ones as to price or delivery”.

These commitments were the subject of negotiations with the Commission, which claims to have obtained some improvements from Amazon. The group undertook, inter alia, to introduce a centralized complaints system open to all sellers and transporters.

The European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) “received” this agreement which “avoids years of further legal wrangling”. Its director general, Monique Goyens, however, invited the Commission to “closely monitor the fulfillment of its commitments by Amazon”.

“We are pleased to have responded to the concerns of the European Commission”, reacted a spokesperson for the distributor. “While we still disagree with several of the European Commission’s preliminary conclusions, we are committed to a constructive approach,” he added.

Amazon highlights its contribution to the economic fabric, with around 225,000 small and medium-sized European companies selling in its stores.

The group is preparing to comply with new European legislation on digital markets (“Digital Markets Act”, DMA) that will come into force next year and covers some of the complaints listed in the Brussels investigations.

The Commission clarified that part of the agreement would not apply in Italy, where the national competition authority has already imposed enforcement measures.

In the event of non-compliance with its commitments, Amazon will be subject to a fine of up to 10% of its annual worldwide turnover or a pecuniary fine of 5% of its daily turnover for each day of non-compliance.

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